Book Notice: Paul, A New Covenant Jew

Brant Pitre, Michael P. Barber, and John A. Kincaid. Paul, A New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2019. 304 pages. $35.00 (paperback).

Many recent works on Paul attempt to categorize his unique approach to Judaism and the Hebrew Bible. In 2016, Michael Bird published An Anomalous Jew, a collection of essays that provided a taxonomy of views on the subject. Writing in a similar vein, authors Pitre, Barber, and Kincaid offer their answer to the same question. Brant Pitre is distinguished research professor of Sacred Scripture at the Augustine Institute Graduate School of Theology; Michael P. Barber is associate professor of Sacred Scripture and Theology at the Augustine Institute Graduate School of Theology; and John A. Kincaid is a visiting professor of Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. In this volume, the authors claim that Paul is a “new covenant Jew,” suggesting that this label reflects Paul’s own self-description in 2 Cor 3:6 and indicates continuity between Paul’s ministry and the promises of the new covenant in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. They further suggest that Paul is an apocalyptic new covenant Jew, reflecting Paul’s teaching on the inbreaking of the kingdom of God (chap. 2). The authors view justification as “cardiac righteousness,” a kind of justification that is both juridical and ethical (chap. 5) and argue for a realistic participation in the Lord’s Supper (chap. 6).

The authors rightly label Paul a new covenant Jew, recognizing the strong Old Testament antecedents in Paul’s theology. But they overstretch their claim for continuity when they connect Paul’s view of the new covenant with that of the Dead Sea Scrolls (45). Though some of the scrolls refer to the “covenant of an everlasting community,” this covenant is associated with the “holy spirit of the community” (1QS 3:6–10), which is markedly different from the divine Spirit of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Similarly, the authors claim that Paul’s theology can be described as “new covenantal nomism,” a point that is beholden to E. P. Sanders’s thesis presented in his book Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977). This thesis has been significantly challenged by John Barclay in his 2015 work Paul and the Gift. Though the authors interact favorably with Barclay, they start from a framework that assumes too much continuity with Second-Temple Judaism. 

Although the work is written from a Roman Catholic perspective, both Protestant and Catholic readers will benefit from this erudite study. The book does not come across as an apologetic for a strictly Roman Catholic theology. The authors are widely conversant with secondary literature, and their fresh ideas will be a catalyst for further investigation. Finally, those familiar with recent works in Pauline theology will be excited to encounter a significant work on Paul that is just over 300 pages (in contrast with N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God [2013], a 1600+-page work!). It would not be surprising to see this book appear on many seminary reading lists as an accessible and not unduly lengthy introduction to Paul and his letters.

CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. The present book notice was written by Mark Baker, a Ph.D. candidate at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.


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