Rediscover and Recover Paul: a book review

I previously reviewed David Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards’ Rediscovering Jesus  (IVP Academic, 2015) That book was an evocative and whimsical look at both biblical images of Jesus in the New Testament and later cultural portrayals of Jesus (e.g. Gnostic Jesus, Jesus in Islam, Mormon Jesus, the cinematic Jesus, and American Jesus, etc).

5191However, that book was not Capes, Reeves and Richard’s first collaboration. Way back in 2007 they published Rediscovering Paul: an Introduction to His World, Letters, and Theology I did not have the privilege of reading the first edition, but there is now a second edition (Nov 2017), which has been expanded to include recent Pauline research, and new material for the “So What?” and “What’s More?” sections (I’ll explain what these are below). This is a non-technical, introductory textbook which examines the life and thought of the Apostle Paul.

Capes is the associate dean of biblical and theological studies and professor of New Testament at Wheaton, Reeves is the dean and biblical studies professor at the Court Redford College of Theology and Ministry, and Randolph is provost and professor of biblical studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University.  In addition to their collaboration, each has penned monographs on Paul (Capes’s The Divine Christ: Paul, the Lord Jesus, and the Scriptures of Israel, forthcoming from Baker Academic; Reeves’s Spirituality According to Paul, IVP Academic, 2011; and Randolph’s Paul Behaving Badly, IVP 2015). 

Each of the book’s twelve chapters includes two types of text boxes. The “So What?” discusses why the topic being discussed (e.g. an aspect of Paul’s life, theology or interpretation of his letters) should matter to us. The “What’s More” sections provide supplementary information to aid our rediscovery of Paul. Additionally, each chapter (except for the last one), closes with suggestions for further reading, and there is a Pauline studies glossary and bibliography at the back of the book.

Chapter 1 describes Paul’s thought world—his Jewish Diaspora, Mediterranean Greco-Roman context and his understanding and his use of Greek Rhetoric. Chapter 2 delves deeper into Paul’s biography and his ‘Christophany’ as described in Acts and Galatians. Chapter 3 discusses Paul’s letter writing (i.e. his format, literary devices and writing process). Chapters 4 through 9 provide brief overviews of each of Paul’s letters. Chapter 10 describes the influences on, and influence of Paul’s theology and spirituality. Chapter 11 explores Paul’s literary legacy and the journey his writings took toward canonization. Chapter 12, concludes the book with reflections on how Paul has been read through church history and what contemporary issues he peculiarly speaks to.

Because this is an introductory textbook, Capes, Randolph and Richards do not break a lot of new ground. However, they give you an overview of Pauline studies from a scholarly, confessional perspective. That doesn’t mean they don’t engage critical scholarship though they tend to favor a more traditional and New Perspective sympathetic approach to Pauline research (though they will critique both traditional and New Perspective approaches gently along the way)

One of the places where it may matter is in terms of Pauline authorship. They begin their survey of Paul’s letters with the uncontested books: Galatians, Thessalonians, Corinthians, Romans before turning to more contested Prison letters (Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians) and pastorals (Timothy and Titus). (Philemon is also clearly Pauline, but discussed with the later Prison letters because of its relationship to Colossians). However, Capes, Reeves, and Randolph argue, along traditional lines, that Paul is indeed the author of all the books in the New Testament which bear his name. They account for the stylistic and grammatical differences between the various books by the occasional nature of each letter, the communal process of ancient letter writing and Paul’s use of secretaries for preparing each of his letters (103-105). They note:

Apollonarius’s secretaries clearly accounted for the considerable stylistic differences in his letters. Scholars of Cicero indicate that Cicero’s letters varied considerably in vocabulary and style. In fact, some letters are stylistically more similar to the letters of others than to his own. Since secretaries often caused minor differences in the letters of other writers, we should allow this for Paul’s letters. Letters may vary because the secreatries varied. (106).

They review some of the arguments against Pauline authorship in their discussion of the Prison and pastoral letters, as it relates to each of the letters, but they maintain Pauline authorship in each case.

Critics of Paul malign him as chauvinist, sexist, homophobic and judgmental. Capes, Reeves and Randolph note that “Caricaturing Jesus as loving and Paul as judgmental is incredibly misleading because they are so distorted: for example, more than anyone else, Jesus is the one who preached about hell. Paul never mentions it” (402). They note Paul’s opposition to homosexuality but note the differences between Ancient Rome’s sexual practices and our own (and that Paul doesn’t signal same-sex practice out in particular but lists it alongside other sins, like gossiping). They contextualize Paul’s comments about women. This book doesn’t answer any of these questions to my satisfaction, but the authors take care to read Paul well and point at some of the inherent issues in interpreting the text.

