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The Whole of Paul & the Whole

in His Theology 
Theological Interpretation in Relational Epistemic Process

 

  Paul Study


 

T. Dave Matsuo

 

©2010 TDM All rights reserved

No part of this manuscript may be reprinted without permission from the author

Contact: tdavematsuo@4X12.org

 

 

  Chapter 1

     A Necessary Introduction to Paul

 

Subsections:
 

Critical Underlying Problem to Address
Related Issues in Hermeneutical Impasse, Flow and Outcomes
A Necessary Approach to Paul
Doing Theology
The Basis for Certain Assumptions

Ch.1-Intro
Ch.2
Ch.3
Ch.4
Ch.5
Ch.6
Ch.7
Ch.8
Ch.9
Ch.10
Ch.11
Ch.12

printer friendly pdf version of entire study

Table of Contents

 

Scripture Index

 

Bibliography

 

I discovered Paul on the Damascus road not long ago—that is, not my introduction to the apostle Paul but my discovery of his whole person. Ironically, I suggest that this was where Paul also discovered his whole person. The following study is an outworking of the process which constituted and defined Paul beyond what he could previously have imagined (cf. Eph 3:20).

            Because Paul was firmly situated in Israel and Judaism, among Gentiles and in the church, as well as within the Greco-Roman and Mediterranean world, it is understandable that Pauline scholarship has defined Paul from one or more of these contexts—unfortunately, even while disregarding or at the expense of one or more of these contexts. And since Paul’s identity was certainly shaped or influenced by these contexts, it is reasonable that Pauline studies characterize his identity as multi-faceted or a hybrid identity. Certainly identity formation is neither static nor singular. Yet, I suggest, these contexts and their corresponding identities, though important and necessary, are in themselves (even when taken together) insufficient to wholly define Paul and inadequate to fully understand him.

            James Dunn contends: “Unless the paradox [apostle of Israel or apostate from Israel] is taken fully into account, the heart of Paul’s theology and historical contribution, not to mention Paul himself, will remain an unresolved enigma.”[1] He may unintentionally be describing the unresolved state of current Pauline studies, to which this study hopes not to contribute but to help bring some resolve to what remains an enigma (acknowledged or not) in Paul’s theology and practice, thus about Paul himself.

            The breadth of Paul may be constructed from the convergence of religious, sociocultural and sociopolitical factors. This, however, does not provide the framework necessary to grasp the depth of the Pauline corpus (whether inclusive of disputed letters or not). Breadth could be merely quantitative description but depth must by its nature also involve the qualitative significance of what is described. The depth or the heart of Paul (beyond merely the centrality) can be explored and mined yet not constructed. This process—which is combined with a constructed breadth of Paul, though without its interpretive framework—begins by engaging the deeper context which constituted Paul’s whole person and defined his primary identity. This context went further and deeper than Paul’s origin and background, his ostensible roles and functions, the sum of his situations and circumstances; that is, the significance of this context went beyond the above factors while still interacting with them. Though all of these contexts have some significance for Paul, the distinction between them involves what is primary or just secondary.

            This deeper context for Paul was made explicit to him on the Damascus road. Of course, this was where Paul encountered his “the Lord is one” and thus heard from “the Lord our God,” as the Shema echoed in his mind however faintly (Dt 6:4)[2]—and as confusion gripped him in this confrontation by the God of his rigorous faith and his intense service. In other words, Paul was “face to face” with his now “beyond imagined” triune God. Given Paul’s familiarity with theophanies in the Hebrew Scripture, and his most recent experience with Stephen’s theophany (Acts 7:55-58; 22:20), consider what Paul could have imagined that God wanted with him.

            It was this Christophany which engaged the monotheist Paul further and deeper into the context of his triune God. This was more than an event for Paul’s observation. What Paul experienced went beyond finding himself located in the presence of the whole and holy God to being directly involved in the triune God’s relational context and process embodied by Jesus. This relational experience initially constituted Paul’s journey to wholeness. His subsequent ongoing involvement in God’s relational context and process established the qualitative depth of his perceptual-interpretive framework and lens for the whole of his life, practice, thought and theology. This is the wholeness that had eluded Paul until his direct encounter with the whole of God. And God’s relational whole only on God’s relational terms signified what the triune God wanted with Paul on that Damascus road and thus ongoingly constituted all that further emerged.

            Therefore, I suggest that the qualitative lens from this same perceptual-interpretive framework is also necessary to understand the depth/heart of Paul’s person and the Pauline corpus in their full significance. This study seeks to illuminate their relational significance to the triune God and their functional significance for God’s people, both in the past and for the present, whether in the academy located on the fragments of the Damascus road or in churches on the wandering road to Emmaus.

