Finlan, Stephen 1952-

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Finlan, Stephen 1952-


Born September 28, 1952. Education: Excelsior College, B.A., 1997; Pacific School of Religion, M.A., 1997; Drew University, M.Phil., 1999; University of Durham, Ph.D., 2004.


Home—Chatham, NJ. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer, educator. Has taught courses in the Bible, Christian history, and civilization at Fordham University, New York, NY; Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ; Middlesex College, Edison, NJ; University of Monmouth, West Long Branch, NJ; Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, NJ; and St. John's College at the University of Durham, Durham, England. Thomas Oden's "Ancient Christian Commentary" series, research assistant, 1999—; previously worked as a typesetter for Ram Insta-Print, Mill Valley, CA, and in communication services in San Francisco, CA.


The Background and Content of Paul's Cultic Atonement Metaphors, Society of Biblical Literature (Atlanta, GA), 2004.

Problems with Atonement: The Origins of, and Controversy about, the Atonement Doctrine, Liturgical Press (Collegeville, MN), 2005.

(Editor, with Vladimir Kharlamov) Theosis: Deification in Christian Theology, Pickwick (Eugene, OR), 2006.

Options on Atonement in Christian Thought, Liturgical Press (Collegeville, MN), 2007.

The Apostle Paul and the Pauline Tradition, Liturgical Press (Collegeville, MN), 2008.


Writer and educator Stephen Finlan earned his undergraduate degree from Excelsior College, where he majored in liberal arts with a particular concentration in Hebrew language and literature. During his undergraduate studies he traveled to Israel, where he participated in an archaeological dig at Bethsaida, on the Sea of Galilee. He continued his studies in theology and the writings of the New Testament, earning graduate degrees from the Pacific School of Religion, Drew University, and the University of Durham, and ultimately obtaining his doctorate in Pauline theology. He also extended his studies to other foreign languages over this period, adding German, Greek, French, and Avestan to his earlier work in Hebrew. As an educator, Finlan has worked at a number of universities, including Fordham University, Seton Hall University, Middlesex College, the University of Monmouth, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and St. John's College at the University of Durham. His primary areas of research and academic interest include Pauline theology and Christian theology related to atonement. His studies have included various rituals of expulsion and sacrifice, Greek and Hellenistic religion and philosophy, and also the Hebrew prophets. He has written several books on Christianity, the teachings of Paul, and atonement in Christian thought.

Finlan's first book, The Background and Content of Paul's Cultic Atonement Metaphors, was published in 2004. In it, he addresses Paul's use of cultic and redemption metaphors to illustrate why the death of Jesus Christ was a saving event. According to Finlan, Paul used four distinct models or metaphors: martyrdom, sacrifice, the role of the scapegoat, and the payment of a ransom. Paul combines these metaphors in order to picture the death as simultaneously a payment for, a cleansing of, and a banishment of sin. According to Paul, followers of Christ die symbolically through their baptism, which then aligns them with Jesus, making them dead to sin and pure of soul. Finlan stresses that martyrdom acts as a platform for the other metaphors that surround the crucifixion. Lorren Rosson III, reviewing for the Busybody Blog, commented that "this is the strength of Finlan's approach: it takes all of Paul's ideas seriously, and integrates them without glossing or distorting ideas currently out of favor."

Problems with Atonement: The Origins of, and Controversy about, the Atonement Doctrine looks at the primary tenets of the Christian faith and suggests that modern Christians place too much emphasis on sacrifice and atonement, thereby missing the true point of their faith. Sacrifice is a concept that dates back to the earliest polytheist societies, when the faithful believed that it was wise and providential for them to leave a portion of their food to feed the gods. From there the ritual grew into a form of appeasement, to calm gods or the God that had been angered. With the emergence of central temples, sacrifice came to be used as a means of cleansing the nation's impurity. While Paul includes the idea of sacrifice in his letters when referring to Christ's willing trip to the cross, he uses it to illustrate God's generosity rather than as an example of what is expected of human beings attempting to prove the depth of their faith. Finlan goes on to discuss this common misinterpretation and to analyze what he considers to be the true path to salvation. Ernest Thompson, in a review for Interpretation, found Finlan's work to be "challenging," and concluded: "This is not a book that I would hand to a Sunday School class. But it is a book that I would want to read and digest before preaching or teaching on the meaning of God's salvation." Charles Hefling, writing for Theological Studies, found Finlan to be "at his best when he shows how different strands of tradition exemplify a complex process of ‘spiritualization.’ The further he moves from biblical texts, the more sweeping his judgments become and the less consistently persuasive."

Finlan served as an editor of Theosis: Deification in Christian Theology, along with Vladimir Kharlamov. The book offers readers a collection of eleven different articles that address the question of human deification in biblical theology, looking at both Christianity and the Judaic beliefs that provided its foundation. Subjects range from an explanation of theosis, both its roots and history, to the role of godliness in Judaism, to articles addressing the likes of Athanasius, Augustine, and Maximus the Confessor, to the diverging thoughts of East versus West. David V. Meconi, in a review for Theological Studies, remarked of the collection that "this volume is a sign of the increased attention being given to divinization."

Finlan told CA: "I want to engage my readers intellectually and spiritually. If we trust God, we will not be afraid to examine our inherited doctrines. There has never been a standard doctrine of atonement, but it has always been a debated issue, and is often subject to various kinds of reinterpretation, correction, cleaning-up, toning-down, and spiritualizing. This is understandable. The problem with the most popular atonement ideas (‘Jesus died for your sins’) is not what they say about Jesus, but what they say about God. Crude atonement ideas that assert that God COULD NOT forgive humanity until he first saw his perfect son murdered, imply a God who is either not all powerful, not all good, or is just barbaric: needing blood offerings. The Father of whom Jesus spoke did not need to be approached with sacrifice (Matthew 9:13, 12:7). The way to God was already open (Matthew 5:6-9; Luke 12:32). ‘By your faith you are saved’ (Luke 7:50, 8:48, 17:19, 18:42, etc.). Popular atonement doctrines have their roots in some sayings of Paul, but they discard much of his teaching, and distort the rest."



Catholic Biblical Quarterly, July 1, 2006, Eugene TeSelle, review of Problems with Atonement: The Origins of, and Controversy about, the Atonement Doctrine, p. 541.

Expository Times, October, 2006, Jeromey Q. Martini, "Paul's Cultic Atonement Metaphors," pp. 46-47.

Heythrop Journal, Volume XLIX, 2008, review of Theosis: Deification in Christian Theology

Interpretation, October 1, 2006, Ernest Thompson, review of Problems with Atonement, p. 484.

Reference & Research Book News, May 1, 2005, review of The Background and Content of Paul's Cultic Atonement Metaphors, p. 26.

Religious Studies Review, Volume 33, number 2, April, 2007, J. Robert Wright, review of Theosis, p. 118.

Theological Studies, March 1, 2007, David V. Meconi, review of Theosis, p. 213; December 1, 2007, Charles Hefling, "The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views," p. 944.

Theology Today, October 1, 2005, David J. Downs, review of The Background and Content of Paul's Cultic Atonement Metaphors, p. 451.


Busybody Blog, (August 9, 2005), Lorren Rosson III, "The Many Deaths of Christ: Martyr, Sacrifice, Scapegoat, and Ransom Payment."

Catholic Book Review Online, (May 20, 2008), review of Problems with Atonement.

Drew University Department of Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, (May 20, 2008), faculty profile.

Liturgical Press, (May 20, 2008), author profile, listing for Options on Atonement in Christian Thought.

Steven Harris Blog, (May 20, 2008), Steven Harris, review of Problems with Atonement.

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