When you write like Paul seems to have done, at one level you think very hard about what you are doing, but at another level it just happens. Large-scale planning may be going on in your head or on scraps of parchment, but at that point there is an easy commerce of the old and the new, of conscious and subconscious. Finally, you glimpse it, you feel it, it emerges from somewhere, you write it (or dictate it), and it’s done. By the time Paul wrote Romans, writing was part of the praxis of his mindset, a symphonist at the top of his game. The letters were part pastoral, part a substitute for his own presence; as theoreticians were already pointing out in his day, that’s what a letter was and did. But they were also writing: quality writing to match the new thing which Paul must be credited with inventing, that specific, odd, craggy yet harmonious thing we call Christian theology, which demands new genres in which rhetoric, poetry, explanation, persuasion, scriptural exposition, warning and devotion rub shoulders and declare themselves members together of a new family. Whether we agree with him or not, his letters deserve their place (to put it with cheerful anachronism) not only in the Church Times or the Christian Century but also in the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Review of Books. They break the several different moulds, from which they emerge, just as did Paul’s theology itself. Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning. If Seneca didn’t read Romans, which he almost certainly didn’t, it is a pity: he would have been puzzled by much of the content, but he would have recognized that this man had something to say and knew how to say it. With style.
Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 453-54.
Today I received a lovely surprise from the fine folks at Mohr Siebeck (my favorite publisher!): Studies in Matthew and Early Christianity. This volume consists of essays from the late Graham Stanton, edited by Markus Bockmuehl and David Lincicum. During his lifetime Dr. Graham was arguably the world’s leading expert on the Gospel of Matthew. I look forward to what this gem will teach me.
An affordable edition of Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers is coming in a matter of days. If you like Greek, then this book is for you and is a must!
Eerdmans has a informative interview with James Dunn on his latest work, The Oral Gospel Tradition.
The reason we study Paul’s theology, I suggest, is that it has had to grow up quickly, to learn its new, complex, leading part within the music. Theology is the lifeblood of the ekklēsia, which is itself the central worldview-symbol. Without it—as any church will discover, to this day, if theology in general and Pauline theology in particular is ignored or marginalized!—the chance of the central worldview-symbol standing upright and supporting the rest of the building will be severely decreased.
Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 404.
I cracked open Bultmann’s famous commentary on John this evening to see what he had to say in regards to John’s Prologue (1.1-18). I was impressed with his eye for detail, his understanding of the literary character of the Prologue, and his desire to get at the meaning of what the evangelist said. We see Bultmann’s Formgeschichte is full effect, evidenced by his exegesis on the text of 1.1-18. But what struck me was a statement he makes after a brief analysis of the structure of the Prologue, conceding that behind the Prologue is a “source document to which the Evangelist has added his own comments” (Bultmann, 16). Bultmann confesses:
It goes without saying that the exegesis must expound the complete text, the critical analysis is the servant of this exposition.
Did you hear that? Although a card-carrying form critic, Bultmann cares about the final form of the text.