 

 

Critical Underlying Problem to Address
 

            The whole of God, which had eluded Paul prior to the Damascus road, will remain elusive in Pauline studies as long as a pervasive condition is not addressed. Until the eschaton God’s whole ongoingly has positioned against it the workings of reductionism. The significance of reductionism is contingent on the presence of God’s relational whole because reductionism’s only function is to interpret, understand and effectively redefine the whole by its mere parts, thus fragmenting the whole—essentially parts which are apart from the whole.

Reductionism most notably redefines the human person by utilizing only a quantitative perceptual-interpretive framework for a level of knowledge and understanding of the person merely from the outer in; namely, the person is defined quantitatively by what one does or has without any accounting of the whole person from the inner out signified by the qualitative function of the heart. Neuroscience today illustrates this reductionism in its limited knowledge and understanding of the human person gained by observations interpreted from brain activity.[3] Yet persons of faith throughout history, both in the church and in the theological academy notably since the Enlightenment, have also labored under the influence of reductionism in their interpretation, understanding and identity of the whole person, not to mention of God; this reductionism includes redefining the relationships together necessary to be whole, God's relational whole on God’s relational terms. The latter reduction is a relational consequence directly from the counter-relational nature of the workings of reductionism.

            This points to the underlying problem that has made interpreting, understanding or defining Paul difficult; it also points to what was underlying Paul’s existing condition upon entering the Damascus road. Consequently, this nuanced discussion is necessarily important to any study of Paul and must be included in this study.

            In my opinion the most urgent, if not most important, issue in engaging Pauline study starts with the human person (including both Paul and all his listener-readers) and theological anthropology. Our assumptions on this matter form the basic lens to determine what we pay attention to as well as what we ignore. Generally speaking, conventional Pauline scholarship is justly characterized as quantitative study. We need to recognize that the prevailing interpretive lens of such quantitative engagement can only provide a partial perception of Paul at best and a distorted or misleading view of Paul at worst. This lens is illustrated by a recent “Mutts” comic strip: Mooch, a main character acting like a sage, is asked “Oh, all-knowing Shphinx, which is farther, Hoboken or the sun?”, to which he responded “Hoboken. I can see the sun from here”, as he sits on the beach during a summer afternoon.[4]

            Moreover, such a quantitative framework has deeper implications which involve human ontology and the human condition—namely, an ontology created in the image and likeness of the triune God, and the condition relationally responded to by the whole of God. Ontology is generally considered a philosophical notion. Yet I am referring to the qualitative whole constitution of the human person(s) that in theological significance, not philosophical, is embodied to function relationally, the ontology of which has been subject to human shaping. A quantitative framework imposes an outer-in ontology of the person in contrast to an inner-out ontology involved in a qualitative framework. These deeper implications apply not only to the subject matter of study but also to those who engage such a course of study. In this sense, it can be suggested that there is a “provincial nature” to Pauline studies (as well as NT studies), the extent of which still embeds scholarship in a critical status quo analogous to what a Pauline axiom describes as “always learning [e.g., volumes of studies] but never able to come to specific knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 3:7).

            Awareness of problems caused by a quantitative framework is growing in NT studies. In Markus Bockmuehl’s critical assessment of the current state of his field, NT studies, he states:

This extraordinary degree of isolation and fragmentation pertains not merely in matters of method, but in virtually every aspect of the discipline. By any standard it is now impossible to keep up with the sheer quantity of publications, increased exponentially by two and a half decades of word-processing technology.

He goes on to comment that anyone seeking to engage in “a mainstream topic of NT scholarship is thus soon trapped” in this library of information from human construction.[5]

            Any course of study of Paul, and thus Scripture, must by its nature involve a two-fold epistemological focus with a compatible hermeneutic: one, a focus on Paul, and, two, a focus on God, with the focus on Paul as only a means to further focus on God—that is, as an epistemic means to know God more deeply. Thus, a focused study of Paul should never become an end in itself; otherwise we enter into reductionism by functionally (not necessarily theologically) redefining the ontology of the person of both the subject matter and those engaging in such study. When the focus of knowing God more deeply is the primary purpose for engaging a focused study of Paul, then necessarily this interrelated process must not be disconnected or else the subject matter becomes mere quantitative information—fragmented information with no relational significance to God and without functional significance for God’s people.

