Voices and Views on Paul: Exploring Scholarly Trends, Ben Witherington III and Jason A. Myers. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.
Summary: A discussion and analysis of recent Pauline scholarship focusing on E.P. Sanders, James D.G. Dunn, N.T. Wright, John Barclay, Stephen Chester, and Louis Martyn.
As you may gather from my reviews, there has been a plethora of scholarship on Paul in recent years. This is one of those works that offers both a helpful review of some of the key scholarship in this field as well as evaluation that both affirms what the writers see of value, and offers some critique. Ben Witherington III has written a number of commentaries on the Pauline writings as well as a significant work on the new scholarship on Paul, The Paul Quest, first published in 1998, when much of the “New Perspective” scholarship was still a “new” thing. Since then, a number of the key figures have written newer works, in some cases revising their views. Also, in more recent year the “apocalyptic school” led by Louis Martyn has generated its own discussion and reading of Paul. And lastly, John Barclay has focused on the theme of grace and gift in Paul and Stephen Chester has contributed Reading with the Reformers, an effort to reconcile old and new perspectives.
The two authors divide up the treatment of these figures between them with Witherington contributing a chapter on N.T. Wright and the chapter on Barclay and Chester and Myers taking the chapters on E.P. Sanders, James D.G. Dunn, and on Martyn and others of the apocalyptic school. Both offer overviews of key works, as well as appraisal. Here were a few impressions from my reading:
- There is an ongoing discussion of what kind of Jew Paul is. So much of the discussion has been around Paul and second Temple Judaism, but there was the observation that there may be more need to pay attention to Paul’s diasporan roots.
- I was impressed by the contrast between E. P. Sanders and James D. G. Dunn in terms of their engagement with their critics. Dunn was far more engaged than Sanders, and his later work reflected this engagement. The authors rightly note the wonderful model Dunn, who recently passed, gave us.
- I’m also struck by the greater nuancing that has occurred over time on what is meant by “works of the law” recognizing both the boundary conditions that were a barrier to Gentile inclusion and that Paul had broader understanding of what this phrase meant.
- Another matter for continued discussion is the status of Israel and the how the promise that “all Israel will be saved” will be accomplished. Will there be a single way of salvation or distinctive ones?
- Myers concedes that there is no accepted definition of “apocalyptic.” I did feel at times there was this “what exactly are we talking about” feel. It is apparent that these scholars may have much to contribute to the understanding of Romans 9-11, and do recover a dimension to Paul’s perspective overlooked by the New Perspective discussion.
- Finally, I have concluded that I really want to read the work of John Barclay and I’m intrigued by Stephen Chester’s project.
Probably the least appreciative treatment in this collection is Witherington’s of N.T. Wright. While acknowledging the overall value of Wright’s scholarship, Witherington has a number of critiques, including Wright’s ideas about Christ and Israel, supercessionist tendencies, his exaltation Christology to name a few. Witherington has a history of engagement with Wright, including a blog series on Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God that went to somewhere around one hundred installments. Unlike some who have argued for traditional views of Paul, Witherington carefully engages Wright, affirming helpful aspects of his scholarship, but also noting where he clearly differs.
One other feature of this work, that I’ve seen Witherington do before is team up with younger scholars, noting very clearly their contribution to the work, and introducing them to the scholarly world. This is also a model of generous scholarship to be commended and encouraged not only in the theological world but in the wider academy.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.