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Jew first, then Greek in Campbell’s The Deliverance of God

Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God is an extraordinary – and I think extraordinarily flawed – attempt to erase Justification Theory from Paul’s theology. It is a mammoth book to read, let alone attempt to review, in toto; and if it is a large enough wood to survey, it is also extremely dense and tangled, so I will content myself with hacking away at the odd tree here and there. Besides, others will do a much better job of assessing and situating the work. Andy Rowell has a helpful collection of links to early reviews and an interview that Michael Bird did with Campbell; but the best online review I have come across is Loren Rosson’s, with whose conclusions, for now at least, I would broadly agree:

What do I think of The Deliverance of God? My head is still spinning. It’s a milestone in appraising three decades of a new approach to Paul which has blinded as much as illuminated. It demands that we think outside the box, get outside the box, and seize new possibilities. It makes a brilliant stab at meeting its own demands, but ends up snared — caught in the same kind of vise choking Dunn, Wright, Stowers, and Nanos. Paul has been reduced, his theology lacerated. Wrede and Schweitzer did him more justice with less tools. Justification theory is present in Paul, even if only as a weapon to claim ground in a Jewish-pagan context. It’s subordinate to transformation theory, but not a mirage.

One of the things that has surprised about Campbell’s supposedly ‘apocalyptic’ and ‘martyrological’ analysis is that – in common with the New Perspective outlook on Paul – it fails to situate Paul’s argument in relation to an eschatological-historical narrative that, I think, dominates the New Testament, is attested elsewhere in Paul’s writings, and is visible enough in Romans to demand to be taken seriously in any attempt to frame Paul’s argument about justification and the participation of the believer in Christ.

In connection with this, I have been looking at what Campbell has to say about a couple of statements in Romans in which, with regard to both wrath and salvation, Paul appears to have in mind some manner of Jewish priority:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; for it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe, both to Jew, first, and to Greek. (Rom. 1:16)

Affliction and anguish upon every soul of man working evil, both Jew, first, and Greek; but glory and honour and peace to everyone working good, both Jew, first, and Greek; for there is no partiality with God. (Rom. 2:9-10)

Campbell thinks that the phrase ‘both Jew, first, and Greek’ is a slogan of Paul’s Jewish-Christian opponents in Rome and that the priority given to the Jews is therefore ironic. The reason is that the motif ‘can have no effective or essential usefulness within the argument in literal or positive terms as Paul is developing it’ (552, italics removed). Paul cannot be asserting both that judgment is impartial and according to desert for Jews and Gentiles and that Jews have any sort of priority. Campbell allows that meaning can be attributed to prōton (‘first’) by having it refer to a ‘temporal priority during the process of judgment’, but he argues against this that the point is trivial; that the distinction is not found elsewhere in Paul; that it cannot explain 1:16b; and that it is difficult to see why in 3:9b there is no mention of temporal priority (552-553). Instead, we can make better sense if we suppose that the notion of Jewish priority is not affirmed by Paul but parodied and vitiated.

If Paul is once again quoting the discourse of the Teacher, his use of the phrase is polemical and hence quite understandable; he is embarrassing it. The Teacher almost certainly argued for Jewish priority in salvation…. Hence, in 1:16b the notion is overridden by God’s salvation of “everyone who trusts.” Then in 2:9-10 it is – still worse – overridden by the Teacher’s own ostensible commitment to judgment in accordance with desert. So Paul deploys this phrase rather archly (and presumably its correct performance would have signaled this). (553)

I have to say, I still fail to see how it is possible to sustain the view, as a matter of literary form as much as of theological argument, that the account of sin in Romans 1:18-3:20 represents not Paul’s own thought but the obliquely and silently reconstructed position of his Jewish-Christian opponents in Rome. For example – just to glance back a few pages – it seems disingenuous to claim that different textual voices may be ‘delivered through subtle shifts in the text’s texture and are often also assisted with nonverbal, performative signals’, or that ‘explicit textual signals delivering different voices can often be muted or absent’ (541). But that is another matter. For now I merely wish to address the objections raised against the ‘temporal priority’ argument.

i) The temporal distinction is trivial only if this is a final judgment. Historically, in light of the concrete circumstances of the church notionally between the destruction of Jerusalem and the final collapse of classical paganism, it is a matter of considerable significance that judgment on the Jews will be followed by judgment on the pagan enemy of God’s people.

ii) It is true that we do not find this precise temporal distinction between Jew and Greek elsewhere in Paul, but then neither do we find the same extensive reflection on a coming day of God’s wrath; and where Paul does speak of a coming wrath, it is not clearly incompatible with a temporal progression. In 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 the ‘wrath to come’ presumably has in view judgment on the idolatrous pagan world; but some sort of temporal distinction between wrath against the Jews and wrath against Gentiles is implied in the statement in 2:16 that ‘the wrath of God came upon them at last’. The apocalyptic narrative of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 differentiates between an action of the man of lawlessness in response to rebellion and his subsequent defeat by the Lord Jesus. I suspect that the statement in Ephesians 2:3 that ‘we were children by nature of wrath as also the others’ has in view the Jews only. Paul most likely means that we Jews who believe in Jesus were once children of wrath and liable to judgment like the rest of Israel (hōs kai hoi loipoi). Paul addresses Gentiles who have become part of the ‘commonwealth of Israel’ (2:12), ‘fellow citizens’, ‘members of the household of God’, stones built into the temple of God (2:19-22). When he later warns against improper behaviour, arguing that ‘everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous ( that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God’ and that because of these various sins ‘the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience’, he is probably still thinking specifically of wrath against Israel (Eph. 5:3-7; cf. Col. 3:5-6). If this is the case, it appears that Paul is able to speak of wrath against the Jews as being at least conceptually distinct from wrath against Gentiles.

iii) The argument that the temporal reading cannot explain 1:16b is weak, indeed pedantic. Paul draws attention to the temporal priority of Israel not simply as a matter of chronological interest but in order to underline the theological point of Israel’s prior accountability as the people of the Law if God is to judge the pagan world. He does not mean that every Jew will hear the gospel before the pagans. The order Jew first and then the Greek derives from a collective-level narrative about the wrath of God found widely in the Old Testament and not least in Habakkuk, according to which judgment comes first on Israel, then on the nations who fight against Israel.

iv) The temporal aspect is irrelevant in the context of Romans 3:9, where the issue is not the historical order of judgment and salvation but the existential reality of sin. As at 1:16 and 2:9-10, the te kai construction has the effect of emphasizing the inclusion of the Jew in the charge that all are under the power of sin, as part of Paul’s argument against Jewish presumption; but this is eventually to be attributed to a universal embroilment in the consequences of Adam’s sin, which takes us outside the eschatological argument about an impending wrath of God.