Published on May 11, 2016 by Joshua Centanni

Fortress Press, 2015 | 404 pages

Reviewed by Andreas J. Köstenberger

The superlative endorsements on the back cover are hardly an exaggeration. N. T. Wright’s survey of some of the recent history of Pauline scholarship constitutes a remarkable achievement in its penetrating analysis and generative potential to forge a new synthesis in understanding Paul and his theology. One need not agree with all or even most of Wright’s own conclusions to derive substantial benefit from this work. In fact, the book is not even primarily about Wright’s own version of the “new perspective on Paul.” Instead, Wright provides a far-ranging, selective, and judicious treatment of some of the most seminal thinkers in Pauline theology over the past century. The present work started out as a prolegomenon to Wright’s massive volume, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, but Wright quickly realized that this history of Pauline scholarship deserved to be separated out from his already very large volume – a judicious move. It is hard to think of a better map to the Pauline landscape than this book. In fact, it may be best to read Paul and His Recent Interpreters before reading Paul and the Faithfulness of God.

One important contention Wright registers early and often is his adamant opposition to reducing Paul and his theology to mere “religion” as was customary in much of German scholarship of the previous century. This approach was integral to the history-of-religions model and even characterizes E. P. Sanders’s seminal work, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, which Sanders styled as a comparison of “patterns of religion” between Judaism and Christianity.

Another frequently repeated complaint is the once-conventional distinction between Judaism and Hellenism as if one must choose between a Jewish or Hellenistic Paul. Thus Albert Schweitzer cast Jesus as a Jewish apocalyptic in contrast to the vast majority of his contemporaries, while W. D. Davies, E. P. Sanders’s teacher, presented Jesus as a rabbi in his seminal work Paul and Rabbinic Judaism. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Holocaust further hastened the demise of the Hellenistic portrayal of Paul in favor of Paul the Jew. Yet the pendulum swing between the Hellenistic and the Jewish Paul, according to Wright, still owes far too much to the Hegelian dialectic, employed by F. C. Baur, moving from the antithesis between Jewish and Gentile Christianity to the grand synthesis of early Catholicism. Yet, as Wright contends, “Misleading categories produce misleading analyses” (p. 23); consequently, he laments the Tübingen School’s blindness to the possibility of a Jewish “critique from within.” It is not enough to affirm that Paul was Jewish rather than Hellenistic. Rather, the question remains, “What kind of Jew was Paul?” and “In what ways did he critique first-century Judaism from within?”

Perhaps the most basic premise of Wright’s entire volume is the foundational nature of painstaking historical work by students and scholars of the NT. As Wright observes, the question, “What was Paul’s theology?” is at the core a historical question. Thus Wright consistently calls for a “thick description” of history (e.g., p. 24). A close second is the necessity of dialogue between history and theology. Both premises are affirmed in the following assertion: “History sets the context for exegesis, and must always remain in close dialogue with it; history and exegesis together must always remain in dialogue with theology itself” (p. 23). Along with these bedrock convictions, Wright notes the ever-present danger of anachronism. Paul, he asserts, did not engage in religious critique but based his views on the eschatological conviction that the crucified Jesus had been raised and was Israel’s Messiah (p. 23). Nor did Paul posit a general religious theory or pose and answer generic, universal religious questions. Rather, as a Jew, Paul sought to relate the coming of Jesus the Messiah to the story and history of Israel.

Wright has little appreciation for Luther and his law-gospel distinction and contention that Christ is the end of the Law. He much prefers Calvin’s contention that Christ is the Law’s fulfillment. Likewise, Wright resonates with Schweitzer’s view that Paul espoused the eschatological mysticism of the Being-in-Christ (though he disavows the notion of mysticism and prefers calling this notion “participationist” or “union with Christ”). When dealing with Schweitzer, Wright touches on yet another of his bedrock convictions: in Schweitzer’s terms, union with Christ is the main crater, while justification is a comparatively minor one. In this way, Wright traces a trajectory from Calvin to Schweitzer to Sanders (p. 37).

