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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 51, 2003

C. K. Barrett, On Paul: Essays on His Life, Work and Influence in the Early Church. (London: T. & T. Clark, 2003). Pp. Xii+250. £25.00.

One of the concerns that binds this collection of essays together is C. K. Barrett’s determination to ferret out the events lying behind Acts 15 and Galatians 2. He pursues this enquiry, from slightly different angles, in the Introduction, “Paul and Jerusalem” (pp. 1–26); and again in chapter 2, “Christocentricity at Antioch” (pp. 37-54); and chapter 4, “Paul: Councils and Controversies” (pp. 73–107). Throughout, Barrett demonstrates his capacity for pungent, penetrating, historical and theological comment, touching on not only what probably happened, but also what might have happened and what should have happened.

Here is his surmise about what would have happened, had the church given in to the demands of the Judaisers: It would have worked. It would have produced a united community. It would not have worked very well; not many converts would have been made. The church (though it would not have borne that name) would have been a sub-set of Pharisaism. The name of Jesus would today be no better known than that of Sabbatai Zevi, the seventeenth-century Messiah (p. 103).

Another recurring theme in this volume is the pervasive influence exercised by the strand of the Gentile mission deriving from the Seven. Luke, Barrett argues, does not distinguish their mission clearly from the Pauline mission, but they were really quite distinct (p. 194). The speeches of Acts 7 and Acts 17 both derive from the non-Pauline mission (pp. 139–54). The Seven and their successors were not only the authors of the Apostolic Decree, to which Paul was not a party (p. 53), they controlled and directed the great Gentile expansion of the church in the seventies, eighties and nineties (p. 196). Hebrews is to be understood as an attempt to make up perceived deficiencies in their Christology (pp. 193–213).

In “Eidolothuta Once More”, Barrett suggests that Paul deals with food sacrificed to idols twice, in 1 Corinthians 8 and again in chapter 10, because he is dealing with two different groups of “free Christians” (pp. 27–35). In “Paul: Missionary and Theologian”, he argues persuasively that Paul is both (pp. 55-72). In “I am not ashamed of the Gospel”, he argues for a link with a saying ascribed to Jesus in Mark 8:38 (pp. 109–37). “Pauline Controversies in the Post-Pauline Period” is largely concerned with the emergence of the Pauline legend (pp. 155–77). “Ethics in the Deutero-Pauline Literature” contrasts the radical ethical material of the Synoptics with the good, sensible advice of the Pastorals (pp. 179–92). In the last two essays in the volume, Barrett makes a critical response to Jacob Jervell’s The Unknown Paul and to Krister Stendahl’s essay, “Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West”, respectively (pp. 215–25; 227–40).

Barrett is not the sort of scholar to make any concessions to dilettantes. Quite a number of quotations in Latin and German are included, without English translation. This limits the value of the book for students, to some extent.

Although now well into his retirement, Barrett is still as productive as ever. Long may he continue to enlighten us with his insight and erudition!

Review by
Rev. Prof. (Emer) Nigel M. Watson
10 Chatham Street
Flemington, Victoria