Reviewed by Kevin McFadden
This Festschrift for Doug Moo is a delightful collection of sixteen short essays by evangelical scholars on different aspects of Paul’s letters and theology. It opens with a brief biography of Moo written by his former student Dane Ortlund, and it closes with a bibliography of Moo’s publications. One can see from scanning this list that Moo has spent much of his career in the labor of writing commentaries, focusing on Paul’s letters and the general epistles. As he himself puts it, “I love writing commentaries. I feel as if it is what God made me to do…. I write them because I am convinced that, as flawed as they are, they help God’s people understand God’s Word and teach and preach it faithfully” (21).
One of the great virtues of this book is the brevity of each essay. Stephen Westerholm mentions the word count in a passing one-liner that has to be repeated here: “When I was asked if I could write an article, under seven thousand words, on ‘what’s right about the new perspective,’ I was tempted to reply ‘Oh, sure, I could do that in fifty!’” (230). As it turns out, Westerholm finds much more than fifty words of praise for the new perspective, but his essay, like each essay in this volume, is only ten to fifteen pages long. This brevity makes the book manageable and enjoyable to read in comparison with many collections of academic articles.
Westerholm’s comment also highlights a second virtue of the book: The editors chose a wide array of topics on Paul including some very unique topics. The first part is made up of six essays on specific exegetical questions in Paul’s letters. Ardel Caneday argues that Paul’s statement that those who receive grace will reign in life in Romans 5:17 refers not to the believer’s future reign over the world but to their present reign over sin which is explained in Romans 6. Perhaps we could argue it is both/and? In the next essay, Chris Vlackos develops the thesis of his dissertation written under Moo about allusions to Eden in Romans 7:7-11.
My favorite essay was by Moo’s son Jonathan arguing that Paul’s fatherhood metaphor in 1 Corinthians 4:15-16 (and throughout his letters) was not a means of asserting his authority over the Corinthian church but rather showing his love and concern for their well-being. Moo opens with a vignette about how he used to travel with his father to churches as a young boy and mimic the elder Moo’s preaching from the front row. It appears that he not only mimicked his father as a child — the clarity of his essay and even-handedness with which he addresses those with whom he disagrees sounds a lot like his father as well.
Jay Smith follows Moo’s essay with an interesting attempt to convince his former teacher (Moo) that “all other sins a person commits are outside the body” (1 Cor 6:18b) is actually a slogan of the Corinthian church that Paul is quoting. Don Carson offers a “mirror-reading” of the opaque situation in Galatians 2:11-14, arguing that Peter stopped eating out of fear of non-Christian Jews (so “those from the circumcision” in Gal 2:12 of whom Peter was afraid were not the same group as the men who came from James mentioned in the same verse). Finally, Verlyn Verbrugge argues that the phrase “not only in my presence…” modifies the command to “work out your own salvation” in Philippians 2:12 (because it uses the negative mē rather than ou). Verbrugge’s essay also opens with an insider’s perspective on the controversial update to the NIV that cleared up several misconceptions I had about the situation.
Part two of the book contains three essays on Paul’s use of Scripture and the Jesus tradition. These essays could fit as well in the first section as they are each examples of careful exegesis in their own right. Craig Blomberg gives a useful survey of the allusions and echoes of the Jesus tradition in Paul that is purposefully “maximalist” in order to stir up discussion. Matthew Harmon argues that Paul’s use of the verb allegoreō in Galatians 4:21—5:1 refers to the way he reads Genesis 16–21 through the lens of Isaiah 54:1 (one wonders whether this identifies the meaning of the verb a little too specifically). And I was particularly impressed with Grant Osborne’s essay on the use of Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4, as this study caused him to change his mind after teaching Ephesians for decades!
Part three consists of seven essays that address issues in Pauline scholarship and the contemporary significance of Paul. The authors of these final essays are well-known, and their positions were somewhat predicable for those who have read their works. Nevertheless, this section contains some of the jewels of the volume with Bob Yarbrough thinking through some of the benefits of a salvation-historical hermeneutic, and Greg Beale reflecting on the importance of elders to combat false teaching in the last days according to Paul’s already/not yet eschatology.
James Dunn (who coined the term “new perspective on Paul”) explains what’s right about the old perspective on Paul, and Stephen Westerholm (a well-known critique of the new perspective) reflects on what’s right about the new perspective. N. T. Wright interacts with Ernst Käsemann’s writings and final lectures in order to show that the great German theologian did not reject “salvation history” or the idea that the gospel fulfills God’s covenant quite as much as some scholars now think.
Finally, Tom Schreiner and Mark Seifrid cap off these essays with more theological reflections addressing truth and justification in light of our current postmodern and secular context. Seifrid’s profound reflections on justification contain such compelling passages as this: “In throwing off the idea of the transcendent and becoming ever more distant from God, our contemporaries necessarily take upon themselves the burden of ‘justifying’ their own life… The postmodern person labors under burdens that they were not created to bear” (278). And Schreiner’s reflections on Paul’s concept of truth as both intellectual and moral concludes with Peter Stuhlmacher’s reminder that a knowledge of the gospel “is not only a concern of mental effort; it requires the practical dedication of one’s life” (273). “The life of Doug Moo,” Schreiner obverses, “matches the last sentence Stuhlmacher wrote, which explains why his scholarly work is both exegetically stimulating and pastorally edifying” (273).
Books like this are notorious for selling poorly. But I really hope this volume sells well. The essays are short enough for any pastor or biblical scholar to read quickly. And each essay will be read with profit, not as a dry intellectual or speculative exercise but as an attempt to explain Scripture carefully. They remind us of the debt we all owe to the work of careful evangelical scholars over the last several decades, scholars like Doug Moo.
Kevin McFadden is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Cairn University
Buy the books
Studies In The Pauline Epistles: Essays In Honor Of Douglas J. Moo