Wright also has little appreciation for Bultmann, observing that his Paul is an ancient version of a Lutheran existentialist with little connection to Israel’s Scriptures or first-century Judaism (p. 43). Nevertheless, because Schweitzer and Bultmann’s categories shaped subsequent debates, understanding these two influential figures is imperative (p. 44). Oscar Cullmann does not fare much better. Rather, Wright’s sympathies lie decidedly with Bultmann’s student, Ernst Kӓsemann, who contended that apocalyptic is the mother of theology (a return to Schweitzer and a rejection of Bultmann’s penchant for Gnosticism; p. 51) and reacted against the latter’s over-individualization of the gospel (p. 55).

Wright roots the beginnings of the “new perspective on Paul” (NPP) in Krister Stendahl (1961), Wright himself (1978), and James D. G. Dunn (1982). E. P. Sanders, of course, published Paul and Palestinian Judaism in 1977, almost 40 years ago. According to Wright, Sanders’s view was an idea whose time had come, for the following reasons (p. 66):

  1. The NPP marks the culmination of a long protest against the Christian mischaracterization of Judaism (see, e.g., G. F. Moore).
  2. It culminates a long line of scholars who contended that Paul was a Jewish, not Hellenistic, thinker (including Schweitzer and Davies, Sanders’s teacher).
  3. It resonates with the Reformed tradition of theology and its stress on Judaism as a religion of grace and on the Torah as a good thing to be obeyed out of gratitude (cf. Cranfield, Ridderbos).
  4. It also resonates with a certain strand of exegetical scholarship (e.g., George Howard); Sanders was no exegete and wrote no commentaries, though others raised similar issues on exegetical grounds.
  5. It provided a comparison of two patterns of religion (cf. William Wrede).

What, then, did Sanders achieve? While not providing an analysis of Paul’s theology, much less an exegetical treatment of key passages in Paul’s writings, Sanders established a different view of rabbinic Judaism and a comparison of Paul’s thought and Palestinian Judaism. At the same time, he did not provide an analysis of Paul’s theology (pp. 66–70). Clearly, Wright contends, the early Jews were no forerunners of medieval Catholics or Pelagians. While Sanders himself did not develop this (though Wright does), we find here in seed form the entire structure of rabbinic teaching within its larger context, the context of a story, the story of a people, Israel.

That said, Wright’s acceptance of some of the basic premises of Sanders’s “new perspective” is anything but uncritical. First, Wright alleges that the notion of first-century Judaism as espousing “covenantal nomism” may be reductionistic (Wright prefers “covenantal narrative,” p. 71). Similarly, he finds Sanders’s way of putting matters—i.e., that the issue was not “getting in” but “staying in”— anachronistic (pp. 71–72; see critique on p. 80). Nevertheless, Wright believes Sanders’s framework is essentially right and superior to the old perspective. With regard to justification, Wright notes that the NT speaks of three dimensions of justification: past, present, and future (p. 72). To remedy the flaw in Sanders’s presentation, Wright endeavors to supplement his work with worldview analysis (p. 74). Rabbinic Judaism, Sanders’s primary object of inquiry, lived in the dehistoricized world of Torah-piety (p. 74); what matters, according to Wright, is the world of the great story (p. 75). In fact, Judaism’s retreat into Torah piety in AD 135 was a retreat from the larger story (p. 75). While Sanders saw an implicit covenantal framework in the rabbis, he missed the covenantal narrative (p. 75).

Second, Wright tackles Sanders’s well-known observation that rather than moving from plight to solution, Paul argued from solution to plight (p. 77). Unlike Luther, Paul did not start with personal anguish and a troubled conscience (Stendahl) and then discover Jesus (p. 77). Wright also agrees with Sanders that Romans 7 is not about Paul’s pre-conversion state. At the same time, he finds unduly simplistic Sanders’s famous dictum that what Paul finds wrong with Judaism is (not the Law but) that it is not Christianity. Also, Wright contends that it is illegitimate to subsume theology under religion; hence Sanders’s “pattern of religion” framework is problematic (p. 80). Sanders is right in saying justification is part of participation (union with Christ), but he has not found a way to connect them (p. 85). Also, Sanders minimizes inaugurated eschatology (on which see further below).

