Review: Writing of St. Paul, 2nd edition by Meeks & Fitzgerald

Below is a guest review from This Lamp reader and occasional contributor, Larry.

Writings of St. Paul, 2nd ed., Edited by Wayne Meeks and John Fitzgerald, (Norton 2007) (Amazon price $14.50).

[Note: because of the recent appearance of this work, I’ve decided to change my order of presentation of academic study Bible reviews. Previous reviews discussed the (Oxford) Jewish Study Bible and the New Oxford Annotated Study Bible, 3rd Augmented Edition. See my introductory remarks in my first review.]

There are many ways to read the Bible. One way is to attempt to understand the “original authorial intent” of the Bible – often called a historical-critical reading. A related, but distinct way is to attempt to chart the way that various readers have understood the Bible. Both of these methods have value, but in the complex portions of Scripture, we may never have a clear consensus of the meaning of Scripture, so the most we can hope for is to understand how different groups have read it. The Writings of St. Paul (2nd edition) (WSP) is an excellent introduction to reading the writings of Paul through the eyes of groups varying from his contemporaries to our contemporaries.

The Pauline Epistles form a genre unto themselves – aside from Jesus (who is the subject of the Christian Scriptures but not the direct author or any book in it), Paul is the leading character in the Greek writings of the Bible. Seven letters are clearly written by him, another six letters are attributed to him, there is an extensive New Testament apocryphal literature attributed to Paul, and a good portion of Acts is devoted to him. Paul may the single greatest contributor to Christian theology and the meaning of his works form the most virulent disputes in Christendom. The secondary literature on Paul – even in English – is so extensive that no single person can hope to read it all. But understanding the different ways in which Paul is interpreted is important, not only for the Christian faithful, but for anyone who wishes to understand this religious genius of Western culture.

Paul is difficult to read – his reasoning often appears inconsistent and his writing was to specific audiences who were familiar with Second Temple period Judaism or contemporary Hellenistic culture – under Roman political rule. Since most of us are not fluent in cultural references from this period, it is easy to misunderstand Paul.

Norton publishes a series of relatively inexpensive paperbacks featuring annotated texts and assorted essays with critical readings, called the Norton Critical Editions series. These are the “Criterion Editions” of the literary world – stuffed with notes and extra material. The selection of titles does not attempt to be a comprehensive survey of literature, but rather includes a variety of texts that are of interest in the undergraduate classroom. (Among the texts of interest to those in religious studies are St. Thomas Aquinas on Politics and Ethics, Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, The Epic of Giglamesh, and Dante’s Inferno.)

The Writings of St. Paul, 2nd edition (WSP) is a revision of a 1972 classic by Wayne Meeks (which is still available from Amazon). This second edition is co-edited by Wayne Meeks (emeritus at Yale, former President of the SBL) and John Fitzgerald (University of Miami). The new edition is much larger than the older – it contains xxxv+710 pages (as opposed to xvii+454 pages in the older edition) and each page has more information – because it uses larger paper and a smaller font, each of the new pages is equal to about one and a half pages in the older edition. The second page is printed on thinner paper (which is perfectly suitable for taking notes – remember this is intended as a textbook), so this new edition is actually thinner than the old edition, and the new edition also has larger margins (a half-inch top and inside margins, three-quarters-inch bottom and outside margins).

The philosophy behind this work is to present the broadest possible set of views. Thus we hear from Paul’s opponents (e.g., the Jewish Christians often criticized by Paul, the Pagans) and those with radically different views of Paul (e.g., the Jews, the Gnostics). Thus this book has full representation of the opinions of heretics – and even for the faithful, this is useful; since it allows us to understand the nature of some of the disputes over Paul, both classical and modern.

