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The Deliverance of God – Review and Conclusions

Campbell has suggested three steps that JT advocates need to take in response to his rereading: (1) demonstrate that JT is a valid option for Paul, (2) answer his critique, and (3) show how JT is a better interpretive option than his rereading. We have undertaken steps (1) and (2) in previous posts. The final step that Campbell identifies as necessary to refute his view is to show how difficulties with his view outweigh his critique of JT. Ultimately, Campbell’s rereading fails because it is hopelessly based on his speculative historical and rhetorical reconstruction. He writes:

“My reading depends upon the original readers and auditors of Romans ultimately recognizing that Paul is not speaking in 1:18-32 in his own voice–that he is not articulating in this subsection his own position but is imitating the rhetoric of another person, the Teacher, who is essentially a Jewish Christian sage.” (530)

Herein lies the major underdetermination of Campbell’s theory. (Underdeterminations are instances in which the text does not explicitly say what a reading needs it to say.) In order for his rereading to be plausible, he has to show explicitly that Paul is not speaking in his own voice in 1:18-32. Both JT and Campbell recognize the rhetoric of 1:18-32, that Paul develops an argument in order to “turn” it on someone in 2:1 (whether that is the hypothetical “Jewish everyman,” real Jewish Christians in Rome, or Campbell’s “Teacher”). The only difference between Campbell’s view and JT is that, in JT, 1:18-32 represents common ground between Paul and the man in 2:1, and in Campbell’s view 1:18-32 is the major point of contention between him and the man in 2:1. Since this is the major difference in the readings, this is where Campbell stands or falls. Campbell need not only prove that there is some kind of rhetoric or “playacting” in 1:18-32 (which JT acknowledges), but that the playacting represents a point of contention and not a point of common ground.

So, Jesus Creed community, what do we do with The Deliverance of God? This community is committed to Third Way Christianity, perhaps illustrated by the wide hallway with many rooms. Each of us may represent different traditions within orthodoxy, but we are united by the creeds. With that in mind, is Campbell’s rereading consistent with the Third Way? 


Campbell suggests six reasons why 1:18-32 should be read as the Teacher’s view and not Paul’s own. First, there is “the nonverbal dimension,” that Romans was originally performed and not read by individuals (531). This leads Campbell to suggest that perhaps Paul gave Phoebe instructions on how to read it, but this is begging the question. Second, there is the existence of prosopopoiia in ancient rhetoric (532). But acknowledging that this technique existed is not the same as demonstrating that it is used in Romans 1:18-32, let alone that it is being used in order to disagree with what is being playacted. Third, there is diaphonia (shifts in voice that would be detected by ancient readers) (533). Campbell can speculate that an ancient reader would have been able to pick up on Paul’s playacting, but one example of an ancient reader reading Romans this way would help his case here. Fourth is “the expectations of diatribal discourse.” Campbell argues that diatribe lends itself to speech in character and that there is clear speech in character in Romans 3:1-9 (535). Again, the issue in Romans 1:18-32 is not whether Paul is speaking in character, but whether Paul agrees or disagrees with the character speaking in 1:18-32. Campbell has to demonstrate conclusively that he disagrees. Fifth, there is “the postponement of specific recognition as diplomatic” (538). Paul may have postponed naming the Teacher as the object of his ridicule in 1:18-32 for rhetorical effect, but again, that is begging the question. Finally, there is Paul’s practice in quoting others, most notably in 1 Corinthians. (540)

It’s curious that Campbell would claim that the Corinthians examples support his view, since what we see in 1 Corinthians is so different than what Campbell is proposing in Romans. First, in 1 Corinthians, Paul is responding to a letter that the Corinthians wrote (1 Cor 7:1), so they would have recognized the quotes as such instantly. According to Campbell’s rereading of Romans, Paul would be responding to a teacher that the Romans had never heard. It would be impossible for them to recognize the quotes as such. Second, the undisputed quotations in 1 Corinthians are either preceded by an explicit indication that Paul is quoting the Corinthians (1:12, 3:4, 7:1, 8:1, 8:4, 12:3, 15:12, 15:35), or they are short, pithy, and repeated (6:12, 10:23). The only quotes Campbell notes that don’t fit these two categories are “food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” in 6:13,  “food will not bring us close to God” in 8:8, “Nothing beyond what is written” in 4:6, and “even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth” in 8:5. But even these instances are a far cry from what Campbell is proposing in Romans. Finally, each time that Paul quotes Corinthian theology in order to disagree with it, he always has a contrastive conjunction immediately after the quote (de in 7:2, 8:9, and 15:13, and alla in 6:12 and 10:23). The only exception to this is 15:35, in which the Corinthian theology is presented as a question, to which Paul responds “You fool!” In Romans 2:1, Paul responds to 1:18-32 with dio, “therefore,” implying agreement with what went before.

None of the six bases for Campbell’s theory actually supports the theory without speculating or begging the question–a fatal underdetermination in a point that Campbell has to demonstrate conclusively for his rereading to have merit.

In addition to this fatal underdetermination, there are also overdeterminations that suggest Paul did, in fact, endorse JT. (Overdeterminations are instances in which the text says something that contradicts a suggested reading.) It is difficult to pin many of these overdeterminations on Campbell, however, because he inserts the voice of the Teacher in critical passages within Romans 9-11 that undermine his view. In other words, he responds to the most devastating passages, “That’s not Paul.” Thus, fatal overdeterminations are masked by underdeterminations (he needs to prove that relevant passages are the voice of the Teacher and not of Paul to prevent the passages from being overdeterminations.

