When in Romans by Beverly Gaventa

9780801097386In Pauline scholarship circles it is fairly well known that Beverly Gaventa is working on a commentary on Romans for the WJK New Testament Library series. Over the last decade or more she has published close to twenty essays on various parts of Romans and most recently her presidential address at the 2016 SBL gathering was on Romans 13. Most of these essays are in edited collections which often are not cheap to obtain. Therefore this little book - and it is little, only 128 pages - When In Romans is a welcome and (also) accessible introduction to Gaventa's reading of the letter. It is dependent on the research she has been doing, evidenced by many of the footnotes pointing to the various essays she has published, but is written for a wide audience.

What excites many about Gaventa's work on Romans, is that she sees Paul as an apocalyptic theologian and so reads Paul apocalyptically, which no commentary of Romans, at least post-Lou Martyn's Anchor Bible commentary on Galatians (1997) has yet to do. At some point, fellow apocalyptic Pauline reader, Douglas Campbell, will also provide a commentary on Romans and it will be interesting to see how the two will compare. I think there will be lots of overlap, but also differences, for example Gaventa is not convinced by Campbell's suggested reading of Romans 1-3. (One place to find a brief description of Campbell's reading can be found in his contribution to Four Views on the Apostle Paul).  

In the four brief chapters, with introduction and conclusion, that make up When In Romans, Gaventa shows amazing grasp (as of course you'd expect) of the letter. She makes the letter come alive and demonstrates how it connects together - too often, as she points out, we read it in sections or as set of individual verses. Gaventa's reading is theo-centric and Christo-centric, it sees the plight of humanity as cosmic and the solution of the gospel as equally cosmic and universal. She reads Paul's not just for what he said, but also for how the church today might hear him. The only bit of the letter that isn't really addressed is Romans 13, but see above and note that she is beginning to give attention to that bit of the letter (partly to say we shouldn't read it in isolation from the rest of the letter!)

 If you struggle with Romans, if you remain unsatisfied with the other readings out there - from the likes of Dunn, Wright, Moo and co. - Gaventa offers (I think) the beginning of a much more satisfactory and helpful reading of this the most famous of Paul's letters. When In Romans is a wonderful little book that can be read fairly quickly, but will benefit from re-reading. It will certainly help me when I next come to preach or teach on Romans. If you know people who can handle the likes of Surprised by Hope or When God Became King by Tom Wright, they will have no problems in reading When in Romans and it will be to their benefit. This book certainly whets the appetite for her longer treatment when it finally appears, and suggests it will be a landmark study;  she will do for Romans, what Martyn did for Galatians. 

Faith: A Sermon

 I want to talk this morning about ‘faith.’[i]

It's a word that crops up a fair bit in the letter to the Romans.

It’s a word that crops up a fair bit when we talk about being a Christian.

Being a Christian is about having faith,

and having faith specifically in Jesus Christ.

It is faith, according to Paul, that justifies us.

We are justified by faith.

We are saved by faith.

Faith is a big deal.

It is at the heart of the Christian life.

There’s been a debate that’s been going over 30 years now

amongst New Testament scholars about faith.

The debate has been about whose faith are we talking about

when we read certain verses in Paul’s letters.

Is it our faith or is it Christ’s faith?

One of those verses is Romans 3.22,

which as you read it your Bible says:

‘This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.’

What you may notice is the small ‘h’ after the word ‘in’ which takes you to a footnote at the bottom of the page and gives you an alternative way of translating the verse:

‘This righteousness is give through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ

to all who believe.’

The original NIV translation didn’t provide that footnote, but it’s been included now, showing that there is now a real debate over how to read this verse and others like it.

The traditional ‘faith in Jesus Christ’ still dominates,

although the King James Version has ‘the faith of Jesus Christ.’

Historically up to the Great Reformer Martin Luther all Bible translations rendered the phrase ‘faith of Jesus Christ’, since Martin Luther nearly all Bible translations have spoken of ‘faith in Jesus Christ.’[ii]

Why there is a debate and why you have two possible versions is that the Greek does not tell us whether the faith belongs to Christ or to us,

It is left undefined.

