Getting Started in Book Reviews

I was asked recently how to get started doing book reviews.  I will give some brief remarks.  First, why do book reviews?  In my opinion, it is a great thing to do for several reasons. First, you get a free book!  Second, you learn how to read actively and critically (though not necessarily negatively).  Third, you are forced to read a whole book.  Often I just read parts of books for my research and that can sometimes become a bad habit where you are just plundering the texts for what you want.  Doing a book review forces you to read cover to cover and get a sense for the whole argument.  Finally, when you read other books, you think more about your own writing.  Am I writing clearly?  Is my thesis well-stated?  Are all of my chapters relevant?  Do I put too much unimportant info in footnotes?  All good things to think about.
Second preliminary matter  – does it help to do book reviews vis-a-vis my CV?  It can’t hurt, and its nice to get something under ‘published material’, but overall it doesn’t really count as publications.  Nevertheless, I often acquire textbooks for doing reviews and that way, when I look for a job, I am conversant in all the latest textbooks.  Also, I do reviews outside my primary research area (such as 1 Peter or the Gospel of John).  That helps me to be versatile.  I can teach in other subjects because I have read widely.

Ok, so here is the basic process.

1. You contact a journal ‘book review editor’ and introduce yourself.  Tell him or her a little bit about you and ask if you can do a book review.  YOu can find this editor usually on the website of the journal.  If you are a member of SBL, try  If you are a member of ETS, email their review editors.

2. The review editor will eventually furnish you with a list of books available for review.  Typically it is hard to just tell the editor what you want.  Chances are, if you want it, someone else (a much bigger scholar) has already ‘called it’.  Start off doing the books nobody else wants to.  Then you build some credibility with the journal.  After a dozen book reviews you might be able to make some requests.

3. The journal sends you the book (for free!) and you will have about 3 months to read and review the book.  They usually send instructions on length and formatting.  Most journals are about 300-700 words.  1000 words is a long for reviews, 200 is quite short.  They will specify.

4. YOU usually submit the review by email and when the journal volume is published it is common for them to send you a comp. copy (though not always).  NB: The editors are not usually responsible for copy-proofing the reviews, so be careful that you do not have typos.  I have seen a typo once in a while in my reviews and it is embarrassing for me and the journal.

That’s it!  Where to begin?  Find a journal you enjoy reading and contact the book review editor.  Don’t go for the really specialized journals (like JSNTS Booklist or NTS or JTS).  They require PhD grads to do reviews.  Go for a seminary journal or something on that level.  Ok, good luck!

More Abstracts available for British NT Conference seminars

We have awaited three groups posting their abstracts and paper titles for the British NT conference (Durham, Sept 4-6).  Two have posted recently.

Paul Seminar

Session 1:

Dr. Paul Ellingworth (Aberdeen)
‘”Nobody Knows de Trouble I Seen”: Hardship Lists in Paul and Elsewhere’The paper surveys discussions of Paul’s hardship lists from 1910 to 2007; analyzes the lists’ distinctive vocabulary and discourse structure; and briefly comments on their christological implications.
Professor George van Kooten (Groningen)
‘Paul and Pagan Traditions of Jewish Misanthropy’Normally, Paul’s depiction of the Jews as those ‘who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, displeasing God and opposing everyone by hindering us from speaking to the nations so that they may be saved’ (1 Thess 2.14-16) is first and foremost explained from an inner-Jewish perspective with the aid of O.H. Steck’s ‘Israel und das gewaltsame Geschick der Propheten’ (1967). Yet the latter part of his characterization of the Jews as ‘opposing everyone’ (kai pasin anthroopois enantioi) also calls for explanation in terms of particular pagan views on the Jews as misanthropists. In this paper I shall argue that in his letter to the ex-pagan Christian community at Thessalonica, Paul seems to draw on these anti-Jewish traditions. Although his aim is to argue that the ex-pagan Thessalonians suffered the same things from their own pagan compatriots as the Christian churches in Judea did from the Jews, it seems as if Paul draws upon distinctively pagan portrayals of Jews as opposed to everyone. It seems as if Paul tries to enhance his own universalist, Christian form of Judaism by portraying non-Christian Jews as ‘anti-globalist’, ethnocentric misanthropists who hinder him ‘from speaking to the nations’. In this paper I shall trace the anti-Jewish traditions Paul draws upon, explain how they fit in Paul’s universalist programme and reflect upon how Paul would have seen his own pre-Christian, ‘zealous’ involvement in the persecution of the Christian churches.

