In this Talks With Scholars interview, we talk to Prof. Roger Mohrlang about his recent book, Paul and His Life-Transforming Message: A Concise Introduction. Prof. Mohrlang has researched and taught extensively on matters relating to the New Testament, Paul's Letters and Bible translation.
Prof Mohrlang, perhaps I may start with a brief question about your personal background. Please tell us about where you from and your work in ministry.
Born in the state of Nebraska (USA), I became a Christian at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University). I then spent seven years as a linguist and Bible translator among the Kamwe people in northeastern Nigeria. Following the completion of the Kamwe New Testament and doctoral study at the University of Oxford, in 1978 I joined the faculty of Whitworth University, a Christian university in the Pacific Northwest, where I have been teaching biblical studies and Christian missions ever since. I have also been active in Bible translation projects (the revision of the Kamwe New Testament and the New Living Translation), and currently serve as consultant for the Kamwe Old Testament translation.
I'm interested in finding out about your new book, Paul and His Life-Transforming Theology: A Concise Introduction. What is the aim of this work and to whom is it directed?
The book is intended to be a concise, inviting introduction to the Apostle Paul—his life, his letters, his thinking—and the life-transforming gospel he proclaimed. The focus is on Paul’s theology, not on the critical questions that dominate scholarly discussion. Written in non-technical language for Christian students and serious Christian readers (including pastors), the book highlights the ways Paul’s life and thinking differ from—and challenge—the life and thinking of Christians today. My hope is that readers will find the book intellectually stimulating, theologically rich, practically useful, and personally challenging.
You state in the book that you believe Paul write all 13 letters traditionally ascribed to him, including Ephesians and the Pastoral epistles, but allow for the possibility that "some of the Greek manuscripts [may] reflect the touch of later editors" (p.7). Are there any substantial chapters or passages that may have been inserted at later times?
While allowing for the possibility of later editorial additions in some Greek manuscripts, I see no reason to conclude that whole chapters or substantial sections were added by others in the early manuscripts.
I'd be interested to know which textual basis you followed for the Kamwe translation and why.
In general, for the New Testament, we used the latest edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece; for the Old Testament, we use the latest edition of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, with occasional variants drawn from other ancient texts as recommended by the United Bible Societies This is standard practice for international Bible translation projects today.
I understand that you disagree with some of the conclusions of the New Perspective on Paul but there are benefits of it also. How has the New Perspective added to our understanding of the Bible?
The New Perspective has forced readers to think much more carefully about the relation of Paul and his theology to his Jewish background and the Hebrew Scriptures, and to reevaluate the precise meaning of his words in light of that.
To me, I think one of the benefits of the New Perspective is the attempt to look more closely at Jewish sources. That said, I still don't think the New Perspective is persuasive on the meaning of words like 'justification' of 'works of the law'. What's your view on that?
I very much agree. The New Perspective reinterpretation of the Pauline terms “justification,” “the righteousness of God,” “the works of the law,” and “faith in Christ” strike me as less accurate than the traditional interpretation of these terms, when judged exegetically in their contexts.
In the chapter titled "The Crucial Role of the Spirit", you discuss spiritual gifts. Are the gifts Paul mentioned such as prophecy and speaking in tongues operative today?
I see nothing in Scripture that would suggest the gifts were intended only for the early church. In all my teaching, counseling, and conversations, I pray for specific words from God for those to whom I speak (the gift of “prophecy”?).
I'd like to ask about The Law of Moses. In your chapter on it, you conclude, I believe, that the moral aspects of the Mosaic law still hold. Do you follow the traditional covenant theology division of the law into ceremonial, moral, and civil?
Though it is difficult to draw precise lines between the various aspects of OT law, both Paul and Jesus seem to make an implicit distinction between ceremonial law and moral law in the Hebrew Scriptures; the former is largely viewed as abrogated, while the latter is largely affirmed as a still-valid expression of the will of God.
For those interested in delving deeper in Paul and his theology, what books would you recommend?
A deeper, more careful study of the letters of Paul themselves!
Thank you for your time!
Roger Mohrlang is Professor of Biblical Studies at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, USA. His faculty page can be found here.
The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty members of the King's Evangelical Divinity School. The Talks with Scholars series is an occasional feature at KEDS.