What difference does it make? Why does this matter?

Well I want to suggest it makes a big difference

because at its heart it addresses the question how are we saved?

The gospel that Paul proclaims

is one which focuses on the faithfulness of Christ,

what we might call Christ’s fidelity, his obedience:

       In chapter 5 he says:

‘through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous’ (Rom 5.19)

       and in Philippians he says:

   ‘he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross’ (Phil 2.8)

The faithfulness of Christ is most clearly demonstrated in the cross.

Where the rest of humanity is disobedient,

                        is under the power of sin and death

                        is helpless, ungodly and enemies of God (Romans 3.9; 5.6, 7, 10)

Christ comes in order to suffer and die

                        for our salvation

                        and this is an act of obedience, of faithfulness and love.

What Christ does is also an act of God, who sends, and does not spare

                        his own Son out of love for us (Romans 8.32).

The gospel is good news because Christ saves us.

            Christ liberates us, frees us, delivers us

                        through his faithfulness, not our faith.

This is what we mean by grace.

            All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

            and (says Paul)

            all are justified, i.e. saved, freely by his grace

            through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ (Romans 3.22-24).

This act of salvation is grace all the way down.

            And this means it is:[iii]

          Unconditional – it doesn’t come with any terms and conditions

          Boundless – it is not limited to a particular people group; instead there are no limits on its reach

          Undeserving – it is given without concern for merit or worth

                                    and as such it is

          Generous – it is a gift of love

          Creative – this is a new birth, this is a transformation

          Effective – it does what it claims; we really are free

            One of the places Paul is clearest on this is in Ephesians:

                        For it is by grace you have been saved,

                                    Through faith –

                                                And this is not from yourselves,

                                                            It is the gift of God …

                        For we are God’s handiwork,

                                    Created in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2.8, 10)

            The words ‘through faith’ means the faithfulness of Christ,

                        that is God’s all-surpassing gift.

What of our faith?

Am I saying our faith doesn’t matter?

                        By no means! (as Paul might say)

            But our faith

            it is a consequence of our salvation,           

                        it is a product of grace.

There’s a story of a priest coming to see a theologian on a personal matter

                        which eventually boiled down to the priest saying

                                    ‘The problem is, Dr. Barth, I’ve lost my faith;’

            to which the theologian, Karl Barth replied,

                        ‘but what on earth gave you the impression it was yours to lose?’[iv]

            It might be better to speak not our faith

                        but our sharing in Christ’s faith.

It is not I believe and so I am saved,

            It is I am saved, and so I believe.

            There is no ‘if-then’ to the gospel,

                           such as: if you believe, or if you repent, then you are …

                        but rather ‘because-therefore’

                           because you recipients of grace or objects of mercy, therefore

you already are ….[v]

                        Faith is not a feeling, it is an attitude of trust,

                           a form of knowing and being known,

                           a life of faithfulness.

            Faith comes from our sharing in the life of Christ

            It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit who draws us into the life of Christ

            We are saved through faithfulness for faithfulness (Romans 1.17).

When we start to understand faith as first belonging to Christ

            and the a gift to us,

it should alter the way we see ourselves and

the way we approach evangelism.

     In terms of ourselves

            We should not think too highly of ourselves.

            We should not made the difference between us and those who are not Christians too big.

            We should see ourselves only as those who have been woken up to what God has done in Christ.

            We are all addicted to Sin,

                        We are those who are in rehab … in God’s hospital the church:

                                    ‘There for the grace of God go I’

            We have not healed ourselves,

            We have not conquered our addiction,

               We have been and are being freed from our addiction.

               Grace has found us

                     and we now walk and breath the fresh air of new life in the Holy Spirit

                   but Sin continues to tempt us and call us back to our previous life.[vi]

In terms of evangelism

            Our role is simply to be witnesses to a life free of addiction.

            Too often evangelism is done by trying to convince people

                        over and over that they are a sinner and should believe in Jesus

            as if a person is able just to decide ‘I believe.’

