Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Reclaiming Paul

The Bible may be one of the most read and least understood books in the world. One of the writers least understood is Saul of Tarsus, whom most of us know as Paul the apostle to the Gentiles. On a regular basis people come up to me and ask me a question about Paul. Most of those questions--though not all--are based on certain misconceptions or misreadings of his letters.

A decade ago I spoke for a seminar here in Houston on Paul. Before I spoke, one of the gentlemen at table with me said: "I hope you get Paul, that SOB [his exact phrase] ruined the Christian faith." I tried to listen to his concerns but found that he, like a lot of people, had been fed a lot of bad information. In the few minutes I had I couldn't undo the damage. I don't think he liked what I had to say.

The problem is not with Paul but with Paul's interpreters who have read him against the backdrop of their own guilt, their own introspective consciences (Krister Stendahl), and their own sense of cultural supremacy (our culture is so far advanced compared to the biblical culture). They can't grasp the world in which Paul lived, the problems he faced, the ecstacies he experienced. They insisted, wrongly I believe, that Paul answer to us and speak to us on our terms.

In a few weeks I'm headed to a conference entitled Reclaiming Paul. It will be held in Kansas City. The website, if you're interested is It's billed as "a conversation among emerging church leaders & biblical scholars, pastors & educators." Michael Gorman, Andy Johnson, Tim Keel, Doug Pagitt will be some of the speakers. I'll lead a conversation on my work for THE VOICE New Testament (published by Thomas Nelson) on the book of Romans.

So far I've written three books on Paul. I know a good bit about him, I suppose, but there is still much for me to learn. So I'm going to listen with humility. I expect to agree with some and disagree with others. But I want to insist that we all listen to Paul on his own terms and not on ours.

If you know of others interested in Paul, please tell them about the conference. I hope to see some of you there.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

N. T. Wright on the Rapture

This picture is not directly related to Paul, but I'd thought I'd share it.

When I was in London in October 2007, I had the chance to go to the British Museum with a good friend, Dr. Alp Aslandogan of the Institute for Interfaith Dialog. Although we had only a few hours, we took the short walk to the museum and spent some time looking at the wonderful artifacts of past civilizations. One of my favorite spots was a stop where I got to hang out with Alexander the Great (see above--Alexander is the pale fellow on the right). I had seen this image of Alexander many times in photographs and on the Internet. Now I was standing face to face with the famous bust of one of the most important people in history.

Follow the link below to N. T. Wright's article from 2001 in the Bible Review called "Farewell to the Rapture." You will probably have to copy and paste it into your web browser.

Read the article and the biblical passages Wright quotes. After you read his article, come back to the blog and respond to it. In particular, why do you think the "Left Behind" phenomenon has been so popular? What do you believe about this passage and why?

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Please read and comment on the following essay. Note. It is a general essay on typology. I will ask you apply this to Paul's reading of Scripture below.

Typology is the strategy for discerning the correspondence, pattern, shape or structural affinity between two of God acts. These divine acts involve God’s work through persons, events, and institutions. The words “type” and “antitype” are used to express the relationship between the two events. “Type” comes from the Greek word tupos meaning “example” or “model.” In a typological interpretation “type” is used to refer to an original historical act that serves as a model for a later, corresponding act (“antitype”). The original may stand in a positive, synthetic relationship to the later event or in a negative, antithetic relationship. An example of a synthetic typology would be the reference to Jesus as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (e.g., John 1:29). The imagery of the lamb comes from the Passover event (Exodus 12; 1 Cor 5:7), adjusted perhaps by prophetic reference to the servant of the Lord (Isa 53:4-7). The point in this typology is the way that Jesus is similar to the Passover lamb even if his sacrifice is understood to be universal in scope. An example of an antithetical typology would be Paul’s reference to Jesus as a second Adam (Romans 5). While Adam and Jesus share a certain likeness as the heads of the first and new creation respectively, Paul’s point is their dissimilarity not their similarity. Through the first Adam sin and death come to all people; through the second Adam righteousness and life is available to all. Both synthetic and antithetic typologies illumine the contemporary act of redemption by correlating it with a known event from the past.

Several theological assumptions drive typology. First, typology assumes that history is the arena of God’s saving activity. In any typological scheme the historicity of persons, events and institutions is taken for granted and essential. When Paul refers to Adam as a type of Jesus, it was necessary that Adam had been a person in history and not some mythic figure. The historicity of the type and antitype distinguishes typological from allegorical readings. Second, typology presumes that God is faithful to his promises and that his work in history is constant. This does not mean, of course, that there are no new acts of God; what it does mean is that a new act can be understood best in reference to God’s earlier acts. So typology emphasizes the unity of God’s actions in history; as such it is employed to underscore the unity between the testaments as a witness to God’s acts. Third, typology is based upon a linear view of history in which events intensify or escalate as God’s plan moves toward its ultimate goal (eschaton). In NT parlance, the new redemptive event may be said to “fulfill” the prophet’s word even if the prophecy had an earlier fulfillment (e.g., Matt 1:23; cf. Isaiah 7). For example, the redemption associated with the Passover lamb involved a particular people at a particular time (Exodus 12) whereas the redemption associated with Jesus as “the lamb of God” intensifies and universalizes the hope.

Typology is evident in Jewish and Christian circles during the second temple period. The use of typology found in the NT is consistent with and likely derived from hermeneutical practices within the Hebrew Bible.

Hebrew Bible

The writers, editors and compilers of the Hebrew Bible employed typology to recall God’s past faithfulness and to anticipate new acts of redemption. Creation and exodus themes are common. In Isa 65:17-25, for example, the prophet describes God’s promise to create a new heaven and a new earth that stands in continuity with and yet eclipses the first creation. God’s work to repair the world effectively makes it new again, reverses the curse, and returns it to its paradisaical form. In this way God’s earlier, covenant promises to his people can be realized: long life in the land, prosperity, peace, God’s permanent presence with his people.