In general, this is a pretty solid introduction to the writing and thought of Paul, appropriate for college undergrads. It leaves off the more technical discussions and summarizes the contours of debates. The surveys of the letters may also be useful for those who are preaching or teaching through one of Paul’s epistles and would like a birds-eye-view of the letter and its theology. Unfortunately, at 462 pages, this book is likely to scare off the general reader, though it is certainly accessible enough.

It is unsurprising that I liked Rediscovering Jesus more than Rediscovering Paul. After all, if I had to choose between those two, it would be Jesus every time. Still, while this book lacks some of the whimsy of their Jesus volume, this book does a great job of describing Paul’s thought and impact. I give this four stars. ★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

A Picture of Jesus: a book review

David Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards are three biblical scholars from  three different institutions (Houston Baptist University, Southwest Baptist University, and Palm Beach Atlantic Univerisity, respectively). They have previously collaborated on a book about the apostle Paul, Rediscovering Paul: an Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology (IVP Academic, 2007). They are back at it. Their new book from IVP Academic is Rediscovering Jesus: An Introduction to Biblical, Religious and Cultural Perspectives on Christ

Don’t let the academic publisher or their resumés scare you. This is an engaging and interesting and accessible read! I had fun with this book.  To me, this is really two books in one. Part I is a romp through the biblical images of Jesus, uncovering what is distinctive about the portrait of Jesus in Mark, Matthew, Luke and Acts, John, Paul’s epistles, Hebrews, in the non-Pauline epistles and Revelation. Part II examines extra-biblical images of Jesus. Capes, Reeves & Richards look at the Gnostic Jesus, the Muslim Jesus, the Historical, demythologized Jesus, the Mormon Jesus, the American Jesus and the Cinematic Jesus.  In each chapter, after exploring the distinctive portrait of Jesus in the Bible or culture, they ask, “What if this were the only Jesus?” The result is they showcase the important contribution of each Bible writers picture of Christ, and show how cultural depictions of Jesus, while sometimes illuminating, often obscure our perception of who the Jesus really is.

While there is some first-rate biblical theology and cultural analysis here, this is a completely practical and non-technical text about Jesus, appropriate for undergrads (or even a Christian high school). Part I is helpful because it reveals how the entire New Testament, all the books together, gives us our picture of who Jesus is. The Jesus of Mark appears on the scene, binding the strong man and fighting the religious establishment, but there is no mention of Jesus’ virgin birth, his post resurrection appearances, his great commission or ascension. Luke’s Jesus was more politicized, and didn’t even give a theological account of the atonement (71). Matthew’s Jesus is firmly connected with Israel’s God and has the most developed ethic. John’s Jesus is not of this world and focuses more on the after life than this life. “Christians who read too much of John’s Gospel and not enough of Matthew’s might talk abut eternal life but not about caring for the least of these” (86). Paul’s high Christology is almost devoid of biography (how Jesus lived). If the Priestly Jesus of Hebrews were our only Jesus we’d focus on purity, perfection and completion. The non-Pauline epistles are immersed in Jesus’ teaching but without the Gospels you wouldn’t know that the origins of John, Jude, Peter and James’ words are found in Christ’s teaching. The apocalyptic Jesus is the disquieting image of the warrior lamb and the glorified Christ. Each of these images enlarge our picture of Christ. Any image that is excluded from our portrait of Jesus would result in bias and incomplete vision.

What of  Jesus’ cultural images? Capes, Reeves and Richards focus on images of Jesus that have a great deal of cultural pull. They profile the esoteric gnositic Jesus, the localized prophet of Islam, the Post-Enlightenment historical Jesus, the American hero, and the movie star. They observe (writing as one voice):

Jesus outside the Bible can on occasion help us rediscover some aspect of Jesus that has been ignored or sidelined. More commonly, though, these nonbiblical images influence and color our biblical image. Understanding these images helps reveal ideas that need to be expunged from ‘my Jesus.’ While I found themes and emphases from the various biblical images of Jesus that needed to be reintroduced into my picture of Jesus, I also found other themes and emphases from nonbiblical images that needed to be extracted from my portrait of Jesus. both of these processes help me to rediscover Jesus. (261)

The disparity between cultural images of Jesus and the Jesus of the Bible is highlighted well throughout part II. Perhaps it is the ‘Cinematic Jesus’ which highlights how much a depiction of Jesus for a particular era says more about that culture and time than it does about the real Jesus (244-245).

This is a fun, thought-provoking book that deserves a wide readership beyond the classroom. I give it five stars

Notice of material connection: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.