Chapter 4 discusses “Life after Sanders.” The chapter opens with the memorable and vintage-Wright parody of Goldilocks (a.k.a. the NPP) and the three bears (presumably the editors of the major response to the NPP by D. A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien, and Mark Seifrid; p. 89). Whatever one may think of the merits of the parody, Wright is certainly correct that the NPP has upset the apple cart in Pauline studies (as well as Reformation theology). That said, Wright turns next to James D. G. Dunn, a major proponent of the NPP who developed Sanders’s model in his own distinctive direction (pp. 90–91). Dunn, famously, posited that “the works of the Law” mentioned in Paul’s writings—traditionally believed to refer to legalism and works-righteousness—instead are ethnic boundary markers, namely circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath observance by which Jews demonstrated their covenant membership (p. 92). Wright agrees, and takes the opportunity to defend the NPP: it is not denying that Paul also speaks of salvation from sin (p. 94) but rather believes there is an important ethnic and covenantal dimension in play as well. For Wright, nomos is a general, universal law, but the Jewish law, Torah, was given by God through Moses to Israel (p. 94). What is more, if the law in Paul is Israel-specific, it shakes Reformed foundations of the so-called “covenant of works” between God and Adam in the Garden (p. 95). For Wright, the primary question at stake was this: how do Gentiles become full members of the people of God (p. 96)?

In that vein, justification has to do not just with soteriology but also with ecclesiology (p. 96). Also famously, Dunn engaged in debate with Richard Hays’s 1983 Ph.D. dissertation and subsequent work contending that the phrase pistis Christou should be taken as a subjective genitive (“the faithfulness of Jesus Christ”) rather than, as has traditionally been held, an objective genitive (“faith in Christ”). With Cranfield, Dunn contended that Romans 7 describes the normal Christian’s struggle with sin and advocated the traditional objective reading. Wright, on the other hand, says the flow of argument in Romans 3 has convinced him of the subjective reading (p. 97). This is in keeping with what Wright sees as the overriding question in first-century Judaism as well as Paul: Will a gracious God fulfill his promises to Israel? Paul’s answer, according to Wright, is couched in the narrative of Jesus the Messiah (pp. 97–98).

In fact, it is precisely this close attention to the covenantal narrative (emphasized by Hays) that Wright finds lacking in Dunn’s work (p. 98). What is needed is not just cumulative exegesis of key passages in context but a whole new way of reading Paul (p. 98). This, in turn, is further pursued in Hays’s sequel (also paradigm-changing) Echoes of Scripture. According to Sanders, Paul wanted to link faith and righteousness and so drew on the only two passages in the OT where these two terms are conjoined: Gen 15:6 and Hab 2:4 (p. 98). Hays detects substantial continuity in the narratives of Israel and Jesus the Messiah; thus 1 Cor 10:1–2 reflects the conviction that the Corinthians are in the same story as exodus Israel, a story “hermeneutically reconfigured by the cross and resurrection” (pp. 100–101). According to Wright, this single narrative is the most important element in Paul’s reconceived worldview. Hays, likewise, claims that in passages such as Gal 2:17, justification and participation are merged: salvation is “our participation in Christ’s justification” (p. 101).

Or is “the old better”? This is Wright’s next topic of inquiry (chap. 5). Any serious historical investigation, so Wright, must deal with the following two solid objects: first-century Judaism and the letters of Paul. At this point, he notes that some of the contributors to the volumes edited by Carson and others offer qualified support for Sanders despite Carson’s summary at the end (p. 109). For Wright, the main culprit is Kant and his separation of indicative and imperative (p. 113). Rather than either-or, we are faced here with a both-and proposition: people are under obligation to live in a certain way and salvation is a gift of God’s grace (p. 114).

