How a New Interpretation of Paul Misses the Mark


The apostle Paul lived, taught, and ministered in a world totally different from our personal. If we’re to have a full grasp of his mission and message, we have to perceive his world. Paula Fredriksen, a scholar of early Christianity and late antiquity, has undertaken that undertaking in Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle. For Fredriksen, to see Paul in gentle of his first-century Mediterranean and Jewish worlds is to problem many cherished conceptions of the apostle. Paul: The Pagan’s Apostle affords readers the chance to submit their very own understandings of Paul to crucial scrutiny.

For Fredriksen, Paul is a product of first-century Judaism. Looming over Paul and his fellow Jews have been the apocalyptic, eschatological guarantees of the biblical prophets. The Day of the Lord would come, attended by “a last battle . . . the resurrection of the useless, the judgment of the depraved . . . the vindication of the righteous . . . [the] reassembl[ing of] Israel,” and “the whole world, human and divine, . . . acknowledg[ing] and worship[ing] the god of Israel” (27).

Inside this matrix of expectation, Jesus had come proclaiming the “kinetic proximity” of the dominion of God (6). That’s to say, whereas the dominion hadn’t but arrived, its arrival was imminent. The conviction of Paul and different early Christians that Jesus had risen from the useless persuaded them that the dominion was poised to interrupt into the world. With the daybreak of the dominion, they believed, would come the return of Jesus and the resurrection of the useless (132). The early church fervently believed that Jesus’s return would happen in their very own lifetimes (167). For that reason, the apostles decided “to unfold Jesus’s message of the approaching kingdom outdoors of the homeland to Israel within the Diaspora” (167). This motion carried the apostle Paul into the broader Mediterranean world.

Paul’s Homelands

If Scripture constituted Paul’s “textual homeland,” then the “multiethnic, thus multireligious, Greco-Roman metropolis” constituted his “social homeland” (61). The Mediterranean world was inescapably non secular. Every dimension of “civic life” served to “facilitat[e] the common, very important, and obligatory transactions” between “residents” and “gods” (33). The “cult” of the gods and civically rooted “ethnicity” gave “expression” to at least one one other (34).

Fredriksen argues that, because the apostolic mission made its manner into the Greco-Roman cities of the Mediterranean basin, one thing stunning and unexpected—however not unwelcome—occurred. Gentiles started to reply favorably to the message of the approaching kingdom. They “renounced their very own gods and made an unique dedication to Israel’s god” (146). Paul noticed these “ex-pagan pagans” because the “eschatological gentiles” of prophetic hope (147, 146).

This social motion occasioned persecution for Paul and different early Christians. Pagans have been distraught at their neighbors’ renunciation of civic, ethnic, and cultic ties and their adherence to a god of one other folks, the Jews. Synagogues, attentive to those “disrupted . . . relations between heaven and earth” and consequent “alien[ation of] each native gods and their people,” noticed their “place inside their cities . . . unsettl[ed]” (147, cf. 80–93). In consequence, they too persecuted Jewish followers of Jesus.

Scripture and the Greco-Roman metropolis are the 2 “homelands” that compose the terrain by which Paul’s epistles reside. Based on Fredriksen, the excellence between Jews and Gentiles was one Paul labored to keep throughout the church. He neither “erases” the excellence nor “redefines ‘Israel’ in order that it means (and means solely) the followers of Christ” (114). Paul did, nevertheless, anticipate ex-pagan pagans to “Judaize” by worshiping the Jewish God completely and by dwelling, within the energy of the Spirit, in line with at the very least some components of the Jewish legislation (117). The Pauline components “justification by religion” refers, based on Fredriksen, to this new life-style of law-keeping (121–2). For that reason, “‘legislation’ and ‘faithfulness’ . . . are complementary and synergistic, not contesting and opposite” (130).

Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle

Paula Fredriksen

Yale College Press (2017). 336 pp. $35.00.

