Showing posts with label Moral Teaching of Paul. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Moral Teaching of Paul. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The First Paul – a review

 


Authors: Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan

Reviewed by Geoffrey W. Sutton

Reference

Borg, M.J. & Crossan, J.D. (2009). The first Paul: Reclaiming the radical visionary behind the church’s conservative icon. HarperCollins e-books.

 

Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan introduce us to the apostle Paul by providing historical contexts for his life and teachings. Early on they explain why only a small collection of documents were actually written by the apostle who wrote the first “books” in the New Testament.

Scholars affirm seven letters (aka books) were actually written by Paul: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon.

Scholars believe the pastoral epistles were written later by other authors. These are 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Finally, scholars disagree about the authorship of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians; however, according to Borg and Crossan, most believe these were not written by Paul.

The different teachings in the three groups of letters named above challenge readers because they offer different views on such matters as the equality of women and men as well as slavery.

In their brief biography of Paul, the authors remind us that like Jesus, Paul was a lifelong Jew. And we learn about the Roman Imperial religion that offers an important context for Paul’s writing about Jesus as Lord (instead of Caesar) and the special terms used to refer to Caesar and to Jesus. Terms like God, Son of God, and the one who brings peace to the world are applied to Roman Emperors and to Jesus.

The biography also reveals some differences between the Paul presented by the writer of Acts and by Paul in his own letters. Readers of the New Testament know Paul called himself an apostle. Borg and Crossan explore the meaning of apostle by considering who sent Paul and to whom Paul was sent.

Chapter two is particularly useful as it helps readers learn how to read one of Paul’s letters. The focus is on the short letter of Philemon and the topic is Paul’s view of slavery. After reviewing the text, the authors show how Paul’s view in Philemon differs from the views presented by the letters Paul did not write. Next, the authors provide a similar analysis on the subject of the head of the household and equality for women and men.

In chapter three, the authors look at the contents of Acts and Paul’s letters to discover areas of agreement or disagreement. In chapter four, we see how Paul contrasts Roman and early Christian theology. The focus is especially on Rome’s pursuit of peace through violence and Christ’s approach to peace through the nonviolent pursuit of justice.

Why was Christ crucified? That’s the message of chapter five. The authors see the crucifixion, a Roman method of execution, as part of Paul’s anti-imperial stance. Thus, Paul doesn’t just preach Jesus died but emphasizes Christ crucified. The authors also take on the theology of substitutionary atonement and the understanding of Jesus sacrificial death. They suggest understanding Jesus’ sacrifice as being for the sake of those he loved like a parent who might sacrifice their life so their child might live. In this view, “The death of Jesus as God’s Son is a parable of God’s love for us (p, 54).”

Chapter six deals with justification by grace through faith. The authors emphasize Paul’s focus on transformation in this life rather than a focus on the afterlife. And they do not pit faith against works. Instead, they contrast faith-without-works to works-without-faith. And they clarify that faith refers to commitment rather than an affirmation of belief statements as seems common in some branches of Christianity.

The final chapter is about Life Together “In Christ.” The authors note that the phrase “In Christ” appears more than a hundred times and it usually refers to living in community.

Reflections

I recommend The First Paul to readers interested in a scholarly examination of traditional teachings attributed to the apostle Paul. How Christians interpret Paul’s theology has had a significant impact on the lives of billions.

First, there are practical matters that have made a difference in how the church has historically viewed slavery, women, and people who experience same-sex attraction. Those Christian views largely come from the teachings of Paul or texts attributed to Paul. 

Second, there are theological matters. Many in the church have focused on the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection in a different way than do these authors who challenge the doctrine of atonement.

Borg and Crossan do not hesitate to consider areas of disagreement in the relevant texts. This lack of hesitation is a contrast to the resistance found in evangelical circles where clergy often take a fundamentalist approach to the texts as if the letters were dictated by God rather than produced by first century Jewish men like Paul.

One matter the authors did not address is that even letters written by Paul may have a personal bias and be subject to the limitations of human memory. Given other works by these authors, I do not think they would overlook these cognitive factors but they did not explicitly identify them when dealing with historical events such as those in Acts.

I think some evangelical women have missed out on a sound biblical argument favoring the equality of women and men when they do not distinguish between the letters written by Paul and those he probably did not write. There's a difference in Paul's affirmation of equality in those were he wrote compared to those that sound more like a taming of Paul to fit the male hierarchy in the culture.

The First Paul available on AMAZON












Please check out my website   www.suttong.com

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 

 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Moral Teaching of Paul --A Book Review

THE MORAL TEACHING 

OF PAUL

SELECTED ISSUES

3RD EDITION

     BY

VICTOR PAUL FURNISH

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton


The Moral Teaching of Paul is one of the books I cited in A House Divided. This third edition comes some 30 years after the first edition and aims to expand our understanding of the sociocultural context of Paul's Ministry related to contemporary moral issues.

