What is the Center of Paul? A Three Corded Rope?

21 05 2010
Ary Scheffer: The Temptation of Christ, 1854
Image via Wikipedia

A friend of mine (Jason Hood) is in the process of writing an article about the kingdom of God as the center of Paul’s thinking -If I’ve understood him right. This is an age old question, but after I wrote a response to Jason, I thought it might be worth posting it for others to interact with…

Jason, you have emphasized the continuity of the concept, i.e. suggested how other key ideas and expression (eschatology, union with Christ) may be consumed under the kingdom of God. I would like to hear about the discontinuity too – why in the  Pauline corpus do we see him choosing this expression when he does, over against another descriptor. I.e. in the absence of a passage which explains why this particular expression IS a summary of these other ideas (I don’t know of any passage that brings them all together), why does Paul choose to use other expressions besides this one and why does he choose to use this expression where he does.

My only concern as I have thought about this subject myself (I start my lectures on Paul’s letter with three full weeks on the center of Paul) is a pedagogical one. Kingdom is quite an impersonal concept, as are redemptive history and eschatology. Union with Christ is a REALLY personal way for Paul to say things. Maybe this (in part) answers the question of “Why this expression?” (above), but there is also a pedagogical rub with what you are trying to say in your article. If someone says to me that “kingdom of God is the center of Paul” It sounds very corporate – which of course many today would be happy about! But given the VERY personal nature of “with/in Christ” how in your article can you capture the idea that the center of Paul is (in fact) very personal?

For what it is worth, I teach that the center of Paul is a three corded rope – union with Christ, redemptive history & eschatology. You may then state this three different ways depending (pedagogically) on what you/Paul wants to emphasize 1) The center of Paul is Jesus, who fulfills redemptive history by ushing in the eschaton; or 2) The center of Paul redemptive history, which now finds its fulfillment in Jesus ushering in the eschaton; or 3) The center of Paul is eschatology, which in Christ is the beginning of the end for redemptive history. Perhaps the redemptive history side could be restated as kingdom, since this is OT language for the hope of Israel, which finds finds a subversiveness expression in Christianity in that the way the eschaton works out and also the nature of God‘s Christ. It is this subversive edge as well as Paul’s desire to be personal, which perhaps explains why he must add the other two cords to this rope.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Advertisements




What’s in a word?

1 01 2010

In reading about a debate on “Patronage” vs “Benefaction” it occurred to me that lots of people are ignorant of a really important discussions about the nature of words. So here is the first of a few extracts from Chapter 3 of Anthony Thiselton’s  “New Horizons in Hermeneutics”. Hope this is helpful in stimulating your thinking…

All texts presuppose code. The text of a medical prescription, for example, has been encoded by a medical practitioner in accordance with the conventions of the profession, and invites a pharmacist to de-code it for action in light of these shared conventions. A music score has been encoded by a composer, and waits to be decoded by an orchestra or singers in a musical event. In these exampels, however the code is not the items of information which constitute the “message.” The codes is the sign –system, lattice, or network, in terms of which the linguistic choices which convey the message are expressed. The musical code which enables the composer to specify the production of a particular note for a particular length of time is not the note itself (which would be the message); but the stave or staff of five parallel horizontal lines (together with the clef and the specified areas where possible choices about key signature and time would be supplied) which constitute the structure in terms of which given notes can be chosen and properties specified. Complex texts may presuppose several different layers of code. For example, the Apocalypse of John at one level presupposes the range of possible lexical and grammatical choices available in Hellenistic Greek… But it also operates on the basis of a system of conventions used by earlier apocalyptic. Some allusions to earlier texts such as Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Daniel are not merely reminders about earlier traditions… Language in the Apocalypse of John about “one hundred and forty-four thousand” (Rev. 7.4) presupposes a code which is different from that which generates meaning in the case of mathematical propositions. In the case of mathematics, the network of choices operates in terms f a contrast which opposes or excludes “one hundred and forty-four thousand and one” or “one hundred and forty-three thousand and ninety nine.” But the text of Revelation presupposes contrastive networds which signal differences between completeness and incompleteness with reference to a history of traditions about “twelve” which have become familiar enough to represent a convention among certain communities. Where horses’ heads seem to become merged with heads of lions (Rev. 9.10) the code which is presupposed is not that of empirical visual observations and description. The “measuring” of the temple (Rev. 11.1-2) may perhaps involve several layers….

Posted by Bruce Lowe





Morality Not an End in Itself

13 12 2009
C. S.
Image via Wikipedia

C. S. Lewis once said:

“I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that thought Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Everyone there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filed with light. But they are too busy looking at the source from which it comes. But this is near the stage where the road passes over the rim of our world. No one’s eyes can see very far beyond that: lots of people’s eyes can see further than mine.”

Posted by Bruce Lowe

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]




“Pursue Academic Responsibility”

9 12 2009
Master (Cap and Gown)
Image by Naked_Eyes via Flickr

Recently I came across this quote from and old book: “Letter’s Along the Way” (Carson and Woodbridge). I thought it was worth posting:

“Pursue academic responsibility and trust God to work out the details of who hears you and what influence you have. Responsible scholarship has far more potential for discovering and buttressing truth and for winning people’s minds than mere respectability anyway. If instead you take the lower road and pursue mere academic respectability, you may gain more plaudits from the world, but it is far more doubtful that you will have the approbation of Heaven. Once in a while there have been scholars who have gained both; it is doubtful if they have ever done so by pursuing respectability.” (p176)

Posted by Bruce Lowe

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]




Douglas Campbell, “The Deliverance of God”

22 10 2009

Douglas Campbell’s new book “The Deliverance of God – An Apocalyptic Rereading of imagesJustification in Paul” is a very substantial work likely to ruffle more feathers than a windstorm in a chicken coup.