Because of its significance in Israelite history, the exodus becomes the “type” for new hopes for redemption as Israel is enslaved by and in exile in hostile nations. So, e.g., in Isa 11:16 the prophet foresees a day when the Lord will make a highway out of Assyria for the remnant just as he brought Israel up from the land of Egypt (cf. Isa 40:3-5; 43:16-24; 49:8-13). Similarly, in Micah 7:14-20 the prophet envisages a new act of redemption that will be like earlier times when Israel came out of Egypt. But not all the new exodus imagery is prophetic and eschatological. Within the stories of Israel’s past typological correspondence is evident. So, e.g., the Lord promises Joshua that he will be with him like he was with Moses (Joshua 1-5), thus fulfilling the earlier, divine promises. Joshua becomes a new Moses, parting the Jordan and reinitiating the Passover. These later acts of redemption take on a new meaning precisely because of their associations with the older types.

Another typology found in the Hebrew Bible involves a “new covenant.” Jeremiah prophesies that God will make a new covenant with Israel in the future (31:31-34). Because of its reference to coming out of the land of Egypt, this is a variation on the new exodus theme. But the new covenant typology is primarily antithetical, for the oracle points out all the ways in which the new covenant is not like the old.

New Testament

New Testament authors make extensive use of typology in order to express their understanding of the transcendent significance of Jesus and his work of salvation. To be successful, typologies depend on the competence of the audience. While any typology can be lost on some hearers—assuming that the NT gospels and letters were initially read aloud—the ideal audience will perceive the correspondence between type and antitype. Some of the typologies listed below, though certainly not all, derive from Jesus’ own teaching and use of scripture. Others are expansions or reflections on his significance by later theologians. As we see with the Hebrew Bible, creation, exodus, and covenant typologies dominate (Ellis, 105-106).

New covenant. In the words of institution (Mark 14:24; Matt 26:28; Luke 22:20) Jesus is said to appropriate the “new covenant” prophesied by Jeremiah (31:31-4) and link it with the pouring out of his blood. His crucifixion is understood to establish the new covenant. This is symbolized by the cup of wine from the Passover celebration. The new covenant inaugurated by Jesus is thereby linked with the both the Passover as a recollection of the exodus and the new covenant of Jeremiah.

Son of God. For many reasons the NT employs the title “Son of God” in reference to Jesus. The interest here is the typological association expressed in fulfillment language: “out of Egypt I called my Son” (Matt 2:15; quoting Hos 11.1). Clearly, this is an example of exodus typology that links the flight and return of Joseph, Mary and Jesus from Egypt with Israel’s exodus. In the type (Hos 11:1), “my Son” refers to Israel. Effectively, the evangelist’s use of the quotation constitutes Jesus as a new Israel. This means that Jesus takes up Israel’s role in relation to God’s work in the world. But the typology itself has antithetical elements because Jesus is not only like Israel, he is also unlike Israel. Whereas Hosea’s Israel (“my son”) abandoned and disappointed God (Hos 11:1-7), Matthew’s Jesus obeys and is well-pleasing to God as the Son (e.g., Matt 3:17).

Son of David. The title “Son of David” is associated with Jesus in a variety of settings (e.g., Matt 1:1, 6; Mark 11:9-10 & par.; Mark 12:35-37 & par., cf. Rom 1:3-4) and has typological overtones. The titular use is almost certainly derived from 2 Sam 7:12-16, commonly understood as God’s covenant with David. Within the narrative of 2 Samuel, the “son of David” refers to Solomon, but already by the time of the Chronicler (1 Chron 17:11-14) the promise has taking on broader, messianic significance. In Matthew’s genealogy, for instance, Jesus’ messianic status as “the Son of David” is demonstrated by tracing his lineage through the royal line (Matt 1:1, 6, 17). Further, the evangelist employs gematria to structure Jesus’ genealogy around the number fourteen (14), which is the number associated with David’s name (Matt 1:17). Although these construals are not dominical, they may depend on Jesus’ self-understanding (cf. Mark 12:35-37 & par.). By referring to Jesus as “the Son of David,” it became possible to associate God’s promise of an everlasting kingdom with him.

Son of Man. Jesus’ favorite self-designation appears to have been “Son of Man.” Since other NT writers do not use it, it is almost certainly a dominical expression. According to the intracanonical Gospels, Jesus employs it in a variety of settings. Interpreters have debated its meaning, and to date there is no scholarly consensus. One prominent theory, however, relates the expression “Son of Man” with Dan 7:12-14. In this text Daniel sees a vision in which “one like a son of man” comes on the clouds before the Ancient of Days and receives an eternal, universal kingdom. In the vision’s interpretation Daniel identifies the son of man with the saints of the Most High (Dan 7:18, 22), taken as a reference to Israel. If this is the background, the expression “Son of Man” used by Jesus connects him with Israel’s eschatological task of ruling the nations. Psalm 8 may also have played a role in the christological formulation “Son of Man.” With its celebration of creation and Adam’s dominion over it, Psalm 8 supplied the early Jesus movement with a variation on the creation typology.

Servant of the Lord. The Gospels never explicitly designates Jesus “the Servant of the Lord” (cf. Acts 3;13, 26), but a Servant typology appears beneath the surface of the narratives. The designation derives from prophetic oracles recorded in Isaiah (chs 42, 49, 50, especially 53). In the prophetic stream, the Servant is identified with Israel (e.g., 49:3) so its christological appropriation links Jesus with the covenant people. NT writers and perhaps even Jesus himself understood the vocation of the Servant as “fulfilled” in his actions. Jesus’ teachings and healings are said to fulfill the prophet’s message in proclaiming justice and bringing hope to the nations (Matt 12:17-21; quoting Isa 42:1-4; cf. Matt 8:16-17). His coming arrest and trial fulfill the oracle that the Servant must be counted among the transgressors (Luke 22:37; quoting Isa 53:12). It is particularly in the details of his passion that allusive use is made of Isaiah 53, where suffering for others is the primary vocation of God’s Servant (see, e.g., Mark 10:45). If Jesus understood himself to be the Servant of the Lord, fulfilling Israel’s destiny, then these oracles may well have directed his mission.

