John M. G. Barclay, Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at Durham University, UK, is recognized by his peers as one of today’s most influential New Testament scholars. Barclay began his academic career focusing on Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Since then, he has published widely on Second Temple Jewish texts and social history. His book Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora is widely regarded as the definitive treatment of the topic. In the past few years, Barclay has turned his attention back to Paul, most recently with his monumental 2015 book, Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans).
For nearly four decades, scholarship on Paul has operated on the assumption that what makes Paul unique is not his view of grace. In fact, many scholars believe he had nothing new to contribute on the topic. Since the advent of the “New Perspective on Paul” in the late 1970s—which shifted attention away from “justification by faith” as the center of Paul’s theology to the social, ethical dimensions of his missionary efforts—many interpreters of Paul have neglected the topic of grace. Barclay’s new book opposes this scholarly trend, and proposes that Paul’s radicalism lies precisely in his view of God’s grace—and of its potential to transform both individuals and communities.
Barclay recently had a series of conversations with Wesley Hill, assistant professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, about his new book.
You argue that Paul’s view of grace is bizarre and unsettling, even “dangerous.” Why was Paul’s view of grace so radical?
Paul did not have a special word for “grace,” so he used the ...