Session 2: Joint session with Acts Seminar

Paul’s Damascus Road experience
Papers by Dr Barry Matlock (University of Sheffield), from the perspective of the Pauline letters, and Tim Churchill (London School of Theology), from the perspective of Acts Response by Prof Loveday Alexander (University of Sheffield)

Download Churchill Paper
Download Matlock Paper

Session 3: Extended discussion seminar

Professor Dale B. Martin (Yale)
‘Angels, demons, and Paul’For the plenary session, Martin will present the materials on the relationship between angels and demons in pre-Pauline Jewish writings (LXX, 1 Enoch, Jubilees, Josephus) and make the point that for Paul these two beings are in different ontological categories, and that it was only after Paul that Christians began trying to put together demons and angels, making demons “fallen angels” and so forth. If we see Paul as assuming that demons are different ontological beings from angels we may view his cosmology a bit differently.

Then for the Paul seminar, Martin wishes to move the discussion more explicitly to whether this would affect the interpretation of the principalities and powers in Paul. Since it is easy to have a debate and discussion about whether those references in Paul refer to “supernatural” or human forces, or both, one possibility is to take the seminar into a discussion on that and how that would affect a reading of Paul’s politics.

So the plenary session would constitute mainly my presenting my research on the lack of identity between angels and demons in Judaism, suggesting that such was also the case for Paul. And the seminar would take off from there into a free-wheeling discussion of principalities and powers and politics in Paul, and whether those could be interpreted “cosmically” as well as politically.

In his response, Stuckenbruck will engage his recent research on apocalyptic traditions, and especially the influence and reception of the Fallen Angels Tradition in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity.

No paper will be distributed in advance for this session, as Martin’s paper will be presented in full on Friday afternoon.

New Testament and Second Temple Judaism Seminar

Session 1:

Preston Sprinkle
‘Beyond Covenant Nomism: Revisiting Palestinian Judaism in Light of Pseudo-Philo’s Biblical AntiquitiesThe impact that E.P. Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism has had on scholarship is well known, evinced by the 30 year wake of variegated responses. Scholars have examined and re-examined many Early Jewish books to vindicate, correct, or modify Sanders’s proposed soteriolgical framework of “covenant nomism.” Yet within this discussion one Palestinian work from this era has received little attention: Pseudo-Philo’s Biblical Antiquities (L.A.B.). This paper will examine L.A.B. in order to see if its soteriological structure exhibits “covenant nomism.” In particular, I will consider four key issues in the book: (1) the conditionality of the covenant, (2) the necessity of repentance in restoration, (3) the basis of God’s election of Abraham, and (4) whether or not God will judge the righteous on the basis of their deeds. In the end, I will suggest that not only does the book exhibit a framework akin to “covenant nomism,” but that it may go beyond it.

Session 2:

J. R. Dodson
‘Cosmology and the Personifications of Creation in Wisdom and Romans’Creation plays a critical role throughout Wisdom and Romans and, in fact, both authors refer to Creation with similar senses and statements. This paper shall specifically compare these two authors’ personifications of Creation beginning with their Greco-Roman backdrop, where we shall demonstrate that debate surrounded the topic of Creation during the time of our authors. After surveying this debate on the nature of Creation, we can then see where the sage and Paul fall within it. Next, we shall investigate the OT sources from which they draw, comparing the manner in which each author employed these sources, following this with a discussion of where and why the sage and the apostle personified Creation. Finally, we shall conclude with the significance of our comparison of Creation in the two accounts, namely that it reveals foundational premises of the respective authors. For the sage, the climax of God’s work is his creation of the incorruptible Cosmos who has in the past and will in the future fight for the righteous. For Paul, it is the “already but not yet” work of God, who submitted the world to corruption, from which Creation eagerly awaits redemption with the righteous.

