Book Review: Scot McKnight and B. J. Oropeza, eds. Perspectives on Paul: Five Views

McKnight, Scot and B. J. Oropeza, eds. Perspectives on Paul: Five Views. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2020. 285 pp. pb. $29.99.   Link to Baker Academic

Some might question whether there is a need for yet another “five views” on Paul. This book is similar to Four Views on Paul edited by Michael Bird, Zondervan 2012), which also included a Reformed (Thomas Schreiner), a Catholic Perspective (Luke Timothy Johnson) a Post-New Perspective (Douglas Campbell) and a “Paul within Judaism” chapter (Mark Nanos). Focusing just on justification, Beilby and Eddy edited a five views book featuring a Roman Catholic view (Collins and Rafferty), two reformed views (traditional by Michael Horton and progressive reformed by Michael Bird), a New Perspective view by James Dunn and a “deification view” from Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen (IVP Academic 2011). There are others, including the recent Voices and Views on Paul, edited by Ben Witherington III and Jason A. Myers (IVP Academic 2020).

Perspectives on PaulAs with most “five perspectives” books, Perspectives on Paul is set up like a conference seminar. Each essay is followed by a response from each of the other perspectives. In this book, the original presenter is given a few pages to reply to these responses. The book begins with an overview of the last forty years of Pauline scholarship. All recent books on Paul use E. P. Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism as a convenient watershed since it launched the New Perspective on Paul. For the last several decades, Pauline scholarship has been dominated by those who react against some theological implications or those who seek to push beyond Sanders’s view of Paul and his relationship with Second Temple Judaism.

The introduction to Perspectives on Paul therefore begins with an overview of Sanders’s main arguments followed by a summary of two major proponents of what has become known as the New Perspective on Paul, James Dunn and N. T. Wright. There are six benefits related to studying Paul through the lens of the New Perspective (11): First, the New Perspective provides a better understanding of Paul’s letters. Second, it avoids individualistic readings and western perceptions of Paul’s letters. Third, the New Perspective reduces anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism by studying the literature of Second Temple Judaism closely in order to avoid mischaracterizations of what Jews believed in the first century. Fourth, the New Perspective provides for more continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament than typical of older studies, which saw a decisive break between Paul and Judaism. Fifth, this continuity between the Testaments allows for more continuity between Jesus and Paul. Sixth, the New Perspective also opens up the possibility of continuity between Roman Catholics and Protestants over the doctrine of justification.

This last benefit is often perceived as the greatest flaw for the New Perspective by some Protestants. James Dunn and N. T. Wright are overthrowing the assured results of the Reformation. This perceived attack on the Reformation sometimes results in fiery rhetoric that lacks engagement with the Pauline letters. In November 2010, I attended the Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting, which focused on Wright’s view of justification. (Here are my comments on the three plenary addresses by Thomas Schreiner, Frank Theilman and N. T. Wright). One of the parallel sessions claimed to be an answer to the New Perspective, yet the paper did not engage with the New Perspective directly and concluded what was wrong with the New Perspective is it challenges Reformation theology. In fact, the paper concluded with a lengthy citation of the Westminster Confession (as a mic-drop).

The second part of the introduction therefore surveys the reactions both for and against the New Perspective. The editors provide copious footnotes to the avalanche of anti-New Perspective literature. Among the post-New Perspective studies briefly surveyed in this section is the Paul within Judaism” view represented by Magnus Zetterholm in chapter 4, Francis Watson’s Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles (Cambridge, 1986) and revised by adding the subtitle Beyond the New Perspective (Eerdmans 2011), Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God (Eerdmans 2009) as a representative of the apocalyptic view on Paul, and John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2017), also featured chapter five of this volume.

Brant Pitre outlines the Roman Catholic Perspective on Paul. Pitre shows that Sanders’s interpretation of Paul is very close to Catholic soteriology and Sander’s exegesis of Paul unintentionally arrived at the same conclusions as patristic, medieval Catholic interpreters and the Council of Trent (27). He therefore examined several issues in Sanders, in patristic writers, and Trent. In fact, he points out that the Council of Trent’s decree and justification “Paul over fifty times and the Bible over one hundred times. He does not therefore understand statements from N. T. Wright like “the Council of Trent responded by insisting on tradition” (54). Pitre does not see a contradiction between Paul’s doctrine of “initial justification by grace through faith and final justification according to works enough by faith alone” (52)  In Zetterholm’s response, he observes that it is “quite ironic; Paul, the great hero of Protestantism, turns out to have been the first real Catholic (68).

