The New Big Thing in Pauline Studies

The New Big Thing in Pauline Studies December 11, 2014

The big and messy debate in Pauline studies at the moment in “salvation-history” vs. “apocalyptic” interpretations of Paul.

Scot McKnight has an excellent write up on this debate that you can view here.

This debate goes back to Krister Stendahl and Ernst Kasemann back in the late 70s.  It comes down to how much continuity there is between Israel’s religion and Paul’s gospel. The NPP traditionally accents the continuity, whilst apocalyptic interpreters tend to emphasize the sudden invasive rupture that the gospel brings.

J.L. Martyn’s Galatians commentary (Anchor Bible) and more recently Martinus De Boer’s Galatians commentary (NTL) are attempts to offer a consistent apocalyptic reading of these Pauline books. I’m guessing that Beverly Gaventa is currently writing a Romans commentary that will do the same for Romans. Doug Campbell’s massive Deliverance of God, though a separate beast in its own right, is largely indebted to the apocalyptic approach in its reinterpretation of Pauline soteriology albeit with a Torrancian half-twist.

A whole issue of Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters was dedicated to this debate (issue 2.2). N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God is constantly bringing up the covenant vs. apocalyptic thing. At the recent SBL in San Diego, Jason Maston and Ben Blackwell chaired a whole day seminar on the subject too. FWIW, I have a massive 30K chapter on this debate in a forthcoming, one day, when-I-get-to-finish-it book, called An Anomalous Jew.

For me the big thing is that it is not either/or since one can easily find salvation-historical and apocalyptic motifs across Paul’s letters.

If I may deconstruct the debate, the apocalyptic school looks like two-pronged Neo-Barthian assault against the pelagian moralism of the mainline churches on the one hand and against the proselytizing boundary-enforcing OT-quoting evangelicals on the other hand.

What I find strange about the apocalyptic school is their insistence that a covenantal reading is “supersessionist,” while their own reading of the OT is positively crypto-Marcionite!

Any way, I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about this topic in years to come!

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