One notable overdetermination is Romans 10:9-10 (NET), “because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation.” First, this passage introduces a conditional element to salvation, “if you confess . . .” and “if you believe . . . .” Campbell responds by saying that nowhere does it say that those who do not confess and those who do not believe will be saved. He would say that belief and confession are evidence of participation in Christ, not the basis for participation in Christ. However, verse 10 is tougher for him. I can’t see how to read this in a participatory sense.

A second overdetermination for Campbell’s rereading is the parallels between Romans 1-4 and Romans 5-8. Fundamental to the rereading is the idea that Romans 1-4 and Romans 5-8 describe contradictory descriptions of salvation. If it can be shown that Romans 1-4 and 5-8 say the same thing with different language, then Campbell’s theory of “the Teacher” has its legs kicked out from under it.

 According to Campbell, Paul begins to mock the Teacher’s “fire and brimstone” preaching in Romans 1:18-32. Chapter 2-4, then represent a back-and-forth between Paul’s theology and that of the Teacher. Noticeably absent in Romans 5-8 is any hint of fire or brimstone. However, Campbell doesn’t mention that fire and brimstone are also curiously absent in Romans 1-4. When one looks at the language Paul actually uses to describe God’s retributive justice in Romans 1-4, one notices that it looks a lot like the language he uses in Romans 5-8.

In 1:18, we find out that the “wrath of God” (orge theou) is being revealed from heaven against all of the ungodliness (asebeia) and wickedness (adikia) of men. This wrath is not defined. We learn that God has revealed himself to all people, so that they are “without excuse.” The reason that they are without excuse is because knew God, but didn’t glorify him as God. God’s response was three fold: He “gave them up” (paradidomi) to the “lusts of their hearts” (epithumia ton kardion) leading to “impurity” (akatharsia, 1:24), to dishonorable passions (pathe atimias, 1:26), and to a “base mind” (adokimos nous, 1:28). In verse 32 we finally get a clue as to what the “wrath of God” may be–mankind knows “God’s decree” (ho dikaioma tou theou) that “those who practice such things deserve death (axioi thanatou eisin),” but they not only do them, but approve of others who do them. So, the “wrath of God” in 1:18-32 seems to be “death.”

According to Campbell, 2:1-16 represents further back-and-forth between Paul and the Teacher. In this passage, we see further elaborations of JT. Paul speaks of “escaping the judgment of God” (ekfeugo to krima tou theou,  2:3), “storing up wrath” (thesaurizo orgen) for oneself on “the day of wrath” (hemera orgen) when “God’s righteous judgment” (dikaiokrisia tou theou) is revealed (2:5), retribution based on works (apodidomi ekastoi kata to erga autou, 2:6)–“wrath and fury” (orge kai thumos) for the wicked (2:8), and “tribulation and distress” (thlipsis kai stenochoria) for everyone who does evil (2:9). Campbell attributes all of this theology to the Teacher because it contradicts Romans 5-8.

But does this theology contradict what we read in Romans 5-8? Sure, Paul uses participation and reconciliation language instead of justification language, but is he saying something different? The things from which we have been saved in Romans 5-8 are the same things mankind was handed over to in Romans 1:18-32. In 1:24, humanity was given over to “the lusts of their hearts” leading to “impurity.” In 6:12, Paul warns the Romans not to let sin reign in the body so that they obey its lust (epithumia autou), and in 6:19 he says that doing so leads to impurity (akatharsia). In Romans
1:26, humanity is given over to “dishonorable passions,” and in 6:21 Paul calls sin things of which we are now “ashamed” (epaischunomai). In 1:32, God’s decree is that “those who practice such things deserve death,” and in Romans 5-8 Paul repeatedly warns the Romans that sin leads to death (6:16, 8:6, 8:13).

So, God’s decree that sin leads to death is present in both Romans 1-4 and Romans 5-8. But is the language of salvation the same? Salvation is described in terms of reconciliation in Romans 5:1-11. It is only those who have been “handed over” (1:24, 26, 28) to something that need to be “reconciled.” Finally, Romans 5:9 speaks of being “saved” from “wrath” (orge).

The justification theology of Romans 1-4 teaches that God has decreed that “those who practice such things deserve death” (1:32), that there is a coming “judgment” (2:3, 5) based on works (2:6) in which “the wrath of God” (2:5, 8) will be poured out on some. Positive judgment on this day will result in “life” (2:7) and negative judgment will result in “wrath,” or “death” (1:32, 2:8). The participatory theology of Romans 5-8 teaches that sin leads to death (6:16, 8:6, 8:13), that death is “condemnation” (katakrima) coming through “judgment” (krima, 5:16) as a result of “trespass” (paraptoma, 5:15), and that salvation is deliverance from death and wrath (5:9, 6:5). While Romans 1-4 speaks of the relationship between sin, death, and salvation in forensic terms and Romans 5-8 in participatory terms, they both tell the same story. Without contradictory stories of sin, death, judgment, and salvation, the need for the Teacher in 1:18-32 and 2:1-16 evaporates.

Without the existence of the Teacher in 1:18-3:20, Campbell’s rereading begins to crumble. His argument that pist- terminology refers to “the faithfulness of Christ” is interesting, but without the existence of “the Teacher,” his view starts to look like that of Richard Hays. Similarly, without the Teacher, his translations of dikaiosune and dikaiosune theou start to look like those of N.T. Wright. His Christological interpretation of Abraham in Romans 4 is novel, but again, there is nothing there that is incompatible with JT. In short, Campbell’s insights in chapters 15-18 may color our reading of Paul, but there is nothing there that overthrows JT.

In conclusion, while Campbell may not offer a convincing rereading of Romans 1-4, his critique of JT and his summary of Pauline research make The Deliverance of God a gem. Even those who disagree with him will be forced to reevaluate their own views.

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