John Barclay’s Extremely Short History of Paul


John M. G. Barclay
Paul: A Extremely Short History
London: SPCK, 2017.
Offered at SPCK.

This is a terrific tiny book, you can study it in 1-two hours, exactly where Barclay offers a short overview of Paul and his influence.

Barclay describes Paul as “one of the most intriguing and uncommon characters from the ancient world” and refers to Paul’s “anomalous” attitude to Jewish practices – FYI, inspired by Barclay on this point, I wrote an complete book on Paul as An Anomalous Jew.

When it comes to the Damascus Road, Barclay says: “What occurred subsequent was not the resolution of an inner psychological tensions, nor the salving of a guilty conscience, but a revolution in his understanding of the globe, of himself, of appropriate and incorrect, and of the God he worshipped.” This proved to Paul, so Barclay says, that if an individual who had been so incorrect could be place appropriate, then “God’s grace was not offered on the basis of human worth. That was an unnerving discovery, because it was commonly (and understandably) imagined that God’s very best gifts have been differentially distributed according to the worth of the recipients. But if God’s favour was given without having respect for worth it was no restricted, Paul came to see, by any ethnic criteria.” And “Paul’s personal expertise and the expertise of his Gentile converts was that God paid no regard to human systems of social, moral or ethnic worth, and this alarmingly unexpected behaviour by God, demonstrated in Christ, shaped all Paul’s convictions about history. He traced in the story of Abraham and in the story of Israel (Romans four 9-11) a pattern of unconditioned mercy that came to its climactic expression in Christ.”

Barclay thinks that Paul “gave to the early Christian movement a clear Jewish (i.e. scriptural) rationale for its spread into the non-Jewish globe, and for its mission amongst non-Jews on terms that integrated them as complete members of God’s individuals (‘children of Abraham’) without having requiring them to reside like Jews.” Certainly: “Without Paul’s power and influence, the Jesus movement could possibly have remained only a controversial and eventually unsuccessful sect inside Judaism, unable to communicate or to recruit in the non-Jewish globe. Or it could have come to be a worldwide Jesus cult wholly alienated from its Jewish heritage. The inventive believed and the restless action of Paul ensured that the mainstream Christian movement took neither of these routes.”

Barclay’s chapter on “Paul and the Jewish tradition” is a highlight of the book, noting that “the Scriptures have been extra than a fund of vocabulary and a supply of handy citations their bigger narrative structures and their deep theological thematics offered the framework in which Paul believed.”

Barclay is also post-NPP because he hints that Paul was not merely attacking the ethnic privilege or nationalistic righteousness of the Jews, but relativizing the standard Jewish categories of worth primarily based on the recalibration of values brought about by the Christ-occasion.

Barclay tends to make a superior point (which I’ve similarly heard from Marinus de Jong, God’s Final Envoy, 130-31): “Paul could not realize the life, death and resurrection of Jesus without having seeing there the agency of God but neither could he now realize God except in the light of what had occurred in Christ.”

Barclay requires a soft view on the counter-imperial Paul: “In any case, the challenge of the Christian movement to Roman religion, and its resistance to the visual propaganda and civic ritual that reinforces Roman rule, was eventually to subvert, at a deep level, the complete edifice of Roman civilization.”

A climax of the book is Barclay’s point that it is not possible to repeat Paul, interpretation is not repetition, it is a conversation and appropriation of Paul for right now. There is no single which means of Paul, but rather an endless variety of semantic possible for how Paul speaks to us right now. Barclay sounds remarkably like Dale Martin when says that texts do not basically speak, rather, texts are offered voice and influence by human interpreters who inevitably “select, prioritize and construe them according to their personal social places and their cultural or political agendas”. Paul creates an ambiguity for the inventive function of the interpreter and the challenge is to make “responsible sense of them in our personal modern context.”  Of course, Barclay adds also that Paul could possibly disappoint these who want to obtain their radical social vision authorized by Paul at least if they are allergic to anachronism. Alas, Paul did not treat slavery as an intrinsic evil, even if he sought to destabilize social hierarchies, and to no cost other individuals for service to Christ.

Otherwise, though I could possibly contest some of his take on Pauline chronology, and which letters of Paul are genuine, I’d be inclined to see this as the very best quick introduction to Paul that is about.


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