Corps de l’article

The symphony of Pauline theology, according to Barclay (henceforth B.), is comprehensible from its internal grammar – “the grammar of grace and the gift of Christ” (p. 114). Unlike the tripartite nature of human linguistics – phonetics, morphology and grammar – B. dispenses with phonetics, but retains morphology and grammar. For him, composite and cognate referent words of chariseucharistia, charisma – and other roots signifying “gift” and “giving” – doma, didômi, dôrea, dôrèma, (p. 1), all fall within the taxonomy of “gift”–charis: Paul aligns these words to formulate a syntax or grammar of “gift” (p. 114), that comprises “giving,” “receiving” and “re-giving” (pp. 3-5).

B. moves from the known (anthropology) to the new – Pauline theology. From the anthropology of “gift,” around the experiences of the Pacific Rim, B. bases his hypothesis on Marcel Mauss’ book, “The Gift” (1990) or “Essai sur le don” (1925), where gifts, giving are part of cultural anthropology. Fundamentally, B. avers, gifts create relationships between givers and recipients of gifts. It is paramount to know when to give, receive and reciprocate gifts, in Mauss’ anthropology of “gift.” B. argues that Pauline concept of “gift” follows a theological foundation different from Mauss’s anthropological conclusions (p. xvii-xviii).

It is the tapestry, on the basis of the morphologico-grammatic variants of “gift,” of “gift-theology,” that B. offers us as a “gift” in his two books, of similar contents but different lengths and years of publications (Paul and the Gift, 2015 and Paul and the Power of Grace, 2020). Since B. refers (p. 1 footnote 2) readers of the 2020 summary version to the opus magnum of 2015, my review is that of 2020 version, but with symbiotic enrichment from the 2015 version, to avoid misrepresenting his ideas. I must confess that there are additions to the 2020 version that are missing in that of 2015, especially the discussion on Phil 2:6-11 (B. 2020, pp. 119-122).

B. combs pre-Pauline and extra-Pauline sources – Second-Temple Judaism, Qumran and Greco-Roman (pp. 1-37) – as pretexts to demonstrate their conception of “gift” as different from Paul’s; he further confronts Paul’s grammar of “gift” with Catholic, Protestant and Western post-modernist understanding of “gift” (pp. 137-159). The middle or centre of his book (pp. 38-136) is dedicated to “updating” the debates around Pauline themes of “justification” as a fulcrum for harmonizing “grace,” “gift” and “sin.” The underlying presupposition, of course, is God’s intervention in human history in the person of Jesus Christ. To understand the concept of “gift” and its variegated meanings, the legitimacy and novelty of the Christ-event is the point of hermeneutic for Paul. It follows that Paul and the Power of Grace makes Christ the primordial “gift” on the basis of whom B. finds a “mirror reading” of Pauline literatures.

If Christ is the foundational gift of God to humanity, for B.’s analysis of Pauline corpus (basically Galatians and Romans), the fundamental impact of “grace” or “gift” is anthropological (xvi-xviii). B., from the very first chapter (pp. 1-5), engages the social or relational function of anthropology, as it comes into contact with “grace” and “gift.” Contrary to the Greco-Roman and Western understanding of “gift” as reciprocal, its Paul meaning is unique by Paul’s “incarnation” of “grace” as Christ, and “gift” as the relationship God creates among human beings through the Christ-event (pp. 5-11).

The brilliance and novelty of B.’s book features prominently in his “adjectival” analyses. The whole of chapter two (12-23) is dedicated to this “forgotten” truism – the fact that every adjective delimits and circumscribes the meaning of every substantive/noun. What B. calls “six perfections of grace” (p. 13) are examples of how adjectives vitiate the meanings of “grace” and “gift,” when they “qualify” them, leading to historical “disagreements” among Christians in their interpretations of grace (pp. 17-23).

Some aspects of Second Temple Judaism vis-à-vis Pauline theology, especially previous attempts to distinguish them from Paul’s theology either as foundational or evolutional, occupy chapter 3 (pp. 24-37). To situate the relevance of his book, B. differentiates between the works of E. P. Sanders – Paul and Palestinian Judaism – criticising it as not providing enough distinction between “grace and works of the law” and giving priority to grace (covenant), and Dunn’s The New Perspective on Paul neglects “grace” by laying emphasis on the “works of the law” or the Mosaic laws. Consequently, B.’s thesis is that “Sanders’s tendency to homogenize the Jewish texts on this crucial point [Judaism is a ‘religion of grace’] should be resisted and replaced with a more penetrating set of questions regarding the dynamics of grace within each text. A simple binary question – do they speak of grace or not?”– is too blunt . . . [Paul has his] own tone and tenor within a complex Jewish debate” (p. 28). With the aid of four texts – Wisdom of Solomon, Philo of Alexandria, Qumran and 4 Ezra – B. concludes that “grace is everywhere in Second Temple Judaism, but not everywhere the same” (pp. 28-36 at 36). In order to provide the core question of his thesis, B. asks a rhetorical question: “What is Paul’s particular configuration of grace?” (p. 37).

