This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008). Available through Amazon.com. Francis Watson (Durham University) is well-known for his works on Paul and Hermeneutics, Biblical Theology, and for setting up the Pauline Soteriology group at SBL. This volume represents a major revision of his earlier work on the Apostle Paul that at certain points is almost the reverse of what he originally wrote. Indeed, Watson concedes in his preface that ‘I have retained only the empty shell of what I once argued’ and he suggests moving ‘beyond the New Perspective’. Furthermore, the insistence on Judaism as ‘a religion of grace’ has had its day and the creativity and diversity of Judaism cannot be reduced to any one scheme (this sounds to me like a tacit endorsement of some kind of variegated nomism). Watson proposes a more ‘nuanced account’ of what is and is not wrong with the traditional Lutheran reading and endeavours to move beyond a polarity on the New Perspective and Paul (pp. xii-xiii). In the introduction, Watson presents the story of his book from its origin as a Ph.D thesis accepted for publication but abandoned in favour of a more sociological approach to Paul, and the rationale for the revisions he has now made. He defines his divergences from the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) in four areas: (1) the concept of ‘covenantal nomism’ is used to highlight the irreducible particularity of Paul’s polemic against ‘works of the law’ rather than to promote Judaism as a religion of grace; (2) divine agency plays a more direct and immediate role in the Pauline pattern of religion than in the Judaism that Paul opposes; (3) the ‘works of the law’ refers to the distinctive Jewish way of life codified in the Torah, but without a special orientation towards boundary markers; (4) Paul is an advocate of sectarian separation from Judaism rather than urging an inclusive understanding of the one people of God as encompassing Gentiles. In his mind this is a step forward, not back towards the Lutheran interpretation. The ethnic dimension of Paul’s argument about righteousness-by-faith does not proscribe issues of divine and human agency. Furthermore, to reject exegetical proposals because of a perceived proximity to the Lutheran Paul is to give way to prejudice and dogmatism. In chapter one, Watson examines the legacy of Lutheranism in modern scholarship. He contests the Lutheran interpretation that regards ‘works of the law’ as a cipher for pelagian merit theology and regards it as ‘seriously flawed’ (p. 27). Instead, Watson seeks a solution that respects the socio-historical context of Paul’s writings. Watson critiques Luther’s interpretation of “works” as general human effort to earn salvation and prosecutes that critique in the Lutheranism manifested in the anthropology of Bultmann and the apocalypticism of Käsemann. Instead, Watson recommends following the path of F.C. Baur and those that followed him (e.g. W.D. Davies, K. Stendahl, E.P. Sanders, H. Räisänen, G. Howard, M. Barth, J.D.G. Dunn, N.T. Wright, U. Wilckens) who recognized the problem of Jewish particularism and the contingent circumstances of Paul’s writings. The sociological approached undertaken by Watson builds on the following models: (1) the transformation of a reform movement into a sect; and (2) an ideology legitimating separation. It is important to note that while Watson may be anti-Lutheran he is decidedly
2 not anti-theological. In fact, the aim of his sociological approach is precisely to ‘emphasize the close link between Paul’s socio-historical context and his theological reflection’ (p. 52). He endorses Baur and his stress on Pauline universalism, but correctly notes that although Paul sought to break down the ethnic barrier between Jew and Gentile, he nevertheless did insist on a form of exclusiveness from pagans (from memory E.P. Sanders makes a similar point in an article on the Antioch Incident). While Jewish exclusivism is a key target for Paul, Watson also recognizes that Paul had a different conception of divine agency. As such one does not have to choose between Luther and Baur because: ‘Both readings see in Paul’s antitheses an opposition between two mutually exclusive principles, relating to divine and human agency in the one case, universality and exclusiveness in the other. And both readings need to be rather drastically relativized, since they reduce Pauline antithesis to a common denominator and fail to grasp the incommensurability of patterns of communal life oriented towards two distinct and irreducible particularities’ (pp. 55-56). For all the failings of the Lutheran approach which is strongly anthropological, taken to universalizing, and largely ignorant of socio-historical contexts, I think Stephen Chester (ExpTim ) has shown that there is enough evidence in Luther and Calvin of awareness