Book Review: Paul and the Person

Paul and the Person Book Review

This book arrived into my 2018 reading list with a bit of a bang – rooted in the New Testament, written by a women, foreword by an author I’ve been working with, published by one of my favourite publishers, and engaging with my favourite question, Susan Grove Eastman’s Paul and the Person: Reframing Paul’s Anthropology is a book I needed to read.

As the book unfolds, the authors wide learning and reading becomes apparent. The first 100 pages are hard work – but eminently worth it. Whether we are considering the Stoic philosophy that preceded Paul’s writing (Eastman is particularly keen to engage with Epictetus), or the ‘modern’ (by which, I think, this author means ‘contemporary’ in the recent and present historical sense) udnersting of the human, this book has something useful to say.

Since reading Kris Song’s review of this book over at the excellent Two Cities blog, I’d kept an eye out for a copy, and was pleased to get hold of one recently. Drawing together a number of things that I find fascinating – Paul, participation, persons, ancient and contemporary conversations – this book is one I thoroughly enjoyed reading and will shape a number of ideas I’m thinking through at the moment. Susan Eastman is an associate research professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, and author of Recovering Paul’s Mother Tongue: Language and Theology in Galatians. If I have the time, I might find a slot on my reading plan next year for that book.

This book is a technical one, but is also excellent at making some very complex stuff accessible to readers wishing to do a bit of work. Eastman deftly weaves together Paul’s own words, awareness of his context, and some of the questions our culture is asking. Whilst this is an academic book, I think there are occasional nuggets here for people preaching expositions of key passages including Romans 7, Philippians 2, and Galatians 2.

Split into two parts – ‘a three way conversation’ and ‘participation and the self’, Eastman draws together ancient sources (from both within and without the Pauline corpus) and some contemporary perspectives. The third chapter here, ‘Embodied and Embedded: The Corporeal Reality of Pauline Participation’, is particularly helpful for some of the things I’m thinking about. A clearly holistic view of the person sings out – Eastman observes that “The body is thus never a neutral entity; embedded in its environment, it is always constrained and shaped by the worlds to which it belongs. For this reason, the body is contested territory in the battle between cosmic powers…”. The second half of the book spends time drawing these various threads together, moving toward Eastman’s conclusions.

As we come towards this author’s ending with an apposite quote from Rowan Williams’ Lost Icons, Eastman concludes her book clearly and beautifully. The conclusions affirm both human dignity and the call to community, the information into transformational relationship: “That web of relationships in the body of Christ, not isolated or inward-turned individuals, is the arena in which change happens”. The beguiling closing paragraph on the care of persons is also one which I would be excited to see developed – and will also by using in some things I’m thinking and writing as part of being a Trustee of a Charity involved in care. Paul and the Person is a great example of a Pauline anthropology, in appropriate conversation both ancient and contemporary, and is in my view a very helpful contribution to thinking about what it means to be human.

Volker Raben has a more in-depth review in JNTS which covers more ground, with some similar observations.

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