Politics,  Theology/Bible

Is the Apostle Paul Anti-American? (Part 4)

Today is the last day of the 58th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, and I will be presenting my paper on the “Fresh Perspective” on Paul. For a limited time, I am going to make that paper available here. If you would like to download and read the entire presentation, you can do so at the following link:

“The ‘Fresh Perspective’ on Paul: A Theology of Anti-Americanism” – by Denny Burk

I anticipate that this paper will go through at least a few more incarnations before I submit it for publication. I will be revising the paper in order to take into account the critiques I receive from those who attend my session. Also, I plan to expand the section on Romans 13 once Robert Jewett’s new commentary on Romans is released. Jewett is a major contributor to “Fresh Perspective” readings of Paul, and his work will be important for me to address in a subsequent revision.


  • JM

    I just finished your paper. Interesting stuff. I didn’t check all the footnotes, but did you use Christopher Bryan’s book “Render to Caesar”?
    I also find some of the “code” language stuff to be merely speculation. I started reading Colossians remixed and they said fruit was the symbol of Caesar and Paul told the Colossians to bear fruit(or something along those lines) and therefore Paul was challenging the rule of Rome. After a few pages of that I had to quit reading.
    I tend to agree with your assessment of the exegesis (maybe not your politics). I think anyone who reads the OT prophets expects Jesus and Paul to offer the same kind of political critiques that someone like Ezekiel, Jeremiah, or Daniel offers. I do think there is some political critique in Jesus and Paul, but as you said it is more generalized.

  • John

    I understand your concerns about this issue, but I question some of your intentions a little. For one, although I may not agree with the view America is the new Rome, Wright’s criticism is offered from someone who’s not American. You’re American. I am, too. Maybe if we step outside of that realm in acknowledgment and listen, we could have a more productive dialogue in this FP conversation.

    Other matters of inquiry:
    (1) I know you’re a professor and may have some acquaintances of research languages, including ancient and modern, but have you studied Latin rigorously? Although Paul uses LXX language, that doesn’t rule out that Paul, a Roman citizen, didn’t know this language (thus being acquainted well with the known Imperial language). This is because of my growing conviction that the thought of Paul and his intellectual contemporaries (Epictetus, Plutarch, et al.) is shaped by Roman life and institutions (not just Jewish heritage and conviction). To be honest, Denny, several classicists chuckle at evangelical scholars (not all of them, but who knows, maybe many) in theological studies for their (pretentious) lack of language saturation of the ancient world (your work on articular infinitives still doesn’t rule you out).

    (2) Related to (1): how well are you acquainted with the world of the NT?
    (a) Are you familiar with, e.g., the Corinthian inscription of Junia Theodora as a well-received benefactress during the first century? Would this study have impact on, say, Phoebe in Rom 16 in light of this and the milieu of the NT?
    (b) Are you familiar with, e.g., the famous inscription from Priene (9 BC) who lauds Augustus Caesar as the αρχη of all things, as σωτηρ, and brought good news (ευαγγελιον) “for the whole world”? The people not only proclaim this but they also correlate his birthday with New Year’s–an indication of divine providence (in their eyes). They want to collapse the two events into one. If I’m not mistaken, this would not be unheard of even to Paul. It might be good to brush up on the practice of using primary sources (you like to write what so and so says about the subject at hand). I’ll save you the trouble by giving an excerpt of the inscription:

    [the emperor] Augustus, whom it [Providence] filled with virtue for the welfare of men, and who, being sent to us and our descendants as a Savior [Soter], has put an end to war and has set all things in order; and [whereas,] having become manifest [phaneis], Caesar has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times … and whereas, finally, the birthday of the god [Augustus] has been for the whole world the beginning of good news [euaggelion] concerning him [therefore, let a new era begin from his birth, and let his birthday mark the beginning of the new year].

    This is why I seriously question what you write:
    But is it not more likely that Paul’s use of κύριος in reference to Christ derives from Judaism and the LXX scriptures where the name “Yahweh” is frequently rendered as κύριος? Is not Paul’s use of κύριος primarily motivated by his desire to link the Messiah Jesus with the κύριος of the Old Testament? I think the answer to these questions is yes, and it therefore makes it less likely that Paul was trolling around Greco-Roman cults in order to find linguistic grist for his Christology (14-15).

    “Less likely”? “Trolling around”? Paul didn’t have to troll around. “Greco-Roman” life, thought, philosophy, politics, rhetoric, etc., were pervasive in the ancient world. I’m not discounting the notion of “Messiah,” but why can’t it be both–nuanced with a double meaning? The language Paul used is saturated with terms already familiar in antiquity.

    These are just two examples of the importance of background studies, which would include Paul’s competence of ancient (Roman) politics and rhetoric.

    (3) Have you considered evaluating your own biases (i.e., presuppositions)? The reason I ask is because you’re defending a (traditional?) evangelical framework. I understand your critique of the sort of thought of Horsley and others, and they should be critiqued, but I wonder about your mode of arguing when your language is clearly coated with taking sides (e.g., criticizing Wright’s “cheap shots” [?] at Luther; use of “trolling around” implies a sort of absurdity if Paul may have). Have you read some of Luther’s essays and evaluated his agenda against Jews of his day? Clearly he’s bringing baggage to the text (autobiographically, eisegetically, with regard to, say, Galatians). Moreover, have you actually evaluated Stendahl’s article “Introspective Conscience”?

    I bring these concerns up because it’s clear you’re not immune from your own theological underpinnings (sort of reminds me of Majority Text advocates), even in this discussion. This is why I cannot count you as trustworthy as I would like in such discussions until you saturate yourself more thoroughly with not only theological studies but also with the world of the New Testament and Paul. I’m amazed at the trigger-ready publishing mentality when there is a faint scent of pretentiousness lurking in the air. You’re young and you have a long way to go. Keep pressing on.

  • Steve Hayes


    I know Denny can fight his own battles, but we could go all day about making assumptions based on theological underpinnings, et al. You are also not immune from these things, and your language in your response is actually more loaded with pretentiousness and bad intentions than is Dr. Burk’s.

    For instance, you make the assumprion that Dr Burk has an elemenatry understanding of language and New Testament culture based upon his use of secondary sources. Could it be that you are assuming too much? Perhaps Dr. Burk is aware of these primary sources, yet chose not to use them. And could it also be that you choose to discredit him not based upon what he did use, but upon what he did not? I suggest that this means of argument creates the illusion of empty knowledge, but is that truly the case? The lack of information in a paper does not necessarily suppose the lack of comprehensive knowledge. You know better than that.

    You also choose to use Dr. Burk’s age as a means to discredit (“You’re young and have a long way to go”). Be careful, my friend. Even Paul himself states that this is no basis for repudiation (1 Timothy 4:11). If you want to argue the facts, that’s fine. But don’t assume that youth is akin to a lack of understanding. Again, you know better.

    As far as your thoughts on the Greco-Roman pervasive culture of Paul’s day, I think you make some good points. Stick to those. You are obviously knowledgable of the subject, but I could use a bit less of the cheap shot assumptions based on age and primary sources.

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