A. Andrew Das gives the Traditional Protestant Perspective on Paul, although Das prefers to call his view a “newer perspective” (85). Das recognizes agrees with Sanders that not all Second Temple Jews affirmed a legalistic approach to salvation. But unlike Sanders, he thinks some Jews were legalistic and Paul responds to that claim. He therefore spends much of this chapter examining Galatians 3 and Romans 4 in order to argue Abraham was a model of obedience for Second Temple period Judaism. Paul demands perfect obedience to the law, but this is “not necessarily a commentary on Second Temple Judaism, but a consequence of his Christological emphases” (94). For Das, following the law is a mere human endeavor which stands in contrast to the gift of justification.

James D. G. Dunn is the obvious choice to present the New Perspective on Paul. Many of Dunn’s ideas are so well known by this point he can summarize briefly his views on Galatians 2:16 and the Antioch Incident. However, he makes the bold suggestion that Luke complicated the history of early Christianity by qualifying Paul’s claim to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Luke shifts the initial preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles to Peter (Acts 10) and omits the details of the Antioch Incident. By glossing over the sharp conflict described in Galatians 2, “Luke the apologist has taken over from Luke the historian” (142). Paul’s gospel of salvation through faith alone “was lost to sight in Luke’s history and in subsequent history that he had in effect encouraged” (145). This view of whether Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone was lost is controversial. Pitre claims justification by faith is in the patristic writers (151). Das focuses a broad range of Jewish and Gentile interaction around meals, which “would be perceived by some Jews as a reeking of idolatry if not also law violations” (158). Barclay does not address Luke’s reception of Paul since it is not central to the New Perspective, suggesting that Dunn’s comments on Acts “reflect a strong, subterranean influence of F. C. Bauer” (164). Dunn confesses he has over-written in the topic and should have held the discussion of Luke’s reception of Paul for another time (168).

Magnus Zetterholm lays out the “Paul within Judaism Perspective.” For Zetterholm, the Pauline scholars must determine “what Paul is communicating in the socio-religious-political situation in which he lived, no matter the consequences for normative theology” (66, emphasis his). Torah observance was only a problem for Paul regarding Gentiles. Although he expects non-Jews in Christ to conform to certain moral standards (such as refraining from idolatry), he never expected the Gentiles to keep Torah. Jews who are in Christ should continue to keep the law. Zetterholm observes that Paul is called to be the apostle to the nations, The theological problem Paul faced was not related to how Israel is going to be saved. Of course, Paul touches on Israel’s salvation, but he has far more to say about how the pagans are going to be saved. For Paul, Israel’s salvation was never in doubt (189). Gentiles will be included in the final salvation without giving up their ethnic identity: they do not convert and “become Jews” (whatever that might mean in the context of Second Temple Judaism).   

The “Gift Perspective on Paul” appears in a book on Pauline viewpoints. John M. G. Barclay briefly summarizes his Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2015) and explains how his view extends the insights of the New Perspective. Although it might seem strange to include a recent book on Paul as “perspective,” Brant Pitre suggests Barclay’s book will prove as consequential as Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism (237). As Barclay states, the “Gift Perspective on Paul” perspective is not as much a well-defined school of interpretation, but rather a loose constellation of viewpoints centering on the definition of grace as an incongruous gift illustrated by the wide diversity of use within second temple Judaism. Paul stands within the spectrum and applies the idea of grace to his Gentile mission. It is not whether there would be a mission to the Gentiles, but how the Gentiles would be included. Of importance is for Barclay is Romans 9–11, which “displays a complex dialectic between the Christ event and the scriptural story of Israel” (231).

Conclusion. To a certain extent, the title of this book is misleading. The five perspectives are all more or less in conversation with E. P. Sanders. As the editors make clear in the introduction, even the traditional view has taken new a new shape because of Sanders. Das says he is in “largely in agreement with Sanders” and Barclay’s recent nuanced view of grace (84) despite representing the Traditional Protestant view. Are there other more aggressively traditional Pauline scholars who might have provided more contrast with Sanders? Thomas Schreiner comes to mind, although he contributed to the Four Views on Paul (Zondervan 2012).

