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

Advertisements

The Summer Reading List: 2016 Edition

My days of letting out a long-awaited sigh of relief after having turned in the final paper of the semester are (for the time being) behind me. Now, summer really isn’t so different from any other time of the year. But I still love summer reading lists. As I said last year (in The 2015 Edition), it still makes my heart glad to see people around me (teachers, professors, students, and headmasters) “giddy with the prospect of reading time arriving thanks to the summer months.” Well, that’s still true. So let’s once again delve into this year’s list of books that I hope to read by the time autumn comes back around (and classes for those involved in such things). I truly intend to get through all these titles, but I’m also quite aware that my literary eyes are probably far too big for my stomach. Still, it will be fun to try.

Five New Voices

1. Francis Watson. He’s an English scholar who has devoted most of his career to New Testament studies and theological hermeneutics. Watson has taught at Durham University since 2007, and I’ve been wanting to read him for quite a while:

fourfold gospel

The Fourfold Gospel: A Theological Reading of the New Testament Portraits of Jesus. From the book’s description on Amazon: “Francis Watson, widely regarded as one of the foremost New Testament scholars of our time, explains that the four gospels were chosen to give a portrait of Jesus. He explores the significance of the fourfold gospel’s plural form for those who constructed it and for later Christian communities.” I recently finished Richard Hays’ excellent Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, so I’m excited to listen to Watson’s perspective on the significance of the fourfold nature of the Gospels with Hays’ work in mind. 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