Monday, April 11, 2016

Book review of E. P. Sanders, Paul: The Apostle's Life, Letters, and Thought

Sanders, E. P.
Paul: The Apostle’s Life, Letters, and Thought
Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2015. Pp. xxxv + 862. Paper.
Price $39. ISBN 9780800629564.

Yung Suk Kim
Virginia Union University
Richmond, Virginia

This introductory book on Paul by Sanders is the longest book (862 pages except for front matters) that I have ever reviewed and is also the most comprehensive volume about Paul and his major letters (1 Thess, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, and Romans). This book is, in a way, a compilation and the product of his lifelong studies on Paul, aiming at first-time readers of Paul. But this does not mean that this book’s content is easy or shallow, or that its argumentation is naïve or simplistic. Part 1 (with 4 chapters of more than 140 pages), Paul’s Life, is very clear and profoundly handles Paul’s life from critical historical perspectives. Then Part 2 (which is 20 chapters long!), The Letters, contains a vast amount of complex information and discussions partly because it covers too many topics given the space and partly because the topics themselves are difficult exegetical issues (for example, homosexual activity in 1 Corinthians). There are two appendixes attached at the end of the book, which are very helpful for in-depth researchers who want to go deeper in matters of Paul’s theology: “Homosexual Practices in Greece and Rome”; “Where Was Galatia? Who Were the Galatians?” This book also includes various helpful indexes plus a short glossary: index of ancient and biblical literature, index of authors, and index of subjects. It is no question that Sanders is one of the most erudite Pauline scholars who not only has published a number of important works on Paul, but has paved a new way of understanding Paul’s relationship to, or background of, first-century (and Second-Temple) Judaism, which is not a legalistic religion but the religion of grace. But even with this new understanding of Judaism in the first century, I cannot help but say that in the end Sanders’ conclusion about Paul’s thought or theology is very limited, as I shall come back to this later.

First, obviously, Sanders’ method is historical-critical literary approach, and he seems to say that he is not interested in theological interpretation of scriptures, having an attitude that Paul is Paul and he is not us. Well, that is a good position taken by historians. But this dichotomous position between then and now is not really desirable to take because virtually every interpretation, including a self-proclaimed, objective historian like Sanders, is contextual and ideologically minded. I say this because every interpretation is presupposed. For example, one of Sanders’ undergirding pillars for his view of Paul is the so-called Two Dispensations (Law’s period and Christ’s era), which is his hermeneutical choice. Otherwise, the text does not refer to the two periods in a pellucid context. Another example is his interpretation of the Greek genitive pistis christou (“faith of Christ”), and he chooses to go with the objective genitive meaning (“faith in Christ”) even if he acknowledges that a majority of scholars go with the subjective genitive meaning (Christ’s faithfulness). Otherwise, he never refers to Christ’s faith. That is clearly his choice in matters of translation and interpretation. An irony is that while Sanders attacks Luther’s legalistic interpretation of Judaism and Law, he ends up with another Luther interpretation because his primary interpretation of Paul is always “righteousness by faith in Christ,” which  is called the forensic salvation perspective (like an imputed or imparted righteousness in the case of Augustine and Luther). When Sanders says, “What is wrong with the Jews is that they are not Christian; what is wrong with Judaism is that it does not accept Christianity” (681), this conclusion reflects his own hermeneutical lens about Paul; in other words, he read Paul’s mind through his own mind. Otherwise, there are no crystal-clear references about this in Paul’s text. I will come back to this issue later. Again, while Sanders’ historical-critical literary method produces a wealth of good, sound information about Paul and his thought, his interpretation is very limited because of his reading lens as such, exposing weaknesses here and there.

