Apostle of the Last Days: The Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul by C. Marvin Pate
After surveying the various approaches to Pauline theology in the past few centuries, professor and author C. Marvin Pate identifies eschatology as the centerpiece of the Apostle’s thought. Elements of inaugurated, realized, and consistent theology abound in the writings of the apostle, yet a marked inaugurated eschatology is the focal point; by which Jesus the Messiah brought with him the kingdom of God, the new age has dawned due to his life, death, and resurrection, and the sacraments celebrate entrance into the kingdom (26). The real strength of Marvin’s book is the consistency with which he presents an eschatologically driven picture of each of Paul’s writings.
After a section on Paul as an apocalyptic seer, Marvin systematically weaves his way through the Pauline corpus starting with Galatians and ending with the Pastoral Epistles. Of particular value in Pate’s writings here are his emphasis on the disconnection between Paul’s apocalyptic vision and the Roman Imperial Cult’s view of things. Pate writes, “The third eschatological component of the imperial cult evidenced at Thessalonica was the identification of Augustus as the savior of the new age. Two titles of deity for Augustus were “Lord” (kyrios) and “Son of god.” (87) Paul’s multiple references in the 1 Thessalonians ‘would have been an affront to Caesar.’ (87) Peace and concord, goodwill and security were all synonymous with the new order of things in the Roman Empire led by the Emperor himself. Any kind of allegiance to an authority that was supposedly anti-Roman would bring discord and disunity among the people. Pate reminds his readers that the letter to the Thessalonian were replete with religious pluralism ranging from pagan worshippers to Roman allegiances. Therefore, Paul’s strong words would have certainly been taken as a force of opposition to either Hellenistic/Imperial ways (see chart on 92-93).
Interestingly enough, Pate hones in on the thesis statement of the Book of Romans in 1:16-17 but takes a different and nuanced approach to the text. He writes, “Most interpreters of Romans look to Romans 1:16-17 as the theme of the letter. In our view, Paul is drawing therein on the theme of the story of Israel. Simply put, the story of Israel is the Old Testament plot of Israel’s repeated sins against God, and his sending Israel away into exile because of that – to Assyria in 721 BC and then to Babylonia in 587 BC; but there was always the divine promise that Israel will be restored to her land is she repents…Thus, the words “gospel,” “power,” and “salvation” would have immediately called to mind Isaiah 40-66 and the good news of God that he will restore Israel to her land.” (162) Pate does mention that the spiritual conversion of sinners is in view here and not primarily a return to their Jewish homeland, but he is right to put Paul’s letter in historical context for the readers. Israel and the hope of God’s promise is certainly in view in the Book of Romans, throughout the letter and especially in chapters 9-11.
I really enjoyed this volume on Paul and hope to use it in my writing for many years to come. That said, there were a few problems that came up for me. One, in chapter two on Galatians Marvin brings up the issues surrounding the New Perspective on Paul in a graph. We are given a simply definitions from Sanders, Dunn, and Wright about the New Perspective in contrast to the Traditional Perspective. There is simply no engagement with these authors on how they read the Book of Galatians or justification in any real in-depth sense. I’m not asking for a treatise but I think it would be fair in an academic book to engage with them based upon their own writings. Secondly, the whole concept of basing Paul’s theological trajectory upon inaugurated eschatology leaves little room for other concerns in his writings include such big topics as the body of Christ, union with Christ, election, virtue/vice lists, and local church concerns. We get a bit of this through Pate’s working through each book, but some of these major themes need to be highlighted in a stronger fashion.
Thanks to Kregel Academic for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.