This is a fascinating panel discussion on Pauline theology, focused on the scholarship and interpretive work of the great N. T. Wright. As the discussion makes evident, Wright’s grasp of the Old and New Testaments and the extant writings of Second Temple Judaism is remarkable. Few scholars can match the breadth of his erudition. The discussion also makes evident that not all biblical scholars are convinced by the arguments advanced in Paul and the Faithfulness of God. This, of course, is to be expected. Only time will tell whether Wright’s overall interpretation of the Apostle will withstand vigorous scrutiny and debate.
The discussion begins with Wright describing his basic thesis that a meta-narrative of the return of YHWH and the achievement of a new Exodus underlies Paul’s theological reflections. I remember finding this thesis not only plausible but convincing when I first encountered it in Wright’s books many years ago. “Of course Paul interpreted the death and resurrection of Jesus as the antitype of the Exodus. Paul was a Jew, wasn’t he? He celebrated celebrated Passover annually, didn’t he?” Yet as the responses of the panelists demonstrate, not everyone agrees with Wright. If the new Exodus is a controlling story for Paul, they argue, one would expect it to be more explicit in his letters.
Doug Campbell takes the lead in the critique. He vigorously disagrees with Wright’s salvation history approach, preferring instead what is often referred to as an apocalyptic reading of Paul. I found the exchange between Wright and Campbell confusing on this point. I do not see why the two approaches are necessarily mutually exclusive. It often seemed to me that the two scholars frequently talked past each other. Why cannot it have been the case that Paul believed that Christ had come in the fulfillment of prophecy and that his surprising revelation incited a revolution in thinking?
I confess that I found Campbell’s performance disappointing. At times he comes off as more concerned to score debating points than discussing the substance of Wright’s arguments. I am sympathetic to his reading of Paul and would have liked to have heard more from him. I had to chuckle when Wright quips that Campbell is really more a systematic theologian than biblical scholar. There have been times when reading Campbell when I have wondered the same thing. Of course, the same might also be said of Wright. Campbell needs to work on his oral presentation. He also needs to completely eliminate the expression “ok?” from his speech. It’s insulting to the audience.
I also would have liked to have heard more from Richard Hays. Next to Wright, he’s the most accomplished biblical scholar on the panel, and I know that he disagrees with Wright on key points. I realize he was the moderator of this discussion, but I do not see why this had to exclude a more active engagement with his old friend. It would have been interesting.