Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith. By Francis Watson. Second Edition. London: T&T Clark, 2016. 560 pp. Paper, $39.95.
Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith situates Paul in a metaphorical three-way conversation with Scripture and Second Temple Jewish interpreters.
As a Jew, Paul would not have abandoned his Pharisaic heritage of reading and learning from the Scriptures. Watson’s careful exegesis of Pauline texts, as well as others from Second Temple Judaism, demonstrates how all interpreters come to the text from their own experiences. For Paul, this importantly includes his apostolic position as one who had the revelation of Christ (Gal 1:12). Watson argues that when Paul reads the text from this perspective, he learns from the Pentateuch itself that a tension exists between unconditional promises of blessing (Genesis and Deuteronomy) and conditional blessing based on law observance (Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers). Moreover, Paul’s conclusion that judgment follows when blessing is predicated on the law comes not from a twisting of the OT texts, but from a genuine reading. However, Paul only sees this tension because of his experience with Christ. Thus, for Watson, the OT itself does not clearly witness to justification by faith. In this way, Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith can be said to be “now revealed” and yet “witnessed by the Law and the Prophets” (Rom 3:21). In this second edition (2016), Watson includes a substantial forty page response to his critics, including Wright, Hays and Campbell.
While Watson does not share the same conservative viewpoints as most JOTGES readers, it is rewarding to see a mainstream scholar carefully conclude that justification is by faith and not by obeying the law. He successfully balances insights from both “Old” and “New Perspectives on Paul.” Readers will especially benefit from his discussion of the definition of “works of law” being more than Jewish identity markers, but actual performance of the law’s ritual and ethical requirements. Though Watson portrays faith as active, involving a way of life, his arguments against understanding pistis as faithfulness in Rom 1:16 are extremely helpful, especially in the second edition’s interaction with Hays, perhaps the most well-known proponent of the subjective genitive view of pistis christou.
The “third member” of Watson’s conversation, other Jewish interpreters, adds an important element to the work. By examining these sources carefully, Paul’s position as a Jewish reader in the same context as his contemporaries, is rightly highlighted. The comparisons also helpfully identify ambiguities in the Scriptural text and where Paul’s own unique position as an apostle might explain why he comes to certain conclusions. However, the value of these long excursions into authors like Philo, Josephus, and the Habakkuk pesherist, may not be worth the commitment for busy readers looking to maximize their reading time. Also, Watson’s exegesis of certain OT texts to show continuity with Paul is not always convincing and sometimes rests on an argument from silence. Still, the work from 2004 was a substantial contribution to understanding Pauline theology and the second edition is a useful update. Anyone interested in Pauline theology or the NT use of the OT will greatly benefit from it.
Moody Bible Institute