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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 67, 2019

SIU FUNG WU (ed.), Suffering in Paul: Perspectives and Implications (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2019). Pp. ixx + 242. Paperback. US$29.00.

Siu Fung Wu has followed up his monograph Suffering in Romans with an edited collection of essays that trawls more broadly through the Pauline letters to draw out the apostle’s perspectives on suffering and to discuss how these might be applied to the church today. The authors are a diverse group including male and female scholars (though Wu expresses regret that he could only include two female authors) and differing ethnic backgrounds, and including quite a few Asians (each contributor is identified and described on pp. xv–xvii). This diversity helps bring fresh perspectives to the subjects tackled in the essays.

Following the editor’s Introduction, the book is in two parts. The first and major section consists of eight essays that address different Pauline letters (mainly Romans, 2 Corinthians and Philippians) and use different methodologies to discuss the theme of suffering before proposing some implications for today.

Roy Ciampa discusses “Suffering in Romans 1–8 in light of Paul’s Key Scriptural Intertexts,” including Paul’s use of Hab 2:4 in Rom 1:16–17, the catena of texts he employs in Rom 3:10–18, Paul’s discussion of Abraham and Sarah in Rom 4:16–21, and Paul’s quotation of Ps 44:22 in Rom 8:36. He points out ways in which Paul uses these texts in tension with their likely original meaning in context, but shows that foregrounding the theme of suffering (especially as it played out in Paul’s own life) lessens the tension and sheds new light on Paul’s meaning.

Xiaxia Xue discusses “The Sufferings of Paul in Romans 9–11: Paul’s Vicarious Intercession and His Prophetic Identity,” arguing that Paul sees himself as a prophet like Moses, Isaiah and Elijah in his dedication to Israel and willingness to suffer on their behalf.

David Starling considers “‘The Weapons of Righteousness’: Righteousness and Suffering in 2 Corinthians,” arguing from 2 Cor 6:7 in context that such language can best be understood in terms of suffering, both Paul’s and his readers, not to mention those of contemporary believers.

Sean Winter discusses “Suffering, Salvation, and Solidarity in 2 Cor 1:3–11.” Pauls language of suffering and consolation in this passage, he says, should be viewed in the light of Christ’s own sufferings (see v. 5) and comfort passages from Psalms and Isaiah. His article finishes by raising some uncomfortable questions for Christians today about our solidarity with suffering Christians.

Siu Fung Wu himself offers thoughts on “Participating in Christ’s Suffering and Being Conformed to the Image of the Son.” From Phil 1:1230; 2:5–11; 3:10–11, 21; 2 Cor 3:18; 4:10–12; Rom 8:17, 29 and 12:2, he concludes that “For Paul, suffering and conformity to Christ’s cruciform death are intertwined,” that “Participation in Christ’s suffering is an integral part of Christian existence,” and that “Suffering and glorification are … inseparable” (102): Christians display God’s glory best with a gracious response to suffering.

Hayley Jacob talks about “Suffering and Glory in Philippians,” especially from Phil 2:6–11 and 3:8–21, arguing that believers, like Christ, are glorified in their suffering and not just because of it and applying this insight to our response to the sufferings of Christians where persecution is strong.

Kay Yong Lim writes on “‘The Fellowship of Christ’s Sufferings’ (Phil 3:10): Politics, Sufferings and Social Identity Formation in Philippians.” Contrasting the political situation of the Roman empire, in which the Roman Philippians had a comfortable place, with the social identity formed by heavenly citizenship of the Philippians believers, he applies this tension to the experience of minority Christians in a majority Islamic context.

Finally, Sunny Chen provides the reader with a detailed and thorough study of the vocabulary of suffering, especially the two key Greek words θλîψις and στενοχωρíα, in his essay “Semantics of Suffering: Thematic Meaning of the Language of Suffering in 2 Corinthians.”

In the second section, Sanyu Iralu, Timothy Gombis and the editor offer responses to the essays, with Siu Fung Wu especially reinterpreting parts of his own life story in the light of the discussion of all the contributors.

As with any collection of essays, the quality and interest to the reader will vary depending on the readers’ own motivations. I found the two essays by Ciampa and Xue to be especially illuminating and Jacobs’ essay got me thinking in fresh ways about the Trinity and incarnation of Christ. But more generally, these essays seem to have two particular points of value: they ask different questions of Paul’s writings than the standard ones, thus bringing new insights, and they attempt to relate their scholarly conclusions to the current situations facing Christians in different parts of the globe, with some striking and even moving results.

Every collection, of course, has its limitations. The essays in this collection cover a limited range of the undisputed Pauline literature, though certainly key texts for the suffering theme. For example, Winter argues with respect to 2 Corinthians that “the intensity of the reflection on suffering in 2 Corinthians invites exposition and explanation” (65). Nonetheless it would be interesting to approach, say, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon with similar questions. Also, no essay can hope to reach definitive answers even to the questions it raises. However, all these essays raise issues that are valuable, stimulating and relevant.

Review by
Alphacrucis College