We normally focus on Jesus scholarship and the Louisville Cardinals here at the Jesus Blog, but last Friday requires a quick diversion. On that evening, Prof. John Barclay of Durham University (Doktorvater of our own Dr. Anthony Le Donne), launched the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible (CSSSB) at St Mary’s University College in Twickenham with a lecture entitled “Paul and the Gift: Gift-Theory, Grace and Critical Issues in the Interpretation of Paul.” As many will know, the Greek word for “gift,” charis, is the exact same word that translators often render “grace.” This lecture, therefore, went right to the heart of hot issues in Pauline scholarship since it concerned Paul’s concept of grace.
Barclay’s presentation is part of a bigger two-volume work forthcoming from Eerdmans. In it (the lecture), he did nothing less than send a submarine missile into the New Perspective on Paul, as well as traditional Protestant understandings of grace. He started off detailing at length the gift-giving and gift-receiving cultures of the ancient Mediterranean and, especially, Second Temple Judaism. His main points regarding Paul and gift/grace were that (1) gift-giving in Paul’s culture was not necessarily “free” but rather occurred in a context of reciprocity (i.e., the concept of “free grace” misses a bit here) and (2) contrary to covenantal nomism and its ken, Paul was not just like all other Jews. Barclay demonstrates that, for Paul, Christ is the perfect charis/gift, but that our understanding of the “perfect” nature of that gift is less than clear, with different Pauline interpreters throughout the ages giving significantly different nuances to that perfection. Instead of giving you his take on how Christ is the perfect gift, I’ll here just note that we will soon have the video of it up on the CSSSB website.