Some of you still like to read the Apostle Paul… so if you do, this looks like a good book for you:
Ever since E. P. Sanders published Paul and Palestinian Judaism in 1977, students of Paul have been probing, weighing and debating the similarities and dissimilarities between the understandings of salvation in Judaism and in Paul. Do they really share a common notion of divine and human agency? Or do they differ at a deep level? And if so, how? Broadly speaking, the answers have lined up on either side of the old perspective and new perspective divide. But can we move beyond this impasse?
Preston Sprinkle reviews the state of the question and then tackles the problem. Buried in the Old Testament’s Deuteronomic and prophetic perspectives on divine and human agency, he finds a key that starts to turn the rusted lock on Paul’s critique of Judaism. Here is a proposal that offers a new line of investigation and thinking about a crucial issue in Pauline theology.
But what is the “basic doctrine of the Christian faith?” Is it really the resurrection?
If there is a litmus test for “true believers” it neither Young Earth Creationism nor the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is whether or not you can say “Jesus is Lord.” This is simply stated in 1 Co 12.3.
If we look at 1 Co 15, the resurrection is not the basic doctrine of the Christian faith, but becomes an ancillary doctrine as we continue our journey into salvation. See Paul’s note about “you are also being saved” in 1 Co. 15.2. Paul rarely uses a past tense word for salvation, but focuses rather on the future salvation, being saved and will be saved. It is a process.
No doubt my good friend McGrath understands well the Wesleyan notion of going on to perfection, or a progressive, if you will, Christianity.1 The “basic doctrine of the Christian” faith, then, is not the resurrection, but to first acknowledge Jesus as Lord. From there, it is all growth. And since it is all growth we are not to judge or ridicule brothers and sisters in Christ (plenty of bible verses for that one).
I would call the Resurrection a Mystery, like the Trinity, as exemplified as the first mystery of the Holy Rosary. I do believe in the Resurrection, for what it is worth. I do not, however, believe in the inquisition Breeden and his ilk regularly put on Christians as if they are the magisterium. I’ll stick with the Apostle Paul on this one.
I am praying he sees the light soon and becomes a United Methodist. ↩
In 64 CE, Paul stood before Felix as both a Jew and a Roman (Acts 23.23-35), mired in a conspiracy that accused the Jews of attempting to murder the apostle. Or, at least, according to Acts. Is this a historical or a historiographical event?
Oddly enough, Josephus records that he went to Rome during the same time period (1.13-6). And… there was a shipwreck. I can’t tell from reading it if he accompanied the priests or not.
I’m not going to put this into my book because of the hypothetical nature of this – and I don’t discuss Paul.
Of course, I understand that some may assume Luke is borrowing from Josephus, but what if they aren’t? What if they are telling the same story – because, you know, other people made the journey. Except for Paul, the situation is the same. The Jewish priest were holy and pious men who caused a ruckus. That ruckus, Luke tells us, is Paul.
Chapter 5 will deal with Paul’s use of the term in Galatians. More specifically, Galatians 6.11-18. Jackson notices the flesh-spirit mix and uses this to point to establish an eschatological paradigm in this epistle. There is also Paul’s boasting in the cross which hints at this. Now, for me, this is an interesting line, and a different way of setting the Epistle of Galatians. Further, he follows Winter and Hardin in putting the dispute in Galatians into a political realm in which Paul’s adversaries are those who are seeking to align the Messiah-believers with other Jewish groups in order to have it declared an official state religion. He goes on to counter recent and not so recent (Bultmann, for one) scholarship which creates an unnatural separation between history and the interpreter, and thus, destroys Paul’s cosmos, which, according to subsection B, includes spiritual beings, or the ‘elements’ of the universe.
Throughout the discussion of what cosmos means to Paul, Jackson is able to maintain the point which he raised earlier, that the New Creation regards both the individual and the world, especially given the Greco-Roman cosmology mixed with Jewish soteriology of the times. Paul was a student of his culture, so it should not surprise us that he used those concepts to preach his Gospel, and more, that he, unlike us today, used them appropriately, such as eschatology v. apocalyptic.
Jackson spends a considerable amount of time, almost to the point of ad nausem, detailing eschatology in Paul’s epistle. But, when it comes down to putting the Resurrection in a proper place, perhaps using a previously established understanding of merism, he fails, allowing Paul’s failure to note the Resurrection in Galatians 6 to go unanswered. This may serve problems later, but we’ll see. In my opinion, with so much effort being placed in making the Resurrection a high point in Paul’s eschatology, Jackson really lets this one slide by simply stating, “the fact that there is no direct reference to the resurrection in Gal 6 can probably be explained by the idea that this was not one of the planks of Paul’s message contested by his agitators (105).” But the crucifixion was? Here, he seems to not keep his thoughts clear.
