Analysis of the book “Four Views on the Apostle Paul” by Michael F. Bird

Four Views on the Apostle Paul

Yinger, Kent L. “The Continuing Quest for Jewish Legalism.” Bulletin for Biblical Research (2009): 375-391.


“Four Views on the Apostle Paul” by Michael F. Bird as the author and editor presents four different perspectives, each from a different person about Apostle Paul’s teachings, theology, and life. The four perspectives, including   The Jewish, Post-New Perspective, Roman Catholic, and Evangelical,presents a different understanding of Paul’s meaning in the past and present. The book is like a discussion where each of the contributors converses with the others while critiquing each other. Bird serves as the moderator and guides the four partners to focus on Paul’s meaning on the significance of Christ, salvation, vision about the church, and Pauline theology. The moderator, Bird, is a Ph.D. holder from the University of Queensland, where he also serves as an honorary research associate and a theology lecturer at Crossway college. Such qualifications make Bird an authoritative moderator of the conversation with careful selection of sufficient perspectives, which allows appropriate depth.Bird does not conclude the discussion and leaves it upon the readers.

The first contributor, Thomas Schreiner, takes the perspective of an Evangelical protestant. Evangelical perspective relies on the belief that salvation comes only through faith in Jesus Christ, and people must at a personal level, accept salvation, or which is getting born again. Evangelism also has an interest in the New Testament, where it derives its title,evangel a Greek’s version meaning Jesus Chris’ good news.They believe that the bible has no errors. Schreiner is a professor of the New Testament, a qualification that makes him well informed about the evangelical perspective. Evangelicalism relies much on the New testament meaning that Schreiner has a good command of the arguments he makes in the book. His beliefin the error-free bible makes him a strong contributor to Paul’s perspective to compare with others.

Luke T. Johnson is the second partner in the conversation writing from the perspective of a Roman Catholic. Roman Catholics believe that God delivers grace through Jesus Christ. Salvation, according to the Roman Catholics,is a gift from God as evident in the crucifixion of Christ. Roman Catholics also have an interest in the New Testament to defend their belief about God’s revelation.  Similar to the Evangelism, Catholicism believes in a bible that has no errors. Johnson is a professor of the New Testament and, a former Benedictine monk and a catholic priest. The qualifications make him authoritative in taking the Roman Catholic perspective, where he has a firm stand, educational background, and experience.

Douglas A. Campbell follows with the Post New perspective. Post-New perspective, similar to Evangelism, believes in salvation through Jesus Christ, which comes as a result of God’s grace.However, they are more modern with the belief that salvation and God’s grace to non-Christiansare also possible through their different means and believes.  Post-New perspective also considers the bible as a historical document containing God’s word with very vital truths,although such truths need interpretation within the current place and time by individuals. Campbell is also a professor of the New Testament at Duke University, a qualification that provides him with a good background to argue about Apostle Paul based on his letters.

In the end, there is Mark Nanos, who explores Paul’s view from the Jewish perspective. The Jewish perspective has strict tenets,including observation of the Tora. Followers believe in justification through the law and, therefore, have several laws that justify their faith and salvation to Jesus Christ.  The Jewish did consider the man a sinner from birth, and hence did not believe in salvation.However, the belief in God’s grace to forgive sins. Similar to the other contributors, Mark Nanos is also a professor of the New Testament, making him have a good background about the relationship between Paul and the Jewish.

Summary of the Perspectives and Central Thesis

Thomas Schreiner: Evangelical Perspective

Schreiner’s overall argument is that Paul, in his theology, life, and teachings, focused on Christ Jesus. In support of the argument, the author views Paul’s theological perspective to follow a framework that Jesus Christ brings all that Christians need and promises from God.  Christ is the one who fulfills and culminates the new creation, covenant, and the exodus through his death and resurrection(21). The culmination role results from the promises and prophesies in the old testament, which, according to Schreiner, reveals the personality of Christ. There is special stress which Schreiner makes about the divine lordship of Jesus. Through Christ, the old covenant or law no longer controls Christians since the union with Jesus through the Holy Spirit by faith takes the position of circumcision. The significance of Christ, on the other hand, is the “heart and soul” of Paul’s theology. Paul severally referenced the old testament about God, which is an indication of attention on Christ, who would fulfill God’s promises in the New testament.