Prophet-like-Moses. According to Deut 18:15-18, God will raise up a prophet-like-Moses to lead the covenant people. Apparently, this expectation was current in the second temple period and assisted in the formulation and expansion of certain christological claims. While this language is more explicit in Acts (e.g., Acts 3:22; quoting Deut 18:15-20; cf. Acts 7:37), echoes of this hope can be heard in a variety of settings in the Gospels. In the transfiguration, e.g., the heavenly voice declares: “this is My beloved Son, listen to him!” (Mark 9:7 & par.). The command to listen recalls God’s directive to his people when the eschatological prophet arrives. In Matthew’s Gospel, a Moses typology is clearly at work. First, the slaughter in Bethlehem and Jesus’ escape is reminiscent of a similar carnage in Egypt under the Pharaoh’s cruel policies (cf. Matthew 1-2; Exodus 1-2). Second, as we saw above in regard to Hos 11:1, the return of Joseph and his family from Egypt to the land of promise has resonance with Moses and the exodus. Third, Jesus’ success during the wilderness temptations stands in typological antithesis to Israel’s failures in the wilderness under Moses’ leadership. Fourth, Jesus ascends the mountain and writes his teachings on the hearts of his disciples in ways similar and yet dissimilar to Moses’ ascent of Mt. Sinai. In these and other ways, the portrayal of Jesus as the eschatological prophet-like-Moses provides an important clue to the early Christians’ assessment of his significance.

Of course, Jesus’ work is linked with prophets other than Moses. For example, in announcing
the fulfillment of God’s jubilee promises, Jesus associates his mission with Elijah’s and Elisha’s work among non-Jews (Luke 4:1-30; 1 Kings 17-18; 2 Kings 5). Since rumors around Jesus relate him to prophets (Matt 16:13-20), it is likely that the earliest appraisals of his significance among “the people of the land” regard his prophetic role. If, as the Gospels portray, Jesus anticipated his death, then he did so in solidarity with prophets before him (e.g., Matt 23:37).

“Something greater”. The phrase “something greater” characterizes three typological sayings in Matthew 12. In Matt 12:6 Jesus justifies his disciples’ harvesting of grain on the Sabbath by appealing to David’s example (1 Sam 21:1-7) and the weekly violation of the Sabbath by priests performing their duties. When Jesus announces that “something greater than the temple is here” (Matt 12:6), he has in mind himself or his community. By appealing to the deeds of David and the priests, Jesus associates his activities with royal and priestly actions. It is impossible to overestimate the significance of the Jerusalem temple. However, because of corruption the temple and its leadership had already fallen out of favor with many Jews. The constitution of the community of Jesus as a temple “not made with hands” (Mark 14:58) is a typological move already made by the people of Qumran who left the temple because of its corruption and withdrew to the wilderness to establish a new temple and new covenant people.

In Matt 12:38-41 Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ demand for a sign by promising the evil generation the sign of Jonah and concludes by saying “something greater than Jonah is here.” For Matthew Jonah becomes a type of Jesus in two ways: (1) Jonah’s presence in the belly of the great fish three days and three nights corresponds to “the Son of Man” spending three days in the heart of the earth (Jonah 1-2); (2) Jonah’s success in turning Nineveh back to God (Jonah 3-4) corresponds to the success Jesus has in preaching to Israel and the nations. The competent audience will also pick up on the antithetical elements in the typology. Jonah’s recalcitrance stands in opposition to Jesus’ faithful obedience.

In Matt 12:42 Jesus commends the Queen of the South for traveling far to experience the Solomon’s wisdom and simultaneously condemns those who refuse to acknowledge God’s wisdom. He concludes by saying “something greater than Solomon is here.” Typologically speaking, Jesus corresponds to Solomon (who also happens to be a son of David); both are purveyors of wisdom. But later generations of Christians expanded the association by identifying Jesus with divine wisdom (sophia; e.g., 1 Cor 1:24, 30).

With each of these sayings the phrase “something greater” depicts an escalation which is already evident in the work of Jesus.

The Serpent in the Wilderness. According to John 3:14-15, Jesus said: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up so all who believe in him may have eternal life.” The type recalls the healing of many Israelites afflicted by venomous snakes in the wilderness. Following God’s instructions, Moses fashioned a serpent and lifted it up on a standard so that anyone who looked it would have life (Numb 21:4-9). The antitype refers to the lifting up of the Son of Man, i.e., the crucifixion, and its universalized result: all who believe have eternal life.

The Stone. At the end of the parable of the wicked tenants (Mark 12:1-9 & par.) Jesus applies Ps 118:22-23 to the situation he faced, i.e., the growing opposition and final rejection (crucifixion) by the powers-that-be in Jerusalem. As it stands in the Synoptics, Jesus re-plots the story implicit in the passage to foreshadow his crucifixion (rejected stone) and resurrection (rejected stone made cornerstone). If, as some have concluded, the rejected stone referred originally to Israel, we have here another example of an Israel-Jesus typology. Jesus’ rejection is typified in Israel’s defeat at the hands of its enemies. His vindication is anticipated as “the Lord’s doing.” Stone passages are found elsewhere in the NT in reference to Jesus and the church (e.g., Acts 4:11; Rom 9:33; 1 Pet 2:1-8). Some “stone” passages may have even taken on messianic implications (e.g., Isa 8:14; 28:16; cf. Rom 9:30-33).


The NT’s use of the OT is central to how early Christians did theology. Typology was the primary method they used to read and appropriate their Scripture.


D. L. Baker. Two Testaments, One Bible. Revised edition. Downers Grove:
InterVarsity, 1991.

David Daube. The Exodus Pattern in the Bible. London: 1963.

E. Earle Ellis. History and Interpretation in New Testament Perspective. SBL Biblical
Interpretation Series. Volume 54. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001.