Second, Sanders’ major arguments in this book are many, so I will list some and briefly explain them below:
1.      Eschatology: The dominant view of Paul’s eschatology is the imminent Parousia when there will be a one-time complete transformation. So much so that in 1 Thessalonians, one of his early letters, Paul told the Thessalonians to earnestly wait for the day of the Lord. But as time went and new situations arose to Paul’s ministry such as in Corinth or in Galatia, Paul needed to deal with them, and the solution was to comfort them with realized eschatology: God is already here and the Spirit is already here for Christians. While Paul’s imminent eschatology did not change drastically, he adopted elements of realized eschatology in dealing with local congregations. In the end, Paul’s eschatology may be characterized with the “already but not yet” slogan.
2.      The Two Dispensations: Paul thought about his relationship with Judaism through these two dispensations: Judaism and Christianity. The logic is that if one is right, the other must be wrong. Law is good because it is God’s gift, but it must be bad because it is not Christ.
3.      Erga nomou (“Works of the law”) in Gal 2:16 and elsewhere does not refer to the Torah in general or to good deeds, but it refers to specific laws that regulate matters of Jewish identity; for example: laws regarding circumcision, food, and the Sabbath. That is, a different gospel preached at Galatia, according to Paul, is a strings-attached gospel. What is wrong with this attachment is not because it is law but because gentiles are forced to become Jewish. Compulsion is a problem because such laws are not essential to the gentiles.
4.      Pistis christou: As I mentioned before, Sanders persistently translates this famous phrase (e.g., Rom 3:21-26 and Gal 2:16) as “faith in Christ” (an objective genitive sense). This decision by Sanders has to do with his view of the Two Dispensations.
5.      Dikaiosyne theou (“the righteousness of God”) in Rom 3:21-26 and Gal 2:16 is understood as an individual righteousness (so the objective genitive meaning). Otherwise, he does not talk about God’s righteousness (the subjective genitive).
6.      Soma christou (“The body of Christ”) is found in 1 Cor 6:15-16; 10:16; 12:27, and Rom 7:4. Sanders clearly connects “the body of Christ” in 1 Cor 12:27 to an organism metaphor. However, “the body of Christ” in 1 Cor 6:15-15; 10:16, and 12:27 in particular has more to do with “union with Christ,” which requires participation in Christ in some way that he does not specify.
7.      Christology: In Rom 1:4, Jesus is “declared to be the son of God,” which implies that Jesus was adopted as the son of God. This language of adoption seems to be Paul’s main Christology. At other times, however, his Christology is high, as he employs the Christ hymn in Phil 2:6-11.
8.      The role of the Spirit: Sanders articulates on Paul’s diverse expressions of the Spirit. The Spirit is the Spirit of God, and at other times it is also the Spirit of Jesus. The Spirit is responsible for Christian life from beginning to end. The Spirit language also has to do with sonship: children of God are those who are led by the Spirit.
9.      The role of Jesus’ death: In Rom 3:21-26, Jesus’ death is necessary for redemption of Christians once and for all. There will be no salvation without Jesus’ death.
10.  Resurrection body in 1 Cor 15: Paul’s view of the resurrection body is not a resurrection of the flesh, but it is a spiritual body, an oxymoronic expression.
11.  Place of Israel: Paul defends the place of Israel (Rom 9-11): “All Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:26); similarly, Paul says, “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” This sounds like universal salvation in the end.
12.  Law: Paul’s view or use of the Law is mixed and conflicting: 1) according to the two dispensations, the Law must be bad because there is a new way of Christ which is through faith in Christ; 2) but it must be good as well because it is God’s gift. Yet, there are other kinds of good ethical laws that must be kept all the time (for example: love of God and love of neighbor), whereas some laws (“works of the law”) are not essential to keep for the gentiles.

Third, Sanders’ strong points in this book will be briefly mentioned. He is most erudite in the area of Second-Temple Judaism’s literature and its intersections with Paul’s life and thought. Part 1, Paul’s Life (about 140 pages, a book length), is, in my view, the treasure of the book because there is ample information and discussions about Paul’s life. Overall, Sanders’ reading of Paul’s method is very convincing; that is, he argues that Paul starts with local contextual issues and draws conclusions first, followed by his various supportive arguments, sometimes with terminological arguments. In that sense, Paul’s scriptural interpretation method is not unique but similar to other Jews. The only difference with his contemporaries is that he has his Christ-leaned conclusions already. So Sanders is right when he says that Paul is not a systematic theologian but a minister-theologian (traveling) who deals with everyday issues throughout his gentile mission.