The switch to the TNIV
The biggest surprise in this new edition is the textual basis – the first edition used the 1946 RSV translation (note that the first edition predated the appearance of the NIV and NRSV, although it postdated the appearance of the NEB and the NASB.) In the first edition, the editor writes (p. xi)

"The text is from the Revised Standard Version. It was chosen from the several excellent contemporary English versions now available because its relatively conservative mode of translation enables the reader to recognize certain distinctive features of Paul’s style."

The second edition uses the TNIV instead, a surprising choice since the TNIV is most closely associated with Evangelical circles. The editors write (p. xi)

“The text of the Pauline letters is from Today’s New International Version (TNIV). It was chosen from the several excellent modern versions now available ecause its relatively conservative mode of translation enables the reader to recognize certain distinctive features of Paul’s style, while still taking account of current discussions in biblical scholarship and aiming for both inclusiveness and accuracy in the representation of gender.”

Clearly issues of gender played a large role in the editors’ decision to use the TNIV. This inclusive approach forms a core desideratum of the authors, who are at pains to point out (p. 589) “whereas the first edition had no excerpts from female scholars, the second edition features contributions by seven women.” The second edition also features many more contributions by Jewish scholars and contemporary Roman Catholic scholars.

Overall, the TNIV works better than I expected as a textual basis. The Epistles are difficult reading, and the TNIV certainly reads more smoothly than the RSV and NRSV. Furthermore, Paul requires careful attention, but his writing is rarely characterized as elegant. Paul writes in a rough, sometimes crude, Koine style, and thus is robust enough to retain its character in a translation that sometimes uses paraphrase (in contrast to more formal passages in Scripture, such as the Psalms.)

The editors do not always agree with the text of the TNIV. In some cases, they use their footnotes to assert an alternative translation. (For example, they prefer the RSV’s rendering of Romans 9:5. This verse can be punctuated in several ways; the TNIV, RSV, and NRSV all punctuate this verse differently although each translation gives the other two alternatives in footnotes.)

One might wonder why the editors did not choose the NRSV. Although there is no explicit explanation, hints are given that the editors are often critical of the NRSV’s rendering. For example, the NRSV renders Acts 22:3 as

I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cicilia, but brought up in this city [Jerusalem] at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law.

while the NIV has

I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers.

The implications here are quite different – the NRSV seems to suggest that Paul only was “brought up” in Jerusalem when he entered Gamaliel’s yeshiva, while the NIV implies a much closer connection with the center of mainstream Jewish thought. The editors discuss the pros and cons of either translation, slightly favoring the NIV’s rendition (which remains largely similar in the TNIV.) (Interestingly, neither the NRSV nor the TNIV include a textual note discussing the alternative reading.) The editors include a variety of apocryphal legends, including one from Paul’s Jewish-Christian critics (paraphrased by Epiphanius, Bishop of Salmis,) that Paul was a convert who was spurned in marriage and thus became radically anti-Jewish – although the editors unambiguously reject this legend asserting that Paul was a “a Hebrew [born] of Hebrews.”

For me, an interesting effect of this edition was that more academic “framing” of the TNIV caused me to see the TNIV in a more neutral light. With more academic footnotes (that in some cases make textual emendations to the TNIV’s translation) the TNIV seemed less like a doctrinaire Evangelical translation and more like a neutral translation. Of course, this is a double-edged sword, and those who want a strictly Evangelical presentation of Paul may not care for the WSP. But for those who wish to understand in a more academic framework the ways in which Paul has been read – both by supporters and by critics –this more neutral framing is essential.

Parts 1&2: Paul’s Letters and Pauline School Letters
The work begins with an introduction that surveys sources and Paul’s biography, and then follows with Part 1, Paul’s letters sorted by likely date of composition: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, and Philemon. These works are accompanied by lengthy introductions and generous annotations that often discuss Hellenistic or Jewish references or matters of language style. However, given the unusual ordering of the books and formatting that makes chapter and verse symbols similar, it can be hard to quickly look up a specific passage. Then follows Part 2, six letters traditionally attributed to Paul, with introductions explaining why Pauline authorship is controversial, again organized in terms of date of likely composition: 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians, 1&2 Timothy, and Titus.

