I am trying to grasp a new development in scholarship about the apostle Paul. I am reading a book containing a series of essays and responses to the theories of Douglas Campbell, Beyond the Old and New Perspectives on Paul.
The second essayist, Graham Tomlin, is a specialist in historical theology so he asked Campbell some questions based on that.
His first question is how Campbell’s taking words traditionally quoted as Paul’s own thought and assigning them to opponents of Paul works with the Protestant idea that scripture is clear and accessible to ordinary Christians. Doesn’t a technical argument based on rhetorical criticism mean that Romans can only be understood by elite scholars?
Campbell replied that this objection could apply across the board to all scriptural interpretation that relies on historical or literary analysis. Campbell points out that in some translations of the Corinthian correspondence the language of Paul’s opponents now appears in quotation marks. Eventually this could be done with Romans as well. Campbell now gives his students printouts of Romans with the passages he thinks are rhetorical quotations in quotes. This would help make his understanding of Romans accessible to ordinary Christians.
I think Campbell defends himself well here. But you would need to develop a consensus among scholars about just where the quotation marks should fall. For Romans I think this is going to be much more difficult than for 1 and 2 Corinthians (and those are disputed).
Tomlin’s other question is about the interpretation of Martin Luther. Apparently Campbell has placed Luther in the category of people who promoted a justification doctrine based on a split between law as understood in Romans 1-4 and gospel as understood in Romans 5-8.
Tomlin appreciates that Campbell is not as negative toward Luther as many new-perspective scholars. But he points out that there is a way to interpret Luther that puts him close to Campbell’s own apocalyptic/deliverance perspective. So he asks if Luther can really be as inconsistent as Campbell seems to think.
This is a point that I can not say much about. But in the process of dialog with Campbell, Tomlin sets out four ideas from Campbell about the negative and unhealthy doctrine of justification that has developed.
1. That God’s justice is essentially retributive justice.
2. That human beings are rational, ethical individuals, with a prior natural and objective knowledge of God as Judge.
3. That the answer to the dilemma of judgment is found in the death of Christ offered as an atonement for sin.
4. That salvation is individual and conditional upon the prior exercise of faith.
Tomlin tries to show that Luther’s doctrine of justification did not fit this scheme.
Campbell is gracious in his response. Just as Tomlin refrained from disputing Campbell’s biblical interpretation claims, Campbell defers to Tomlin’s expertise in regard to Luther’s theology. Campbell says, though, that this strengthens his own argument. It puts Luther on his side in calling for an account of the gospel that differs from some of the misunderstandings that have developed within the churches.
At any rate, the above four points give us a concise account of the view Campbell has set himself over against. I note that they do not necessarily depend on each other. To me, the idea that God is Judge does not require retribution. Thus, for instance, I do not see why someone could not hold ideas 2 and 3 without holding 1 and 4. But I acknowledge that most people do think in terms of retributive justice.