Zondervan’s Counterpoint series is a helpful series on theology that covers various controversial topics by giving voice to three to five scholars that represent different perspectives on various topics, with each scholar’s contribution receiving a response from the other scholars. Recently, I have taken up to read the Counterpoint book on the Apostle Paul, which includes an all-star cast of Pauline scholars in Thomas Schreiner representing the Reformed perspective, Luke Timothy Johnson as outline a Catholic perspective, Douglas Campbell’s presentation of a post-new perspective on Paul, and Mark Nanos’ Jewish view.
Of these four, I have been the most influenced by Douglas Campbell. Having worked through most of his gigantic tome The Deliverance of God, reading smaller works like his chapter on Apocalyptic Epistemology in Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination, and even heard him speak at a Logos Institute seminary at the University of St. Andrews, I have become somewhat familiar with the overarching themes in his work. However, his influence on me has at times been more as a foil as I have read his work with high respect, but feeling like his takes on Paul, particularly in Romans, misses the mark.
Perhaps the reason for this is best expressed by N.T. Wright’s opinion on The Deliverance of God: Campbell’s presentation of Paul “is an explicitly stated form of Calvinism.”1 I think this is a bit of an overstatement, and Wright’s recognizes that Campbell would not consider himself Calvinist, but there is something truthful about the charge. However to be clear, Calvinism is not a dirty word, but in the work of John Calvin itself, it can be a form of high praise in giving primary emphasis to the person of Christ. It is this Reformed emphasis that we see express in Barth’s Christocentrism and it is this that we also see in Campbell’s body of work. Commenting on Romans 5.12-21, Campbell says the following:
Paul sets up his extended qualification concerning the superiority of Christ with a telltale comment in 5:14b—that Adam “is a type [typos] of the coming one.” This passing remark states that Christ is the original image and Adam a pale anticipation of Christ, much as a single seal in a blob of wax on a letter is a secondary and somewhat less clear imprint of an original signet ring. And this remark indicates that Paul is “thinking backward” when he crafts this comparison of narratives; he is working out his account of “the problem” in the light of the information that he has received about it from “the solution.” The justification for Paul’s claims concerning Adam lies in Christ’s revelation of the solution, not vice versa.2
Campbell’s language here echoes that of E.P. Sanders in Paul and Palestinian Judaism, when Sanders said that “Paul’s thought did not run from plight to solution, but rather from solution to plight.”3 However, whereas Sanders frames this due to the premise that Paul would not have seen a need for a universal savior prior to his Damascus road call and transformation into an apostle.4 Campbell, on the other hand, presents his understanding of Paul in more Barthian terms:
My description emphasizes the importance of revelation as the basis of Paul’s thinking about God; the Trinity, as the God who is revealed to him and with whom he is now involved; and mission as the life that Paul is called to, largely by way of participating in the loving mission of God to the world in Christ and through the Spirit.5
Campbell here reflects a Barth perspective in suggested the Trinity is the primary object of revelation. I would respond that I think it is more appropriate to state that Paul considers the Triune God revealing the shape of redemption. This does not mean that knowledge of the Triune God is not present in revelation, but that in the ancient apocalyptic mindsets, a revelation was given by God to give to a human teacher an understanding of future political and eschatological realities. However, much like in a mentor-mentee relationship, one does not separate what the mentor teachers from the way the mentor acts and live, likewise God’s revelation through the inspiration of the Spirit should not be separated from the way Jesus acts and lives. The Triune God is the persistent agent in revelation in general and so we know of the Trinity as a consequence, but the content of specific revelation is about the nature of and shape of God’s redemption of humanity in Christ.