The more faithful way to evangelise is befriend people,

            to not see them as objects for conversion,

                        but as those loved by God,

                        as those for whom Christ died and rose.

We live in ways that are sensitive to others,

            at the same time without pretending to be something we are not.

The opposite of evangelism is make our Christian life so private that it makes no visible difference.

We live to share the story of the gospel,

            the story of Jesus through words and deeds,

            acknowledging that we are not finished,

                        but works in progress

                                    learning to live under grace.

We learn to be people of prayer

            People who pray something like:

‘Loving God,

as you revealed yourself to Paul

                        as you have revealed yourself to me,

reveal yourself to [insert name]

                                    that they might come to know

                                                the freedom and truth

                                                that is in Christ Jesus.’                                  

Evangelism is not the same as being a salesman,

            the gospel is not something we sell

Evangelism is allowing Christ to live us

            that we become free samples of Jesus.[vii]


[i] Nearly all I’ve learned about faith I’ve learned from the work Douglas Campbell.

[ii] Douglas Harink, Paul and the Postliberals (Brazos, 2003), p.26.

[iii] This explanation of grace is a combination of John Barclay (Paul and Gift, Eerdmans, 2015) and Douglas Campbell (The Quest of Paul’s Gospel, T & T Clark, 2008).

[iv] Quoted in J. Lou Martyn, ‘The Apocalyptic Gospel in Galatians’, Interpretation 54 (July 2000), p.250n.

[v] See Fleming Rutledge, ‘Sentences and Verbs: Talking About God’ in Apocalyptic and the Future of Theology (Cascade, 2012), p.18 who attributes it to Philip Ziegler.

[vi] The language of addiction I’ve borrowed from Douglas Campbell.

[vii] I offer that phrase to Nick Lear, Regional Minister, Eastern Baptist Association.

Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography by Douglas Campbell (Eerdmans, 2014)

9780802871510The first thing to say is Doug Campbell is to be congratulated on the length of his new book, at under 500 pages it is half the length of his otherwise wonderful The Deliverance of God (DoG). Framing Paul is still not a short book, because likes it predecessor, Campbell once again seeks to make his argument as thorough and tight as possible. Framing Paul seeks to solve the issue of when, where and why of Paul's letters. Campbell reconstructs the life of Paul from the letters that are present within the Bible. Like the pre-history to DoG, Campbell has been working around these questions for a long time. Over the years he has published several articles that seek to anchor the life and letters of Paul in history and has had a working timeline for well over a decade. As a student of Campbell's at King's in the early 2000s, much of what the book argues was already in place then, although Campbell has continued to fine-tune the argument in the years following.

Campbell's language of 'framing' (borrowed from Derrida) indicates that his aim is to discover the 'Pauline story that frames the letters' (p.12), that is, the Pauline biography that gives rise to the letters' occasions. Too often Pauline scholarship operates with no overarching frame, no account of how the letters are related to one another, the order they come in and the underlying account of Paul's life which explains their contingency. Campbell's argument is that a biography, that arises out of the data in the letters, and at the same time explains them, this will 'ground all subsequent interpretative work on Paul rather more accurately and firmly than hitherto has been the case' (p.404).

Campbell argues that to construct Paul's biography we must begin with his letters and leave to one side the account of Paul's life in the Book of Acts. We must begin with the primary data. Too many Pauline scholars too readily accept the account in Acts or work with an approach that borrows both from Acts and the letters as equal sources. Campbell's approach builds on that done by John Knox and John Hurd.

Campbell argues that ten of the Pauline attributed letters are authentic over against many who claim only seven are. He argues for the greater inclusion of 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians and Colossians amongst Pauline scholars. He disputes the Pauline authorship of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, although not without serious consideration, that is, he subjects them to the same methodology he uses with the other letters. How he constructs the order of the letters will cause much debate. He argues for Galatians to be written in the same year as Romans and close to 1 and 2 Corinthians. The years being 51-52AD. This is fairly novel for both arguing that Galatians is not the first letter Paul wrote and for placing many of Paul's letter much earlier than is usually suggested. Romans and the Corinthian correspondence share references to the 'collection' for Jerusalem, while Galatians and Romans, both have the Jewish 'teachers' (Lou Martyn's terminology) as the circumstances for their occasion. This brings these four letters close together.