The author, on the other hand, argues that Paul viewed Jesus to be a way to salvation. Jesus, according to Schreiner, exchanged and continues to exchange his death with sins leading to salvation. However, the author is keen to mention that there is yet revelation and mystery on salvation that will come in the future. Schreiner, on the other hand, has several faces about the vision of the church, but the major one is unity using the words “true Israel” for emphasis (42).Another perspective about the vision of the church about Paul is Christ’s indebtedness as who heads and sustains, utilizing the Holy Spirit as one who equips the church.

Luke T. Johnson: Roman Catholic Perspective

Similar to Schreiner, Johnson also argues that Christ is Paul’s central theme in his life, teachings, and theology. Paul, according to Johnson, concentrated his life and theology on the apocalyptic framework of Jesus, including death and resurrection. However, the author does not have a single framework about Paul’s delivery of his gospel but settles on several frameworks. The frameworks are Paul’s religious experience, and that of his followers and readers, commitment to Jewish heritage, traditions and church communities and Greco-Roman culture. Johnson defends his thesis about Christ’s centrality by showing that Paul viewed Jesus’ significance as one whose resurrection creates God’s experience, especially of the new creation among believers.  The author further shows that Paul, during his discussions about Jesus, linked Him with high Christology. Schreiner, on the other hand, shows that Paul viewed salvation as divine as opposed to human achievement. However, he was keen to relate the same salvation with the death of Jesus on the cross. God delivered salvation to humans by sacrificing His son, making the cross a sign of behaviors for the Christian community. For people to be saved, therefore, they need to take part in the lives of visible people. Salvation in Paul’s perspective had the transformation and liberation concepts until God’s victory at the end.

Schreiner, on the other hand, views that Paul’s vision for the church was an assembly that serves other people similar to Christ did on the cross. Although Schreiner’s response is complex, he argues that Paul considered the church as an assembly of people within the same locality and who occupied “a fragile place within their social world” (92).The position of believers in the church is fragile because they have a “life for others” to seek reconciliation and unity by becoming poor and weak for others to be prosperous and strong (96).More evidence for the argument was that Paul argued the irrelevance of circumcision and following the law to the Gentiles. They were signs of making themselves look weak and foolish to have unity with everyone.

Douglas A. Campbell: Post New perspective

Campbell’s main thesis, just like the other four contributors, is that Christ is the center of Paul’s theology and life.Paul, according to the author, had a firm belief in divine nature and lordship of Jesus Christ with prominent apocalypticism(122). However, Campbell is more dynamic and argues Paul’s focus on the trinity mission with salvation as God’s acts using Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. Christ, through the Holy Spirit, exposes God’s nature while leading people towards the divine communion. Unlike Johnson, Campbell argues that Paul did not focus on the sin before Christ but argued on having Christ as the solution then sins as the problem. In that direction, Paul’s perspective was that Jesus was significant to mediate God’s work one of them being to save human beings. Jesus Christ, in Paul’s perspective, works on different areas, including effecting brotherhood and rescuing humanity.Campbell further argues that Paul’s standpoint was that God aimed at revealing himself in Christ through the Holy Spirit so that people could participate in His Mission (124). Paul was, therefore, not against legalism but the existing covenantal nomism in the past. His mission wasto attract people towards God’s covenants and, therefore, mission by making them believe in Christ.

Following Paul’s perspective about God’s mission, Campbell argues that the apostle viewed salvation as a triune act of God to empower people to take part in the story of Christ.Campbell, on the other, had has a similar view with Johnson about Paul’s vision for the church as “a community of brothers.”(143). The author argues that Paul viewed the church as a community with ethics that facilitates virtuous freedom and virtues of liberation. Another vision of the church was to obey commands of Christ Jesus through crucifixion in saving other lost human beings.