Over all, however, the Conclusion serves to aid the discussion more so than the chapter. In this case, began with the conclusion which maintains the thought which Jackson wants the reader to keep in her mind. His conclusions are, in my opinion, the necessary ones due to his examination of the material. The New Creation is, for Paul, an eschatological shift in paradigm, in which the Cross of Christ is the defeat of the powers, including the Law, of the universe, resulting in a cosmic rejuvenation.
Narrowing it down to Romans only, the idea that the Law is human weakness can be compared to the Seneca’s notion that after the golden age, laws were needed to curtail abuses by tyrants. Further, Seneca notes his disagree with Posidonius in what constitutes works of wisdom. The latter believed that house was a work of wisdom while Seneca countered that these houses led to the human swarms found in the cities. Seneca notes other items Posidonius calls wise are nothing more than the works of the flesh as they have not, in fact brought about human advancement, but destruction. Paul separates the knowledge of the law which brings sin (Rom 3.20) which is comparable to Seneca. Human advancement, the Law or works of the flesh, brings apparent success but it will lead to destruction
One thing which I didn’t cover in my previous paper was Seneca’s vision of Wisdom which appealed to all humanity, summoning everyone to concord. Her voice was peace. Further, she reveals her nature. Also, she delivers immortality. But, beyond all of this, Wisdom doesn’t unlock a “village shrine” which is particular to some tribe, but she unlocks “the vast temple of the all the gods – the universe itself, whose true apparitions and true aspects she offers to the gaze of our minds.” In this, we can compare Seneca’s vision of a higher gift not just the Romans which redeems the cosmos to the gods to Paul’s vision of the cosmic Christ. Christ brings peace between God and humanity (Romans 5.1) and allows humanity access directly to God (Romans 5.2). Further, there is the universalism in Paul in which it is not just the Jews who have access to God through Christ but all of us who were enemies to God (Romans 5.10-21). This is a notion which Seneca dealt with from the beginning – a notion of universalism in which the good life is not closed to everyone except a select view, but it was open to all who would pursue it. Paul and Christianity were discovering this type of universalism, and it a universalism we see in Romans.
In comparing Seneca and Paul’s work in Romans, I come to the conclusion that both men saw in their respective philosophy – and make no mistake, the Apostle Paul was a philosopher – a new hope for all of humanity. In Wisdom’s gift of Philosophy, Seneca sees a return to a better time in which humanity advanced not in materialistic gain or ‘ease of life’, but to a time in which less is more and the pursuit of happiness was of the utmost goal. For Paul, we see in Romans the argument that Christ is the penultimate point in God’s plan, and that the new relationship inaugurated by Christ was a return to a golden age in which faith was the method in God accepted to bestow righteousness. While I enjoy the New Perspective on Paul, much more than the Reformation view on Paul’s use of the works of the Law, by reading Seneca, there seems to me more than either an ethnocentric view of the Law or a view that the works were essentially human merit, but that Paul may be using the works of the Law in such a way as stand in opposite to the life in Christ to show that the Law is something that slows the advancement of humanity down. It is a materialistic enterprise which, while meant to remove sin, grew to the point where it simply actually created sin. Paul shows, then, next to Seneca, that his wise preaching is what will draw humanity to God because it is a return to the golden age (of Abraham).
Almost every statue, crucifix, painting and image I have seen of Jesus shows him having long hair. So I had assumed that Jesus must have had long hair. A reason some men give for having long hair is to say that Jesus had long hair. In the new season of Two and Half Men, Alan tells a long-haired and bearded Walden that he looks like Jesus.
Paul had this to say about hair length:
Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 1 Corinthians 11:14-15 (NIV)
Paul would not have had such harsh words to say about men having long hair if Jesus the Son of God had had long hair. Jesus must have had short hair, surely!
You’ve been raised on the Message of the faith and have followed sound teaching. Now pass on this counsel to the followers of Jesus there, and you’ll be a good servant of Jesus. Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. This is why we’ve thrown ourselves into this venture so totally. We’re banking on the living God, Savior of all men and women, especially believers. 1 Timothy 4:6-10 (The Message)
Paul knew in the 1st century that in the 21st century that having faith in God is better than a gym membership!
Writing to the church in Corinth, Paul instructs them on how to deal with a man who has been having an affair with his stepmother. He forcefully tells the Corinthians to expel the man from the church.
1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. 9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” 1 Cor 5:1-5; 9-12 (NIV)
The NIV Study Bible indicates that the 1st and 2nd letters to the Corinthians were probably both written in AD 55. So, later that year Paul had this to say to the church in Corinth about the same man.
