Douglas Campbell, famous for a monster volume on Paul’s theology (The Deliverance of God) and then for a very careful study of the chronology of Paul (Framing Paul), has now published a small, well-written, accessible biography of Paul.
I am deeply enjoying this book and hope you can purchase it and read it yourself. It could become the go-to book for students first learning about Paul.
His method is, first, base your work on the letters of Paul and not on the Book of Acts, which he considers largely — breath of fresh air, I have to say — historical. He worked this out very carefully in Framing Paul but I still sense it’s a bit too much of an either-or to me (either Acts or Paul’s letters), though I cannot complain: he does this well and he’s fair minded at every turn.
Here’s an example of his clear, and fun, prose:
Acts says that Paul was a Roman citizen, so he must have had a Roman name too. Roman names had three parts: a forename chosen from a very limited list of candidates like Marcus or Lucius; a family name, which was preferably as prestigious as possible; and a “cognomen,” which was really just a nickname added so that all the people bearing the name Marcus and Lucius could be distinguished from one another. The full name of the person we know as Cicero, for example, was Marcus Tullius Cicero. Marcus was his first name, Tullius his not-so-prestigious family name, and Cicero his cognomen. In Latin it means “chickpea,” so one of the Roman Republics most famous rhetors and statesmen was known everywhere as Chickpea. “Paulus” means “small” in Latin—or, a little more poetically, “humble”—so it was almost certainly Paul’s cognomen. He would have been known everywhere in non- Jewish circles as “Tiny.”
His opening chp on Conversion sketches Paul’s experience on the Road to Damascus as well as on how that experience turned Paul into something like a Trinitarian. With Campbell’s emphasis on Spirit he shifts into the apocalyptic approach to Paul’s theology and to all genuine Christian theology: only because of the Spirit’s work of grace in us can we know truth. This may be the best and most accessible sketch of what apocalyptic theology is all about. I do think his chp on conversion would greatly benefit from understanding that all conversions are measured by the re-narration of one’s life, which would give his apocalyptic approach either a new context or at least give it another leg to stand on.
I’ll skip his excellent chp called “Breakthrough,” which discusses how the arrival of the Spirit (of grace) creates a whole new existence, one that is supposed to look like Galatians 3:28 more than any world Paul or his Roman readers or Jewish contemporaries knew.
I’ll move to the opening to “Networking” and provide the (hilarious) opening paragraph:
One of the most telling moments for me in the book of Acts is the command given by the Holy Spirit in 13:2. Acts 13:1 states that the important community at Antioch was busy serving the Lord and fasting. Acts gives some details about its leaders, whom it calls prophets and teachers. A delightful diversity is evident within their broadly Jewish identity: Barnabas was a Jew from the island of Cyprus who had a priestly lineage; Simeon was nicknamed “Black” and came from Africa; Lucius, who came from Cyrene, which is modern day Libya, had a Roman forename, so he was a Roman citizen like Paul; a companion raised with Herod Antipas called Manaen was a Jewish aristocrat; and Paul. All of this sounds a bit like a bad joke: “A priest, an African, a Roman, an aristocrat, and a Pharisee all walked into a pub. The priest said to the African …” But in 13:2 the Holy Spirit issues an explicit command: “Set apart Barnabas and Saul for me for the work that I have called them to.” So the priest and the Pharisee turned around and went out the door as they had been commanded, leaving the African, the Roman, and the aristocrat behind.
Paul, yes; fun, too. Well done. A book for students and anyone who wants to know more about Paul.