Usually seen because the writer of timeless Christian theology, Paul himself heatedly maintained that he lived and labored in historical past’s closing hours. His letters propel his readers into two historic worlds, one Jewish, one pagan. The primary was incandescent with apocalyptic hopes. The second teemed with historic actors, not solely human but additionally divine. Each worlds are Paul’s, and his convictions in regards to the first formed his actions within the second. Solely by situating Paul inside this charged social context of gods and people, pagans and Jews, cities, synagogues, and competing Christ-following assemblies can we start to grasp his mission and message. This unique and provocative guide gives a dramatically new perspective on certainly one of historical past’s seminal figures.

The expectation that Jesus would return in Paul’s lifetime was unmet. In a short concluding part, Fredriksen displays how Paul’s educating and, specifically, his stance in direction of Judaism was altered—and betrayed—by subsequent generations of Christian thinkers. The messages of Acts and of the disputed Epistles are stated to have “de-Judaized” Paul (169). Regulation and gospel, works and beauty turned “polarized opposites” (173). Realized eschatology and a rationale for “the dominion’s evident delay” made their manner into these writings (169). It’s due to this fact solely once we “transfer apart the veils of later ecclesiastical custom” and place ourselves “into the full-hearted eschatological conviction” of the apostolic era that we could respect Paul for the “visionary” he was (174).

Paul in Context

Frederiksen’s work is effective in its efforts to set Paul inside his literary, non secular, and social context. Her overview of the prophetic passages that have been notably salient to Second Temple Jews is concise and insightful. Her account of the complexities of the connection between historic Jews and their pagan neighbors throughout the Second Temple interval repays cautious examine. Her description of the place of cult or faith throughout the historic metropolis is very instructive.

As a studying of Paul, nevertheless, Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle is in the end unsatisfactory. For the biblical Paul, the dominion isn’t merely a future expectation; it’s already damaged into historical past on the resurrection of Jesus. The dominion realities of “righteousness and peace and pleasure within the Holy Spirit” are presently skilled by every believer by way of religion within the crucified and risen Savior (Rom. 14:17; cf. Rom. 3:21–26; 5:1). In gentle of this actuality we grasp how Paul can converse of the dominion neighborhood of believers as eschatological Israel (Gal. 6:15–16).

Additional, whereas Fredriksen’s account of Paul doesn’t deny that sin and salvation have been issues, it locations these issues on the periphery of Paul’s priorities. Fredriksen fails to elucidate why Paul himself may summarize his message by way of the cross of Christ (1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 3:1; 6:14; 1 Cor. 15:1–4). Christ’s return absolutely lent urgency to Paul’s preaching. It did so due to his conviction that Christ’s return would lead instantly to the ultimate judgment of all humanity. No human being can stand righteous, on his personal, earlier than that throne (Rom, 3:9–20). However the gorgeous information of the gospel is that sinners can stand righteous earlier than God from the second they put their religion in Christ, whose righteousness is counted to them for justification (Rom. 3:21–26). Whereas believers should hold God’s legislation, their obedience by no means contributes to their justifying righteousness, which alone consists of Christ’s excellent obedience and full satisfaction for sin (Rom. 4:4–5; 5:12–21).

However Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle raises a extra primary downside. Have been one to grant that Paul anticipated Jesus to return in his personal lifetime, then one is compelled to conclude that occasions proved Paul improper. On this studying, not solely was Paul mistaken in a matter central to his educating, however his educating was grossly misunderstood by these regarded as his rapid successors: the authors of the so-called Deutero-Pauline Epistles. Why, then, does Paul’s educating advantage greater than a footnote in any account of the event of Christian thought?

But when Paul didn’t educate that Jesus would essentially return in his personal era, and if the disputed letters aren’t solely devoted to Paul’s educating however are the truth is his personal compositions, we’re in a greater place to understand his towering and constructive affect within the historical past of the church. We’re ready not solely to concur with Fredriksen’s summons to admire the apostle, but additionally to grasp why the church in all ages has thanked God for the “knowledge given . . . our beloved brother Paul” (2 Pet. 3:15).


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