However, there are a few weaknesses in his arguments. First, there is no consideration of the subjective genitive meaning of pistis christou (“faith of Christ”) in his interpretation of Paul. In fact, as many scholars already pointed out the importance of the subjective genitive meaning (Christ’s faith), the subjective interpretation makes a more sense than the objective one. Second, likewise, dikaiosyne theou (“the righteousness of God”) was understood as an individual righteousness. But in fact, Paul’s gospel begins with God (“the good news of God” in Rom 1:1; 15:6). So it would be certainly very plausible to read the dikaiosyne theou phrase as a subjective genitive (God’s righteousness) because it is God’s initiative of love and justice, which is shown in the world through Christ’s faithfulness (Rom 3:22). This subjective meaning makes a smoother and more logical sense than the other. This understanding seems clear in Rom 3:22: “God’s righteousness through Christ’s faith for all who have faith.” Look, what Paul says here is that God’s righteousness coming through Jesus’ faith may reach people who also have faith like Jesus or like Abraham (I may call this kind of Paul’s gospel “threefold theology of Paul”). Third, Sanders’ interpretation of soma christou (“the body of Christ”), as I stated before, is very limited because the body metaphor can be read as a living metaphor. He is actually close to that possibility of reading in 1 Cor 6:15-16 and 10:16 where he talks about unity and participation in Christ. It would have been better if Sanders had thought about a “living” metaphor—so “the body of Christ” as Christ-like body because the body is a site of living. Fourth, the Two Dispensations theory is weak because for Paul, Christ can be understood as fulfilling the law as in Rom 10:4, not replacing it. The problem is not the Torah itself but the crooked human heart, the misuse of the law, or the narrow interpretation of the law, which is shown for example in the issue of circumcision in Galatians.

Before closing, I like to mention the book’s stylistic issues. There are too many repetitions and/or redundancies of the same ideas or words throughout the book; I read the author’s excuses about this in the Introduction. But those excuses cannot justify this. Chapters in Part 2 may need a clearer structure than the current because there are some topics that keep coming throughout. I also have to say that I noticed an embarrassing error in the middle of the book; there are four columns of translations (four different versions), but they were completely messed up with the author’s translation missing and with mistaken headings of versions (512).

Even if there are some limitations in his arguments or things to which I cannot agree, it is no question that I owe Sanders a lot in my in-depth understanding of Paul. I admire his critical spirit and rigorous approach to Paul and his letters that defies an easy compromise with any. I thank him for this lengthy, yet informative book on Paul that will last long for generations to come. I have no hesitation that I will highly recommend this valuable book to anyone who wants to engage Paul in his historical context, especially in view of first-century (and Second-Temple) Judaism and Jewish Diaspora experience.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Renewal of New Testament Theology

The Renewal of New Testament Theology (Cascade, 2015)


''Farewell to New Testament theology as usual. Kim has struck the heart of the matter. This is a bold and fresh reading that seeks to resurrect a Jesus who points his finger to God and squarely situate him in his first-century Palestinian context. Reading Jesus against the grain, Kim provides a provocative textbook that is sure to stimulate interest and discussion. For those who had abandoned, domesticated, or otherwise misappropriated Jesus, this is a must-read.''
--Robert Wafawanaka, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Virginia Union University, author of Am I Still My Brother's Keeper?

''This is a book that both theologians and biblical scholars--who have been concerned about an unnecessary dichotomy between the two disciplines--have long awaited. Readers will deeply appreciate Kim's clear and fresh approach to New Testament theology as a process of discerning and engaging historical Jesus and New Testament texts. I highly recommend this book not only for research but also as a textbook for various courses in theological education.''
--Seung Ai Yang, Associate Professor of New Testament at Chicago Theological Seminary

''Yung Suk Kim's Resurrecting Jesus is a rare synthesis of historical criticism and spiritual passion. Kim boldly challenges the conventional divide between theology and history. Making the words and deeds of the historical Jesus the foundation for theology, Kim redefines central concepts of the New Testament in ways that are relevant to seekers for ethical consistency in a harsh world.''
--L. L. Welborn, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, Fordham University --Wipf and Stock Publishers
The Renewal of New Testament Theology (Cascade, 2015)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The most selfish form of religion

"You die, and I don't die."
This is a most selfish saying that we may find in the most popular segments of Christianity.
The idea and confidence with this belief is that Jesus' death is good enough that there is no more death needed for salvation. It is like saying: "Jesus suffered for me and so I don't suffer any more." That is what Mel Gibson's movie THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST tries to convey to people without asking the ugliness of evil and violence done on to Jesus.

