Westminster Seminary California
Book Review: The Catholic Perspective on Paul by Marshall
Book Review: The Catholic Perspective on Paul by Marshall

Taylor Marshall, The Catholic Perspective on Paul (Dallas: St. John Press, 2010).

There have recently been a number of Reformed converts to Roman Catholicism and Taylor Marshall is among their number.  Mr. Marshall and a number of other converts at www.calledtocommunion.com offered to pay for the book to be given to Reformed seminarians who wrote in.  As one who by definition is connected to Rome, though as one dissenting from her, I was interested to read his perspective on the Apostle Paul.

In the Introduction Marshall states that while he used to be a Protestant who believed Pauline theology was antithetical to Roman Catholicism, he now believes that Paul is actually Catholic.   So throughout his book Marshall intends to demonstrate Paul’s Catholicity.  He says, “You will find this volume filled with examples of Paul’s Catholic teachings…throughout this journey we find that St. Paul is in fact a Catholic priest.”  With all due respect to Mr. Marshall, however, I did not find his attempt very convincing. 

It ought to be noted at the outset that the fact that Mr. Marshall and others wanted to give the book to Reformed seminarians indicated to me that it would be an apologetic book.  If I am wrong about this then this would temper some of the criticisms in this review.  However, there are still a number of unfortunate caricatures and uncharitable portions of this book.

For example, in his introduction Marshall lays out three perspectives on Paul: The Marcionite Paul, the Lutheran/Protestant Paul, and the Baur/higher critical Paul (The “Catholic Paul is the alternative to these three).  In describing the “Lutheran” Paul Marshall implies that Luther taught that the message of the Apostles was not consistent with one another (13).  Then Marshall says, “Unfortunately, the four Gospels do not hold the esteemed place in Protestantism that they do in the Catholic Church” (14).  This is admittedly a baffling statement.  Marshall does not go on to describe why this must be the case in Protestantism but only offers anecdotal evidence.  But this flatly contradicts Reformed teaching as contained in all the Reformed confessions.  No piece of Scripture is placed over another.  Unfortunately, this type of facile argumentation occurs in other places.

Marshall proposes that the problem with Protestantism is that it adopts a “zero-sum theology.”  At this point Marshall is helpful in pointing out that that Catholics do not view Marian dogma or prayer to saints as separate worship from Christ.  He points out that all theology and all the blessings of salvation derives from Christ.  This is very important for Protestants to understand about Rome, but Marshall seems to ignore the fact that the Reformed confessions speak about the importance of the means of grace.  He wants to say that participation in Christ creates a way by which Marian devotion and prayer to the saints make sense.

While one would wish that these issues were explored more, Marshall then goes on to apply his conception of “zero-sum theology” to salvation.  The Catholic paradigm views salvation is terms of operation and cooperation where grace is resistible. According to Marshall it is 100% God and 100% man.  The Reformed perspective however teaches that it is “100% God and 0% man” (29).  Sadly, Marshall does not quote any Reformed literature that teaches this, he simply asserts it.  It is of course totally reasonable if Marshall believes that Reformed theology results in this type of formula, but this is not the way that Marshall presents his case.  For one who was educated at a Reformed seminary and was an Anglican priest, I expected more robust argumentation.

This approach continues in subsequent chapters.  Yet another example can be found where he says, “The Catholic Church is not a denomination because it does not claim to follow a certain human founder (e.g. Luther, Calvin, Wesley) but is the unbroken community of clergy and laity going back to the Apostles.  Not one Protestant congregation on earth can trace its origin to the Apostles" (37).  This quotation is ripe with errors.  First, Reformed and Anglican churches do not follow any particular human founder (and even Lutheranism does not follow Luther, it follows the Augsburg Confession).  Furthermore, as a former Anglican, Marshall may reject the idea that Anglicanism has any claim to Apostolic Succession but it does in fact make that claim.

Elsewhere, in discussing Sola Scriptura, he says that the Paul clearly rejects the idea.  He appeals to 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “So then brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions, which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or letter.”  Marshall comments, “This is the preeminent text supporting the Catholic Church’s doctrine that the Word of God comes to us both in oral Tradition and in written Scripture.  The Apostle confirms that oral tradition is in fact the “word of God” (44).  If this text supports any side in this debate however, it is the Protestants.  The teaching that Paul references is not the teaching of the Magisterium, but it is the Apostolic teaching.  It is the Apostolic teaching that was passed on through writing and speaking, not the Magisterium of the Church.  To suggest that Paul is speaking of the Magisterium appears naïve—at least to the Protestant seminarian this book is designed to persuade.  That is not to say that this is not the paradigm through which Catholics perceive Paul.

Much more could be said and analyzed but I will conclude with a general criticism about the methodology of the book.  For a book concerned with Pauline theology, it is frustrating that there is so little exegesis.  For someone who claims to have come to understand  that Paul was indeed Catholic based on Greek and Hebrew, it was disconcerting that more primary source work was not done.  For example, in the above example from 2 Thessalonians 2, Marshall just asserts what he believes Paul to be saying.  A further example can be found in Marshall’s section on purgatory. 

After briefly asserting two Pauline texts for purgatory (1 Cor 3:11-15 & Phil 1:6), Marshall comes to a rather bizarre reading of Rom. 8:17. He seems to affirm that what Paul says in Rom 8:17 is that we will be glorified with Christ if we suffer in purgatory.  It is admittedly unclear if he is attempting to argue the distinction between temporal punishment and eternal punishment or if he believes that this verse actually speaks to purgatory.  An indication that he means the latter is found where he says, “In summary, temporal punishment is what we experience in purgatory, which is entirely different from the eternal punishment of the damned" (109). 

Suffice it to say, the exegetical process employed by Marshall left me more confused about Catholic exegesis than when I started.  That is not to say that I did not pick up subtlety in Roman theology that I was not aware of before.  In many sections Marshall does provide interesting perspectives.  If someone is looking for the best in Roman Catholic apologetics or if someone wants an introduction in Roman Catholic theology, I would not recommend this book.  While this review has been quite critical of Mr. Marshall, it is in no way meant as an attack on him, but it is out of a zeal for a true and meaningful reunion of Christ’s body.  While we may not agree with what that looks like, I pray that both Protestants and Catholics can pray for a spirit of love while engaging in straightforward dialogue on the issues that separate us.

Reviewed by Brandon Addison