Echevarría, Miguel G. and Benjamin P. Laird 40 Questions about The Apostle Paul. 40 Questions and Answers Series. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2023. 319 pp. Pb; $24.99. Link to Kregel Academic
Miguel Echevarría is associate Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His 2014 SBTS Ph.D. dissertation was published as The Future Inheritance of Land in the Pauline Epistles (Pickwick, 2019). In addition to several journal articles, his Engaging the New Testament is due from Baker in 2024. Benjamin Laird is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Liberty University and author of The Pauline Corpus in Early Christianity: Its Formation, Publication, and Circulation (Hendrickson 2022) and Creating the Canon: Composition, Controversy and the Authority of the New Testament (IVP Academic, 2023).In this new volume of Kregel Academic’s 40 Questions series, Echevarría and Laird answer frequently asked questions about the Apostle Paul. As they say in the introduction, it is possible to write “100 Questions about the Apostle Paul” and still not cover every related subject to Paul’s life in teaching. They divide the book into three parts: first, questions about Paul’s life; second, questions about Paul’s writings; and third, questions about Paul’s theology.
Questions in the first part summarize what little we can know about pre-Christian Paul. They speculate a little bit about his father as a potential possible pharisee and his relation to Sergius Paulus. Was Paul married? Did he have both a secular and Jewish education? Did he have any post-conversion education? They also discuss potential motives for Paul’s persecution of the early church. Echevarría and Laird only briefly discuss Paul’s conversion and do not touch on the possibility Paul was not so much converted from Judaism to Christianity than called to a prophetic office (the “light to the Gentiles”) as sometimes suggested by the New Perspective on Paul or Paul within Judaism views.
Echevarría and Laird offer a “provisional Pauline chronology” (Jesus’s crucifixion is AD 33, Paul’s conversion AD 33/34) followed by two chapters on Paul’s missionary journeys and his trip to Rome. They accept the traditional view that Paul was released from prison after the book of Acts and engaged in ministry (perhaps) in Spain and Crete, arrested again in Rome, and was executed under Nero. They recognize that not all scholars agree, although they do not interact directly with them. Their chronology relies on an early date for Acts and the authenticity of the Pastoral Epistles. They also collect what can be known about Paul’s death from early church writers (including the Acts of Paul). Question 10 discusses Paul’s missionary strategy. He intentionally targeted unreached urban centers with an “integrated lifestyle.” Paul lived and worked in these communities, culturalizing his Gospel proclamation (1 Cor 9:19-23). He “conducted his life so as to avoid needless offense” (89).
The second part of the book deals with Paul’s writings. They cover basic introductory materials such as date, destination, etc. Galatians is the earliest of Paul’s letters; otherwise, all their views are traditional. They deal with challenges to Pauline authorship (Question 18) and responses to those objections (Question 19). They discuss Paul’s use of secretaries, letter carriers, and the responsibilities of a letter carrier (Question 13).
Questions 15 and 16 reflect Laird’s interest in the New Testament canon. When were Paul’s letters first collected and published? They argue for an early collection. Paul’s collections were “likely formed from duplicate copies in Paul’s possession” (130). Eventually, a ten-letter collection was supplemented by the Pastoral Epistles and Hebrews. They discuss whether Paul wrote the book of Hebrews (Question 16). They observed that Paul certainly influenced the book of Hebrews, and they speculate that Hebrews was a speech by Paul. They conclude by pointing out that the arguments against Pauline authorship of Hebrews are not as strong as often assumed. Finally, with respect to canon, are there lost letters written by the apostle Paul? In Question 17, they discuss “lost” letters like the Corinthian correspondence. If there are lost letters, it is because the recipients simply did not copy them.
In the third section of the book, Echevarría and Laird answer questions about Paul’s theology. They survey ten proposals for a possible center of Paul’s theology and conclude that “crucifixion and resurrection” is the central theme. All doctrine flows from Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection, including the other proposals. This section includes chapters on Christology, atonement, and several Christian practices (conversion, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, law and grace, and faith and works). With respect to eschatology, they observe that Paul has a two-age eschatology in keeping with the common Jewish view of this age and the age to come. There are some signs that the new age has already begun (such as resurrection and the Holy Spirit), but others have not yet arrived, such as the second coming of Christ. They argue that Paul’s view of an imminent return of Christ drives his mission (249). Paul’s mission is “to fulfill Isaiah’s vision of gathering the Gentiles into the community of God’s saving promises (250).
This section also includes answers to several specific questions. They include two chapters on the New Perspective on Paul. Echevarría and Laird summarize the views of N. T. Wright and James Dunn, the key popularizers of E. P. Sanders Paul and Palestinian Judaism. These views are then critiqued (Question 34). They find rights emphasis on covenant in Paul’s thought problematic and are not convinced by Dunn’s “Works of the Law.” The next question concerns a hot topic often discussed along with the New Perspective, the phrase pistis Christou. Does this refer to the faithfulness of Christ or the believer’s faith in Christ? Although there are several chapters on the New Perspective on Paul, Echevarría and Laird are not influenced by this popular trend in Pauline studies. Although they are fair in their critique of the New Perspective, their answers represent a traditional view of Paul.
The final chapters of the book deal with controversial topics such as Paul’s view of marriage and divorce, the role of women in ministry, the continuation (or cessation) of sign gifts, the problem of slavery and racial division, and supersessionism (has the church replaced Israel?).
Conclusion: Echevarría and Laird’s 40 Questions on the Apostle Paul is a basic introduction to Paul’s life, ministry, and theology. The book will introduce students to basic issues and arguments current in Pauline studies. As with other volumes in this series, each chapter ends with five discussion questions, which make the book a good fit for a class on Paul’s letters and theology. Advanced readers may be frustrated with the brevity of each chapter, but that is due to the goals of the 40 Questions series. Echevarría and Laird provide footnotes for readers interested in pursuing topics in more depth. However, I would like to see a basic bibliography a the conclusion of each chapter identifying four or five key books on the topic.
Extras: Chad Burchett interviews Miguel Echevarría for the SEBTS blog, Beyond the Book.
Other books reviewed in this series:
- Marvin Pate, 40 Questions about the Historical Jesus
- Keathley and Rooker, 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution
- Jeremy M. Kimble, 40 Questions about Church Membership and Discipline
- Sue Edwards and Kelley Mathews, 40 Questions Women in Ministry
- Charles L. Quarles and L. Scott Kellum, 40 Questions about the Text and Canon of the New Testament
- Mark Strauss, 40 Questions about Bible Translations
NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.