Latest Update

My New Science Fiction Novel

Commander Chris and the Mystical Orb

Normally I post only information on Pauline studies here, but I’d like to let everyone know about my new young adult sci fi novel, Commander Chris and the Mystical Orb. It’s being printed right now and will be available in bookstores soon.

However, you can pre-order it from Amazon, or just call your local bookstore and ask if they plan to carry it.

Here’s a brief summary from the back cover:

Chris Morinas is not the most popular student at school. He spends much of his spare time practicing tricks on his skateboard and honing his video-game skills–skills that he soon puts to good use. First, he’s accidentally transformed by a lab experiment, then he’s warped to a distant galaxy and embroiled in an epic power struggle.

After evading lunar militia thugs called “Slarmans,” he becomes the commander of a spaceship with an unlikely crew: Ava, a tenacious female space pirate; Pi, the ship’s android; a four-foot-tall talking insect nicknamed “Zach”; and a mysterious cleric named Majubar with a mystical orb staff.

Together they take on a space station in a daring rescue mission before tackling a system-wide civil war and a fateful showdown with an invasion force of intergalactic cyborgs known as “Galaxicops.”

I should mention up front that although this story does contain some implied criticism of institutional religion per se, nevertheless this is not an allegory and shouldn’t be read as such. Like any good story, it does touch on ethical, religious, and philosophical questions, but it’s primarily a fun light read. If you like adventure and sci fi, I’d love to hear your feedback!

And we can have some fun with this: I have strategically planted some “Easter eggs” in the book. Look for the allusion to a New Testament verse in the second half. (Hint: It isn’t from Paul.)

Follow-up Interview

An Interview about The Paul Page

Approaches to Paul

Approaches to Paul: A Student’s Guide to Recent Scholarship by Magnus Zetterholm has been added to the Bibliography. Links have also been added to reviews by Nijay Gupta and David G. Horrell in the Review of Biblical Literature in the category Around the Web: Book Reviews.

On Earth, Not in Heaven: Paul’s Scriptures and the Political Salvation of Israel in Romans 9 – 11

by Mark Reasoner, Bethel University, St. Paul, MN
AAR/SBL Meeting, November 18, 2006, Washington, DC

The gospel, which Paul celebrated and described in his letters, certainly has a political edge to it, since Paul describes this gospel’s effects with language used in imperial propaganda. And if the message Paul preaches was pre-gospelled to Abraham in the scriptures (Galatians 3:8) or promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy writings (Romans 1:2), it follows that Paul’s citations and readings of his scriptures are politically charged activities.

By “political” I mean concerned with the flourishing life of corporeal Israel in its land. And when we examine the scriptures that bracket and form much of the grist for chapters 9 – 11 of Romans, we see that they witness to a political view of salvation that would evoke in the letter’s first-century hearers a scenario in which the nation of Israel would enjoy the benefits of God’s covenants to them not in heaven, but on this earth.

With that definition stated, I now need to reject two inferences some may make as they hear this paper. First, I am not concerned with any application of the text of Romans 11:26-27 with the political state of Israel founded in 1948. Second, I do not accept the idea that Paul viewed Israel as still in exile while he was writing his letters. This cannot be proven and should not be accepted. Still, when one reads Romans against the political propaganda of the principate, a general impression emerges that Paul did not endorse Augustus’ claim to have brought obedience to the nations and that Paul did not think that Israel under Rome was Israel’s destiny.

We may first observe that Romans 9-11 is bracketed by concern for the political situation of its implied audience. Romans 8:18-25 contains Paul’s reworking of Roman eschatology, looking for the renewal of the earth not in the Augustan age of peace and religious renewal, or the hope that can be seen, the deified spes (hope) celebrated by Roman emperors when an heir was born, but hope in something only God can bring through the Spirit of God. In this paragraph Paul presents an eschatological vision that runs counter to the Augustan eschatology offered by Virgil, articulated in the layout of statues in the Augustan forum, repeated in the millennial language of Calpurnius Siculus in the reign of Nero and celebrated on the coins of Rome. Paul asserts, in contrast to the principate’s propaganda of a new world order and a vision of eschatological plenty, that creation is subjected to futility, waiting for the revelation of the sons of God (8:19), waiting to be freed from slavery of corruption to the glorious freedom of children of God (8:21). Jews or Gentile synagogue-attenders who heard this language would first think of the Jews’ freedom from bondage to Rome. This would be present in any recital of the Passover liturgy, and any reference to a new vision of “the sons of God” or freedom for the “children of God” would evoke ideas of a salvation for the people of Abraham from Rome.

