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

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

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Philippians 1:1-5 (Graeco-Roman Commentary)

7 12 2008
same books, different light
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I’m developing (what I think) is an interesting angle on PhilippiansPaul’s concerned he’ll lose their support because he’s (supposedly) “out of the Ministry” (i.e. in prison where he can’t preach the gospel). Not totally new, but don’t know of a commentary taking this line. So why not start writing one?!! Would love your questions & comments!!! Note v3f. IS WHERE IT GETS INTERESTING (if you need to jump to there):

Phil 1:1
Παῦλος καὶ Τιμόθεος δοῦλοι Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ (Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus)
Paul begins (as usual) Introducing himself & (for whatever reason) Timothy. Maybe a “Macedonian thing” (c.f. 1&2Thessalonians).

πᾶσιν τοῖς ἁγίοις ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν Φιλίπποις (to all those who are set apart in Christ Jesus, who are in Philippi)
The “From A… to B” common formula in Paul, standard letter form for the day. Greek most resonant with Rom 1:7… interesting… Rome & “little Rome.” No mention of “church” in either letter… maybe Christians not a registered society… Maybe ekklesia too provocative a term for a Roman.

σὺν ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις· (together with overseers and deacons)
This is interesting. Why make a distinction with those in office – is he asserting his authority, but in a softer way than starting “Paul an Apostle”?

Phil 1:2
χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (Grace & peace to you from Father God and Lord Jesus Messiah)
Very interesting verse, but standard greeting for Paul. Read any good commentary on Paul for more.

Phil 1:3(-5) HERE’S WHERE IT STARTS TO GET INTERESTING!!!
Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ μνείᾳ ὑμῶνἐπὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ ὑμῶν (I give thanks to my God upon your every remembrance… [and] upon your partnership)
Seems to me that the parallel ἐπὶ phrases suggest he is giving thanks for parallel things… and quite possibly the same thing! If this is true, the first bit means “I give thanks every time you remember me [with contributions]” because what he is going to go onto say about partnership is their support of him.

THAT’S ENOUGH TO STIMULATE SOME INITIAL THOUGHTS… MORE SOON!

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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