Mark Nanos: Jewish Perspective

Nano’s thesis is in agreement with that of the other three contributors that Christ is the central focus in Paul’s theology, teachings, and life. However, Nano has a unique approach to Paul’s perspective from the other contributors by arguing misunderstanding by both the Jewish and the Christians. According to the author, Pauline Christianity miss-represents Pauland hence not palatable to the Jewish. Paul, according to Nano, did not oppose Judaism since he was a Jew. He did not also advocate for the Jews to leave the law and circumcision. Paul’s mission was to make the non-Jewish accept Christ and instead avoid conversion to the law culture.  Nano views Paul’s perspective as having wanted to develop a hybrid ethnic society but through which the messiah unites all. The perspective makes Nano argue that Paul’s view on the significance of Christ was to the non-Jewish to get saved. Through Jesus’s death and resurrection, the non-Jewish develops as “adherents of Judaism.” (172).However, the adherents would be a different culture in that they would not get justification in Judaism through the law but Jesus Christ.

Paul’s view for salvation, according to Nano, is Christ’s recuse mission to Gentiles from immorality and idolatry. The Jewish did not need salvation because they had the Tora that was, guiding their lives and behaviors. Bird notes that Nano presents Paul’s perspective on salvation as “the Jewish communal way of life.”(190) Nano argues that he wanted everyone to subscribe and have unity in the Jewish community. Following the argument, Nano presents Paul’s theological perspectiveas Jesus’ mission to create a righteous family by making the non-Jewish join the Jewish community without changing their ways of life. The author, on the other hand, represents Paul’s vision for the church as developing relationships and unity with Jewish who were non-believers. (213) Paul, according to Nano, focuses his life and teachings on persuading the Gentile believers to consider the current times where there are more non-believers, Jewish and hence accommodate them through humility.

Perspective with Most Agreement: Schreiner’s Evangelical Perspective

I have a strong agreement with Schreiner’s evangelical perspective because it links Paul’s perspective with the actual role of Christ Jesus and hence, proper presentation of salvation. Schreiner finds no errors or ambiguousness on the works of Paul by refereeing to Gal 1:1 that Paul received teachings about his theology from Christ. The author argues that Paul viewed Christ Jesus as a Substitutionary Work of God who was fulfilling the Old Testament promises. The argument is strong because, in Phil 2:6-11, Paul takes of Jesus to have emptied Himself through death. Paul preached about Jesus as the savior of the world. Ideally, God is the savior, which means that Paul described Jesus as one who came to accomplish God’s work.  Schreiner is also able to connect the Substitutionary Work of Christ with the meaning of salvation. He shows that Paul had the mindset of one who has nothing to give to Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The author argues that Paul called the gentiles to exchange their sins with Christ, which and get saved from slavery. Such an argument resonates with Christianity, which is allowing Christ to live in believers. Christ can take away sins through God’s grace, implying salvation as divine grace. 

Unlike other perspectives, Schreiner views salvation as a process of achieving freedom from sins and not living in unity with other believers and non-believers. I strongly agree with the argument because Paul described sins as slavery for every human being. The Jewish were not free by following the law, and such Tora would, at no any instance, justify their righteousness. Paul, as a result, did not consider the law as another form of salvation providing significance of Christ Jesus in exchanging sins with righteousness.

Another reason why I agree with Schreiner and the evangelical perspective is thathe considered Paul’s Vision of the church as the unity of the believers through Christ. Schreiner further argues that the purpose of the church was to show Christ’s indebtedness by propagating what right or a life free from sins is. Paul is evident in several instances addressing divisions in the church and especially related to sins and ideological differences. For example, in 1 Corinthians 1:12, Paul is astounded to hear that the church divisions are about who between Apollos, Cephas, Christ, and him to follow. In his response, Paul calls the division petty because Christ was the church head and whom all believers were supposed to follow. It means that Paul preached and unity in Christ and not in other characters. Paul was concerned with the believers’ unity, and that is why he warned the Gentiles that if they contaminated themselves with the law, “…Christ will be of no advantage to you” in Gal 5:2. The apostle further in Gal 5:7 considers those in Christ to be in a good race. It means that he was only concerned with the unity of those who are in Christ. Living under the indebtedness of Christ, according to Paul, would lead to freedom from sins and slavery of the law.   

