Monday, August 25, 2008

Surprise Quote of the Day

"Reading Paul is not reading other people's mail. It is reading mail meant for all of us, however we may construe Paul's message"

No, not from the pen of a conservative trying desperately to refuse the historical situatedness of the biblical text, but from Alan Segal's essay ("Universalism in Judaism and Christianity") in Paul in his Hellenistic Context, ed. Troels Engberg-Pedersen, p. 29.


At 8/25/2008 7:12 PM, Anonymous Celucien L. Joseph said...

Gorman rightly says, "We read Paul best when we read him speaking to us and for God" ( Reading Paul, 4)

At 8/25/2008 9:24 PM, Anonymous Alex said...

This is an interesting quote because I've always found it really helpful to use the exact analogy when reading Paul that I was reading someone else's mail, as if we had intercepted a communication between two parties. Of course we're not dealing with a random sample is one problem. After all, Paul surely wrote a lot more than 14 letters to the churches in his lifetime and the churches at the time chose not to preserve them for one reason or another.

At 8/26/2008 1:09 AM, Anonymous Scott Bailey said...

I struggle with this quote. What does he do with:

"Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians."

"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy, my loyal child in the faith"

"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae."

"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus."

"Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, to the church of God that is in Corinth."

These all look like fairly specific addresses to me... well, not 'to' me... you know what I mean.

The letters of Paul look like they were specifically written to someone that is not me. Even though I may learn from them, and even hold them as sacred, it does not necessarily follow that they were written for everybody.

At 8/26/2008 1:49 AM, Anonymous nelson moore said...

Normally I really do support trying to boil down issues to simple, clear aphorisms. However, this is an issue that I do not think can be treated in such a manner. Void of any context, both the comments of Segal (in the post) and Gorman (in the first comment) are patently ridiculous. Of course you are reading someone else’s mail - the fellow who wrote the letters specifically tells you so.

When Paul writes to the church at Rome, “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also…”, it is a statement that simply demands to be understood in its context. It just doesn’t make any sense unless you ask, “Who is Paul, who are the Romans and wwhat is the nature of their relationship?”

I am not dumb and I realize that Segal and Gorman would both agree with that. (Particularly someone whose book is entitled “Paul in His Hellenistic Context.”) So my point is not to critique their overall works. My point is that in this instance, a context-less, pithy statement that is meant to shed light is doing exactly the opposite. At worst, it is simply untrue; at best it needs explanation.

At 8/26/2008 2:44 AM, Anonymous J.R. Dodson said...

Hey Chris, Thanks for this post. I was surprised last year to find out that most of "My Life and Letters of Paul" class fully embraced Gorman's thesis. Despite my objections, as clever as they were :-), most of the students still sided with Gormon. Is this the future of biblical studies?

At 8/26/2008 3:22 AM, Anonymous Bill said...

Chris, your comment hilighted what perplexes me - that conservatives and liberals each have their own ways of keeping the "historical" issues at a manageable arm's length. I'm baffled to try and comprehend it simply. As for me, I'm for orthodoxy and heteropraxy. And I'm desperately hoping to see 'historical situatedness' become more prominent in conservative scholarship.

Any help here?

At 8/26/2008 5:12 AM, Anonymous Weekend Fisher said...

You know -- ok, first off, before reading this comment, you should warm up the tar and open up a nearby pillow or two for some feathers -- but if the letters had nothing to say to us (which I think is part of the point), they wouldn't be favorites for study still. If Paul had never imagined his letters having a wider context than the original one, he probably wouldn't have recommended letter-swapping to the churches (Col 4:16). Sure, there comes a time when "say Hi to Phoebe" doesn't mean as much anymore, but "I wanted to encourage you" is probably something Paul never imagined -- or desired -- would only pertain to the people in a certain city. He was in the business of proclamation, and he intended to proclaim an eternal message to as much of the world as he could.

Consider us the umpteen-hundredth church that the letter was passed on to, after Laodicea was done with it ...

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

At 8/27/2008 4:25 PM, Anonymous Chris Donato said...

"…however we may construe Paul's message."

Maybe he really meant: "however we may construe the authoritative weight of Paul's message"?

Isn't that often the catch?

At 8/28/2008 9:53 AM, Anonymous steph said...

I'm surprised he said it:-)

At 8/28/2008 10:55 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Weekend Fisher, I hear you and you make a good point. But then again, so do many of the other comments here. Perhaps this is a tension we simply have to live with, one that can only be resolved in the debated space oppened to us by hermeneutics.

Like Bill, I too hope that conservative theology can better grasp the historical specificity and tensions in the texts. But that perhaps represents a different concern than Gorman's.

Anyway, I gotta get back to packing!

At 9/01/2008 12:32 AM, Anonymous bluestare said...

I think Scott Bailey is right it is a postmodern reductionist approach missing the vital textual truth that we must be very careful when bulding our bridges into the world of scripture.


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