Jesus Creed

This is an incredible series being offered to us by Matt Edwards: a nine part summary and response to Douglas Campbell’s mega-book, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul
. Thanks to Matt Edwards.

The Deliverance of God 1–Summary and Plan for Review

In The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul, Douglas Campbell emphatically rejects traditional Justification Theory (JT) in favor of an apocalyptic rereading of Romans 1-4, in which dikaiosune theou (traditionally, “the righteousness of God”) is “the deliverance of God,” or “God’s saving action.” According to Campbell, Paul’s message in Romans 1-4 is that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, God is revealed as the savior of all humanity from the powers of Sin and Death. Central to Campbell’s thesis is a contrast between Paul’s own “participationist” theology found in Romans 5-8 and that of a Jewish-Christian teacher, whose ideas Paul quotes and rejects in Romans 1-4. Campbell identifies no less than fifty-six (!) problems with JT and the traditional reading of Romans 1-4, and argues that his rereading solves all of them without creating new ones. While Campbell’s critique of JT is weighty, his summary of Pauline research is superb, and his exegesis is careful, creative, and profound, he fails to deliver a plausible rereading of the relevant texts. Even so, the unconvinced will have to address his powerful critique.

The Deliverance of God is divided into five parts, the first dealing with JT and its implications. Before defining JT, he explains what generated his interest in the study–the apparent contradictions between the theology of Romans 1-4 and that of Romans 5-8. Romans 1-4 advocates a forensic understanding of salvation, with humanity’s offense of God’s justice being the “problem,” the substitutionary atonement of Jesus being the “solution,” and faith being the means of appropriation. Romans 5-8, on the other hand, advocates a “participationist” understanding of salvation, with humanity’s enslavement to Sin and Death being the “problem,” Christ’s victorious death and resurrection being the “solution,” and union with Christ being the (universal) means of appropriation. Traditionally, Protestant scholars have prioritized Romans 1-4 and relegated 5-8 to “sanctification” (a secondary and superfluous part of salvation). Campbell rejects this artificial distinction, noting the prevalence of participationist theology in the rest of Paul. But, if Romans 5-8 is Paul’s Gospel, what do we do with Romans 1-4? Enter The Deliverance of God. 

In chapter one, Campbell describes
the JT that he will be critiquing throughout the book. JT has two phases–“the
rigorous contract” (in which God’s ethical demands are made clear to all
people, all people are found to have fallen short of these demands, and all
people are declared worthy of God’s retributive justice) and “the appropriation
of salvation” (in which God, in his grace, offers a more manageable criterion
for salvation, “faith”). Between these two phases lies eschatological judgment
based on merit and Christ’s death on the cross for sins. JT can vary with
regard to the nature of humanity’s incapacity, the intensity of God’s demands,
the nature of the atonement, and the meaning of “faith,” but the basic storyline
is that God is a God of retributive justice, He has ethical demands that
humanity has not met, Jesus has atoned for sins, and salvation is appropriated
only by “faith.” Inherent to the model is the idea that humans negotiate phase
one (realizing from nature that they are a sinner and “without excuse,” Rom
1:20) before they can negotiate phase two (appropriating salvation through

In chapters 2-5, Campbell describes
seven intrinsic difficulties, ten systematic difficulties, and four empirical difficulties
with JT. The difficulties vary in significance, but the cumulative effect is crippling.
(I will explain some of these problems in subsequent posts!) In chapter six,
Campbell surveys the major problems and concerns within Pauline theology, and shows
that almost all of them relate to JT in Romans 1-4. With a remarkable degree of
consistency, he demonstrates that the major questions within Pauline
scholarship all relate to the intrinsic, systematic, and empirical difficulties
of JT.

Having demonstrated twenty-one
problems with JT in part one, Campbell makes some hermeneutical clarifications
in part two before addressing the textual basis of JT in part three. In chapter
seven, Campbell describes the discourse involved in reading Romans. At the base
of the discourse are the text itself, exegesis of the text, the argument of the
text, and the circumstances in which the text was generated and received. But
on top of the base is the superstructure, including explanations of the text,
paradigms, church history, and the ideocultural setting of the reader. When
readers approach a text, they create a reading
of the text. Subsequent approaches to the text invariably force previous
readings on the text, potentially reading alien meanings into words and phrases,
according to the reader-generated superstructure. Since Campbell’s work is challenging
the reading of the text (and not the
text itself), JT advocates cannot respond to his critiques by reasserting JT
readings of the same texts (as if their reading is inherent), for that is
begging the question that Campbell is challenging. 

In chapters eight and nine,
Campbell addresses the presence of JT in the Reformers and within Modern

In part three, Campbell identifies
thirty-five exegetical problems with JT. In chapters ten and eleven, he walks
through Romans 1-4 to show the textual basis of JT, and then points out
thirty-five over- and underdeterminations. An underdetermination is an instance
in which a text does not say explicitly what a reading needs it to say (for instance, nowhere is it explicit that the pist– [“faith”] terminology is the means
by which salvation is appropriated). Overdeterminations are things that don’t
fit a reading, but tend to get brushed over because of commitment to the
reading (for instance Romans 2:6-10 and the possibility of righteous pagans).