A fundamental novelty B. feels he brings to the table is “the Christ-event, as incongruous gift, is the basis of Paul’s controversial mission to the gentiles, in which Paul resists attempts to impose on believers preconstituted systems of worth, whether ethnic, social, or moral. Paul remaps reality in the wake of the unconditioned gift of God in Christ and builds experimental, trans-ethnic communities that take their bearings from this singular event” (pp. 40-41). The representative arguments B. crafts into his analysis of Galatians (pp. 38-74) includes the fact that “Christ” is the fundamental “gift” of God to humanity, therefore, human value systems must take their source from him (pp. 38-40). In theological-anthropology, “Christ-gift” (pp. xviii, 51, 63, 119, 123) becomes “Christ-grace” creating vertical and horizontal relational webs (pp. 72-74, 90) beyond extant Greco-Roman and Jewish social types (pp. 41-45). The human response to God for “Christ-gift” is faith. For B., “faith as trust in Christ is a declaration of bankruptcy, a radical and shattering recognition that the only capital in God’s economy is the gift of Christ, a gift given without regard to any other criterion of worth” (p. 50). This is the case because “the Law is no longer the absolute or invariable criterion for pleasing God” (p. 50); it is from “the event of Jesus Christ, from whom all meaning and value derive” (p. 72). This whole project of redefinition of values and relationships starts with the saga between Peter and Paul in Antioch (p. 45) and culminates in the question of “newness of life” in Gal 6 and Rm (pp. 71-74, 88-113).

The themes of “mission” and “newness,” underscored in Galatians, continue in Romans. “Newness of life” as “The gift of God in Jesus Christ has established not liberation from every kind of authority but a new allegiance, a new responsibility, a new ‘slavery’ under the rule of grace” (p. 89), so that there is a different understanding here between the “works of the law” and “works” inspired by the Holy Spirit. According to B., “If Galatians stresses the value of God’s grace irrespective of worth [sic], Romans clarifies that it operates in the absence of worth [sic]: it is given to the ‘ungodly’ (4:4; 5:6), to those who are utterly unworthy” (p. 76). In Romans, “mission is central to Paul’s identity” which goes deeper that the question of “equality,” it is more about “newness of life” (pp. 86, 91-96).

B. privileges the “incongruity of grace” (pp. 101-113) as the category that fits best Paul’s theology of grace. However, to harmonize “grace” and “works,” B. argues that “works” has its place in Pauline theology of grace as the fruit of the Holy Spirit in a Christian: “It is unimaginable for Paul that a Spirit-circumcised heart will not produce work that is pleasing to God: in that sense, the works evidenced here are necessary for the fulfillment of salvation.” (p. 81) As regards prevenient nature of grace (“The priority [sic] of grace” p. 73), B. avers that “[Paul] does want to clarify that the difference between Jews and non-Jews is not basic to the Abraham story. From the beginning, the Abrahamic blessing was bling to this significant token of differential worth” (p. 85).

The apparent inconsistency between Rm 9-11 and the rest of the epistle finds reconciliation in B.’s concepts of “gift” and “grace,” particularly God’s mercy (pp. 101-113). He argues that the past and future of Israel neither distinguishes Israel from the rest of the world nor make Israel more important that others, it simply (Rm 9-11) falls within the incongruous gift of God in Christ or the Christ-event that perfects the unity of humanity as God’s people.

B. critiques Protestant uneasiness with the twin of “grace and works” or “faith and works” as a misreading of Paul’s grammar of grace that implicates “work”; he sides with Catholic perspective: “the thesis of this book contains an important element of agreement with Catholic tradition: the grace of God in Christ is transformative [sic] (…) such that the practice of love and generosity, in the power of the Spirit, is integral to the expression of salvation” (pp. 141-142), where “practice” equals “work” or the “obligations” of grace (p. 149). He further distinguishes his position from “The New Perspective on Paul” by its failure to recognize grace as “incongruous” in Paul.

The book, Paul and the Power of Grace, follows a predetermined schema – the correction of extant theology of grace in its varied ecclesiological determinations. The last chapter (13) of the book verifies the conformity of Pauline “grace” theology with its different versions in Catholic and non-Catholic theologies (pp. 149-159). This portion of biblical theology does not appreciate sufficiently the intricacies involved in the history of grace, as a theological concept, in Catholicism, and the variants of it in contemporary theology: it is mistaken to make St. Augustine the lone voice in this regard, despite its heuristic importance for B.’s biblical theology.

It stands to reason that, by concentrating on Galatians and Romans, two letters known for their grips on identity crisis, it appears to be a telling omission not to engage identity seriously in a monumental book on “grace” and “gift.” The exegesis of some Pauline identity pericopes like Gal 2-5, 1 Cor 10-14 and Rom 1-5 (pp. 56-59, 70, 75-87, 120-124), just to mention proto-Pauline texts, glosses over the uniqueness of those pericopes beyond their functional explanation within a “gift/grace” theology. “Identity” is not an aside for Paul’s theologies in Galatians and Romans, it was debated, and it follows an evolutionary pattern in Pauline Corpus.