But what about 8:23, that says we await the redemption of our body? Even if we consider ourselves enlightened enough not to read this with Platonic lenses, we still read it as redemption from the flesh, connecting the sōma here with the sōma of 6:12 and 7:24. This is probably correct; Paul seems to move from an eager expectation for the revelation of a freed Jewish people (8:18-22) to a hope-filled eschatology for the “saints” (8:23-27), marked by the “Not only, but even” that begins 8:23.

Then after setting aside the doctrine of the predestination of the Roman, imperial son of God for a doctrine of predestination of foreknown believers to become like the son of the God of Israel (8:28-30), Paul raises the question of the status of “the elect” (8:31-39). For Paul and his readers, “the elect” has for its first connotation the people of Israel. Paul lists the threats to the corporate existence of “the elect,” pausing after “the sword” to quote in Romans 8:36 from a national lament psalm (LXX Ps 43:23/ET Ps 44:22).[1] The quotation raises more questions than it answers, since those suffering are righteous ones suffering with God’s full knowledge. The psalm itself ends with a request for redemption based on God’s steadfast love, but no answer is given from God. The preceding survey of the political resonances in Romans chapter 8 is not exhaustive, but is enough to show that the question of Israel’s status in the world does not begin at Romans 9. It is thoroughly in view at least by Romans 8:18, after having been signaled already at 3:3-6 as a topos demanding attention.

The quotation in Romans 8:36 from a national lament psalm (LXX Psalm 43) provides the introduction to Paul’s own lament over his people. Indeed the genre of Romans 9-11 is best identified as a lament psalm, for in it Paul laments and explores the dissonance between his perception of God’s promises and the condition of his people. And like many of the canonical lament psalms, Romans 9-11 ends with an irrational stanza of praise to God, celebrating in supra-historical fashion that God will effect salvation for God’s people in the end.

But what exactly is Paul lamenting? He does not tell us what Israel’s problem is in the opening of this section; it is simply assumed that the readers understand why Paul would have unceasing grief for his “brothers and sisters, [his] kin according to the flesh, who are Israelites, whose is the adoption and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises, whose are the fathers and from whom is the Messiah according to the flesh” (9:3-5).

Within chapters 9-11, the contexts of the scriptural quotations and the images used (Esau, Pharaoh, potter and vessels, stumbling stone, olive tree) all include the political dimension of Israel’s plight in the world. Paul is not merely concerned that Israel is not believing in Jesus, a problem that is not fully articulated until 10:16—“But not all have obeyed the gospel”; in some way Paul considers that the separation he perceives between his people and Christ have led to their political malaise. Based on the scriptures Paul uses to process this problem, Paul considers the “salvation” of Israel for which he prays to include political autonomy and health for his people as a nation.

When we come to examine the scriptures that form the skeletal, weight-bearing structure of Romans 9-11, we find that most of them are pointedly political. After the references to the Abraham and Sarah narratives in Romans 9:7, 9, Paul includes a reference to the older serving the younger (Genesis 25:23), a text that fits with a number of politically-charged comparisons of Jacob and Esau. Lest there be any mistake and we miss the national dimensions of the Jacob and Esau comparison, Paul follows up with a quotation of Malachi 1:2-3, which comes from the introduction to a prophetic text that is clearly concerned with the homeland of the Jews and its place among the nations of the earth.[2]

Who is Esau or Edom in first-century Jewish consciousness? In the rabbinic literature of the tannaitic period, Esau is Rome. G. Cohen has dated the earliest rabbinic connection between Edom/Esau and Rome to be Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph in the second century CE, and Carol Bakhos in her recent book, Ishamel on the Border: Rabbinic Portrayals of the First Arab, concurs.[3] Still, we may note in 4th Ezra 3:16, the author says to God, “And you set apart Jacob for yourself, but Esau you rejected.” Edom is famous in the scriptures for living by the sword (Genesis 27:40), and the sword is definitely a concern of Paul in this letter (Romans 8:35; 13:4), inevitably connoting Rome in the imagery of the early Empire. Rome, as Edom, lived by the sword.[4] I cannot prove that Paul has the Edom-Rome connection firmly in mind here, since that connection is not established in other literature until the next century. “Edom” and “Esau” might only invoke the Herod family in first-century hearers’ minds. But it is noteworthy that Paul follows the reference to Esau with a reference to Pharaoh, and both countries are linked to Rome in a Passover homily in the Pesikta de Rab Kahana: “As with Egypt He took each of the chiefest among them and slew them, so, too, with Edom: A great slaughter in the land of Edom, among them to come down shall be the Remim (Isaiah 34:6-7), that is, as R. Meier expounded it—among those to come down shall be the Romans [pre-eminent among all the peoples of Edom].”[5]

