Is Paul Divided? 01

22 05 2009
Marquand Chapel: Yale Divinity School
Image by thestroups via Flickr

I came across this great quote about the need to consider Paul in his total cultural context. I have one other from the same book “Paul Beyond the Judaism / Hellenism Divide” which I will post soon…

“A Hebrew born of Hebrews” he tells us himself, “as to the law a Pharisee. Yet he wrote only and fluently in Greek… others are also making a strong case that Paul was more aware of the specifically philosophical school discussion of his day than we had previously guessed. Yet it is impossible to ignore the fact that frequently he also employs interpretive strategies and traditions from reading the Jewish scriptures that are strikingly like those found in early and later Jewish interpretations, both sectarian and rabbinic. Impossible, too, to erase the typically apocalyptic scenarios that intrude into Paul’s argument, even in places where he is sounding most “Hellenistic” or “rabbinic.” He was, it seems, all these things at once.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Understanding Faith (04)

24 11 2008
Julius Caesar Bust

Image by iirraa via Flickr

Today’s entry is where I put in a plug for knowing something about the culture behind the NT. Here is where I mention that many Christians feel really comfortable with the current Scholarly focus on Judaism. And why not? Those who read the Bible are familiar with Judaism through the OT and the controversies of the NT. Jesus, Peter, Paul… they were all Jews. So of course we’ll feel at home with this! But there is another context, which we don’t feel so at home in… i.e. the Graeco-Roman world. But let’s not forget that Paul (at least) was also very connected to this world. He had to be if he was going to be a missionary. So the Graeco-Roman world is relevant to the context into which Paul was writing. Therfore it must be of some importance for us who read the NT today! This will be something I will come back to in future entries. For now though, we need a quick lesson into the fabric of Romans society in the first century. The Roman world was literally held together by relational exchange A ↔  B. As Richard Saller says in his exceptional little book Patronage in the Early Empire, “The Romans could hardly conceive of friendship apart from reciprocal exchange.” In fact from the Emperor all the way down to the lowest citizen it was reciprocal exchange which held everything together. And so fides (the Latin word for faith) has been defined as “”confidence” (fides) and, especially (in a more derivative sense of fides), the “good faith” or “trustworthiness” that inspires confidence.” Whenever the Romans thought about a relationship they thought in terms of two way exchange (A ↔ B). When we talk then about “faith” or “grace” as exchange words because they are used in relationships, this is therefore not a big jump. Rather, the culture of the day confirmed that this was a logical way for people to see things. Now we are ready to tackle pistis Christou which we’ll do next entry.

Bruce Lowe

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