Paul and his Recent Interpreters by N.T. Wright— Part Seven


The concluding chapter of this second major section of Tom’s book devotes itself to a rather detailed critique of the controversial and very large and detailed work of Douglas Campbell on justification and Paul. Tom summarizes Campbell’s theses in this book as follows: “— The main argument of Campbell’s book is (a) that the normal way of reading Romans 1—4 is wrong, (b) that Romans 5—8 offers an altogether superior way of understanding Paul in general and Romans in particular, and therefore (c) that we need to find a radically different way of reading Romans 1—4, and indeed of understanding Paul.” p. 187. He adds that this book claims to be, but actually is not, an apocalyptic re-reading of justification in Paul. To the contrary, it is a deconstruction of the whole justification approach to Paul’s theology in Romans (and elsewhere).

Tom adds….. “what Campbell seems to mean by ‘apocalyptic’
(and his regular use of the word, and his invoking of Martyn as the
leading exponent of ‘apocalyptic’ readings of Paul, indicate that we are right
to discuss him within the present Part of the book rather than elsewhere) is
basically that he believes in the sovereignty of God and therefore in a
covenantal rather than a contractual soteriology; that he believes that Paul
thought everything through ‘backwards’ on the basis of the revelation of
God in Jesus Christ, rather than coming with an already worked-out system
and then fitting Jesus into it; and that he believes in a gospel of the surpassing
love of God as opposed to a message about the dangerous anger of God….. all this places Campbell somewhere in an orbit defined by Calvin and Barth in particular.” (p. 189).

At the heart of Campbell’s proposal is the insistence that previous readings of Rom. 1-4 are simply wrong. Tom summarizes Campbell’s argument as follows (on p. 194): “Campbell injects a new proposal into the old debates about Paul’s reasons for writing Romans. Someone of the same sort
as Martyn’s ‘Teachers’ – Campbell calls him ‘the Teacher’ – is on his way to
Rome; perhaps he has already arrived there. Paul writes Romans 1—4 in
order to set out the debate he needs to have with this person. Thus, whereas
Martyn sometimes has Paul alluding to the position of ‘the Teachers’, only
then to ‘correct’ it with an added clause of his own (this, as we saw, was
Martyn’s view of Galatians 1.4a and 4b), Campbell has Paul setting out the
viewpoint of ‘the Teacher’, much more extensively, and then engaging with
it and, by proposing an alternative view, refuting it. ‘The Teacher’, according
to Campbell, is on his way to offer the Roman church a faulty theology,
which is foundationalist, contractual, rationalistic and ultimately concerned
with a different God altogether. Paul, by contrast, is offering the true, ‘apocalyptic’
theology, with the true (and Trinitarian) God revealing himself in
the gospel. Thus the entire western tradition of reading Romans 1—4 (I suspect
the eastern one as well, though Campbell does not say that) has been
duped into supposing that these chapters are a single argument in which
Paul himself is expounding the ‘Justification Theory’ which he is in fact
opposing… he comes at everything with a very definite
theological contrast in mind, that between a genuine covenant theology and
a kind of contractual arrangement, a low-grade pseudo-covenant, popular
in many churches and societies, in which humans figure things out from first principles and then play the system to their own advantage….. Over against all such movements, Campbell places the tradition of Athanasius, Calvin and Barth: not only a Christology ‘from above’ rather than ‘from below’, but also a soteriology and an epistemology ‘from above’. Salvation is not a matter of humans starting at a fixed observational point and thinking rationally about their disastrous moral failings, and their need for rescue, and then about the fact that this rescue has in fact been provided.
It is a matter of the sovereign grace of God reaching unconditionally into
the human situation – and thus revealing, in the light of the remedy offered,
that there had been a problem in the first place.”

“In order to achieve his results, Campbell brings into play a rhetorical analysis of Rom. 1-4, which in my mind doesn’t really work at this juncture in Paul’s argument. Here’s Tom’s summary of Campbell’s view….. “Campbell advances, to explain this, a phenomenon fairly well known in ancient literature, that of ‘speech in character’ (the technical term is prosōpopoeia), as
found in the rhetoric of old law-court masters such as Demosthenes in Athens
or Cicero in Rome. As a well-known ploy, such speakers might put into
their opponents’ mouths entire sentences and paragraphs which they would
then undermine or refute. A similar (though smaller-scale) phenomenon
can be found in the rhetorical style known as the ‘diatribe’, widely recognized
as being a feature of Paul’s writing, especially in some parts of
Romans and Galatians. (‘You will say to me then . . .’ followed by a sentence
or line of thought, and then a refutation.)”

So….. “Campbell proposes that the ‘Teacher’ is to be
imagined as saying all of 1.18–32, 2.2–13 (with small inputs from ‘Paul’ in
verse 3), 2.16a, 2.17b–20, and certain phrases in 2.25–29. The opening of
chapter 3 lends itself more obviously to this treatment, since here Paul’s use
of the ‘diatribe’ lies on the face of the text in the rapid-fire sequence of questions
and answers – though, against normal expectations, it now seems to be
Paul who is asking the questions and the ‘Teacher’ who is answering them.
The ‘Teacher’ is then assigned 3.19b, while ‘Paul’ has 3.19a and 3.20.
Campbell then does similar things with Romans 3.21—4.25 (and indeed,
later on, within chapters 9—11), though here the ‘Teacher’ has much
shorter interjections.” (p. 197).