Perspective with Most Disagreement: Nano’sJewish Perspective

I disagree with Nano’s Jewish perspective that Paul did not focus on persuading the Jewish to drop the law. Nano argues that Paul focused on salvation for the non-Jewish, assuming that the Jewish were saved through the law. The perspective further argues that salvation, according to Paul, was the conversion of the non-Jewish to Judaism. However, Judaism in the first century when Paul wrote the gospels was a non-legalist community. The Jewish practiced covenantal nomism as opposed to having their law. More evidence comes from the fact that Pharisees did not practice legalism,meaning that their acceptance among the Jewish reflected Judaism culture. Judaism, as a result, did not subscribe to self-righteousness but only failed to follow Christ-like life that would connect them with the believers and God.

The Pharisees practiced salvation on merit without feeling guilty or experiencing persecution, meaning that Paul could not have focused on sparing the Jewish from the call to salvation in Christ. Paul’s perspective on salvation, therefore, was not to shape the gentiles out of immorality and idolatry but make them alongside the Jewish embrace Christ and experience grace. The Jewish did not believe in righteousness, and the gentiles who adopted Jewish culture would also follow the Abrahamic covenant, which does not subscribe to righteousness through Christ’s salvation. Paul could not have considered salvation as “the Jewish communal way of life” because Judaism did not have a way of justifying their righteousness.(190). The Jewish were not even righteousness at that time because they were against Christ’s way of life with idolatry and immorality and, neither did they follow the law.

Another reason why I disagree with Nano’s perspective is misrepresentation and failure to claim Christ as the redeemer who condemns sins and sets believers free. The Jewish view that salvation was joining the community of Jewish excludes Christ as a valuable divine power to deliver righteousness. Nano and his Jewish perspectives assume that Jesus was another source of the law like Abraham representing a different culture. He views Paul’s gospel as an announcement of Lordship of Christ without hinting on His effect in grace and righteousness. However, Paul himself declares that Christ brings grace in Gal 5: 4. The Jewish and Gentiles furthermore needed redemption from their sins, and this was Paul’s primarymission when he visited the Galatians for the first time. The worship of idols and other immoralities was across the two cultures creating the need for a radical intervention from God. The Jewish perspective through Nano downplays the salvation doctrine or soteriology by assuming it as a cultural unity failing to credit Christ Jesus as the savior.

Nano and his new perspective, on the other hand, errors on Paul’s vision for the church by calming that it was to unity Gentile believers and Jewish non-believers. The argument opposes Paul’s perspective about salvation and the overall mission for the Galatians. Furthermore, the argument contradicts with Nano’s central thesis that Christ was the center of Paul’s life and theological teachings. If Christ was the center of Paul’s theology, how could he have focused on having unity between believers and non-believers? According to Paul, Christ was supposed to bring justification for righteousness. It means that Paul aimed to have a church that lived on grace by first accepting Christ. The error occurs due to the earlier mentioned misrepresentation of justification where Nano disagrees with its relationship with salvation and attaches it to a covenant family. Nano and the Jewish perspectives, thus, fails to credit Christ Jesus as the overall reason for the church because it is a place for uniting people through a covenant. However, Paul argued about Christ being unity among the believers and the church in Romans 12:5. Again, the Jewishperspective fails to give Christ His credit as the head and focus of the church, according to Paul’s theology.

