Sunday, February 21, 2010
Paul Was Not a Christian
Paul was Not A Christian. The title itself will sell a lot of books! I wish I thought of it. Picking up the book my first thought was that I would be generally sympathetic to the argument of the book. And indeed I am. Her opening statement in her first chapter I agree with heartily, "Paul lived and died a Jew".
However, as I begin reading into the chapters what I am finding is significant disagreement. I'll name a couple briefly. First, her insistence on using only the seven "undisputed" letters of Paul to the exclusion of Paul's other letters and the book of Acts seems to me short sighted. I know this remains the standard approach among many, but her explanation for only using the undisputed letters retreads old arguments that have been largely shown to be a product of modernity's overconfidence and ironically now seem old fashion, although her view is that to take a more maximalistic approach is really old fashion.
Related to this is the second point I have a problem with already and did I say I'm only in the third chapter. She believes that the traditional portrait of Paul the convert would have been less likely to have arisen if Acts and the Pastoral epistles were not used by Christians as evidence for Paul. I'm not going to make a sustained case against this here, but her assertion is just not true. I will just address her handling of Acts as an example of the weakness in her discussion. I have two points. First, Paul's "conversion" in Acts is not described in terms of a conversion. We just looked at this in my Paul class last week. In each case, Luke fashions the narrative as a "calling" scene. Dramatic changes take place and Paul does a complete 180, but he is commissioned for a task in each of the three narratives where Paul's story is told (chs 9, 22, 26). Second, she doesn't seem to notice that Luke portrays Paul as a Torah-observant Jew in much of his narrative. One need only highlight Acts 21 as a case in point. So, while I agree that many have misused Acts to create the false caricature of Saul Paul converting from Judaism to Christianity, it is not because there is something inherent in Acts that is not in the "undisputed" letters.
I'm sure there will be much that I'll like in this book, but there are significant problems with the book. I'll keep you posted.