In chapter 12, Campbell interacts
with others who have attempted to reframe or reread Romans 1-4 (Watson,
Sanders, Dunn, and Stowers), finding them all unconvincing.    

Having thoroughly discredited JT in
parts 1-3, Campbell offers his rereading of Romans 1-4 in part four. In chapter
thirteen, he describes the circumstances that led to the writing of Romans.
Paul was dogged by a Jewish-Christian teacher (“the Teacher”) who believed that
the Gentiles needed to become Jewish to be Christian. We see evidence of the
Teacher’s work in Antioch (Gal 2:11-14), Galatia, and Philippi (Phil 3:2-11).
Given the similarities between Romans and Galatians, it shouldn’t be surprising
that Paul would be addressing a similar situation. The difference, however,
between Romans and Galatians, is that in Galatians, Paul wrote to a church he
founded and whom the Teacher had already visited, and in Romans, Paul wrote to
a church someone else founded and whom Paul anticipated
the Teacher visiting (thus the difference in tone and rhetoric). Since Paul
hoped to stop by Rome on his way to Spain, he wanted to win the Romans to his
side before the Teacher had a chance to turn them against him.

In chapter fourteen, Campbell
describes his rereading of Romans 1:18-3:20. He argues that much of the chapter
is prosopopoiia, playacting. In these
sections Paul mocks the fire-and-brimstone preaching of the Teacher, not
because he agrees with it, but so he can turn it against him and show that it
is not a true gospel. Thus, 1:18-32 does not represent the theology of Paul,
but that of the Teacher. Romans 2:1-8 is Paul’s “turn” on the teacher to show
that he can’t even live up to his own theology. In 2:9-29, Paul points out the contradictions
between the Teacher’s JT and his theology of election. If justification is by
desert, then there is no basis for Jews to consider themselves privileged.
Finally, in 3:1-20, Paul exposes the Teacher’s “gospel” as bogus–that no one
will be justified by works of the law.

At this point it is important to
note the differences between Paul’s theology and that of the Teacher. The
Teacher believes that salvation is according to JT–that God is a God of
retributive justice, that judgment will be according to works, and that only
circumcision can purify the heart and lead to obedience and justification. (There
is a noted absence of Christology on the Teacher’s part.) Paul, on the other
hand, had a more participatory view of salvation (described in Romans 5-8). God
is a God of benevolence, and will one day deliver all humanity from the powers
of Sin and Death because of the faithfulness of Christ.  

Chapter fifteen deals with pist– terminology, especially in Romans
1:16-17 and 3:21-31. Campbell notes the verbal and conceptual parallels and
posits that 1:16-17 is a prelude to 3:21-31. The pist– terminology refers to “faithfulness,” usually “the
faithfulness of Christ” as a metonym for his death.

In chapter sixteen, Campbell
analyzes the justification language. He notes the martyrological narrative
parallel to 4 Maccabees, both based on a particular interpretation of the
binding of Isaac in Genesis 22. Thus, Jesus is the new Isaac, who faithfully
went with his father Abraham to be sacrificed, and his blood is atoning.
Campbell also notes that justification is liberating. Judicial verdicts are
both indicative and performative. When a judge passes judgment, and it can make
a statement about reality (“you are in the right”), or it can create a new
reality (“I declare you in the right”). A judge’s verdict may not reflect desert,
as in a judge releasing a guilty captive. Thus, for Campbell, God’s
justification of humanity is not in the sense of making them “in the right,”
but in the sense of liberating them.

This liberating sense of
“justification” naturally raises the question of what Campbell does with the
phrase, dikaiosune theou, “the
righteousness of God.” Campbell takes this up in chapter seventeen, following Kasemann
in arguing that it is a subjective genitive describing God’s saving or
liberating action. As the title of the book suggests, the best translation of dikaiosune theou is “the deliverance of

Thus, Campbell would translate Romans
1:17, “For the deliverance of God [God’s saving action] is revealed from
faithfulness [the faithfulness of Christ] to lead to faithfulness [the
faithfulness of God’s people, in participation with Christ]; as it is written,
“The righteous one [Christ] will live [be resurrected] out of his
faithfulness.” Thus, the significance of the Christ event was what it revealed
about God–that he is a saving God and that he has acted definitively in Christ,
liberating all humanity from the powers of Sin and Death.

In chapter eighteen, Campbell wades
into Romans 3:27-4:25 and the discussion of Abraham. Campbell argues that
Abraham is not a “model of faith” for Christians to follow (after all, that
would be setting the bar pretty high), but a “model of faithfulness” that
Christ followed and that is now shared with Christians by virtue of their
participation with Christ.

