Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters

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Unlike the many books that treat the apostle Paul merely as a historical figure and his letters as literary relics, this new study by Michael Gorman focuses on the theological message of Paul's writings, particularly what they have to say to the contemporary church.

An innovative and comprehensive treatment of Paul, including commentary on all of the Pauline letters, Gorman's Apostle of the Crucified Lord unpacks the many dimensions of Paul's thought carefully and holistically. Six introductory chapters provide background discussion on Paul's world, his r�sum�, his letters, his gospel, his spirituality, and his theology, while the main body of the book covers in turn and in full detail each of the Pauline epistles. Gorman gives the context of each letter, offers a careful reading of the text, and colors his words with insightful quotations from earlier interpreters of Paul.

Enhancing the text itself are questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter and numerous photos, maps, and tables throughout. All in all, Apostle of the Crucified Lord is the ideal book for students and any other readers interested in seriously engaging Paul's challenging letters.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802839343
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 11/14/2003
  • Pages: 610
  • Sales rank: 333,172
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.27 (d)

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Apostle of the Crucified Lord

A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters
By Michael J. Gorman

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2003 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8028-3934-7

Chapter One


Paul Our Contemporary

When Paul was absent, he wrote you letters, and if you study them carefully, you will be able to be built up into the faith that has been given to you, "which is the mother of us all" [Gal. 4:26], if hope follows, and if love for God and Christ and for neighbor leads the way. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, Letter to the Philippians 3.2-3, ca. 115

Polycarp of Smyrna (located in western Asia Minor) was a courageous Christian bishop and martyr who, three or four decades after writing these words, was burned at the stake by Roman authorities for refusing to confess Caesar as Lord. He was 86 years old. Polycarp's description of Paul's epistolary ministry to the Christians in Philippi - both those addressed in the middle of the first century and those living several generations later - serves as a provocative summary of our own encounter with Paul in this book.

Polycarp's words, especially interpreted in light of his final fate, tell us several things about the apostle: he really is our contemporary, our pastortheologian, who teaches us about the inseparability of faith, hope, and love, and about the meaning of that mostbasic Christian confession: "Jesus is Lord." In fact, Polycarp's life and death remind all Christians that the wisest readings of Paul's letters, whether in the first century, the second century, or later, always involve participation in a story, the story of God's revelation and redemption in the exalted crucified Messiah Jesus. That is, the ultimate goal of the interpretation of Paul's letters is not merely to understand them, but to live them, to continue their story, especially in challenging times such as those faced by Christians in the first part of the 21st century. In this epilogue, we briefly consider that goal.


Polycarp tells the Christians at Philippi that the apostle Paul's letters, written many years earlier, still speak today. His voice is not silent, for he is their - and our - contemporary. This claim, as Polycarp recognizes, does not mean that Paul's voice is always clear, or that the contemporary appropriation of Paul is facile. On the contrary, the interpretation of Paul requires careful study, and it requires that this diligent exegesis take place in the Christian community. Polycarp, like Paul, addresses the Philippians and us in the second-person-plural: "if you [all, together] study them carefully...." The mention of multiple letters may refer to more than one epistle addressed to the Philippians or, more likely, to Polycarp's conviction that the entire Pauline corpus is ultimately addressed to the entire church of all places and times.

To be sure, not everyone has found Paul to be a welcome contemporary voice, or even a past voice worthy of their attention. Over the centuries, and in our own day, there have been plenty of critics who have found Paul, or some of the letters ascribed to him, to be so seriously mistaken on one or more significant matters that they have dismissed him as hopelessly patriarchal, or arrogant, or conservative, or antinomian, or anti-Judaic, or "Puritanical," or homophobic, or whatever. Some have even felt that Christianity would be better off without Paul or his letters. Still others have concluded, and in some measure rightly so, that Paul needs liberating - not so much from his own errors, but from centuries of misinterpretation.

The seriousness of these difficulties should not be underestimated. Yet Paul continues to speak, and people continue to listen. It is in part the constellation of problems in Paul that keeps drawing readers back to his correspondence, even when they do not fully understand it or agree with it. There is an enduring quality to his letters, a timeless religious and intellectual depth that has seldom, if ever, been matched in the history of letter writing, or of Christianity. That is why the interpretation of his tiny literary corpus continues to preoccupy some of the sharpest minds in both academic and ecclesial circles. Many of his issues are also our issues: unity and diversity in the church, ethnic reconciliation, appropriate embodied sexuality, the challenge of countercultural living ("holiness") in a hostile culture, love for enemies in a dangerous world, hope in the face of suffering and death, and so on. Letters written to the Philippians, the Corinthians, the Romans, and others were written also for us, as Polycarp knew.

This is not to diminish the reality of the 'particularity' of Paul's letters, or to suggest that there exists no gap between him and us, between his times and ours. Quite the contrary. We must certainly acknowledge the specificity of Paul's letters, but that is in part what is so attractive about them: they were addressed to real people in real-life situations. We identify with them because we find ourselves to be similar people in similar situations. We can and must, therefore, employ our God-given, Spirit-empowered, disciplined-but-creative imaginations to discern analogies between Paul's stories and our own. Thus the Christian theological principle of particularity (manifested also in the incarnation) and the Christian ethical principle of analogical thinking (rooted in the conclusion of the parable of the Good Samaritan: "go and do likewise") combine to provide both the challenge and the promise of interpreting Paul in the church today.