of Jewish particularity to be able to bring Luther and Baur together in some form. Chapter two concerns the origins of Paul’s view of the Law. Watson is adamant that Paul’s view of the Law came not from his Damascus road experience, but from the practicalities of the mission to the Gentiles. I found this chapter the most enjoyable, but it was also the one I disagreed with the most. To begin with Watson rejects the ‘historicity’ of Peter’s encounter with the centurion Cornelius in Acts 10 and the historical kernel of this story is the recollection that at Antioch and perhaps elsewhere Peter practiced table fellowship with Gentiles (p. 64). As I’ve argued elsewhere, Luke’s redactional work is clearly apparent in Acts 8–11. I think Luke has interrupted an account about the Hellenists that began at 6.1–8.40 and is taken up again at 11.19-30 with the stories of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9) and Peter’s encounter with Cornelius (Acts 10–11). This positioning is redactional and is designed is to show that the Gentile mission rests on apostolic authority. In my mind, the Gentile ‘break-through’ took place among the Hellenists at Antioch and not with Peter. Even so, I do not think that the story of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius is largely fictive since Paul’s jibe that Peter lives like a Gentile (Gal. 2.14) presupposes the kind of activity attributed to Peter in Acts 10. Even when Lucan theological activity is taken into account, I see no reason why the historical kernel of Acts 10 cannot be a historical event similar to what is recounted. That brings me to Watson’s view of the Hellenists in Acts where he is sceptical of their historical value. I would follow Martin Hengel, with some minor deviation, in seeing the Hellenists as crucial for the rise of the Gentile mission. Three things come up here. First, in Acts 6.1314, Stephen is accused of speaking against the temple and against the law by ‘false witnesses’. What is false here is not the charge against Stephen, but the character of the witnesses. As proof of that I refer to Mk. 14.58 where Jesus is accused by false witnesses of speaking against the temple. But the charge is not itself untrue because he did speak against it and it is multiply-attested in the Jesus tradition (e.g. John 2.19-21 etc). For me the similar language in Acts 6.13-14 proves that the witnesses do take exception to Stephen’s attitude and actions towards Torah and Temple and their falseness is in their
3 character not in untrue accusations. So Stephen and his cohort were doing and saying things that prompted a vicious response, but were not therefore liberal Jews or completely abrogating the law. Second, there is nothing particularly radical about the Hellenist’s view of the law. Indeed, their views line-up with Jesus (no, not a ‘Lutheran Jesus’) as he intensified some biblical commands and relaxed others (like other Jewish renewal movements did) and can be paralleled with other Jewish groups that had deviant views about the Torah and spoke negatively of the temple. Let’s not forget that, according to Josephus, even the devout and pious James was put to death as a paranomos or ‘lawbreaker’ too. Third, we should also ask why did Paul focus his zeal and persecution on the Hellenists? They do appear to have been specifically targeted by him and perhaps something like Acts 6.13-14 and 11.19-21 is why! When it comes to Paul’s letters, the four main premises of Watson’s argument are: (1) Paul’s early missionary activity was aimed primarily at Jewish communities in the Diaspora; (2) the earliest Christian congregations inherited the issue of Gentile circumcision from the Diaspora synagogues; (3) A self-conscious Gentile mission emerged from experiences of rejection by Jews and acceptance by Gentiles; and (4) Paul’s doctrine of freedom from the law may be traced back to his alienation from Jewish communities (p. 69). Let me take this point by point: (1) I profess agnosticism as to whether or not Paul got his ‘mission’ from his Damascus road experience or not (Watson rightly contrasts Gal. 1.15 with Acts 22.17-21), but the impression that I do get is that his time in Arabia was a form of ‘mixed’ mission to Jews and Arabs (Arabs as geographical neighbours and ethnic cousins to the Jews being a good place to start for a non-Jewish mission). (2) I concur with Watson that the disputes about Gentiles and circumcision was inherited from Diaspora Judaism where this issue came up (see my forthcoming Crossing Over Sea and Land: Jewish Missionary Activity in the Second Temple Period ). (3) I’ve argued elsewhere that the church had an openness to Gentiles from the beginning and only the means of their entrance into the church and the question of missionary initiative was at stake. (4) Undoubtedly Paul’s view of the law was finally shaped by disputes