Wright also takes strong exception to Westerholm and others who allege that the NPP doesn’t care about salvation, forgiveness, conversion, or the gospel (p. 117). According to Wright, justification is simply not the main way in which Paul conveys the gospel (p. 118). Indeed, at some level it is hard to argue with this point, since “justification by faith” language is only found in a handful of Paul’s letters (e.g., the verb dikaioō is in the Pauline letter corpus essentially limited to Romans and Galatians). Nevertheless, Wright lists as many as five points of convergence between the NPP and Reformed theology: (1) Jesus’s death is central (representation and substitution are mutually determinative); (2) Paul’s conversion is not of central importance; being “in Christ” is; (3) Wright is comfortable with acknowledging that there is a movement from plight to solution (contra Sanders, and with Thielman); (4) imputed righteousness is not needed (Wright calls it “a latecomer to Reformation theology,” p.120); what is much more important is the imputed death and resurrection of the Messiah (Romans 6; Philippians 3); and (5) “being in Christ” is better. Wright closes the chapter by noting that Paul is a complex, integrated thinker and urging engagement in historical debate by way of a hermeneutic of critical realism (p. 130).

Part II is devoted to the subject “Re-enter ‘Apocalyptic.’” Laying the historical groundwork, Wright takes his point of departure from J. Christiaan Beker’s celebrated (albeit somewhat eccentric) work, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought, which contends that the central Pauline motif is the divine victory over the powers of evil (p. 135). Similar to Beker, Ernst Kӓsemann, as mentioned, had affirmed that “apocalyptic is the mother of Christian theology.” Another work in the same vein is Klaus Koch’s, The Rediscovery of Apocalyptic. All of these works, in turn, of course hark back to Albert Schweitzer’s view of an apocalyptic Jesus.

What is apocalyptic? The problem Wright diagnoses in the history of scholarship on this issue is that little of it is grounded in an actual engagement of Second Temple Jewish sources. In this regard, the Qumran discovery helped tremendously. Puzzlingly, and rather arbitrarily, the Jesus Seminar preferred wisdom to apocalyptic (p. 142). The significance of reengaging apocalyptic in NT studies is that it helps adjudicate between global and individualistic or privatized readings. Apocalyptic is a crucial interpretive matrix; thus it is important to ensure that the matrix itself is carefully described (p. 144). Lamentably, however, much of NT scholarship has cast apocalyptic in non-historical terms: “From this quagmire of agenda-driven analyses only history can save us” (p. 144).

Ernst Kӓsemann has often stood in the shadow of his teacher, Rudolf Bultmann. In Wright, however, Kӓsemann has much greater stature than Bultmann. In fact, Wright maintains, “If we have to choose between Bultmann and Kӓsemann, we must choose Kӓsemann” (p. 145). The way Wright tells the story, Kӓsemann is the platform on which Beker and Martyn built. Within the framework of the history of religions, Kӓsemann tilted the pendulum toward apocalyptic rather than Gnosticism, moving from a Hellenistic to a Jewish background. Individualistic existentialism was not enough. At the same time, Kӓsemann was conflicted: was Paul Christian or Jewish? His “vision was of a Paul who embraced a whole-world gospel, a vision of all of reality, not a particularistic Paul who endorsed local or national aspirations” (p. 147). Problem is, apocalyptic is Jewish and local! Nevertheless, what Kӓsemann has in his favor, according to Wright, is that, in a radical break with the Reformation, he viewed the “righteousness of God” as God’s own righteousness.

J. Christiaan Beker combined justification and participation, apocalyptic and salvation, history and covenant. He has no use for an anti-historical notion of apocalyptic. Yet he has little on the “righteousness of God.” Let’s put the apocalyptic triumph of God at the center, Wright says; but let’s make sure that in the center of this triumph are Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection. J. Louis Martyn studied with Kӓsemann and relied heavily upon De Boer’s bifurcated cosmological/forensic apocalyptic model. The “two ages” are the important background. Wright contends that apocalyptic has to do with covenant. According to Wright, the apocalyptic writings are never just about the human plight and the divine solution; they are about Israel’s plight (a subset of humanity’s plight) and the divine covenantal solution. The question is not so much: How do people get saved? But rather: What is God going to do about Israel? (p. 163).

