Apostle of the Crucified Lord
A review of Michael Gorman's, "Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters," by Dr. Craig Blomberg.
Gorman, Michael J. Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters. Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2004. Paperback. xiii + 610 pp. ISBN 0-8028-3934-7.
Teachers looking for a “one-stop shopping” textbook for a course on Paul will still find F. F. Bruce’s 1977 classic quite useful. More up-to-date though probably not destined to become a classic is John Polhill’s volume. Both fit a class on “Acts and Paul” perfectly, but what if one wants just Paul? Concise surveys of his life and thought exist, as do more detailed, synthetic theologies. But what if one wants elements of all of these items plus a theological overview of each letter by itself? Michael Gorman, professor of New Testament and early church history and dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary Seminary and University in Baltimore, has now amply filled this gap. For Protestants wondering if this volume is skewed in any distinctively Catholic direction, the answer is no. Not only does Gorman heartily approve of the recent Catholic-Lutheran accord that determined justification to be entirely by grace through faith, with the works as the necessary outgrowth of a genuinely Spirit-empowered life, he correctly argues that ecumenical statements could be made even more accurate if they paid more attention to the Jewish context of Scripture and used biblical more than Reformation-era categories.
The first six chapters overview the Greco-Roman context of Paul’s mission, a sketch of his life and conversion, epistles as a substitute for apostolic presence, the heart of Paul’s gospel as Christ crucified and resurrected, his covenantal, cruciform and charismatic spirituality, and twelve fundamental convictions guiding his overall thought. An introduction to relevant Jewish backgrounds is inserted into its broader Hellenistic context. Paul’s goal as a missionary apostle “was to build multicultural communities of Christ-believers consisting of Jews and Gentiles alike” (p. 63). Rhetorical criticism appears within the chapter on apostleship in absentia. So, too, does the issue of authorship, on which Gorman observes that he has changed his views several times over the years, vacillating between belief in only the seven undisputed letters and acceptance of all thirteen attributed to the apostle. He currently thinks that Paul wrote all but 1 Timothy and Titus. The core kerygma must be read as playing off against the various Imperial claims of Rome, including crucial redefinitions of such terms as gospel, salvation, kingdom, peace, faith, freedom, justice, and Lord. Paul’s spirituality is chosen as a more comprehensive term for what often gets covered under “ethics” move left one character, while his spirituality and theology together may be epitomized by the adjectives, “communal, countercultural, and (new-) creational.”
The next thirteen chapters introduce each letter ascribed to Paul, one at a time, in what Gorman deems to be their chronological order. Of numerous, somewhat distinctive insights we might note, appear the following. 1 Thessalonians 1-3 may be viewed as part of one long prayer. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul reserves his harshest rebukes not for those whose eschatology is mistaken but for the idle and disorderly. Galatians most likely addresses the people evangelized on Paul’s first missionary journey in the southern part of that Roman province yet should still be dated to after the Apostolic Council. Paul’s refusal to demand his rights in 1 Corinthians 9 exhibits close parallels to the Philippian hymn. Second Corinthians is not only a unity but it demonstrates the rhetorical strategy of moving from issues of lesser to greater volatility by shifting from “less combative to more combative forms of persuasion” (p. 291). The problem with summarizing Romans’ message on justification as “by faith alone” is not that Paul supplements faith with works, “but rather that common definitions of faith are often so myopic when compared to Paul’s. For Paul, faith is clearly a comprehensive response: trust, absolute surrender, obedience, and commitment to the covenant” (p. 360).
The entire epistle to the Philippians may be understood as an extended meditation on or exegesis of Christ hymn of 2:5-11. The key issue for Paul in Philemon is not lobbying for Onesimus’ manumission, but establishing a new network of spiritual relationships among equals. Thus the domestic code in Colossians need not contradict the genuine Paul, but it, too, “subverts and transforms the power (patria potestas) of the paterfamilias (p. 491). Since slaves and masters in Christ are both slaves of Jesus as Master, neither can truly be an owner or property of the other, Roman law notwithstanding. The distinctive style of both Ephesians and Colossians may be explained by Tychicus as the “distinctive voice” of these two epistles. “2 Timothy faithfully preserves the Spirit, though not necessarily the letter, of the apostle Paul, while 1 Timothy and Titus preserve the letter, though not necessarily the Spirit, of 2 Timothy” (p. 534). A good summary of 2 Timothy emerges in 3:12, which declares that all who wish to live godly lives in Christ will be persecuted! A short epilogue of summary and contemporary application rounds out the volume, focusing particularly on the role of faith, hope and love.
Gorman’s title reflects his “big idea.” Just as “Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) reflects the heart of Paul’s gospel, so too his lifestyle and central desire for his churches revolve around “cruciformity.” Gorman rightly recognizes that contemporary Christian living does not consistently acknowledge this and even less commonly implements it. The layout of the book is very attractive and user-friendly. Charts, diagrams and photographs enhance its visual appeal, while summaries of chapter subsections, extended excerpts from key commentators, questions for reflection and helpful annotated bibliographies enhance the volume’ s pedagogical usefulness.
Obviously, no fellow scholar is likely ever to agree with each of the huge number of exegetical decisions that an author in Gorman’s position must make. Selecting just a few almost at random, we may note the improbability of “overseer” and “elder” meaning the same thing in Titus (which they probably do) but not in 1 Timothy, of Paul even temporarily contemplating suicide (Phil. 1:22), of Romans 7:14-25 describing only the person outside of Christ (despite the popularity of this perspective in many circles), of every literal Jew acknowledging Jesus as Lord when they see him returning (Rom. 11:25-26), or of the reference to “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” in 2 Corinthians 10:1 being literal rather than ironic.
But examples like these are vastly overshadowed by the large stretches of text where Gorman represents consensus views and/or persuasive exegesis, and his role as a pastor and teacher of pastors clearly shines through his warm writing style and commitment to help Christians grow. There are the occasional, surprising oversights. How can one discuss the Thessalonian letters today without presenting the sociological option that interprets the idle as those still trying to rely on patron-client relationships even as Christians? Why do estimates of percentages of biblical scholars who reject Pauline authorship for one or more of the six disputed books seemingly refer only to non-evangelical scholars, since the statistics would be quite different if the entire community of Neutestamentlern worldwide were polled? And how can one not include the revised International Critical Commentary volume on the Pastoral Epistles by Howard Marshall in a bibliography, when that series is by all accounts the most critically rigorous in the world and this work one of the best in the series?
But again these criticisms come nowhere close to outweighing the major benefits of this significant, new volume. Gorman’s painstaking study may just be the single best textbook now available on Paul, all of Paul and nothing but Paul! It deserves wide usage in the classroom and even wider study by theological students, pastors and scholars.
Craig L. Blomberg, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of New Testament