Part 3 Pseudo-Pauline Works
These pseudepigrapha are identified as clear forgeries. The Correspondence of Paul and the Corinthians appears in the Acts of Paul and is an “orthodox forgery” to combat heresy. The Laodicean Epistle is a cento of Pauline epigrams primarily drawn from Philippians. The Correspondence of Paul and Seneca builds on the similarity between to two great classical figures and lead to Jerome’s inclusion of “our Seneca” in his On Illustrious Men. (Seneca chides Paul for his rhetorical style, while Paul exhorts Seneca to be a “herald of Jesus Christ” to the imperial household.) Two apocalypses follow, based on the famous passage 2 Corinthians 1-4 when Paul ascends to the third heaven. The Apocalypse of Paul (excerpted) is, according to Syriac legend, the written record of this revelation (this was one of the inspirations for Dante’s Inferno.) The Gnostic Apocalypse of Paul is a Nag Hammadi codex which recounts Paul’s travels to the fourth through tenth century. Note that the Prayer of the Apostle Paul from the Nag Hammadi library is not included (since it is not attributed to Paul but a petition that invokes him as an authority.)

Part 4 Views of Paul in the Ancient Church
This section begins with excerpts from the sections of Acts dealing with Paul (in the TNIV translation) and analyses of the Lukan account by Irenaeus (2nd century Bishop of Lyons) and by separate pair of differing scholars: Daniel Schwartz (Hebrew University) and Jacob Jervell (University of Oslo). The analysis of Acts concludes with a very interesting (and engagingly written) discussion of the Bar Jesus episode (Acts 13) by Susan Garrett (Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary).

Next the text presents apocryphal accounts: Jerome’s discussion of Paul, Tertullian’s claim that Jacob foresaw Paul’s life, an account of the risen Christ predicting Paul from the apocryphal Epistle of the Apostles, a physical description of Paul from the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla, a description from Clement of Alexandra which interprets Phil. 4:3 as a reference to Paul’s spouse and gives an account of it, a description of Paul’s daily schedule from Ambrosiaster, a story of the of baptized lion (I remember hearing this as a child) from the apocryphal Acts of Paul, another extract of Clement of Alexandria where he quotes an apocryphal account of Paul consulting pagan oracles, a lengthy extract of a panegyric from Chrysostom on Paul as the Paragon of Virtue, and an extract from the apocryphal Acts of Peter of Paul’s missionary journey to Spain.

Apocryphal accounts of a martyr’s death for Paul appear from an extract of Clement of Rome’s work in the Apostolic Fathers and from the apocryphal Acts of Paul.

Jewish-Christian opponents to Paul are represented in extracts of paraphrases of their comments from Abrosiaster and Epiphanius. Direct attacks appear from a long extract from the Preachings of Peter [depicting Paul as the “messenger of Satan”] and the pseudo-Clementine Recognitions of Clementine. J. Louis Martyn (Union Theological Seminary) analyzes Paul’s Galatian opponent, Martin Hengel (Tubingen) analyzes the Lettter of James as an anti-Pauline polemic, and David Flusser (Hebrew University) discussing Jewish-Christianity enmity in the Didache.

Pagan opponents to Paul are represented by extracts from Emperor Julian’s Against the Galileans, and an anonymous Hellene’s attack on Paul quoted by Macarius Magnes in Monogenes. But then follows a fascinating discussion of how the Gnostic Valentinus and his school interpreted Paul favorably – with an extract of Theodotus arguing that Paul was the Gnostic Paraclete, an extract from Elaine Pagel’s (Princeton University) Gnostic Paul, and a discussion from Irenaeus.

Marcion’s dualistic interpretation of Paul is represented by extracts from Irenaeus’s Treatise of Irenaeus of Lugdunum against the Heresies and Tertullian’s Against Marcion, followed by Marcion’s epigrammatic Antitheses as reconstructed by Adolf von Harnack and von Harnack’s analysis itself.

