Understanding Paul’s Identity: A Review of Michael F. Bird’s “An Anomalous Jew”

michael-bird-paulAn Anomalous JewMichael F. Bird’s newly published addition to the field of Pauline scholarship, begins with the obvious: the Apostle Paul was a Jew. Paul was born into a Jewish family and spent his early years studying the Torah. As he grew older, he became a Pharisee, and according to both Luke’s description in Acts and Paul’s own words in Galatians, he worked actively to eradicate the young Christian movement before himself becoming a follower of Jesus.

In the introduction, Bird draws attention to the fact that, even as a Christ-believer working among the Gentiles, Paul expressed concern for his “kindred according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3, NRSV) and affirmed the value of Israel’s election and covenants (p.2). In sum, the man was deeply Jewish. What makes the issue complicated, though, is that Paul also said some things that, as Bird puts it, “no Torah-affirming Jew could seemingly say” (p.3). Continue reading

Studies in Galatians Episode III: Mariam J. Kamell on Reading Galatians and James Together

galatians and christian theologyIn this, the final post of our series looking at some of the essays in Galatians and Christian Theology, we are turning to Mariam Kamell’s, “Life in the Spirit and Life in Wisdom.” Kamell’s background is in the study of wisdom in the Epistle of James and in Jewish wisdom literature. She is currently a New Testament professor teaching out at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada.

The Apostles Paul and James were spiritual brothers in Christ. However, many get the impression that they must have been testy, quarrelsome siblings. Near the beginning of her piece, Kamell notes that, “There may be no two other epistles in the New Testament that have been so consistently contrasted to each other theologically as Galatians and James” (p.353). Martin Luther, in his typically blunt way, described James as someone who “wanted to guard against those who relied on faith without works, but was unequal to the task” (Word and Sacrament I). 

Kamell thinks that many Christians have been too quick to pit Paul and James against each other, spending too much time focusing either on their contentious relationship suggested by Galatians 2 (“certain men came from James”) or “on their different views of the law and Abraham in Galatians 3 and James 2” (p.354). One common way of reading them in light of each other has been to interpret James’s insistence that “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (2:17 NRSV) as meaning that true faith in Christ leads to good works as a necessary consequence of being made a new creation in Christ. An example of this can be found in Reformed theologian Thomas Schreiner’s 2015 book, Faith Alone, where he asserts that “justification is by faith alone, but it is a faith that expresses itself in good works” (p.206).

Rather than strictly focusing directly on the faith vs. works issue in her essay, Kamell instead chooses to compare Paul’s treatment of life in the Spirit in Galatians 5-6 with James’s account of living according to wisdom.
Continue reading

Studies in Galatians Episode II: John Barclay on the Social Dimensions of God’s Gift in Christ

galatians and christian theology

Last time, we began our series of posts exploring Galatians and Christian Theology by looking at N.T. Wright’s colorful entry on the prominence of Jesus’ messiahship in Galatians. This time, we are turning a few pages farther on into the book and working through John Barclay’s “Grace and the Countercultural Reckoning of Worth.”

Barclay completed both his undergraduate and doctoral studies at Cambridge and has taught at Durham University since 2003. He’s received quite a bit of attention recently thanks to the long-awaited publication of his book, Paul and the Gift, a systematic and multi-faceted consideration of Paul’s theology of grace. So, maybe it’s timely that we can get a taste of Barclay’s overall project by paying attention to his perspective on the intersection of theology and ethics in Galatians.

While most interpreters have come to agree that the warnings, exhortations, and ethical guidelines given by Paul in Galatians 5-6 are in one way or another integral to the meaning of the letter as a whole, Barclay notes that there is no corresponding consensus regarding exactly how these chapters are related to the ones preceding them (p.306). Finding a satisfying way of dealing with this issue is complicated since “any reading of these verses depends on a reading of the rest of the letter—and vice versa” (p.307). His general approach is to give a fresh consideration of Galatians as a whole, focusing especially on the social implications of the unconditioned nature of God’s gift in Christ (which he often refers to as the “Christ-gift”). Continue reading