Why the reference to Pharaoh as someone God raised up (9:17, quoting Exodus 9:16)? The connection between the Roman emperor and the ancient Pharaohs of Egypt was closer than we typically assume. The Ptolemies were granted Pharaonic titles by Egypt’s priestly caste and her bureaucracy, and Roman emperors also were depicted with Pharaonic traditions.[6] Did Paul know that the Roman emperor was equated with Pharaoh? I cannot prove this. Suffice it to say that today, the link between the princeps and Pharaoh in Egypt is conclusive in the material evidence. On the walls of the temple of Dendur (Tuzis), now reassembled in the Sackler Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Augustus is depicted as a pious Pharaoh offering sacrifices to Egyptian gods.[7] The large statue from Karnak on the right at the end of corridor G49 in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is of a Pharaoh who is identified either as Ptolemy V or Augustus. While not Pharaonic, the Egyptian connection to the imperial cult is also amply evidenced by Claudius’s request to have the golden statue from Alexandra called the Klaudiakē Eirēnē Sebastē brought to Rome.[8] Deir el-Shelwit, a temple from the second half of the first century, depicts Galba, Otho, Vespasian and Domitian as Pharaohs.[9] Paul is continuing here in Romans 9 the consideration of the election of the Roman emperor. While I cannot prove that the equation between the Egyptian Pharaoh and the Roman emperor would be transparent to the first hearers of this letter, anyone celebrating the Passover in Rome would make that connection.[10] In chapter 8 he insists that Jesus is the one who is elected as son of God, and others are elected to be conformed to the image of the son. Here in chapter 9 he is more closely examining the idea of God’s election of the pagan ruler. This is surely Paul’s answer to the common first-century theme that the Roman emperor is predestined by the gods to rule the world.[11] Paul’s answer is that God has raised up the Roman emperor as he raised up Pharaoh, in order to show God’s power and magnify God’s name. Paul’s concern tracks with the prophets he is quoting, who also wondered how God could raise up evil, foreign rulers and accomplish divine purposes for his chosen people through them. This reading of the Pharaoh as indicative of foreign rule over the Jews fits with the following context through the “vessels of wrath” phrase.

The potter and clay analogy, which continues through the “vessels of wrath fit for destruction” phrase of 9:22, evokes imagery of God working with foreign rulers in a pursuit of the mysterious fulfillment of his plans for the Jews. Jeremiah glosses his potter’s vessels with “a nation or kingdom” (Jeremiah 18:7-9). Or if one goes to the actual site of Paul’s potter quotation, Isaiah 45:9, one can see that it is immediately followed by a defense of God’s raising up of Cyrus (Isaiah 45:13) with the ultimate goal of the salvation of Israel, who will never be put to shame (Isaiah 45:17).

Regarding “the vessels of wrath” in 9:22, it is more consistent with Paul’s preceding context (Pharaoh quotation) and with his quotations later in this chapter from Isaiah 10, to view the vessels of wrath as foreign powers given political power over God’s chosen people. John A. Battle, Jr. has helpfully pointed out that all of Paul’s quotations from the prophets in Romans 9, with the one exception of Isaiah 45:9, all depict the time of Assyria’s looming conquest of Israel.[12] In Isaiah 10, from which Paul quotes in Romans 9:27-28, Assyria is God’s rod, and their own club is God’s fury. It is significant that in Isaiah 10 not only rod (5, 15, 24) and club (5) are used but also ax (15, 34), saw (15), staff (24), whip (26, belonging to God) and yoke (27). Assyria as a foreign power is linked to Egypt in Isaiah 10:24, just as Paul has quotations regarding Pharaoh and Assyria in this chapter. While there is not an exact verbal quotation of Paul’s phrase skeuē orgēs (“vessels of wrath”) in Isaiah 10, it is significant that in LXX Isaiah 10:28, the Assyrian enemy places his skeuē in Michmash, on his way to Jerusalem. The enemy is showing wrath, but will ultimately experience God’s wrath when God works salvation—political deliverance—for God’s people.[13]

The famous use of Deuteronomy 30:12-14 in Romans 10:6-8 is definitely a christological gloss. But does it point to life in heaven? The context of the text in Deuteronomy 30 is clearly about a this-worldly political flourishing of Israel. The following quotations from Isaiah, Joel and the song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32) in the following context of Romans 10 all deal with the political deliverance of Israel.

In Romans 11:1, Paul insists that God has not rejected his people, offering himself as an example of an Israelite who is still among the remnant. This personal argument that Paul makes raises the question of what sort of political allegiances Paul the Pharisee would hold. Were Pharisees apolitical, simply applying and internalizing the purity laws whatever the political climate? This is a possible reading. Or was Paul sympathetic to the Pharisee Zaddok, whom Judas of Gamala enlisted in a rebellion against Rome at the end of Archelaus’ tenure over Judea?[14] And if the Psalms of Solomon have Pharisaic roots, we would expect Pharisees to be politically engaged against Roman dominance.[15] The question of Paul’s Pharisaic identity in relation to his political posture toward Rome needs further exploration.