This book is a 1000 page “crystallization” of over 20 years of musing on Romans and justification. What he tries to do in a nutshell is chart a new way forward by giving a completely new reading of Romans 1-4. Campbell believes that a correct reading has been stifled by a “justification reading” of these chapters. This he claims is true for almost every past reader. What needs to be realized instead is that in many places Paul is not expressing his own opinions so much as outlining and refuting the ideas of a Jewish teacher. His reading is very much shaped by seeing an ongoing fictitious exchange throughout.

No one is really safe from Campbell’s critique. On the one hand the NPP’s de-emphasis on good works righteousness in Judaism comes under scrutiny. On the other, traditional justification is beaten up both in broad daylight and in every dark alley where Campbell sees it lurking.

What do I think? 1) I don’t like the “everyone else is bias” approach that has somehow become fashionable in this discussion; 2) I do like the fact that he tries a new reading of Romans 1-4, which I think is overdue; 3) I don’t like the way he relies on the ficticious dialogue throughout. I think this dialogue is right for Romans 2.1-3.8 but to try and push it out almost everywhere gets quite thin. If the dialogue is wrong at any moment, if Paul is actually asking or answering a question instead, then what was the opponent’s opinion suddenly becomes Paul’s, in a way that could turn his whole thesis on its head. This indeed is what I think can and will happen as more thorough attention is paid to some of the rhetorical clues that have been missed by Campbell and the apocalyptic side is developed more naturally.

9/10 for critique of others; 8/10 for charting a new way of approaching Romans 1-4; 6/10 for execution of a new reading; and 3/10 for the conclusion that results.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]




Who is Babylon the Prostitute in Revelation?

18 10 2009
Hanging Balls Of Babylon
Image by Vermin Inc via Flickr

Revelation is one of those books (letters?) that is tough for anyone to read. So much confusing imagery, lots of controversy at every turn. I’m not going to attempt to unravel its mysteries , but I will argue for something I think is pretty important, which can then act as a key for opening up other things: Who is Babylon the prostitute? In many different ways the Letter / book itself points to: earthly Jerusalem. Here’s some of the reasons:

Reason #1 – Unfaithful Jerusalem was portrayed as a prostitute in the OT (Ezek 23), so the metaphor here is just the same.

Reason #2 – Jerusalem has already been called by the names of other wicked cities in Revelation (see 11:8), so there is a precedent for it going by the name of yet another OT city.

Reason #3 – The woman with stars on her head in Chap. 12 (Jerusalem) gets transported into the wilderness in 12:14. Then when John gets taken into the wilderness himself, he sees a woman: “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet.” Same place is suggestive of the same woman – she has become corrupted in the wilderness (another OT theme for Israel).

Reason #4 – Only other woman (besides Jezebel, 2.20) in Revelation is the bride (contrasting the prostitute) and she is the heavenly Jerusalem. Logically then there is a contrast between unfaithful earthly Jerusalem and the faithful heavenly one (21:10)

Reason #5 – The prostitute cannot be the Rome (next best possibility), because Rome is the city of seven hills (17:9) which is the beast on which she rides – a picture of Jerusalem prostituting herself to Rome.

Reasons #6 – … and the beast turns on here (17:16) which is perfectly explained by the destruction of Jerusalem under the Romans in the year 70.

Reason #7 Note also how in 4Ezra, Ezra has a vision of a woman and it ends up being Jerusalem:

[EZRA HAS A VISION AND SEES A WOMAN…] [I] turned to her and said to her, “Why are you weeping, and why are you grieved at heart?” ”Let me alone, my lord,” she said, “that I may weep for myself and continue to mourn, for I am greatly embittered in spirit and deeply afflicted.” And I said to her, “What has happened to you? Tell me.” She said to me, “Your servant was barren and had no child, though I lived with my husband thirty years…” [SHE GOES ON FOR A BIT AND THEN …] suddenly she uttered a loud and fearful cry, so that the earth shook at the sound. And I looked, and behold the woman was no longer visible to me, but there was an established city (!!!)

Posted by Bruce Lowe

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]




Avoiding a “God-less” Theology

14 10 2009
writing...the old fashioned way
Image by Darwin Bell via Flickr

In a now famous little article by Nils Dahl (“The Neglected Factor of New Testament Theology”) the point is made: “New Testament theology, as practiced in the contemporary scholarly community, does not speak about god but about the way in which the New Testament authors talk about god; its discourse about God is indirect… the theme of ‘God’ has been neglected in New Testament theology.” How amazing that this could happen -a loss of the forest for the trees! There is always a danger isn’t there that ideas about God can capture our attention at the expense of actually thinking about and relating to God!

Dahl adds a provocative thought to this that perhaps under the influence of the Christological school of Ritschl in the 19th century, we think of Christ but not God.

Posted by Bruce Lowe