What is the significance of the resurrection? According to J. Christiaan Beker:
For Paul, the historicity of the resurrection of Christ and its “bodily” character are crucial. The historicity of the resurrection signifies its eschatological-temporal significance, that is, it is a proleptic event that inaugurates the new creation. The “bodily” character of the resurrection manifests the resurrection as an event that not only occurs in time but also signals the “bodily” ontological transformation of the created order in the kingdom of God. Therefore, the resurrection of Christ is both crucial and yet provisional. It is crucial because it marks the beginning of the new creation; it is provisional because it looks forward to the consummation of that beginning.
From Paul the Apostle: The triumph of God in Life and Thought (Fortress, 1980), 159.
It is impossible to study the history of New Testament scholarship for long without encountering the work of Albert Schweitzer and being confronted with his importance for the discipline, especially with regard to Pauline studies. And sometimes you come across such remarkable praise of a person’s work that it is striking and makes the point more clearly than you’ve heard it made before. Reading Robert Jewett’s Paul’s Anthropological Terms
last night, I came across just such praise and thought I would share it here. Jewett says,
Schweitzer’s extraordinary thesis throws light on almost every aspect of Paul’s theology. It accepts and makes sense out of the Pauline understanding of the body in a way which no earlier interpretation could match. That it has been so little accepted and emulated is due in part to the utter strangeness of the conceptions which he sets forth; modern man does not appear to possess the philosophical assumptions to grasp such ideas of somatic unity. And this is what stamps Schweitzer’s interpretation as a contribution of the highest order, because it grasped and interpreted thoughts so completely alien to those held by the exegete himself. But it is not the mere strangeness of the ideas which convinces one that Schweitzer has made a vitally important discovery; rather it is the fact that he can follow the clear sense of Paul’s argument in crucial passages…” (Leiden: Brill, 1971, p. 215, italics mine).
Jewett does take exception to some aspects of Schweitzer’s interpretation of Paul, but he goes on to say, “Under no circumstances however are the insights of his exegesis of the σῶμα (body) concept to be cast aside simply because of these difficulties. His work on this problem remains a beacon of light of historical exegesis” (p. 216).
So, Schweitzer’s treatment of the text was supremely brilliant. However, the presuppositional narrow mindedness of the guild caused his work to be under-appreciated. High praise, indeed, along with some thinly veiled criticism.
The study of Paul’s letters in light of classical rhetoric has gained a significant foothold in the larger field of New Testament studies. Nevertheless, the analysis of the Pauline letters on the basis of Greco-Roman rhetoric remains somewhat controversial and continues to be criticized in a variety of ways. One of those criticisms declares that classical rhetoric is a method for writing and evaluating ancient speeches, and, since Paul wrote letters, the suggestion that the canons of classical rhetoric should be used to analyze his writings is simply a category mistake, a barking up the wrong tree. Paul’s letters should be studied as letters, it is said, not as speeches. This, of course, raises the question: What exactly did Paul write? Letters or speeches?
Several points should be made here. First, Paul’s letters are remarkably dissimilar from typical letters in the ancient world. They don’t look much like the other letters of his day. For example, Paul’s letters tend to be a good bit longer than other epistles from the Greco-Roman world. This might suggest that while the documents that bear Paul’s name were certainly addressed and delivered as letters, there may be something else going on as well.
Second, given this dissimilarity between Paul’s writings and other letters of the period, there are limits to what can be done when his letters are analyzed on the basis of ancient epistolary convention. The beginnings and endings of Paul’s writings can be compared to other ancient epistles, but little is to be gained beyond that.
Third, we know that Paul’s writings were delivered to the various churches to be read aloud when the congregation assembled. Thus, when the original hearers first encountered the Pauline documents, they encountered them as speeches. When added to the evidence considered above, it is entirely plausible to suggest that Paul’s writings are certainly much more than letters. They are really manuscripts of speeches made in the presence of the addressees, speeches that Paul might have made himself were he present with the assembled congregation.
If Paul’s letters are indeed speech manuscripts, then the study of Paul’s letters in light of Greco-Roman oratorical standards is warranted. The letters are persuasive documents that were read like speeches; we should study them as such. Despite the ongoing criticism from some quarters of Pauline studies, rhetorical criticism is worth the time and attention of students of the apostle. Given the many rhetorical studies of Paul available, the question remains: where do we go from here?
From the opening chapter of Tom Oden’s book, After Modernity…What? Agenda for Theology
What the ancient church teachers least wished for a theology was that it would be “fresh” or “self-expressive” or an embellishment of purely private inspirations, as if these might stand as some decisive improvement” on the apostolic teaching.”
Yet from the first day I ever thought of becoming a theologian I have been earnestly taught and admonished to “think creatively” so as to make “some new contribution” to theology. Nothing at Yale was drummed into my head more firmly than that the theology I would seek would be my own, and my uniqueness would imprint it. So you can imagine that it took no small effort on my part to resist the repeated reinforcements of my best education in order to overcome the constant temptation to novelty. And you can understand how relieved I was to see such an intriguing epitaph prefigured in a dream, one that at last seems to be coming true on these pages – “to make no new contribution to theology” – Laus Deo (22).
It would seem, according to Oden, that the thing most needed by present-day theological studies is a revival of interest in the ancient and historic teaching of the Christian faith. Oden is certainly right that the task of passing on what has been handed down goes against the grain of contemporary theological studies where every graduate student is charged with making an “original contribution to knowledge” in his or her specialized discipline. My question is this: is there any wisdom for the practice of ministry in this statement from Oden? Where is the balance between finding new and effective ways to reach new people and ensuring the preservation of what we have received?