For Christians, then, Paul is not simply a riddle to solve, an opponent to take down, or even a great intellect to admire. He comes to us, through his letters, as our teacher and spiritual guide, as a conduit of the Word of God. What is remarkable about Paul - and Polycarp realizes this as well - is that his intellectually challenging letters are the work of a pastor, one whose goal is the edification of the church. His writing is that of a pastor-theologian whose task of teaching doctrine has a pastoral purpose: the formation of better Christian people and communities.

It is no accident, therefore, that theologian Ellen Charry borrows from Paul for the title of her insightful book, By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine, a study of theologians who practiced theology pastorally. The first theologian she considers is Paul. As Charry points out in her introduction, Paul's famous words at the beginning of Romans 12 succinctly summarize the apostle's approach to the task of theology:

I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [or "reasonable"] worship. Do not be conformed to this world [or "age"], but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:1-2)

For Paul, the task of theological teaching and reflection is transformative of both mind and life, of both individuals and communities. True theology is also doxological, because when the will of God is embodied in transformed people, God is truly honored and glorified. True theology is the work of a pastor who has a shepherd's heart as well as an academic's mind.

Paul constantly displays his commitment to this kind of understanding of theology. For him, every practical problem in the church has a theological cause and solution, and every theological assertion has practical consequences. No matter is too mundane for an appeal to the cross, the resurrection, the parousia and judgment, the unity and character of the church, the covenant faithfulness of God, the lordship of Jesus, or another of Paul's central theological convictions. The divisions at Corinth, for instance, or the debates about circumcision in Galatia, bring out a host of theological assertions that underlie and underline Paul's concrete exhortations.


If good theology is ordered to pastoral ends, what are those ends for Paul? The trinitarian spirituality we have found in Paul suggests that we could answer generally with something like "communion with God the Father; Jesus the Son, Messiah, and Lord; and the (Holy) Spirit of God and the Son." More concretely, throughout this book we have seen that the famous Pauline triad of faith, hope, and love permeates his letters. Polycarp noticed this as well, speaking vividly of the interconnectedness of these three 'theological virtues,' as the Christian tradition has come to call them. We have attempted to indicate the centrality of these virtues to Paul, and to a theologically oriented reading of his letters, by concluding each of the chapters on the thirteen letters with the question for reflection and discussion, "In sum, what does this letter urge the church to believe, to hope for, and to do [i.e., in love]?"

It is not the purpose of this brief epilogue to answer that question in detail or depth; hopefully, readers have begun to do that for themselves while reading this text. Furthermore, I have attempted to address these topics of faith, hope, and love (together with power) elsewhere, in a comprehensive study of Paul's spirituality. But two major points for us today must be stressed: first, that Paul does in fact see this triad as a unity, and second, that Paul understands and experiences this triad only in light of the cross.


Theological debates about Paul have centered on justification by faith and the role of "good works" for half a millennium. Those debates have been rekindled, supposedly settled, and rekindled once again during the last half-century of unprecedented discoveries and debate about Judaism in Paul's day, on the one hand, and unprecedented ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, on the other. In 1999, when Roman Catholics and Lutherans came to agreement - actually a kind of unity in diversity - about the 'doctrine' of justification, there was great rejoicing in many (though not all) circles. The upshot of their agreement can be stated in two claims: that for Paul and for the Christian church, justification is solely by divine grace, and that the evidence of justification is the manifestation of good works. Put differently, justification by faith and a life of neighbor love are inseparable, as Polycarp had already discerned in his own reading of Paul.

In the opinion of some observers, including the present writer, the Catholic-Lutheran accord would be articulated somewhat differently, and strengthened, by an even closer reading of Paul. As we have seen in this book, for Paul, justification is the establishment of right covenantal relations with the God of Israel, who now calls all the world to be part of the divinely initiated covenant that requires and offers love for God and for others - a covenant with inseparable 'vertical' and 'horizontal' dimensions. That covenant was displayed and fulfilled in Christ's one act of covenant faithfulness on the cross, an event that was simultaneously an expression of his faithful obedience to God (i.e., love for God) and of his self-giving devotion to others (i.e., love for neighbor). To respond to and participate in the cross of Christ is, therefore, to enter into a covenantal relationship with both God and humans in which there can be no vertical relationship (what Paul usually calls "faith") without a corollary horizontal relationship (what Paul normally calls "love"). Those who try to have one without the other have not understood what Paul is all about or, as far as Paul is concerned, what God is all about. There is, for Paul, as for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, no such thing as "cheap grace."

