C. Marvin Pate, Apostle of The Last Days: The Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, November, 2013. 320 pp. Paperback, $22.99.
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Today’s review is by Jennifer Guo. She is a bean counter by day and a book eater by night. She is passionate about the gospel and loves biblical and theological studies. Besides books, her other great love is the performing arts. She regularly posts book reviews and other goodies at her blog, and you can connect with her on Twitter.
I love the Apostle Paul. His life inspires me, his writings are some of my favorite in the Bible, and the theology of his corpus is my favorite to study. When it comes to monographs on Pauline theology, his soteriology seems to receive the most attention. Especially in the Reformed world, writings on Paul are dominated by studies on his ordo salutis. And with the advent and growing popularity of the new perspective(s) on Paul in recent decades we have seen a proliferation of response books from the “old perspective,” arguing for the traditional understanding of Paul and justification.
As important and precious as justification by faith alone is, there’s actually more to Paul’s theology and this doctrine does have a competitor for the coveted spot of “the center of Paul’s theology.” This contender is inaugurated eschatology, and in Apostle of The Last Days C.Marvin Pate surveys the entire Pauline corpus to demonstrate that this is indeed the theme that unifies Paul’s life, letters, and theology.
Pate begins by introducing how Paul was a product of the Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian worlds, which influenced him in increasing significance. Then he discusses the traditional attribution of thirteen letters to Paul, the liberal attribution of only seven of the letters, and the traditional response. Subsequently he surveys Paul’s life as documented in the book of Acts. Next, Pate summarizes the four approaches to identifying a center in Paul’s thought: justification by faith, the Tübingen school, the history of religions approach, and eschatology. Here he notes that while Jewish eschatology saw the present and the coming age as consecutive, in the New Testament the two ages overlap (inaugurated eschatology). “Thus, with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ the age to come/kingdom of God broke into this present age but without ending it” (16). In other words, the age to come was inaugurated with the first coming of Christ but awaits the second coming for consummation.
The last idea presented in the introduction is that of Paul’s ministry being characterized by conflict in eschatologies. Here (pp 20-26) Pate summarizes six types of eschatology that were current during Paul’s time:
- Paul’s inaugurated eschatology
- non-merkabah non-Christian Judaism (consistent eschatology)
- non-merkabah Judaizers (inaugurated eschatology)
- the Roman imperial cult (realized eschatology)
- Hellenistic/syncretistic religion (realized eschatology)
- merkabah-Judaizers (realized eschatology).
He then takes the five components of the realized eschatology of the Roman imperial cult developed by Helmut Koester and applies the model to all of the above eschatologies except that of the non-merkabah, non-Christian Judaism (which is a consistent, i.e. futurist, eschatology):
- The New Age has dawned
- It is cosmic and universal
- A Savior inaugurates the New Age
- The New Age/Savior is predicted in sacred writings
- The New Age is celebrated through rituals
The thesis of this study is that conflict erupted as Paul presented his apocalypse of Christ in the face of the various competing eschatologies. Chapter 1 sets things up by demonstrating from Acts, Paul’s letters in general, and especially Galatians 1 and Romans 1 that Paul’s conversion and call were eschatologically driven. The fourfold eschatological message proclaimed by Paul and rooted in his conversion/call is that “Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, whose death and resurrection inaugurated the age to come, which is entered into by faith apart from the law, and which includes Gentiles” (49). These four components became flashpoints of conflict between Paul and opponents influenced by the competing eschatological constructs of the day, and the next ten chapters highlight this conflict in the different cities that Paul wrote to, surveying each of his letters and further expounding upon the competing eschatologies in each city.
The last chapter, Chapter 12, presents an overview of Paul’s theology by using the seven typical categories of systematic theology. For each category, Pate launches the discussion from a word count of a key word related to the topic at hand (e.g. “God” for theology proper, “Christ”/“Lord” for Christology, etc.) and then draws out the eschatological nature of each. God is viewed through an apocalyptic lens (theology proper); Jesus’s death and resurrection inaugurated the age to come (Christology); the presence of the Holy Spirit, received by faith in Christ alone, is a key sign that the new age has dawned (pneumatology); the first Adam is the head of the old humanity and the last Adam is head of the new humanity (anthropology); justification, sanctification and glorification span the two ages (soteriology); and the church is the beginning of the new creation of the age to come, the restored Israel of the end times, the eschatological temple of God, the eschatological flock of God (ecclesiology). Finally, the section on eschatology looks at the various signs of the end times and how Paul viewed them through the lens of the overlapping of the two ages.
Apostle of The Last Days is a valuable contribution to Pauline studies. The majority of the book is a survey through Paul’s entire corpus, demonstrating the eschatology of each epistle vis-à-vis the competing eschatologies of the respective cities. It’s written at a moderately academic level, with most Greek words untransliterated. This book is definitely a treat for anyone with particular interest in Pauline studies and/or eschatology; but because the thesis is advanced through a survey of all of Paul’s epistles, it would benefit any semi-academic student of the Word by imparting a greater understanding of each of Paul’s epistles.