Pauline Studies

OUR NEW BOOK: Paul, A New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology

Paul was and remained a Jew.

—E. P. Sanders

This year saw the release of a new book I co-authored with Brant Pitre and John Kincaid, entitled, Paul, A New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology (Eerdmans, 2019)(available on here). In the book we tackle some of the biggest questions in Pauline studies. We begin with what many have recognized as the epicenter of recent debates about Paul, namely, his relationship to Judaism.

Since the publication of E.P. Sanders’ book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977), scholars have wrestled with how to define Paul’s relationship to first-century Judaism. This book is the result of our wrestling with this question.

For the past three years, Brant and I have served as co-chairs for a Continuing Seminar devoted to “Paul in Antiquity” at the Catholic Biblical Association. The first year our discussions were devoted to the issue of “Paul within Judaism.” This book’s focus really emerged out of our preparation for and work in that seminar (John Kincaid also participated in it).

The title for our book was very deliberate. Sanders’ book spoke of Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Yet even the title to this book–a landmark project in recognizing the Jewishness of Paul’s message–suggests distance between Judaism and Paul. In a sense, the title points to the idea that Paul is somehow separate from Judaism. Yet this is not how the Apostle speaks. In Galatians he recounts how he reminded Peter, “We ourselves are Jews by nature [Ἡμεῖς φύσει Ἰουδαῖοι]” (Gal 2:19).

Paul became a believer in Jesus Christ. The question this raises is this: how did Paul view his relationship with Judaism after coming to believe Jesus was the Messiah. In the first chapter we lay out various models scholars have used to understand this: (1) Paul, the Former Jew; (2) Paul, the Eschatological Jew; and (3) Paul, the Torah-Observant Jew.

After carefully surveying these options, we offer our own portrait: Paul, we argue, understood himself to be, “a New Covenant Jew.” We take our descriptor from Paul’s own language. In 2 Corinthians 3, the Apostle explains, “[God] has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant” (2 Cor 3:6). The language, as we show, is derived from Israel’s scriptures, namely, Jeremiah’s new covenant prophecy.

I am sure that we will have more to say about our book and its argument in future posts. For now, let me just say that this book offers a kind of model for what we hope to do in shorthand on this site–enter into conversation.

Among other things, in the book, we explain how we proceed from a Catholic perspective. This, however, does not mean isolating ourselves from the broader conversation in scholarship; if anything, we think being truly “Catholic” requires such honest engagement. With that in mind we were extremely grateful to receive a Foreword for the book from one of our favorite New Testament scholars, Michael Gorman, a non-Catholic who holds the Raymond E. Brown Chair of Biblical Studies and Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary & University (Baltimore, MD). Professor Gorman did a truly remarkable job summing up our new book:

“To be sure, this book contains specific emphases one would expect from faithful Catholic interpreters of Paul. For instance, the authors find in Paul a “high” Christology. Moreover, they argue that the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist, as realistic participation in Christ’s sacrifice, is absolutely central to Paul the new covenant Jew. . .

This book is not, however, a work of Catholic apologetics, and Catholic readers will find themselves both enlightened and, occasionally, challenged. It is significant—and quite Catholic—that the authors insist on the priority of grace and on the work of the Spirit in Pauline theology, but these are themes that may surprise some readers who have particular expectations of Catholic biblical interpreters. Some readers of this book will be challenged by other themes, including the authors’ rich, nuanced interpretation of justification in terms of “cardiac righteousness” that is both juridical and ethical. Yet the authors’ understanding of justification as participatory and transformative can also be found among contemporary Protestant scholars, not to mention Orthodox.

There are of course aspects of this book, as with any book, with which readers (Protestant, Catholic, or other) will disagree. But this work by Brant Pitre, Michael Barber, and John Kincaid is an important study of themes in Pauline theology. It is in certain ways Catholic, in many ways catholic, and in all ways stimulating.

— Michael Gorman, Foreword, Paul, A New Covenant Jew

I hope this whets your appetite for more of what is in the book as well as what we hope to accomplish here on (2.0)!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: