Book Review – Paul & Judaism Revisited by Preston Sprinkle

Preston Sprinkle, Paul & Judaism Revisited – A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation, InterVarsity Press, 2013, 249pp.

Paul and Judaism Revisited

With the recent release of N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God we can be sure that a plethora of books on Paul will soon hit the stands, however many of them will probably be overlooked. Luckily Preston Sprinkle’s latest book on Paul was released several months before PFG, therefore it won’t necessarily be read as a response to Wright’s work. It will be able to stand alone on its own merit.

As the title suggests, this is a study of Divine and Human Agency in salvation, however it doesn’t fall along the typical “Calvinist/Arminian” battle lines. Instead Preston draws takes us centuries before that debate and draws us into the Old Testament. Here are the two sides that Preston focuses on:

The Old Testament says that Israel will be restored when it repents (which we will call a Deuteronomic restoration motif), but also that God will instantiate restoration prior to repentance (which we will call a Prophetic restoration motif). [37]

Preston uses these two OT paradigms in order to shed light upon 2nd Temple Judaism (which Christianity finds its place at as well). He uses these two different paradigms in order to accomplish the goal of his book which is to:

Attempt to contribute to the discussion regarding continuity and discontinuity in the soteriological structures of Paul and Judaism; or more precisely, Paul and the Dead Sea Scrolls. [28]

In his attempt to discern continuity/discontinuity between Paul and DSS communities, Preston focus on 5 motifs and devotes one chapter to each of them:

  1. Restoration from Curse of the Law
  2. The Spirit and Eschatology
  3. Anthropological Pessimism
  4. Justification
  5. The Role of Works in Judgment

Preston concludes that Paul doesn’t display total continuity with the DSS communities, but neither is there complete continuity. Thus New Perspective Readings of Paul miss the mark and so do the traditional Lutheran readings… Paul is a lot more complicated than we thought. This continuity/discontinuity often falls along Deuteronomic/Prophetic lines, with DSS leaning towards a Deuteronomic paradigm (Like Chronicles and of course Deuteronomy), and Paul leaning towards a Prophetic paradigm (like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah). In the end we see that Paul is situated thoroughly within the Prophetic tradition, in which God unilaterally brings about salvation to his people.

 

Pro’s

  1. A Nuanced Reading of Paul based on Scripture – In my mind, Preston’s use of Dueteronomic/Prophetic paradigms is his greatest move. It gives us a lens through which we can examine Paul without using the anachronistic soteriological language of NPP and Lutheranism. This lens is thoroughly grounded in scripture.
  2. A Balanced Reading of OT Traditions – Preston could have easily pitted the Dueteronomic tradition against the Prophetic tradition (in seminary I had many prof’s who found these traditions incompatible), but he doesn’t. Also he doesn’t try to smooth them out either by harmonizing them (Although I do believe that a harmonizing of these two traditions is possible, it actually happens in Christ himself).
  3. An Interesting Reconstruction of Paul’s Conversion – The Last chapter gives an account of how Paul might have gone from being within the deuteronomic tradition to moving into the prophetic tradition. This transition is entirely plausible within a Jewish framework. Yet this transition would have required a miracle… It would have required him to see that God had unilaterally saved his people, of course he did see this in his encounter with the resurrected Christ.

Con’s

I don’t have too many qualms with this book, or with his argument. I don’t know enough about DSS writings to make an educated argument against Preston’s reading of the texts. On another note, there is one point in his discussion of Galatians where Preston says that “the exile-restoration framework to my mind over reads Paul’s argument” (84). As someone who has found this framework very helpful in interpreting the NT I would have like to have known why he think this….

Conclusion

Preston’s book is significantly cheaper than PFG. It is also significantly shorter than PFG. If you are going to actually read a book on Paul this year (I highly doubt you are going to finish PFG) I recommend that you buy Paul & Judaism Revisited. It’s a great book for anybody who is a fan of NT use of the OT, it is a perfect example of how important understanding the OT is for understanding Paul.  Its also a fairly original approach to Paul which brings a new perspective to Paul and the new perspective (new perspective inception!)….

p.s. If Preston keeps pumping out these books I am going to run out of money….

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One thought on “Book Review – Paul & Judaism Revisited by Preston Sprinkle”

  1. Preston’s thesis seems typical of the dichotomizing reading of the OT and Paul. It’s not an either/or. God saved Israel unilaterally and through Israel’s faithfulness. This is because God focused Israel’s election in the Messiah, who was faithful and thus found life. Then, the people of God is recentered around the Messiah so that all who are in the crucified and glorified Messiah are redeemed along with Him. Unfortunately, dichotomizing readings of the OT and/or St. Paul are typical in academia and require a scholar of Wright’s caliber to correct.

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