5 If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. 6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 9 Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10 Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes. 2 Cor 2:5-11 (NIV)
The man was sorrowful for what he had done, so Paul said that the man should be forgiven and accepted back into the church. Paul reversed his judgement on the man because of the man’s repentance.
The author’s, T. Ryan Jackson, work is focused on the concept of the New Creation in Pauline writings. As he notes, Paul doesn’t use the phrase much, only twice – Galatians 6:15 and 2 Corinthians 5.17, and yet we know from the amount of scholarship applied to that concept, it seems to be a prevailing thought during this time period. As often is not the case, the author actually takes time to state the definition of the words he has chosen to use. He will use the Pauline concept of anthropological and cosmological, which he then precedes to give a short history of how these two viewpoints developed in Pauline studies. Previously, he gives two modern scholars who have produced works pointing to one of the other of the viewpoints. The more familiar names of Adolf von Harnack and Albert Schweitzer are used to create the short histories of the development of the concepts. It should be no surprise to how these respective studies developed, or to what they led to, but the author is able to highlight the connections between them, which I assume will be explored in the present work. As a matter of fact, he notes that the division between the two has “muddied the waters” of Pauline studies, as Paul himself would not see a division. (5) He goes on to chide the non-use of “Roman imperial ideology” (6) and the lack of relevant Greco-Roman background in approaching Paul. Of course, this use of imperial ideology interests me, as it seems to be a secure way of examining the New Testament. Of this approach, he writes, “(T)his thesis maintains that a balanced approach to the apostle Paul’s conception of new creation will reveal that this idea is an expression of his eschatologically infused soteriology which involves the individual, the community and the cosmos and which is inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Christ.” (6)
After laying down the crux of the problem, Jackson then briefly tackles how the early Church saw the New Creation. Surprisingly, the early Christian writers wrote very little about it. Jackson is able to pull an allusion from Barnabas and several statements from Clement of Alexandria. But, the development of Christian thought around this phrase picks up steam around Gregory of Nyssa. With Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa and Chrysostom mentioned, I will be interested to see if Jackson, in mentioning the use of Roman imperial ideology will somehow connect these thinkers to Roman imperial theology of which these men were associated.
In the overview, as with most, the scope of the project is given, but chapter seven is already on my horizon, as Jackson writes, “the salvation of the individual is specifically linked to the salvation of creation.” (12)
The more I read of the Apostle Paul, the better he becomes.
Ryan Jackson explores the apostle Paul’s conception of new creation in the light of a fresh consideration of its historical and social contexts. This work seeks to understand how Paul innovatively applied his theological convictions in his letters to three communities – in Galatia, in Corinth, and in Rome. The discussion contributes to the ongoing debate concerning the degree to which Paul’s soteriology should be viewed in continuity or discontinuity with the Old Testament.
It also offers a further example of how Roman imperial ideology may be employed in the study of the reception of Paul’s letters. The thesis proposes that Paul’s concept of new creation is an expression of his eschatologically infused soteriology which involves the individual, the community, and the cosmos, and which is inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Christ.
First, I think that Ruden’s command over the primary literature is phenomenal. I discussed this in relation to the contents of the book in my previous post; however, it bears mentioning again that her long-standing work as a translator of Greek and Latin texts really pays off here. Ruden’s examples are always pertinent to the issue she is discussing and always shed a great deal of light on the subject. Other books on Paul’s writings might include references to the ancient world; however, if authors have not scoured the primary literature, the examples they use might not really be the best.
Second, I very much enjoyed Ruden bringing in a number of personal anecdotes. She admits to being a person once uncomfortable with the apostle Paul, placing him in the same category many of the Hebrew prophets (though I guess it depends on how the word prophet is being used here). However, she notes how she has come to appreciate Paul much more. Further, having recently completed my degree from the University of Stellenbosch, I enjoyed many of her anecdotes about living in South Africa. She relates several instances that show she how clearly speaks her mind. The book, then, is not a dry academic tome, but communicates much of the enthusiasm of the author.
Third and probably most importantly, Ruden really does accomplish her goal with the book, namely “to get further inside Paul’s world, and, through this, to understand him better.” I felt like after reading the book I had a better understanding of the Greco-Roman world in which Paul lived. And, I can’t think of anything much better that I can say about book, other than that it accomplished its goal.
As one point of critique, I would mention that the book did lack detailed focus on Paul’s jewishness. It is not as if this aspect of Paul’s life is completely absent, as there is some information in the preface and throughout the chapters. Yet the focus is overwhelmingly on the Greco-Roman world. Of course, there are a number of excellent books on Paul’s jewishness. So, I’d recommend reading Paul Among the People alongside other texts that help fill out the picture of who Paul was.
Overall, I’d recommend the book. It’s a fairly easy read and not too long. And you should leave with a better understanding of Paul’s thought on a number of important topics.