If faith and love are inextricably intertwined, what about hope? In a world full of hostile powers and other kinds of dangers, hope can either be in short supply or it can be cheap, but Paul will have it neither way. For him, hope is the future tense of faith, the assurance that what God has done in Christ's death and resurrection - for us, for all of humanity, and indeed for the entire cosmos - will be brought to completion. It cannot be thwarted by any power, human or demonic, that may seem to be victorious at the moment. Hope that is rooted in anything other than this kind of faith is vacuous and, indeed, dangerous. In its most distorted forms, hope that is not rooted in faith can lead to idolatrous expressions of trust in powers other than God, and can at the same time lead also to acts of hatred, even to crimes against humanity, rather than to deeds of love. The twentieth century was home to far too many perversions of hope.


The second main point we need to make about the unity of faith, hope, and love is that this triad makes sense for Paul and for us only when perceived through the lens of the cross. Faith, hope, and love are first of all aspects of the cross of Christ, and therefore also dimensions of our response to, and participation in, that cross.

For many Christians, the death of Christ remains primarily a transaction between God and humanity in which Christ is a willing but largely passive figure. In such a scenario, Christ's cross does not define either his or our humanity. The cross is seen as the source of our salvation, but not as the shape of it. For Paul, however, Christ's cross is both the source and the shape of our salvation. When we respond to the gospel, we embrace the cross not only as gift but also as demand. To borrow the language of Jesus, we 'take up the cross,' beginning a life that can be best described with one word: cruciform - cross-shaped. Our devotion to God, our love for others, and our hope for the future are all grounded in and shaped by the cross.

In such a cruciform spirituality, sacrifice, difficulty, and suffering are not to be seen as intruders, but as part and parcel of the arrangement, sustained by the presence of the Spirit as the foretaste and guarantee of a future resurrection similar to Christ's. Neither, however, are such experiences ends in themselves. Cruciformity, in harmony with the cross itself, always has a goal, such as reconciliation, or the good of another, or the welfare of a community. To live in Christ in this way is to be working "with the grain of the universe," to use the words of the late John Howard Yoder. For that reason, it brings more joy and happiness than any of the cheap, triumphalistic spiritualities currently on the market.

Much more can and should be said about this important aspect of Paul's contemporary voice, but space permits only a reminder that the topic may be explored in depth elsewhere.


Both Paul and his early interpreter Polycarp understood the mystery of cruciform yet joyful existence. They understood it, at least in part, because they grasped the meaning of the confession "Jesus is Lord." Or rather, perhaps, because they were grasped by it.

Unfortunately, the significance of the claim that Jesus is Lord has not always captured the church's imagination as it did in the time of the Roman Empire. As we have seen at several junctures in this book, this confession reveals the 'political' as well as the 'religious' dimension of early Christianity. Because these two dimensions of human life were inextricably interconnected in antiquity, early Christianity did not wonder whether politics and religion were related, but rather whose politics would affect religion, and vice versa. For Paul and the early church, the answer was the religion and politics of the exalted crucified Messiah Jesus. These were, of course, one reality.

We have suggested, therefore, that it is more appropriate to speak of the theopolitical character of Paul's gospel (see chapter 4). To confess Jesus as Lord was, for Paul, a theopolitical confession. It meant that Jesus embodied the God of Israel's rightful claim to universal sovereignty and acclamation, and that all other pretenders to the place that is rightfully God's alone were to be rejected. Such pretenders would obviously include the deities of Paul's polytheistic world. Paul said that people who acknowledged Jesus as Lord had turned their backs on the pagan gods and turned to the one, true, living God (1 Thess. 1:9-10).


Our world is hardly lacking for so-called "gods and lords" (1 Cor. 8:5) that pretend to be viable alternatives to Jesus as Lord. As N. T. Wright (among others) reminds us, our supposedly "secular" Western cultures are, in fact, quite religious; they are pagan.


Excerpted from Apostle of the Crucified Lord by Michael J. Gorman Copyright © 2003 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

List of Maps
1 Paul's World(s): The Greco-Roman Context of His Mission 1
2 Paul's Resume: The Mission of the Former Persecutor 40
3 Paul's Letters: Apostleship in Absentia 74
4 Paul's Gospel: The Good News of Christ Crucified and Raised 98
5 Paul's Spirituality: Convenantal, Cruciform, and Charismatic; Communal, Countercultural, and (New-) Creational 115
6 Paul's Theology: A Dozen Fundamental Convictions 131
7 1 Thessalonians: Holiness and Hope in a Pagan World 146
8 2 Thessalonians: Cruciform Faithfulness and Goodness before the Parousia 167
9 Galatians: The Sufficiency of the Cross and Spirit 183
10 1 Corinthians: Chaos and the Cross in Corinth 227
11 2 Corinthians: Paul's Defense of Cruciform Ministry 287
12 Romans: Gentile and Jew in Cruciform Covenant Community 338
13 Philippians: The Hymn of the Crucified Lord in the Cruciform Community 412
14 Philemon: The Cross and the Status Quo 454
15 Colossians: The Cosmic Crucified Christ as the Wisdom of God 471
16 Ephesians: Walking Worthily of the Cosmic Crucified Christ 498
17 2 Timothy: Suffering Rather than Shame 532
18 1 Timothy: Proper Order and Conduct in God's Household 551
19 Titus: Ordering Church Life and Leadership between the Epiphanies 571
20 Epilogue: Paul Our Contemporary 580
Scripture Index 593
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