One important view missing in this book is the Apocalyptic Paul. Of course editorial choices must be made and keeping these multi-perspective books to four or five is likely the preference of the publishers. In my review of Voices and Views on Paul, I complained there was too much New Perspective and the Paul within Judaism view was missing. Perhaps this book could have been improved by expanding the introduction to include Dunn’s views, allowing for a chapter on Apocalyptic perspective. However, this would deprive the reader from enjoying one of the last essays Dunn wrote. In fact, the book is worth reading, if only for Dunn’s contributions.

Book Review: Brant Pitre, Michael Barber, and John Kincaid. Paul, A New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology

Pitre, Brant, Michael P. Barber, John A. Kincaid. Paul, a New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2019. 310 pp. Pb; $35.00.   Link to Eerdmans 

In the introduction to this volume on Pauline theology, the authors state their modest goal of contributing to a few of the major debates within scholarship, limiting themselves to recent exegesis of Paul’s undisputed letters (6). This requires unpacking Pauline theology in the light of the original context.

Pitre, New Covenant JewThe first two chapters of the book examine Paul’s relationship with Judaism. Would Paul have identified himself as a “former Jew?” For most twentieth century Pauline scholarship, the answer is “yes.” Paul was a former Jew in the sense that he underwent some sort of conversion experience and became, in the view of Rudolf Bultmann, a representative of “Torah Free Gentile Christianity.” Although the authors of this volume do not use the term, this view is the Old Perspective on Paul challenged by E. P Sanders.

Others consider Paul to represent an Eschatological Jew. This view would answer the question, “Would Paul have identified himself as a former Jew?” with a “sort of.” The authors follow Dunn in this section, although they do not refer to this as the “New Perspective on Paul.” Rather than focus on how Paul’s theology cuts across the grain of the Judaism of his day, this position would argue Paul in some ways stays within Judaism. James Dunn argued Paul experienced a conversion, but it was “a conversion to a better, a more correct understanding of [God’s] will and purpose for Israel” (23, citing Dunn’s Jesus Paul and the Gospels, 141). Three things stand out in this perspective. First, the “already” of the new creation began with Jesus. For Paul, becoming a Christian means becoming a new creation. Second, this new creation is to be “in Christ” rather than “under the Law.” This participation in Christ is central to Paul’s theology. Third, the “not yet” of new creation implies an end-time conversion of the remnant (Romans 11:26).

A third view is Paul as a Torah-observant Jew. This is often called the “Paul within Judaism” and is represented by the work of Mark Nanos, Paula Fredriksen, Magnus Zetterholm, and Pamela Eisenbaum This view of Paul would answer the question, “Would Paul have identified himself as a former Jew?” with a resounding “no.” Paul did not convert to Christianity and he never uses the term “Christian” to refer to himself or any other believer in Jesus. Paul continued to observe the Torah and would have told a Jewish convert to continue observing the law. Paul did not require Gentiles to keep the law on order to be right with God. Since the authentic letters of Paul were written exclusively to gentile audiences, modern scholars on;y hear Pau’s argument against Gentiles keeping the law. Regarding Romans 11:26, opponents of this view argue Paul does not say “all Israel will convert to Christianity” but “all Israel will confess Jesus as Messiah.”

On contrast to these three views, Pitre, Barber and Kincaid describe Paul as a “New Covenant Jew” because that is the terminology he uses to describe himself (39). They build on the work of Protestant scholars like Michael Gorman, Richard Hays, N. T. Wright, Michael Bird and Catholic scholars like Joseph Fitzmyer, Frank Matera and Scott Hahn. Since this description is “drawn from the Jewish scriptures (Jer 31:31-34), it has within itself the power to account for elements of both continuity (“covenant”) in discontinuity (“new”) with Judaism on Paul’s theology” (39). Paul understands himself as a minister of this new covenant and that there is always a balance of divine and human actions n Paul’s theology. To argue “the law is not sufficient to save is hardly anti-Jewish” (45). In fact, for Paul, “the new covenant involves emotive faithful obedience that transcends that which was possible under the Torah” (63).

