Shelf Life Book Review: Paul and the Gift

Derek R. Brown

Paul and the Gift
Eerdmans, 2015

Paul’s understanding of grace has been discussed so many times that it might seem as though nothing more can be said on the matter. What makes John M. G. Barclay’s Paul and the Gift significant, then, is that it offers a new approach to Paul’s view of grace that also takes seriously both the meaning of grace in the ancient world and Paul’s interpreters throughout history.

Barclay begins by examining the various ways that grace (or gift) has been understood, both conceptually and historically. He discusses six ways grace can be “perfected”—that is, drawn out to its logical conclusion or endpoint. Barclay then engages Paul’s interpreters—including Augustine, Luther, Barth, and E. P. Sanders—to determine which perfection(s) of grace they identify in Paul’s theology. Next, Barclay surveys the concept of grace in key texts from Second Temple Judaism to situate Paul in the context of his religious predecessors. Finally, he builds on the careful discussion of gift to reexamine the concept of grace in Galatians and Romans.

This book’s carefully researched scholarship arguably makes it the most seminal work on Paul since Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977). Barclay not only provides a close reading of Paul’s understanding of grace, but also challenges previous readings of the apostle, from Augustine to the Reformers to the New Perspective on Paul. The book is an essential read for scholars interested in the original meaning of Paul, as well as for all who desire to preach or grasp Paul’s letters in today’s context.

This review also appears in the July–August '16 issue of Bible Study Magazine.