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July 1983 · Vol. 12 No. 3 · pp. 39–40 

Book Review

The Origin of Paul's Gospel

Seyoon Kim. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982. 391 pages.

Reviewed by Devon H. Wiens

The question of the sources of Paul’s gospel has occupied New Testament scholars for a century or more. All too often, it seems, Paul’s self-testimony has been ignored in the interests of defending a Hellenistic Jewish and/or Greco-Roman influence upon him. Seyoon Kim, a Korean who studied under F.F. Bruce, presents a revised version of his thesis, in which he sallies forth to do battle with those who posit what he considers extraneous forces impacting Paul.

Kim maintains that “. . . Paul received his gospel from the Damascus revelation of Jesus Christ” and that “. . . only when this insistence of Paul is taken seriously can we really understand Paul and his theology” (p. 335). He begins his argument with a summary of the evidence for Paul’s upbringing in Jerusalem and his rabid, “zealotic” oppression of the Christians. He then provides a lengthy, involved description of the Damascus Christophany and shows how it is modelled upon visions granted to OT prophets at their call. He argues that not only did Jesus’ appearance confirm the primitive church’s proclamation of him, but also that Paul accepted, at that time, the ideas contained in the Christian confession (e.g., Jesus as the exalted and enthroned Lord, the Son of God, and his supersession of the Torah.)

Paul also saw Jesus as the eikon of God, according to Kim, which in turn led him to conceive of Christ as the personified Wisdom and in terms of his relationship to Adam. Finally, “the characteristics of Paul’s doctrine of justification sola gratia and sola fide are due to the insights into the questions of the law, human existence and man’s relation to God which he developed out of his Damascus experience” (p. 332).

As the preceding synopsis implies, this is a highly-compressed, tightly-argued account of Paul’s “conversion” and its consequences for his thought. It is a technical, exegetical work which lays the foundation for further explication. Only the hardy will persevere to the end of this tome!

Kim’s work has much to commend it. It is, in the main, a rather convincing corrective to the one-sidedness of much Pauline study. One wonders, however, whether in turn his own perspective is not also somewhat one-sided. Can the Damascus Christophany bear all the freight with which Kim loads it? This is in no way to denigrate the supernatural character and enduring effect of that occurrence—after all, Paul {40} executed a dramatic volte-face in the light of that experience. Nevertheless, in reacting against a developmental reading of Paul, Kim seems to allow scarcely any place for a normal progression of thought.

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