Is Paul Divided? 02

26 05 2009
Copenhagen c.
Image via Wikipedia

Here is the second good quote. This one comes from Troels Engberg-Pedersen of Copenhagen:

Paul should not be seen against a ‘background’ from which he would stand out in splendid isolation. Such a picture would not do justice to the many and complex ways in which he interacted directly with his cultural contemporaries. Instead, we should view Paul as one among them, as a coplayer within a shared ‘context’ that would allow any player to stand out momentarily and for a specific issue of interpretation, but also to receded again later into the shared context.

It does seem to me that we often do Paul and ourselves an injustice when we oversimplify his background, and separate him unnecessarily from his own “culture.” Your thoughts?

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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“I want you to know brothers that” 04

12 03 2009
Temple of Apollo -- Ancient Corinth
Image by John & Mel Kots via Flickr

2Corinthians has been a tough letter to understand, particularly in terms of structure. Not only does Pauljump around in his account of events, he also seems to change tone dramatically near the end. This has led people to think that more than one letter has been spliced together!

But it is worth noting that the strange structure parallels a strange purpose statement. Could there be something to this ? Check out what I mean:

2Cor 1:8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.  9 Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead;  10 he delivered us from so deadly a peril, and he will deliver us; on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.  11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us in answer to many prayers.

If we add the thanksgiving prayer which is also about suffering and what can be learnt, I offer you this thought: Paul’s purpose is to recount his hardships to teach them to trust in God not people.

The reason why this might work is that the structure of the letter is very much tied to Paul’s experiences. Note too that he ends by challenging them about trusting in the “super apostles”. Lastly, “we” reflections occur almost twice as often in 2Cor as either Romans or 1Corinthians!

Any thoughts?

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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“I want you to Know Brothers, that…” 01

12 02 2009
2004ish - Carolyn - work appreciation - reworked
Image by ClintJCL via Flickr

(I must apologize. With thesis, teaching an intensive then straight into semester I was down for the count over the last few weeks and the blog suffered. I’m really sorry (not least to Con and Rick!). But I am back now and…)

I don’t know if you realize it, but there is a golden key to understanding Paul‘s letters! It may sound too good to be true, and some people will say it is. But I’ll let you be the judge.

Letter’s in the first century followed a form just like letters today (see the picture). Here’s an example of ancient form:

Petronius Valens to Ptolemaios, my most honored father, greetings.

Most of all, I pray you are well, as at Alexandria I also [prayed] to Sarapis that you live for many years until having grown up I return your kindnesses; for you are worthy of these good things.

I wish you to know that on the twentieth I returned to barracks ten days before my furlough. Therefore I ask you, father, to compel Alima to pursue (the matter of the cloths)…

The above letter looks amazingly similar to Paul’s letters: “Paul… to the Church in Rome… grace… First I thank my God… I do not want you to be uninformed brothers that…” One part is particularly interesting: “I want you to know, that…” (or equivalent). This formula occurs in almost all Paul’s letters and it is meant to be the place where the writer alludes to the purpose of the letter. This ought to be where Paul states why he is writing! Yet it is often ignored or dismissed because we think – “that can’t be it.” What happens when we take this formula seriously? That will be the topic of next few articles, starting with Romans.


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Understanding Faith (01)

3 11 2008

Image by Mr Messy! via Flickr

Image by Mr Messy! via Flickr

In case you didn’t know, there’s a revolution happening right now over the meaning of faith. The expression “for the love of Pete,” means either “love towards Pete” (objective genitive) or “Pete’s love” (subjective genitive). Likewise, pistis Christou in Paul means either “faith in Christ” or “Christ’s faith” (Rom 3:22 & 26; Gal 2:16 [twice] & 20; Gal 3:22; and Phil 3:9). Traditionally it has been taken as “faith in Christ.” But more recently, people have gravitated towards the second. The implications can be big, as Mark Reasoner suggests: “Proponents… who hold that Christ’s faith is what saves will not call for… placing one’s faith in Jesus. They will rather call people to join the church that lives out… the faith that Jesus displayed” (Romans in Full Circle, 39).

This is a great example of how your reading impinges upon the message you preach. The specific issue also has implications for where Christian ethics should be placed in the scheme of things. In this series of contribution (posted weekly), I want to use this debate to illustration the importance of how you read. More than this though, I hope to stir thinking in a new direction on the issue itself (and thus the ethical question), by focusing on what has been a blind spot. What happens when we read pistis Christou as a Graeco-Roman person would have read it? Surprisingly perhaps, the answer has much to do with relationships!

posted by Bruce Lowe