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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Online review only, listed in Volume 61, 2013

DOUGLAS A. CAMPBELL, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2009). Pp. 1245. Paperback. US$55.00.

I am grateful to ABR for the privilege and pleasure of reviewing this mighty book. It provided me, a non-specialist in Pauline studies, with a full refresher course in what has been happening in this field since E. P. Sanders’s “seismic shift in Pauline scholarship” (2) in Paul and Palestinian Judaism, reviewed on 97–100.

Campbell has studied with great care all the significant writing on Paul in the last half century, since Sanders showed that what Paul says about the Judaism of his day does not match what can be discovered historically in the considerable variety of Jewish sects and movements that existed in first-century Palestine. Campbell has carried further the discrediting of Paul’s soteriology, particularly in Romans, or, rather, of the conventional understanding of Paul’s doctrine of justification that has been the hallmark of Protestantism since Luther. His project is to replace this Traditional Justification Theory (TJT) with a reading in which God is more benevolent, Christ is more central, and salvation is retrospective, participatory (communal and ecclesial), and apocalyptic.

To carry out this project required 936 pages of very fine print followed by 241 pages of endnotes in even finer print. It is hopeless for me to try to do justice to this prodigious achievement in a short review. Campbell deploys with impressive skill all the tools of contemporary criticism and hermeneutics, and his forceful writing makes the whole thing very exciting. The entire book is studded with sparkling gems of exegesis.

In a Preamble (1–35), Campbell analyses TJT, summarising it in 37 “Argumentative Progressions in Propositional Form” (28–29). An initial difficulty: partisans of TJT might find it hard to recognise their beliefs in this account. It is too formal, programmatic, rationalistic, to match the actual understanding of persons who have found Christian salvation in terms of “justification by faith.” In Chapter 8, Campbell supplies a sketch of the “Church-Historical Pedigree” of TJT, limited to Luther, Menanchthon, and Calvin (with a glance back to Augustine). He shows how both Luther and Calvin virtually abandoned the voluntarism of the human response, prominent in the early days of the Reformation (and a main target for Campbell’s criticism), for a more radical view of human depravity, with a new emphasis on sola gratia and the sovereign work of the Spirit. Luther denies human capacity in his po-lemic against the humanism of Erasmus, while Calvin's extreme doctrine of total depravity required him to attribute human salvation to election imple-mented by irresistible grace. These factors do not figure in Campbell’s “Argumentative Progressions in Propositional Form,” although they continue to be part of traditional reformed soteriology. The understandable reaction in Arminianism has characterised popular revivalism unto this day, especially in America. Many coarse crudities can, of course, be found in today’s decadent evangelicalism (“God punished Jesus” and the like). So perhaps a distinction should be made between serious reformed theology and sports-oval mass evangelism and folksy tele-evangelism. Campbell’s artificial parody leaves much of classical reformed soteriology untouched, making it easier for him to brand TJT as “Arminian (or even Pelagian).” Ironic!

On the basis of this summary of TJT, Campbell proceeds to point out and list several kinds of “difficulties”: “intrinsic” (7x) (Chap. 2 and p. 168), “systematic” (10x) (Chap 3 and p. 169), empirical (4x) (Chaps 4, 5 and p. 170), distortions (Chap 8), dangers (Chap 9), exegetical underdeterminations (11x) and overdeterminations (24x) (Chap 11), all summarised on 397–411. Conclusion: TJT has “feet of clay” (Chapter 11). Campbell has reduced TJT to rubble, with no part of it worth saving, apparently. Campbell will claim, as the project advances, that all these difficulties are overcome and that those shortcomings “evaporate” in Campbell’s apocalyptic rereading of Paul’s justification texts.

One cannot help asking whether the TJT is really as bad as Campbell makes it out to be. If so, how has it satisfied so many people for so long? Does it not seem a bit overweening to imply that all the scholars since Luther and Calvin, not to mention hosts of ordinary Christians, who have found life in Christ by embracing this doctrine, have been deluded in their reading of Romans?

Chapter 12 is transitional to Part 4. It contains very instructive reviews of four “revisionist strategies” for coping with the crisis—the work of Watson, E. P. Sanders, Dunn, and Stowers. None are entirely satisfactory, according to Campbell.

The proposed reconstruction begins in Part 4—“A Rhetorical and Apocalyptical Rereading.” This is based on the premise that “[a]ny explanation of the original production of Romans must be able to account for all the data in that letter” (470). It will be no small feat to carry this off, and there is much in Romans that Campbell does not account for. All readers find many places where Romans seems incoherent. Chapter 7 comes to mind as particularly troublesome.