Session 3:

John Byron
‘Cain’s Rejected Offering: Interpretive Approaches to a Theological Problem’The story of Cain and Abel records the first ever offering made to God. The question that quickly rises to the surface when reading Genesis 4:3-7 is: what was wrong with Cain’s offering? Why did God reject it? God’s seeming capriciousness in rejecting one sacrifice over the other creates a theological problem. The problem is compounded by Abel’s murder. Since Cain’s act of fratricide is precipitated by God’s unexplained rejection of the sacrifice which resulted in Cain’s anger, God becomes complicit in the act. These problems opened the door for ancient interpreters to expand and rework the story in a way that exonerated God of appearing capricious and, by extension, complicit in Abel’s murder. The following article traces the interpretive approaches used by Jewish and Christian exegetes to respond to a theological problem created by gaps in the narrative.

The Logic of Paul’s Ethics (Eduard Lohse)

In 1988, German Lutheran Bishop and Biblical scholar Eduard Lohse set out to write a ‘theological ethics’ of the New Testament (Theologische Ethik des Neuen Testaements; Stuttgart : W. Kohlhammer) subsequently translated into English in 1991 by E. Boring (Fortress Press).  Though Lohse attempts a synthetic approach to the whole of the NT in terms of ethics, he has much to say about Paul.

The titular designation ‘Theologische Ethik’ is quite appropriate given Lohse’s simple but clear affirmation that the message of the gospel requires certain things from its adherents.  Thus, ‘The task of a theological ethic of the New Testament is to make clear the implications of confessing faith in Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Christ for the life and actions of the community of faith’ (1991: 1).  Lohse offers a hint here of the notion that God’s gift comes with a demand.  In that sense, divine mercy issues a ‘challenge [for Christians] to lead their lives henceforth by harkening to this word of God’ (1991: 1).

In terms of foundations for ethics, Lohse confirms what other scholars already have observed, that the NT ethic stands on prior traditions, but also how the kerygma transforms how these traditions are expressed and understood (1991:4).  He offers a brief engagement with Jewish and Greco-Roman backgrounds for NT ethics, but ultimately it is the presence of God in Christ that determines the orientation and shape of one that is distinctively CHristian: ‘His lordship is determinative for every area of the life of the believer’ (1991: 25).  Less persuasive is Lohse’s appeal to Dominical logia as constructive for the whole of NT ethics (especially as this is controversial in modern Pauline studies) (see 1991:31).

The norms of theological ethics are expressed in a number of ways according to Lohse.  He draws attention to the norm of ‘freedom’ in Christ which is a liberation which should result in obedience to the Lord (1991:33).  How decisions should be made requires the Spirit who ‘provides the reality of his [Christ’s] living presence in the proclaimed word and in the variety of “working” within the members of the community’ (1991: 34).  Discernment, though, is not an automatic operation of the Spirit, but is carried out in the principles of whether the action is in obedience to the Lord and whether it demonstrates love for one’s neighbor (1991: 35; here Lohse is a precursor to Sampley’s ‘two tests’ for ethical behavior).

As with Furnish, Lohse is drawn to the importance of eschatological for ethics.  The presence of the kingdom of God and his ‘sovereign rule’ necessitates obedience and submission on the part of his subjects (1991: 39).  In fact, Lohse has such a robust view of Christ’s kingship that he defines the ‘imitation’ passages in Paul in terms, not of literal mimicking, but as ‘a matter of living in a manner appropriate to the sovereignty of Christ’ (1991: 51).  Thus, being an ‘imitator’ is nearly equivalent to being a ‘disciple’ (1991: 51).

Lohse offers an insightful interaction with what we may call the context of theological ethics – the body.  In his description of soma, Lohse seems to be influenced by Kaesemann’s explanation that humanity has a body as a mark of being a creation of God and it is also one’s avenue for communication in the world.  Lohse also argues that the body is specifically what is under bondage to sin and death (1991:115), and this same body is redeemed by Christ for service to the Lord: ‘Christians are aware that their body belongs to the resurrected Lord, so that life is now lived by looking to him’ (1991: 116; see 116-118).

