Monday 25 July 2011

Timothy Gombis on Misconceptions about Paul

Timothy Gombis, ‘The Paul We Think We Know’, Christianity Today (22 July 2011).

Timothy Gombis, author of a book on Paul (which I’ve not read) and a book on Ephesians (which I have read), who also blogs at Faith Improvised, has a piece in Christianity Today outlining what he sees as ‘two longstanding misconceptions’ about Paul.

The first is that he was anti-Jewish, that after his conversion he embraced Christianity and rejected Judaism. According to Gombis, this is mistaken on three fronts: (1) ‘It represents a faulty vision of Judaism in Paul’s day’. Gombis joins other so-called ‘new perspective’ scholars here, stating that Judaism ‘didn’t have a legalistic problem’ so much as an ethnocentrism problem’. (2) ‘Even after his conversion, Paul remained a Jew’. (3) ‘Paul never calls upon Jews to reject Judaism. Instead, he exhorts them to recognize Jesus as their Messiah and welcome his non-Jewish followers as siblings in God’s new family.’

The second misconception about Paul is that he focused on ‘believers’ private spirituality to the relative neglect of the church’s communal character and social dynamics’ (especially compared with Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom). In fact, as Gombis notes, New Testament scholars are drawing attention to greater continuity between Jesus and Paul than previously noted, and that ‘far from focusing on privatized piety, the apostle’s conception of salvation concerns the arrival of the kingdom of God – a fundamental communal reality’.

In addition, Gombis notes ‘one further way in which we tend to impose our evangelical values upon this apostle of Jesus Christ’, namely the assumption that he ‘must have been a compelling figure, a charismatic and decisive leader, and a powerful speaker’. Gombis, however, suggests that the New Testament presents a different picture – an non-captivating speaker, unimpressive personal presence, and an unpleasant physical appearance!

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