“Paradigm shifts” in Pauline studies
“Pauline studies have undergone major changes in recent times. Which new research topics and methods would you especially highlight? Would you, moreover, agree to speak of a paradigm shift?”
So a number of scholars were asked, and many responded by pointing to a “rediscovery” of “Paul’s Jewishness” (it’s a great webpage to read, by the way, including some very informative responses. “Click and read” as God said to Augustine)
However, although this “paradigm shift” has helped sharpen a methodology of analysis which, thanks also to new resources, has been somewhat helpful sometimes, I am sceptical that it is any more than that.
Here are a few matters which I think may help genuine paradigm shifts in coming decades (though time has a way of proving such predictions woefully wrong, so we shall see!)
- A renewed focus on the phenomenon of Paul’s letters. Adolf Schlatter contended that for NT theology and exegesis ‘the hardest thing to observe is often right in front of our eyes’. Yes and amen. So many PhDs in NT studies spend 90% of their word limit analysing a new fangled hermeneutical prism though which, the last 10% refracts some supposedly “relevant” Pauline passage. And tah dah, we have am “original” proposal. But Paul’s letters, and themes within them, are thereby ironically often lost largely from sight in one’s reconstruction of Pauline language. This has had pernicious effects, for example, on some Pauline Christology debates.
- A rejection of a limitation to the so-called 7 undisputed letters. We have to do it: write a PhD on Paul and you had better not pretend Ephesians etc. is Pauline or you will get laughed out of town (esp. in Germany and certain Anglo-American circles). But although I have profound doubts about the “authenticity” of the Pastorals, it is high time at least that Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and yes, Ephesians, be reintroduced into substantial Pauline theology discussion.
- The interpretative significance of the theological dimension of Paul’s language. That the “object” of Paul’s language involves interpretative corollaries is an area which truly could create a “paradigm shift”. To my mind, this is one reason why Douglas Campbell’s work is so significant. Paul writes about God, and the more we pretend that significant meditation on the theological (and therefore also ethical) implications of our exegesis are unimportant, the further we move from the phenomenon of the letters themselves (so my first bullet point).
I could go and on mention a vigorous appreciation for the contingent, a consistent rejection of the etymological myth (Barr) etc. and I am also assuming that a reading of Paul in terms of his second Temple “encyclopaedia” (to use Eco’s language) is indeed essential, and rightly highlighted by many of the above webpage’s respondents. But if that is all there is to “major changes in recent times”, then heaven help us.