In Romans 11:12, the “wealth of the nations” has a very material connotation when it comes in Paul’s scriptures. Yes, Paul is reworking it to include the idea that Israel’s unbelief has prompted the wealth of the nations, but based on the blessing Paul assumes will come back to Israel at the end of verse 12 and in verses 14-16, it is clear that Paul has still retained his scriptures’ idea that the wealth of the nations will flow into Israel.

With this survey of Paul’s scriptures in mind, his assertion that all Israel shall be saved in 11:26 must speak primarily of the political health of a thriving nation on this earth. In his supporting quotation, Paul says that the redeemer will come from Zion. Why does Paul say “come from Zion” in Romans 11:27, when Isaiah 59:20 has “come to Zion”? This is also what we see in Isaiah 52:8—“Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the LORD to Zion.”

Ross Wagner has helpfully laid out the possible lemmas for Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 59:20.[16] Of special note is that the Masoretic text’s “to/for Zion” is in Paul’s quotation “from Zion.” Is Paul’s ek simply a contraction of heneken in the LXX? This is a possibility. Paul’s quotation might also be influenced by such texts as Isaiah 2:3, where the nomos kai logos kuriou will come ex Ierousalēm. In this last phrase of Isaiah’s verse, the morpheme ek is found three times. Perhaps Paul’s ek simply appears by attraction to such a text as this. If Christ the redeemer is the telos nomou, and if the nomos was supposed to come out of Zion, then Christ the redeemer must also come out of Zion. In addition, the political dangers of predicting that a redeemer would come to Zion might sound too controversial in Rome. Would this mean that a general aspiring to imperial rule would start his campaign by liberating Jerusalem from Nero? Better just to say that the redeemer would come out of Zion.

The salvation is then defined as the forgiveness of sins. While this sounds to Christian ears as entirely spiritual, having as its goal life with God in heaven, it would not necessarily sound this way to careful LXX readers. In the hymn of Zecharias in Luke 2 that is thoroughly influenced by the LXX, he juxtaposes rescue from enemies with forgiveness of sins (Luke 1:74, 77). In addition the Psalms of Solomon link forgiveness of sins with the political health of the nation, as we see in Psalm of Solomon 9:6-9; 10:1-8. Paul’s lament over Israel, like the lament psalms of his own scriptures, thus ends with a stubborn insistence that God will save God’s people in the end, and ends with praise to God.

The concluding bracket of this section, Romans chapters 12-15, also contains signals of concern over Roman dominance. In chapter 12, Paul writes that people are not to work vengeance. From here he explains why a human government that works vengeance can still be obeyed (13:1-7). Readers have long noted the abrupt topic change in 13:1. Why does Paul mention government here? The most adequate explanation is that government has been in view since the middle of Romans 8. Augustan eschatology and the doctrine of imperial predestination are reversed in that chapter. Paul’s scriptures and the imagery he uses in chapters 9-11 also evoke to first century ears an assertion from below that the Roman dominance over God’s chosen people, the Jews, cannot stand forever. Romans 13:1-7 then becomes a pro forma endorsement of the status quo for the safety of the letter’s readers and a subtle reconfiguration of imperial theology.

Paul quotes from a national lament psalm after ending his first list of threats in Romans 8 with the word “sword.” Then in his explicit discussion of the governing powers, Paul warns that Rome does not bear the sword in vain (Rom 13:4). In the context of propaganda from Nero’s reign, this is a direct subversion of the peace language evoked by Calpurnius Siculus who repeatedly emphasizes the end of sword-wielding by Rome: “Amid a secure peace, the Golden Age springs to a second birth, at last kindly Themis [Greek goddess of justice/righteousness], throwing off the gathered dust of her mourning, returns to the earth; blissful ages attend the youthful prince . . . He, a very God, shall rule the nations, the unholy War-Goddess shall yield and have her vanquished hands bound behind her back, and, stripped of weapons, turn her furious teeth into her own entrails . . . All wars shall be quelled in Tartarean durance . . . Fair peace shall come . . . Clemency has commanded every vice that wears the disguise of peace to go far away; she has broken every maddened sword-blade . . . Quietness [Loeb has “peace”] in her fullness shall come; knowing not the drawn sword, she shall renew once more the reign of Saturn in Latium, once more the reign of Numa who first taught the tasks of peace to armies that rejoiced in slaughter . . . Numa who first hushed the clash of arms and bade the trumpet sound ‘mid holy rites instead of war.”[17] In contrast to the poet’s insistence that Rome under Nero is not using a drawn sword, Paul insists that sword is a real danger (8:35) that the Roman government most definitely still wields (13:4).

