Love in Paul (1)

In researching and writing a book on love in the Bible, some interesting things come to the surface.

Did you know, for example, that agapē (the noun for love) does not appear once in the book of Acts? Another is the curious marginalisation of love in many systematic theologies and in NT theologies. There are surprisingly few full length treatments of love in the NT.

And when it comes to Paul, I suspect that love is not one of the first things that many people associate with the apostle. More likely you’ll think of justification, or mission, or modern debates over women in ministry or church leadership etc.

So it has been refreshing to read Douglas Campbell’s Pauline Dogmatics. I read it over the summer when working on an academic article on love in Paul. More than anyone I’ve read recently, Campbell (rightly) puts love front and central in Paul. He calls this ‘agapeism’ – that love explains everything important in Pauline ethics.

The other refreshing thing about Campbell’s big book is how he doesn’t just unpack Paul’s theology and leave it there. His whole enterprise moves in the direction of application to the complexities of our modern world.

Here’s a flavour of Campbell talking about how Paul talks about the love of God revealed at the cross.

This is the first post of a series on love in Paul.

The story about Jesus centered on the cross is a story of love. To speak of a God acting definitively in Jesus as he goes to the cross is immediately to grasp that God is love and to a degree that we find hard to fathom. This God was prepared to die for us – the critical import of Rom 5:6-10. The Father and the Spirit delivered up their beloved Son for us to a horrible death, and the Son obediently accepted this fate, sacrificing himself for our sakes. And they did so while were yet sinful and hostile. There is no greater love than this – a love, it should be emphasize, that was revealed ultimately in the ghastly event of the cross and that must never as a result be reduced to mere sentimentality. Jesus loved us enough to die hideously for us when we stood on the side of those who executed him. Love is this sort of action, and it characterizes our God all the way down.

Douglas Campbell, Pauline Dogmatics: The Triumph of Paul’s Love, p. 257.

Cruciform love is just one way Paul talks of the love of God. We’ll explore a few more in the posts to come.

2 thoughts on “Love in Paul (1)

  1. Can you comment on the “penal” aspect of the cross in relation to God’s love? Wright, in The Day the Revolution Began, speaks of a Trinitarian contribution of love (my paraphrase) in the cross as opposed to the Father’s wrath being poured out on the Son. I suspect this aligns with your quote from Campbell.

  2. Romans 5:8 puts it better than I ever can. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The death of Christ is for us – substitutionary, in our place, dying our death. And is simultaneously the greatest act of love imaginable.
    I don’t have Wright’s book to hand. He does affirm penal substitution but will rail against caricatures of it (which I think he often exaggerates but that’s another story) that portray a fierce Father punishing his Son.. You can see how Campbell is keen to avoid that caricature in emphasising the trinitarian saving love of God at the cross.
    This post, and Campbell’s quote is not about how the cross ‘works’. For detailed discusison of penal sub there are a series of posts on it here and following on Fleming Rutledge’s book on the crucifixion.

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