Perhaps a more unique contribution to theological ethics that Lohse adds is his discussion of ‘the worldliness of faith’ – how to live, not just in the world, but with the world.  Lohse argues that Paul inherited from the synagogue a tradition of respectful obedience to political authorities outside of the community.  Therefore, his discussions of attitudes towards outsiders is not as theologically driven as some think: ‘The apostle is not interested in presenting theoretical reflections about the structures of authority in the world and the places of various officials within it, but wants to set forth how Christians should conduct themselves in the particular setting in which they live’ (1991: 134).  Lohse does admit that this attitude towards public interaction is all oriented towards peace-making and order.

A Lutheran engagement in ethics must deal with the ‘law’ – especially in the Pauline corpus.  Unsurprisingly, Lohse portrays the purposes of the law in negative terms: ‘The law functions to charge every human being with sin and to lock them all in a prison from which there is no escape’ (1991: 158).  For the Jew, the law is demand, but for the believer it is ‘testimony’.  Against a law-centered approach to ethics, Lohse finds the NT as appealing to a Spirit-powered Christ-centered ethic: ‘Where the Spirit that creates life is at work, there GOd’s will and command are recognized and done’ (1991: 163).  Lohse finds this especially to be demonstrated in love (1991: 164).


Lohse’s treatement of the logic of ethics in the NT is quite basic and adds little to what had been written before (especially by Furnish).  Lohse does delve more into the work of the mind and conscience (see 1991:90), but not in the kind of depth needed for offering a distinctive contribution.  More original elements of his analysis include the exploration of the role of the ‘body’ in ethics and also the church’s ethical attitude towards and relationship with the world.

Forthcoming Books 2008 (as advertised in SBL Nov programme)

Here is a brief list of books I might be tempted to buy at SBL…maybe I will follow around Mike Bird and his shameless attempts to be gifted books since SBL falls on his birthday – I can only hope to collect the scraps that fall from his table (remember Mike, Jesus granted to the Canaanite her request; Matt 15.27-8)!  Anyway, here goes:

Words Well Spoken: George Kennedy’s Rhetoric of the New Testament (eds. C.C. Black and D.F. Watson; contains 9 essays; Baylor Press)

Judaism and the Gentiles: Jewish Patterns of Universalism (to 135 CE) (T. Donaldson; Baylor; 580 pages)

We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (G.K. Beale; IVP)

Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God (J.R. Daniel Kirk; Eerdmans)

The Word Leaps the Gap: FS for R.B. Hays (Eerdmans)

Colossians and Philemon (D. Moo; Pillar; Eerdmans)

Colossians (J. Sumney; WJK)

Acts (M. Parsons; Paideia; Baker)

Body, Soul and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible (J. Green; Baker)

I notice that there are several commentaries on Colossians (see also Ben Witherington’s new one) – since Mike Bird is working on a Colossians commentary, I think he will look especially pitiful (perhaps even tears?) as he sulks around the book stalls carrying a heavy burden (both literal [of books] and metaphorical).

The Logic of Paul’s Ethics (Paul Sampley)

More than two decades after V.P. Furnish’s Theology and Ethics in Paul, another Methodist scholar, J.P. Sampley, set out to write a book on Paul’s moral logic. 

Walking Between the Times: Paul’s Moral Reasoning (Fortress, 1991).

This much shorter treatment (120 pages, compared to Furnish’s 300+) has a clear focus even in the title, where ‘walking between the times’ refers to life lived in the period of theological history that is marked by the overlapping of the ages.  Clearly Sampley shares an eschatological focus with Furnish, but he articulates its significance quite differently.  Whereas Furnish seems to focus on apocalyptic eschatology – the destruction of hostile powers and the sole claim of God for posession of his people, Sampley’s perspective takes more interest in chronological eschatology (or pure eschatology) where Paul’s symbolic universe is marked by the two time-specific events: the death/resurrection of Christ and his return.  Thus, ‘Paul is concerned with how believers behave, or walk, between these two times’ (v).

Within this eschatological framework, Sampley is interested in the question of how Paul approached moral issues (logic) and ‘what resources did he think were available to those who were in Christ’ (empowerment; see v).  Of course, like Furnish, Sampley’s view is theo-centric in the sense that Paul is always concerned with ‘how the justified person is to discern what it means to walk properly before God’ (3).