Most critically and candidly speaking, Jesus did not come to die; rather, his death is a result of what he said and did for the kingdom of God (better to say "God's rule of peace, justice, and mercy").

Paul says that "Jesus was crucified by weakness (eks astheneias)" (2 Cor 13:4a). The often translation of Jesus' Crucifixion "in weakness" does not seem to convey the intended meaning by Paul, who acknowledges Jesus' weakness (not acting like weak, but he was weak and could not overcome violence).

Jesus looked like he failed. But God makes him alive (2 Cor 13:4b). It is God who raised him and made him alive now. The true form of religion is based on other-centered life and sacrifice; the rest is up to God.

In light of the above, I am concerned that Jesus is being misrepresented in popular circles of Christianity today. How can we separate Jesus' death from ours? Jesus died, so do we.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

the difference between philosophy, theology, and science

If you are asked where you are from, you will answer in some different ways.
Philosophy says, "I don't know." It is true that philosophy assumes that we human beings are not capable of knowing where we are from. No one knows the answer; yet philosophy attempts to answer. That is the beauty and value of philosophy. Answer-seeking attitude distingushes humans from other beings.

Theology (or religion) says, "I am from God." Most theological discourses begin with God. So much so that many people believe that they come from God. They presuppose the ultimate being beyond the world and try to live according to the divine will.

Science says, "I am from my parents." For example, who I am today can be explained through my parents and their influence. Physically and spiritually, I must have inherited their gifts and characters.

All these answers are legitimate and important. I mean we need all of these: philosophy, theology (or religion) and science. The only difference is that each deals with different aspects of origin/meaning of life.

Friday, November 27, 2015

My Paul book was translated into Korean

I am so glad that one of my Paul books was translated into Korean and published by SamIn, in Seoul, Korea. The book is about Paul's threefold theology or gospel. The English title is A Theological Introduction to Paul's Letters: Exploring a Threefold Theology of Paul (Cascade Books, 2011). I hope this book will impact Korean scholars and Christianity in ways that they may relive the heart of Paul's gospel in today's world. I sincerely thank Rev. Dr. Jinseong Woo for his hard work of Korean translation.

바울의 삼중 신학
김영석 지음 | 우진성 옮김 | 삼인 | 2015년 12월 03일 출간


한국어판 서문



1장 바울은 어떻게 해석되어 왔는가?
ㆍ 법정적 구원의 관점
ㆍ 사회과학적 혹은 사회학적 접근
ㆍ 바울에 대한 ‘새 관점’
ㆍ 묵시 신학적 접근
ㆍ 정치적?이데올로기적 읽기
ㆍ 요약

2장 바울의 삼중 신학을 향하여
ㆍ 바울의 삶
ㆍ 바울 신학의 중심 이슈와 바울의 해결책: 율법, 죄, 생명에 대하여
ㆍ “그리스도의 몸으로 말미암아 율법에 대해서는 죽임을 당했습니다.”
ㆍ “그리스도는 율법의 끝마침이 되셔서”
ㆍ “율법의 행위”
ㆍ 요약

3장 바울의 삼중 신학
ㆍ 하나님의 의, 그리스도의 믿음, 믿는 자들이 이룬 “그리스도의 몸”
ㆍ 고린도전서에 나타난 삼중 신학 둘러보기
ㆍ 로마서에 나타난 삼중 신학 둘러보기
ㆍ 갈라디아서에 나타난 삼중 신학 둘러보기
ㆍ 요약

4장 “하나님의 의”
ㆍ 하나님의 의는 어떻게 이해되어 왔는가?
ㆍ 구약성서에 나타난 “하나님의 의”
ㆍ 제2성전 유대교와 디아스포라 경험 안의 “하나님의 의”
ㆍ 로마 제국의 의/정의
ㆍ 바울과 “하나님의 의”
ㆍ 바울서신에 나타난 “하나님의 의”
ㆍ 로마서 1장 16~17절과 3장 21~26절에 나타난 “하나님의 의”
ㆍ “하나님의 의”, 하나님의 복음
ㆍ “하나님의 의”, 하나님의 결정적인 역사 개입
ㆍ 요약