in Jewish and Jewish Christian contexts about the law and Gentiles, but I cannot help but surmise that Paul’s conversion imbibed him with a sola gratia and solus christo principle that was also working itself out in this very issue. For me the major contribution of this chapter by Watson lies in his argumentation that a Jewish mission and a Gentile mission cannot be neatly separated and a Diaspora mission would have included Jews and Gentiles together. This is something that I hope to tackle further myself one day. Chapter three deals with the Galatian crisis (Watson goes for the north Galatia and postActs 15 dating). Watson sees the issues as whether or not the church should exist as a reform movement within Judaism or develop a distinctive identity on the basis of ‘sectarian alienation’ (p. 100). I concur with Watson that the issue in Gal. 2.11-14 was fellowship with the uncircumcised, but I would baulk at his view that Gal. 2.1-10 did not address the circumcision issue but only permitted Paul to engage in a missionary campaign to Gentiles. The reason I say that is because Paul uses Gal. 2.1-14 as a lead-up to the discussion of the matter in Galatia which is about circumcision, Paul expressly says that Titus was not circumcised in Gal. 2.3, and why would Paul need permission or blessing from the Jerusalem pillars in order to engage in proselytizing of Gentiles as there
4 was nothing controversial about urging Gentiles to join Israel as a proselyte. The meeting in 2.1-10 certainly did lead to problems because the leaders did not foresee the problem of what happens when uncircumcised and circumcised believers engage in table fellowship. I am reminded of S.G.F. Brandon’s views when Watson says that the ‘Jerusalem leaders are more interested in the Gentile converts’ financial resources than in their foreskins’ (p. 106). The rest of the chapter describes how Paul attempted to legitimate the Gentile identity of his Galatia converts through separation from Judaism. In chapter five, Watson looks at the Jewish Christian mission in Philippi and Corinth. He supports an Ephesian provenance for Philippians (noting similarities with Philemon), regards 2 Corinthians 10–13 as a separate letter, and sees the Corinthian polemic orientated towards Apollos and his party. Watson sees Paul as warning the Philippians of the same kind of people that caused the Galatian crisis and in Philippians 3 Paul renounces ‘covenantal nomism’. Paul is opposing a static view of divine agency with a dynamic one and not merely a traditional antithesis of human achievement and divine gift. He writes that: ‘It is not: Must one do good works in order to be accepted by God? Rather, it is a matter of ecclesial self-definition’ (p. 150). In contrast, Watson sees no judaizing threat in Corinth, but sees the ‘false apostles’ as Apollos and his associates. Watson then begins a number of chapters on Romans beginning with chapter five on ‘Rome in Pauline Perspective’. He posits Romans as written to quell divisiveness among Christians in Rome in the aftermath of the expulsion and return of Jewish Christians to Rome and their thereafter volatile relations to Gentile Christians.1 Basing his conclusions largely on Rom. 14.1–15.13 and Romans 16, Watson sees Paul as addressing both Jewish Christian and Gentile Christian elements in Rome, commending a shared identity based on faith rather than law, and hopes that these two groups will worship together. Watson gives flesh to this proposal in the subsequent chapters including chapter six which focuses on the social function of Romans 2. The two major premises operating are that Roman Jewish Christian congregations originated as a reform movement within the Roman Jewish community and Romans 1–11 provides a theoretical rationale for the social reorientation in Romans 14–15. Romans 2 is addressed to a Jewish interlocutor and attacks suppositions of Jewish privilege of covenant and circumcision and gentile exclusion, these privileges are negated by (1) God’s impartiality; (2) the realities of Jewish vice; and (3) the realities of Gentile righteousness. Watson is surely on the mark when says that this modification creates ideological space for a community that differentiates itself from the Gentiles as well as from the sacred race that supposes itself to be immune from Gentile impiety (p. 199). Watson concurs with the reformed reading of Rom. 2.13-16 as referring to Gentile Christians. The upshot is that Paul is trying to persuade Jewish Christians to abandon remaining ties that bind them to the Jewish community in Rome and to join with his own followers in a shared new identity as ‘Christians’.
Note that John Barclay (Watson’s colleague at Durham) contests the view that the expulsion from Rome in 49 CE had any significant impact on the Roman Christians and Paul’s reason for writing (JSNT 31.1 : 93).