Campbell sees drastic consequences to the prevalent misreading of Rom. 1-4 over the course of Church history, and especially since the time of Constantine. Tom suggests another, and better theory….
“To put it bluntly: it is far more likely that the post-Renaissance
world has shaped the way western Christians have read Romans than that
earlier ‘Justification-Theory’ readings of Romans have shaped the post-
Renaissance world. It is simply not the case that Romans 1—4, read
‘straight’, caused Constantinianism, imperial wickednesses, capitalism and
so forth. It is overwhelmingly more likely that the western church, seduced
by a slow and steady cultural process (helped by, but certainly not caused
by, some aspects of the Reformation), came to read Romans 1—4 in an individualistic,
foundationalist and (sometimes) rationalistic fashion because the people doing that reading were sixteenth- and seventeenth-century individualists, foundationalists and (sometimes) rationalists.” (pp. 203-04).

Tom then trots out his usual argument about the righteousness of God=his covenant faithfulness to his promises. Again we need to raise questions about this approach as well. The question to be raised here is what is the basis for identifying God’s righteousness with covenant faithfulness since: 1) when a covenant is broken, God has no obligation to be faithful to it, he is not bound to keep his conditional promises (e.g. ‘if my people who are called by my name, repent,,,, then’); 2) Paul has just said that everyone, Jew and Gentile alike are consigned under sin, and thus God owes them nothing but judgment, frankly; 3) in any case Paul is mostly addressing gentiles in this letter it would appear, and God never promised them anything!! He promised Abraham some things in regard to the nations, but that’s not a promise to Gentiles. Maybe one would reply— God has no obligation to fallen humans of any sort, but he does want to be true to his own word and promises, and faithful to his own commitments. This solution however overlooks the fact that various of the promises in the OT are conditional, not unconditional, for example “if my people who are called by my name will repent and turn to me, then…” What if they don’t repent? Well, then God is under no obligation to keep the promise since it was conditional and depended on the state of the relationship between his people and himself. Tom tries to distinguish contractual views of covenants and his own view, but alas for this, covenants are contracts and they are two way streets. They are not unconditional statements of what God will necessarily do regardless of the human response to the covenant. The fact that the OT sometimes portrays God as saying he will not forsake his people, even in spite of their sin does not mean that he has promised to keep all the stipulations of a broken covenant, now obsolete. It simply means God is loving, gracious and merciful, and he will have mercy even on recalcitrant Jews who reject Jesus (see Rom. 9-11). In other words, these are statements about God’s character, not about previous covenantal or contractual arrangements that are still binding despite the covenants having been broken again and again.

On p. 210 There is an interesting observation by Tom that once sin is condemned at the beginning of Rom. 8, it disappears from the discussion. He shows at length how Rom. 5-8 is also about God’s righteousness or justification, and Rom. 1-4 should not be pitted against it. For example, “at 5.9 (being justified by his blood); 5.16 (the dikaiōma which contrasts with the katakrima, as in 2.12–13 and looking on to 8.1–4 and 8.33–4); 5.17 (those who receive the gift of ‘being in the right’ will reign in life, looking onto 8.30); 5.18 (the contrast between katakrima and dikaiōma again); 5.19
(the future ‘justification’, again corresponding to 2.12–13); and 5.21 (grace reigns ‘through dikaiosynē’). I think this is why some scholars, noting all this, have placed chapter 5 together with chapters 1—4 rather than as the start of the new section”

Tom sums up his problems with any of the apocalyptic approaches to Paul, including Campbell’s attempt to get rid of the old ‘justification’ way of reading Paul as follows:

“What then shall we say about ‘apocalyptic’ as a category for understanding
Paul? First, we must emphasize once more that the principal rhetorical
effect of invoking ‘apocalyptic’ as a tool for interpreting the apostle is to
claim a putative history-of-religions matrix. Once we cut loose from that,
suggesting that the word ‘apocalyptic’ can now mean a variety of different
things (as indeed it has come to do), any such historical claim becomes null
and void. All we are left with then is a theological appeal to a scheme which
focuses on the imminent parousia (Käsemann), the victory of the cross
(Beker), the two ‘ages’ and the two ‘tracks’ of ‘apocalyptic’ (de Boer), the
three cosmic ‘agents’ (God, humans, the powers) (Martyn), the distinction
between ‘sins’ and ‘Sin’ (Gaventa), or the importance of divine sovereignty combined, though the differences are also important. But, to take Campbell’s
definition, the theologians who come to mind when we invoke divine
sovereignty – Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Barth – have also insisted on the
centrality of justification, in something like its traditional sense, which
Campbell rules out. If their doctrine has been corrupted, within the last four
centuries of western theology, through the subtle infiltration of modern
individualist, contractual or other ideas, that is a problem to be addressed in
those terms, but it tells us little about Paul’s original writings.

“Rather, when we put Paul into his historical context within first-century
Judaism itself, not least the writings loosely grouped under the label ‘apocalyptic’,
we find all kinds of features which the modern revival of so-called
‘apocalyptic’ has screened out. Justification is not the only sufferer at this
point (taking with it the accompanying questions of human sin, atonement,
and so on). Also, and more importantly, we miss the notion of the divine
covenant with Israel, and the constant sense of a long, dark story which
finally reaches its goal in the shocking, fresh, but also long-promised and
long-awaited new revelation. The idea of a narrative, and of a divine covenant,
are not antithetical to the ‘apocalyptic’ idea of the divine sovereignty,
or to the promise of a radical inbreaking of a new divine initiative, or to the
belief that the suprahuman ‘powers of the world’ have usurped the divine
sovereignty and are now at last to be put in their place, or to the idea of ‘two
ages’ in which the ‘age to come’ will burst in upon the ‘present evil age’.” (pp. 216-17).