Through the long biographical account in Galatians and Paul's brief mention of his escape from Damascus, Campbell argues that we can anchor Paul firmly in history, specifically through the reference to King Aretas, which can dated to 36AD. Campbell also includes Philippians in same time frame as the other letters already mentioned, here he argues that the reference to the 'palace guard' in Phil 1.13 is not a reference to Paul being in Rome (so a late date for the letter), but Paul 's imprisonment in Corinth.

Campbell's study of 1 and 2 Thessalonians argues that these are the earliest letters of Paul we have. Back in the early 2000s, Campbell had previously been arguing for locating 1 Thess. amongst the Rom-Gal-Cor-Phil letters, but in Framing Paul he claims this is the earliest letter of Paul we have. These two letters to Thessalonicia he argues were written in early 40s, on the basis of the reference in 2 Thess 2.3-4 to the Gaian crisis where Gaius planned to erect a statue of Jupiter in the temple at Jerusalem; Gaius was assassinated 41.

Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon he also argues were written close together, but while many suggest a late date, Campbell argues for them being written in the year prior to Romans et al. The chapter on these three letters is the longest in Framing Paul, which is perhaps understandable considering that in terms of Ephesians and Colossians they are disputed. Campbell argues that these letters come following his second and very important visit to Jerusalem and before the year of crisis which engulfs him in 51-52. Ephesians, Campbell claims, is the lost letter to the Laodiceans (Col 4.16) and should be renamed accordingly.

Framing Paul provides another ground-breaking work to follow DoG. Both books set out to re-write how Pauline scholarship should be undertaken. This latest book will no doubt generate as much conversation as DoG, some probably very critical. Campbell is nothing but provocative, although arising out of serious study and convictions. He suggests at one point, if his account is correct, Bibles and New Testaments should be re-ordered to reflect the order the letters were written in. Framing Paul gets into some heavy technical discussion, which makes the book tough going at points, but its result - its account of Paul's life and letters is exciting and provides much needed coherence to those of us who seek to teach and preach in churches which likewise are occasional and contingent. Framing Paul ends with some suggestion that Campbell will provide a sequel, which having established an epistolary biography, will engage with Acts. Hopefully further down the way, like Tom Wright, Campbell can also write a more accessible account for a wider audience.

Nine Other Books on Paul's Theology

As N. T. Wright's Paul and the Faithfulness of God (2 Vol.) is about to be published, here are nine other important books on Paul's theology all written in the last twenty years (so why no Sanders, Beker, Kasemann, etc)

1. The Deliverance of God by Douglas Campbell

2. Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith by Francis Watson

3. Galatians (and Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul) by J. Louis Martyn

4. The Theology of Paul the Apostle by James Dunn

5. Our Mother Saint Paul by Beverly Gaventa

6. The Conversion of the Imagination by Richard B. Hays

7. Inhabiting the Cruciform God by Michael Gorman

8. Paul and the Gift by John Barclay (forthcoming)

9. Perspectives Old and New on Paul by Stephen Westerholm


Once More, The Deliverance of God

The latest Scottish Journal of Theology 65.1 (January 2012) contains two more articles on Douglas Campbell's The Deliverance of God. First an article review by Alan Torrance (which reads basically as the paper he gave a few weeks ago at King's) and second a response from Campbell, 'Beyond Justification in Paul: The Thesis of The Deliverance of God' (which is a revised version of his response at the SBL gathering in November 2009 to Douglas Moo, Michael Gorman and Ann Jervis).

Also in this edition of SJT is another article in the long running debate about the relationship between the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of Election in the theology of Karl Barth that began with Bruce McCormack's chapter 'Grace and Being' in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth in 2000. This latest article sees Kevin Hector respond a second time.

