Paul & Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation. Preston M. Sprinkle. InterVarsity Press, 2013. 256 pp. $24.00. ISBN 978-0-8308-2709-1.
One of the most pressing questions for Christians, of all times, is the interaction of divine agency and human agency in justification, salvation and sanctification. This question has been approached both from the theological and philosophical perspective, and has been the source of many conflicts within the historical Christian church. In this book Preston M. Sprinkle proposes to consider this question through a comparison of Paul’s teaching with that of the predominant Jewish views of his days. This review will provide an overview of the purpose of the book, how the author goes about accomplishing his purpose, and a summary of the main sections of this book. I will then consider some insights and difficulties that can be found in this book.
According to the author, the primary purpose of this book is to make a contribution to research surrounding Pauline studies and the views of different Jewish groups (specifically the Qumran sect) in the first century, concerning how they viewed divine and human agency in salvation. It is a follow up book to his doctoral dissertation (which had put the accent on one particular verse – Lev. 18:5), and expands some of the issues that he was unable to adequately examine in his dissertation. The book is primarily geared towards specialists in the domain, but is accessible for anyone, provided that one is willing to put in the effort that is required to understand this contribution within the discussion growing discussion, in New Testament Studies, concerning Paul and Judaism of the first century.
The author seeks to accomplish his purpose by considering a number of different salvation-related topics and comparing Paul’s approach to these topics with the approach of the Qumran community. The book is divided into 9 chapters with 2 short excursuses. In the first chapter Sprinkle provides a brief survey of the domain of research that he is engaging, explains what he plans on showing in his book, and then provides an outline of the method that he will use in order to achieve this plan. In chapter 2 he outlines what he considers to be two general ways, in the Old Testament, of approaching the restoration of Israel. The Deuteronomic theology of restoration, according to Sprinkle, teaches that God will restore Israel if Israel returns to God. Thus, the restoration of Israel is contingent on their return to God. The Prophetic theology of restoration, according to Sprinkle, teaches that God will restore Israel regardless of their actions, because Israel is incapable of returning to God without divine assistance. Thus, the restoration of Israel is contingent on God’s action alone. Having set up this dichotomous foundation for understanding the restoration of Israel in the Old Testament Sprinkle goes onto compare Paul’s understanding of different aspects of Salvation, with that of the Qumran Community. Both parties are supposedly inspired by the Old Testament, and Paul would have been in contact with the Qumran writings. In the following chapters Sprinkle provides a comparison of Paul’s views and the views of the Qumran community concerning, the restoration of Israel from the curse of the covenant (chapter 3), the role of the spirit in restoration (chapter 4), their understanding of the capacity of the Jews, and humans in general, to actually accomplish the law (chapter 5), divine and human agency in Justification (chapter 6), the notion that humans will be judged and justified by works (chapter 7). In chapter 8 Sprinkle considers 7 other writings that Paul would have been familiar with, and which present second-temple Jewish teaching concerning the restoration of Israel. In chapter 9 Sprinkle summarizes what he has attempted to demonstrate, and provides an interesting overview of how Paul arrived at his view of the role of human and divine agency in salvation. In the first excursus the author attempts to explain Paul’s teaching concerning the superiority of the new Covenant in comparison to the Old Covenant. In the second excursus the author explains how first century Jews, and people in the first century in general, understood Grace as being a gift freely given to people who were worthy of receiving the gift. The book is filled with footnotes that allow the curious reader to pursue further any of the subjects that the author develops. There is also an index of people mentioned or cited, a subject index, and an index of bible references.
One of the interesting suggestions that Sprinkle brings up is that an author’s emphasis on human agency or on divine agency, in salvation and sanctification, depends upon whether the author is comparing humanity to God, or a certain part of humanity (the remnant of Israel, or the community of Christian believers) to the rest of humanity. On the downside, I found that he makes, repeatedly, two ambiguous claims about divine and human agency. First of all, he makes a number of unclear statements concerning man’s ability to turn to God. It is difficult to determine whether he is claiming that man is incapable of accepting, by faith, God’s freely given gift of salvation unless God first regenerates him; or whether he is simply claiming that unless God acts first, man could never, on his own and by his own efforts, gain God’s favor and thus return to God. These are two very different claims on which hinge some enormous theological debates. It is frustrating to be unable to discern which of these two statements Sprinkle affirms to be the truly Pauline view. Secondly, he makes a number of unclear statements concerning man’s ability to do good works, and, “participate” in his sanctification. It sometimes seems that he wants to say that man can do no good work (even after salvation) unless God does the good work through him (thus giving no causal power to man, and placing all causal power in God). Yet, at other points he seems to want to say that redeemed humans can indeed do good works for the glory of God (thus giving some causal power to man), because of the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Again, these two claims very different and are the center of numerous theological debates. Finally he seems to conflate salvation from eternal condemnation (justification in Christ regardless of our works), and the final judgment of the justified in view of bestowing rewards.
All in all this book accomplishes its purpose, and provides an introduction to a number of vital subjects related to Pauline, Soteriological and Jewish studies. He interacts with current research on the subject, and provides interesting theories for a number of different subjects. It is worth reading if one has already begun research in this area. This book would be lost on someone who is not already familiar with this lively area of research. Prior to reading this book I would suggest, first of all, becoming familiar with current debates in Pauline studies, perhaps by reading some of N. T. Wright’s work, or D. A. Carson, P. T. O’Brien and M. A. Seifrid, eds., Justification and Variegated Nomism, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004). With this in mind, for the person who is already familiar with the current debates concerning Paul’s relationship to first-century Judaism this is going to be an interesting and stimulating book. I would highly recommend it to all those who are interested in Pauline and Soteriological studies.