Apostle Paul by Valentin de Boulogne
Don Howell's "Pauline Thought in the History of Interpretation" in terms of Dogmas, Doctrines, Distinctives, and Details.*
Dogmas. Howell presents the views of several influential scholars over the past century. Unfortunately, many scholarly interpretations of Paul since the Enlightenment era echo the allegorical hermeneutic of old, subjecting sacred works to a philosophy other than the one presented by the literary meaning of the text. Most of them deny the historicity of biblical accounts and the biblical works themselves, therefore denying the apostolic faith taught in Scripture and by the Church throughout history. The first is Baur, who argued that apostolic Christianity was marked by a radical cleavage between the church of Jerusalem and the churches of the Pauline mission by relegating all biblical books that do not reflect this cleavage to the second century (aka, non-canonical). Orthodoxy is thus a result of the Catholic Church ironing out the kinks. Bousset similarly denies the historicity of the bible, claiming that Paul was influenced by the Gnostics instead of it being the other way around (310). Hunter goes so far as to say that Paul “borrowed his gospel from the people among whom he worked” (310). Howell accurately accounts for these syncretistic claims as not accounting for the whole of Pauline thought (Galatians 1:6-11) and as one missionary analyzing another better explains parallels as contextualization since “linguistic analogy does not necessarily mean conceptual identity” (311).
Bultmann continued the theory of Gnostic influence on Paul believing that the origin of Paul's thought was “not in the mystery religions myth of the dying-rising redeemer God, but in an alleged pre-Christian Gnosticism with its myth of a preexistent heavenly Redeemer who descends, conquers, and frees man from the threatening powers of the cosmos” (314). However, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi have “proved an embarrassment to Bultmann's contention that such concepts could have only come from the Hellenistic World” due to their abundant references to ethical dualism and emphasis on gnosis. Thus, Howell rightly asserts that it is more likely that the direction of the influence was just the opposite, with later Gnosticism imitating Christian doctrine by borrowing its Redeemer concept and then transforming it into new Hellenistic categories (315).
Schweitzer did not anachronistically see Gnostic influence, but he also denied the historical Jesus with the claim the Jesus tried to move the hand of God through his death on the cross (318). Yet, he does rightly associate Paul with the primitive church in Jerusalem instead of a later catholicizing.
Davies presents the most historical view of Paul, a Jewish Rabbi who became Christian where “Christ is the new Torah” and the “body of Christ doctrine springs not from Gnosticism or Stoicism but the Old Testament concept of corporate solidarity” (323)
Doctrines. Luther's placement of Justification as central to Pauline theology and Calvin's understanding of Paul as the primary preacher of Justification by grace through faith is essential, but need not be accurately expressed in order for it to remain salvific (307).
Distinctives. Schweitzer does capture the “eschatological character of Pauline theology and the essential unity between Paul and Jesus” (319) even though he harmonizes them in light of his ahistorical Jesus.
Details. Westerholm has a fun “metallurgy” quote elevating Luther's work on Paul, but, despite his sound exegesis of Paul, Luther's works are not essential to understanding the Pauline epistles (307).
*Dogmas are theories directly impacting God's mission to reconcile all people to Himself (orthodoxy & orthopraxy required).
Doctrines indirectly impact God's mission (and are thus vitally important), but people can fail to interact with or understand them accurately (essential to orthodoxy, not orthopraxy).
Distinctives don't affect the orthopraxy of salvation, but will impact the orthopraxy of a church.
Details have little to no effect on orthodoxy or orthopraxy.
Brett Yardley: Warrior for Christ. Devoted Husband. Proud Father. Martial Artist. Hopeful Philosopher & Theologian. Aspiring Teacher & Writer.