Doug Campbell's Rereading of Romans 1-4

The biggest names in Pauline scholarship have all more or less written their big books on Paul (apart from one NT Wright, from whom we have the only teasers of The Climax of the Covenant and Paul: Fresh Perspectives). E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977), Richard B. Hays, The Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (1989 [see also his collection of essays, The Conversion of the Imagination, 2005]), J. Louis Martyn, Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul (1997 [to be read alongside his Anchor Bible Commentary on Galatians, 1997]), James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (1998), Francis Watson, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith (T & T Clark, 2004 [see also Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles, 2007]). In the case of Hays and Watson, they have moved their research focus to the gospels, which is also the case for Dunn in his retirement.

51tiXjRLs+L._SL210_In 2009 Douglas A. Campbell, after 15 years in the writing, published The Deliverance of God and said, that although these scholars had given important fresh insights to the task of understanding and describing Paul's theology, that all had failed to free themselves from what he called Justification Theory, which was like a virus that had infected all exegetical work. Justification Theory is contractual, conditional, Arian (foundationalist), a priori, Forward reading of Paul's letters which emerges fundamentally out of readings of Romans 1-4.

The reaction to Campbell's work has been that although many find much to agree with him in his understanding of Romans 5-8 (where Campbell thinks Paul is at one of his most clearest in terms of what he believes the gospel is), they are unable to join him in his reading of Romans 1-4.

What does Campbell do with Romans 1-4?

1. He says that with F. C. Baur everyone of Paul's letters is written because of opposition and this is also the case with the letter to the Romans.

2. The opposition Paul faces in Rome is the same opposition who were present in Galatia - Jewish Christian Teachers

3. Romans 1-4 then is Paul in direct engagement with this opposition. The interlocutor in Romans 2-3 is the opposition. Campbell then makes a fairly big and decisive claim that Romans 1.18-32 is not the voice of Paul, but the voice of the opposition - we have a block quote of their theology - to which the rest of Romans 2-3 is Paul demonstrates that its claims make no sense. Romans 1.18-3.20 is not Paul preparing for the gospel, but is Paul showing why another 'gospel' is wrong, that is, Romans 1-3.20 is not A which then leads to B (Romans 3.21-26), but should be read antithetically A v B.

4. Other recent attempts to provide new readings of Romans 1-4, Campbell argues tend to either reframing the text (so the likes of Watson and Sanders) or reread the text (so the likes of Dunn and his rereading of the motif of 'works of law' and Stowers). Campbell claims that none of these deal with the problem. We are stuck in a swamp!

4. Paul's gospel is unconditional, covenantal, Athanasian, a posteriori and apocalyptic - it is entirely grounded in the revelation of Jesus Christ. So instead of the slogan sola fide, he is sola Jesus.

5. If Campbell is right in The Deliverance of God it has massive implications for Pauline scholarship and yet also systematic theology and practical theology, most notably in evangelism, which are in large part wedded to the Justification Theory model. This partly why it took 15 years to write as Campbell meticulously seeks to demonstrate in the first nine chapters how so much of theology is caught by this reading.

Campbell99Last week's two-day conference on Deliverance saw Campbell present the arguments, with admittedly, a largerly friendly audience, the highlights of which was Campbell's live reading of Romans 1-3 as he understands it and later his singing of Charles Wesley's And Can it Be verse 4, as one of the best articulation's of Paul's gospel. (It was nice to meet Alan Torrance, Jeremy Begbie, Andrew Goddard, Chris Tilling, Scott Hafemann and say hello again to Eddie Adams).

In my humble (and non-specialist) opinion it is for others to offer a better reading of Paul, rather than just a dismissal, which works at every level of exegesis, argument, theory, and theology. This is one of the strengths of Campbell's argument.

Campbell was asked, what about if we agree with you, but we can't go with your reading of Romans 1-3. I don't think that works, because what then do you to with Romans 1-3.