E. Earle Ellis. The Old Testament in Early Christianity: Canon and Interpretation in
Light of Modern Research
. WUNT 54. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1991.

Craig Evans. “Typology” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Edited by Joel B.
Green and Scot McKnight. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992.

Michael Fishbane. Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel. Oxford: Clarendon Press,

R. T. France. Jesus and the Old Testament: His Application of Old Testament Passages
to Himself and His Mission
. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1971.

Leonhard Goppelt. Typos: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the
Translated by D. H. Madvig. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Paul and the Law (cont'd): Christ is the end of the law

Here's a picture of me at the library in Ephesus where Paul spent some time, no doubt. I visited here in December 2004. This has nothing to do with the class. I just thought I'd share it with you.

We continue our emphasis on Paul and the Law. As you have seen from reading Kim, Gorman and others, this is not an easy issue. There are actually two issues I'd like for you to grapple with this week.

First question
In Romans 10:4 Paul makes the statement that "Christ is the end of the law." In order to understand the context of this statement, please read Romans 9-11. The immediate context can be discerned in Rom 9:33 to Rom 10:17. The question is: what does Paul mean by the phrase "the end of the law"?

There are two (main) ways this question has been answered.

1. Some have taken the word "end" to mean "fini" or THE END. That is, the law is over and done with now that Christ has come. Would this reading reflect the old or new perspective? Be able to explain your reasons. How would this reading square with Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:17-20? What are the implications for saying that Christ brings the law to an END? And this question is more difficult: is there any evidence that Jews before Paul thought that when the Messiah came, he would END the law or change the law somehow? What kinds of Jewish texts would you appeal to to make this point?

2. Others have taken the word "end" to mean "goal" or "purpose". Would this reading reflect an old or new perspective? Be able to explain your reasons. How would this reading square with Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:17-20? What are the implications for saying that Christ is the goal or purpose for God giving the law? How would you relate this to Paul's other statements regarding the law.

The semantic field for the Greek work telos translated "end" in most translations is capable of both meanings (both finish and goal).

Now, here's the second question regarding Paul and the Law.

Read Romans 7 (especially 7:14-25). In this passage Paul describes a struggle against the power of sin. Read Gorman and Kim on this and anything else you can get your hands on. Is Paul describing his life or the life of every person? Is Paul describing life in Christ or life outside/before Christ?

On a personal basis, do you have similar struggles? Share this text with someone you know and ask them about their experience.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Paul and the Law

One of the thorniest issues in understanding the apostle has to do with Paul's relationship with the Law. Obviously, this is a place where the old and new perspectives on Judaism (and Paul) have a lot to contribute. Consider the following questions based on Paul's letters:

1. If Paul had a son, would he have had him circumcised? Why? or Why not?
2. When Paul went to the temple in Jerusalem, did he sacrifice? Why? or Why not?
3. Did Paul eat pork?
4. Did Paul observe the Sabbath?
5. What is Paul's overall disposition regarding the law?

I realize that we don't always have direct evidence to answer these questions. However, from studying Paul's letters you ought to be able to make an educated guess. But when you guess, be able to give a reason. Here is an ancillary question:
  • if you consider Luke's portrait of Paul from the Acts of the Apostles, would it change your answer?

Finally, read Galatians 3:6-29 carefully. Pay attention to what Paul has to say regarding the law. Then read Gorman's and Kim's commentary/ thoughts this passage. You can find where they deal with this text by using the scripture indexes and/or the table of contents. After you have spent some time with this text, consider the following questions:
  • How does the law relate to Abraham and God's covenant with him?
  • What does Paul mean by the phrase "the curse of the law"?
  • Why did God give the law?
  • How does the law relate to Christ and God's covenant through him?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Paul's Missionary Strategy

We know Paul primarily because of 13 letters written under his name in the New Testament. Had Paul not been a letter writer, we'd probably know little to nothing about him today. But letter-writing was part of a broader missionary strategy rooted in his call to be "the apostle to the Gentiles." As we read Paul's letters and consider Luke's portrait of him in Acts 9-28, I'd like to know how you would summarize the key elements of and describe Paul's missionary strategy.

I've taken my own stab at this in an essay published in The Dust Off Their Feet: Lessons from the Early Church. It's a new translation/retelling of Acts by Brian McLaren. I wrote some of the commentary but the focus here are the essays in the back. I'll see if I can get permission to reproduce it here. Until then you might be able to check it out from the library or I've created a link you can follow on the title.

Here's the challenge. As you read through Paul, Acts or other books on Paul, come back to this blog post and add another thought or insight about Paul's missionary strategy. At the end we'll collect them all together and see where we are. Include not only the strategy (e.g., letter writing) but also how Paul used the strategy. For example, Paul used letters to introduce himself (Romans), to say thank you (Philippians), to reprimand and reconcile (Galatians and 2 Corinthians), to answer questions from the community (1 Corinthians), to pass on or remind people of the tradition (various), to offer pastoral counsel (various), to intercede (Philemon), to appeal for prayer (various), and to share travel plans (various). Obviously, this list is not exhaustive. As we study various letters, we'll see how they function. In the end we hope to take Paul as a model for how we engage ministry and service in the 21st century.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Saul a.k.a. Paul

We encounter Paul the apostle in the NT under two names: Saul and Paul. There's a common misunderstanding about the two names. Often you hear that Saul the Pharisee changed his name to Paul when he came to faith in Jesus. At first glance that seems reasonable because there are biblical people whose names are changed at significant moments in the story. For example, Abram's name is changed to Abraham when he puts faith in the covenant that God was making with him (Genesis 12-22). Jacob's name is changed to Israel ( = one who wrestles with God) right before he meets his brother Esau again. Jesus gives Simon the name Peter (Cepha = rock). So there is a tradition of name changes that correspond to important moments in a person's life. Also, when we first encounter Saul, he's persecuting the church and standing by as Stephen is stoned (Acts 7). Later, however, in Acts 13-28 the missionary, apostle is referred to as Paul. Conclusion: he changed his name when he accepted Jesus as Messiah. Sounds reasonable, right?