5 Watson continues his pragmatic approach to Romans interpretation with his analysis of Romans 3 which further intends to promote an ideological separation from the Jewish community and the realization of Jewish and Gentile unity in Christ. For Watson, the righteousness of God means the validation and vindication of those who have faith in Jesus. It is a validation of a faith-based identity and the vindication of them before the judgment tribunal of the eschaton. This faith has a social embodiment in so far as that the faith/law antithesis correlates to the life characteristics of the Roman synagogues and Roman Christian communities, i.e., it creates a division between them.2 Watson sees Paul’s argument as creating a series of divergent comparisons, e.g. in one community boasting is excluded but gentiles are included; the law is either a guide to righteousness or exposes human guilt and testifies to the need of divine saving action; does the law make provision for atonement or leave all persons in a state of unrighteousness. I have to say also that this was a great chapter with very good discussions on pistis christou and the use of Scripture in Romans 3.1-19. Concerning Romans 4–8 in chapter eight, Watson regards this section as continuing Paul’s pre-occupation with the law and Christian identity. In Romans 4, Paul reinterprets Abraham as a symbol of Jew-Gentile unity. In Romans 5, the issue is that of the future and a shared hope. The end of Romans 5 raises the question about the law’s initial validity and continuing relevance in relation to grace and hope. Watson sees Romans 6–7 as intimately connected and his theoretical arguments about law and grace serve a pragmatic function to unite Jews and Christians around a common identity. Regarding the enigmatic 7.7-25, Watson detects echoes of Genesis 1–3 that have been superimposed on the Sinai event and the ‘I/wretched man’ stands for Paul as the example Jewish Christian struggling with the Law. In chapter nine on Romans 9–11 Watson posits Paul as responding to Israel’s failure to accept the gospel and how he is known to Roman Jewish Christians as the founder of a community which Jesus is Messiah for non-law observant gentiles. Paul shows, therefore, on scriptural grounds, how his mission and gospel reflects the on going work of divine election and so justifies the separation of the Roman Christians from the ‘Israel’ embodied in local synagogue communities. This section is then largely oriented towards Jewish Christians in Rome and only Romans 11 attempts to counter a smug racial superiority on account of Christian Gentiles. Overall, Watson has endeavoured to show how every part of Romans contributes to Paul’s attempt to persuade the Roman Jewish and Gentile Christians to unite together in a common identity and common worship and to finalize the ideological breach with the synagogue.
My immediate question is that if the faith/law antithesis has this correlate in Rome does that mean that the same paradigm has a similar correlate in Galatia? In other words, does particularizing the antithesis with reference to the situation in Rome require importing the same social background into Galatians where the same antithetical language of faith/law occurs, and if so, does it work equally well in Galatians? Given that Galatians is largely an inner-Christian debate, I am not so sure that such an importation works which raises doubts about the utility of Watson’s construction in Romans for my mind. The issue here is what is continuous and discontinuous between Paul’s use of the faith/law antithesis in Galatians and Romans and how much of the sameness or differences are related to the social context and how much is more theological or applicable elsewhere.
6 In his conclusion, he emphasizes his effort to uncover the social reality that underlies Paul’s statements about the law and the Gentiles. Paul’s discussion of works, law, grace, faith, election, and promises are designed to legitimate the social identity of a sectarian community of Gentile Christians. The social function and context of Paul’s writings also corrects the anti-thesis between faith and works in the Lutheran tradition and in New Perspective readings of Paul. The faith vs. works contrast is not a theoretical abstraction but relates to the legitimisation of a certain identity. At the same time, Paul is not merely concerned with the scope of salvation (i.e. with matters of inclusion or exclusion of gentiles) and touches on the roles assigned to divine agency in the event of salvation. Finally, Watson is more sanguine about the ability of socially conditioned ancient texts to apply to theological construction than in his first edition. In an appendix to the book is a republished essay on ‘Christ, Law, and Freedom: A Plea for the Sensus Literalis’ where Watson argues that legitimate theological interpretation of Paul’s letters need not dissolve the historical particularity of their content and context. While it is tempting to replace Paul’s particular concerns with more general one’s appealing to one’s own audience, the issues that Paul raises about communal identity, the nature of the Christian church, the role of scripture in the church, create a range of theological possibilities. Incorporating the particularity of the texts may even serve a greater way to point to the ultimacy of Jesus Christ. This is an excellent book and is clearly one of the top five monographs on Pauline soteriology in last five years. Particularly helpful is that Watson’s approach shows that one can embrace theological and social perspectives in biblical interpretation. I have only two quibbles. First, Watson makes much of Paul wanting the Jewish Christians in Rome to separate from the Jewish synagogues in Rome and join in a separate movement involving Christian Gentiles. That comports with his view that Paul was not leading a reform movement in Judaism, but rather was an advocate of sectarian separation (see the recent monograph by Giorgio Jossa, Jews or Christians?). There is something attractive about this in that it explains how Christianity, in Rome in the mid-60s at least, finally did come to be recognized as separate from Judaism and the synagogue. The problem is, however, that Paul was willing to allow continued law observance within Christian gatherings as long as it was no forced on Gentiles. As long as law observance had a place in the Pauline churches, if only by the ‘weak’, it always meant that in practice these communities were never going to ‘break through’ the boundaries of Judaism socially, ethically, and even theologically. On top of that, Paul’s continued interaction with Jewish synagogues (if only for evangelistic reasons), his collection for the Jerusalem saints, and his apologetic remarks in Romans about the law are precisely to keep his own network of churches in relationship to the Jerusalem church who were very much still part of the Judean religious framework and community. Even partial law observance, by lax Jews or gentile adherents, could still put one on the periphery of a Jewish community. Paul had a theological and religious orientation that was christocentric in devotion, socially diverse in regards to incorporating gentiles as equals with Jews, and pneumatic rather than nomological in terms of informing its ethical practices. These are hardly sustainable in a Jewish reform movement and a reading of Galatians 1– 2 and 1 Cor. 9.20-23 gives the impression that Paul no longer identified with ‘Judaism’ as it was understood by his contemporaries. But I still wonder if ‘sectarian separation’ is really the best model here.
