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  • The Real Paul: Recovering His Radical Challenge by Bernard Brandon Scott
  • Elliott C. Maloney OSB
bernard brandon scott, The Real Paul: Recovering His Radical Challenge ( Salem, OR: Polebridge, 2015). Pp. x + 260. Paper $27.

Scott has presented us with a truly challenging book. Although he writes in a conversational tone and uses many colloquial examples and popular images, this is not an easy book to read. He delves deeply into the texts of Galatians and Romans to challenge the traditional understanding of Paul's teaching on Judaism and the law. He would overturn the Protestant "orthodoxy" that Paul underwent a conversion away from Judaism in order to preach "a universal gospel" that "is a universal solution to the problem of human sin" (p. 223). Actually, Paul was really answering only one question: how can the nations enter into covenant with God?

Scott admits only the seven nondisputed letters as truly Pauline thinking and maintains that in them, as the apostolos ("envoy") of the nations (gentiles), Paul argues only about the acceptance of salvation by non-Jewish believers. Paul does not speak to the Jewish question directly, nor does he ever claim that the Jewish people must rely on Jesus Christ for salvation. What is new for Jews is a call to embrace God's fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that the nations might also be saved in Jesus Christ (p. 251). So there is a new and more inclusive covenant (2 Cor 3:6), but not one that replaces the old one (p. 175).

Scott lays out his arguments point by point in fifteen short chapters with a brief bibliography at the end of each one. In lieu of footnotes he assembles a short annotated bibliography "to acknowledge my indebtedness to other scholars and/or to argue with them" (p. 247). There is a scriptural, but no topical, index.

Scott opines that the controversy between Paul and Peter at Antioch was not about kosher food but rather about the danger of eating a public meal without sacrifice to the emperor. This interpretation is as plausible as it is fascinating, although S.'s dismissal of the kosher problem needs more evidence than he adduces (p. 81). S. actually misses some corroborating evidence where Paul accuses the false teachers of wanting circumcision for all, "only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ" (Gal 6:12). No one would "persecute" Christians for breaking kashrut, but the Roman authorities might well object to a public dinner without the requisite emperor worship.

Harder to understand is S.'s insistence that in Gal 3:10-14 Paul is speaking about gentiles only, not at all addressing the Jews in these statements. The New Perspective on ancient Judaism has shown conclusively that Jews enter the covenant by God's grace but remain in it by works of the law. S. goes further and maintains that the statement, "All who rely on the works of the law are under a curse" (v. 10a, citing Deut 27:26) does not include the Jews at all, precisely because "Israel does not 'rely on works of the law'" (p. 174). To Jews "it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law" (v. 11a) because they already believe that "the one who is righteous by faith will live" (v. 11b, Paul's concluding and clarifying verse—for some reason omitted here by S.). Moreover, Jews are not fatally cursed when they break the law because, as S. says, "God has provided them a way to deal with failings." S.'s reason why Paul does not explain all this more clearly for us here? "Since Paul is writing to the nations, he does not need to explain how this works for Israel" (p. 174).

On the other hand, if gentiles think that they can be justified by following Jewish law without actually being Jews themselves, then the curse of Scripture applies to them. Thus, when Paul says, "Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law," he is not "speaking for all [End Page 350] humans, both Jew and Greek," but "is instead using the rhetorical 'us,' the speaker identifying with the...


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pp. 350-351
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