Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit

Written by F. F. Bruce Reviewed By David H. Campbell

It is indeed a pleasure to review the latest literary contribution of Professor Bruce, a work which certainly places Christian scholarship—and NT scholarship in general—in even greater debt to him than hitherto.

Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit is not a new life of Paul, nor is it a doctrinal or historical study as such; rather, it is an attempt by the author to enmesh the themes of biography, theology and history together in one masterful pattern which will provide as deep an understanding into the mind and heart of the Apostle as is at all possible. Given the obvious limitations of historical and biographical knowledge, not to mention the pitfalls of theological argumentation, and, underlying all of these, the sheer two thousand year chasm between our time and Paul’s the author has fashioned a remarkable synthesis which will surely stand for many years as a monument both to his erudition and to his Christian commitment.

It is no easy task to provide a concise overview of such a comprehensive work, but I will try to comment on several aspects which, taken together, give some indication of the book’s direction and scope. Probably the most characteristic mark of the work is Professor Bruce’s attempt to interweave classical history and archaeology with NT history and theology. There are many outstanding examples. For instance, in the treatment of Galatians and the law (pp. 178–187) the theological issues are placed in a comprehensive historical perspective, in this case mainly drawn from the NT background itself. When we come to the sections on Troas and Philippi, however (pp. 216–222), we find an impressive collocation of geographical data, notes on Roman political history, and accounts of Jewish religious customs, in all of which cases use of a wide variety of both primary and secondary sources is clearly evident. In the account of Paul’s speech on the Areopagus (pp. 238–247), the author relates each theme of the speech to aspects of classical thought, as well as providing a good defence of its authenticity, relating it to various themes found elsewhere in the Pauline corpus. Similarly, in the account of Paul’s stay at Corinth (pp. 248–263), classical history and archaeology, history of religions, NT history in general and Pauline biographical elements are all interwoven into a description of the various doctrinal issues in view. In addition to this, we have on its own (pp. 264–279) a comprehensive exposition of the major themes of the Corinthian correspondence.

Two examples of interesting historical speculation are the essays on the origin, history and character of the church at Rome (pp. 379–392), and the background of the letter to Philemon (pp. 393–406.) Other places where a comprehensive use of sources is evidenced include the sections on Ephesians (pp. 286–299), where, for instance, an example of an Ephesian magical spell is given (p. 291); Paul’s view of the life to come (pp. 300–313), where there is a major effort to relate Pauline theology to themes in the Dead Sea and other material; and Paul’s first missionary journey (pp. 160–172), during the course of which one finds, among other things, a wealth of interesting archaeological data on the site of Derbe (p. 171, cf. also n.32).

Professor Bruce does not assume all his readers are learned Pauline scholars, however. He rarely fails to elaborate upon and explicate the NT account and flesh it out with other relevant material. Two examples are the account of early Christianity at Jerusalem and Antioch (pp. 148–159), and that (mentioned earlier) of Paul’s first missionary journey. In neither case will many readers be found whose understanding of these aspects is not greatly enriched by the author’s endeavours.

Another feature of the book is the inclusion of various chapters which are purely topical in nature, one of which (Paul’s view of the life to come) has already been noted. Others include Paul and the law (pp. 188–202), flesh and Spirit (pp. 203–211), baptism and the Lord’s supper (pp. 280–285) and the Gospel according to Paul (pp. 325–338). In some of these essays the author, as might be expected, has had difficulty in dealing with all the issues involved in the space available. For instance, the treatment of flesh and Spirit is much too short to do justice to either subject, and in the section on the Gospel according to Paul, far too much ground is covered: subtopics include righteousness by faith, universal need, way of salvation, freedom from sin, law and death, Israel and the Gentiles and the Christian way of life! The essay on Paul and the life to come, however, is a high point, with a fine exposition relating Pauline theology to the OT, Intertestamental literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Gnosticism and the historical situation in which Paul had to deal with the question. The treatment of the Colossian heresy (pp. 412ff) which comes in the section on Colossians (pp. 407–423) is also an informative and well-documented study (again with a battery of references to classical, Judaic and Dead Sea sources).

An area in which problems do arise, however, is the segment on Paul and the law. Here, beyond the difficulty of limitation of space, the treatment of Paul’s attitude toward the law is far too negative in nature, and tends to simplify some of the issues involved. For instance, while much is made of statements such as Romans 6:14 (‘not under law’), no notice is taken of other texts such as Romans 7:12, where a clearly positive value is assigned to the law. This point is worth pressing because (as is hinted at even in the book’s title) the author’s position on Paul, the law and Christian freedom underlies the tone of the whole work. Professor Bruce does make mention of the Romans 7 text, but takes no notice of it in the development of his argument. A radical distinction is made (p. 192) between the ‘law’ of Romans 7:12 and the so-called ‘law of love’, but no grounds are adduced for the existence of such a distinction in Pauline theology. Failure to distinguish between various uses of the word νόμος leads the author to the suggestion that God’s law of Romans 7:25b is also the law of sin and death of the same verse, even though the two are clearly opposed to each other in the text! In the treatment of Romans 7:14ff, central to one’s whole understanding of Paul’s view of freedom from sin (and law), and thus of pivotal significance to the theme of the book as a whole (and, indeed, to the heart of Pauline theology), the documentation is very weak and no note is made of recent contributions to the subject by, for instance, Cranfield and Dunn. In fact, the section on law as a whole suffers from lack of documentation; while Cranfield’s important commentary on Romans, vol. 1, is referred to twice (on pp. 165 and 205), no reference is made to it at all in the essay on law, nor is there any reference to Cranfield’s earlier, and—for this topic—critically important essay on ‘St Paul and the Law’, SJT 17 (1964).