Another aspect of the question “What kind of Jew was Paul?” is the recent trend in Pauline scholarship to describe his theology as apocalyptic. By apocalyptic, some scholars mean radical discontinuity between the ages is often described as a “eschatological invasion” (J. Louis Martyn, Douglas Campbell, for example). Other scholars use the term “apocalyptic” to emphasize continuity between Paul’s teaching and its early Jewish context (N. T. Wright, Michael Gorman, for example). The authors attempt a “both-and” approach which argues Paul’s theology is deeply rooted in early Jewish apocalypses (continuity), but he radically transformed that Jewish theology around the revelation of what God has done in Christ (discontinuity). Jewish eschatology can be described as “two worlds theology,” this age and the age to come. In Paul, these worlds overlap. This world is giving way to the world to come; the old creation is becoming a new creation. The overlap of the ages Paul describes as “in Christ” (73). This is clear in Paul’s contrast between a heavenly citizenship in an earthly citizenship. Yet for Paul, Christians two realms, they are still on earth, yet they are also in the heavens (88). Paul makes claims that are indeed radically discontinuous with the Judaism of his day. But he describes the revelation of Jesus Christ in this new age in ways that are consistent with the Second Temple Judaism.

The next three chapters apply this view of Paul as a New Covenant Jew to three theological issues: Christology, the Cross and the Atonement, and New Covenant justification through divine sonship.  In each Paul’s theology is in some ways consistent with Second Temple Judaism, yet in other important ways it breaks new ground. With respect to Christology, the authors observe that Paul is deeply rooted in first century Judaism. Yet at the same time he goes well beyond early Jewish sources in his messianic claims (96). There is no doubt that Paul understood Jesus as the Messiah. Yet he also clearly teaches that Jesus has equality with God Philippians 2. In 1 Corinthians 8:5-6, Paul inserts Jesus into the Shema, “there is one God and one Lord” (116). Paul describes “Christ’s relationship with believers in terms that Jewish readers would have associated exclusively with the one God of the Shema (Deut 6:4-6)” (123).  

Regarding the cross and the atonement, the both-and approach emphasizes Jesus’s death is a sacrifice of atonement or redemption (continuity), yet Paul insists salvation occurs through a divine gift of love (discontinuity, 130). Atonement, ransom, and redemption are the vocabulary of Second Temple Judaism, yet Jesus’s death is not only a sacrifice. Certainly, Paul presents Jesus’s death is a covenant sacrifice, but he emphasizes that Jesus gave himself for us he underscores the gracious nature of Christ’s work on the cross. This chapter is deeply influenced by John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2015).

This discussion of the atonement leads naturally to Paul’s view of justification. Pitre, Barber and Kincaid observe much of the contemporary debate and Reformation theological disputes neglect the way justification terminology would have been understood in ancient Judaism. They therefore discuss whether Paul’s doctrine of justification brings about a “change in character” or a “change in legal status” (163). Once again, Barclay’s Paul and the Gift influences the discussion. The authors agree with him that “Paul avoids viewing the divine and human actors as somehow in competition with one another” (169). In the old covenant the problem was always the heart of God’s people. The people could not keep the Torah because the Torah could not change the people. The authors conclude “saving righteousness of God in justification is a singular righteousness that concerns both legal standing and the quality of the believer” (179).

Early in the book, the authors observe Paul’s new covenant ministry among the Corinthian’s involved the liturgical celebration of the new covenant in the Last Supper (47). This is developed in more detail in chapter 6, “The Lord’s Supper in the New Creation.” The authors continue to work their both-and method. The Lord’s Supper celebrates the sacrificial death of Christ. As such, there are numerous allusions to Jewish sacrificial tradition in the key passage in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, especially when read alongside Exodus 24:6-8. Since Paul connects Christ’s death as a covenant sacrifice to the Passover lamb, he emphasizes that Christ’s sacrifice would involve a cultic meal (239). This is the continuity with the old age; the discontinuity is Paul’s insistence that the bread in the cup or a foretaste of the new creation found in the life-giving Spirit (243). By participating in the Lord Supper, “the gathered community becomes what is consumed, the body of Christ” (250).  