Coming back to the issue of Paul’s symbolic universe, Sampley reinforces the important socio-scientific insight that how groups construct their ‘thought world’ affects how they behave.  In that sense, it is clear that Weltbild affects Weltanschauung which drives behavior.  So, ‘I presume that no genuine understanding of Paul’s moral reasoning can be gotten to without seeing it consistently planted in the heart of Paul’s symbolic universe’ (2).  Sampley, I think, would agree with Richard Hays’ conclusion that Paul always encourages a ‘conversion of the imagination’ in his moral and theological discourses. 

Sampley, as already noted, delineates the boundaries of this universe temporally in terms of two events.  The first one, the Christ-event, is ‘the primary reference point of Paul’s thought world’ (7).  It is, as it were, a hermeneutical lens to re-conceive past, present, and future,  Regarding the past, Christ has enabled a new freedom from sin, law, and death (cf. Furnish).  But, in the between-times, there is still the threat of sin’s deception.  ‘[Paul] thinks of sin as if it were a power stalking about looking for a beachhead…from which to launch a campaign to take over someone’s life’ (13).  Because of the Christ event, though, sin is weak and believers are empowered to overcome.  Thus, Sampley points to ‘gratitude’ as a major factor in why believers do what they do morally.  But, there is a second factor – ‘anticipation’ of the return of Christ and ‘the fullness of glory that will be granted when one’s stewardship is certified at the judgment day’ (101).  In many ways, then, ethical behavior is not a contemplation of how to do good as the final goal, but it is a response to God: ‘The central issue in the moral life is whether one lives appropriately with regard to what God has done and is doing in one’s life and among the faithful community’ (104).

To help illuminate the significance of Paul’s eschatological perspective, Sampley compares and contrasts the Apostle’s writings to Apocalyptic literature.  Paul agrees with jewish apocalypticists that the present age is beset by evil and that God must intervene.  He also agrees that suffering is a mark of the times for the faithful and that God’s true people must remain patient and steadfast knowing that God will judge the wicked and vindicate his faithful (10).  Where Paul would diverge from traditional Jewiah apocalypticism is in terms of how Christ has effected a change in the world where the new aeon ‘has begun to break into the middle of the old aeon in a decisive way in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection’ (10).  Sin’s power has been broken and thus ‘God’s redemptive purposes gained a beachhead’ (10).

In the overlapping ages, Sampley focuses on the category of participation in Christ: ‘Paul thinks of believers’ relationship with Christ in terms of solidarity with, participation in, or belonging to Christ’ (12; note ‘belong to’ is an emphasis of Furnish’s).  Being ‘in Christ’ is ‘the locus of new life, the space made possible by God’s grace’ (39).  As a way of expressing the importance of identification with Christ in the between-times, Sampley draws attention to the Lord’s Supper which ‘marks the boundaries within which believers live’ as they celebrate his death (past) until he comes (future). 

Though Sampley is more focused on the chronological eschatology of Paul (and the believer’s ‘conformity’ to the new age’), he also acknowledges the apocalyptic agon themes that Furnish is so interested in.  For Sampley, then, slavery/servitude is inevitable: ‘all humans are slaves of some power or force external to themselves…Life without some master, lord, or authority is really unthinkable in Paul’s time’ (32).  This realization impels the believer to actively submit to God in obedience.

When addressing the actual process of moral reasoning, Sampley, like many others, admits that Paul is not interested in a casuistic approach to ethics.  Paul’s approach is contextual, relational, and requires discernment.  Believers do have certain resources in their pursuit of moral obedience to God.  First, Sampley points to the community as ‘the primary context for thinking about believers’ (37) as it is ‘the matrix within which individual lives of faith are nurtured and maintained’ (37, 43).  In decision-making, Paul always advocates those decisions that benefit the group, even if it means inconvenience or difficulty for the individual.  The individual must go with what is best for the community.  Sampley also points out the resources of the Holy Spirit which reckons proper behavior.  The relationship between Spirit and community is underscored, for Sampley, by the importance of spiritual gifts. 

