Top critical review
74 of 107 people found this helpful
The scholarly Judaization of Christianity: after Jesus, Paul
on October 23, 2004
If you are at all acquainted with trends in contemporary theology, exegesis and research on the historical Jesus, you probably know that there has been a huge effort in these areas to present Jesus as a Jew, which means that most of the time he is presented as an eschatological prophet with a more or less overt political agenda. Now in Dunn's book you will find something similar, but this time it is Paul who becomes the 'victim' of this process of Judaization. If I had to summarize the thesis of this ponderous treatise on Pauline theology I would say that Paul was a Jew and that he remained a Jew in his theology. This means among other things that he never taught that Jesus was God.
The book is highly readable with little technical jargon and high-strung phrases, but people who don't have a thorough knowledge of Paul will find to their annoyance that most of the time Dunn doesn't quote in full the passages he is analysing. So keep your Bible on hand to check all the references and read them carefully before you turn to Dunn's comments.
The author gives one a good and very practical overview of all the major themes of Pauline theology with chapters on "Justification by faith" (the longest one), "The Pre-existent Christ", "Jesus the Man" (on the relationship between Paul and the pre-resurrection Jesus), etc. The hot topic of the divinity of Jesus, for which I basically bought the book since I am extremely interested in Christology, is also discussed, but Dunn's comments are very simple and short: the whole analysis covers less than two pages and the conclusion is that Paul was a thorough Jewish monotheist who did call Jesus "Lord" but din't teach that he was God the Son. There is also a lot of emphasis on Adamic theology: the approach that sees Jesus primarily as the "New Adam". It is for example in the light of Genesis and Adam that Dunn explains the meaning of the hotly debated Christological hymn in Philippians 2.
I would say that while it is certainly useful to have a book that covers the whole range of Pauline theology, "The Theology of Paul the Apostle" failed to meet my expectations on several accounts. My main criticism is that what Dunn has to say is most of the time quite unoriginal and even trite. The topics are all of them quite conventional: I would have loved a chapter on Pauline ecology or some other less obvious aspect of his thinking, more on mysticism, but Dunn's approach is very rational and mainly sociological in its thrust. The tone and style is thoroughly academic and on sensitive issues Dunn keeps a low profile and is always soft spoken: don't expect vitriolic tirades à la Robert Eisenman!
Many of the author's comments are fuzzy and strangely unconclusive. He also seems eager to present a picture of Paul which is free of error and contradictions. There is no critical assessment of Paul's arguments, the whole analysis is purely descriptive and strictly theological with very little biographical material (people who want to read about Paul the man should not order this book). There are lots of linguistic explanations, which are certainly enlightening, but after understanding the meaning of the terms used by Paul, one expects something more, and this is what Dunn fails to provide in my view in many cases. A basic knowledge of koine Greek, while not indispensable, will help you better understand some of the chapters in this book.
I like the book, it is practical, but on the whole I didn't learn much from it and it is quite insipid. It lacks teeth.