Review: The Apocalyptic Paul

The Apocalyptic Paul: Retrospect and Prospect (Cascade Library of Pauline Studies), Jamie Davies, Foreword by John Barclay. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2022.

Summary: A survey of the major contributors to the Apocalyptic Paul movement within Pauline studies, as well as a discussion of some outstanding areas for discussion and proposals of bringing biblical scholars in the Apocalyptic Paul movement, theologians focusing on apocalyptic, and those studying the Jewish apocalyptic tradition into conversation.

In the field of Pauline studies, one of the recent developing schools of thought has been that of the Apocalyptic Paul. I’ve found myself grappling to understand this school. What is meant by apocalyptic? How is Paul apocalyptic? As it turns out, even this is a point of discussion according to this helpful survey by Jamie Davies. As indicated by the subtitle, Davies spends the first part on retrospective, surveying the leading scholars in the lineage of Apocalyptic and Apocalyptic Pauline studies. Then the second part deals more with future trajectories in Apocalyptic Pauline studies, looking both at critiques and possible engagement between Apocalyptic Pauline studies and systematic theologians and scholars studying Jewish apocalypticism. He concludes with delineating a number of outstanding questions that these three fields of study might pursue together.

The first chapter in part one traces the history of apocalyptic studies from Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer who focused on the apocalyptic character of Jesus, through Rudolph Bultmann’s demythologizing of apocalypticism and his student Ernest Kasemann’s assertion that apocalypticism is the “mother of all Christian theology.” The chapter concludes J. Christiaan Beker’s focus on apocalyptic in Paul emphasizing the triumph of God and J. Louis Martyn’s that elaborated this triumph around the theme of invasion. Chapter two then introduces more recent scholarship: Martinus de Boer’s two tracks of cosmological and forensic apocalyptic eschatology, Leander Keck’s ex post facto approach that reasons from the resurrection of Jesus to understand salvation history, Beverly Gaventa’s focus on the singularity of the gospel in the apocalyptic Paul, Douglas Campbell’s critiques of foundationalism in theology, Susan Eastman’s focus on language, identity, and agency, particularly Paul’s use of maternal language, and Lisa Bowen’s work on epistemology, heavenly ascent, and cosmic warfare. Chapter three completes part one by reviewing the apocalyptic turn in systematic theology and some of the representative scholars in this “turn”: Walter Lowe, Nathan Kerr, Philip Ziegler, and Douglas Harink. All of these wrestle with the idea of the divine interruption of apocalyptic theology, the invasion of God into the present age.

Part Two moves from survey to a constructive engagement between Apocalyptic Paul scholars and both systematic theologians, especially Barth, and Jewish apocalyptic scholars. In chapter four, he identifies unsettled questions and outlines the discussions from scholars in these three areas. The questions include whether apocalyptic means eschatological, de Boers “two tracks” of cosmic and forensic apocalyptic eschatology and whether this dichotomy may be overcome, the compatibility of wisdom and apocalyptic theology, and how retrospective approaches understanding salvation history reading back from the revelation of Jesus versus progressive salvation histories like that of N. T. Wright. Then in chapter 5, Davies utilizes this threefold engagement to look at three specific matters: the “two ages” with interesting proposals of seeing it rather as this present temporal age intersecting with the eternal through the revelation of Jesus, a study of 1 Corinthians 2 and what we can learn of Paul’s apocalyptic epistemology, and finally a study of Sarah and Hagar in Galatians 4, considering the interplay between cosmology and eschatology.

Davies concludes then for an appeal for this constructive theologizing to go on rather than for scholars to remain in siloes. Davies also raises the issue of the necessity of avoiding a Pauline canon within a canon, emphasizing the importance of engagement with other biblical scholarship. The challenge is between the necessity of specialization versus being a “jack of all trades.” Yet what Davies does both retrospectively and prospectively is offer a good example of the benefit of such engagement. He shows how each needs the other and cannot operate in a silo. What he does then is offer not only a valuable survey for someone new to the discussion of “the Apocalyptic Paul” as well as gesturing toward future fruitful avenues of research and engagement. Such a work is of value for both the prospective scholar and the “pastor-theologian” who seeks to make God’s whole counsel clear to God’s people.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

One thought on “Review: The Apocalyptic Paul

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: February 2023 | Bob on Books

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