This brings us to Campbell’s comments on Romans 5.12-21. For Campbell, everything about human life is determined by Jesus Christ in Paul’s mind, including even Adam as a “pale shadow that brings the dazzling illumination and significance of the former into still sharper clarity.”6 God’s revelation in Jesus Christ determines all that is, such that one can not even know the problem until one has the solution. To that end, Campbell’s understanding of revelation in Jesus Christ seems to suggest a supralapsarian position in which even the fall of Adam was ordained to be a type of Christ.7 But, the end result is that we as humans can not understand the problem except by the revelation of Jesus Christ. It is here where we begin to see the more radical elements of Calvinism come through in Campbell’s presentation of Paul. To be clear, Campbell does not argue for a supralapsarian position, but his account for the type-antitype relation between Adam and Christ almost demands it.
However, I want to respond to Campbell’s account from both an exegetical and theological angle. Firstly, Campbell explication does not make the best sense of Paul’s account. I would counter that Romans 5.12-21 is Paul’s attempt to reground his audience in Rome in the Jewish Scriptural narrative in lieu of an account of sin that originates in the devil. Secondly, Campbell’s account does not do sufficient justice to the significance of the Incarnation, in which Christ takes on human weakness by being made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8.3) to redeem humanity from Adam’s sin.
In regards to the exegetical angle, I would contend that Romans 5.12-21 can be best understood against the backdrop of the theological anthropology given in the Wisdom of Solomon. It has been repeatedly observed that Paul’s discourse in Romans seems to be influenced by the Wisdom of Solomon. My contention is that Paul in Romans is largely correcting and pushing back a specific form of Judaism that is expressed in the Wisdom of Solomon and influenced by the Maccabean literature and that is influenced the Jewish Christians in Rome. If this is the case, we can see the contrast between the two when comparing Wisdom of Solomon and Romans:
Wisdom of Solomon 2.23-24:
for God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience. (NRSV)
just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin (NRSV)
It seems as is the Wisdom of Solomon and Paul are presenting two different thanatologies. Given the tradition of the devil being the serpent in Genesis 3, both thanatologies also pull from the same narrative. However, there is a distinct difference between the two. The Wisdom of Solomon relies upon an apocalyptic rereading of the fall narrative, seeing the devil as the agent responsible for death entering into the world.
The differences between the two portrayals of the Adamic narrative is even more pronounced when one reads Wisdom of Solomon’s panegyric of wisdom in chapter 10. In 10.1-4, Adam is seen as protected by wisdom from his transgression and then Adem is distinguished from his unrighteous, murderous son Cain. Then the Wisdom of Solomon continues to extoll the influence of wisdom from in the patriarchal narratives in 10.5-14. However, for Paul, the problem of sin starts with Adam, not Cain. Furthermore, Paul emphasizes that death, not wisdom was ruling the world in Romans 5.14. It seems plausible, if not even probable, that Paul’s account is written to be in distinction from the Wisdom of Solomon’s account.
This is further supported by the different functions of the two thanatologies. The Wisdom of Solomon makes a distinction between two different classes of humans. The faithful Israelites, to whom the author of Wisdom of Solomon belongs to, are distinguished from the ungodly who belong to the company of the devil. We see this distinction between the two become more explicit when the Wisdom of Solomon considers Israel coming out of Exodus to be a holy and blameless nation who are redeemed and given victory over their Egyptian enemies as a reward for their righteousness (Wisdom of Solomon 10.15-21). The righteousness of Israel is distinguished from the ungodliness of the oppressive power of Egypt, no doubt functioning in the Wisdom of Solomon as an indirect statement against the ungodliness of Rome. Thus, to suggest that death is the responsibility of the devil is to suggest that those who are of the devil are evil themselves in seeking to kill other people (Wisdom of Solomon 2.12-20). Meanwhile, faithful Israelites may appear to die, but in fact they have immortality (Wisdom of Solomon 3.1-9).
Of course, Paul rejects any such distinction between Jews and Gentiles, seeing them all equally culpable in sin (Romans 2.1, 12-24, 3.9-20, 22-23). Paul’s rendition of the Adam narrative means both Jews and Gentiles are under the power of sin in virtue of their universal ancestry.