Personal Understating of the Various Perspectives


I understand salvation about Paul’s perspective as God’s work in humans begins to make them develop a relationship with Him and amongst themselves. The fact that Christ was central to Paul’s theology means that he wanted everyone to have Jesus, which translates to a relationship with God and living the intended life. Paul preached that salvation comes through believing in Christ and avoiding contamination with the law. His focus was to delink people,mainly the Jewish and prevent the gentiles from seeking the law and have Jesus as their justification means.  The law linked the Jewish with Abraham and Moses through the covenants, which means that the followers of the law did not recognize Christ Justification. Christ, on the other hand, would link people to God by faith because Christ was God’s representative. As a result, by believing in Christ, the people would automatically become sons of God who are doing His will, and God would, by grace, forgive their sins leading to a mutual relationship.

The perspectives in the “Four Views on the Apostle Paul” have changed my salvationthroughs to a way of seeking a relationship with God. Initially, I thought that salvation was a way to heaven when God forgives their sins. However, unity with God emerges as the primary goal of salvation and a gate pass to heave as one of the benefits.Having a connection with God as the focus of salvation appears in Schreiner’s Evangelical Perspective, which I strongly agree with and in other authors (40). Their discussion has motivated me to see that Paul was more concerned about the unity of the believers with first Christ and then among themselves. He insisted on having commonality in believing in Christ and not combining with the law leading to the conclusion that salvation is the development of a relationship amongst believers and with God.

Significance of Christ

My view about Paul’s perspective on the significance of Jesus Christ was to complete God’s work in developing a relationship with human beings and saving them at the end. Paul represents Jesus as one who had divine power in Phil 2:6-11. The apostle tries to show that his mission was not different from that of God. In Paul’s gospel, there is a particular focus on the death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus to show that Jesus was on a mission to save the whole world from God. Paul, in Galatians 5:1-12, shows that those who did not have Christ were in slavery. He furthermore describes Christ as one who delivers people from the bondage of sins and makes them righteous to avoid God’s wrath at the end. However, I have learned another role of Christ from the various contributors and perspectives that He was to unite people amongst themselves to develop a church (96). Paul led people to form as a church based on Christ as the head and where people subscribed to Jesus’ lifestyle for loving others. Paul, therefore, views the significance of Christ as the divine Lord who came to complete God’s work of forming the church, which would have a relationship with Him and saving human beings.

Paul’s Basic Theological Framework

I understand that Paul’s theological framework was based on God’s renewed relationship with people through the development of a relationship by faith. Paul presents Jesus as one who comes to fulfill Old Testament promises to save people and bring them closer to God. Paul also presents Jesus as a divine power that has come to start God’s work of freeing people from the bondage of sins and make ignite righteousness. However, the four authors have made me realize that Paul reveals Jesus as one who comes to prepare a way for eschatology by stating a life of righteousness, which He pronounces as the gate pass to heaven. All those presentations about Jesus show that Paul’s focused on linking people with God. He preached and exposed Jesus as one whom God was using to free people from the bondage of sins while developing a new relationship that would lead to eternity. Paul advocated for a lifestyle that was Christ-like, preached about faith in God and Justification through Jesus Christ, which all shows a motivation to have people develop a link with God. Preaching Christ and making Him the center of theology shows advocacy for a renewed relationship because Jesus was the way, truth, and life.

Paul’s Vision for the Church

Paul’s vision of the church in my understanding was to establish and propagate God’s community on earth and also in heaven. There are several treatises that Paul makes about the significance of Christ, and all of them carry the theme of glorifying Christ Jesus in the church. Paul, one hand, claimed that believers were to follow Christ alone. They also had to accept and believe in Christ,as a justification for their faith and righteousness. Paul, in the themes, reveals an alignment of all believers towards unity with Christ and having that commonality amongst themselves.The church, according to Paul, was a community of people who served Christ by glorifying Him as their savior. However, the four authors have motivated me to see another theme which Paul was advocating, to have the community of believers developing a relationship with God.  Johnson in the Roman Catholic perspective, for example, points out that the church was to live “life for others.” (96).Paul shows that believers were not only supposed to subscribe to Christ but live like Him in showing regard for others. Living like Christ was the development of a community of God because Jesus was God’s representative on earth in character.

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