In proposing his “"explanation … that satisfies all the relevant criteria—the only theory that seems to be able to do so,” Campbell takes his cue from ‘Paul’s caustic warnings in the letter closing against false teachers (16:17–20), the only feature in the data that seems self-sufficient or independently valid and capable of expansion in a way that can plausibly explain all the other issues” (495).

The well-known critical question about the authenticity of Romans 16 is handled with the assertion (without supporting arguments) that “Romans 16 looks more integral to the letter than separate (at least on text-critical grounds” (482). The “integrity” of the whole letter is a compositional question, not just a text-critical one, and the two endings leave open the possibility that Chapter 16 was an add-on. But, even assuming that Chapter 16 is part of the letter sent to Rome, it would be strange to supply the key to the whole letter at the very tail-end.

Several purposes have been proposed for the writing of Romans, and its composite nature suggests that the letter had more than one purpose. Campbell’s rereading is based on only one of the several purposes that have been proposed. “Romans was written for the same reason that Galatians was written—to defend Paul’s gospel against the depredations of certain hostile counter-missionaries” (ibid.), like those who dogged Paul from Jerusalem to Antioch to Galatia to Philippi to Rome (506).

The letter presents features of diatribe (dialogue with an imaginary interlocutor), a possibility that Campbell recognises. His supposed ‘Teacher’ is “not therefore a portrait of the actual empirical opponent” (512). Even so, he brings the Teacher to life as someone who was already spreading his mischief in Rome or expected soon. Paul wrote Romans to “oppose a certain false teacher and his teaching” (499). “Romans is an attempt to negate the Influence of Hostile Counter-missionaries in Rome” (495).

Campbell then identifies the Teacher’s gospel by finding his voice in various portions of Romans that have been traditionally ascribed to Paul, turning the arguments inside-out. Thus Romans 1:18–32 is “the Teacher’s Rhetorical Opening” (543). The Teacher, not Paul, preached the wrath of God. Paul’s message is altogether benevolent, bringing deliverance and life through the resurrection of Christ.

Under “Textual Voice Reconsidered” (530–34), Campbell suggests that, when composing the letter, Paul could have marked the Teacher’s portions by “speaking for a time in the voice of another figure” (541), and that Phoebe could have mimicked him when she read the letter (“a set of performances by a letter bearer to an audience of listening Christians” (531). This is somewhat fanciful.

Of course, in various places in his letters, Paul makes dramatic use of questions and quotations; there are many cases in 1 Corinthians. But is that what he is doing in Romans? You can see what the questions and expostulations are doing in 1 Corinthians: “But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised?’” And so on. There is not the slightest hint, in the text of Romans, that it is structured as a debate between two opposing persons.

Campbell’s entire treatment is based on this highly speculative hypothesis. Paul’s authentic gospel is then found in his putative responses to what the Teacher (allegedly) says. Campbell’s resulting analysis of the argument is carried out with great ingenuity; but it is so contrived and artificial as to be unpersuasive. Another case of “feet of clay.”

Having subtracted the Teacher’s words, Campbell constructs Paul’s gospel from what is left. The centrepiece of Campbell’s counter-proposal is found in Part 4 (“A Rhetorical and Apocalyptic Rereading” [467]), particularly in Chapters 15 and 16 (601–72) that concentrate on Rom 3:21–26. Here Campbell’s exegetical probity is at its best and the summary of the results in chapter 18 is cogent.

Campbell re-examines in great detail the well-studied issues of the meaning of the key phrases “the righteousness of God” and “(the) faith of Christ,” concluding that the genitives are both subjective. God’s righteousness is his act of liberation, not retribution, in “the Christ event.” The faith of Christ is Christ’s fidelity.

I would have to read the whole book all over again now that I know what Campbell is on about in order to make sure that my misgivings and reservations are fairly taken and not just a hangover from nearly seventy years of living as a Christian in terms of the justification theory that Campbell has demolished.

I will mention just a few matters that give me pause. Early in the book (Chapter 3), Campbell intimates that “An Alternate Pauline Theory“ can be found in Romans 5–8. He gives a concise exposition, summarised in twenty-one propositions (72–73). Having concluded that TJT has “feet of clay,” Campbell devotes Part 4 to “rereading” Romans 1–4 (467–761), claiming that his new theory solves all the problems he laid bare at the beginning (593-600; 711-14; 750-61), declaring his reading to be “problem-free” (760). We can expect this perhaps over-sanguine claim to be tested in the further research that Campbell’s formidable study is bound to stimulate.