In particular, Sampley looks at the gift of faith and how that affects one’s behavior.  One’s measure of faith is not how Christian they are, but to what degree they can withstand certain temptations.  So, when Paul refers to the strong and weak in Romans, the strong have more ‘faith’.  One is not ‘better’, but moral reasoning must account for how much faith one has (i.e., will it cause me to stumble if I do this).  But, more important than the personal question (i.e., is the action in keeping with my measure of faith) is the criterion ‘is it beneficial to others’.  Sampley sees the Corinthians, for instance, as confident in the first question, but ignorant and negligent of the second.  A major principle that Sampley finds in Paul is the centrality of love, which is ‘acting in careful consideration for the well-being of others’ (62).  Such an ethical director ‘functions as the governor that sets limits to what might otherwise be runaway individualism’ (62).


In many ways, Sampley reiterates what Furnish has already written (eschatology, christology, theology).  However, Sampley does offer some important extensions on what others have done and taken some insights in new directions.  There is more reflection on spiritual gifts in Sampley’s work, and his dual criteria (personal faith, edification for others) is helpful.  His focus on the Lord’s Supper and Baptism as reflecting on the past (Christ’s death/resurrection) and the future (Christ’s return; the resurrection of the baptized) confirms his primary point in focusing on eschatology.  Also, the chronological eschatological perspective is more concentrated on judgment and reward for faithful stewarship in Sampley’s treatment.  He has also given more attention to how (social) identity affects ethos.  Here he only briefly touches on social identity theories, but it makes way for others (like Meeks) to develop more sophisticated approaches.

Finally, the title itself, with the idea of ‘walking’ gives the book a Semitic flavor and captures the biblical notion of life as a journey (and not a series of hypothetical decisions in need of philosophical-ethical response).  There is a covenantal-feel to the idea of morality as ‘walking’.  This comes closer to the Pauline notion of moral obedience to God.  Indeed, Sampley’s highlighting of moral-reasoning as ‘gratitude to God’ would have certainly made Philo happy and it fits the general character of Paul’s letters.

The Logic of Paul’s Ethics (beginning with V.P. Furnish)

In my research I am interacting quite a bit with the question of Paul’s hermeneutic of morality, his theology of life-walk, his moral reasoning, or, as Brian Rosner puts it, the ‘logic’ of his ethics.  Sadly there have been few throughout history that have dealt directly with this issue in Paul.  In fact, before Bultmann, one could hardly find someone who dedicated detailed work to this matter.  So, I intend to do blog reviews of the major modern contributors to this area since (and including) V.P. Furnish because, in 1968, he was really the first to devote a full-length study to the matter and navigate through all the twists, turns, and contours of Paul’s theo-moral discourse.  My interest, then, is not practical ethics (such as Paul’s view on abortion or divorce), though my research will offer implications that affect this area.  Neither am I going to deal with sources of Paul’s moral language (e.g., Greco-Roman philosophies, Jewish traditions), though, again, I must touch on it here and there.  Rather, I will attempt to adumbrate the work Furnish has done and then those who have built on his work in the last forty years.  So, we begin with Furnish’s

Theology and Ethics in Paul (Abingdon: 1968).

V.P. Furnish, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Southern Methodist University, set out, in the late 60’s, to determine ‘the essential character and structure of the Pauline ethic’ (8).  Since Bultmann’s persuasive argument that ethics could not be separated from theology (contra Dibelius and Dodd), what was still left to explicate were the ‘theological presuppositions’ of Paul’s ethics.  This required an investigation into the structure of his ethical thought and its foundations.  He later puts the question, ‘What is regarded as the touchstone of his ethic?’ (11).  One senses Furnish’s conclusion even from the beginning introduction as he makes quite clear that Paul’s theology and ethics are so closely related that one struggles, even, heuristically, to determine how the former influences the latter.  Indeed, Furnish eventually argues that even Paul’s gospel proclamation was not ‘theological’ if that meant that it wasn’t also ethically-driven.


Though Furnish surveys a number of possible ethical wells from which Paul probably drank (early Jewish literature, Hellenistic moral philosophy, Rabbinic thought), he, unsurprisingly, found that only two sources seemed to be heavily impactful: the Old Testament and early Christian materials.  In terms of the Old Testament, Furnish disagrees with von Harnack that Paul took no interest in the OT ethically.  But, Furnish does conclude that Paul neither interpreted the OT commands casuastically nor did he elaborate on them (33f).  Thus, ‘There is no evidence which indicates that the apostle regarded it as in any sense a source book for detailed moral instruction or even a manual of ethical norms’ (33).