If one pays close attention, Paul’s account of the Adam narrative can be suggested to be truer to the narrative of Genesis 3 than the Wisdom of Solomon. The narrative doesn’t assign the serpent the responsibility for death entered into the world, but upon the actions of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3.22-23). Furthermore, the serpent is a relatively minor character who is not portrayed in terms of the apocalyptic understanding of the devil. Whatever legitimacy there is for the apocalyptic understanding of serpent being the devil, the Widom of Solomon’s account is a very ‘creative’ retelling of Genesis 3, whereas Paul can be said to be a bit closer to the original telling.
To that end, I would suggest that Paul isn’t arguing that the revelation of Christ shows what the problem was in Adam. Rather, Paul is engaging in a different interpretation of the narrative of Genesis 3 than that of the Wisdom of Solomon. The appeal to Adam as the type of Christ is intended as a buttressing for Paul’s interpretation of Adam among the Jewish Christians in Rome. Christ’s righteousness and life can be understood as being the solution to the problem that Israel’s Scriptures situated as occurring in Adam’s sin and death. Speaking to Jewish Christians, Paul does not need to seek to persuade them of the Messiahship of Christ, but rather is seeking to take them away from an anthropology that would distinguish the Jews as inherently more righteous than Gentiles.
This might seem like the solution giving the problem, but I would suggest that for Paul, the revelation of Christ supports the original account of death in the Genesis 3 narrative, rather than the more creative retelling in Wisdom of Solomon. God’s revelation in Christ reinforces the Scriptural narrative over and against the force-fitting of Israel’s story into a later, apocalyptic cast. Christ conforms to a closer interpretation of Israel’s Scriptures.
We see something similar happened between Paul’s telling of the story if Abraham in Romans 4 and the portrayal of Abraham given in 1 Maccabees 2.52. Whereas Mattathias portrays Abraham as being reckoned as righteous as a result of his testing (presumably in the offering of Isaac), Paul focuses on Abraham’s faith in God’s promise being the cause of this righteous reckoning as described in Genesis 15. Yet, ultimately, Paul frames the Abrahamic narrative as fitting within the Christ narrative (Romans 4.17, 24-25). We can perhaps push this to further state that Christ’s revelation of God’s righteousness through the faith of Jesus Christ is validation that people are justified through faith (Romans 3.22), just as Abraham was.
The end result of this would be to say that the revelation of God’s righteousness in Jesus Christ verifies and confirms Israel’s Scriptures over and against other tellings of the narratives that are more creative and yet have less fidelity to the original Scriptural account. This is a pattern we see strewn through much of the apocalyptic literature, and it is the way in which Israel’s tells its story in a apocalyptic cast that often times reinforces a sense of ethical superiority and destiny as God’s elect people that Paul finds Jesus Christ to absolutely deconstruct and render nonsense. We might say that Paul considers the revelation of Jesus Christ to demythologize the creative fancies of much of the apocalyptic sectors of Judaism.
Why? Because, and this brings me to the second angle. God’s redemption of humanity is had not in a straightforward defeat of the political powers that oppressed Israel, but in the preexistent Christ took on human flesh and conquered the problems that plagued humanity since Adam. In the Incarnation, the shape of Christ’s life was directed to be a powerful antidote to the problem in Adam. That is to state that the incarnation is God’s accommodation par excellence to human nature as it is being lived in Adam. Hence, Paul doesn’t simply say that Jesus took on flesh, but that he took on the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8.2). Adam’s sin was a train coming off the tracks moment and the Incarnation is God’s adapting to bring the train back on track. Christ is a type of Adam because the incarnate Jesus Christ is the solution by reversing the problem of Adam’s sin and death through Jesus’ faithful righteousness culminating in His resurrected life.