Conclusion. Pitre, Barber and Kincaid suggest a slightly new way for reading Paul as a “New Covenant Jew” that take seriously recent studies in both the Apocalyptic Paul and the “Paul within Judaism” view. A “both-and method” stresses Paul’s continuity with his Jewish world, as well as his view of the radical changes to that world caused by the apocalyptic appearance of Jesus “between the ages.” As with most both-and positions, both Apocalyptic Paul scholars and Paul within Judaism” scholars will probably find the New Covenant Paul as familiar, yet not quite satisfying. Nevertheless, this is a stimulating account of Paul’s thought which gives voice to Paul’s roots in the Jewish world without ignoring the radical nature of his thought.

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Ben Witherington III and Jason A. Myers, Voices and Views on Paul

Witherington III, Ben and Jason A. Myers. Voices and Views on Paul: Exploring Scholarly Trends. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. 233 pp. Pb; $30.  Link to IVP Academic

As the promotional material for this new book from IVP Academic indicates, there have been several major works published on Paul and his theology since Witherington’s The Paul Quest (InterVarsity, 1998).  Both James Dunn and N. T. Wright published massive theologies of Paul. E. P. Sanders published a book on Paul and his Letters in 2015. John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift is widely regarded as a major contribution to Pauline studies. The goal of this book is to summarize the “latest developments” in Pauline studies beginning with a New Perspective on Paul.

Witherington, Voices and Views on PaulAccording to the preface, Witherington’s contribution to this book includes the chapter on N. T. Wright and the section on John Barclay and Stephen Chester; everything else was written by Myers. Both of Witherington’s contributions contain material which originally appeared on his blog.

The first chapter offers on overview on the New Perspective on Paul beginning with Krister Stendahl. This “retrospective” is a preview of the next three chapters which each deal with a major writer associated with the New Perspective, E. P. Sanders (“The Sanders Revolution”), N. T. Wright (“Climbing the Wright Mountain”) and James Dunn (“with Paul and the Boundary Markers”). Each of these chapters describes some of the influences which led to the scholar’s major contributions on Paul. Ths is followed by a fair summary of the details of the view and some critique. Occasionally this critique is quite pointed. For example, in discussing N. T. Wright’s view of the law of Christ, Witherington declares that Wright is simply wrong (p. 75). Later he offers his opinion that Stephen Chester’s view of Romans 7 “founders on the rocks of Philippians 3:6” (198).

The fifth chapter sketches the origins and current state of the apocalyptic reading of Paul. After defining apocalyptic, the chapter begins with Johannes Weiss who focused attention on the apocalyptic elements in Jesus’s teaching and Albert Schweitzer who argued Paul was a thoroughgoing apocalyptic thinker. However, Myers sees Ernst Käsemann’s challenge to Bultmann as the bedrock of the modern apocalyptic Paul view. He summarizes, “Käsemann put forth a radical vision of Paul captured and enraptured his students as well as subsequent interpreters of Paul” (150). These subsequent interpreters include J. Christiaan Beker, J. Louis Martyn, Martinus de Boer, and Beverly Gaventa. Martyn’s commentary on Galatians (AB, 1997) is perhaps the fullest statement of the apocalyptic view, although he published an article as early as 1967 which laid the foundation for his later work. Although Käsemann saw the parousia as the main apocalyptic event, Martyn focused his attention on the cross as the key example of Paul’s apocalyptic thought. For Martyn, it is the cross the divides the ages and represents God’s invasion of this word to defeat the dark forces. Following Jorge Frey, Myers finds this proposal of an invasion to be “deeply flawed and to be a seeming modern attempt to make sense of an ancient world” (160).

The final chapter covers two “Other Voices, Other Views,” John Barclay and Stephen Chester. Barclay’s Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2017) studies grace in an ancient context in order to create a broad taxonomy (“perfections”). One contribution of Barclay’s study is to point out how Grace functions differently an ancient benefaction culture (we are a gift often implied some responsibility or expectation of a return gift) than it does in a modern context (which usually emphasizes a gift given with no thought of return). Although this conclusion does not appear until the final chapter, the writers suggest that Barclay’s view on grace could really change the understanding of some aspects of Paul’s thought (222).

The second half of this chapter focuses on Stephen Chester’s Reading with the Reformers: Reconciling the Old and New Perspectives (Eerdmans, 2017). Chester argues later Lutheran and Reformed traditions do not always engage with the reformers themselves and do not always do justice to their views on Paul. The New Perspective challenged some classic reformation formulations of justification by faith or imputation of sin. What Chester just is that the new perspective is challenging Lutheran and Reformed descendants of Luther and Calvin rather than the reformers themselves.

