Thursday, September 24, 2009

Paul in 1 Cor 4:3 and Stendahl

Here's a worthwhile (imho) quote from Thiselton's NIGTC volume on 1 Corinthians on 1 Cor 4:3: It counts for very little with me, however, that I should be judged by you or by any human court of judgement; indeed, I do not even judge myself.

This last phrase (v. 3b) has assumed particular importance for Krister Stendahl's interpretation of Paul, which also paved the way for E. P. Sanders's hermeneutic. Stendahl argued that "the Pauline awareness of sin has been interpreted in the light of Luther's struggle with his conscience."223 But it is "exactly at that point" that a drastic difference emerges between Luther and Paul. Paul, Stendahl argues, was aware of the problem of sin and guilt as an objective state of affairs, but not primarily as the subjective problem of "a troubled conscience." Indeed, he declares that he was "blameless as to righteousness — of the law, that is" (Phil 3:6). "Paul was equipped with what in our eyes must be called a rather 'robust' conscience."224 He is concerned with the objective status of being declared in a right relation with God, not with the problem of "forgiveness," about which he speaks seldom. As a Pharisee he perceives himself to have been obedient (Gal 1:13; Phil 3:6), and as a Christian to have received grace which was "not in vain" (1 Cor 15:10).225 Strikingly, Stendahl asserts, Paul declares "I have nothing on my conscience" (1 Cor 4:4).226 But Western tradition turns Paul into an introspective, guilt-ridden, individual-centered, experience-centered man, misinterpreting the "I" of Rom 7:13-23 as an individual ego in conflict with itself rather than as representative of an objective human condition in relation to divine law and divine grace.227 The upshot is that whereas Paul stressed justification, the Western tradition stresses forgiveness; where Paul stressed call, this tradition stresses conversion; where Paul ascribed a role to weakness, this historical legacy is obsessed with sin.228

The value of Stendahl's approach is both to correct an imbalance and to disengage an obsession with "experience," "relevance," "failure," or even "success" from Paul in exchange for Paul's emphasis on objective acts of God which bring objective consequences for humankind as a social whole. Whether Stendahl can be defended in his further critique of the Lutheran interpretation of "boasting" becomes more problematic, for he concedes that Paul boasts in his "weakness" as against the triumphalism and self-sufficiency of his -opponents.229 His work, however, serves to demonstrate the pivotal importance of 4:3b and 4:4 for Paul's theology. He leaves his successes and failures with God. What has been done is done, and God alone knows and can disclose the worth of it. It must simply be left with God while the servant of God goes on to the next task, at the same moment "judging nothing before the time" (4:5) and "knowing that your labor is not in vain (kevos, empty, null) in the Lord" (15:58).

223. K. Stendahl, "The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West" (1961 and 1963); rpt. in Paul among Jews and Gentiles (London: SCM, 1977 and Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976), 78-96. Cf. E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (London: SCM, 1977), 434-47.
224. Ibid., 80-81.
225. Ibid., 89.
226. Ibid., 90-91.
227. Ibid., 86, 92-95; cf. 3-7, 23-40.
228. Ibid., 20-43, 81-82, 86-87.
229. Ibid., 40 and 88.