Glancing at the end-of-first-century Jewish apocalyptic works 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, Wright notes that Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans; the “apocalypse” had come. And ultimately, Adam was to blame! Conversely, for Kӓsemann apocalyptic was almost entirely taken up with the future, the parousia. Here is where Martyn’s work is a major improvement. Martyn proposed that the “apocalypse” has already happened in the death of Jesus (p. 171). Again, Wright warns against an undue dichotomy between “religion” (Judaism) and “revelation” (Paul’s gospel). As Paul contends in the letter of Galatians (esp. 4:4), a new exodus has occurred in the death of Jesus, which constitutes the climax of an apocalyptic narrative (p. 179).

At this point, Wright asks three pointed questions: (1) The more Paul is understood to be apocalyptic, why shouldn’t he have written 2 Thessalonians? What about Colossians? And if Colossians, why not also Ephesians? (2) What is the political meaning of apocalyptic? (3) How is the Paul of Galatians transmuted into the Paul of Romans? (pp. 183–84). Wright devotes an entire chapter to Douglas Campbell’s rather eccentric work, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (2009). Wright says the book is too short, has the wrong title, and does a hatchet job on justification theorists (p. 189). Campbell leans heavily on Martyn and sees in Western readings of Romans 1–4 a rationalist and foundationalist account of how people get saved. There are many problems with Campbell’s work, not the least being that he does not provide a treatment of Romans 5–16.

Part III discusses Paul’s world and ours: social history and the Pauline communities. Wright provides a helpful thumbnail sketch of social-scientific research in NT studies, covering seminal contributions by E. A. Judge in Australia (pp. 229–34) and Gerd Theissen in Germany. In the United States, Wright discusses the likes of Wayne Meeks, Bruce Malina, Jerome Neyrey, John Elliott, Philip Esler, and Robert Jewett (esp. his Romans commentary). The four tasks of social approaches are description, explanation, prediction, and application (pp. 236–43). The goal is that of mapping and modeling the symbolic world (p. 243). Wright rightly cautions against sociological reductionism but importantly also urges guarding against reductionism from the other extreme (p. 246). He explores the utility of research in areas such as sects, charismatic leaders, boundaries, fictive kinship, resocialization, deviance, conflict, patronage, the patron-client system, benefactors, honor-shame societies, and others. With regard to honor-shame societies, Wright observes that (1) these also exist today; (2) blanket generalizations should be eschewed; and (3) reductionism should be avoided as well. Wright also briefly discusses rhetorical criticism (p. 254).

Wright’s position on social criticism is open but cautious (and at times critical). Wright says the “Context group” is a sect in NT studies (pp. 254–55); he prefers the more general social-historical approach epitomized by Meeks (see further below) to the more dogmatic social-anthropological approach of Malina and others (p. 256). Rather incredibly, as Wright notes, all these approaches proceeded as if E. P. Sanders and the NPP did not exist. This again shows the lamentable lack of dialogue and engagement of opposing perspectives in NT and Pauline studies. Wright’s two heroes are clearly Wayne Meeks and David Horrell. Meeks wrote the seminal work, The First Urban Christians. Alluding to 1 Corinthians 13, Wright says “there remain three great landmarks” in the last generation of Anglophone Pauline scholarship: “Sanders, Martyn and Meeks; and the one I value most is Meeks” (p. 259). Later, Wright adds that these are the three reputed pillars of North American Pauline scholarship (alluding to Galatians 2; cf. James, Peter, and John; p. 284). Personally, I have found Meeks’s work on Johannine sectarianism to be highly dubious. What impresses Wright about Meeks’s work is his opposition to reductionism and his refusal to use one grid and impose it on the material as the “Context group” is wont to do (p. 260). His one critique of Meeks is that the study of Paul needs to be rooted in the sense of narrative and of Paul’s place within it (p. 270). Wright also discusses the work by Dale Martin, Meeks’s student and successor (pp. 278–79).

