Saturday, November 24, 2007

Did Paul pit his gospel against Caesar's?

John Barclay's latest critique of Paul's view (or lack there of) concerning the Roman Empire is breathtakingly brilliant. In sum, Barclay argues that Paul's gospel is not concerned with the Roman Empire per se as he is with those that comprise 'the archic powers', all the powers that are aligned against God and his purposes. Rather for Barclay, Caesar should not be seen lurking in the shadows of the Pauline text, and should be relegated to the status of insignificance along with the other 'archic powers.'
I find Barclay's suggestion helpful as it guards against the scholarly fad to read Caesar into texts where he does not belong, but I am wondering if Barclay's resistance in allowing such terms such as Kyrios, eirene, euangellion, parousia, etc. to have anti-imperial overtones is pushing his stance too far the other way. Certainly, Paul does not explicitly single the Roman Empire out, but does he really have to? Much like trying to reconstruct Paul's churches in Corinth, Galatia, Thessalonica, etc., there is much Paul does not tell the 21st century reader, because he is relying on the shared knowledge he had with the 1st Century reader! There is an implicit conversation taking place there! Would Paul then have to draw special attention to the Roman Empire, who in Paul's day ruled the then known world?
I think if we are to pit Barclay v. Wright based on the one session at SBL, then I believe that Barclay won the 'debate.' However, one should be careful in how quickly we dismiss Paul's rhetoric concerning the Roman Empire. This conversation is not over, and Caesar could still be the 'naked emperor' rather than the 'emperor who isn't there' at all!


JM O'Clair said...

Hello Matthew,
The link for Wright's lecture, "God in Public.." is 'not found,' but I did visit Andy's page and the link there seems to be working. Just to let you know!

Looking forward to your posts at the new blog.

Matthew D. Montonini said...


Thanks, I will try to get that rectified.
I hope all is with you.

Sam Marsh said...

Trackback from ... There’s a fantastic mp3 recording online of a debate between NT Wright and John Barclay. This can be found along with some useful discussion at, and