Having shown that Romans 1-4 should
be read in terms of “the deliverance of God” rather than JT, Campbell devotes
the rest of the book to showing how his theory makes sense of the rest of the
Pauline data outside of Romans 1-4. Throughout, he shows that his rereading can
explain Paul without creating added difficulties, and that in many cases, it is
a preferable reading than that of JT.

In conclusion, Campbell develops
four major disagreements with JT. First, Campbell insists that God’s fundamental
attribute is benevolence rather than retribution. Second, he insists that
Paul’s attitude toward Judaism is retrospective rather than prospective. In
other words, Paul didn’t realize that “by works of the law no man will be
justified” until after he became a
Christian. Third, he insists that Judaism is not merely the ideal precondition
to becoming a Christian, or that the law merely functions to convict people so
that they need to become Christians. Finally, “faith” is not the condition by
which salvation is appropriated, but rather evidence that one is being saved.
Positively stated, while Adam enslaved humanity to the powers of Sin and Death,
God has acted benevolently and decisively in Jesus’ incarnation, death, and
resurrection to liberate all humanity from these sinister powers. (834)

Campbell’s critique of JT is
brutal. While not all of the fifty-six problems with JT are equally damning,
the cumulative force of his scathing critique is crushing. The problems are
diverse–internal contradictions, systematic contradictions, contradictions with
what we know about the world, and textual over-and underdeterminations. If we
are to reject Campbell’s rereading and retain JT, we have many questions to

In addition to his sharp and
trenchant critique of JT, Campbell has also poignantly summarized the state of
Pauline research. By grouping scholars according to his identified problems,
Campbell is able to clearly identify the questions each asked, the approach
they took toward squaring JT with the text, and the conclusions each drew
(while suggesting that a better approach would have been to abandon JT
altogether). Someone looking for a clear summary of Pauline research over the
last 200 years will have difficulty finding something better than Campbell’s.

A third strength of Campbell’s book
is the breadth and depth of his exegesis. Even if one does not agree with his
thesis, his exegesis illuminates many traditionally dusky passages in Paul. His
emphasis on justification through participation allows micro-rereadings of
passages that use phrases like dikaiosune
(“the righteousness of God) or pistis
(“the faith/faithfulness of Christ”). Finally, his emphasis on
retrospection in Paul’s attitude toward Judaism and the law fits nicely with
the work of E.P. Sanders and Francis Watson.

Despite Campbell’s brilliant summary
and deconstruction, he fails to deliver a plausible solution to the problems he
identifies. He suggests a threefold approach to refuting his ideas: (1) JT must
supply a positive justification for its own existence, (2) JT must resolve the
difficulties Campbell has identified, and (3) JT must find difficulties with
Campbell’s rereading that outweigh his critique of JT (760-61). This review suggests
a direction in which a more thorough critique could go.

 According to Campbell, the first step toward upholding JT is
to supply positive justification for its continuing existence. He suggests that
the strongest argument in favor of it is that “it’s the best we have.” However,
despite his insistence to the contrary, JT is established enough in antiquity
and in the Pauline corpus to warrant at least its consideration as a frame for
Pauline thought.

First, JT is present in Second
Temple Judaism, most notably in the Wisdom of Solomon (Campbell admits as much).
Second, JT is present in early Christian thought. We need look no further than
the man in 2:1 who endorses the theology of 1:18-32. Central to Campbell’s
rereading is the idea that the man in 2:1 is a Jewish-Christian Teacher
preaching a gospel contrary to Paul’s gospel. Thus, for Campbell’s rereading to
succeed, he has to grant that some
early Christians endorsed JT, just not
. Finally, JT is present in the text of Romans itself. Again, Paul
outlines it in 1:18-32. Even according to Campbell’s rereading, JT is in
Romans, it’s just not endorsed by Paul. So, given that JT existed in Second
Temple Judaism, in early Christianity, and in the text of Romans itself, it
seems reasonable to consider that perhaps Paul endorsed it.

The second step that Campbell
identifies as necessary to refute his view is to answer his critique of JT. Of
the three steps, this will be by far the most difficult to accomplish. It is
important to note however, that, even as Campbell admits that many of the
fifty-six problems have been identified and solved by previous Pauline scholars.
The Lutheran, Reformed, and “New” perspectives on Paul are all vulnerable to some of Campbell’s identified problems,
but they each offer solutions, and none is vulnerable to all of them.

This is the first in a series of
posts on The Deliverance of God. In
subsequent posts, I will present what I feel are the most weighty of Campbell’s
critiques of JT and ask the Jesus Creed community to react (Campbell’s second
step for responding). Finally, I will explain (what I think are) some fatal
over- and underdeterminations in Campbell’s rereading (his third step for
responding), and ask where we go from here.

How committed are we to justification theory? Justification theory is
widespread and important to many, but is it a measure of orthodoxy? Is it in
the creeds? Campbell insists that he is not attacking the gospel, but defending
the true gospel from a widespread misinterpretation. Can those of us committed
to the Third Way be objective with Campbell, or will we necessarily read him
with suspicion because of our other commitments?


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