Paul’s Last Days: a book review

Scholars debate the center of Paul’s theology. Protestant Reformers saw ‘Justification by faith’ as their hermeneutical key. The Tubingen theory (from F.C. Baur et al.) posited a dialectic between Paul’s message of  ‘justification by faith’ with Peter’s ‘justification by faith plus the works of the Torah.’ A Third hypothesis reads a shift in Paul–from Judaism to Hellenistic religion. A fourth possibility is that Paul’s theology is ‘Jewish eschatology but in a revised form’ (14-16). This is the position that C. Marvin Pate argues for in Apostle of the Last Days: the Life, Letters and Theology of Paul-. 

There have been varying eschatological constructs for understanding the New Testament (Jesus and Paul). “Consistent Eschatology” argues for a wholly futurist understanding of ‘last days.’ At the other extreme, a “Realized Eschatology” argues that the Kingdom of God has already come in the person and mission of Jesus Christ. A mediating position, is “Inaugurated Eschatology.” This view acknowledges both that Jesus’ mission and life announced the Kingdom, but it has not come in its fullness. It is now, but not yet. Pate argues that this best describes the Apostle Paul’s apocolypticism (19).

However the genesis of Pate’s approach is his observation of a clash of eschatologies between Paul and his opponents.  Apostle of the Last Days examines the Pauline epistles and the issues that Paul addressed, While Paul had an ‘inaugurated eschatology’ with Jesus’ death and resurrection at the center, his opponents clung to diverse, eschatological hopes. The Imperial cult, Hellenistic religion and Jewish Merkabah Mysticism (sometimes in a Christian variety) had different  versions of a  realized eschatology. Non-Christian, non-merkbah Judaism had a consistent eschatology, which awaited God’s future (political) deliverance. The Christian Judaizers had an inaugurated eschatology, but by giving weight to the Mosaic tradition they downplayed Jesus’ significance.

In part one of this book, Pate walks through each of the epistles and shows how Paul answered each of these opponents and the way he expressed his own eschatological hope. Part two examines Paul’s theology in systematic categories with an eye towards how Paul’s eschatology shapes his thinking about God.

This is a good book. Pate’s eschatological read of Paul (and his opponents) illuminates his epistles. Paul’s Christological hope was grounded in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and Paul awaited a future reality where Christ returns to put the world to rights. So there is a lot that is fruitful here. Pate walks through the entire Pauline corpus. I found I didn’t always agree with his handling of individual passages and was occasionally bothered by a supercessionist tone which described ‘the Old Testament’ as ‘works righteousness’ and faith and Jesus as the gift of grace. There is a greater continuity between testaments than Pate allows. God’s choice of Israel was not rooted in merit, but in Divine pleasure. Yet  I appreciated his analysis.

Eschatology is a word which many of us are wary of. Certainly there has been an unhealthy fascination with what Christ return will look like (and who ‘the beast’ is). Nevertheless I appreciate Pate’s description of Paul’s eschatological hope. This book contributes to a deeper understanding and appreciation of Paul’s gospel. Anyone wishing to deepen their understanding of the Pauline Epistles will benefit from Pate’s walk-through. I give this book four stars.

Thank you to Kregel Academic for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

One thought on “Paul’s Last Days: a book review

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