Review of Apocalyptic Paul: Cosmos and Anthropos in Romans 5-8 edited by Beverly Roberts Gaventa

Gaventa Apoc PaulGaventa, Beverly Roberts, ed. Apocalyptic Paul: Cosmos and Anthropos in Romans 5-8.Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2013.

There is a resurgence of scholarly attention to Paul and apocalyptic and a shift in focus to the importance of chapters 5-8 for Paul’s argument in Romans. This collection of essays, delivered at a conference held at Princeton Theological Seminary in 2012, brings these two lines of thought together by the collaborative effort of a diverse group of scholars.

In the first essay, “Paul’s Mythologizing Program in Romans 5-8,” Martinus C. de Boer analyzes Paul’s polarity of Law and grace through “mythologization;” the term indicates de Boer’s attempt to counter Bultmann’s demythologization. De Boer argues that Paul, from the vantage point of Christ’s coming, aims to persuade the believers in Rome that they are under grace and not the Law. De Boer produces a rich and insightful reading of Romans 5-8 by placing Paul in conversation with the Jewish apocalyptic traditions found in 2 Barurch and 4 Ezra. His reading shows that Paul’s use of the Adam tradition (esp. Rom 5:12) is influenced by these two apocalypses. De Boer also notes how Paul is distinct. According to de Boer, Paul “mythologizes” the cosmic problem of human sinning and dying and he puts forth Christ as the solution to the cosmic problem. De Boer helpfully works through various Pauline texts by drawing the reader’s attention to Paul widening and narrowing his scope within a “cosmic framework.”

In “Righteousness, Cosmic and Mircrocosmic” Stephen Westerholm focuses on Romans 5:1 and 19 within the framework of Paul’s pattern of teaching: the announcement of an apocalyptic event and the demand of individual response. First, Westerholm focuses on Romans 5:1 within the context of Paul’s exposition of Genesis 15:6 in Romans 4 and faith’s function as response. Westerholm argues that Paul appropriates the Hebrew emphasis that righteousness is ethical behavior and that righteousness language, not being confined to the covenant, is rooted in the way in which God has ordered the world. For Paul, there is no one who is righteous, which means that all have violated the order of the created world; and God’s righteousness is his readiness to restore order, which he accomplishes in Christ’s atoning work. Therefore, the paradox of the gospel is of central importance for Paul: God declares the unrighteous as righteous. Second, Westerholm focuses on Romans 5:15-19. According to Westerholm, Paul argues that Christ’s righteous act and obedience is God’s gift of righteousness and that this gift is both the basis on which the believer is declared righteous and the means by which God is reversing the cosmic effects of Adam’s disobedience. Westerholm’s essay illustrates how, from a “Lutheran” perspective, God’s justification of the individual by faith is a microcosm of God’s cosmic work of reordering the world.

In “A Tale of Two Gardens: Augustine’s Narrative Interpretation of Romans 5,” Benjamin Myers attempts to correct Krister Stendahl’s influential reading of Augustine. Myers takes issue with Stendahl’s charge that Augustine imposed a misreading on Paul that focused on the salvation of the autonomous individual. Rather, Myers argues, Augustine was greatly influenced by Paul and that his reading of Paul shares many of the same insights as those from contemporary readers. Myers notes that Augustine, in his Propositions from Romans, his unfinished commentary on Romans, and his commentary on Galatians, focuses on the positive role of Israel in God’s redemptive plan, on the complex relation of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments, and on the Christ-Adam typology of Romans 5. According to Myers, Paul’s Christ-Adam typology in Romans 5 shows Augustine that “the self is not an autonomous, individual essence, but a pattern embedded in two overlapping and intersecting narratives” (p. 58). Myers carries over this insight into his analysis of the Confessions. According to Myers, Augustine tells his story of moving from a pre-conversion state in which he shared in the persona of Adam by playing Adam’s role, to his conversion state in which, having adopted the persona of Christ, Christ’s story was re-enacted in his life. Myers’s essay provides a helpful corrective to the picture of Augustine and “the Augustinian tradition” that many Pauline scholars put forth and repudiate. This essay also illustrates the potential benefit of biblical scholars and theologians conversing with one another.

