Jesus and Paul Reconnected: Fresh Pathways into an Old Debate

Todd D. Still Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids October 15, 2007
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An area of New Testament study that has often been neglected is the study of the connections (or lack of them) between Jesus and Paul. The editor and authors of this book call the discipline back to the study of Jesus and Paul by reviewing in six essays problems that need to be addressed and avenues of rapprochement in Jesus and Pauline studies. The editor is professor of Christian Scripture (New Testament) at Truett Seminary, Waco, Texas, and the essays were first given as addresses at Truett Seminary in November 2004.

The first essay, “ ‘Offensive and Uncanny’: Jesus and Paul on the Caustic Grace of God,” by John M. G. Barclay (University of Durham), affirms a “fundamental similarity” in the understandings of Jesus and Paul “of the challenge of divine grace to Israel’s own traditions and boundaries” (p. 3). He deals first with Jesus’ view of divine forgiveness (pp. 5–12), and then with Paul’s view of “unsettling grace” (pp. 12–17). Barclay writes, “I venture to suggest a thesis which is radical, [viz.] the enactment of the deeply subversive and sharply caustic grace of God. I hope to show that this can be re-entered into the discussion without falling back into old caricatures of a graceless Judaism, or grossly simple antitheses between religions of grace and religions of works” (p. 5; italics his). In discussing the prodigal son Barclay notes “the striking dynamic in divine forgiveness, enacted and symbolized by his meal-fellowship” (both that of Jesus and of the father in the parable, pp. 11–12). The primary offense of God’s forgiveness is that it destabilizes the Jewish leaders’ “own sense of covenant and law” (p. 11).

Turning to the “unsettling function of grace” in Paul’s teaching, Barclay writes that Romans 9–11 addresses the unsettling of the category “Israel.” “Then perhaps ‘Israel’ might constitute a much smaller subset within the ethnic entity called Israel (9:27–29), or it might include a much wider range of people, including, that is, Gentiles who would normally be considered not God’s people (9:24–26)” (p. 15). The most traumatic issue, as he styles it, is the “reduction of Israel to a remnant” (p. 15) so that “no one is secure here, except by the sole and single thread of divine grace” (p. 16). This grace is “caustic . . . not because God/the Father acts less justly than they might have expected, but because he acts in an excess of gift or forgiveness” (p. 17). However, “neither Jesus nor Paul are appealing to a ‘different system of religion’ or a new concept of God; but nor do they represent some homogenized entity we have created and labeled ‘covenantal nomism.’ Both radicalize, intensify, emphasize, and enact the divine impetus of grace” (p. 17).

Stephen Westerholm (McMaster University) offers the second essay, “Law and Gospel in Jesus and Paul” (pp. 19–36). His concern is to explore “the relationship between law and gospel, as that relationship is seen by Jesus and Paul” (p. 19, italics his). His discussion centers on Matthew 19 and the rich young ruler and on Galatians 3. The beginning point for his discussion is the young ruler’s question, “What good deed must I do,” which, Westerholm says, must have been clear to any first-century Jew: keep the commandments and live, and offer sacrifice to atone for sin. Jesus’ teaching on the nearness of the kingdom may have stimulated the question. Turning to Paul, Westerholm focuses on Galatians 3 and the troubling outsiders who taught that all who claim to be God’s people must keep the Law.

Attitudes to the poor form the theme of the essay by Bruce W. Longenecker (St. Andrews University), “Good News to the Poor: Jesus, Paul, and Jerusalem” (pp. 37–65). He begins his discussion with a review of social attitudes toward the poor in the first-century Roman Empire. Charitable gifts to the poor came even from the emperors, “but not out of concern for their well-being so much as to enhance their own reputation among the populace . . . and to receive their adulation” (p. 37). However, the culture of those who followed the Hebrew Scriptures was different.

The first major section of this essay addresses Jesus’ concern for the poor. Longenecker rehearses the well-known issues of “systemic injustice” entrenched in the culture of the Roman Empire in contrast to “God’s . . . empire of justice and mercy, as indicated within Isaiah 61 itself. . . . Just as his miraculous healings were signs that the house of Satan was being plundered, so too the encouragement of the poor was an indication of God’s impending overthrow of the economic exploitation that is systematically built into the very structures of this world” (p. 41).