But, Furnish admits, Paul does apply OT moral lessons with a view towards the edification of his churches.  And, Paul can look back on the history of Israel, in the light of Christ, and see moral truths especially in the narratives of Scripture (43).  In terms of contemporary influences, though, Furnish does admit that Hellenistic Jewish literature does seem to come close to Paul’s paraenetic style and ethos (such as the Wisdom of Solomon and Pseudo-Phocylides).  Furnish is intent on arguing for the complexity of influences on Paul, both Hellenistic and Jewish.  

 ‘A one-sided decision about Paul’s background, whether in favor of his Jewish or Greek   heritage, is bound to result in a one-sided interpretation of his ethic.  THis ethic can be brought into  sharper focus when it is acknowledged that Paul was a Jew of the Diaspora–of the Hellenistic world’ (50).

Furnish, perhaps tired of the source-critical approaches of his predecessors, finally argued that Paul’s ethics must be appreciated in terms of his revelation of Christ and the new reality following the death and resurrection of the Messiah.  So, ‘He writes always as an apostle, as a man in Christ.  The structure of the Pauline ethic is not yet laid bare when only its several specific “sources” are uncovered’ (66).

Paul as Apostolic Moralist

In a chapter on the nature of Paul’s exhortations, Furnish points out that the ethical instruction Paul supplies is always ‘concrete and relevant’ – he is ministering to specific people in particular circumstances.  Paul is not a philosopher.  But, there is a tension in this concreteness, for Paul does not just limit ethics to specific behaviors and particular areas of one’s life.  Paul’s exhortations are also ‘inclusive’ insofaras they apply to all aspects of one’s life (inner and outer, present actions and future actions).  It is critical for Furnish, then, to observe how relational Paul’s ethical language is – as in his use of familiar metaphors – instructing as father to his spiritual children, encouraging as a brother in the Lord.

The Manner of Pauline Exhortation

Furnish also observes the variety in which Paul expresses his ethical demands.  Aside from direct appeal, Paul uses stories to encourage reflection on moral problems.  This Furnish calls ‘hortatory narrative’ (95).  Also, Paul can draw out important ethical implications based on declarative statements: the ‘imperatival indicative’ (97).  Such variations demonstrate the organic nature of Paul’s ethics.

The Theological Framework of Paul’s Ethics

When Furnish finally comes to the matter of the logical of Paul’s ethics, he expresses it in a tri-fold manner.  It involves ‘a compound of Paul’s theological, eschatological, and Christological convictions’ (213).  Furnish dwells most on the eschatological component.

Furnish sees Paul’s eschatology as the ‘heuristic key to Pauline theology’ (114) which has far-reaching implications for his ethics.  Though Furnish is reluctant to use the word ‘apocalyptic’, it seems more appropriate for his reasoning as he finds central to this eschatology the presence of enslaving powers and the hegemonic domination of flesh and sin in the present evil age. 

‘Paul believes man’s bondage to the powers of this age is so complete and complex that onlt the transcendent power of God can suffice to effect his release.  In the death and resurrection of Christ this redeeming, reconciling, rightwising power of the coming age has already broken in and through the Spirit is even now at work for man’s [sic] salvation…By his obedience unto death the “Lord of glory” enters into the enemy kingdom of sin and death, and by his resurrection from the dead shows that those alien rulers are ultimately subject to God’ (180).

Furnish is attentive, then, to the already/not yet nature of Paul’s eschatology.  The ages are, as it were, overlapping such that God’s power is already effective in Christ.  But, because the new age has not come in its fullness, ‘the powers of this age stand over against the power of God’ (135).  The decision to obey the truth of the Gospel of Christ, then, is an act of allegiance to the power and authority of Christ: ‘The total claim which Christ’s lordship lays upon the believer is a basic and pervasive element of Pauline thought’ (169).

