Review of Guy Waters, The End of Deuteronomy in the Epistles of Paul

Guy Waters, The End of Deuteronomy in the Epistles of Paul, WUNT 2/221. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006. 302pp. ISBN: 3-16-148891-1. $99.50. Paper.

This volume is the published version of a dissertation written under the supervision of Richard B. Hays at Duke University. Guy Waters, who now teaches at RTS in Jackson, MS, is also the author of books and articles related to recent controversies over justification, the New Perspective, and Federal Vision theology. The volume under review here is a technical interaction with one of the foundational assumptions of much scholarship sympathetic with the New Perspective(s).

Waters explores Paul’s “engagements” with Deuteronomy 27–30 and 32 (leaving out ch. 31 because Paul never cites it), defining an “engagement” as “what conceivably might be proposed as either ‘citation’ or ‘reference.’” Waters treats texts attended by a citation formula as “citations” and recognizable verbal correspondence between Pauline and OT texts as “references,” limiting the study to the texts listed in NA27.

The volume opens with an introductory chapter on Paul’s interaction with Deuteronomy where Waters summarizes past scholarship on the question and sets out the methodology for his study. Chapter 2 deals with the treatment of Deut 27–30 and 32 in Second Temple Jewish literature, and the rest of the book treats Paul’s engagements of these chapters from Deuteronomy: chapter 3, Galatians (and an excursus on 1 Cor 14:21); chapter 4, 1 Corinthians and Philippians; chapter 5, Romans; and the conclusions are presented in chapter 6.

Rejecting Harnack’s view of the incompatibility of the OT with the gospel, Waters follows Hays in method and in the view that Deuteronomy 32 “contains Romans in nuce.” This has been challenged by J. C. Beker, who argues it says too much, and James M. Scott, who thinks it says too little. Waters argues against the position of Odil Hannes Steck, popularized in English by Scott and carried forward by N. T. Wright. Scott and Wright take the view that the sin-exile-restoration schema is behind Paul’s statements when he cites texts from Deuteronomy 27–32, but Wright often argues that Paul taps into this tradition even when such texts are not explicitly cited. Waters holds that importing this framework into one’s understanding of Paul when he does or does not cite these texts is insufficiently nuanced in that it does not allow for the possibility of development in Paul’s thinking and assumes that Paul regards Deuteronomy 27–32 as a sin-exile-restoration narrative.

Waters argues that the complexity of the evidence renders the theses of Steck and Scott “fundamentally incorrect.” He objects to Steck’s reliance upon the idea that the “Levites conducted Deuteronomic tradition during the exilic period,” and he argues that if Diaspora Judaism did not read history this way, it cannot be said that this model was dominant. If anything, it was one competing historical model among others. Waters objects to Scott’s suggestion that while some Jews thought the return from exile had happened with the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, others looked for a glorious eschatological future. Registering these objections, Waters sets aside the theses of Steck and Scott and concludes that “It is impossible to speak of a single pattern or mode of reading Deut 27, 28, 29, 30, 32 that all Second Temple Jewish writers share” (77).

It seems to me that Waters could strengthen his case against Steck and Scott with a discussion of Deuteronomy 27–32. A chapter summarizing the major themes and flow of thought in this portion of Deuteronomy would be interesting. Waters might conclude that the basic sin-exile-restoration schema put forward by Steck and Scott is really there in Deuteronomy, or it might be that he is averse to all such macro-level descriptions of broad patterns in biblical texts. We may indeed dispute Steck’s views of how this schema was formulated and maintained, recognize that not all Jews read the text this way, quibble over whether the exile was thought to be ongoing, and reject the importation of the schema into every Pauline text as a controlling framework. All this does not change the fact that Deuteronomy seems to state that Israel will break the covenant, be sent into exile under God’s curse, and then be re-gathered to the land (see esp. Deut 4:25–31; 29:18–30:10). This schema is arguably present in Deuteronomy 32 as well (see sin in 32:15–18, exile in 32:19–33, and the restoration of Israel through the judgment of their enemies in 32:34–43), and these themes, especially the jealousy motif, have heavily influenced Paul’s statements in Romans 11. Waters himself argues that Deuteronomy 32 is a lens through which Paul reads Deuteronomy 27–30. It is not clear to me how this fits with the idea that the views of Steck and Scott are “fundamentally incorrect.” Perhaps they are in need of revision, even significant revision at points, but it seems to me that the basic thrust, the idea that the latter chapters of Deuteronomy prophesy Israel’s sin, exile, and restoration, can be maintained (see the essay by Roy Ciampa on “The History of Redemption” in Central Themes in Biblical Theology ed. Scott J. Hafemann and Paul R. House).

Waters’s interaction with scholarship is impressively thorough, and his comments on the text of Scripture are painstakingly precise. This is very valuable, as are his detailed conclusions on Paul’s interaction with Deuteronomy that close each chapter (6 enumerated points end chapter 3, 11 end chapter 4, and 11 end chapter 5). Not all volumes with justified margins have this problem, but for some reason this volume is afflicted with strange and distracting spacings, making a technical volume even more difficult to read. Waters has given us a careful and thorough study of Paul’s understanding of Deuteronomy that will be of benefit to anyone interested in these questions.

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