Reviews of

John Barclay, “Paul and the Gift”

In Durham, Galatians, John BARCLAY, Justin A. Mihoc, Paul, Romans on November 11, 2011 at 12:49 am

This is a report on a book preview by Prof John Barclay, Professor of New Testament Studies at Durham University, at the New Testament Research Seminar, Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University, 07th of November 2011.

The list of forthcoming papers in the NT Research Seminars at Durham University can be found here.

At the last assembly of the weekly New Testament research seminar, a new type of presentation was inaugurated. Prof Francis Watson, this session’s chair, introduced the format of book previews, a new and different one from the seminars we were used to so far. In these new sessions, the chair will get involved much more as a moderator, in a questions and answers format. For the first half of the session, the moderator will ask a set of questions which will enable the author and respondent to draw the general structure and themes of his book. In the second half, the open discussion, to which all participants are invited, would complete the already composed picture and further focus on the participants’ interests in the previously presented book.

Prof Barclay’s new monograph, entitled Paul and the Gift, which was the first of the book preview series, appears to be a truly groundbreaking work. His insightful presentation clearly awoke curiosity and eager anticipation of the published book among the participants. To the question of his book’s purpose, Prof Barclay emphasised how Paul’s theology of grace was understudied and the necessity for an ample treatment of the notion of gift, both divine and human, in Paul’s writings and their reception history. In dealing with the notion of χαρις in Paul’s thought, Prof Barclay’s book will go beyond Sanders and the new perspective. This is part of a greater project which will discuss this ample theme. The first book, Paul and the Gift, will be focused on the notion of the divine gift in Romans and Galatians. The second will tackle the topic from a human point of view, dealing with the Pauline understanding of the social exchange of gifts and their implications.

Following this, Prof Barclay continued by presenting the four-part structure of his forthcoming monograph. The first part will propose a reception history of Paul’s notion of gift and the way the understanding of it changed in the West over the centuries. The second part intends to place the notion of gift in the context of the Second-Temple Judaism, and will focus on Philo’s corpus, Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum, the Wisdom of Solomon, 4th Ezra and the Qumran Hymns or Hodayot. In the Second-Temple Judaic writings, God gives gifts to those who are worthy of receiving them, but not in an impersonal way as a sort of remuneration. Gifts are often conditioned and there is generally an explanation on why God gives gifts discriminately, as an unmerited gift opens the door to social injustice and chaos. In Hodayot, the notion of gift is deeply rooted into the idea of divine predestination. The third and fourth parts will examine Paul’s theology of the divine gift in Galatians and Romans, respectively. The exegesis offered in this second part of the book will focus on the notion of incongruous gifts and how it relates to the Gentile mission. The incongruous gift of Jesus, which is central to Pauline theology and Christology, offers a new type of divine gifts, unconditioned and therefore universal.

In understanding the notion of divine gift, Prof Barclay concludes by stating that there is no essential difference between Paul and Judaism, while also acknowledging that Paul seems subversive to the Judaic understanding of the divine gift. In Paul, gifts are given without any conditions of worth and to everyone, not only to a privileged group. If in Philo we see an index of values according to which God gives gifts to those worthy (to the free rather than slaves, to the educated rather than uneducated, to males rather than females), in Christ this index is torn apart because of the universality of the gift. Compared to his fellow Jews, Paul appears to be some sort of a cultural dissident (cf. Gal 3:26-29; Col 3:11).

We look forward to Prof Barclay’s book which will be published by Eerdmans and is expected to appear in 2013.

Justin A. Mihoc,
Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University

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