There then follows a discussion of Paul’s celibacy and asceticism with extracts from the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla and a detailed technical analysis by Dennis MacDonald (Claremont Graduate University) of the Pastoral Epistles with a discussion of the role of women and asceticism.

There is a brief extract from the apocryphal Acts of Phileas in which Phileas’s execution is described and in which he defends Paul.

We then have extracts from the Orthodox fathers interpreting Paul from Origen, Irenaeus, Victorinus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus, and Ambosiaster. Bernadette Brooten (Brandeis) analyzes the Patristic interpretations of Romans 1:26.

Part 4 concludes with an extract from David Rensberger’s Yale Ph.D. dissertation analyzing the use of Paul’s letters in Second Century Christianity.

Part 5: Law versus Grace and the Problem of Ethics
The role of grace versus law is explored in extracts by Origen, Abrosiaster, Pelagius, Augustine, Theodoret of Cyrus, Martin Luther (from his lectures on Galatians), and Karl Barth (from his own summary of his book Christ and Adam). While the outlines of this debate is likely to be familiar to most readers of Rick’s blog, it is still a pleasure to read the careful exegesis directly from the “horses’ mouths” of these profound interpreters.

Part 6: “The Second Founder of Christianity”
This section revolves around the 19th century German debate on Paul. The question was: did Paul cause Greek philosophical theology to replace that of Jesus? The original provocateur was F. C. Baur – the founder of the Tubingen school – and an extract from his Church History of the First Three Centuries is given. Baur argued that Paul had changed Jesus’s message from a Jewish one to a Greek one. Nietzsche, in an extracts from his Dawn of the Day and from his Antichrist, argues to the contrary Paul was a Judaizer – locking the universal message of Jesus into the straightjacket of “rabbinic” myth. George Bernard Shaw, in an extract from his Preface on the Prospects of Christianity (from his Androcles and the Lion) argues similarly, only with humor and without the dark metaphysics and racial trappings of anti-Paulism. Adolf von Harnack, in an extract from What is Christianity? partly agrees Baur that Paul removed the Jewish “husk” from Jesus’s message, but presents the transition as direct and linear rather than dialectical. Wilhelm Heitmuller in an extract (translated) from Zum Problem Paulus und Jesus argues convincingly that the Hellinization of Christianity had already taken place before Paul and that Paul was converted to a Hellenistic form of Christianity (with sacraments, cultus, and atonement doctrine). This work was quite influential, and particularly influenced Rudolf Bultmann.

Part 7: Pauline Christianity and Judaism
Paul’s writings established a tension between Christianity and Judaism that was perhaps only dissolved in light of a full understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust. These four articles by Jewish scholars present a range of responses to Paul, in works by David Daube (UC Berkeley), Burton Visotzky (Jewish Theological Seminary), Daniel Boyarin (UC Berkeley), Alan Segal (Columbia), and Paula Fredriksen (Boston University). I found these essays very interesting – they explore the Jewish foundations of Pauline’s writing; especially interesting to me was Segal contrast of Paul’s mysticism with Jewish mysticism of the period. Segal argues convincingly for him as a type of Jewish mystic.

Part 8: Reading Romans
It is not hard to see why the Letters to the Romans is influential – it is the closest in form to a theological treatise. This part considers two passage from Romans, one passage being 7:1-25 where the pain of self-contradiction and the human plight form an essential part of the road to conversion. The second passage is Romans 13:1-7 which has influenced Christian forms of government.

