Faith and Scholarship, Diverse Old Perspective, the Law for Gentiles, Paul as Messiah

I finished Terence Donaldson’s Paul and the Gentiles, but I’ll still have one more post on this book tomorrow.  For today, I have four items:

1.  On page 293, Donaldson states the following:

“As a religious person, I am prepared to accept the reality of religious experiences and to approach Paul’s own testimony sympathetically.  As a Christian, I am predisposed to understand it as an experience of the same divine mystery powerfully at work in Jesus’ resurrection.  As a scholar, I am intrigued by the various questions raised by Paul’s own references to it and by the accounts in Acts and am ready to employ various linguistic, literary, rhetorical, and sociological tools to pursue them.”

I wonder how Donaldson reconciles his faith with his scholarship.  I think that some of his arguments are reconcilable with Christian faith.  For example, he does believe that Paul had a vision of the risen Jesus, and that is significant in his overall argument: that Saul of Tarsus before his conversion to Christianity was preaching to Gentiles that they needed to become circumcised and to keep the law to be saved and to become part of God’s people; then, Paul saw the risen Jesus, and he switched to proclaiming that Gentiles had to believe in Jesus (without keeping the law) to become part of the covenant community.  Of course, one does not have to be a Christian to believe that Paul had a vision, for Donaldson notes that Alan Segal argues that Paul had a vision, and Segal was not a Christian; people had visions in antiquity, or at least they claimed to do so, and even non-Christian scholars can appreciate that.  But the notion that Paul actually had a vision is reconcilable with Christianity.

But there are some things in Donaldson’s scenario that appear to be hard to reconcile with Christianity.  For example, Donaldson does not think that Paul arrived at his law-free message of Gentile inclusion into Israel simply by reading the Hebrew Scriptures, for the prophets do not appear to present Gentiles becoming a part of Israel.  Also, there are other differences between Paul and the Hebrew Bible (and I forget how Donaldson specifically interacts with these issues, but I know that he does): the prophets depict Torah as being relevant to the Gentiles (which Paul does, too, but Paul’s Gospel is still law-free in that it does not require Gentiles to observe the entire law of Moses), and Paul presents the Jews converting after the Gentiles turn to God, whereas the prophets often affirm that the Gentiles will come to God after God’s restoration of Israel.  Donaldson also argues at times that Paul does not always make the best argument for his case.  How could these things be harmonized with Christianity?  I suppose that one could try to compartmentalize faith and scholarship, but is not truth truth—-meaning that “truth” in faith should coincide with “truth” in scholarship?  

I’m not saying that I have a smooth way to integrate my faith into my scholarship and my scholarship into my faith, but I wonder how Christian scholars do so.  Conservative ones would essentially argue that both are consistent with each other, but there are others, like Donaldson, who are not afraid to note discrepancies.  What do they do with that, from a faith perspective?

2.  On page 311, Donaldson states: “Bultmann, for example, denies that Paul’s conversion is to be viewed as the resolution of a long struggle of despair over the law’s demands; Phil 3:6, rather than Rom 7, describes Paul’s pre-Damascus experience with the law.”

This illustrates to me that there is variety within the Old Perspective, which Bultmann held.  One Old Perspective view is that Paul felt guilty and burdened over his failure to observe the law, and that receiving God’s free-grace through Christ was a relief to him.  Here, Paul is viewed as similar to Martin Luther, and advocates of the New Perspective come back and quote Philippians 3:6, where Paul says that, prior to his conversion to Christ, he was blameless with respect to the requirements of the law.  But Bultmann held to a different strand of the Old Perspective: that Paul was not racked with guilt over his failure to observe the law, but that his obedience was conducive to self-righteousness and boasting.  To that, advocates of the New Perspective say that Judaism itself believed in grace rather than self-righteousness, and that Paul’s concern was Gentile inclusion into Israel, not rejecting Judaism as a self-righteous religion.

3.  On page 358, Donaldson states: “As Segal points out, it is not proper to say that in righteous Gentiles conceptions, the law does not apply to Gentiles; rather, the Gentiles are bound by those parts of the Torah that apply to them in particular.”

This is relevant to my continuing question about the relationship of Gentiles to the Torah.  Apparently, for Segal, the Gentiles are bound to some rules in the Torah, but not to others.  In my opinion, that insight is consistent with what Paul says in Romans 2:14-15 (KJV): “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)”.  There, Paul says that Gentiles are following the law when they obey their consciences.  That’s different from saying that the Jews are bound to the law whereas the Gentiles are not.

4.  I got a big laugh out of what Donaldson says on page 370: “Schonfield has made the startling and wildly fanciful suggestion that Paul persecuted the followers of Jesus because he believed himself to be the Messiah; Hugh J. Schonfield, The Jew of Tarsus (London: MacDonald, 1946) 78-90.”

I may read Schonfield’s book some time just to see how he supports that!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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