Meeks’s contribution is described as follows: (1) he shifted the focus decisively from the history of religions to (social) history, that is, a “thick description” of the ancient Mediterranean world and in particular the cities in which Paul founded his churches; (2) he placed the question of belief within the larger scope of worldview: Paul’s justification language is closely correlated with the social reality of Jew-plus-Gentile communities as part of an impulse that sought to generate a community that saw itself as the vanguard of a new creation (p. 281); he studied Paul in terms of history, worldview, beliefs, and mission. The limitations of Meeks’s work pertain to his relative neglect of theology, narrative, and covenant.

In terms of application, Sanders compares patterns of religion between Judaism and Paul and shows how similar they are in many respects; Martyn does not apply his apocalyptic reading to today; Meeks seems to think the task is merely to provide a detailed history. Strikingly, though, there has been little dialogue, synthesis, and collaboration: Wright attempts to draw on each of their works for his own project (p. 283). None of these scholars gives an account of Paul’s view of Jesus’s divinity and the question of justification by faith. Sanders’s comparison of religions is weak; Martyn’s view of apocalyptic is problematic; only the relentless historical work proposed by Meeks will do (p. 284). Wright calls for integration and application in the exegetical task (p. 284).

The second positive example of social-historical work besides Meeks is David Horrell’s Solidarity and Difference, which espouses the principle of “differentiated solidarity” (p. 286). Chapter 5 of Horrell’s work deals with difference: purity, boundaries, and identity (p. 292). Wright strongly advocates a framework of creation and new creation/redemption of creation through the Messiah and implemented through the Spirit (p. 293). Chapter 6 identifies “other-regard” (i.e., love) as foundational to Paul’s ethic and contrasts his stances on food and sex. In this context, Wright points to the foundational importance of creational monotheism (pp. 294–95; see also pp. 299–300). Chapter 7 expounds on corporate solidarity while chapter 8 is devoted to ethics and outsiders, addressing Paul’s concern for outward benevolence (i.e., doing good). At the end, Horrell offers three models for the appropriation of Paul’s ethics: what it means to think with (communitarian), beyond (mediating), and against (liberal) Paul (p. 301). Horrell contends we must “articulate new stories, new myths, about human solidarity and difference which avoid the notion that only Christ can provide their basis, and in so doing go not only beyond but also against Paul” (p. 202).

In terms of critique, Wright rightly asks: What stories? Wright’s concern is this: “To diminish the eschatological and in that sense ‘apocalyptic’ meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection is to give up, not some culturally conditioned appendage which we can sideline without loss, but the very centre of Paul’s message” (p. 303). According to Wright, the foundation story of the Christian “myth” and meaning of the rituals practiced by the Pauline communities had to do not only with the death and resurrection of Israel’s Messiah but also with the rescue and reconstitution of creation itself (p. 303). Unfortunately, Horrell downplays the gospel of new creation, which protects rediscovered authenticity from collapsing into mere inward-looking sectarianism (pp. 303–4). Horrell has not provided a blueprint for the fusion of horizons between Paul’s gospel and tomorrow’s world but has taken a giant leap forward in helping us see what this challenge might look like (p. 304).

Wright asserts, “Since … Paul was a theologian of creation and new creation, he could not simply create a private mental or spiritual world for Messiah-followers to live in” (p. 306). He observes that (1) the cultural relativism of the 1970s has subsided; (2) the existentialism of Bultmann’s day has faded as well; the focus is more on questions of political philosophy, on hope for a better world; (3) there is a deep dissatisfaction with “religious right” interpretations and a mounting belief that Paul was seeking to subvert the politics of his day: Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not (p. 308). Again, Wright urges dialogue (p. 309). He sums up that the three main approaches have all arisen from dissatisfaction with prevailing approaches: (1) the NPP reacting against negative portrayals of Judaism; (2) Kӓsemann against inward-looking Bultmannian existentialism; (3) social-historical approaches against a decontextualized “theology of the Word.” He also notes that the church has witnessed a polarization between fundamentalism (separatism) and liberalism (world-embracing). If Paul were with us today, he would no doubt engage our culture. He would find positive aspects to affirm, negative elements to confront. He would excoriate idolatry; would affirm a day of coming judgment; and would proclaim that as a sign of this day God raised Jesus from the dead, not as a foundation for heavenly faith but as sign of God’s kingdom on earth (p. 329).

