I regularly read Leander Keck. His work is often insightful and stimulating. I recently picked up his recent title, Christ’s First Theologian: The Shape of Paul’s Thought (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2015).
While I hope to say some more things about this book down the road, I would just briefly like to consider a remark Keck makes in the first paragraph of the book. He begins his book by stating that Paul was “a propagator of the new Christ-faith for which he had no noun. . .” (Preface, p. ix).
This line struck me as strange. Is it really true that there was no noun for the Christ-faith Paul preached? Of course, Acts uses the term the “way” to describe the Christian movement (cf. Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). Acts also uses the term “Christians” to speak of Jesus’ disciples (Acts 11:26; 26:28). However, most agree that Acts was likely written after Paul’s letters. Since Paul nowhere uses these terms in his letters, scholars are careful to attribute it to Paul.
But it seems to me that Keck has overlooked one key phrase used by Paul: “new covenant.” In 2 Corinthians 3:6, Paul specifically describes himself as one of the “ministers of the new covenant.” Of course, this is a major theme in the new book I co-wrote with Brant Pitre and John Kincaid – Paul, we argue, would have seen himself as a “new covenant Jew.”
I realize Paul doesn’t use the phrase often. Yet that doesn’t mean that Paul had “no noun” for the faith he preached. Anyways, it seems to me that “new covenant” has become sort of like white noise for biblical scholars. The salvation-historical and “covenantal” themes have been discussed by high-profile writers like N.T. Wright and freighted to certain readings that many are now wary of such terminology. But overcorrecting should also be avoided. The term remains important for Paul. And I think we neglect it at our own peril.