Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God– Part Eighty Seven

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The further one goes in Chapter 14 the clearer is becomes just how trenchant Tom’s critique is of Engeberg=Petersen’s work. The latter puts much stress on Paul’s conversion, but one may ask, conversion from what to what? The problem with seeing it as in some way parallel to what went on with Stoics is nicely highlighted by Tom beginning pp. 1395ff. I agree as well that Stoics themselves did not see a person so radically changed at conversion that they did not need to pursue virtue or make moral progress thereafter. This is not what the writings of Seneca or Cicero or Epictetus suggest, never mind Paul. Tom is right that Paul does not make conversion, not even his own conversion, the main theme of his theologizing. It is rather a starting point. There is this further difference “Paul, for certain, begins with one sort of community, and ended with another. The Stoics began as members of the upper classes….and ended as individualists.” (p. 1397). Engeberg-Petersen is forced to admit that none of the Stoics went so far as to practice Stoicism as a community project. Furthermore, one gets the impression that even to have time to pursue the Stoic life, one needed to be an upper class person, a person with leisure time on one’s hands. This was so not the case of most early Christians, about whom Paul can say in 1 Cor. 1 not many of you are of noble birth etc.

What really sets Tom into a dither is the treatment of resurrection by Engberg-Petersen who seems to suggest that what resurrection means is dying and going to heaven and gaining a celestial state there. Tom has no difficulty is showing this is exactly not what Paul means by resurrection. Tom’s treatment of soma psuchikon and soma pneumatikon (1 Cor. 15) is exactly correct. These terms do not mean a body made out of either soul/psuche or spirit/pneuma. They mean bodies animated by life breath or Spirit. The -ikos Greek ending does not tell us about the composition of the noun, that would require the -inos ending. The former refers to the function of something the latter to the stuff of which something is made. A good example making the point is cited on p. 1401, where Vitruvius refers to a machine animated by the wind as a pneumatikon organon (10.1.1), or Aristotle refers to pnematikos wine, by which he does not mean wine made out of wind, but wine which produces flatulence! (Pr. 955a35). In other words the translation physical body and spiritual body are really bad translations of the Greek of this part of 1 Cor. 15!

On pp. 1402-03 Tom shows how differently Paul uses the term ‘fire’ in regard to the future judgment in contrast to the fiery conflagration Stoics envisioned. On the Stoic model, the fire dwells within creation and will eventually consume it from the inside out, and that this cycle actually will repeat. It’s not a one time deal. Paul by contrast sees the fires of judgment as coming from without, from God, and it does not destroy everything, it purifies and refines some works and consumes others. It has a different goal as well. In Stoicism it is a reboot process, reducing all other elements to fire, whereas in the Pauline view it is brings things to a conclusion, providing final judgment, final salvation.

On p. 1405, Tom somewhat uncharitably suggests that what we have in Engeberg-Petersen’s exposition of Paul is ‘Hamlet without the Prince’. This is of course right in the sense that he ignores most of the Christological remarks of Paul altogether, concentrating on his more ethical or anthropological terms. But how one could ever have thought to have gotten at the heart of Paul’s thought whilst ignoring the core of his theological discourse is a mystery. On a happier note, Tom is prepared to say that Engberg-Petersen’s chapter on Paul and Epictetus is very suggestive (chapter 4 of the Cosmology book from 2010). Tom sums up as follows:

“Paul then did not derive his key ideas from his non-Jewish environment, but nor can his relationship with that environment be labeled simply confrontation. It is far more subtle. He did not…take over his main themes from the world of non-Jewish politics, religion or philosophy but nor did he march through those worlds resolutely looking the other way and regarding them as irrelevant. Nor did he say they were all wrong from top to bottom. When he says that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in the Messiah, he does not mean, as some who believed that all truth was contained in the Bible, that one could throw all other books away.” (p. 1407). This is correct, but Tom would insist that Paul is taking non-Jewish ideas, and integrating them into an essentially Jewish worldview, he is not taking Jewish ideas and trying to transform them into or integrate them into a worldview which looks something like Stoicism, or Epicureanism, or, Cynicism. One needs to put the emphasis on the right syllable, and Tom does so.

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