On closer investigation, however, we find out this is not the case. First, Saul is converted or called in Acts 9. He's baptized and engages in apparently a significant period of Christian discipleship and ministry under the name of Saul. In Acts 13 Saul along with several others are leaders in the church at Antioch when the Holy Spirit sets them a part for the Gentile mission. In Acts 13:6 Saul is called Paul for the first time ("But Saul, who was also known as Paul, . . . ") on the island of Cyprus. For the rest of the book and in all of his letters he is referred to as Paul. So what is going on?

Saul was a Pharisaic Jew of the tribe of Benjamin. If Jewish tradition were followed--and there is no reason to think it wasn't--he was given his Jewish name on the day of his circumcision. So Saul was his Jewish name, the name of Israel's first king. But Saul may well have been a Roman citizen as well (that's Acts testimony) which means that he needed a Roman name. Perhaps Paul was taken because it was a family name or the name of someone who helped provide citizenship to his family, we don't know. But the name Paulos in Greek means something like "little fellow." I suggest that what happens is this: when Saul is around Jews, he uses his Jewish name. But when Saul is around Greeks and Romans, he uses his Roman name. In Antioch where the Jewish population of Christ-believers was significant it made sense that he'd use his Jewish name. But during the Gentile mission, he encountered primarily, well . . . Gentiles. So he used his Roman name then. But there's another thing. When you take the Jewish name Saul and render it in Greek it sounds like this: Saulos. And the word saulos in Greek means "the sultry walk of a prostitute." No wonder Paul didn't want to be introduced like that.

By the way, the same thing happens today. One of my best friends is a Jewish rabbi. His Jewish name is Shimon (Simon). When he is around Jews, particularly at the synagogue, they call him Shimon. But his "American" name, the name on his birth certificate, is Stuart. That's how I know him.

As you move across cultures, you may find that your name means something odd or even scandalous in another language. That's true for another friend of mine. His Vietnamese name when properly pronounced in Vietnamese is a really, really bad word in English. So he allows all his non-Vietnamese friends to call him by another, more acceptable name.

Cross-cultural work calls for compromise and creativity. In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul said I have become all things to all people so that I can by all means save some.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Jesus and Paul

Jesus Tradition in Paul
David B. Capes

A version of this essay will appear in the upcoming Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus, ed. Craig A. Evans (Routledge Press). 

In the NT letters attributed to Paul, the person and work of Christ are central. Paul’s primary interests, as evidenced in his letters, are the cross and resurrection of Jesus (e.g., 1 Cor 1:18; 2:2; 15:3-8). Only a few references to the sayings and activities of Jesus prior to his crucifixion appear. In this regard the Pauline corpus is not unlike other NT letters, the Acts of the Apostles and the Apocalypse. These too contain few quotations of or allusions to Jesus’ teachings and deeds during his earthly ministry. Primarily, the traditions associated with Jesus’ preaching, healing and disciple-making are recorded in the Gospels.

The centrality of the cross and resurrection plus the lack of known Jesus traditions in his letters have led interpreters to wide-ranging conclusions. First, some scholars think Paul had limited information regarding the earthly Jesus. Since he was not an eyewitness and since he had limited access to those who knew Christ, his letters could not contain much in regard to Jesus’ sayings, miracles, activities, etc. Those who hold this position situate Paul outside the first circle of disciples and emphasize that Paul’s access to the Jesus tradition came mainly through the Hellenistic communities. Second, others conclude that Paul had limited interest in the Jesus of history. Paul’s own faith in Christ has been formed primarily through powerful religious experiences of the risen Lord (Gal 1:11-17; 2 Cor 3:18—4:5; 12:1-10; Phil 3:3-16; cf. Acts 9:1-9). Accordingly, Paul’s focus lies in the crucified, exalted and coming Christ; what the earthly Jesus may have said or done holds limited relevance to him. Third, others point out that too much is read into Paul’s silence on the Jesus tradition, especially in light of a similar silence in the other NT letters. They argue that the paucity of Jesus tradition in Paul’s letters does not mean that he had no access to or only limited interest in the earthly Jesus. According to these interpreters, there are other, more plausible explanations for the few references. We do not know, for example, what Paul may or may not have preached during his initial mission to any given city. Likewise, we do not know whether he viewed the letter genre generally as an appropriate vehicle for transmitting the Jesus material. Given the extent of orality in Mediterranean culture, it may well be that leaders like Paul preferred to preach Jesus rather than write about him. This discussion, known as the “Jesus-Paul debate”, has occupied scholarly interest since the 19th century. Nevertheless, Paul’s letters do contain traditional materials that provide insight into the gospel Paul preached and the churches he established.

Paul’s Access to the Jesus Tradition

Paul’s access to the Jesus tradition came from several sources. First, prior to his conversion-call to be the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul persecuted the followers of Jesus and fought to stop the movement (Gal 1:11-14). As one “zealous for the traditions of his fathers,” Paul’s persecution of Jesus’ immediate followers had some basis in beliefs and practices that went back to Jesus himself. While Paul never explains his pre-conversion opposition to the Jesus movement, he does report that the idea of a crucified Messiah is offensive to the Jews (1 Cor 1:23). Claims to Christ’s divinity and religious devotion directed to him could have been construed as blasphemy. Second, Paul describes his transformation in language of mystical revelations (e.g., Gal 1:15-17; 2 Cor 12:1-6). These revelations caused him to reevaluate his understanding of Jesus and to join the community he had previously tried to destroy. In connecting with Jesus’ followers, the apostle entered into the stream of tradition and reinterpreted his past and present experience in light of the beliefs and values of the Christian community. He received teachings and then went on to transmit them to various churches in his letters. It is taken for granted that his missionary preaching would have also contained references to these early Jesus traditions. Finally, in a rare autobiographical moment Paul related an experience he had three years after his conversion-call. He traveled to Jerusalem to receive information from Peter (Gal 1:18) and for about 15 days he had immediate, personal contact with one of the twelve. In subsequent visits he subjected his gospel to the scrutiny of the “pillar apostles” in Jerusalem and received their approval to carry the gospel to the Gentiles (Gal 2:1-9).

