Reviewing Campbell (5) / SBL 2009 Report (2)

The Monday afternoon session on The Deliverance of God by Douglas Campbell drew a good crowd, as everyone expected. I began my review with a summary of the book for 5 minutes, including this sentence that fulfilled a request from several people for a one-sentence summary of the book: “Wilhelm Wrede marries J. Louis Martyn, and they have two children, “speech-in-character” and “alternative theory.”

Here and for the next two posts are some excerpts from my critique and counter-proposal, which Douglas calls mere “reframing” and then accuses me of “psychologizing” (see comments on Chris Tilling’s blog, under his wife’s name [Rachel]).

The absolutely crucial problem in Douglas’s analysis of Romans is his characterization of Rom 1:18—3:20 as a whole. This problem has two parts, one formal and one material. The first problem is the lack of convincing criteria to establish the existence of the Teacher and the identification of his words. The second problem is the matter of perspective: is 1:18—3:20 a prospective argument from the pen of a judgmental Jewish-Christian teacher advocating a “program of desert” (p. 343), or is it the retrospective assessment of Paul himself?

Douglas’s rereading of Romans and justification hangs, at least according to Douglas himself, on his rereading of Rom 1:18—3:20. He argues that 1:18-32 and much of chap. 2 do not contain the words of Paul, but of the Teacher.

The problem he faces, of course, is the apparent lack of formal criteria, or signals, to identify the words of Paul and not-Paul. Although ancient rhetoric does not require such formal criteria to indicate a shift in voice, there needs to be some formal and/or contextual markers to make the argument for “non-Paul” credible. To take the most important issue, we consider 1:18-32, which Douglas labels “speech-in-character”: Paul speaking in the voice of another, namely the Teacher. Speech-in-character is in fact a recognized form of rhetoric. But what exactly qualifies as “speech-in-character”? Douglas has defined this genre very unclearly and way too broadly.

Romans 7 is the stock Pauline example of speech-in-character. Its first-person-singular language seems very much like “play-acting” (p. 529, one of Douglas’s synonyms for speech-in-character). But are quotations of Corinthian slogans and other short pieces of text really specimens of speech-in-character, as Douglas claims (pp. 540-41)? I don’t think so, but Douglas wants us to think so because he claims that they, like Rom 1:18-32, have no overt cues signaling that they are quotations, yet most scholars still think they are quotations, not Paul’s words. Similarly, are short rhetorical questions and exclamations like m? genoito (see p. 537) really examples of speech-in-character? Again, I don’t think so, but Douglas wants us to see how pervasive speech-in-character is in Paul.

Furthermore, at times the assigning of parts in 1:18—3:20—this to the Teacher, that to Paul—is torturous in the extreme, as if some mid-20th-century source-critic had provided a set of colored pencils and an assignment to find sources, and evidence for those sources, even if there was none. This is especially true in the case of 2:12-16 (p. 559).

So the question arises, Does Douglas find evidence for the Teacher, or does he need evidence for the Teacher because he has read Romans in such a way that Romans 5-8 and 1-3 are totally incompatible? Or because he needs to reject 1:18-32 for other (theological?) reasons? One sometimes has the feeling that Douglas ascribes the bulk of 1:18—3:20 to the Teacher(s) out of desperation. Nothing else seems to solve the problems—his summary listing includes 56 of them (p. 431)—with the “contractual” theology he has identified! To do so, however, he reads the rhetoric of the second-person-singular pronoun in 2:1ff as direct address to a real individual and is thereby forced to engage in dubious mirror reading and historical reconstruction.

At times, Douglas wants to have his cake and eat it, too. For instance, he is emphatic that Paul’s second-person attack in 2:1ff is not against Judaism but against one Jew, the Teacher, yet he curiously claims that Paul is very indirect in his attack on the Teacher in 3:19-20 because he “wishes to perpetuate the illusion that he is speaking in somewhat generalized terms” (p. 584).

Thus the existence of “the Teacher(s)” and the location of his (their) voice is at least “underdetermined,” to use Douglas’s term: there is no hard evidence.

Douglas has committed a textual “sin of omission” (his term; e.g., p. 338); it is not self-evident that “a fairly overt network of dramatic, stylistic, and substantive signals systematically encodes the argument of 1:18—3:20 as a whole in terms of a particular figure” (p. 345), namely the Christian Teacher who “adopts a posture of thoroughgoing judgment” (p. 345). Also underdetermined is the alleged specific role of Phoebe (e.g., p. 532) in knowing and then interpreting for the Roman auditors these signals. [That is, he provides NO evidence that Phoebe would have interpreted and did interpret the letter orally as he wants us to read it. I noted this in my written remarks, but not in the oral presentation. Too bad I did not have a Phoebe to interpret me, but at least I am leaving a blog post to indicate this point for future generations!]

Next post: problems with the characterization of 1:18—3:20 as “prospective.”

11 Responses to “Reviewing Campbell (5) / SBL 2009 Report (2)”

  1. Michael Bird says:

    I agree. I was never convinced by Campbell on 1.18-3.20 and I doubt if there is a “teacher” in Rome that Paul confronts even in his book “Quest for Paul’s Gospel”.

  2. S.Daniel Owens says:

    Dr. Gorman,

    Thank you for this post. I agree that the ‘speech-in-character’ label will probably not hold, but does that negate the essence of Campbell’s emphasis on the performative aspect of the letter? Whether he is right on the exact label do you think this has been overlooked in the history of the text?

    Second, do you think there is any ‘problem’ with the reading Dr. Campbell has? Of course I understand you disagree with certain portions (1-3) but is it valid or invalid (if I may use logic terms)?

