Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Reflections on Pauline Theology

It's time for reflections on last semester's modules and first up is Pauline Theology. The module is taught by Dr Mike Bird, author of The Saving Righteousness of God (Paternoster) and A Bird's Eye View of Paul (IVP). Paul is a man who is close to Mike's heart and so having him as tutor means that you enter a thoroughly Pauline world in the lectures - visiting key themes and questions (old and new) in a thoroughly refreshing way.

The course is a 50/50 mix of exegesis in Galatians and Pauline Theology. The required texts (there's plenty more reading outside, especially from the ever-useful Dictionary of Paul and his Letters) are Gorman's Apostle of the Crucified Lord, either Schreiner or Dunn on Paul (I went for Dunn) and either Witherington or Longenecker on Galatians (I went for Longenecker). My brief reflections on the course include the following highlights:

  • I enjoyed my first prolonged encounter with Dunn. OK, he takes NPP a lot, lot further than I, but nevertheless Dunn is helpful on so many points and eminently readable.
  • Yet again, the socio-historical background to Paul has been invaluable. A little thought about Paul's background in Pharisaism, the world in which he was educated and within which he ministered pays huge dividends when it comes to interpretation. For example, compare Paul's argument in Romans 5 with 4 Ezra 7.118:

O Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants.

  • Discussing Paul's Conversion and Call and its relationship with his encounter with the risen Jesus outside Damascus.
  • Discussing Paul on the Law. One new line of thought was seeing that so often 'keeping the Law' is identified with moral perfection in Reformed theology. However, large parts of the Law are given over to instructions on sacrifices to atone for sin. So, the Law presupposes sin and keeping the Law cannot then equate to moral perfection. Sanders' proposal of law observance as Covenantal Nomism rather than legalism has great value in this regard.
  • Longenecker on Galatians. Analysis of the situation in Galatia has spawned a diverse range of explanatians. I like many of Longenecker's arguments in his commentary. Try this on 2:15-21:

Of particular significance is the fact that in 2:15-21 Paul deals with both 'legalism'...and 'nomism'...In 2:15-16 Paul presents in abbreviated form the case against the former; in 2:17-20 he deals with the latter, with 2:21 being a summary conclusion incorporating both. So in reading the probatio of 3:1-4:11 we must be guided by such a twofold argument and not just take it that only one point is being made (as commentators usually assume). Likewise in reading Galatians for spiritual profit, we need to recognise that both 'legalism' and 'nomism' are being dealt with...(p95).

  • I think Longenecker is correct here, with the caveat that the 'nomism' that is being opposed is specifically Mosaic 'nomism'; the principle of obedience is enshrined in the New Covenant (as Paul himself refers to the Law of Christ in 6:2).