Paul and the Miraculous: A Review of Graham Twelftree’s Historical Reconstruction

By: David Johnson
Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

twelftreeGraham H. Twelftree. Paul and the Miraculous: A Historical Reconstruction. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013. xxv+390 pp. ISBN 978-0-8010-2772-7

Paul has been widely studied as a theologian; however his views on the miraculous have been often neglected. Twelftree attempts to alleviate this situation by addressing to what extent Paul’s ministry and teaching included the miraculous. A guiding principle in deciphering the historical Paul is that Paul’s life and work are as important as his theological contributions. The book consists of 5 parts addressing the person of Paul, Paul’s inheritance, Paul’s testimony, Paul’s interpreters, and Paul’s relationship to the miraculous. Will Twelftree agree with the majority view that Paul excised Christianity of the miraculous or will he take up arms to defend the charismatic view that Paul was comfortable with the miraculous?

Part 1 introduces a survey of the person of Paul and outlines Twelftree’s three step process of inquiry that comprises the bulk of the text. The first step discovers  Paul’s views  on the miraculous. This step is presented in Part 2. The second step reviews Paul’s orthonymous writings to see how Paul described his ministry in terms of the miraculous. This literature review is found in Part 3. The final step looks at Paul through his interpreters (Acts of the Apostles, pseudepigraphical literature, and extracanonical literature), and Part 4 analyzes this step.

Part 2 delves into the different influences that forged Paul’s views on the miraculous as well as how others viewed Paul. The perspectives include the Jewish and Pharisaic views, the prophetic (both Hellenistic and classical), cultural perspectives on miracles in the context of missions or propaganda, and the early Christian view. Twelftree concludes that there is a historical connection between Judaism and miracles, though this is not necessarily a contemporary connection. He also establishes that prophets are associated with the miraculous, and Paul’s claim of being a prophet allows for the possibility of miracles. The idea of a miracle worker functioning as a proselytizer is also not uncommon in Hellenistic and Jewish contexts. The early Christian tradition of miracles is well attested and contrasts with the lack of the miraculous in other views that influenced Paul.

The third section of Twelftree’s exploration deals with Paul’s own testimony and experiences. Twelftree avoids using any miraculous experience that does not include an adequate description of both the experience and its implications. A wide range of experiences are presented in Paul’s writings and Twelftree analyzes what contributions these experiences had on Paul’s theology. Twelftree concludes that Paul’s goal was not to perform miracles, but that as he ministered to others the Spirit moved in miraculous ways.

In the penultimate section, Twelftree turns to the interpreters of Paul. Acts of the Apostles, as the earliest canonical presentation of Paul, is considered to be one of the most reliable sources. There are a variety of miraculous events recorded in Acts that reinforce Twelftree’s conclusions in the preceding chapters, further advancing the portrait of the historical Paul as a man associated with the miraculous. Both canonical and non canonical texts are examined for information regarding how Paul was perceived by his contemporaries and those in the next century. This search for the “remembered Paul” follows the majority view on later pseudepigraphical writings in the New Testament. Twelftree’s conclusion of this study is that Paul is not remembered as a miracle worker, though miraculous events are recorded in his ministry.

The final section notes the profound influence that Paul has had on the New Testament and the Judeo-Christian world at large. The typical presentation of Paul as one to whom miracles were of little or no importance is also discussed, and Twelftree’s conclusions counter this presentation of Paul. He defends Paul’s association with the miraculous and claims that Paul was not attempting to remove miraculous elements from Christianity. Thus remedying the tendency to neglect the miraculous in Paul, additional research could discuss the implications of the miraculous in Pauline theology, for Pauline scholarship, and as it relates to the miraculous in today’s church.

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David Johnson
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