Book Review: Apostle of the Last Days

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Because “eschatology” (end times or last days study) can cover a wide range of approaches, many of them not consistent with Scripture, I tend to be cautious when reading any book on the topic. Pate offers an excellent overview of Paul’s writings on the topic. While I do not agree with everything he wrote, the book is still worth reading and digesting.9780825438929

Pate addresses five components of eschatology: 1. New age has come, 2. It is cosmic and universal, 3. A Savior inaugurates the new age, 4. The new age/Savior is predicted in sacred writings, 5. The new age is celebrated through rituals. Then he looks at each of these components relative to the various movements and influences in the first century: Hellenistic religion (realized eschatology), Roman Imperial Cult (realized eschatology), Merkabah Judaizers (realized eschatology), Non-Merkabah Judaizers (inaugurated eschtology), and Paul (inaugurated eschatology). See page 21 for a helpful table of the each of these aspects.

In the Introduction, I found his set up of the issue compelling. He gives a quick overview of Paul’s letters and the apocalyptic sense of the Gospel. This corresponds with my study over the past 30 years. While on the academic level, this has been debated, by the time “lay” level books are written, much of the eschatological/apocalyptic perspective is either negated or twisted to meet an agenda. Pate offers a way forward to address the issue academically but also pastoral. I thought it interesting and instructive that he carefully notes that “suffering Messiah” does not appear in pre-Christian writings. The primary text used in Christianity for this is Isaiah 53, but he notes that it does not use the word Messiah, but servant.

In his treatment of Galatians Pate provides a fine foundation for the eschatological perspective of Paul. At the same time he briefly addresses the issue of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), with a table of Sanders, Dunn, and Wright (p. 72). Pate aligns himself with the traditional understanding of justification rather than NPP. In his footnote he raises the assumption of NPP “It was only Lutheran exegesis that gave the false impression that Paul ever had a negative view of the Law” (p. 71). Therein lies a problem with the entire NPP; it misunderstands Lutheran exegesis.

In 1 and 2 Thessalonians, an area of special interest for me over the past 30 years, the author correctly challenges the idea of a “secret rapture of the church” before the coming of Christ. His table of comparing 1 and 2 Thessalonians with the Olivet Discourse (via Douglas Moo) is very helpful in understanding and interpreting these texts.

The most helpful and enlightening chapter for me was 1 and 2 Corinthians. At the same time, I have reservations about the four influences can be summarized in one concept as Petrine: “We will now put forth the theory that Torah-centered wisdom mediated by the Spirit adequately accounts for each of these influences, the source of which can well be traced to the Petrine party” (p. 126). While much is valuable, such a stance seems closed when Paul talks about the Spirit mediating the wisdom, even as Paul does in 1 and 2 Corinthians. I need to ponder this more.

Following his position (adequately demonstrated), then is that the real opposition to the Gospel in Corinth comes from Jewish context and especially mystic Jewish context, not Hellenistic. Especially helpful in his summary was the five fold imagery that Paul uses for Christ-centered leadership: 1. Agricultural 2. Architectural, 3. Financial, 4. Gladiatorial, 5. Familial. As he notes, “[Paul wanted] to jolt the Corinthian church into the reality that their divisive spirit was born out of exalting human leaders over the cross of Christ, God’s wisdom” (p. 144). That quote is almost worth the price of the book itself!

In Colossians I thought his presentation of the similarities and differences between Paul and Qumran was well done (pp. 210-4). Likewise the chapter on the Pastoral epistles was well done, thoroughly researched and presented.

His chapter on the theology of Paul was succinct yet thorough and a fine summary of what he has presented throughout the book. He provides a matrix of the contexts of theological categories (theology proper, Christology, pneumatology, anthropology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, and then Eschatology itself) with the specific areas of eschatological topics that he has addressed.

Some concerns

I think the issue of the Lord’s Supper (pp. 148-9) is left incomplete and unsatisfactory. Pate writes: “Such drastic divine measures shocked the Corinthian church into realizing that the Lord’s Supper, like baptism, did not magically protect them” (p. 149). And yet the essence of both baptism and Lord’s Supper are the eschatological focus of the community in the now, not yet form. Paul certainly reaffirms that in 1 Cor. 10:16 and again in 11:26. The reality of the Lord’s Supper is not a “magic protection’ but the giving of God has promised on an ongoing basis, forgiveness of sins. One confusing thing about his table on p. 154 at the bottom is having “the outer person” on the right and “the inner person” on the left. Normally reading a table like this in a left-to-right manner, we would expect the new on the right side of the table.

Pate makes an unfortunate choice in his words in regard to Romans. “The bad news of justification” (p. 176). That is a wrong understanding of justification (which is only Good News). The bad news is from the Law of God stating the requirements to meet and the judgment on failure to meet. Another concern in Romans is his comment on 11:25-26, specifically, “in the future the nation of Israel will indeed accept Jesus as their Messiah” (p. 179). That is only one possible understanding of the text.

Final Thoughts

A very well written book and can be useful for the pastor or seminary student. But I think it needs to be read in light of the theological concerns I have mentioned.

Editing

Sadly, there several editing mistakes, a couple which are significant.

p. 31–33 the numbered list is repeated

p. 174-176 major formatting issue (everything is indented, as if from a quote, but it is not).

Other editing errors were found on the following pages: 56, 104, 139, 143, 208.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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About exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian
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