Furnish explicates this in terms of participation; as the believer participates in the death and resurrection of Christ, ‘Christ’s death is the actualization of God’s power and puts an effect check on sin’s tyrannical hold’ (172).  This perspective, of allegiance and union, is built on the assumption that Christian faith enacts a change of lordship: from slavery to Sin to slavery to the Lord.  Thus, Christian ethics is not the actions of a totally ‘free’ and independent human, but an act of obedience to a good and powerful lord.  Furnish explains, ‘In [Paul’s] view man [sic] does not live apart from commitments; his life is never finally his “own,” and so the question only is to whom it should be given, to whom it should belong: to sin or to righteousness’ (177).

Furnish, then, is fond of the idea of participation as ‘belonging’ (see 178-9).  This can explain the inherent link in Paul between suffering and ethics.  Both demonstrate where one’s allegiances lie.  ‘Paul regards faith’s obedience as a radical surrender of one’s self to God, a giving of one’s self to belong to him as a slave belongs to his master’ (204).

This leads Furnish to infer that Paul’s ethic is more about obedience or imitation than determining ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ as if from a rule book.  The believer, for Paul, must discern the will of God which is ‘ever newly sought and found’ (188-9).  Of course the believer is not left to his own conscience.  The Holy Spirit acts as a ‘guide for the believer in practical matters of conduct’ (231).  Indeed, the community of faith protects, nurtures, and aids the believers as well (233). 

The second and third components of Paul’s ethic (theological and christological) are naturally intertwined with Paul’s eschatology.  The ‘theological’ element is a conviction that humanity is completely dependent on God’s sovereign power and owe service and obedience to him alone.  The Christological part centers on the Christ event, his paradigmatic and cataclysmic act of obedience to God such that others can participate ‘in his body’ and experience freedom from sin’s power in order to come under the ‘dominion of God’ (218).  Christ also becomes a model (see Phil 2:5-11) of obedience and proper service to God.


Everywhere Furnish’s analysis is marked by careful exegesis of Pauline texts and balanced, fair conclusions.  The approach to Paul’s ethic is chary and nuanced.  He rightly concludes that ‘ethics’ is not the ideal term for how Paul understands appropriate human behavior in Christ.  For Furnish, Paul’s better understood when the eschatological (or apocalyptic) dimensions of human existence are understood.  Though God has conquered the evil powers of sin and death through Christ, they still vie for human enslavement.  God, says Furnish, is the only one worthy of worship and human obedience is expected by God and empowered by Christ through the Spirit.  Paul’s ‘ethic’ is, if one must use the term, as ethic in conflict.  A morality of warfare.  The already/not yet dimensions of the overlapping of the ages mean that believers have new empowerment, but also unrelenting foes that seek to delude, confuse, distort, and sully the theological imaginations of God’s holy people.  One is most prepared to follow God when he or she understands what it means to belong to Christ.

In many ways, no one has surpassed the excellent work done by Furnish and most have taken portions of his work and developed them further, elaborating on what he may have just touched upon.  This work is engaging, honest, readable, and theologically rich.  Every student of Paul must read this book.

Need Advice on Research (Paul and ethics)

In the next section of my research I am working on, I am doing a whirlwind tour of Paul’s ethical framework.  I aim to read the top 15-20 books on the subject.  I have created a rough list, but I was hoping any of you ethicists and/or Paulinists could draw to my attention other books.  Please note, though, that I am not interested in any specific ethical issues (homosexuality, abortion, death penalty, etc…) and I only want to deal with the problem of the ‘law’ within a larger interest in ethics (and not soteriology).  Here is my list:

1. W. Meeks, The Moral World of the First Christians (1986)

2. V.P. Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul (1968 )

3. A. Verhey, The Great Reversal (1984)

4. F. Matera, New Testament Ethics (1996)

5. R.B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the NT (1996)

6. B. Rosner, Understanding Paul’s Ethics (1995)

7. E. Lovering and J. Sumney, eds., Theology and Ethics in Paul and His Interpreters (1996)

8. P. Sampley, Walking Between the Times (1991)

9. D. Horrell, Solidarity and Difference (2005)

10. W.P. Brown, Character and Scripture (2002)

11. R. Burridge, Imitating Jesus (2008 )

12. B. Brock, Singing the Ethos of God (2007)

What else can others recommend (specifically on Paul, but ethics in Paul on a broad level)?