Longenecker also affirms that there is “plenty of evidence in Paul’s letters that the churches were expected to care for their poor” (p. 48, citing John Knox, Chapters in a Life of Paul, rev. ed. [London: SCM, 1989], 38). For this he cites Acts 20:18–35; Romans 12:13, 16; Galatians 6:9–10; 1 Thessalonians 5:12–22; 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12; and 1 Timothy 5:3–16. “Care for the poor was an integral part of Paul’s instructions to members of his own Christian communities” (p. 53).

Longenecker judges that “concern for the poor was at the forefront of the good news proclaimed by Jesus,” that the “Pauline communities seem to have set up common funds . . . to offset the needs of the economically vulnerable” and that “Paul emphasized the need for Christians to care for the poor” (pp. 63–64).

Markus Bockmuehl (Oxford University) wrote, “Peter between Jesus and Paul: The ‘Third Quest’ and the ‘New Perspective’ on the First Disciple” (pp. 67–102). In discussing the New Perspective on Paul (pp. 71–98) Bockmuehl comments, “Throughout all this, it is an unfortunate irony that the New Perspective has failed to advance the discussion precisely in areas where one might have expected it to do so” (p. 72).

Chapter 5 presents the work of Francis Watson (University of Aberdeen): “ ‘I received from the Lord . . .’: Paul, Jesus, and the Last Supper” (pp. 103–24). The thesis of the study is that Paul “received the Last Supper tradition from the Lord himself and not from any merely human process” (p. 105). If this is true, then, it is likely that “the Last Supper tradition originated in a revelation to Paul” (p. 107).

Watson then discusses the question, Can the Marcan eucharistic narratives be seen as ultimately dependent on Paul? (p. 116, answered on pp. 116–22). Starting with the hypothesis of a Pauline original for the tradition, he identifies ten variations in the Marcan material that are “entirely understandable. But that means that the hypothesis of Pauline originality and Markan [sic] secondariness can indeed be shown to be plausible” (p. 120).

Watson concludes that the earthly Jesus who spoke at the Last Supper is the exalted Lord who institutes and re-presents the Lord’s Supper each time it is celebrated.

The final essay of the book is by Beverly Roberts Gaventa (Princeton Theological Seminary): “Interpreting the Death of Jesus Apocalyptically: Reconsidering Romans 8:32” (pp. 125–45). She asks, What does Paul say about responsibility for the death of Jesus? (p. 126). While Paul makes few comments on this issue, she says, “I want to linger with the role Paul ascribes to God,”  with the hope of showing that “God handed [Jesus] over to anti-god powers. . . . an event that has cosmic consequences even as its consequences lovingly rescue humankind from captivity to Sin and Death” (p. 127, italics hers).

Initially the essay challenges the conventional reading of Romans 8:32, that the verse contains an allusion to Genesis 22 (pp. 127–30). Gaventa believes that translating paradivdwmi as “gave up” leads readers to draw inadequate conclusions about the significance of God’s act. Elsewhere Paul uses the verb to refer to concession, of a handing over in a conflict (p. 130). “God brings to an end the ‘handing over’ of humanity to Sin and Death by means of another handing over, this time of God’s Son. The consequences of this act are, of course, the reversal of the captivity so terrifyingly outlined in ch. 1 [of Romans]; this handing over results in the release of captive humanity and defeat of these powerful foes of God” (p. 136).

The essays of this book are lively and easy to read. They encourage readers to think more deeply about important issues in New Testament theology, especially the question of harmony between Jesus and Paul. Western evangelical Christians tend to orient all their biblical, theological thinking around John and Paul, with Paul receiving pride of place. Then Pauline categories are imposed on the rest of the Bible, including the teachings of Jesus. With a single divine author guiding and inspiring the entire Bible, harmony must exist. But the Lord’s teaching should not be ignored. Thus the editor and authors have favored the church and the academy in producing these studies.

—James E. Allman

January 1, 2010
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2010 vol. 167 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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