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Book Reviews / Horizons in Biblical Theology 33 (2011) 83-95

Christ and Caesar: The Gospel and the Roman Empire in the Writings of Paul and Luke. By Seyoon Kim. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008. Pp. 244. $24.00. Like the boy who could not see the emperor’s new clothes, Seyoon Kim goes one step further and declares: “I don’t even see an emperor!” to scholars who insist that allusions to the imperial cult are everywhere in Paul’s letters. Attendees of the debate between John Barclay and N.T. Wright at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting in San Diego (2007) will immediately recognize Barclay’s witty allusion to the Hans Christian Andersen’s fable and hear throughout Christ and Caesar reasons why the Roman Empire was insignificant to Paul. Although this book was published in 2008, Kim had submitted a complete manuscript to Eerdmans months in advance of the Barclay-Wright debate. It is remarkable that Kim and Barclay, two well-respected Pauline scholars in the field, would independently arrive at similar conclusions around the same time. Both argue that Paul did not forge his gospel in conscious antithesis to the Roman imperial order, but saw the empire as potentially good (Rom 13:1-7; pp. 36-43)—since its stabilizing rule provided the political infrastructure for Paul to travel safely and preach Christ (cf. Acts 16:19-39; pp. 177-70). When Paul speaks negatively of Rome, he never singles out Caesar or the Roman magistrates. Rather, he merges them together as part of a nameless crowd called “the rulers of this age” (1 Cor 2:6-8). The real enemies of the gospel are not Caesar, but sin, death and Satan (1 Cor 15:54-57; cf. Luke 11:14-23). To Paul, the empire was simply too small a player, a pawn at best, to greater forces to warrant significant attention (pp. 65-71; 191-99). Kim devotes the first 70 pages of his book to Paul (Part I) and the last 130 pages to LukeActs (Part II). His modus operandi for Part I is to look at the exegesis of 1-2 Thessalonians, Philippians, Romans and 1 Corinthians by leading proponents of Paul’s counter-imperial gospel (Horsley, Wright, Donfried, Harrison, Koester, among others) and evaluate their work (Ch. 1-2). The exegetical critiques are tied together neatly in subsequent chapters where Kim addresses the overall problems in method (Ch. 3-4) and offers summary remarks (Ch. 5). Kim follows a similar approach in Part II with his treatment of Luke-Acts. He begins with the exegetical material (Ch. 6-10) interacting with anti-imperial readings (Wright, Horsley, Wengst, and others) but also includes scholars who present alternative models for Christianity’s engagement with Rome (Bryan, Jervell, Marshall, to name a few). Kim argues for Luke’s political realism. For Luke, Rome was a stabilizing force in the Mediterranean world, and the early Christians could work within its imperfect structures. Luke provides evidence that the claims for Jesus Christ’s universal rule were not seen as a threat to the social order imposed by Rome. He catalogues several places where the two kingdoms potentially clash, but in each case, Christianity is exonerated from the political charges of subterfuge in the Roman courts (Luke 23:2-16; Acts 26:31-32; cf. Phil. 1:19-26; pp. 43-49). Kim ends Part II with a summary and excursus on Revelation and Hebrews (Ch. 11), a conclusion, and an epilogue. There are several strengths to Kim’s work, which make it invaluable for scholars, students and pastors interested in the topic of empire. Most importantly, the book exposes exegetical difficulties that anti-imperial interpreters need to address if they seek to convince the
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/019590811X571742

I would like to suggest a third way other than direct borrowing between the two. First. Yet. I will note two. Yet he has not fully thought through the theological implications of the text’s contingent nature.Book Reviews / Horizons in Biblical Theology 33 (2011) 83-95 91 academy of their findings. any external script (anti-imperial or otherwise) should illuminate the internal logic of the biblical text. anti-Jewish remarks are really criticisms against Rome) to speak of overthrowing the Roman order (contra Smith). is the true universal Lord and Son of God (1 Thess 4:13-5:11. Harrison. 38). coming (parousia). not contradict it. As for weaknesses of the book. Son of God (huios theou).g. and re-inscribes his power to the emperor (Suetonius. But does Paul need to? Christian theological construction can help the interpreter move from exegesis to political ethics. Donfried. the parallel terms shared between Paul’s Thessalonian letters and Roman imperial eschatology include: Lord (kyrios). peace and security (eirēnē kai asphaleia). not Caesar. 201). gospel (euangelion) and assembly (ekklēsia). reneging its role as God’s diakonos. There. For example. Koester and others insist that Paul uses imperial lexemes to describe Christ’s imminent return as a subversive ploy against Rome (pp. Against Koester’s overemphasis on realized eschatology. Paul’s argument tracks the Thessalonians’ anxiety about the fate of dead believers and the date of Christ’s future parousia. ought not Christians employ non-violent means (cf. does not think that Paul’s portrayal of Rome as “God’s servant” in Rom 13:1-7 is a timeless edict. 34). . The imperial cult adapts wider religious traditions of the Mediterranean world. Nor does Paul employ hidden codes (e. Unless one subscribes to a Derridian indeterminacy or “free play. Lastly. Paul preaches that Christ. Acts 17:6-7)—whose gospel undermines Roman security by setting up the church as an alternative social order (2 Thess 2:1-12). instead of dismissing the parallels between Paul’s gospel and imperial soteriology. I would also add that this hermeneutical exercise on Rom 13 runs in tandem with what Kim himself affirms in the epilogue. he calls for a “more active Christian engagement” beyond what Paul (or Luke) says since “our changed situation [and position of privilege in the West] demands it” (p. In 1 Thess 5:1-11.” anti-imperial interpreters need to provide transcripts that align themselves with the immediate issues in the text before reading between the lines or behind the text for secondary or larger themes. if the government were to cease doing good.. So. cf. 5-10). a son of god (Zeus). The situation-bound nature of Rom 13 should indeed allow us to re-read Paul if the conditions that Paul outlines for Christian obedience to a government are not met. Kim sees Paul clearly insisting that the Thessalonians are to wait for Christ’s return. he says nothing explicit against present Roman rule (contra Donfried and Harrison). Kim’s varied exegetical observations reveal the common difficulty of reconstructing a transcript from a shared set of terms: namely. to his credit. meeting (apantēsis). It takes the mythic story of Apollo. Kim’s chief contention is the inconsistency that he finds between an anti-imperial interpretation and the internal logic of the biblical text. In contrast to the divinized Augustus who supposedly inaugurated a new utopian age by bringing peace and security to all lands through violent conquest (Res Gestae §§26. Kim. But Kim is critical of this anti-imperial reading at several levels. Rom 12:14-21) to dismantle its sinful structures and re-order them for the welfare of all? Kim is hesitant to say yes because Paul does not entertain the “what if ” question (p.

we can search for a better one. rather than jettisoning the parallels when an explanatory model falters. 28-30). lumping the imperial cult among them.92 Book Reviews / Horizons in Biblical Theology 33 (2011) 83-95 Aug. Zeus and other so called gods and lords (1 Cor 8:5-6). Paul could have articulated his gospel in conscious antithesis to pagan idolatry. 94. Kim’s fine book provides the guidelines needed for such a search. I add this caveat simply to suggest that while Kim rightly warns against “parallelomania” (pp.4). Apollo. Paul possibly criticizes Rome indirectly by reacting to the pagan piety from which the empire framed its ideological claims. Max Lee North Park Theological Seminary .