Paul’s Use of the Jesus Tradition

Scholars disagree regarding the extent of Jesus tradition in Paul’s letters. Some allow only a few examples. Others argue that hundreds of allusions to traditional materials occur in the authentic letters. Likely the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Paul is aware of traditions regarding Jesus’ Jewishness (Gal 4:4), his royal lineage (Rom 1:3-4), and his brother James (Gal 1:19). Beyond these bare facts there are other traditional elements.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8. Employing the language of tradition (paredōka = “I delivered”; parelabon = “I received”), Paul passed on to the Corinthians the centrality of Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul inherited this tradition from the earliest churches that had already assigned atoning significance (“for our sins”) to his crucifixion. Furthermore, these crucial events were understood by these early Jewish believers as being “according to the scriptures.” Soon after the crucifixion the followers of Jesus had searched the Hebrew Bible to comprehend these fateful events in God’s saving history. They found that not only had these events not contradicted scripture but that Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection had formed a fitting climax to the covenant story. Paul also received accounts of resurrection appearances to Peter, James (the brother of Jesus) and “the twelve.” According to both intra- and extra-canonical gospels, these disciples figure prominently in the Jesus tradition. Furthermore, the centrality of the cross and resurrection parallel other early Christian writings including the Gospels where Jesus’ passion comprises the central act of the story.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26. The earliest account of “the Lord’s supper” is recorded in Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians. Paul “received” (parelabon) from the Lord this event that finds a prominent place in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 14:22-24; Matt 26:26-28; Luke 22:19-20). Since Paul used traditional language, we may rule out that he received this as a direct revelation. Instead we should likely understand this in two ways: (a) the account goes back to an event in the life of the earthly Jesus and (b) his interpretation of the supper is derived “from the Lord” by means of revelation (11:26). The details of Paul’s account of the supper correspond closely to the NT Gospels. Paul knows that it took place at night, that Jesus took bread, gave thanks to God, broke it and gave it to his disciples. The “words of institution” bear close verbal affinity with the Gospels as well. The memorial atmosphere of the meal corresponds to the Lukan account.

Romans 8:15-17; Galatians 4:6-7. Paul’s address to God as “Abba! Father!” likely goes back to Jesus. The similarities in Romans and Galatians suggest that Paul is relying on traditional materials. Both passages indicate that the “Abba! Father!” (a) characterizes Christian prayer; (b) indicates the Spirit’s work; (c) demonstrates that believers possess a new status as “sons” and “heirs.” The presence of this Aramaic address to God in Greek-speaking churches is evidence of both its antiquity and authenticity within the Jesus tradition. “Abba” is not a common prayer-address at the time and so it likely reflects Jesus’ own prayer practice and teaching.

Words of the Lord. Most scholars allow that some of Paul’s ethical instructions derive from the sayings (logia) of Jesus. Whether Paul had access to oral traditions or a sayings collection, as scholars reconstruct in “Q,” we do not know. Nevertheless, there are parallels between some of the logia found in the Gospels and what we find in Paul’s paraenesis. In 1 Cor 7:10, for example, Paul instructs the married not to separate and, if they do, not to marry. He indicates these teachings come from “the Lord” and he contrasts them with his own counsel (7:12). The words of the Lord for him carry authority beyond his own. Likely, Paul refers here to the dominical teaching later codified in Mark 10:11-12 (cf. Matt 5:32). Similarly, Paul recalls the Lord’s command that permits financial support for those who preach the gospel. This command is similar to the logia in Luke 10:7: “for the worker is worthy of his wage.”

Allusions to Jesus’ sayings occur in Paul’s letters without referring to them as words or commands of the Lord. For example, in writing of love’s supremacy (1 Cor 13:2) Paul echoes Jesus’ teaching that faith can move mountains (Matt 17:20). Paul instructs the Romans to bless and not curse those who persecute them (Rom 12:14). This has clear resonance with Jesus’ teaching regarding love of enemies (Luke 6:27-28 and Matt 5:44). Paul’s reference to the day of the Lord coming as a thief in the night (1 Thess 5:2, 4) may well originate with Jesus’ teachings regarding the unknown day and hour when the Son of Man returns (Matt 24:43; Luke 12:39). Later in that same letter Paul’s admonition for the Thessalonians to live at peace with each other (1 Thess 5:13) finds a clear parallel in Jesus’ call to “live in peace with one another” (Mark 9:50). Other, possible examples include:

Paul and the Gospels. The following list is meant to be instructive not exhaustive.

