BMCR 2004.07.05

The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul

, The Cambridge companion to St. Paul. Cambridge companions to religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xx, 301 pages : map ; 24 cm.. ISBN 0521781558 $23.00 (pb).

The Cambridge companion series is aimed at introducing a subject to new readers and non-specialists. A three page glossary of theological terminology at the beginning confirms this. The book is a collection of introductory essays to the life, letters and influence of the apostle Paul. There are two chapters on his life and work, eight introducing the letters themselves, five on Paul’s ‘theology’ and three on his influence. A select general bibliography is provided and more specific bibliographies for the various letters, but none for the thematic chapters. Many chapters are without notes (probably according to guidelines set for the series), others have endnotes. The endnotes, which ought to be restricted to references, sometimes contain further discussion which makes for difficult reading when one needs to flip back and forth. The proofreading is generally very good.1

I shall admit to having expected something different when I requested this book. I wonder why a layman’s book on Paul was sent for review to a scholarly forum concerned with classics. But even given the constraints of the intended readership this book does not really commend itself. A new reader or non-specialist is confronted with short introductory chapters which all too often restrict themselves to a presentation of the given author’s views without necessarily advising the reader as to their place in terms of current scholarly opinion (e.g. Jewett’s rhetorical analysis of the letter to the Romans). Not only can this provide the reader with a somewhat skewed overview of Pauline studies, but it also provides ample scope for the various authors to contradict each other without comment. For example, Haacker argues that Paul’s schooling took place in Jerusalem and not Tarsus (21) and that Paul’s planned journey to Spain did in fact take place (20, 31-32), points contradicted by others respectively on pp. 75 and 92. Further, although the individual essays on the letters take 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians and the pastorals as pseudonymic, Murphy-O’Connor in a passing comment shows that he accepts both letters to the Thessalonians as genuine (75) and the thematic essays of Johnson and Witherington accept all thirteen letters. This would not be such a problem if the essays surveyed current scholarship and attempted to provide the reader with a balanced overview of current trends in scholarly opinion. Several chapters do approach a more balanced survey of current scholarship such as Stuckenbruck’s discussion of the letters to the Colossians and to Philemon.

Longenecker’s chapter on the letter to the Galatians is also particularly well done, especially in connection with Paul’s special relationship to Christ and how this affects his position with respect to law. It is strange, however, that the concept of justification (by faith) is not once mentioned, a concept surely central to the argument of at least chapters 2-3. Is this perhaps an overreaction to what modern scholarship has identified as an imbalance resulting from the theology of Luther? We may compare the silence in Lincoln’s chapter on the letter to the Ephesians on the author’s view of predestination and foreordination (Eph. 1,3-5; 2,10).

We end up with a presentation which may be rather confusing to a new reader or non-specialist. The cake is taken in Roetzel’s chapter on Paul in the second century, written from the standpoint of a Paul who in reality differed substantially in doctrine from the other apostles (the notion that he did not differ in this way is termed a ‘noble fiction’, 237). In accord with older liberal scholarship he suggests that Acts and the pastorals are second century documents which react to contemporary heresies. Later catholicism is an amalgam (contrast the remark in the next chapter on Paul’s catholicism, 243). This ‘Paul’ who was being transformed in the second century is, however, not (one of) the Paul(s) discussed in the earlier part of the book.

A number of chapters, possibly in an attempt at heightened readability and improved interest, become overly tendentious or even downright one-sidedly emotive in their approach to the subject. An example of the former problem is Murphy-O’Connor’s treatment of the Corinthian correspondance. There is a tendency here to state as fact intuitive guesses as to the concrete situation that have been made by reading rather much into the text. The same may be said of comments based on a highly personalized psychoanalysis of Paul’s character (88). A harmonising interpretation of the contradiction between what Paul says in 1 Cor. 8 and 10 is also given, without alerting the reader to the problem (79): in chapter 8 Paul urges the strong not to attend meals in idol temples for the sake of the weak whose faith might be affected, but in chapter 10 he proclaims that eating in idol temples is fellowshipping with demons and awakes the jealous anger of the Lord. Only occasionally (e.g. 80) are possible differences in interpretation admitted.

More problematic are several examples of modern theological reinterpretation proclaimed as if in fact this is what the sources are saying. For example, Haacker’s description of Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the way to Damascus as ‘visionary’ and his description of the resurrection sightings by the other apostles as ‘visions’.2 Rather unexpected and undesired are the value judgments Morgan provides the reader on aspects of traditional Western theology, which are variously characterised as “immoral” (the concepts of original guilt and substitutionary atonement), “dangerous” (Calvinistic predestination) or even a “perversion” (‘Calvinist Paulinism’) (249-51).

The final chapter on contemporary perspectives does provide an overview of certain recent approaches to Paul, but even this description is highly coloured by the particular stance of the author and cannot be said to give a neutral overview of current scholarship.

In sum, despite several interesting and well thought-out chapters, I cannot see where this book really has a place. It serves neither its intended audience nor can it suffice as a student’s textbook.


1. I found only the following minor errors: p.54 l.6 “and” is repeated twice; p.101 ‘their own wild olive tree’ should refer to the domestic tree of the Israelites from Rom. 11; p.102 “conununity” for “community”; p.124 del. 1.1322; p.262 l.5 from the bottom read ‘texts’ for ‘text’.

2. More interesting is Segal’s discussion of Paul’s ‘pharisaic’ concept of resurrection, which he sets off against the ‘later’ concept of the Gospels, namely, a literal resurrection of the flesh in the reanimation of Jesus (168-69). He does not relate how Paul’s supposed pharisaic view would relate to what is said in 1 Cor. 15,4-7 and Phil. 3,21.