Campbell’s account emphasizes the Trinity as the object of revelation, thereby placing emphasis on Jesus Christ in His divine nature. This implicitly leads to the emphasis on how Christ as God is powerfully determinative of human realities. However, while Paul certainly has a high Christology, Paul is concerned about the Incarnation as the redemptive response to human sinfulness. The closest Paul gets in Romans to explicitly describe Jesus in terms that approach the later Nicene and Trinitarian orthodoxy about Jesus’ divinity is in Romans 1.4 and 10.9, neither of which occur near to Romans 5.12-21 or the larger section of 3.21-8.39.8 Rather, Paul emphasizes the commonness between Jesus and humanity in Romans 8.2 and 8.29. Furthermore, in emphasizing Jesus death in the atonement (Romans 3.25), Paul places more emphasis on the sharing humanity between Christ and the world rather than on His divine nature. Given that Romans 3.21-8.39 is framed towards the beginning and end by emphases and references to Jesus’ humanity, it is better to interpret Romans 5.12-21 as Paul’s presentation of the Incarnational response to Adam’s sin rather than the revelation of the Triune God that then defines Adam as the problem.
In short, it is my opinion that Campbell is guilty of force-fitting Romans and Paul into a Barthian theological frame. While I greatly appreciate the Reformed tradition’s emphasis on Christ, as both Barth and Calvin do, there is too much of an implicit reliance on the concept of God’s power in the doctrine of revelation that is then used to define everything as those with power typically does. Speaking with a broader Biblical theology in mind, the power of God is revealed in the servanthood of Jesus Christ, and as such, we should be emphasizing not how the revelation of Christ defines in the world in power, but transforms the world through servant love. This is at the heart of the Incarnation: the revelation of God’s redemption of humanity through God taking on human nature and overcoming our slave-masters in sin and death. The servant of God defeats the slave masters of sin and death that have defined the world. God’s revelation should be understood through the action of servanthood that actualizes Jesus’ Lordship among humanity.9
As such, the problem is already knowable and known prior to Christ, both in experience and given a specific narrative in the Scriptures, but it is a problem that did not suggest its own solution. Only in the revelation of Jesus Christ did the shape of God’s redemption become made known, thereby rendering useless the various apocalyptic speculations about how God would save His people among those who believed in Jesus as the Messiah. Any sort of Christ-o-centric emphasis that starts from the assumption that God’s power defines truth and reality will be apt to downplay the servanthood of God that does not define truth and reality by fiat that later revelation simply makes known, but rather that revelation actualizes a change in truth and reality through the emergence of faith, hope, and love in those who recognize Jesus as Lord. To that end, I push back against Calvinism and Barthian theology and also Campbell’s account of Paul, even as I highly respect the centrality of Christ in their accounts.
- N.T. Wright, Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 190.
- Douglas Campbell, “Christ and the Church in Paul” in Four Views on the Apostle Paul, ed. Michael F. Bird, Counterpoints Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), EPUB edition, “Romans 5:12-21.”
- E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017, EPUB Edition, Ch. 5, “The solution as preceding the problem.”
- Campbell, “Christ and the Church in Paul,” EPUB Edition, “A Starting Point.”
- Ibid., “Romans 5:12-21.”
- Either that or it would entail a mutability of the pre-existent Christ that allowed for a change in the Godhead to be conformed to the pattern of Adam. But given Campbell’s concern for orthodoxy, I doubt Campbell would subscribe to such an application of what ultimately amounts to process theology.
- While Campbell and various scholars treated Romans 1-8 as divided into two sections between 1-4 and 5-8, I think this is an artificial separation. I think it is better to separate 1.18-3.20 from 3.21-8.39 in virtue of the fact that 1.18 and 3.21 syntactically resemble 1.17 as part of Paul’s proposition. Both of these two sections develop two different accounts of God’s righteousness, with Paul correcting the first one in 1.18-3.20, while giving the second one in 3.21-8.39 as based upon the revelation of Christ.
- To be clear, my point isn’t to suggest that Jesus changed and became the Lord in the ontological sense of being divine, as if to suggest some sort of adoptionism or Arianism. My point is to suggest that Jesus as Lord is primarily understood as a relational reality between believers and Jesus. Through Jesus’ servanthood, people confess Jesus as Lord.