Friday, December 6, 2013

Book: Apostle of the Last Days

With Winter Storm Cleon beating down outside, a little look at the Last Days seems an appropriate overreaction. So, today let us consider C. Marvin Pate’s Apostle of the Last Days. Contrary to a claim by some of his students at Ouachita, this is not an autobiography.

Instead, Apostle of the Last Days is Pate’s latest contribution to Pauline studies for the Christian New Testament. The purpose is to view Paul’s life, letters, and theology through the lens of his eschatology (understanding of the end-of-time or last things).

Pate’s Apostle of the Last Days is the first work on Paul that I have seen which attempts to place Paul not in either a Jewish or Greco-Roman context, but in both. This includes not only examining the official Roman religions but the “mystery religions” that have risen in fame over the last decade. (That’s not to say no one else has written on this, only that Pate is the first one I’ve seen. Most of them stop with mainstream religions.)

First, a look at what we have. Pate’s Apostle of the Last Days is certainly too short to give attention to every detail of Paul’s life. Instead, Pate gives an overview of the Biblical material regarding Paul’s life. He then moves into discussing Paul’s specific letters and fitting these into a framework that demonstrates his view of Paul and inaugurated eschatology.

Additionally, Pate does not spend time in Apostle of the Last Days addressing authorship concerns with Pauline Letters. He uses the traditional authorship and moves on. Pate then provides working outlines for each of the 13 traditional Pauline epistles, showing how they fit with the inaugurated eschatology idea.

Second, let us look at the bottom of the pages of Apostle of the Last Days. We find…FOOTNOTES!!! Thank you, Kregel Academic, for not relegating the studious to the dreaded other method. Alongside this, I am glad to see the sources for ideas and concepts, even when Pate is referencing competitive works.

Now, on to the actual hypothesis. I once had a pastor who often said that “The Apostle Paul had two days on his calendar: Today, and That Day,” in reference to Paul’s focus on either what he had to do now or the return of Christ. Dr. May’s point was that Paul lived for eternity, not next week.

Pate’s view in Apostle of the Last Days supports that basic idea. Paul lives and writes in the early days of the last days. The end of all has been inaugurated, though not completed. The concept holds up throughout the work, though I would hazard a guess that others will find a different way to interpret Paul’s words.

Personally, I found the chapter on Ephesians, titled “Ephesians: Judaism, the Imperial Cult, Artemis, and the Battle of the Two Ages,” the best of the book. Transcending the old-school examination of “What does the helmet mean?” “What about the feet?” for the Armor of God, Pate demonstrates an understanding of who and where we truly find the enemy. I loved this, and will not see that passage the same again.

Is this a book for everyone? I don’t see why everyone wouldn’t want to read it, but it does require some background information from a good New Testament survey book. I’d highly recommend this for any Bible nerds in your life.

Free book received from Kregel Academic in exchange for the review.

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