Bring Back Paul!

Bring Back Paul! May 22, 2013

Various groups have a favorite biblical figure in the back pocket. The Anabaptists of today have Jesus and so do the Protestant mainliners, and then there are the more theological Reformed groups who have Paul in their back pocket. No one seems to care much about Hebrews (I call the author “Hebby” at times), every now and then you find someone who thinks the world of James, but he plays mostly at the periphery. For all their devotion to Peter, the Catholics don’t seem to have Peter any more in their back pocket than Paul because the pocket for them and the Orthodox is tradition and it keeps the biblical authors nicely in place. This is a bit of mirth to introduce the readers of this blog to a fantastic journal called the Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters. The editor in chief is Michael Bird, already making a name for himself for writing more than Ben Three and maybe on pace to catch the hind quarter of Jacob Neusner, and the associate editor is Nijay Gupta, a fine young NT scholar at Eastern University.

My big point in this post is that our NT does not end with Luke or with John, or with Acts, but at Revelation. The NT entails the gospel and the Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles from Jerusalem to Rome and then the didache, pastorally shaped to be sure, of the apostles. Prominent in that apostolic collection, and kicking it off, is the apostle Paul. If you are a preacher or a teacher, make sure you devote some of your preaching or teaching every year to the apostle Paul. Pick one of his letters and explain it … and you will find his immense relevance.

When was the last time you heard about Paul in your church? If it was recent, is it all Paul with you and your church? Why do you think so many avoid Paul today? Why do some gravitate to Paul?

When I was a young professor I taught on Jesus and Jesus’ teachings and one student asked me if I had something on “Jesus’ teaching on Jesus teachings” to add to my list. Another asked me if I’d write something on Paul, and I said I’d get to Paul when I finished with Jesus, but I was in no hurry. Well, folks, I’ve got a book at a publisher, with my editor, on the apostle Paul … and more about that later.

Yes, where to begin? The problem is that Paul has been colonized by systematic theology and that means mostly by soteriology and that means Paul’s theology is all about justification and, well, to be honest, endless conversations wear one down. But can’t be worn down because that man was a breathing apostle whose mission was to get Gentiles into the one family of God, the church, and getting them into that family meant figuring out a way for Gentiles to mix well with Jews in the one family of God. At the core of Paul’s theology is Jesus Christ and the Body of Christ. One can say Paul offered to Jews and Romans and Greeks a colossal social experiment of inclusion. It wasn’t easy, and that is why we need to see the grandeur of this apostle, and so I’d encourage you to think about reading the volumes — only two are published so far but each volume has two parts. Eisenbraun’s, steered by my favorite bird watching booksellers, Jim and Myrna Eisenbraun, publishes the Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters.

1.1 deals with a variety of topics including a piece on justification by Michael Gorman and then solid review of Doug Campbell’s monster book by Michael Gorman.

1.2 an article by my friend Lynn Cohick on citizenship and empire in Philippians, and Gupta reviews the Blackwell Companion to Paul.

2.1 leads with Tom Wright arguing that “entrusted” with the oracles of God is about Israel’s mission to the Gentiles, and an article on the “obedience of Christ” by Michael Kibbe.

2.2 is about salvation history in Galatians, a very nice little “book” as it were on this theme in Galatians by notables — Bruce Longenecker and Todd Still … and an article by my ex-colleague and friend Joel Willitts on Davidic Messianism in Galatians.

This samples the articles in each volume. Good work Mike Bird, and to the birdwatchers at Eisenbraun’s.

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