We can look forward to Campbell's articel review of Tom Wright's Justification (and apparently Tom's reply) and also (probably) in 2013 a theological commentary on Romans, tentatively titled The End of Religion: A Theological Rereading of Romans.

If you can't face the length of Deliverance (Chris Tilling called it a monsto-graph), then let me encourage you to read The Quest for Paul's Gospel (an earlier set of essays) and Campbell's responses to Gorman and Tilling in the Journal for Paul and his Letters (Spring 2011) and Matlock and Macaskill in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament (December 2011). You will never read Paul the same way!

The Debate over The Deliverance of God by Douglas Campbell goes on

The latest Journal for the Study of the New Testament contains two review articles by Barry Matlock and Grant Macaskill of The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul and a response from Douglas Campbell

Zeal for Paul but Not According to Knowledge: Douglas Campbell’s War on ‘Justication Theory’
R. Barry Matlock

Review Article: The Deliverance of God
Grant Macaskill

An Attempt to be Understood: A Response to the Concerns of Matlock and Macaskill with The Deliverance of God
Douglas A. Campbell

These are the second set of extended article length reviews that I know of (a list of other reviews can be found here) and have just in time ahead of the two day conference taking place from tomorrow at King's College London on the book with Doug himself, Alan Torrance, Chris Tilling, David Hilborn and others.

Two-Day Conference in London with Douglas Campbell

Not to be missed!

Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul
A two-day conference critically engaging with Douglas Campbell’s proposals in
The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul

Venue: King’s College London
Dates: Friday 16th and Saturday 17th December 2011
(Daily schedule runs 10 am-5:45 pm)

Major papers by Alan Torrance (St Andrews University), Chris Tilling (St Mellitus College), Eddie Adams (King’s College London) and Douglas Campbell (Duke University, North Carolina)

Respondents to include Graham Tomlin, David Hilborn and Robin Griffith-Jones

Participants in plenary to include Richard Bauckham; Jeremy Begbie, and Richard Burridge
(All sessions will include full plenary discussion)

See here.

Yet another review of Douglas Campbell's The Deliverance of God

Alexandra Brown (of Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia) reviews Douglas Campbell's The Deliverance of God in the latest edition of Theology Today 68.1 (April 2011), which can be currently be read for free.

Campbell's thesis is generating three kind of responses. The first is to pretty much reject it (surprise, suprise from the conservative evangelical crowd who have the most to lose); a second response is to like what Campbell does in Romans 5-8, but remain unconvinced by his atrributing Rom 1.18-32 to the Jewish Christian Teacher. A third response, sadly in my view, in the minority is a much more positive endorsement of Campbell's work (see the likes of Chris Tilling).

Brown's review is of the second response kind. She ends her review with these words:

In the end, the enormous weight of the multiple layers of argument is nearly too much for the reader to bear. All but the most avid specialists in Romans will despair from time to time over the sheer complexity of the thesis that progresses through so many promises and deferments of argument (a favorite tactic of Campbell’s) that one can scarcely keep track of its many interrelated strands. The impact of Campbell’s urgently important thesis may be lost to the demands he makes on the cognitive skills of the reader whose intellectual, if not spiritual, agency is taxed nearly to the limit by this voluminous and complex book. But for those with the stamina to make it through, this boldly liberative reading of the Gospel according to Paul will—if one can say it without irony—reward the effort.

Other reviews can be found here.

Latest review of Campbell's Deliverance of God

Joshua Jipp has a lengthy review (most of which summarizes the book's argument) of The Deliverance of God by Douglas Campbell in Horizons of Biblical Theology 32.2 (2010), pp.183-197. He concludes by saying:

... Campbell’s book is masterful and powerful reading of Paul. Its sheer scope, argumentative force, creative originality, and theological agenda make it required reading for every NT scholar. It will, undoubtedly, ruffle many feathers and invite harsh critiques as virtu-
ally every chapter is rife with controversial arguments, but ultimately scholarly construals of  Paul will be better off for listening closely to the multifaceted arguments of The Deliverance of God.

Other places the book has been reviewed can be found here.