The book concludes with an important discussion of Paul in history, theology, and hermeneutics. All study must begin with lexicography, the history of God-talk. All the theological questions need historical answers (p. 330). As mentioned at the outset, the backbone of the book is its emphasis on the primacy of the historical task, epitomized by the contributions of the likes of Baur, Schweitzer, Sanders, Martyn, Meeks, and Horrell. As a result, the word “Judaism” now carries 19th-century baggage (i.e., the wrong type of religion when compared with Christianity; p. 331). Luther understood Paul and Christianity over against Judaism. Baur and the Tübingen School conceived of Judaism within the framework of a broader Hegelian dialectic, bifurcating into Jewish and Gentile Christianity, and culminating in early Catholicism. We must move from the history of religions to thick historical description (p. 332). We also must surmount the dichotomy between Judaism and Hellenism. The work of W. D. Davies, E. P. Sanders’s teacher, points in the right direction: Paul is a Jewish thinker (p. 333). And yet, we must understand Paul’s theology as a mutation from within his Jewish world.

Despite his limitations, Sanders serves as a marker in the quest for a larger historical description of Paul within his Jewish world (p. 335). Kӓsemann surmounted Bultmann and gave Schweitzer a new lease on life, reversing the retreat into religionsgeschichtlich study. And yet, Wright shares a concern with a proper understanding of apocalyptic: what about covenant, salvation history? Here he notes the limitations of Martyn and De Boer. Another problem pertains to the lack of integration of the scholarly worlds represented by Sanders and Martyn (p. 337). Here the social history investigations by Meeks and Horrell can help. For Meeks, Wright notes, there is no great difference between participation and justification, between apocalyptic and salvation history (p. 338).

Wright closes his book with a discussion of how different approaches interpret Gal 2:11ff (pp. 339ff). Paul’s main concern in Galatians pertains to the unity of the church. The question is: Are people justified by faith in Jesus (old perspective, Dunn) or by the faithfulness of Jesus (Hays, Wright; p. 340)? Wright contends that “sin” in Galatians is also a sociological category (Jews identifying with Gentiles in table fellowship; p. 342). Paul is speaking about a new identity, identified not by Torah but by Messiah. Wright aligns Paul’s language of righteousness with covenant membership (p. 342). First, there is now a new family, the messianic family, marked by outward membership and inward transformation (p. 344). There is a new identity, shaped by the Messiah’s death and resurrection. Then, second, there is the divine apocalyptic victory over evil powers. Finally, third, there is the imperative and centrality of love. One line goes from Schweitzer to Sanders and Campbell, focusing on participation (perhaps in an apocalyptic context). Another line goes from Baur to Bultmann to the old perspective: justification by faith.

As Wright puts it, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither apocalyptic nor salvation history, neither participation nor justification: all are one in the Messiah” (p. 345). The group identified as Messiah’s followers are an apocalyptically created social, theological, and missional entity (p. 346). This is a fitting assertion on which to end Wright’s volume. One is struck by the integrated nature of Wright’s proposal and his concern to surmount false dichotomies and reductionisms. Not only has Wright provided a map to the history of Pauline studies, he has also given us a suggestive synthesis that, in conjunction with Paul and the Faithfulness of God and Wright’s other works, may serve as a new paradigm for further scholarly discussion. For this we can be very grateful. As a selected survey of the history of Pauline research, Wright’s volume is outstanding, but by praising his work I don’t necessarily mean to imply that I agree with all (or even most) of his contentions.


Andreas J. Köstenberger is research professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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Paul and His Recent Interpreters

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