Apostle of the Last Days, The Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul by C. Marvin Pate

In this scholarly, detailed and thorough volume, Marvin Pate, professor of Christian Theology at Quachita Baptist University, traces the theology of the Apostle Paul throughout his New Testament epistles.  All 13 letters written by Paul are given careful consideration as Pate devotes 10 of his 12 chapters to overviews and discussion of the issues within each book.  Foundational to Pate’s understanding of Paul is his belief that the apostle was combating four conflicting eschatologies prevalent in the first century world (pp. 20-30, 138-139).  These were:

  • Hellenistic/Syncretism (pp. 90, 167-168, 238-242)
  • The Roman Imperial Cult (pp. 61-65, 87, 90, 165-167, 184-187, 217-218)
  • Merkabah Judaism (Jewish Mysticism) (pp. 24-26, 29-30, 48, 102, 128-129, 216-217, 260-267)
  • Non-Merkabah Judaism (Legalism) (pp. 26, 41-42, 169, 187-189, 270)

Tracing these four eschatological systems through the writings of Paul is both the strength and weakness of Apostles of the Last Days.  On the positive side, identifying the cultural and spiritual environment in which Paul wrote gives depth and insight into his arguments.  On the other hand, I believe Pate forced many texts to conform to his assumptions.  At times simple and clear meanings are distorted to fit these assumptions, assumptions which often cannot be proven (e.g. pp. 236, 242, 282, 298).  While these are interesting theories, they should be accepted only with discernment.

Many of overviews of the Epistles are exceptional, especially Galatians which is as good as I have ever read (pp. 51-76).  Pate examines and rejects the New Perspective on Paul (pp. 71-72, 175), clearly teaches that the Law reveals sin, is now abolished and is not a means of spiritual growth (pp. 26, 41-42, 130, 134, 169, 187-189, 220), supports an egalitarian position on women (pp. 148, 248, 232-255, 266), rejects mysticism (pp. 128-129), and asceticism (pp. 202-218), and gives much helpful background material (see pp. 290, 308).

At the heart of Pate’s understanding of Paul his view of inaugurated eschatology, the author lists and dismisses three other views, but strangely does not even mention dispensational futurism (pp. 14-16).  Inaugurated eschatology, popularly called the “already, not yet” theory is the belief that at “the first coming of Christ the age to come already dawned but is not yet complete, awaiting the second coming of Christ for that” (p. 16).  Pate believes that most Pauline scholars accept this view and it is the controlling feature behind Pate’s theology.  As a matter of fact, it could be safely stated that this hermeneutic is the lens by which all, or at least most, of Pates theology is interpreted.  He seemingly finds it everywhere and copiously lists proof texts to support his view.  But when these verses are read it becomes apparent that the author is reading his theology into the texts.  That is, the passages themselves do not support inaugurated eschatology unless someone (such as Pate) has already assumed this hermeneutic is correct.

By accepting inaugurated eschatology as the lens by which the writing of Paul is to be interpreted (pp. 13, 16, 19, 37, 43, 45, 49, 93, 105, 244-245, 286-287, 293, 298), Pate propagates a number of ideas with which this reviewer rejects:

  • Joel 2:29-32 has been fulfilled in this present age, and thus the kingdom has come to earth (p. 300).
  • Present persecution is the Great Tribulation (pp. 78, 273-274, 288, 312).
  • Preterism and rejection of pretribulation (pp. 82, 98-101, 298).
  • Peter and Paul taught contradictory gospels (pp. 113-124, 137, 152; yet Pate seemed to reject this on page 14).
  • Sees Torah wisdom as worldly wisdom (p. 125).
  • Accepts no distinction between the church and Israel (pp. 132-133, 177, 289, 310).
  • Believes the Old Testament teaching that Israel is first restored to God, followed by Gentile repentance revealed by Paul and thus the Old Testament and Paul are contradictory (pp. 170-180). This is a necessary conclusion for inaugurated eschatology to work.
  • As a consequence the church age is dismissed as a separate entity. Dispensationalists would recognize Old Testament Israel, the church age, and the future Millennial Kingdom as distinct, both in time and substance.  Pate blends the three, especially the latter two.  The church and the kingdom are virtually the same.  However, he finally admits that the church is perhaps the entry point for the kingdom (pp. 313-316), although still part of the kingdom.
  • Pits the Abrahamic Covenant against the Mosaic Covenant (p. 291).
  • The church is the end time temple, thus there is no other physical temple yet to be built (pp. 299, 311, 317).
  • And, strangely, Pate believes it is possible for someone to depart from the gospel and be disqualified from the kingdom age to come (p. 297). Either Pate believes one can lose their salvation, or else they can be saved but rejected from the kingdom.  It is hard to know which Pate means.

Apostle of the Last Days contains some of the best Pauline epistle overviews and background information available.  However Pate’s inaugurated eschatology, preterism and apparent acceptance of contradictions between the Old Testament and Paul, as well as between Paul and Peter, are problematic at best.  The very well-grounded and discerning reader would greatly benefit from this volume but, due to the above issue, I would recommend that most turn elsewhere for insight into Pauline theology.

Apostle of the Last Days, The Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul by C. Marvin Pate (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academics, 2013), 320 pp, paper $22.99

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Southern View Chapel

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