5장 “그리스도의 믿음”
ㆍ 바울서신에 나타난 “그리스도의 믿음”
ㆍ 구약성서에 나타난 메시아
ㆍ 제2성전 유대교와 디아스포라 경험 속에서의 메시아
ㆍ 그리스-로마 제국에서의 메시아
ㆍ 바울과 “그리스도의 믿음”
ㆍ 바울서신에 나타난 “그리스도의 믿음”
ㆍ Pistis Christou 요약
ㆍ 요약

6장 믿는 자들이 이룬 “그리스도의 몸”
ㆍ 바울서신에 나타난 “그리스도의 몸”
ㆍ 구약성서에 나타난 인간 문제
ㆍ 제2성전 유대주의와 디아스포라 경험 속에 나타난 인간 문제
ㆍ 그리스-로마 시대의 인간 문제
ㆍ 바울과 “그리스도의 몸”
ㆍ 바울서신에 나타난 “그리스도의 몸”
ㆍ 고린도전서 12장 12~27절에 나타난 “그리스도의 몸”
ㆍ 요약

7장 그리스도를 “본받음”
ㆍ 헬라 전통 안의 미메시스
ㆍ 미메시스와 바울
ㆍ 본받음의 해석 방식
ㆍ 고린도전서 4장 16절과 11장 1절에 나타난 “본받는 사람들”
ㆍ 요약

8장 오늘날 바울을 어떻게 읽을 것인가?
ㆍ 바울 신학 요약

신학과 윤리를 융합한 바울의 삼중 신학 
버지니아유니온 대학의 김영석 교수는 총 세 권의 바울 연구서를 펴냈는데, 이 책은 그 가운데 가장 총론적인 저서다. 그는 이제까지의 바울 연구 경향을 다섯 가지로 구분하면서, 그 연구들이 중요한 성과를 냈음에도 공통으로 갖는 한계를 지적한다. 바로 윤리가 신학과 분리되어 있다는 점이다. 즉 바울을 아는 것과 실천하는 것은 별개가 된다는 이야기다. 따라서 이 책은 ‘하느님의 의’, ‘그리스도의 신실함’, ‘그리스도의 몸(인 우리)’이라는 바울의 핵심적인 세 키워드가 하나로 맞물리고 있는 의미를 집요하게 파헤친다. 그리고 ‘삼중 복음’이 하나로 만나는 지점에서 신학과 윤리의 융합을 가능하게 하는 바울의 핵심 의미를 도출한다. 저자는 미국에서 가장 활동적인 한국계 신학자다. 안타깝게도 한국의 독자들은 그를 거의 알지 못하지만, 독창적 바울 해석을 시도하는 이 책이 한국 신학계에 김영석이라는 이름을 알리는 문지방이 되리라 믿는다. ― 김진호(제3시대그리스도교연구소 연구실장, 『리부팅 바울』 저자)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

student learning experience by posting board

During the last class of Introduction to Biblical Studies, I asked my students to reflect on their learning experience. I remember that at the first class they were very concerned about passing of this course. The task was to explore what changes were made during their course work and learning process. For the first five minutes they individually reflected on their learning experience from day 1 to this day of the last class. In doing so, I told them to come up with some nouns, verbs, and adjectives that describe their learning experience. After this, I asked them to have conversation with the other peer next to each other. Lastly, all of them were divided into several groups. At this time, I asked them to write words or draw somthing in order to describe their experience of this course on their posting boards. Each group did it differently. Thanks for all students who participated in this class. The following postings were made and reported in class. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Luke 5:1-11 and reader-response questions

Luke 5:1-11:

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ 5Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

The following is a list of reader-response questions that I come up with:

-Why does Jesus stand at the lakeside?

-Why are the crowds thirsty for the word of God? What is the word of God that Jesus preaches?

-Why Jesus uses boats to teach them?

-Why Jesus uses Peter's boat?

-Why Jesus asks Peter to go to the deep water and let down the nets? (deep water as a difficult place or as an abundant place?)

-Why is there irony between success of many fish and crisis that boats begin to sink?

-Why does Peter say that "I am a sinful man!"? (Is he saying that 'I am nothing'?)

-What would be Peter's response to Jesus' word: "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people"?

-What caused Jesus' disciples to leave everything and follow him? To do what? Compare with the crowd's existence in the beginning of this text.