Paul, then and now: Concluding the interview – Patheos | Region & Cash

This is the third and final part of a trilogy about the book, Paul, then and now by Matthew Novenson (Eerdmans, 2022). Part 1 was a review of the book, Part 2 began with an interview with Dr. Novenson, and now in Part 3 we wrap up the interview.

Second part and conclusion of the interview: further questions and answers


Regarding God and Christology in the book, you raise a very interesting point that I’m still wrestling with – that Paul believes in the existence of other gods. They bring up what Paul condemns dedication to these other gods; he does not deny their ontological existence (pp. 56-65).

However, in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, which you cite as a reason (“many gods and many lords”), the context has to be not just about devotion, but also about devotion knowledge, as 1 Cor 8:1-3 makes clear. My understanding of the Corinthian problem is that the “strong” believers know that there are no other gods but the one true God and the Lord Jesus. Therefore, they suppose that if they eat idol food, even in idol precincts, they need not worry.

It is the “weak” believers who believe that these gods, represented by idols, exist. So if they eat, they risk falling back into worshiping those gods. The point here is that Paul agrees with the strong that “for us” there is only one God the Father and one Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 8:6). He does not contradict them regarding this knowledge; what he doesn’t want is for them to become a stumbling block for the weak members because of their knowledge.

At the same time I have to admit at face value at least Paul considers Belial or Satan to be that “God of this age” (2 Cor 4:4).[1] But then again at par, Paul also seems to support the ontological non-existence of other gods. He claims that the Galatians were once enslaved by what is naturally no gods, but now they have come to know the true God (Galatians 4:8-9). Paul obviously uses the term “God” more flexibly than we do today, but I wonder if we can achieve a bit more consistency here. Any thoughts?


You are correct that Paul’s terms for various non-obvious beings, especially in 1 Corinthians 8-10, are a bit vague (“no god but one”, but also “many gods and many lords”). They do not easily fit into any system, let alone a highly specific system like fourth-century creed orthodoxy.

But I actually think his discourse makes quite a bit of sense there, at least in its main lines. A idol (1 Corinthians 8) There is nothing in the cosmos; That said, the actual statue of the god is not something to be worshiped or feared. but demons (1 Corinthians 10) are very real and must be feared.

Therefore, believers in Christ must absolutely not communicate with them. These are “gods” in the sense Paul allows in 1 Corinthians 8. Elsewhere, however, he reserves the name “god” for something more powerful than demons. That stoichia in Galatians 4 are inherently less than gods. But they, too, are real, non-obvious beings (“gods” is what Paula Fredriksen aptly called them).

The god of this world in 2 Corinthians 4 I think is another of those gods who doesn’t deserve the name “God” as much as God (the one who raised Jesus from the dead) does. Belial and Satan could be others.


In chapter 5 of the book, you address five common themes in Romans and Galatians, including: 1) the righteousness of God; 2) belief/trust; 3) a polemic against the “works of the law”; 4) discussion of Abraham; and 5) the spirit (pneuma).

They also bring up (correctly in my view) that if we include all of Paul’s letters, messianism and apocalypticism are more central to Paul. I would also add the centrality of the Spirit, not only in Romans and Galatians but also in his other two major epistles, 1 and 2 Corinthians. In my view one cannot “participate in Christ” without the Holy Spirit.

I’ve been thinking about Troels Engberg-Pedersen’s for about a decade pneumatics as subtle imperishable matter, and I still haven’t made up my mind. Since you seem to agree with him, I want to ask you this question – what do you think won by thinking about the mind like that?


To me, Engberg-Pedersen’s material spirit hypothesis makes better sense in some passages that otherwise seem rather odd. For example Romans 5:5: the pouring out (ekchunno) of the love of God through the pneuma; 1 Corinthians 12:13: the drinking (potizo) one pneuma. These idioms are more understandable to me if I add Paul to understand the pneuma as a diluted, divine material.

But the greatest benefit, in my opinion, is the sense it helps make of (the all-important) 1 Corinthians 15 – the bodies of the resurrected righteous are indeed material, but not carnal. As? Because they are pneumatic, a kind of imperishable material fit for the kingdom of God.


What do you think are other areas or points that need to be explored in relation to Pauline theology? What particular issues/problems do you think scientists could lead to productive conversations (rather than polarizing them)?


I can think of issues in Pauline theology that I feel need further investigation: e.g. B. forthcoming eschatology, mythological motifs, the relationship of cult images to superhuman beings, the very different early reception of Paul. But I’m not sure that exploring these issues will bring scholars together rather than divide (us).

dr Matthew Novenson with his book Paul, Then and Now

The latter is a separate topic. My own point of view, which I try to present Paul, then and now, is that much of what separates us boils down to hermeneutics – different basic attitudes towards the texts and an inability or unwillingness to tolerate other people’s attitudes. As I explain in the book, I’m a pretty strong hermeneutic relativist myself. I can tolerate an extremely wide range of positions on the lyrics, partly because I sympathize with many of them. But I recognize that I’m in the minority in this regard. I hope that the book will bring some readers a little closer to my perspective on this topic.


Thank you Matthew. It was a pleasure talking to you about Paul!



[1] For a deeper dive into various possible interpretations of 2 Corinthians 4:4, click on this previous Patheos post of mine on the subject: “Who is the god of this age? Five views on 2 Corinthians 4:4.

Image 1: My image of my copy of the book, Paul, then and now. Image 2: Matthew Novenson with his book, courtesy of Matthew Novenson.

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