Consider the political edge of these verses from Isaiah 49, the chapter from which Paul quotes in Romans 14:11 (note that Paul alludes to Isaiah 49:10 in Romans 9:16, according to the Nestle apparatus, “Loci Citati vel Allegati”).

Thus says the Lord GOD: I will soon lift up my hand to the nations, and raise my signal to the peoples; and they shall bring your sons in their bosom, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders. Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you, and lick the dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who wait for me shall not be put to shame (Isaiah 49:22-23).

At the end of the letter’s argument, the scriptural quotations found in 15:9-12 from the song of Moses, the Psalms and Isaiah also challenge Roman dominance over Israel, since they envision Messiah, his people, and the nations, praising the God of Israel, who has reinstated “the root of Jesse” to rule over the nations who hope in this Davidic king. The God of hope is invoked in blessing at the end of the scriptural catena as an alternative to the deified hope (spes) celebrated on Claudius’ coins.

Romans 15:10 quotes the first part of Deuteronomy 32:43. The verse as found in Deuteronomy concludes with a political edge: “Rejoice O nations, with His people; For he will avenge the blood of his servants, And will render vengeance on his adversaries, And will atone for his land and his people.”

All Christians have ideas that salvation affects conditions on the earth, but they differ on how this salvation works out on earth. The hope of an afterlife and heaven and the idea that the main content/result of being saved is life in heaven has as a central point of utility for most people that it allows them to cooperate and accept one another even when they disagree about what salvation on earth means. This deferment of salvation to an afterlife remains useful, but should not eclipse our recognition that in the first century, “all Israel shall be saved” must primarily connote the flourishing life of corporeal Israel in its land.


[1] Cf. also Psalm of Solomon 15:6-7: “For God’s mark is on the righteous for (their) salvation. Famine and sword and death shall be far from the righteous; for they will retreat from the devout like those pursued by famine.”

[2] See Malachi 1:5 (“Great is the LORD beyond the borders of Israel!”), 11 (“my name is great among the nations, . . . my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts”); 4:6 (“. . . lest I come and strike the land with a curse”).

[3] Gershon Cohen, “Esau As Symbol in Early Medieval Thought,” in Studies in the Variety of Rabbinic Cultures (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 245 as found in Carol Bakhos, Ishamel on the Border: Rabbinic Portrayals of the First Arab (Albany: SUNY), 63-64.

[4] See Virgil, Aen. 10.372-373: ferro rumpenda per hostis est via, “’Tis the sword must hew a way through the foe” LCL, H. Rushton Fairclough, trans. (London: William Heinemann/Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press), 1954.

[5] Pesikta de-Rab Kahana:  Rab Kahana’s Compilation of Discourses for Sabbaths and Festal Days, trans. William G. Braude and Israel J. Kapstein (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America), 1975, Piska 7.11 (page 152).

[6] J. Rufus Fears, Princeps A Diis Electus: The Divine Election of the Emperor as a Political Concept at Rome (Rome: American Academy in Rome), 1977, 20, 70-71.

[7] Roger S. Bagnall and Dominic W. Rathbone, eds., Egypt from Alexander to the Early Christians (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum), 2004, 247-248.

[8] Stefan Weinstock “Pax and the Ara Pacis,” JRS 50 (1960): 50, citing Letter of Claudius to the Alexandrians, Pap. Lond. 1912, lines 34 and following.

[9] Bagnall and Rathbone, Egypt 197.

[10] On the Egypt – Rome connection, note also the interpretation of Revelation 11:8 as designating Rome. The first corrector of Sinaiticus added kai eggus ho potamos (“and near the river”) right after Sodom, connecting Egypt to the city of Babylon and hence to Rome. Oecoumenius takes it as Jerusalem as does Andrew of Caesarea, but Hoskier lists other manuscripts that add Babylon after Egypt. These would thus also link “Egypt” to Rome.

[11] J. Rufus Fears, Princeps a Diis Electus: The Divine Election of the Emperor As a Political Concept at Rome (Rome: American Academy in Rome), 1977.

[12] John A. Battle, Jr., “Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9:25-26,” Grace Theological Journal 2/1 (1981): 124.

[13] Battle, “Paul’s Use” 127.

[14] Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.4.

[15] R. B. Wright, “Psalms of Solomon,” in James H. Charlesworth, ed. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Volume 2 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday), 1985, 642.

[16] J. Ross Wagner, Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul “in Concert” in the Letter to the Romans Supplements to Novum Testamentum 51 (Leiden: Brill), 2002, 280-286.

[17] Calpurnius Siculus, Eclogue 1.42-68 in Minor Latin Poets, trans. by J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press/London: William Heinemann), 1961.

Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision

A link to Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision by N.T. Wright as reviewed by V. George Shillington in the Review of Biblical Literature has been added to the category Around the Web: Book Reviews.

