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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

More Year of St. Paul

The Pope normally gives a meditation during his Wednesday audiences, and for a while now, he has cycled through the Apostles, and then the Fathers of the Church. The former are available in book form, titled The Apostles, published by Our Sunday Visitor.

The Pope has announced that he will now turn to a series on St. Paul, in honor of the Year of St. Paul. See, this whole saints thing includes people who are in the Bible, too! And the beauty of the liturgical year, is that having a time to focus on a person or a topic can renew the interest of some people, who might not have taken notice before. How many Catholics will be prompted to dust off their Bibles and read through the letters of St. Paul because of this year in his honor?

“We must place ourselves,” said the Holy Father, “in the world of 2,000 years age. Under many aspects today’s socio-cultural context is not that much different from that of that time.”

First of all, Paul “comes from a culture that was certainly in the minority, that of the People of Israel.” In the ancient world in Rome, Jews were at best 3 per cent of the population.

“Like today their beliefs and lifestyle clearly set them apart from their environment. This can lead to mockery or admiration, something which Paul experienced as well.” For instance, the Pope noted that “Cicero despised their religion and even the city of Jerusalem,” whereas Nero’s wife Poppaea was considered as a “sympathiser. Even Julius Caesar had recognised their particularism.

Paul also lived immersed in the Hellenistic culture “which at the time was a shared heritage at least in the Eastern Mediterranean,” in a political situation in which the Roman Empire “guaranteed stability and peace from Britain to Egypt, and provided (a common fabric for super partes unification.”

And if the “universalistic vision that was typical of the Christian Paul owes its basic impulse to Jesus,” the cultural preparation provided by his environment must be remembered so much so that he was seen as man of three cultures: Jewish, Greek and Roman.”


The Pauline year has prompted not-quite-Catholic blogger at Catholidoxy to muse on how Biblical scholarship has influenced evangelical interpretations of the writings of St. Paul. Some good stuff, here. (Our Lutheran commenters might be interested in this one, along with the comments).

How does this bear on Ephesians? As follows: apart from issues of style, vocabulary, and the supposed difficulty of finding a Sitz im Leben in which Paul would have written Ephesians, a chief reason many scholars doubt Paul wrote Ephesians concerns the dominance of the church as the chief theme of Ephesians. Why? Supposedly the earliest church was a Spirit led, egalitarian, free-wheelin' movement. But then, late in the first century and in the second century, something called 'early Catholicism' [Fr├╝hkatholismus] develops: bishops, hierarchy, conservatism, the proto-orthodox/catholic Church. Thus, any document that takes the Church so seriously must not have come from Paul's quill (or one of his immediate understudy's).

And Ephesians does take the Church seriously. Consider what Paul writes in Eph 3:8-11 (NIV):
8 Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church[!], the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Do you see that? The Church is the locus of divine revelation to the cosmos. Or try this, Eph 1:22-23:
22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Wow! Jesus heads everything for the Church, his body, and the Church is his fullness. Cosmic, dude. Of course, Paul couldn't have written the letter, since it's got such a high view of the Church.

So, Ephesians: basically, latent anti-Catholicism is a chief reason many scholars reject Pauline authorship. Something for evangelicals to think about.


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4 comments:

Tracy said...

Very nice job Kelly!!

Sue Bee said...

The Concordia (Lutheran) Study Bible attributes authorship of Ephesians to Paul and says he may have written it while in prison at Rome. If Lutherans are doubting Paul's authorship it hasn't trickled down to the rank & file.

I did some digging, and what I find is that it was a 19th century German Lutheran theologian & historian by the name of Ferdinand Christian Baur who theorized that Ephesians as well as Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians and Philemon are antilegomena. The only Pauline epistles he classified as homologoumena was Romans, 1-2 Corinthians and Galatians.

Without reading his arguments (as if I could even understand his arguments!)I really don't know why he doubts those books are genuinely from Paul.

But what I can say is that even though Baur's theories have been around for about 200 years, we are not teaching or preaching any doubt in the authenticity of Paul's epistles in the churches.

Maybe it is something the theologians study in college.?

Unashamed said...

Yeah, I was going to say the same thing. Both my NT prof (Dr. Grothe) and the author of the textbook that we used ( Franzmann) are thoroughly German and thoroughly Lutheran and neither of them suggested that Paul's authorship of Ephesians was in doubt. I remember discussing that there are some scholars who believe this, but the Lutheran church points to the unanimous tradition of the patristic fathers that it is of Pauline origin.

I concur with the first commenter: For Lutherans, the dichotomy you present between an individualistic understanding of justification and an ecclesial, sacramental understanding of it simply does not exist. For Lutherans, "justification by faith" occurs precisely through the sacraments in the midst of the liturgical life of the Church, and in no other way.

I only wish that Lutherans had the influence on American Evangelical thought that the Catholidoxy blogger seems to think we do!

Kelly said...

I was wondering what you guys would think of that! I thought the Lutheran commenters were doing a good job replying, though.