Rom 12:17, 21 = Luke 6:27-36; Matt 5:38-48

Rom 13:7 = Mark 12:13-17

Rom 13:8-10 = Mark 12:18-34; Matt 22:34-40; Luke 10:25-28

Rom 14:14 = Mark 7:15; Matt 15;11

1 Thess 5:3 = Luke 12:39ff.; 21:34

1 Thess 5:6 = Mark 13:37; Matt 24:42; Luke 21:34, 36

The Kingdom of God. The Gospel traditions portray Jesus as one who proclaims the presence and coming of “the kingdom of God” (alternatively, “the kingdom of heaven”). Outside the Gospels Paul employs kingdom language more than any other NT writer. The apostle describes the kingdom as consisting of justice (righteousness), peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). He urges the Thessalonians to walk worthy of God who is calling them into his kingdom and glory (1 Thess 2:12). The gospel Paul preaches is, in fact, a word about the kingdom (1 Thess 2:9-13). He warns the Corinthians that the kingdom is more than fine words and rhetoric; it consists of power (1 Cor 4:20). The unrighteous and immoral, Paul writes, will not “inherit” the kingdom (1 Cor 6:9; Gal 5:21; cf. Eph 5:5) neither will flesh and blood (1 Cor 15:50). The kingdom figures ultimately in Paul’s understanding of the eschaton. Following the parousia, the Son will deliver the kingdom over to God the Father after the subjection of all the powers to the Son so that “God may be all in all” (1 Cor 5:20-28). In Col 1:12-13 Paul gives thanks to God for delivering believers from the domain of darkness and transferring them into the kingdom of his beloved Son. For Paul, the rule of God is realized in the Lordship of Christ, who is the source of forgiveness and redemption. As in the Gospels, there is an “already-not yet” aspect to Paul’s teaching of the kingdom. Likely Paul’s ideas about the kingdom originate in the Jesus tradition. Still the language of the kingdom is not as common in the letters as it is in the Gospels. This has caused some scholars to question whether Paul’s essential message is congruent with Jesus’ teaching. Others find similarity in Paul’s teaching of the Spirit. In the Gospels God’s rule is manifest through Jesus by the Spirit (Matt 12:28; cf. Luke 11:20). For Paul God’s rule is manifest now in the Spirit of God whom he also calls “the Spirit of Christ” (Rom 8:9; 14:17). The Spirit’s powerful presence constitutes a new reality or new creation (2 Cor 5:17) that for the apostle may well correlate with the presence of the kingdom (1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal 4:6-7).

The Law of Christ. Many scholars believe that when Paul speaks of “the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2) he had in mind Jesus’ teaching on the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28-34 and par.). The command to love God and love one’s neighbor originated in the Hebrew scripture (Deut 6:6-8; Lev 19:18) and yet became “the law of Christ” through the weight of his teaching and example. Earlier in the letter Paul urged the Galatians to pursue freedom through service, acknowledging that the entire Law is fulfilled in loving one’s neighbor (Gal 5:13-14; Lev 19:18; cf Rom 13:8-10). Such service clearly includes bearing one another’s burden. It follows that “the law of Christ” may refer to Christ’s example as one who fulfills the law (Matt 5:17-20).

Imitation of Christ. In Paul’s day the imitation of a worthy person was an important strategy in moral formation. On a number of occasions we find Paul appealing to the example of Christ and urging imitation. For example, he urges the Philippians to have the mind of Christ in humility and service (Phil 2:5-11). He instructs the Romans to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and avoid self-gratification (Rom 13:14). In the midst of Jewish-Gentile discord in the Roman church, Paul tells them to welcome each other as Christ has welcomed you (Rom 15:7). The apostle even urges the Corinthians to imitate him since he imitates Christ (1 Cor 11:1). Admonitions to imitate Christ depend ultimately on having authentic traditions regarding Christ’s life. When Paul encourages the Romans to strive to please their neighbors, he appeals to Christ’s example: “for Christ did not seek to please himself” (Rom 15:3). For Paul, Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross may have been in view, however, this does not preclude other accounts from Jesus’ life wherein he gave himself for others.

The Twelve. The earliest historical reference to “the twelve” is found in 1 Cor 15:3-8. Paul recounts the tradition that the risen Jesus appeared to an inner circle of disciples called “the twelve.” He also recognizes Peter’s (Cephas’) special role in the Jerusalem church (along with John; Gal 1:18; 2:9). This is consistent with the Gospel tradition where (a) Jesus is concerned primarily with restoring Israel (see, e.g., Matt 10:6; “go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”), (b) he chooses “the twelve” by a prophetic act that reconstitutes Israel, and (c) he appoints Peter to a special leadership role in the new movement (e.g., Matt 16:13-20). Paul reflects similar priorities in his own ministry. Although the risen Christ appoints Paul the apostle to the Gentiles (Gal 1:16; 2:7-10), he takes the gospel first to Jews (Rom 1:16). Furthermore, recent scholarly inquiry into the theology of Romans demonstrates that Romans 9-11 is crucial to the letter. In these chapters Paul is occupied with the relationship of Israel to the Gentiles now that the Messiah has come. Employing the image of an olive tree, he portrays God’s inclusion of the nations into Israel through faith. He is even able to describe the church of believing Jews and Gentiles as “the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16).

In the Gentile mission the relationship of Jews to Gentiles at the common table constitutes a fundamental problem. In Antioch Paul opposes Peter publicly for his hypocrisy when he withdraws from fellowship with the Gentiles. Paul’s description of Gentiles as “sinners” (Gal 2:15) may well recall that opponents charged Jesus with being a friend of sinners (e.g., Mark 3:13-17; Luke 15). That Jesus is known to have welcomed sinners may have inspired Paul to welcome Gentiles and advocate mutual welcoming among his churches (Romans 14-15).


The centrality of the cross and resurrection plus the lack of Jesus tradition in Paul’s letters has given risen to the Jesus-Paul debate, a question that has occupied scholars since the nineteenth century. Essentially, the question may be expressed this way: what is the relationship between Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God and Paul’s gospel of the crucified and risen Christ. On one end of the spectrum, some affirm that Paul’s gospel of the Son of God (e.g., Rom 1:3-4) represents a significant departure from Jesus’ imminent announcement of the Kingdom. On the opposite end, others deny the claim and assert that Paul’s gospel is a legitimate development of the Kingdom message of Jesus. While not denying that differences do exist between them, they are explained as necessitated by (a) the demands of the Gentile mission and (b) the new situation created by the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

At one time it was scholarly commonplace to interpret 2 Cor 5:16 as evidence that Paul had little interest in the life of Jesus. It is now widely recognized that the phrase kata sarka (“according to the flesh”) is an adverbial modifier not a reference to the earthly life of the Messiah. Paul’s point is to emphasize that the new creation inaugurated by the cross and resurrection has altered his perspective on everyone, especially the Messiah.