Latest Update

A link to Creation and Covenant by N.T. Wright, an excerpt from his book Paul: In Fresh Perspective, has been added to the category Around the Web: From the New Perspective.

Interdisciplinary Academic Seminar: New Perspectives on Paul and the Jews

In September of 2009, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven hosted an interdisciplinary academic seminar on Paul and Judaism. What follows is a report of the seminar by Thomas A. Vollmer, a doctoral student of the new perspective on Paul at K.U. Leuven:

The Seminar took place on 14-15 September 2009 at the Faculty of Theology, K.U.Leuven, in the Conference Room of the Pope Adrian VI College. Prof. Lieven Boeve, Dean of the Faculty, welcomed the participants and guests. Prof. Reimund Bieringer, convenor of the Seminar, chaired the morning session.

Daniel Langton, Lecturer at the University of Manchester, had offered a paper entitled Some Historical Observations Regarding the Emergence of a Jewish Interest in the Apostle Paul and its Relation to Christian Pauline Authorship. Due to last minute conflicts in schedule, Langton was unable to personally attend so Emmanuel Nathan, doctoral researcher and co-organizer of the Seminar, read out the paper. The paper provided a historical overview of Jewish interest in Pauline scholarship.

The second paper was by Michael Bird, NT Tutor at Highland Theological College, entitled Salvation in Paul’s Judaism. Bird concentrated on Paul’s identity and whether or not Paul considered himself within or without Judaism. He considered the topic of salvation in Paul and how it relates to Paul’s Judaism.

Mark Nanos, Lecturer at Rockhurst University and the University of Kansas read the paper, Paul’s Relationship to the Torah in Light of His Strategy ‘to become Everything to Everyone’ (1 Corinthians 9:19-22). In it he argued that Paul needs to be read outside of traditional understandings and more in line with Paul’s Jewish background. He posited a method of rhetorical adaptability against a traditional understanding of lifestyle adaptability in the exegesis of 1 Cor 9,19-22.

 The afternoon session was chaired by Didier Pollefeyt, co-convenor of the Seminar. Philip Cunningham, Professor of Catholic-Jewish Relations at Saint Joseph’s University, read the paper Paul’s Letters and the Relationship between the People of Israel and the Church Today. He set forth the Catholic position on Jewish-Christian dialogue in relation to Nostra Aetate and its use of Romans 9-11. He advanced a hermeneutical approach to dealing with problematic texts that should consider the texts in the perspective of Paul’s Jewishness.

Hans-Joachim Sander, Professor of Dogmatics at Universität Salzburg, read the paper Sharing God with Others or Dividing God from Powerlessness – A Late-Modern Challenge by the Heterotopian Experience in the New Paul. He discussed the relation of the New Perspective on Paul with the new philosophies on Paul. He discussed power relations and powerlessness and advanced a proposal to consider Paul in heterotopian perspective.

John Pawlikoski, Professor of Ethics at the Catholic Theological Union, entitled his paper A Christian-Jewish Dialogical Model in Light of New Research on Paul’s Relationship to Judaism. In it he proposed a paradigm to adequately describe the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. He surveyed current attempts at single and double covenant understandings and showed the limitations therein and he posited a sort of “path” approach to dialogue.

 David Bolton, doctoral researcher and co-organizer of the Seminar, chaired the morning session of the second day.

Anne-Marie Reijnen, Professor of Dogmatic and Systematic Theology at the Faculteit voor Protestantse Godgeleerdheid te Brussel, presented a paper entitled Cosmos and Creation in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, in the Company of Some Contemporary Authors. She examined cosmic language in Paul and while concentration was on the ecological consciousness of Rom 8,19-22, she pulled the ecological motif into the binary scansion of ‘Jew first and also the Greek’.

Thomas Blanton IV, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion at Luther College, read the paper Paul’s Covenantal Language in 2 Cor 2:14-7:4. He focused on the question of covenant in Paul and how it interacts with Paul’s new creation language. He sees Paul in continuity with his Jewish tradition and any opposition in the text was directed toward opponents and not Judaism.

Michael Bachmann, NT Professor at Universität Siegen, read the paper Paul, Israel, and the Gentiles: Hermeneutical and Exegetical Notes. He discussed various points of view on the contentious issue of erga nomou (“works of the law”) and concluded that Paul was not speaking in discontinuous terms of the phrase, but rather in the deeds of the law.

 The afternoon session, chaired by Emmanuel Nathan, offered two papers. The first read by William Campbell, Reader in Biblical Studies at University of Wales Lampeter, was entitled Covenant, Creation and Transformation in Paul. The paper centered on the methodological approach of comparison rather than contrast and argued that covenantal language should be read in light of Judaism. For Paul, Jews who accept Jesus are still in covenant different from Gentiles who accept Jesus.

