The Cambridge Companion to St Paul
A review of James Dunn's, "The Cambridge Companion to St Paul," by Dr. Craig Blomberg.
Dunn, James D. G., ed., The Cambridge Companion to St Paul. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2003 xxi + 301 pp. Pap. $22.00. ISBN 0-521-78694-0
As the “Cambridge Companion to Religion” series grows, more and more volumes are appearing relating to the biblical texts. An excellent volume on Jesus came out in 2002 and one on “the Gospel” is projected as forthcoming. This compilation of short studies of state-of-the art scholarship on Paul is a worthy addition to the series. All nineteen contributors, including the editor, are internationally known and highly responsible scholars, with numerous published works, including many on Paul. At least eight would be self-identified evangelicals and all the rest are reasonably centrist on the theological spectrum. One author, writing appropriately on Paul’s Jewish presuppositions is the noted Jewish NT scholar, Alan Segal.
After Dunn’s chapter sets the stage by summarizing the history of modern Pauline scholarship, the book divides into four parts. Part one treats Paul’s life and work, with two offerings. Klaus Haacker provides an overview of the major stages of Paul’s life, largely following Acts and adopting a fairly standard chronology. The only surprise here is his conviction that Paul spent his pre-teen years mostly in Jerusalem rather than Tarsus. Stephen Barton looks at metaphors and categories that illustrate Paul as missionary and pastor, largely mining the epistles. Significant here is his emphasis that Paul’s professed lack of rhetorical skill probably accounts for his ministry largely in homes and at the workplace, rather than in the Greco-Roman forums to which polished philosophers would normally have been invited. Mars Hill, in other words, was the exception, not the norm.
Part two is the longest of the four, with successive chapters on each of the major letters or collections of letters. In varying formats, these combine introduction, commentary and theological analysis. Margaret Mitchell surprises the reader by suggesting 1 Thessalonians was written from Athens (not Corinth) and opts for pseudonymity for 2 Thessalonians without fully engaging the strongest arguments for Pauline authorship. Bruce Longenecker helpfully stresses the cruciform lifestyle as an integrating theme for Galatians. Jerome Murphy O’Connor provides a solid overview of 1 Corinthians and solves the problems of disunity in 2 Corinthians by breaking the document into (only!) two letters, with chapters 10-13 having been written later than 1-9. Originally internal problems gave way to external challenges, as “the incoming Judaizers were ‘Corinthianized’ and the local Spirit-people ‘Judaized'” (p. 84). Robert Jewett’s study of Romans proves largely predictable, with the key addition that this letter was not merely a general systematic treatise but a missionary document. Jewett has little time for the “new look” on Paul but does recognize how potentially subversive of Caesar’s claims Paul’s brief would have been.
Morna Hooker accepts the integrity of Philippians and dates it to Paul’s Roman imprisonment in the early 60s. She is suspicious, however, of much reconstruction concerning actual false teachers or discord in Philippi (reminiscent of her wholesale skepticism thirty years ago about heretics in Colossae!). Loren Stuckenbruck’s discussion of Colossians and Philemon is marked by more caution than any of the other essays, taking no firm stands on authorship of Colossians, whether the errorists were worshipping angels or participating in angels’ worship, or whether Philemon fully reflects the background of the amicus domini practice. Ironically, he does tentatively opt for an Ephesian provenance, the least clear of all the issues, and ironic also because, when scholars do assign one of Paul’s letters to an Ephesian imprisonment, it is more often Philippians rather than Colossians. Andrew Lincoln and Arland Hultgren round out this section by presenting overviews of Ephesians and the Pastorals, respectively, each quite unambiguously supporting pseudonymity and showing how this would be fleshed out in analyses of the various letters’ contents.
Part three turns to Paul’s theology. Segal’s treatment of Jewish backgrounds leads off. A key and somewhat overstated motif is that Paul’s letters actually offer the earliest and at times best testimony to first century Jewish (or at least Pharisaic) beliefs on given issues. Yet Segal recognizes that Paul did convert (and not merely confirm or complete his Judaism) and would have been viewed by his former colleagues as apostate. But the bulk of this chapter deals with Jewish devices for interpreting the Old Testament, which Paul continued to use, even if to new ends. Graham Stanton highlights Paul’s “gospel,” surveying the key categories of God’s initiative through his Son, Christ crucified and raised for our salvation, justification, reconciliation, and the coming of the gospel in power and in the Spirit. Larry Hurtado notes key dimensions of Paul’s Christology, discussing basic titles and concepts, comparing Paul with Jesus, and noting the astonishingly early rise of “binitarian” devotion. Luke Johnson sweeps through key texts and themes under the ecclesiological banner, noting that the Pastorals can be accepted as authentic and that, even if not, some early church organization is disclosed in the undisputed Paulines (against a still tenacious perspective that sees the earliest church as predominantly if not entirely “charismatic”). Brian Rosner whets our appetite for fuller studies of Pauline ethics by introducing the Law-Gospel contrast and fleshing out two case studies, of Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 5.
Three chapters complete the volume and comprise the final main section on Saint Paul–i.e., the Paul of subsequent Christian history. Calvin Roetzel sketches the orthodox and unorthodox portraits of the second century, Robert Morgan dips into representative periods of time from the early church fathers to the present, and Ben Witherington focuses explicitly on select, twentieth-century emphases and important individual scholars’ contributions.
For an intentionally ecumenically-focused project by a prestigious university publisher, one could scarcely have hoped for a better anthology than this. Conservative voices are heard far more regularly than is often the case in comparable projects, summaries of huge amounts of scholarship are succinct, understandable and accurate, and there are even hints of contemporary application–for both Christian and non-Christian. This is an excellent primer on every major facet of Paul’s ministry and thought. What is missing at times in comprehensiveness is more than made up for in manageability for a busy student or pastor.
Craig L. Blomberg, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of New Testament