In a final chapter, Witherington and Myers ask if there is an “Appalling Amount of Paul” in New Testament scholarship today. As it turns out, there may not be enough. They offer three examples. The views covered in this book do not focus on how radical Paul was from a Jewish perspective. Certainly “Paul the Jew” is more prominent since E. P. Sanders, but this is not the central focus of most Pauline studies.  Second, the writers complain most of these studies “truncate Paul” by ignoring books like 2 Thessalonians or Colossians (they do not even mention Ephesians or the Pastorals). Third, another serious omission in most Pauline studies is an account of Paul the missionary. Part of the problem is suspicion of the historical value of the book of Acts in scholarship. Yet Paul presents himself as a preacher of the gospel in his letters. How might Paul’s role as a missionary affect his theology?

Conclusion. I have a few minor quibbles regarding the content. Rather than four chapters on the New Perspective on Paul (the retrospective and one chapter each on Sanders, Dunn, and Wright), this book could be improved by devoting at least a full chapter to the so-called “Paul within Judaism” approach, probably featuring Mark Nanos (which would provide at least one more bad pun in a chapter title). Nanos (and similar scholars) are relegated to a footnote in the concluding chapter. In the chapter on the apocalyptic Paul, they only mention Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God (Eerdmans 2009) in a footnote. Given his weighty contribution, Campbell deserved more attention. However, given the goals for this short book, decisions needed to be made and not everyone’s favorite Pauline interpreter will make the cut.

This book will make an excellent textbook for a Pauline literature course at the undergraduate or graduate level. In fact, seminaries should require this book to give a quick overview of Pauline studies over the last 30 years. The authors have clearly and concisely summarized massive quantities of Pauline theology and made it accessible to those who don’t have the time to wade through a 1700-page book on Pauline Theology.

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

2 Timothy 4:6-8 – Paul’s Last Words

Despite his certain execution, Paul knows that he has been faithful to his calling from God. Paul describes himself as already “being poured out like a drink offering.” This is a particularly vivid image that anyone in the ancient world would understand.

The verb is a single word (σπένδω) usually translated as the phrase “poured out like a drink offering.” This refers to pouring wine (or water) onto the altar as the main sacrifice was being burned. In Num 15:24, for example, a sacrifice is a “pleasing aroma to the Lord” and is accompanied by an offering of wine and grain as well. A drink offering is never the main sacrifice, it is one that is given along with the main sacrifice.

Good FightPaul used this same word in Phil 2:17 in a similar context, he refers to his life as a kind of sacrifice that accompanies the “main sacrifice.” In Philippians 2:17, the main sacrifice is the faith of the Philippian church. Here in 2 Tim 4:6 Paul does not specify the main offering. Perhaps he is thinking of Jesus as the main sacrifice for sin, and the martyrdom of the believer as that which accompanies the main sacrifice.

He uses three metaphors to describe his faithfulness to his commission. In each of these three lines Paul emphasizes the object, “the fight, I fought, the race, I finished, the faith, I kept.”

The phrase “fought the good fight” is common in contemporary English, but usually it refers to making a very good effort. But the adjective “good” modifies the noun, so it is a “good fight.” Paul’s point is that is life was like a long boxing match, but the reason for the fight was good and anyone who takes up that fight after he departs will also be “fighting a good fight.” It is the task to which Paul was called was good, as opposed to the false teachers who also fight (about words, etc.). They are “fighting the pointless fight.”

The second metaphor is also sports-related. Paul has “finished the race.” Looking ahead at the end of this section, Paul knows that he has competed well and will have his reward when he stands before the judge.

Third, looking back on his ministry, Paul can say he has “kept the faith.” This ought to understood of what the “faith” means in 2 Timothy. He has not qualified or compromised his doctrine in the face of persecution.

Paul was prepared to preach his gospel whenever and wherever he was called, he was ultimately committed to “discharge the duties of a minister of the gospel.” Even in his death, Paul is setting himself up for Timothy as an example. Being faithful to the Gospel is dangerous and may very well put Timothy in same sort of imprisonment Paul is facing at this moment.

In fact, Paul has already been “rescued from the lion’s mouth,” despite no one coming to his defense (vv. 16-17). The “earlier defense” could refer to the end of the book of Acts, Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome. But Paul seems to be referring to more recent events, so it is likely that he has in mind a preliminary trial after his second arrest in Rome, perhaps just after the Fire of Rome.

