Friday, May 18, 2012

Review of Paul and the Second Century

Paul and the Second Century. Edited by Michael F. Bird and Joseph R. Dodson. Library of New Testament Studies 412. London: T & T Clark, 2011, xii+270 pp., $140.00, hardcover.

Paul and the Second Century, edited by Michael F. Bird and Joseph R. Dodson, provides its readers with key content in order to discern the earliest interpretive trajectories for the Pauline discourse. Joseph R. Dodson, in the “Introduction,” discusses the context of the second century churches. He introduces four convictions that are endemic of proto-orthodoxy and discusses the various ways Paul’s letters and person influenced the development of Christian identity. Paul’s letters were pliable enough to be used in diverse contexts to support divergent viewpoints.
          Stanley E. Porter supports the theory that the Pauline epistles were gathered together as copies were made when the original letters were written. Since an original collection of thirteen letters is evident from the mid-60s in Rome, the second century was not specifically germane. Carl B. Smith looks at the way Paul’s teaching, not just his life, formed the basis of Ignatius’s theology. Smith recognizes Paul’s influence in four areas: “Christology, Jewish practices among followers of Jesus, the role of the bishop in the Christian church, and suffering and martyrdom” (41). However, in some places Ignatius closely follows the teaching of Paul (e.g., rejecting false teaching that impacts church unity), while in other places he extends his teaching (e.g., by developing a robust doctrine of the role of the bishop in securing church unity). One significant exception to this should be noted; Ignatius sees in Paul a level of discontinuity with Judaism that is not explicit in his original letters (45, 47-48).
          Michael W. Holmes’s concise essay relies on Daniel Marguerat’s categories to survey Polycarp’s use of Paul and his letters. Drawing from the discursive resources of Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians, he is seen as a significant, early witness to the circulation of Paul’s letters. Paul’s ethical exhortations are recontextualized with a synergistic understanding of salvation not evident in Paul (66). Michael F. Bird’s essay on The Epistle to Diognetus (ED) seeks to advance the work of H. G. Meecham with regard to the rhetorical function of the Pauline parallels in the treatise. Bird uses the standard categories for uncovering intertextures to provide clarity for the way ED uses the existing Pauline discourse. Bird finds only one convincing citation, though Paul’s use is significantly recontextualized in ED (75). In the end, Bird views the author of ED as a Paulinist, though one who, unlike Paul, incorporates platonic discourse and disavows Israel’s continued election (88). His anti-Judaism is not as explicit as Marcion’s, and while approaching proto-orthodoxy at certain points, much of his discourse resonates with what was to become Gnosticism. Bird is correct to note that ED 1.1 is a clear example of the development of Christianity as a tertium quid (75, 83). However, it is not likely that this discourse can be traced to Paul in 1 Cor 10:32, where the ascensive use of kai would result in a definition of Christian identity in the context of existing identities, rather than in their erasure or “negation” (84).
          Todd Still provides an assessment of Marcion and his reception of the Pauline tradition. Marcion’s theological dualism is not found in Paul, nor is his way of reading Israel’s scriptures comparable. However, there is significant continuity between Paul and Marcion with regard to worship practices and ecclesial structures. Overall, Still views Marcion as one who sought to read Paul closely, though he ultimately misunderstood him significantly (107). Paul Foster argues that Justin was not influenced by Paul to any significant degree. He suggests that Justin and Paul built on the same passages from Israel’s scriptures, though for differing rhetorical purposes. However, it would seem that, contrary to Foster, Justin’s use of ta ethnē is similar to Paul’s (1 Apol. 53) (116). Foster offers a couple of possibilities for the silence of Paul in Justin: (1) Justin may not have known of Paul’s letters; (2) he may have been reacting to Marcion’s use of them; and (3) he may not have considered them authoritative (124). If we only had Justin’s writings extant, then we would have to conclude that Paul had very little impact on the development of Christianity in the second century.
          Nicolas Perrin shows that Paul is viewed by Valentinus and Theodotus as the “ideal believer” who could function as a bulwark against the emerging proto-orthodoxy of early Christianity (127). So, while other movements within the second century drew widely from the Pauline tradition, “for Valentinus and his followers, Paul was ‘the’ apostle” (139). Joel Willitts provides an important essay on Paul and Jewish Christians in the second century. He begins by drawing the reader’s attention to the difference between “Jewish Christians and Christian judaizers” (167). This distinction is particularly important when addressing the putative rejection of Paul by some Jewish Christ-followers (149). Willitts then considers only texts addressed to groups that are clearly Jewish. What emerges is a view of the reception of Paul in the second century different from the traditional view that affirms widespread animosity between Paul and Jewish Christianities (168). Andrew Gregory shows the way the Acts of Paul is generally consistent with canonical Acts and Paul’s letters. Furthermore, Paul is presented as a pastor seeking to instruct local assemblies, rather than primarily as a miracle-working church planter. In this way, the Acts of Paul aligns more closely to the image of Paul revealed in his letters rather than in canonical Acts (188). 
          Ben Blackwell shows the way Irenaeus follows Greco-Roman rhetorical conventions as he redeploys Paul’s letters to address the central theological concerns of his time, thus providing “one important voice for understanding Paul within the second century” (206). Andrew M. Bain contends that, while there are numerous Pauline references in Tertullian’s writings, they are relatively sparse when looked at in proportion to his total output. Paul’s writings are used primarily to teach gentile Christians for life within the church and in those contexts Tertullian uses Paul’s writings with felicity. Pauline Nigh Hogan surveys the reception of Paul in the second century with regard to women. Galatians 3:28, 1 Cor 7:34-40, and Eph 4:13 were interpreted to indicate that traditional roles and structures had been set aside. Thecla, Mary, Blandina, and Perpetua are examples of women who were transformed “in Christ” to the degree that existing gender identities were no longer thought to be relevant. Alternately, similar Pauline discourse was redeployed by church leaders to restrict the various expressions of female “in Christ” social identities (cf. Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria). Mark W. Elliott concludes the volume by describing the triumph of Paulinism in the work of Irenaeus, Clement, Tertullian, and Origen, each of whom engaged Paul’s writings in different ways, but all of whom sought to bring to the fore ethical requirements for those who claimed to follow Christ.
          Paul and the Second Century is a work that provides university and seminary students unfamiliar with the first interpreters of Paul with an entrée into early Christian hermeneutics. This material, while often difficult and unfamiliar, provides a roadmap for the various ways Paul was understood in the second century – and beyond. This advanced work provides an up-to-date resource for those studying the church fathers and Pauline reception history. It is a welcome addition to New Testament studies and is recommended particularly for those engaged in the theological interpretation of scripture.


Michael R. Jones said...

Saw this on Michael Bird's blog and was wondering what you thought of this. Thanks for posting a review.

J. Brian Tucker said...

Now you know, don't you miss being in class so you can get this on a regular basis :-)