Approaches to Paul 01

“But who do you say that I am?” (Mat 16.15)

The question above was posed by Jesus to his disciples, after he asked them who did people say that the Son of Man was. The same question, I believe, could be asked by Paul to us, as well. Or perhaps, more appropriately, it would be the other way around, by us to Paul: “Who are you?” Paul, as it has often been the case, is an enigmatic figure in the history of the church. He invites as much praise as scorn throughout the centuries. Was he the second founder of Christianity? Did he corrupt the teaching of Jesus?

Now I am reading Magnus Zetterholm’s Approaches to Paul: A Student’s Guide to Recent Scholarship. Zetterholm sketched the development of Pauline scholarship during the last two centuries, with the key question on the relationship between Paul and Judaism of his day. Did he break from his ethnic religion? Or, can we actually locate Paul within the orthodox Judaism of his day? Can we say that Paul was a Torah-observant Jew? These questions guide as a backdrop for this book.

Zetterholm’s plan is to sketch distinct groups and developments in the research of Paul: (1) the Tübingen school (F. C. Baur and co.), (2) the traditional (German) Protestant view of Paul (Rudolf Bultmann and friends), (3) the new perspective on Paul (E. P. Sanders, et al.), (4) radical approaches to Paul (e.g., Mark Nanos), (5) the Lutheran Paul (Thielman, Gathercole, Westerholm), and finally (6) multidisciplinary approaches to Paul (feminist, postcolonial, etc.), before he will close with his own proposal on how the research on Paul should go forward.

In the first chapter he also sketched the life and work of Paul as an introduction. Standard (or perhaps not anymore?) academic view was assumed on the authorship of Paul on the Epistles which bear his name: authenticity on Romans, Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, and Philemon, disputed authorship on Colossians and 2 Thessalonians, and post-Pauline composition of Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles.

Personally, I would add another question for the study. It seems to me (well, I have only read the first chapter, so I could be wrong) that the undergirding issue is the inclusion of non-Jews into the fellowship with the Jews in the community of the Messiah. This is the issue of the early church (and Paul) which forced theological developments that we saw in the epistles of Paul. I believe there is another side of coin of this issue, that is, the problem of Jewish rejection to the (one whom Paul believed was the) Messiah. Paul must deal with these two phenomena: (1) the status of non-Jews in the eschatological people of God (e.g., must the non-Jews be circumcised?) and (2) the rejection of the Jews themselves (of course, not all, since the apostles and the church in Jerusalem were Jews) to the proclamation of Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah and Lord, and not only the former. These two phenomenas are of course inter-related, and Paul would have his own say about the solution to the problem. Not all will be convinced by his solution, but at least we need to appreciate that he was dealing with both of the issues and not only the first one.


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