Have you ever wanted to know what people really think of you? What are they saying when you leave the room? What words are whispered when they think no one is listening? Well, if you are Paul, here is your chance.
Patrick Gray provides us with an interesting take on an important issue. Paul as a Problem in History and Culture (Baker Academic, 2016; source: publisher) reads like a behind-the-scenes look at everyone who ever said something bad about Paul. The work is a thorough analysis of the who’s who of Paul’s critics.
Gray begins with a historical approach, going through the centuries since Paul to the modern age. Beginning with Jewish-Christians, criticism began to mound up based on the impression that Paul was doing away with the Mosaic law and God’s intended will. These accusations would not pass the test of time. Ironically, it would be the reversal claim, that Paul introduces a unwarranted systematization of theology beyond what Jesus had intended, that would become the prevalent criticism.
Criticism of Paul was not limited to theological arguments. Across the board, Paul’s character was called into question. Gray demonstrates that Paul has been charged with hypocrisy, ignorance, unfaithfulness, deceit, and other unmentionable items. Though his accusers came from various theological and philosophical positions, they often were in agreement in their disparaging of Paul’s thought and him as a person.
The second portion of the book examines criticism of Paul from various thematic angles. Topics include Paul in conjunction with other religions such as Judaism and Islam, but also with the non-monotheistic religions of Daoism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Gray entertains a counterfactual history of what could have been if Paul never lived. Gray also compares the reception of Paul as the “founder” of Christianity to other early Church leaders such as Peter, James, or John. The oft repeated subject of Jesus vs. Paul is once again addressed in contemporary terms while discussing the spirituality vs. religion sentiments exhibited in item such as the “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” video.
Paul as a Problem in History and Culture is not a simple listing of the negative things said of Paul. For instance, Gray provides a nuance study of people such as Martin Luther. One would not think Luther should belong in the company of critics, but Gray addresses the issue of Sachkritik. He writes,
Luther negotiates this putative conflict in a way that echoes for the next several centuries. To extend the aural metaphor, how much distortion is involved in these reverberations is not immediately clear. Conflicts within the canon, be they real or only apparent, pose acute problems for interpreters who hold a high view of Scripture and subscribe to the doctrine of sola scriptura. In order to resolve this tension, Luther adverts to a form of Sachkritik. “Content criticism” and “theological criticism” are standard translations for this technical term. 129 While it is usually associated with Rudolf Bultmann, its application to Luther is not inappropriate given his willingness to recognize a de facto “canon within the canon” with adherence to Pauline teachings on sin and grace as the criterion for inclusion. Sachkritik operates under the assumption that authors do not always say exactly what they mean. The interpreter’s prior understanding of what constitutes the basic subject matter of a text (the Sache) sets the parameters for what that text can mean. “What is said” is thus interpreted in light of “what it means.” (Paul as a Problem in History and Culture, 48)
Gray goes on to argue that Luther, armed with was Christum treibet, what proclaims Christ, unknowingly set the path for historical criticism. Gray writes,
The selection of was Christum treibet as a touchstone for interpreting the Bible within a Christian framework is not by any means without merit, but its relative simplicity invites elaboration. In the following centuries, theologians and biblical scholars elaborate that seemingly clear and simple message in the course of justifying principles and practices that would perhaps be anathema to Luther, all the more so if he were to learn that they cite him as a guiding light. Whereas Luther embodied the critical spirit that gave rise to modern biblical scholarship in acknowledging the diversity of voices within the canon and in questioning ecclesiastical tradition, he had only cracked open the door. Not content to ignore or reconcile any tensions that may be felt, others would come along during the Enlightenment to kick down the door and pit Jesus against Paul, appealing not to “what proclaims Christ” but, more often than not, to “what Christ proclaimed.” (Paul as a Problem in History and Culture, 49)
It appears that Gray is arguing that all roads of historical criticism, at least those that originated during the Enlightenment, started with Luther. Regardless of whether Luther wanted this or not, what he began was expounded upon and completed by eighteenth-century historical criticism. Though Gray may be right to show correlation between the Enlightenment and Luther, he has not done enough to indicate causation. There needs to be more evidence than what is given to make this link.
Paul as a Problem in History and Culture is not a long work, but it is an important one. Gray offers us an overview of critical approaches to Paul and insight into the theological motivation behind them. Paul as a Problem in History and Culture is a versatile volume that can be used in several ways for both classroom and personal reading.