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A paradigm shift in Pauline studies?

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There’s an excellent set of brief, somewhat dense responses, from earlier this year, to a question about developments in Pauline studies on the Enoch Seminar forum:

Pauline studies have undergone major changes in recent times. Which new research topics and methods would you especially highlight? Would you, moreover, agree to speak of a paradigm shift?

Respondents include James H. Charlesworth, Paula Fredriksen, Larry Hurtado and Mark D. Nanos. The opinions offered all fall from the same tree, grown over the last 35 years from the seed of E.P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism, but they reflect something of the complexities and controversies internal to the debate.

I particularly like Carlos Segovia’s response. It is succinct, and his emphasis on the political context is important and not taken seriously enough—or rather, not taken seriously enough in the right way, as as an outworking of the Jewish-apocalyptic narrative:

I think Pauline studies have undergone a twofold paradigm shift in the past decades. On the one hand, we have just come to rediscover Paul’s Jewishness, which is now being explored afresh from every possible perspective. On the other hand, we are all increasingly paying attention to Paul’s politics against the Roman imperial order. The traditional reading of Paul—shared by Jews and Christians alike—contended that he was a theologian deviant of Judaism. In the 1980s the so-called ‘new perspective on Paul’ went on to present him as a theologian whose aim was not so much to break with but to reform Judaism. None of these models seems to work anymore: if we read him carefully, Paul only speaks about the restoration of Israel and the ingathering of the nations in a markedly political context: both Israel and the nations had been subjugated by Rome; now, Paul’s ‘theology’ subverted the macro- and micro-politics of the Roman empire by questioning its identity-making strategies. 

One point I would make, by the by, with regard to Paul’s relation to Judaism and the issue of supersessionism, which is raised in a couple of responses, is that we are dealing with an incomplete or open-ended narrative and argument. Paul wrote before the Jewish war and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. It seems to me very likely that he saw this coming—or something very like it. God had put up with these “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy”—for those who were not his people (Rom. 9:22-26). But the question is then: How would Israel react to this disaster?

Paul’s kinsmen according to the flesh may have been made jealous by the inclusion of Gentiles (cf. Acts 13:45; Rom. 11:11, 14), but very few, it appears, were being “saved” on that account. The (admittedly problematic) quotation of Isaiah 59:20 and 27:9 in Romans 11:26-27, however, suggests that Paul hoped that “all Israel” would repent after judgment and so be saved, which would presumably have preserved the core Jewish identity of the people of God. This is the outcome indicated in Isaiah 60:10: “in my wrath I struck you, but in my favour I have had mercy on you”; and as a result foreigners will rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, their kings shall minister to Israel, the wealth of the nations will be brought into the city, and Israel’s enemies shall call Jerusalem “the City of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (Is. 60:10-14).

For more on this see “Will all Israel be saved? Hurtado and Wright” and [amazon:978-1606087879:inline], 136-137.

peter wilkinson | Wed, 10/02/2013 - 13:33 | Permalink

Was political encounter the primary purpose of Paul’s teaching, or was it an inevitable consequence? There’s a big difference, as persecuted believers today in hostile political environments would testify. Romans 13:1-7, one of the very few direct political comments by Paul, tends to suggest he was far from seeking out political confrontation based on a primarily political agenda.

Reformer or supersessionist? Neither term does justice to the complexity of Paul’s thought. Yes he remains essentially Jewish, but his teaching is so radical that it takes us into territory outside and beyond anything conceived of by traditional Judaism of any variety. A glimpse of this can be seen in what he says about taking on Christ’s identity in Galatians 3:27-28, which renders political distinctions of Jew/Greek (ethnic), slave/free (social), or male/female (gender) differences superfluous, but reaffirms Jewish identity in v. 29.

I also suggest that Romans 11:25-27 describes a continuing process (heutos v. 26 = “so” as in this way”, not “and then”), based on response to Christ’s accomplishment as a past event (in which light Isaiah 59:20/27:9/Jeremiah 31:33 are to be understood). The “full number” of the Gentiles will have come in by the time of judgment, and Jews will continue to believe in parallel as an on-going process until then, though “hardened in part”. “All Israel” is a play on words. It could mean (a) “all Israel” as in the OT use of the phrase: a representative portion; (b) “all believing Israel”, since Paul has already made that distinction; (c) believing Israel inclusive of the nations (Gentiles), not based on ethnic distinction, since the distinction is superfluous in God’s new non-ethnic people. It’s  possible to combine (a), (b) and (c) with your view that Paul has the judgment of the destruction of the temple in mind, and doesn’t envisage an-ongoing processs particularly beyond that.

Doug Wilkinson | Mon, 10/07/2013 - 02:12 | Permalink

I take Paul’s comment about the full salvation of Israel as, “All aboard who’s comin aboard.”  If you look back a few chapters in that discourse he already says that not everyone born through the physical lineage (the point of Ishmael and others in the narrative) are real children.  The full number of real children are necessarily defined as those who eventually, actually show faith in God.  In that sense, whatever number was saved was the full house of true Israel.

As a side note, the following article quotes some ancient writers who’d agree with the “new perspective” about “works of the law”, so I’m not sure how new it actually is (from Brian LePort):…


The (admittedly problematic) quotation of Isaiah 59:20 and 27:9 in Romans 11:26-27, however, suggests that Paul hoped that “all Israel” would repent after judgment and so be saved, which would presumably have preserved the core Jewish identity of the people of God.

I know I’ve provided this link before, but you should really give it a read.  There is no problem with Paul quoting Isa 59:20 and 27:9 in Romans 11.