Hans Hermann Henrix, Director emeritus of the Catholic Academy of the Diocese of Aachen, presented the paper Paul at the Point of Intersection Between Continuity and Discontinuity – On Paul’s Place in Early Judaism and Christianity as well as in Christian-Jewish Dialogue Today. He provided a synthesis of the papers presented and the showed the major issues confronting Pauline exegesis and its relation to contemporary Christian-Jewish dialogue.

The Seminar closed with short reflections by the speakers on their impressions of the two days’ proceedings. Reimund Bieringer ended the Seminar with closing remarks and reflections for future research trajectories. The proceedings of the Seminar will be published.

K.U. Leuven
Thomas A. Vollmer

Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle

Book Review

Pamela Eisenbaum, HarperSanFrancisco, 2009, 336 pp.

The new perspective on Paul which has completely reoriented Pauline studies over the last thirty years continues not only to inspire new theses, but to highlight still unresolved issues as well. Though arguably the majority of New Testament scholars now embrace E.P. Sanders’ principal observation that Palestinian Judaism was not a religion of legalism, nevertheless little consensus has been achieved over the question of Paul’s relationship with Judaism.

Generally speaking, many scholars working from the new perspective, including most notably James D.G. Dunn and N.T. Wright, have managed to highlight considerable continuity between Paul and Judaism. This trend has been most welcome in the current context of renewed Christian sensitivity to the problem of anti-Semitism. Indeed, one of the key concerns of proponents of the new perspective (myself included) has been to hamstring the anti-Semitic tendency of the traditional paradigm by reframing Paul’s debate with “Judaizers” as an intra-church controversy as opposed to a Christian-Jewish controversy.

The Achilles’ heel of this interpretative move, however, has been forcefully exposed by Jewish interpreters of Paul like Mark Nanos and Pamela Eisenbaum – scholars for whom the new (Christian) perspective on Judaism obviously isn’t so new. While welcoming the recognition that Judaism isn’t a religion of legalism, they point out that the new perspective’s shift of emphasis still tends to denigrate Judaism insofar as what is criticized within the church is still essentially Jewish. Put differently, the negative stereotype of Judaism as legalistic is replaced by a negative stereotype of Judaism as ethnocentric.

One recent proposal being developed by the Faculty of Theology at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven is a return to a paradigm which stresses discontinuity between Paul and Judaism but doesn’t assume that discontinuity hinders Jewish-Christian dialogue. A very different approach has traditionally been articulated by a smaller group of scholars who have generally been identified with the new perspective. These scholars – Krister Stendahl, Lloyd Gaston, John Gager, Stanley Stowers, Neil Elliott, Mark Nanos, and Pamela Eisenbaum – situate Paul so firmly within Judaism that discontinuity disappears entirely. In her most recent book, Eisenbaum characterizes their position rather as “a radical new perspective” on Paul.

In a brilliant marketing move guaranteed to raise eyebrows and generate interest, her book is provocatively titled Paul Was Not a Christian. Early on she qualifies this, writing (for example) that:

it is obvious that Paul played a critical role in the development of Christianity and that his letters are regarded as an essential part of the Christian canon. I do not in any way wish to deny Christians their claim on Paul. But in this book Paul is unambiguously Jewish – ethnically, culturally, religiously, morally, and theologically (9).

At first blush, few Christians will dispute the fact that Paul was Jewish and that Christianity had not yet emerged as a distinct religion. However, serious problems arise when that observation is summarily swept aside as a distinction without a difference and Paul’s letters are still treated like a systematic exposition of Christianity. This is where Eisenbaum’s book excels: in methodically and consistently evaluating the key underlying assumptions of the traditional approach to Paul and exposing their weaknesses. At each step the traditional perspective is shown to be anachronistic and untenable. She spends considerable space (the first three chapters) articulating the traditional view before turning to concomitant Jewish approaches and finally the new perspective on Paul in chapter four (“Reading Paul as a Jew – Almost”).

The next three chapters consider postbiblical Judaism with a particular focus on the key questions in the debate on Paul. Chapter five (“Paul’s Jewish Inheritance”) in particular debunks the notion of Torah observance as a legalistic “works-based” scheme. In this context she helpfully diagnoses part of the reason for the misunderstanding. She articulates the problem so well that hopefully this reviewer may be forgiven for quoting her so extensively:

Ancient Judaism is not what one would call a religion of salvation. This is perhaps the most fundamental misconception that informs the Christian view of ancient Judaism. With very few exceptions, Judaism does not focus its attention on personal salvation. Furthermore, Judaism does not articulate the issue of salvation as a question about whether one is saved by works or by faith. …

Christians assume that personal salvation is the fundamental question of religion – all religion. Salvation is so central to Christianity that Christian theologians even came up with a name for the study of salvation: “soteriology.” Therefore, Judaism has typically been evaluated in terms of how salvation is conceptualized and how an individual achieves salvation. …

The traditional Christian understanding of Jewish soteriology is that salvation is earned through “works.” …

Yet, contrary to long-standing stereotypes, ancient Jews did not have a peculiarly excessive interest in law; they did not preoccupy themselves with picayune legal details while neglecting more serious ethical matters. Thus, the idea that Judaism is a religion in which one is “saved by works” is not an accurate characterization. …

The view of Judaism as a religion in which one is “saved by works” carries with it several other misconceptions about Judaism. Of most significance, it denies the important role of grace and repentance in Judaism (88-91).