In “Under Grace: The Christ-Gift and the Construction of a Christian Habitus,” John M. G. Barclay paves a new path for understanding the relationship between grace and obedience and the Christian’s state by appropriating Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus. First, Barclay argues that the Christ-gift is God’s incongruous gift of grace in Christ, which is “unconditioned (based on no prior conditions) but not unconditional (carrying no subsequent demands)” (p. 64). God’s Christ-gift creates a state of permanent incongruity for the believer, in which he or she is both mortal and eternally alive (“simul mortuus et vivens”) (p. 66). This state puts emphasis on the believer’s body as the site where the Christ-gift manifests itself visibly and actively in the believer’s life. Second, Barclay finds Bourdieu’s concept of habitus to be an appropriate framework for explicating this new state. According to Bourdieu, a habitus is “a system of lasting, transposable dispositions which, integrating past experiences, functions at every moment as a matrix of perceptions, appreciations, and actions and makes possible the achievement of infinitely diversified tasks” (p. 70, Bourdieu’s emphasis). By appropriating this, Barclay provides a helpful conceptual model with which we can better understand the Christian’s transfer from the realm of sin to the realm of grace. According to Barcaly, the Christian, through the rite of Baptism, has been transitioned from the habitus of sin to the habitus of grace, a habitus which is embodied in the Christian community. Thus, obedience is integral to the gift, not because it merits grace, but because it responds to the gift by the embodied practice of the Christian habitus. This rich essay is a glimpse of Barclay’s forthcoming book Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, August 2015).

In “the Shape of the ‘I’: The Psalter, the Gospel, and the Speaker in Romans 7,” Beverly Roberts Gaventa analyzes the transforming power of the “I” of Romans 7 by employing Emile Benveniste’s and Kaja Silverman’s linguistic theories of how personal pronouns are able to function. Of particular importance for Gaventa is the potential for the audience to identify with the “I” in a discourse. On this basis, Gaventa argues that the “I” of Romans 7 is not only shaped by the “I” of the Psalter (particularly Pss. 17, 69, and 119), but also it reshapes the Psalter’s “I” through the gospel. Furthermore, the “I” of Romans 7 has the potential to reshape the audience by identifying them with Paul’s previous assessment of Sin’s enslaving power. In this way, the “I’s” plea for deliverance is answered by God’s defeat of Sin; and, by identifying with this “I,” the audience is confronted with God’s transforming power. Gaventa provides a fruitful way forward for understanding this controversial passage. By emphasizing the “I’s” function and potential for reshaping communities, Gaventa provides much fodder for how we may go about preaching this difficult passage.

In “Double Participation and the Responsible Self in Romans 5-8,” Susan Eastman investigates the way in which Paul depicts the relationship between the self and community in Romans 5-8. Eastman uses the phrase “double participation” to describe human existence in the realm of sin and death and the realm of grace. Eastman employs the phrase “the responsible self” to depict how communal identity and distinct selves are constituted by their interactions with both realms: the realm of sin and death diminishes personal agency, and the realm of grace reconstitutes personal agency as a responsible servant of God (p. 93). According to Eastman, the “I, yet not I, but sin” (Rom 7:15-17, 19-20) is the unwilling servant of sin and the “I, yet not I, but Christ” (Rom 8:2, Gal. 2:20) is the one who has been freed from sin but still living in a cosmos dominated by sin. Eastman makes two significant contributions in this essay. First, Eastman challenges those who perceive a dichotomy between corporate and individual identity in Paul’s letters, a dichotomy she attributes to assuming a Cartesian notion of the self. She argues that though the corporate is given more focus, one should understand that the community is made up of individuals. Eastman’s survey of how Paul shifts back and forth from the individual to the corporate throughout Romans is particularly illuminating. Second, Eastman’s description of human existence as one of “double participation” paves a way forward for thinking through the participatory and relational character of Paul’s anthropology.

