Interview: John M.G. Barclay

Interview: John M.G. Barclay



We had the privilege and honor to briefly share an exchange with John Barclay. John Barclay is Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at Durham University. We would highly recommend reading and checking out Barclay's latest book "Paul and the Gift." We Hope that you guys would be blessed and encouraged to dive into the word more thoroughly and excitingly, gaining new insights and a deeper appreciation for what God has done in Christ Jesus. As Paul said about God, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (ESV 2011). ~ Amateur Theologians 

1) What does Grace mean in Paul's gospel?

Grace means God's gift or favor, given supremely in Jesus Christ; but the particular nuance it has in Paul is that the gift is given without regard to human worth - either positive worth or negative worth, that is without regard to the ways we judge people as superior or inferior in relation to their ethnicity, gender, social status or moral virtue. That is what made Paul's good news so radical.

2) Can you explain what scholars mean by "Paul was an apocalyptic thinker"?

'Apocalyptic' can mean several things, but what is usually meant here is that Paul emphasizes the agency of God in rescuing the world from its dire state, from 'beyond' as it were, and not by some immanent process of history or human development, nor in reaction to some prior move on our part. It also emphasizes the ways Paul sets things up in opposites (present evil age, vs. new creation; flesh vs. Spirit; human vs. divine) and remaps reality around what God has done in Christ. The key theologian here is J Louis Martyn.

3) What does the justice and wrath language in Paul mean? Does this cancel out Grace and love?

Paul takes seriously the fact that God's creation of the cosmos entails an order within which it flourishes; if we act against that order, we harm ourselves, the creation and others, and alienate ourselves from God. God's wrath is his negative reaction against the ways we cause that harm (and against the powers, within us and beyond us, that foster that evil). It is not an emotion so much as a settled resistance to what ruins all that is good. God's justice is God's judgment against what is evil, but also God's purpose to turn what is evil into good, the justice inherent in his merciful desire to put the world back on track and to bring it to its intended fulfillment. So grace is not cheap and love does not mean anything goes: they mean that God, without regard to our failures and rebellions, loves us and lovingly recreates us by his act of justice in Christ, removing our sin and reordering us by the life of the Spirit. So grace does not cancel out justice, or vice versa: grace is the unexpected and undeserved mercy of the just judge who restores and recreates us in the resurrection life of Christ.

4) What is the heart of Paul's gospel? I mean when it's all said and done, what does this gospel message promise to do for a world estranged and lost?

The heart of the gospel (which means good news) is this: God's love, by which we and the world were made, has acted in Christ without regard to our worth - either the things we pride ourselves on or the things that make us feel inferior. God gives us our worth in Christ, so we are free of former failures, free of the judgements that others make of us or that we make of ourselves, free from anxiety to make ourselves worthy in the sight of God or others, and free to be welcomed and to welcome others into communities of unconditioned love.

5) If you could sum up what it means to be Christian (In Christ), what would you say?

To be a Christian means to put all your investments in Christ: to die with him to your past, to trust in him, to draw on his new life through the Spirit, to follow him, and so to be most fully what we were designed to be. It means to be caught up into his grand purpose to restore humanity to a relationship of love, faith and gratitude to God and so to take part in the new revolutionary community we call 'the church', whose mission is to bear witness to this purpose and to act out the love of God that crosses borders of ethnicity, status, gender and class.

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  1. Very intriguing! I’d be interested to hear his response (or yours) to the following questions.

    1. Who is “us” in point 4? Does “us” mean ALL? Or simply those who “believe”?

    2. Do you believe Paul’s Gospel to be inerrant? Or is it possible he was influenced by some of the paradigms of his day?

  2. Jacob, I will answer question 2. The reason I am skipping question 1 is because I do not want to speak on behalf of Barclay.

    The word “inerrant” is tricky, because this word is thrown around a lot in the Christian circles. I would first ask, how you understand the word “inerrant,” before addressing the question…

    Was Paul influenced by the paradigms of his day? Maybe can you elaborate on what specific paradigms you have in mind?

    Thanks man, Much Love, looking forward to hearing from you.


  3. Very true. For mindful individuals such as yourself, when I say “inerrant”, I’m referring to the idea that Paul’s dictated ideas were inspired by God to the point of being free from conceptual error or communication error when correctly interpreted. So in other words, if Paul was with us today explaining his writings, everything he would be communicating would be perfectly accurate.

  4. “I don’t have a command from the Lord about people who have never been married, but I’ll give you my opinion as someone you can trust because of the Lord’s mercy (CEB Translation, 1 Corinthians 7).” From this verse we can detect that Paul specifically gave the Corinthian Church advise and did not believe he was giving them a command from the Lord. In one sense Paul gave his opinions, and in another sense I believe God inspired his writings for the Ekklesia of God (church of God). The Bible is a very human book, but it’s also an inspired book that God uses to speak and convey his message in human words that the readers would understand (The same way God spoke through Jesus in the incarnation). For instance, God spoke through Paul in his own cultural avenues, using the language of the time (Koine Greek, Hebrew, possibly aramaic, etc) and the historical settings to convey the king Jesus gospel (good news). The Job of us modern readers is to enter into the world of 1st century Palestine and Rome seeking to understand the NT in light of the historical backdrop/cultural settings of which all this was written (other wise we will be committing anachronisms left and right) If we do this, we will find that God has spoken in and through his law, prophets, poems, songs, Jesus, letters, gospels, etc.

    When it comes to the relevancy of Scripture and the inerrancy debate, I would agree with many councils and creeds that have gone before us (creedal faith/tradition along side scripture). For instance the westminster confession says,”The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.” In other words all things must be tested against the scriptures, without the scriptures we would be ignorant of Jesus, God, Spirit, and host of things we all use to explain our faith (Doctrine, ethics, etc). My faith rests in the God behind the Bible, but my faith is true because it’s in the Bible. I do not separate the Word of God from God, I only know God because the Bible reveals the person of Jesus to me (us’ plural).


    Thanks man. Much love,


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