Also of key importance in this section of Eisenbaum’s book is chapter six (“Who Is and Who Isn’t a Jew?”), in which she considers at some length the criticism that ancient Judaism was exclusionary and xenophobic, and chapter seven (“The Flexible Pharisees”), in which she consistently demonstrates that if anything, the Pharisees were known for being too flexible and permissive, not for being rigid and legalistic. With this background in mind, Eisenbaum moves into the remaining half of her book in which she considers Paul in precisely this Jewish context.

One of the first issues she takes up (and revisits throughout) is the question of whether Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ should best be conceptualized as a “conversion” or a “call” (chapter eight, “Paul the (Ex?)-Pharisee”). Readers who are already familiar with the issue and with Eisenbaum’s earlier work will not be surprised that she goes to some length to emphasize Paul’s continuing identification with his Jewish heritage. On another key question, whether pistis christou should be rendered “faith in Christ” or “the faithfulness of Christ,” she comes down (contra Dunn) firmly on the side of “the faithfulness of Christ” (189-195).

In the remaining chapters Eisenbaum turns to the issues of law and justification in Paul. In chapter twelve (“On the Contrary, We Uphold the Law!”), she articulates four basic principles for interpreting the law in Paul (the fifth is addressed in the final paragraph below):

1)       Paul’s audience is made up of Gentiles, so everything he says about law applies to Gentiles, unless specified otherwise (216-219)

2)      Torah is for Jews but provides a standard for all (219-224)

3)      The law is not meant to condemn humanity; it serves a positive pedagogical function (224-233)

4)      The doing of good works is not the opposite of having faith (233-239)

It is at this point that in drawing out the implications of her previous observations she describes most clearly the distinction between the new perspective on Paul as articulated by scholars like Dunn and Wright and the “radical new perspective” on Paul traditionally associated with the “two-covenant” approach of Gaston, Gager, et al. The last three chapters in particular (208-255) take up this topic. Though the issues are well articulated, this reviewer at least would have liked to see many more details worked out; an extra hundred or so pages might have enabled Eisenbaum to flesh out this perspective in a little more detail, but at least she provides enough interpretative markers to enable readers to sort through particular texts which are not directly addressed.

Simply put, Eisenbaum argues that for Paul, Israel’s justification was already secured by means of the covenant, leaving Gentiles in need of justification through the atonement of Christ since history was fast coming to a close and Gentiles (the nations) stood in dire need of reconciliation (spelled out in some detail in chapter thirteen, “Justification Through Jesus Christ”).

In her final chapter (chapter fourteen, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It”) Eisenbaum reframes the “two-ways salvation” question in what amounts to a postscript on Romans 9-11. Avoiding the language of “two covenants” and (most importantly) dispensing with an individualistic reading of Romans facilitates this restatement:

The starting assumption of the new paradigm is that it is not about personal salvation. Paul’s letter to the Romans is not an answer to the question, How can I be saved? Rather, it is his answer to the question, How will the world be redeemed, and how do I faithfully participate in that redemption? For Paul the question had great urgency, since God had already initiated the process of redemption (252).

She goes on to provide a helpful historical analogy to illustrate why “Torah for Jews, Jesus for Gentiles” need not imply two paths to salvation:

The rabbis did not think non-Jews needed to observe all the commandments of the Torah to be redeemed – in fact, they are decidedly not to observe many of them. The rabbis envisioned the Gentiles’ adhering to a small subset of law, known as the Noahide code. Yet the rabbis did not think this counted as two separate ways to salvation. Both groups are supposed to be in concord with the will of God, both are called to obedience, and in their different roles, both are being faithful to the Torah. … that does not mean there are two different systems of redemption (252, emphasis mine).

Nevertheless, what will likely remain challenging for most interpreters of Paul (this reviewer included) is Eisenbaum’s restatement of the position that Paul was addressing a Gentile audience as opposed to a single community made up of both Jews and Gentiles. Whether this reluctance simply illustrates the degree to which the older paradigm remains entrenched perhaps remains to be seen. To that end, this book deserves widespread consideration.

 Mark M. Mattison

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