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Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Paul and Union with Christ" (Constantine R. Campbell)

TITLE: Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study
AUTHOR: Constantine R. Campbell
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (480 pages).

This book is based on the premise that exegesis shapes theology and vice versa. That is why both exegesis and theology will be employed TOGETHER in reflecting Paul's writings about the believers relationship with Christ. Two questions are used to helm the study.
  1. With regards to union with Christ, what does it mean to be "in Christ?"
  2. What other themes are related to this union with Christ?
While the bulk of the book is on the exegesis of the nuances of the prepositions Paul uses in describing union with Christ, Campbell suggests the use of idioms as a way to frame the understanding of the nuances. What are the meanings and functions behind the prepositions and the idioms behind the words? The author does not limit the study to the use of a Greek-English lexicon compiled by Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich, (commonly known as BDAG). He applies his own critical study of the individual prepositional uses in Paul's epistles. Part One of the book gives readers a broad survey of the historical perspectives and developments of Pauline studies. He surveys some of the teachings on union as "mysticism" through the studies of Adolph Deissmann, Wilhelm Bousset, and to some extent, Albert Schweitzer. Others like Rudolf Bultmann prefers to move away from mysticism toward a participation perspective, through the sacraments like baptism and communion. John Murray puts forth a theological perspective that sees "union with Christ" as the undergirding theme for understanding Christian theology. Alfred Wikenhauser prefers to see it as Christ's presence. Fritz Neugebauer prefers to take a more exegetical approach to understand meanings. Karl Barth proposes an objective as well as a subjective way to understand union with Christ. Like Bultmann, Robert Tannehill, and Wikenhauser's work on participation, renowed NT scholar E.P. Sanders brings in Jewish theology to strengthen the connection of both Jews and Gentiles being participatory members of Christ's salvation. Richard Gaffin, James D.G. Dunn speaks out for union with Christ as more experiential.  The author then moves to draw deeper insights into the extent of the relationship of mysticism and experience, and the connection between Pauline theology and Jewish contexts. Key to his discovery is that union does not replace or displace mysticism or experience, it is the "ground" to underline the many other theologies such as soteriology, Christology, ecclesiology, and so on.

Part Two is an exegetical feast where prepositions like (in, into, through, with, under, above, of, etc) are looked into greater detail. The idiom "ἐν Χριστῷ" (en christoi) occurs 73 times in Paul's letters may literally mean "in, into, among, with the help of, because of, etc..." it is important to let the context be the interpretive guide when understanding how Paul uses it. For example, contexts is critical to see how the preposition is used to explain either a present theme of redemption or a time-based salvation by grace. Romans 3:23 talks about the latter with regards to eternal life, while 1 Corinthians 1:4 points to a sanctifying aspect of being redeemed in Christ. It is also a critical distinction when talking about believers or unbelievers. "Into Christ" is described by the idiom "εἰς Χριστόν" (eis christon) which is closely related to "ἐν Χριστῷ" but has the special ability to hold "ideas of motion and rest" as well as some metaphorical usage. It is also considered a more "pregnant" term connecting the relationship between God and man, as well as human to human. The key distinction is that it moves toward a target or a reference.  "Together with Christ" is described by "σὺν Χριστῷ" (sun christoi) which highlights the participatory element, like co-experiencing or co-suffering, participating in life as well as in death. "Between, via, through Christ" is one explanation of the idiom "διὰ Χριστοῦ" (dia christou) which represents "instrumentality" in which something is done or achieved through the person. Romans is filled with such uses. Like Romans 3:23 of justification through faith in Christ, and Romans 5:11 through Christ we are reconciled. It is also used to describe the characteristics of believers who are able to be confident through Christ (2 Cor 3:4). Thus, "διὰ Χριστοῦ" are mostly used instrumentally and sometimes as mediatorial.  Campbell also looks at the metaphors which such prepositions and idioms point to. Like "Body of Christ," marriage, temple, building, and the clothing metaphors, which all goes to point out the relationship of God and His people. Such metaphors elucidate the spiritual realities and theological truths of "union with Christ."

Part Three is a synthesis of what has been done in order to draw out theological themes uncovered in the earlier chapters. The author weaves in the significance of "union with Christ" with the topics of interest for the Christian life. What does it means for the work of Christ? Essentially, all work in Christ springs from the truth of being in "union with Christ." Likewise, it helps us understand the relationship with the Triune Godhead, how the union with Christ and the mediation leads to a full reconciliation with the Trinity. It also confirms the believers' identity and status, with regards to Christian living and discipleship via identification with Christ. That is not all. After the description and the explanation of the importance and theological structure of the terms, Campbell leaves the readers gasping for more as he works on implications for future study. Key to it is the extension of the metaphors identified and the additional mysteries it uncovers. Moreover, there are still lots to be learned with regards to the thoughts of Paul, and the interconnected themes. 

My Thoughts

The three major conclusions of the study is this. First, "union with Christ" alone does not quite cut it. This needs at least, three other words, like "union, participation, identification, incorporation," in order to bring out the nuances of Paul's theology with regards to various theological themes like the Trinity, eschatology, spirituality, etc.   Second, Paul's theology is not a fresh new creation, but one that has been informed by Jewish theology and Jesus Himself. Third, the theology undergirding "union in Christ" is not the central theme, but is the theme that binds all other theologies together.

This book is an exegetical treasure for the interested student of Greek and New Testament biblical studies. It is a powerful work of combining diligent exegesis with faithful theological connections. For learning reasons, the book is placed systematically as exegesis first and theologizing later. This at first may look mechanical, and may appear to contradict Campbell's assertion that exegesis and application informs each other. The truth is, for all the interconnections and the methodical approaches, learning is a process. For the student, it is an important first step to be disciplined in doing a good exegesis before any initial work of applying the studied texts. The intermingling of theology and exegesis will benefit the same person who applies the process over and over again, where past learning informs the present as well as the future. This is what learning is all about. The present builds upon the past in order to create a future. For those who have learned Greek, this is a refreshing work to demonstrate the importance and the nuances of the Greek language. For those who do not understand much Greek, it is a good way to spur interest in getting into the original languages. That said, while a knowledge of Greek will definitely be helpful, the book supplies enough explanation to guide readers unfamiliar with the original language. That said, it will be helpful for the author or publisher to include some reading helps so that non-readers of Greek can at least know how to pronounce the words.

For preachers of the New Testament, this is a must-have volume to appreciate how theology and exegesis work together. For students of Greek, this exercise breathes life into a sometimes monotonous rote learning of the ancient language. For the layperson, consider this book a challenge to see the meanings often embedded within the Greek, to get a glimpse of the thoughts of Paul with regards to mysticism, the mystery, the sacraments, and the experience of living in and with Christ.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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