Saturday, June 13, 2020

Paul and Recent Schools of Scholarship

The issue of how to best read Paul against the backdrop of Second Temple Judaism has dominated Pauline studies since the publication of Ed Sander’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977).

Four different schools (with a number of subgroups) have emerged in this ongoing academic conversation:

(1) the “traditional” (sometimes referred to as the “Lutheran”) Paul who attacks the legalism of the Jewish religion of Torah as a “means of salvation” in contrast with the gracious endtime salvation provided by God’s action in Christ,

(2) the “New Perspective on Paul” (Dunn, Wright, and in a much more radical way, Stowers and Gaston) which sees Paul’s attitude toward the law as a specific battle against Jewish cultural exclusivism which provided obstacles to Paul’s Gentile Christian mission,

(3) the “Paul within Judaism” view (Nanos, Zetterholm, Eisenbaum) which sees Paul as a lifelong Torah-observant Jew who argued for the continuing validity of Torah covenant obligations on Jews while placing no such obligations on Gentiles who were now being included in God’s “age to come” through the work of Jesus Christ, and

(4) Paul as “cosmic apocalyptist” who radically transformed God’s apocalyptic action in Jesus Christ to the “cosmic” level and away from the “forensic” apocalyptic of the Second Temple Judaism – divorcing Paul’s apocalyptic thought from other contemporary Jewish apocalyptic writings.

The Paul as “cosmic apocalyptist” view is associated with scholars like J. Louis Martyn (Anchor Bible on Galatians), his students Martinus de Boer (New Testament Library on Galatians) and Beverly Gaventa (Apocalyptic Paul: Cosmos and Anthropos in Romans 5-8), and the brilliant, mercurial (and often confusing) Douglas Campbell from Duke (The Quest for Paul's Gospel and The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul).

Martinus de Boer's distinction between "forensic" and "cosmic" apocalyptic is central to this school of thought. This distinction divorces the apocalyptic Christ event described by Paul from the more traditional Jewish apocalyptic which is tied to Israel's covenant faith and eschatological future as seen by the Hebrew prophets.

[Needless to say, I am not an adherent of this school of thought. I know of no earlier, contemporary, or later Jewish apocalyptic writings that are not thoroughly rooted in the Hebrew covenantal faith and the hope of Israel's future. The distinction between "forensic" and "cosmic" apocalyptic seems to be contrived in academia rather than found in any historical witness.

Neither can I accept the distinction of a "narrow" apocalyptic - focusing on the Jewish literary genre - and a "broader" apocalyptic - a worldview of God's intrusion/invasion of human history that transcends the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.

Nevertheless, the writings of this school are fresh, keenly insightful, and challenging. Personally, if I read these texts - while still seeing the close ties between Jewish apocalypse and covenant faith - there is much to be learned here.]