In Part 5 Campbell tests his claim that his new reading fits also the rest of Romans and other Pauline “justification” texts (mainly in Galatians and Philippians). Some readers might share my surprise and disappointment that Campbell jumped straight from Romans 4 into Romans 9, when chapter 3 makes the reader expect a thorough exposition of Romans 5–8, which is generally recognised as a distinct portion of the letter, and perhaps the heart of Paul’s gospel. This would have served his purpose better than the rest of Romans, unhampered by the “point-for-point, scriptural engagement with the Teacher’s gospel” (757) found in Romans 1–4.

Here his main methodological weakness is his reliance on the “substitution fallacy.” This is an interpretive ploy in which, say, the word “faith” in a sentence is replaced by “Christ.” Because the new reading is meaningful, it is de-clared to be “better.” Having concluded that “faith” is an alternate locution for “Christ,” in the discussion of Galatians 3:15–29 Campbell declares that “it is really impossible … to construe the pistis as anything or anyone other than Christ himself” (875), authorising “the identification of Christ with the motif of pistis throughout” (ibid.). This gambit is so overdone that little room is left for the faith of the Christian.

It is ironic that Campbell accuses Dunn, Wright, and Watson of “importing a considerable amount of explanatory material into the gaps in [the] text” (865), when this is just what he himself does all the time, even though he claims that “an … apocalyptic rereading does not need to import anything” (ibid.).

An example: Campbell recommends a “thick reading of the analogy between Abraham and Christians” (752). “If we consequently insert a mediating christological dimension between Abraham’s fidelity and later Christian fidelity, thickening the nature and terms of Paul’s analogy, then we solve all of our difficulties” (753; author’s italics). Similarly, in Romans, “life” always means “the eschatological life of the age to come” (863).

The role of the sinner in accepting justification “by faith” is thus left unclear if “faith” in Romans refers only to Christ’s fidelity; indeed, by metonymy, “faith” all by itself can be code for “Christ,” according to Campbell. One of Campbell’s strongest criticisms of TJT is that “justification is a voluntarist model throughout” (25—“belief voluntarism” [818]). Crudely, believing is something (the only thing!) that the sinner has to do. Of course, there is an antinomy here. Faith is also a gift of God (by grace), a work of the Holy Spirit, but that doesn’t cancel human freedom. The apostolic answer to the reasonable question, “What must I do to be saved?” (compare 817) is “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30–31; see Rom 10:8–10). Of course, this cryptic answer leaves a lot unsaid, but it states the briefest of essentials. It is interesting to notice how Campbell squirms in his examination of Rom 10:8–10 (817–19). He is reluctant to accept any reading that implies that faith is a criterion or condition of justification, preferring a “thick” reading (“more christocentric and apocalyptic” [817] as “the correct one (or, at least, the better one)” (817). It is better, because it fits his reading. In other words—and he does this frequently—the choice between two “equally possible” (856) readings, as he often concedes they are, is constrained by his hypothesis—petitio principii!

There can be no objection to Campbell’s insistence that justification in Paul is christocentric; but that does not mean that the human response can be left out of the equation.

A very serious omission is the lack of any substantial discussion of atonement through the death of Christ, in spite of otherwise competent exegesis of 3:21–26, although the sacrificial connotations of “blood” and hilasterion are downplayed. The handling of this theme in Chapter 16 is inadequate (resonance with 4 Maccabees and Genesis 22 notwithstanding). A theme of martyrdom need not be denied, but it is not just “an event in a person’s life” with “blood” “denoting the same event of heroic martyrological death as hilasterion” (653; author’s italics). There is more to Christ’s death than martyrdom.

Campbell’s rereading is remarkably unforthcoming as to how “the Christ event”—his death and resurrection as God’s righteous act—gets rid of human sinfulness. Understandably he finds some of the talk about this in TJT repugnant. Many do. But there it is. In his baptism, Jesus identified with us in our sin-death. In our baptism we are taken into his sin-death where our sins are engulfed in the vehement flame of God’s love. So we are liberated from them. This is the cup of agony we bless and partake of in eucharist. This is the “participation” that Campbell rightly highlights to replace the crass individualism of decadent TJT. It is participation in Christ’s risen life that is “sharing in Christ’s sufferings” [Phil 3:10], “filling up on [our] part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in [our] flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church” [Col 1:24] and other like sayings of Paul. Christocentric surely, but sinners are now in that centre with Christ.

Review by
Classics and Archaeology, University of Melbourne