7 Perhaps Paul understood his community as para-Judaistic rather than post- or nonJudaistic, meaning, while Christian identity and praxis were defined by categories and markers other than strictly Jewish ones, there remained an umbilical link, deliberately so, between the Pauline churches and the Jewish communities. On top of that, Watson acknowledges that the primary addressees of the epistle are Roman Gentile Christians, yet he focuses predominantly on the impact of the letter on Roman Jewish Christians, while recognizing that their access and attendance to the letter is not guaranteed or certain (p. 179; yet contrast p. 262: ‘Here, then, it is absolutely clear that Paul seeks a hearing among the Roman Jewish Christian community. He is not writing only to Gentiles’ and p. 304 on Romans 9–11: ‘there a number of indications in Romans that Paul expects and intends his letter to be read and heard beyond the limits of the Pauline Gentile-oriented section of Roman Christianity’). I think it would have been good to differentiate between Paul’s stated purpose and direct audience with ‘insiders’ i.e. Gentile Christians, and Paul’s desired effect with an indirect audience for ‘outsiders’ i.e. Jewish Christians. Watson focuses too much on the latter rather than the former. Romans, in actuality, may have functioned to reinforce certain ideological fixtures among Gentile Christian groups rather assuage Jewish Christian objections or convert them to his own position in regards to Torah observance, identity, and Gentiles. Second, Watson states that his model does not simply show that traditional Protestant theology merely has a social context, but that certain elements of it are not in Paul at all (p. 121; but see more positively pp. 278, 346). 3 Perhaps so, but Watson has provided a path that can combine vertical and social elements of Paul or respect at least the anthropological concerns and social function of his doctrine (e.g. pp. 6, 55-56, 346) and is not totally inimical to Reformation theology. That is not to say that Watson has somehow ratified traditional Protestant readings of Paul, far from it since he critiques and challenges them through out, (see esp. pp. 25-27, 40-50, 346-47, 355-58), but his reading of Romans 2.1-16, 3.21-27, and Phil. 3.7-9 is one that most Reformed exegetes could agree with and it is bolstered by a series of robust social and exegetical arguments. Here we have then, an excellent synthesis of Baur and Luther!4
I have to contest Watson’s statement that: ‘The Reformational assumption that Pauline theology is summed up in the phrase sola gratia should be treated with considerable caution’ (p. 346). In my mind, Paul’s remarks in Gal. 1.15-16 and 1 Cor. 15.8-10 seem to correspond remarkably well to a sola gratia principle indeed. What Watson has undermined is perhaps more akin to a monergism that leaves no room for conversion and obedience as the necessary pre-condition of salvation. The only genuinely form of monergism in this regard is probably some type of universalism. 4 Watson writes (pp. 55-56): ‘An unexpected consequence of this perspective on Paul’s texts is that it is no longer necessary to choose between the readings represented by Luther and Baur. Both readings see in Paul’s antitheses an opposition between two mutually exclusive principles, relating to divine and human agency in the on case universality and exclusiveness in the other. And both readings need to be rather drastically relativized, since they reduce Pauline antithesis to a common denominator and fail to grasp the incommensurability of patterns of communal life oriented towards two distinct and irreducible particularities: the law of Moses, the gospel of Christ. Yet the present account can in principle accommodate elements of both contrasts, if they are subordinated to the fundamental disjunction between Moses and Christ, and if they are stated in suitable qualified and nuanced form. It cannot plausibly be denied that in Pauline usage “grace” highlights a particular form of divine agency, whereas “works” highlights a particular for of human agency. Nor can it be denied that these terms are also correlated with relatively inclusive or exclusive attitudes towards non-Jews.’
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.