A school of thought popularized by E. P. Sanders, James Dunn, and N. T. Wright called “the new perspective on Paul” has attracted wide attention in the Evangelical community as a contrast to Calvinistic thought; the theory proposes that when Paul speaks of justification he is not criticizing Judaism’s legalism as much as arguing for the status of gentiles in the Church. While this line of thinking has certainly penetrated public consciousness, I am not fully convinced that it is a first-line issue for New Testament scholars. (My own opinion is that the advocates of the “new perspective” are rather sloppy in their handling of rabbinic sources and don’t have a clear understanding of Second Temple Judaism.) First, it seems to me that many of the ideas underlying the “new perspective” were already present in criticism; I question the novelty of their work.

Sanders, Dunn, and Wright are not present in this anthology; books by Sanders and Dunn are listed in the bibliography (Wright does not even merit mention in any of the essays.) But to some degree, ideas from the “new perspective” are present in this part and in the next part. (For someone interested in a detailed anthology of views on Romans, including the “new perspective,” I can recommend another anthology, The Romans Debate Revised Edition edited by Karl Donfried.)

The section dealing with Romans 7 has extracts from Theodoret of Cyrus, Krister Stendahl (Bishop of Stockholm and Harvard), Paul Meyer (Princeton), and Stanley Stower (Brown). The section dealing with Romans 13 has extracts from Origen, Schelkle (Tubingen), Wilfrid Parsons (Georgetown and Catholic University), Martin Luther; Jonathan Mayhe,; and Ernst Kasemann (who was arrested by Gestapo – and then held by the Soviet troops, later of Tubingen).

Part 9: Sampler of Modern Approaches to Paul and His Letters
This section is among the most interesting, giving a wide sample of highly diverse modern approaches to Paul, including a discussion by Rudolf Bultmann of his mythologizing and demythologizing theories (extracted from Kerygma and Myth); Nils Dahl contrasting Paul’s treatment of Jesus with the story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac; Gerd Theissen’s (Heidelberg) The Strong and the Weak in Corinth, a pioneering sociological analysis; two feminist pieces: an extract from Elisabeth Fiorenza’s (Harvard) classic In Memory of Her and an extract from Jouette Bassler’s (SMU) The Widow’s Tale; a trio of articles continuing the mythologizing approach from Bultmann by Abraham Malherbe (Yale), Hans-Josef Klauck (Chicago), and Margaret Mitchell (Chicago), the archaeological approach of Peter Lampe (Heidelberg); and an essay by Dale Martin (Yale) arguing that Paul rejected marriage as the appropriate context for the expression of sexual desire – that in contrast Paul’s real goal was the extirpation of desire. The book concludes with a shortened version of Wayne Meeks’s The Christian Proteus.

Missing from the second edition
The contents of the first and second editions are available online, so one can quickly see which essays are new and which are old. It is worth noting that the besides the TNIV translation, most of the apocryphal works are taken from J. K. Elliott’s new (1993) translation The Apocryphal New Testament.

A number of works that appeared in the first edition are omitted in the second, these include pieces Karl Barth, Leo Baeck, Martin Buber, Adolf Deissmann, Soren Kierkegaard, Hans Schoeps, Albert Schweitzer, Hans von Sorden, Philipp Vielhauer, and Maurice Wiles. While it is understandable that some essays had to be removed to make room for new material, it is less forgivable that there are still references to the pieces in the first edition in the introductory section essays – much like an amputee feeling phantom pain from his missing limb.

Despite these minor quibbles, this work still remains an excellent academic introduction to Paul and the way various groups have read Paul. It surprised me with its choice of the TNIV as a textual base, but it implicitly suggests that the simpler renderings of the TNIV are more appropriate for the college classroom. The book is hardly a comprehensive survey (such a survey is probably impossible within the confines of a single volume) but it has the merit of allowing students to directly read extracts from classic works (rather than a pre-digested summary of them in a typical textbook presentation) and of showing how diverse reaction has been to Paul. There is enough in this book to anger any reader passionate about religion – regardless of her beliefs – but for the reader interested in the history of our understanding of Paul, the work is compelling – a page turner.

Feel free to react to Larry's review and interact with him in the comments section for this post.