The classic statement of the former position was made by William Wrede in his book, Paul (1904). Wrede claimed that Paul, as the second founder of Christianity, exercised greater influence than Jesus over what the movement would later become. Unfortunately, according to Wrede, Paul’s religion elevated the Christ to divine status and forced the prophetic voice of Jesus into an apocalyptic framework foreign to the Nazarene carpenter. In that sense, the sublime piety of Jesus is lost inside of a complex system where Christ is an object of full religious devotion. A half century later Rudolph Bultmann affirmed many of Wrede’s conclusions and interpreted 2 Cor 5:16 (“even if we knew Christ from a human perspective (kata sarka), we know him in that way no longer”) as Paul’s self-confessed evidence that he had little interest in Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. While Bultmann has been very influential in the debate, few interpreters today agree with Bultmann’s reading. The phrase kata sarka most certainly refers to the verb (“to know”) and not the noun (“the Christ”). Therefore, Paul’s point is to emphasize that the new creation inaugurated by the cross and resurrection has altered his perspective on everyone, especially the Christ.


Allison, Dale C. “The Pauline Epistles and the Synoptic Gospels: The Pattern of the Parallels,” NTS 28 (1982), 1-32.

Bultmann, Rudolph. “The Primitive Christian Kerygma and the Historical Jesus.” In The Historical Jesus and the Kerygmatic Christ: Essays on the New Question of the Historical Jesus, ed Carl E. Bratten and Roy A. Harrisville. New York: Abingdon, 1964.

Davies, W. D. Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology. Rev. ed. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980.

Dungan, David L. The Sayings of Jesus in the Churches of Paul. Oxford: Blackwell, 1971.

Dunn, James D. G. Jesus, Paul and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1990.

Dunn, James D. G. The Theology of Paul the Apostle. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

Ellis, E. Earle. The Making of the New Testament Documents. Leiden: Brill Academic, 2002.

Furnish, Victor Paul. “The Jesus-Paul Debate: From Baur to Bultmann.” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 47 (1965) 343.

Hengel, Martin. Between Jesus and Paul. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983.

Machen, J. Gresham. The Origin of Paul’s Religion. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947.

Wedderburn, A. J. M. and C. Wolff, ed. Paul and Jesus. JSNTSS 37; Sheffield: JSOT, 1989.

Wenham, David. Paul and Jesus: The True Story. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Wenham, David. Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

William Wrede. Paul. London: Philip Green, 1907.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Capes' Rediscovering Paul

 I co-authored with two colleagues, E. R. Richards and Rodney Reeves, Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology. The book is published by InterVarsity Press. 

See the review below by Craig Blomberg:
"Several good textbooks cover the background, life, letters and theology of Paul at a seminary or graduate-school level, which some advanced college students can handle. But nothing currently in print accomplishes all of these tasks well, with the representative undergraduate as its primary target audience, at least not from an evangelical perspective. Capes, Reeves and Richards now admirably fill this gap, not only with excellent, readable content but also user-friendly sidebars explaining the significance for modern life of numerous ancient events and customs. At the same time, they teach us to think more like members of Paul's first-century Mediterranean audiences to interpret Paul's writings more accurately. A rare gift to both the church and to academia!"
—Craig L. Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary

In our textbook we refer often to the very useful Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. G. Hawthorne, R. P. Martin, Dan Reid (InterVarsity, 1993). I recommend this as a good source for understanding the apostle. World class scholars have contributed over 200 entries that will help you know the current state of Pauline studies. In fact, I think it wise to use this dictionary as a starting place for most of your research. It will provide you with both primary and secondary resources for studying Paul as well are concise descriptions of the various topics. That's one reason why I selected DPL as a required text for the course. I have selected a number of articles from DPL that we will read together.


Saturday, July 7, 2007

Textbook: Gormans' Apostle of the Crucified Lord

If you are interested in Pauline theology, you might want to check out Michael J. Gorman's Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters (Eerdmans 2004). Gorman's approach is fresh and innovative.   He knows primary and secondary literature well and his arguments are persuasive.  I have used Michael's book in several courses with undergraduate and graduate courses.  Pay particular attention to his cruciformity theme.  I think he's on to something.

You should also be familiar with Jimmy Dunn's The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Eerdmans 1998). I like the book a great deal and have used it on several occasions for courses. Some find his book too Romans-centered and disagree with key aspects of his understanding of the new perspective. I recommend it for any serious study of the apostle.

As you study any book on Paul or anything other topic for that matter, I recommend you engage in active reading. That means several things. (1) Read when your mind is sharp. For each of us that may be a different time. Don't pick it up when you are exhausted. You won't remember much. (2) You may want to get a highlighter and underline key ideas as you encounter them. (3) Keep a mechanical pencil close by. That way you can pencil in questions, insights or key ideas as they occur to you. (4) Read with an open Bible. Gorman will talk about certain texts. Well, read those texts for yourself before you get Gorman's take on them. He is a world class expert on Paul, but not infallible. When you have a disagreement, state it. But wait! Don't just disagree, give a reasoned explanation of why you disagree. Finally, and most importantly, (5) Read as an act of worship. If God has called you to this task, and if you take it up, then do it will all your strength. Read Colossians 3:23: "Whatever you do, do heartily as to the Lord and not as to men." Don't read for me, for you, for anyone else. Let your reading, research, study be an act of worship to Almighty God who made your mind and called you to this task.

david capes

Course Schedule

The Pauline Theology course for Fuller Texas (Fall 2007) will meet over four weekends, Friday evenings and Saturday mornings into early afternoon. Here are the dates:

September 28, 29
October 12, 13
November 2, 3
November 16,17

All students are strongly encouraged to attend all class sessions. Each session will contain some lecture, some student presentations and some group discussion. In an intensive course like this if you miss a weekend, it is as if you have missed four weeks of classes! I promise not to waste your time if you promise not to ask, "Will this be on the test?" You will have weekly responsibilities for participating in the sessions. In particular, the reading assignments must be done ahead of time in order to receive the maximum benefit from the lectures and discussion.

The time we spend together will be crucial for building relationships and for grappling with tough theological questions. I look forward to spending some good quality time with you.

grace and peace,