To pass to a more positive comment, however, there are many points in the book at which the documentation is excellent; and one must not forget to make allowance for the fact that in a work of this kind, extensive documentation of any issue is all but impossible. Examples of more complete reference notes are found at p. 131 n.25 (on the Philippians 2:5–11 hymn; references include a 1976 German publication): p. 155 n.22 on ’apostolos; and p. 373 n.18 on identification of the island of Acts 28:1. These few cases are chosen merely to indicate the enormous breadth of the author’s scholarship, and examples could be repeated manyfold. Further documentation could have been provided in some places, e.g. p. 65 n.13 on primitive Christology and the stone testimonia, where no mention is made of the important St Andrew’s dissertation of Klyne Snodgrass (an American evangelical scholar); and at p. 132 n.31, where it is assumed that the Samaritans of Acts 8 were’ already converted when the Apostles arrived and laid on hands (here, reference could have been made to Dunn’s Baptism in the Holy Spirit for a discussion of the issues involving salvation and receipt of the Spirit raised by such a view—though, to be sure, this is not Professor Bruce’s point in mentioning the passage).

One might take this as an appropriate point to make a few observations on Professor Bruce’s treatment of the ‘charismatic’ issue. The subjects of Pauline mysticism and life in the Spirit are dealt with on pp. 134–147, but without any exposition (and only a bare mention) of any of the gifts of the Spirit. Indeed, the theme of life in the Spirit, surely an important one for Pauline theology, receives a scant two pages. On p. 260 a fairly balanced reference is made to the issue of glossolalia, though more stress is placed on its occurrence in non-Christian circles than on its proper Christian use (if any), on which subject the author remains silent. On p. 272 there is an undocumented statement to the effect that ‘the physiology of glossolalia … results from the appropriate stimulation of what has been known since 1861 as “Broca’s area”, the centre for articulate speech in the third frontal convolution of the dominant cerebral hemisphere’. Why more space is given to such an odd (whether true or not) assertion than to any exposition of the nature of the charismata as a whole, especially in a day when issues surrounding the use of these gifts and the ‘charismatic renewal’ in general are assuming inescapable importance not only in theological circles but in the Church as a whole, leaves the reviewer at a bit of a loss.

To end more positively, however (which the book so richly deserves), one must note the helpful way in which Professor Bruce deals with some of the less tenable assumptions of non-evangelical scholarship. A fine example of his careful and nonpolemical approach comes in his defence of the authenticity of Ephesians (pp. 424–440), which he sees as representing the ‘quintessence of Paulinism’. The major themes of Ephesians are systematically related to those of the Pauline corpus as a whole, and a fine defence is thus provided of apostolic authorship. Other such examples of interaction with the views of nonevangelical commentators appear frequently; the views of such scholars are not made a central issue, but are dealt with adequately (cf, for instance, pp. 165 and 172 on the correlation of Acts and Paul, as well as pp. 238–242, noted above, on Paul’s speech at Athens).

One does regret noting the rather high price of the book, to which—alas—one must become accustomed in these days of rapid inflation. Still, £9.60 is a lot to ask—even for a work of nearly 500 pages—and especially of hard-pressed students and pastors! I understand the price of the North American edition is to be somewhat less: good news for affluent Americans and Canadians, but another blow to the always-suffering British! For the price, I was hoping the plates (of which there are quite a few) to be in colour, but—alas again—they are not (although sailing enthusiasts may be pleased with the glossy colour photograph of a sail-boat on the dust jacket). In my copy there was a minor flaw in the binding (pages in the centre creased at the bottom), but otherwise the book is well-produced, the type is clear and the footnotes are on the bottom of each page, rather than collected at some inconvenient place in the back to which constant reference must be made.

In spite of the price, it is to be hoped the book will find a wide readership. It is a valuable reference and study tool for theologian, pastor and layman alike (no mean accomplishment in itself, but one so characteristic of Professor Bruce’s labours!); a work which can be read at length, or referred to by chapter: a work which will inform scholarly article, sermon and Bible study throughout the Church; in short, a work which reflects Professor Bruce’s long standing devotion to the life and work of God’s people. I am sure study of this book will lead all its readers to join this reviewer in wishing Professor Bruce many more years of productive scholarship and service to Christ and His Church.

David H. Campbell

Durham University, England