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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 63, 2015

DOUGLAS A. CAMPBELL, Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014). Pp. xxii + 468. Paperback. US$39.00.

Douglas Campbell’s project has its decades-long origin, extending back to his days of graduate studies of Paul in the late 80s, and thus has been honed over the years into a theory in biographising Paul, using primarily Paul’s epistolary letters. Following the footsteps of John Knox, the author differs methodologically from other Pauline biographers who work with either Acts-based chronology or with a middle ground that switches between Acts-based and epistolary systems (xv). The bulk of the book is extensively argued within six chapters.

Chapter One, “An Extended Methodological Introduction,” discusses the “contingency” and “coherence” of Paul’s letters. Aware of the fact that writing biographies entails an art of restructuring the gaps by “piecing together subtle clues,” all Pauline biographers, including Campbell, “face the overt problem of the Pauline letters’ frame” (15). Thus, Campbell’s resolution to this inherent problem in his framing Paul’s biography is provisional (35).

The most serious question about Paul’s biography has to do perhaps with the reconstruction of Pauline frame and sequence—that is, the root problem of framing Paul and sequencing his letters. Campbell fundamentally answers this in Chapter Two, “The Epistolary Backbone: Romans and the Corinthian Correspondence.” One central issue is thoroughly argued herein, namely: the canonical Romans, 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians enjoy not only their integrity, but also their unity. While the partition hypothesis (e.g., the disputed status of Rom 16; the designation of Paul’s letter of tears to one of the lost letters to the Corinthians; and the overtly textual shifts in 2 Cor 2:14; 7:4; 8–9; 16:1–4; etc.) is appealing, Campbell questions why give credulity to unverified hypotheses that are not supported by each letter’s canonical status.

As the heading indicates, “Augmenting the Backbone: Philippians and Galatians,” this third chapter aims to insert Philippians and Galatians into the backbone sequence of 1 Corinthians–2 Corinthians–Romans. Campbell is convinced that once this insertion is vindicated reasonably, several things will occur simultaneously, namely that “an extensive and workable frame for Paul’s missionary career will be generated immediately” (122), and that “a firm absolute date” (182, 187, 412–14) will also be established based on the Aretas datum (cf. 2 Cor 11:32–33). By following the canonical order for Paul’s letters, chapter four proceeds to locate the Thessalonian Correspondence. The merit of this discussion lies in a couple of nuances. First, while 1 Thessalonians was first written, then followed by 2 Thessalonians, among Paul’s extent letters, the window of 40–42 CE for their composition “is embarrassingly early” (252). Second, just as with his argument against the partition hypothesis for Romans and 1 and 2 Corinthians, so also Campbell upholds Pauline integrity and unity of the Thessalonian Correspondence.

In locating Philemon, Colossians and Ephesians, the reader can easily anticipate in Chapter Five Campbell’s argument for authenticity of not only Philemon and Colossians, but also Ephesians. The attribution of Colossians and Ephesians to Paul allows Campbell to argue once again for an early date of their composition (i.e., mid-50 CE). Furthermore, Campbell recommends that the canonical designation of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians should be amended to Paul’s Letter to the Laodiceans as referenced by Colossians 4:16b (338).

The last chapter locates Titus and 1 and 2 Timothy. Appealing to Marcion’s inadequate list of the NT books, Campbell argues that “Titus, 1 Timothy, and 2 Timothy are best designated pseudepigraphic and excluded from further involvement in preliminary framing” (403).

Campbell has prefaced this daring project with Derrida’s methodological insight that “the way we frame the object of our investigation inevitably controls what we see, but the biases and interpretive acts involved with this framing tend to be hidden unless we name them explicitly” (xxi–xxii). In this Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography, Campbell has done well—rather quite well. Not only does he allow Paul’s epistolary sources to objectively control his investigation, but his biases and interpretive acts are sensitively argued and scholarly elicited. The frame of Paul’s missionary career has thus been established based, almost exclusively, on Pauline epistolary sources. What remains is whether Pauline readers will be convinced, or whether this will be read as another hypothetical biography of Paul, but the book should be read by all serious students of Paul. The opponent will first have to be “‘Campbellized’ chronologically” (xviii) before arriving at a different conclusion.

Review by
Toan Do
Australian Catholic University