In “The Love of God Is a Sovereign Thing,” Philip G. Ziegler attempts to retrieve the spiritual character of Christ’s kingship as put forth by Calvin and Luther, and later by Otto Weber. Ziegler argues that Christ’s spiritual kingship is an eschatological reality that coheres with Paul’s apocalyptic gospel. In light of this, Ziegler seeks a fresh hearing of Romans 8:31-39. This framework produces three insights into the text of Romans 8:31-39. First, the church is incorporated into Christ’s lordship which not only brings the church into conflict with the old age, but ultimately gives her victory. Second, it denotes that the church, rooted in Christ’s redeeming power, cannot be separated from Christ because he has overcome sin and death. Third, God’s apocalyptic act of love is his saving action in Jesus Christ. The strengths of Ziegler’s essay are his excellent survey of the historical development of the three-fold office of Christ with particular focus on the conception of the spiritual character of Christ’s reign and his retrieval of Calvin and Luther, which highlights both Christ’s role of being “for-us” and the eschatological and pneumatological character of Christ’s reign.

In the final chapter, “Creation, Cosmos, and Conflict in Romans 8-9,” Neil Elliot employs liberation theology and a political reading in order to analyze Paul’s conception of creation and conflict within the context of Roman imperial conquest of creation as depicted in the pervasive imperial images. For Elliot this frames the context of Romans. He argues that the imperial propaganda of Roman conquest of “barbarians” likely fueled the non-Jewish members of the Roman assemblies’ contempt for the Jews returning to Rome following Nero lifting Claudius’s edict. Elliot further argues that the center of Paul’s rhetoric in Romans is “for the identity of Israel and, with them, the nations who obey Israel’s God as the true inheritors of the world” (p. 152). Elliot basis his reading on Paul’s use of pathos which is indicated by the connection of the “groaning of creation” in Romans 8 with “Paul’s groaning for Israel” in Rom 9:3.  Elliot’s chief contribution is with his methodology. He argues that in order to understand Romans as Paul’s original audience did, one’s attention must shift from the literary to the visual environment of early Christianity, from text to image (p. 138). This has major ramifications for how we understand Paul. First, Paul is more of a political activist and not an interpreter of Scripture. A number of times Elliot militates against interpretations of Paul that read Paul against the backdrop of Scripture. Second, it radically alters our understanding of a number of the main themes of Romans. For example, Elliot argues that when “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5) is located within the context of imperial images it signifies a counter claim to the imperial claim on the obedience of the nations and not the human response of faith to the preaching of the gospel (p. 148). If Paul’s phrase is connected to his use of “pist-” terms, a number of which I take as indicating human response, then I don’t think Elliot’s interpretation of the phrase is able to bear the weight. Furthermore, if the phrase is connected to Paul’s use of Abraham in Romans 4, then Scripture is the primary context for how we interpret “the obedience of faith.” Therefore, images, as fruitful as they may prove to be, should, rather, supplement the text, and not replace it. Nevertheless, this is an informative and fascinating essay.

The book ends with an Afterward from J. Louis Martyn who reflects on Raphael’s painting of Paul preaching in Athens and draws together implications from the conversation recorded in the book.

This book is a fantastic addition to Pauline and New Testament studies. With each essay representing a different perspective, it highlights the diversity within New Testament scholarship today. Due to this diversity, one will neither agree with every interpretation nor find each method to be as equally helpful as others. However, this book would be an excellent supplement to any number of the commentaries that one may use. All scholars, pastors, and students will find this book to be both intellectually stimulating and a helpful aid.

About Jared Brown

I am a PhD student studying New Testament under the supervision of Doulas Moo. My research interests are Romans, Pauline Soteriology, and Classical Rhetoric.
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1 Response to Review of Apocalyptic Paul: Cosmos and Anthropos in Romans 5-8 edited by Beverly Roberts Gaventa

  1. Why don’t you host a conference that tells people about Paul the false prophet of the Lord’s soon coming? The passages where he does say such things are old hat to scholars such as yourselves. Too bad you have yet to tell the public in general about these passages from Paul, setting them all up in front of the public instead of keeping them to yourselves in seminary.

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