The reference to being saved from the “mouth of the lions” could be literal, but if it is it means that he was not thrown to the lions when he might have been. It is not the case that he was in the arena about to be killed and somehow he was rescued. Think of this as someone who is acquitted from a capital offense “escaping the hangman’s noose.” The important fact is that God rescued him despite the fact that no human came to his defense.

Finally, Paul looks forward to standing before his Lord “in that Day. ”The “day” refers to the moment when Paul stands before the judgment seat of Christ and receives a victor’s crown. That he is “in Christ” qualifies him to stand there, not the fact that he ran the race well or that he finished the race to which he was called

Paul will receive a “crown of righteousness.” This is the natural metaphor that follows from the use of a race or a boxing match a few lines before. But is this righteousness a description of the crown, or is righteousness itself the reward? Typically we focus on justification as righteousness given to the believer in Christ at the moment of salvation, in other texts Paul looks at our ultimate justification (being made righteous) at the resurrection (Gal 5:5).

Paul’s final words to Timothy focus on the Gospel. Like Timothy, we must continue being faithful to our calling and stand on the foundation of Scripture, clearly proclaiming the gospel. This is the “good fight” to which we have all been called.

2 Timothy 3:13-15 – Avoiding Self-Deception

MontebankThe opponents in Ephesus stand in contrast to Paul’s record of suffering (v. 13) It is Paul and Timothy’s opponents who are the imposters. The noun (γόης) Paul uses here is a common way to describe an opponent in a philosophical debate. The noun originally referred to a sorcerer (T.Sol 19:3 uses it for a witch, Herodotus, Hist. 7.791.2 for magicians, sometimes it refers to a “juggler,” [Aeschines, Ctes. 137], presumably because they do some sort of distracting act while they pick the pockets of the crowd.).

By the first century this word was used to describe a swindler or a con-man who used some kind of deception to gain a profit from his audience. I think of the character from old Western movies, the “snake oil salesman.” The Greek writer Demosthenes used the word in this sense: “for fear I should mislead and deceive you, calling me an artful speaker, a mountebank, an impostor, and so forth” (Dem., 18 276).

Ironically, these deceivers succeed in deceiving themselves! This is also a common way of describing sophists and charlatans in Greco-Roman world (Dio Chrysostom, Orations, 4.33). The way to avoid these sorts of people is proper “divine” education (4.29).

Dio Chrysostom, Orations 4.33 If, however, he falls in with some ignorant and charlatan sophist, the fellow will wear him out by leading him hither and thither, dragging him now to the east and now to the west and now to the south, not knowing anything himself but merely guessing, after having been led far afield himself long before by impostors like himself.

Similarly, the way to avoid the self-deceptive teaching of the opponents in Ephesus is to devote oneself to divine teaching through the Scripture which has been given by God.

Paul encourages Timothy to “continue in what he has learned” from the Scriptures (vv. 14-15). Timothy was trained in the scripture from a young age. Jewish family, reading the Old Testament in Greek (most likely). While the opponents are progressing into more esoteric “deep” knowledge, Timothy is told to remain where he is. He has already learned the truth and has been convinced that it is the truth. There is no need for him to dabble in the “myths and genealogies” of the opponents.

The Jews regularly referred to their scriptures as “sacred writings,” Paul can only have in mind here the Old Testament. At this point in history it is unlikely that the Gospels were circulating as Scripture, perhaps Paul’s churches cherished his letters as authoritative. But the New Testament as we know it simply does not exist yet!

Paul says Timothy was “raised on the Old Testament.” We know that his mother was Jewish and it is likely that he was taught the Old Testament, perhaps having some training in the Septuagint and Hebrew Bible in a synagogue. I doubt that Paul selected Timothy as a missionary companion if he was totally ignorant of the Bible prior to coming to faith in Jesus!

The remedy for self-deception, for Paul, is an absolute reliance on the Scripture for faith and practice. While the opponents in Ephesus pursue fruitless “myths and genealogies” Timothy is to remember what the Scriptures plainly teach and pursue righteousness.

I suspect if people actually read the Bible, they would not tolerate the sort of “teaching” that passes for popular Christian preaching!