    Finally, I was just wondering what sort of evidence would it take to convince that there was a teacher in Rome? It does seem that chapter 6.17 and 16.17 do seem to have something particular in mind or do you thing this is just a general apostolic warning?

    Thank you,

  3. MJG says:


    The quick answer to all of this is evidence! Show me some textual evidence! His entire argument is from silence. Of course Phoebe could have interpreted 1:18-32 as Campbell argues, but (as I will say in the next post) there is evidence that Paul actually believes what he says in 1-3.

    If you want to see evidence of false teachers, go to Galatians, 2 Corinthians 10-13, or Colossians. Is there really any doubt when Paul is combating false teachers? 6:17 is addressed to the issue of righteous/just living; the danger, if any, is probably from within, libertinism if you will, but at least not from “legalist” teachers like Campbell posits. 16:17 is too general to serve as the basis for a whole theory.

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  5. Douglas says:

    Mike, you clever chap. You jest. I detect that you have adopted a prosôpon, and are now masquerading just to wind me up! You are pretending that you have you not read Deliverance at all! A jolly jape, you saucy fellow. You are pretending to be a student in an undergraduate Romans course! How else could we explain your request here for evidence, and claim that there is none, when the book in question lists four textual absences in the usual reading, eleven textual embarrassments, five intrinsic difficulties, seven relevant systematic difficulties, and four empirical difficulties, all of which are solved by the rereading of the text as a reduction?! And it focuses that reading on an interlocutor, who seems reasonably real in 2:1-5, 17-23, 3:1-9a (etc.), asking only that those who want this figure to be more than an interlocutor (i.e. the Jew), point to something explicit in the text to justify that heavily pregnant claim. How can I fight back? I guess I will have to cast around now for a prosôpon of my own! Perhaps I will write stern defenses of the traditional reading, and see how that feels!

  6. MJG says:

    Douglas, my friend—

    You know perfectly well what I mean. You have identified (and sometimes constructed) a problematic reading of Romans 1-3, presenting plenty of “evidence” for problems with that reading. But none of these is hard evidence for the existence of the Teacher(s), and all of them are thrown into question if your reading of chaps. 1-3 is shown to be a misreading. That is, there may be nothing to save/solve!

    My point is this: you have identified a serious problem in the reception of Romans in certain quarters, but not in the text of Romans itself. You have still not answered my question: How can Paul use so much of chapters 1-3 (including 1:18-32) later in Romans if he is so passionately set against its theology? This seems utterly incomprehensible to me. Do you deny his adoption of the language of the early chapters in later chapters (e.g. 6, 8, 12-15)?

    Having said all that, I will post on it more (as promised and as you have already heard), but perhaps it will soon be time to move on to what we agree on!!

  7. Tim Marsh says:

    Dr. Gorman,

    You seem to imply that Dr. Campbell’s reading of 1:18-32 is the result of presuppositions he brings to the text.

    However, I do not believe that one must argue that Paul does not believe the vices listed to be “sins” to come to the same reading that Campbell does. Certainly Paul would consider these vices “sins,” while charicaturally attacking the tone in which the those who are known to practice these vices (i.e. Gentiles) have been derrided by the “Teacher.”

    Any thoughts?

    I am still not getting the gist as to why Campbell’s reading of Romans 1-4 cannot be so. Yes, I see very little evidence for the reading, but still consider it plausible. Why would it not be so?

  8. MJG says:


    Of course his reading is possible. But history (and that’s what he wants us to do—historical reconstruction) is not about possibility, it is about probability, and probability is established by evidence. And the evidence must not come, or at least not come primarily, from the history of interpretation/reception, though that history can certainly identify problems.

    I agree that Romans 1-3 has often been misread, and with serious negative theological consequences. But this in itself is not evidence for the existence of a Teacher.

    I do think that we all bring presuppositions to the text. Dr. Campbell makes it quite clear in his book that he finds Rom 1:18-32 (and beyond) troubling in part because of its use to promote a fundamentalist gospel, it use in persecuting homosexuals, and its ability to be used for anti-Semitic purposes. Do these concerns affect his interpretation of the text and the historical situation? You bet. Do they cause him to misread the text, to commit the sin of underdetermination (his term; interpretation based on insufficient evidence)? That’s the question.

    I will accept that there could be an issue of “tone,” somewhere, that Paul is criticizing; Rom 2 makes that clear. But the critique of tone can only be directed toward the Teacher if there is one.

  9. Tim Marsh says:

    Dr. Gorman,

    Thank you for your kind replies and the time taken to do so. The presupposition you mentioned was also came to my attention in an early class session with Dr. Campbell. “Foundationalism” seems to be a primary concern with Campbell, that it is wrong and been used to persecute. However, I have noticed in the readings of many Biblical scholars a presupposition that seems to govern interpretation. For example, Richard Hays is concerned with supersessionism and to produce readings that do not convey supersessionism. We bring our twenty-first century concerns of what is “right” and feel that the Bible must support those presuppositions. I feel that this presupposition somewhat skews Hays’ scholarship, as does Campbell’s concern for foundationalism.

    I am fascinated by these discussions in scholarship. However, I am concerned that “presuppositions” skew the fruits of exegesis and hermeneutics. And, though it is possible to debate issues in academia, they eventually make their way to the pulpit and to the practice of ministry and Christianity, for that matter.

    Thank you again for your time. Blessings!

  10. MJG says:

    As Bultmann said, there is no such thing as presuppositionless exegesis, but we are duty-bound to try not to let our presuppositions affect our historical reconstructions, and to be honest and open about them as we read the texts theologically.

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