Enoch Okode. Christ the Gift and the Giver: Paul’s Portrait of Jesus as the Supreme Royal Benefactor in Romans 5:1–11. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2022. Paperback. $36.63. 272 pp.
With the publication of John Barclay’s paradigmatic Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2015), many readers wondered about its implications for biblical studies. If Enoch Okode’s Christ the Gift and the Giver is any indication, the future is hopeful. Okode is a lecturer and Dean of the School of Theology at Scott Christian University in Kenya. Okode’s book is a revision of his PhD dissertation, written under the supervision of Joshua Jipp. It builds on a wealth of research on the function of royal benefaction in the Greco-Roman world, which he defines as a “system of calculated gift exchange that seeks to enhance social cohesion by the ethic of reciprocity” (3).
Okode’s thesis is that Romans 5:1–11 is best interpreted in light of this context such that “Paul portrays Jesus Christ as the supreme royal benefactor whose commitment to his followers guarantees their eternal honorable status before God and demands faithful response to his rule, even in suffering” (16). The book is divided into six chapters. After introducing his methodology and reviewing related literature, two chapters underscore the significance of royal benefaction both in the Greco-Roman context and in ancient Jewish writings. In chapters 4–5, he lays out his exegetical arguments for Romans 5:1–11 and 5:12–8:39, respectively, before offering his summary and conclusions.
In Christ the Gift and the Giver, readers learn about several common features that marked royal benefaction in Paul’s cultural milieu. First, ideal rulers in the ancient world were to be exemplars of piety and generosity. As agents of the gods, kings served as benefactors to society. Second, “gift-giving is discriminatory, which means that favors are proportionate to the worthiness of the beneficiary” (65). Third, such χάρις (gift, grace) forges reciprocating relationships whereby recipients are obligated to show gratitude by honoring their benefactor. He summarizes, “Every gift comes with the expectation to reciprocate. Those who fail to show gratitude to the benefactor commit a shameful act and rob the benefactor of the honor due him. Ingratitude is the worst crime because it destroys social cohesion and rewards generosity with vice” (224).
When turning to the text of Romans, Okode carefully demonstrates how “Paul’s argument engages the ancient economy of royal benefaction in ways that are both conventional and subversive” (104). He does so while highlighting how standard benefaction terminology infuses Paul’s writing. In Romans, Christ is depicted as a royal benefactor whose gifts surpass those provided by any previous or future ruler. He gives eschatological life, eternal peace, reconciliation with God, and even the Holy Spirit. He achieves these benefactions by conquering sin and death, thus bringing justification to his people.
At the same time, Christ overturns expectations by indiscriminately bestowing grace on unworthy recipients, even the “weak,” “ungodly,” “sinners,” and “enemies.” As a result, “the Messiah’s benefaction democratizes honor, whereby rather than being limited to the emperor and the elite, all followers of Christ are assured of an eternal honorable status before God” (147). Furthermore, he is not only the giver; Christ is also the gift, the divine Son who sacrifices his own life on behalf of his subjects, “a people with absolutely no social standing” (153).
Okode’s writing is lucid; his logic is soundly buttressed with exegesis. His methodical argumentation provides refreshing clarity, often posing timely questions followed by clear answers free of scholarly tangents. His use of Greco-Roman and Jewish literature is balanced and judicious. His treatment of the contrast between the “good person” and the “righteous person” in Romans 5:7 is particularly rewarding. A unique contribution of this book is the way that Okode seamlessly integrates honor and shame into his presentation without losing a sense of proportionality and context. This book reflects the cultural sensitivity of David deSilva’s Honor, Patronage, Kinship, and Purity while not being as narrowly focused as Te-Li Lau’s Defending Shame.
There is much to commend in this work, yet some readers might criticize the book because they expect more of Okode than he promises. For example, he does not tease out the practical or theological implications of his findings; nor does he linger on other questions such as why “hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:5). Some readers will quibble with certain interpretations that do not undermine his fundamental thesis. In particular, Okode argues that ἐκ πίστεως (Romans 5:1) alludes to Christ’s faithfulness (not our faith in Christ). He also suggests that Paul says, “Let us have peace” (ἔχωμεν) instead of “We have peace” (ἔχομεν) in Romans 5:1. Finally, Okode contends that 5:5 refers to “love from God” rather than “love for God” (156).
Christ the Gift and the Giver is a fantastic resource both for New Testament scholars and graduate students who wish to learn responsible, contextually sensitive exegesis. Furthermore, this volume is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in understanding how grace works in Paul’s thought.