|Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans 2015)|
Many thanks to Nijay Gupta for finding this video on Seedbed’s youtube channel. Here is John Barclay giving a summary of his central thesis in the recently reviewed book Paul and the Gift. The book was reviewed at the Pauline Soteriology Seminar (S23-133) at SBL-AAR 2015 by a great panel of scholars, namely, Joel Marcus, Margaret Mitchell, and Miroslav Volf with Barclay responding at the end.
I, unfortunately, had to miss the panel review since I was presiding over another session. I am still hoping someone in the blogosphere (HT Nijay Gupta) might offer some comments on the session. But this little video is a neat, tight, 7-minute summary of how Barclay’s research on gift-exchange in the ancient world illuminates Paul’s own discourse on grace. Thank you Seedbed for interviewing and producing this video:
Some quick thoughts: Barclay points out that the Greek word χάρις (often translated “grace” in the New Testament) had no unusual meaning on its own in every-day common or Κοινή usage and simply means “gift.” Paul is not unique in talking about the abundance of God’s gifts to human beings, nor is he unique in saying that God was the one who took the initiative in the gift-exchange. There apparently were many examples, in the literature of the Mediterranean world, of gods being the first to give gifts to humankind, and they did so quite lavishly.
What makes grace or gift unusal in Paul’s gospel was that God gave χάρις to people regardless of their worth or in spite of their unworthiness. God did not pay any attention to the worth of the individual. In the ancient world, gifts functioned to produce relationships or bind two people or communities together. So an ancient person chose carefully whom to give a gift and form a binding relationship with. Not so the God of the gospel. God does not discriminate against any person based on their intrinsic worth. He forms binding relationships with anyone who receives the gift.
That said, if ancient gift-giving took into consideration the ethnicity or social status of the individual, and if God’s gift/grace now by-passes these previous social standards of discrimination, Paul can now challenge his congregation to form relationships with one another regardless of ethnicity, education, power or privilege solely on the basis of this same grace.
Wow! That preaches! Though John shares his summary very irenically, it’s still a powerful seven minutes worth listening to. So enjoy, and blessings as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday!