Reading Gaffin

I’ve recently had the opportunity to go over some of the writings of Richard Gaffin, who is professor of Systematic and Biblical Theology and Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. For a few years now I have benefited from his writings, and am glad that I’ve had the opportunity to go through them again more carefully.
In light of some brothers and sisters who aren’t sure of Gaffin’s take on issues dealing with the New Perspective on Paul, I wanted to offer some of my thoughts on Gaffin’s article “Paul the Theologian” in WTJ 62 (2000), 121-141. I found it to be a very helpful read, not only because it is a review article on two monographs by leading NPP scholars, Dunn and Wright, but also because it helps me to see Gaffin’s own theology.
Because of my familiarity with Wright over Dunn, I paid particular attention to what Gaffin had to say and found myself in significant agreement with him. I have found Wright to be a wonderful writer and a brilliant scholar. Yet there are significant areas of trouble, especially in the book that Gaffin reviewed, What St. Paul Really Said. This was the first work of Wright that I had ever read, and I recall finding much in it quite troubling. For a while it deterred me from reading him. Now that I feel that I have a greater handle on what Wright has to say, I can benefit from the good and I can discard the bad. Gaffin’s appropration of Wright is quite accurate in my humble opinion.
What I appreciate most about Gaffin’s review is that he doesn’t write with a polemical bent. Rather, he attempts to deal with the content of Wright’s work, highlighting the good as well as the bad. Often when we critically evaluate writings of those whom we disagree with, it is easy to dismiss everything with one big generalisation. Gaffin however provides a model for young scholars (and old surely!) on how to properly and fairly evaluate a writing.
The purpose of this post will be to highlight areas of disagreement between Wright and Gaffin, not to demonise Wright, for I do believe there is much to be gleaned from his writings, but to release Gaffin from the perception that he holds to anything but Reformed theology. Because the review is structured according the chapter divisions in What St. Paul Really Said, the reader will undoubtedly get a feel for that monograph, if it hasn’t already been read.
Gaffin’s summary of the first chapter (“Puzzling Over Paul”) is fairly uncritical. He points out that Wright has profiled, in so many words, the history of Pauline interpretation in the historical-critical tradition. Gaffin notes the “yield” of this survey in four areas of Pauline studies, 1) it shows that Paul is a very “Jewish thinker” as opposed to being Hellenized, 2) Paul has a legitimate theology (that he is, as the title of the review says, a theologian), 3) exegetical concerns should not be divorced from theological ones and 4) how Paul’s thought can be applied today.
It is in the second chapter (“Saul the Persecutor, Paul the Convert”) that Gaffin begins to show his differences with Wright. In emphasising the continuity between Paul and his Pharisaical past, namely in his monotheism, election and eschatology, Gaffin takes issue with a few of the bishop’s claims. The first is that Gaffin doesn’t agree with Wright that Paul could be identified with the Shammaite Pharisees committed to a “particular agenda of Torah-rigorism and violent, eschatologically oriented political activism” that determines much of Paul’s thought. Gaffin agrees with Sanders that there is not enough evidence, one way or another, to figure out what type of Pharisee Paul was. Gaffin notes that this construction of Paul might well be more in Wright’s own mind than a historical verity.
To be continued…

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Filed under apostle paul, n t wright, richard gaffin

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