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Spring 2016 · Vol. 45 No. 1 · pp. 97–99 

Book Review

Perspectives of Jesus in the Writings of Paul: A Historical Examination of Shared Core Commitments with a View to Determining the Extent of Paul’s Dependence on Jesus

Gerry Schoberg. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2013. 486 pages.

Reviewed by Gordon Zerbe

This slightly revised doctoral dissertation from the University of Bristol (Trinity College) enters into a 150-year history of vigorous and voluminous scholarly debate as to whether (the historical) Jesus and (the historical) Paul are “on the same page.” Not for the casual reader, this book provides a thorough and judicious engagement with past and current scholarship on this issue from diverse perspectives. Author Gerry Schoberg is from Vancouver and now serves as Senior Academic Administrator at Regent College, where he earlier received his MTS and ThM.

Schoberg’s entry point stems from a theological problem (tied even to recent ecclesial debates on same-sex marriage): Does the New Testament project a “unified vision,” or are there two major and “not always reconcilable” strands within it? Should historians (and Christians) accept the notion of a radical break between Jesus and Paul, or can we understand the relationship as continuity and dependency within development?

To offer a new angle on a well-worn subject, Schoberg seeks to focus on “matters of fundamental importance,” and broader areas of “shared core convictions,” as opposed simply to particular thematic or textual correlations. He thus takes up three images that Richard Hays (The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 1996) offered as central and fundamental to the New Testament story: community, cross, and new creation. To find evidence for direct dependency, Schoberg is especially intent to find a “common mindset” that is distinctive from what we might find in either the Jewish or the Greco-Roman contexts.

The central chapters of the book therefore provide a comparison between Jesus and Paul on these broad themes. To elucidate community, there is a comparison between “Jesus’ Table Fellowship with Tax Collectors and Sinner” (chapter 2) and “Paul’s Welcome of the Gentiles” (chapter 3). To assess the centrality of the cross, we next have “Jesus’ Challenge to Share His Fate” (chapter 4) in conversation with “Paul’s Participationist Language” (chapter 5). Finally, we have “Jesus’ Ministry in the Context of New Creation” (chapter 6) in association with “Paul’s New Creation Eschatology” (chapter 7).

Schoberg’s conclusion is that his research suggests the “continuity with development” model: “There is a seed planted by Jesus that {98} develops in new ways in Paul.” In the three cases he addresses, he finds “clear lines of family resemblance” whereby “Paul expresses the reality we saw in Jesus’ ministry in new and creative ways” (335).

Schoberg is modest in observing that his conclusions apply specifically to his somewhat arbitrarily chosen field of vision. Admitting that he has focused on limited areas of possible similarities, he suggests that further study is needed to assess why Paul sounds so different in comparison with Jesus, and why Paul cites the Jesus tradition so rarely. Schoberg supplies initial proposals that highlight Paul’s contextual adaptation of the gospel instead of substantive differences between Jesus and Paul.

I applaud this effort to see the correlation between Jesus and Paul in broad areas of distinctive shared core commitments, and not mainly in the analysis of outward form and textual correspondences. In this respect, the analysis could have been broadened significantly. Schoberg’s analysis of the cross focuses, for instance, on a preoccupation with themes of atonement theology, but rather mutes the ethical dynamism that resonates in Paul in continuity with Jesus: social inversion and the way of peace.

Schoberg’s chosen method and framework is explicitly historical, in that he seeks explicitly historical lines of continuity and dependency (as opposed to areas of theological or canonical coherence). This means that his analysis of the Gospel evidence is claimed to represent that of “the historical Jesus.” He indeed grants that none of the final Gospel writers were actual eyewitnesses, and that the Gospels are overlaid (to some degree) with the perspectives of both the first storytellers and the final (anonymous) editors/authors. Still, he insists that the Gospels are closer to “eyewitness testimony” than to theologically loaded presentations of the story of Jesus. Even though he claims that the “burden of proof” lies on the other side, this framework opens itself to significant difficulties and challenges.

The search to find and articulate the fundamental unity and consistency within the New Testament (presumably to help guide the church in the present) is a noble one. But this pursuit often avoids the fact that the church rather deliberately decided on an ecumenical compromise that affirmed Gospel diversity, and muffles that fact that even Paul’s field of theological vision allows for and indeed embraces considerable theological and ethical variation (e.g. Rom 14–15). This presence of celebrated diversity within the New Testament is best pursued simultaneously with the quest to find continuity and dependency. {99}

A thirty-six-page bibliography and sixty-eight pages of indexes (author, textual, subject) add to the value of this book.

Gordon Zerbe
Professor of New Testament
Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Manitoba

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