Before discussing the moral topics, Furnish reminds readers in Chapter 1 about Paul's authorship, which at this point appears firm for Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Disputed works include Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy. The disputed works have been variously dated in a range from the 70s to the early second century. The importance of identifying Paul's works is a matter of emphasis thus, Furnish focuses attention on the undisputed texts to understand Paul's moral theology.

Furnish advises readers of the problem with a Sacred Cow view of the biblical texts. Such a view leaves readers bound to Paul's words because they are really the words of God given to all people for all time. Furnish argues that the biblical authors addressed situations in their sociohistorical context. Furnish realizes he must deal with those who quote 2 Timothy 3: 16-17. He makes the point, as others have, that the verse about inspired scripture probably referred to the Jewish texts since there was no New Testament at the time Paul wrote. The other point rests on an understanding of the concept, inspiration. As is commonly known, some view inspiration as the very words of God but others interpret the term in various ways (see Chapter 1 for more details).

Following the groundwork in Chapter 1, Furnish begins to address the moral topics that capture our attention. Chapter 2 deals with Sex, Marriage, and Divorce. There is no surprise to see Paul's view of sex as limited to the marriage relationship. Furnish offers background points about marriage during the Roman period. The purpose of marriage was to establish a household where children could be raised and elderly parents receive care. Approved marriages were important to the transfer of property to future generations. Girls married in the age range of 12 to 15 and men married by age 25. Furnish notes Paul's reason for marriage as "good" to meet sexual needs. Paul avoids the reason others have given of marrying to procreate (Gen 1:28).

Divorce was easy to obtain during Roman times, according to Furnish. Adultery was the usual cause of a divorce. Furnish notes Jesus' restrictive stance on divorce and guides readers into a consideration of other reasons beyond infidelity by considering circumstances as does Paul in some of his reasoning.

Chapter 3 is titled, "Homosexuality?" Furnish makes the point early on that there were no ancient words for homosexuality in the biblical languages. Furnish departs from a discussion of Paul's works to provide context from the Jewish laws about same-sex sex. He then proceeds to a discussion of Jewish and Roman cultures in the first century. For Jews, same-sex sex was unnatural and unlawful. He refers to Greek culture and the presence of same-sex relationships. Some practices by people of the time involving sex with boys were condemned by other writers and Furnish thinks these condemned practices may be what Paul had in mind. He offers quotes from ancient extrabiblical texts to make his point about the condemnation of exploitation. Furnish closes the chapter by addressing current concerns about same-sex unions. He reminds readers of the limits of what the biblical texts say and do not say when it comes to contemporary notions of sexual orientation and relationships.

Ad. See related chapters in A House Divided


________________________

In Chapter 4, Furnish addresses Paul's view of "Women in the Church." As in previous chapters, Furnish provides the sociohistorical context applicable to the texts that appear to limit the role of women in ministry. He includes quotes depicting the inferiority of a woman's human nature e.g., seeing women as easily deceived and having poor reasoning powers. Next, Furnish examines the sometimes confusing array of teachings from Paul's letters. On the one hand, there are texts restricting what women can do but on the other hand, there are texts documenting the important role of women in early church ministries--including Paul's work.

The final chapter (5) addresses the moral challenge of "The Church in the World." We see that Paul expects Christians to live as citizens, which suggests an active role in social life. We also see guidance on how to behave; that is, Paul refers to such virtues as love, gentleness, kindness, and so on. Furnish makes a point that Christians are called to honorable conduct without connecting good works to the conversion of unbelievers to Christianity.

Furnish's analysis of Paul's teachings in the context of Jewish and Roman cultures provides a useful backdrop to consider contemporary interpretations of several hot-button issues that continue to divide contemporary Christians. Thus, Furnish's book remains relevant as Christians sincerely seek to appreciate what the Apostle Paul wrote, the traditions of the church, and how one ought to think about contemporary moral issues. The book will likely not be helpful to those who adhere to an interpretation of Pauline texts that does not permit a nuanced view based on cultural contexts and understanding old words and phrases in the ancient languages of scripture. The Moral Teaching of Paul will likely be useful for those in a variety of Christian ministries and students in Christian colleges and seminaries.

Ad. For a related book on Christian Morality, See Christian Morality on AMAZON and at other booksellers.











Sex and Christianity topics: Women in the church, marriage, adultery, divorce, same-sex acts

Religious perspective: Progressive Christian, moral theology




Connections

My Page    suttong.com

My Books  
 AMAZON     GOOGLE PLAY STORE

FACEBOOK  
 Geoff W. Sutton

TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton

Publications (many free downloads)
     
  Academia   Geoff W Sutton   (PhD)
     
  ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton   (PhD)


References

Furnish, V. P. (2009). The Moral Teaching of Paul: Selected Issues, 3rd Ed. Nashville: Abingdon.

Sutton, G. W. (2016). A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick.