Daniel Marguerat’s work has long served as a model of historically informed, literarily sensitive, theologically attuned exegesis. This new book brings together English translations of many of Marguerat’s more recent essays, along with a couple of new pieces, into a single collection broadly unified by the overarching theme suggested by the title, Paul in Acts and Paul in His Letters. As a collection of thirteen essays, the book does not advance one continuous argument but rather offers a variety of proposals about a diverse range of issues related to Paul and the book of Acts. Given the breadth of Marguerat’s interests and the limited space available for the present review, I think it best for me to offer a selective engagement with what seem to me to be the most significant claims found within the work, along with a couple more general comments regarding the book’s contents.
The first essay, “Paul after Paul: A (Hi)story of Reception,” is among the most ambitious. Here Marguerat proposes a new framework for approaching the reception of Paul within early Christianity. In particular, Marguerat is concerned to correct what he perceives to be an unwarranted prejudice for Paul the letter-writer over against the heritage of Paul that is preserved outside of Paul’s own letters. Alongside the collection of Paul’s letters, the early church preserved a biographical memory of Paul’s ministry and a doctrinal memory of Paul’s teaching. This reception of Paul was transmitted through oral tradition and preserved in Acts (biographical reception) and the Deutero-Pauline and Pastoral epistles (doctoral reception).
Marguerat contends that the documentary reception of Paul—the collection of his letters—should not be viewed as the norm against which these other receptions of Paul are evaluated. To Marguerat, such a preference for Paul’s letters reflects a post-Enlightenment pre-occupation with the written word and does not give adequate weight to the significance of oral tradition and social memory within early Christianity. In reality, the documentary, biographical, and doctoral reception of Paul are “parallel and simultaneous” (p. 6). This is particularly important to recognize with regard to the book of Acts, which makes no reference to Paul’s letter-writing and yet preserves a biographical record of his missionary activity.
Readers who affirm the Pauline authorship of Ephesians, Colossians, and the Pastoral epistles will obviously find Marguerat’s distinction between a “documentary” and “doctoral” reception of Paul to be problematic. Nonetheless, Marguerat’s call to allow the book of Acts to speak on its own terms is surely warranted, as all too often scholarship has unfairly assessed the portrait of Paul in Acts against the benchmark of the Pauline corpus, creating a canon within the canon and suppressing the distinctive witness of Acts in the process.
Following the programmatic first chapter, the book contains eight chapters addressing thematic concerns in the book of Acts and four chapters related to facets of the Pauline epistles. Not every chapter on Acts is related particularly to the portrait of Paul, for the work includes essays on the Lukan conception of the Temple, the significance of meals in Acts, and two chapters on the place and significance of the resurrection within the apostolic kerygma and Lukan theology.
Among the Acts chapters, the relationship between the church and Israel emerges as a recurring theme at several points, with Marguerat recognizing aspects of both continuity and discontinuity in God’s dealings with his people. A chapter entitled “Paul and the Torah in Acts” finds that for Luke the customs of Judaism retain their significance within the Jewish Christian wing of the early church, even as the Torah itself no longer functions in a soteriological manner. Likewise, in “From Temple to Home according to Luke-Acts,” Marguerat suggests that the role of the Temple in Luke-Acts serves to underscore the theological continuity within salvation history, yet Marguerat also finds that for Luke the Temple has been rendered obsolete as the indispensable locus for divine blessing. Finally, in “Writing Acts: The Resurrection at Work in History,” Marguerat finds that one key function of the resurrection in Lukan thought is to indicate both continuity and rupture between the church and Israel: on the one hand, the resurrection is presented as the fulfillment of the hope of Israel. On the other hand, it is the resurrection rather than the Torah that becomes the point of contention between the apostolic witnesses and their Jewish audiences. Marguerat’s perspective on these issues is refreshingly balanced, skillfully capturing the nuance of Luke’s posture toward the Jewish roots of the early Christian movement.
One chapter on Acts that is likely to elicit a skeptical response from certain quarters is “Paul as Socratic Figure in Acts.” In this essay, Marguerat contends that the characterization of the apostle Paul has been influenced by a Socratic model to an extent previously unrecognized in scholarship. Marguerat places quite a bit of weight on Paul’s withdrawal to the school of Tyrannus during his ministry at Ephesus (Acts 19:9), finding in this lone reference to a σχολή indications of a symbolic shift whereby Paul presents the Christian “Way” as a philosophy accessible to both Jews and Greeks. Certainly many interpreters have been willing to acknowledge a degree of parallelism between Socratic tradition and Luke’s characterization of Paul at a few points, most commonly at Paul’s discourse at Athens in Acts 17. Whether Socratic tradition was as influential as Marguerat contends, however, is likely to remain a matter of dispute among interpreters of Acts.
Among the four chapters on Paul’s letters, only the chapter on “Paul the Mystic” directly touches upon the comparison of Paul in Acts and Paul in his letters. The essay entitled “The Pauline Gospel of Justification by Faith” stands out as a sweeping discussion of Pauline soteriology in dialogue with the new perspective on Paul. Here, Marguerat is not confined to the Pauline concept of justification, as the chapter title might suggest, but rather the author touches upon such diverse topics as Paul’s view of the law, the final judgment, the place of the resurrection in Pauline soteriology, the significance of Paul’s Damascus road experience, and the universality of the Pauline gospel. The far-reaching scope of the chapter is impressive, yet no single topic receives the sort of sustained discussion that it deserves. By contrast, the final two chapters are much less ambitious, analyzing 1 Thess 2:11–2 and 1 Cor 11:21–6, respectively.
Readers expecting a sustained comparison of the two NT portraits of Paul are likely to be disappointed by this volume, since the majority of the chapters are not actually addressed to the kind of comparative analysis implied by the volume’s title. Moreover, many of the chapters overlap in content to a frustrating degree when the volume is read from cover-to-cover—a reflection of the fact that the chapters were originally published separately elsewhere. Most unfortunately, readers will recognize typographical errors, misspellings, and distracting grammatical mistakes on nearly every page, to the point where one might be tempted to question whether the work was proofread by a native English speaker. Nevertheless, those who are unable to read Marguerat’s work in French will surely appreciate this compendium of English translations of his articles, many of which were previously unavailable in English. Hence, the volume serves a useful purpose, making more of this distinguished scholar’s work accessible to an English-speaking audience.