Review: Four Views on the Apostle Paul.

The Apostle Paul laid the foundation to separate Christianity from Judaism, and established Gentiles are saved by faith without being required to adopt the Jewish way of life. His theology brought strong opposition from Jewish Christians, violent reactions from his Judean countrymen, and even criminal punishment from Roman leaders (Bird 2012, 9).  Even today, Paul’s letters ignite heated debates concerning his remarks on “Israel, homosexuality, women, spiritual gifts, and the end times” (Bird 2012, 9). In Four Views on the Apostle Paul Schreiner, Johnson, Campbell, and Nanos provide their theological point of view on Paul in respect to four questions:

  • What did Paul think about salvation?
  • What was Paul’s view of the significance of Christ?
  • What is the best framework for describing Paul’s theological perspective?
  • What was Paul’s vision for the churches (Bird 2012, 10)?

            Schreiner provides a Reformed view and outlines how Paul’s letters are central to Jesus defeating the “consequences of sin through his substitutionary death on the cross” (Bird 2012, 211). Johnson, a Roman Catholic, views a Paul that is grounded in “Greco-Roman culture, religious sensibilities, and his loyalty to his Jewish heritage principally through the Jewish Scriptures” (Bird 2012, 12). Central to both Schreiner and Johnson is that God’s new creation is experienced through Jesus’ work on the cross (Bird 2012, 97). A post-new perspective is provided by Campbell, who believes that Paul viewed salvation as a missional activity led by Christ and the Spirit. Campbell focuses on the fact that salvation is “the gift of God himself” who enters into communion with people who join in the divine life (Bird 2012, 14). Central to Campbell’s essay is Roman’s 5-8, which the other contributors rightly argue is a very narrow and limited view of Paul’s theology (ESV). Both Schreiner and Johnson believe that for a correct view of Paul, a more systematic survey of his letters must be used (Bird 2012, 144-148). Nanos is the final contributor and most divergent in thought as a Jewish historian. In Nanos’ view, Paul held that the end of the ages had begun because of the resurrection of Christ. Due to the end of ages, Christ-believing Gentiles should then be integrated into Jewish communities without becoming Jews to demonstrate that “God is the God of the nations as well as Israel” (Bird 2012, 15). He also emphasizes the Jewishness of Paul, going to lengths to argue that Paul continued to practice all the requirements of the Law and that he was not as strongly against non-Christian Jews as historically interpreted (Bird 2012, 166-167). While all authors agreed that historically, Christianity has not always viewed Judaism in a positive light, many dissented at the idea that Paul maintained all of the Torah following his conversion (Bird 2012, 211). The Four Views on the Apostle Paul provides an engaging and thought-provoking conversation on Paul’s teachings to the early church. Each contributor’s essay and the subsequent responses provide a stark contrast to the varying interpretations of Paul within differing schools of thought.

Bibliography

Bird, Michael, ed. 2012. Counterpoints: Four Views on the Apostle Paul. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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