            The necessary shift away from only a quantitative framework must include a framework which is both qualitative and relational. This does not involve movement into subjectivism, for example, involving only a subjective hermeneutic pointing to mysticism or a form of Gnosticism—as Paul has been perceived to utilize by some—or even fideism. Such subjectivity includes a mere reader-oriented approach ‘in front of the text’, by which the reader defines meaning and determines understanding. In the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries, Friedrich Schleiermacher attempted a shift toward a qualitative-relational framework by reopening the relational door to the Other. However, he tended to shift too far toward subjectivity by giving more determination to the human consciousness of subject-reader in his “art of understanding”.[6] Certainly a subjective hermeneutic must be adequately accounted for and given balance. Yet, the reality and fact of persons (notably Paul and God) involved in relationships still require more than a quantitative framework and rationalist hermeneutic. Contemporary readers as persons themselves need to go beyond functioning as observers of information in order to engage also the qualitative context and relational process irreducibly essential for deeper and more complete understanding.

            This two-fold epistemological focus on Paul and on God thus necessitates both a chastened quantitative approach and a vulnerable qualitative engagement in an integrated perceptual-interpretive framework for a compatible hermeneutic. This is what Paul identified as qualitative wholeness of mind, a whole phronema[7] (see Rom 8:6; 12:2). This whole phronema provides the necessary qualitative lens and mindset, phroneo (Rom 8:5), for inner-out ontology in order to integrate parts into the whole for understanding, a process rendered by the term synesis (Col 2:2)—that is, whole understanding of God, God’s relational response to the human condition, and thus the gospel (Eph 3:4-6). The process of synesis is not the coherence of mere information but is understanding the coherence of the relational dynamics of all Scripture and the whole of Paul’s life and practice; therefore synesis conjoins Paul’s gospel to the human relational condition enslaved in reduced human ontology and function.

            This process of study for synesis of both Paul and God is therefore a relational epistemic process—a process which can neither be reduced to only the quantitative, nor function with assumptions of human ontology from outer in. Jens Zimmermann concludes also from his examination of our hermeneutical heritage: 

Knowledge in general and knowledge of God in particular are existential and relational. Knowledge, in other words, is not defined according to a modern scientific model of detached, neutral observation, but knowing requires that the knower be involved with the thing known.[8]

            A qualitative phroneo from a whole phronema by nature has to involve a relational epistemic process because synesis is not a human construction. God makes possible this whole understanding (cf. synesis in 2 Tim 2:7) as an outcome of revelation, namely self-disclosure, which God reveals not in a vacuum, nor posts on the bulletin board of humanity, but only in the context and  process of relationship (cf. Lk 10:21). Therefore this whole understanding is only a relational outcome, which makes synesis a function only of relationship, not human effort. This is what Paul experienced as the basis for what is definitive in his letters, which thus is analogous to Moses’ experience with God (see Num 12:6-8).

            This relational outcome from synesis points to the further and deeper epistemology which, notably, engages the experiential truth and whole of the gospel. This is the gospel distinguished from the reductionism of “a different gospel” (Gal 1:6). In our study we need to examine this gospel in which both Paul and his triune God are relationally involved together, and thus functionally make definitive for synesis, in order for us (as readers and as church) also to be relationally involved in relationship together, whether as persons in biblical study or as the whole of God’s covenant family.

            It is problematic, therefore, to study Paul solely in his human contexts (either from his past or in his present) since those do not constitute his primary identity, and thus are not what defined him and determined his whole life and practice from inner out. A focused study of Paul cannot be separated from the interrelated relational process with God. To grasp the primacy of who Paul was we need to look further and deeper to his direct relational involvement with his triune God emerging from the Damascus road. While all his other contexts and involvements are not unimportant, they remain secondary. To examine Paul apart from the whole of God’s relational context and process is to uproot Paul and detach him from the qualitative relational significance of what and who defined Paul, and what and who determined his practice, thought and theology. Such disconnection renders Paul to reductionism and to a partial, fragmented or distorted view of his whole person, thus diminishing his gospel and minimalizing his triune God. It would be analogous to our cartoon character Mooch dispensing knowledge based only on what he could see from the position of where he was—the logic or methodology of which only confused his inquirer.

            Given the relational nature of this epistemic process for knowing both Paul and God, there are further issues of reductionism which need to be addressed. Our implied ontology of the person indicated in how we functionally define the person also directly influences and determines how we perceive and engage relationships. For example, a quantitative ontology based on outer in engages relationship from outer in, signified primarily by quantity of activities, time and space occupied together, or resources possessed together, all without the significance of deeper relational connection. In contrast, a qualitative ontology based on inner out is involved in relationship from inner out, signified by the primacy of intimate relational connection, with all else not necessarily unimportant nevertheless secondary to this qualitative involvement. In other words, qualitative involvement in relationships is not mere measured engagement but by its nature necessitates vulnerable involvement. In the above interrelated dynamic, we can expect our working ontology (knowingly or unknowingly) to determine how we function in relationships (intentionally or unintentionally). And this also speaks to how we will engage the relational epistemic process; without vulnerable qualitative engagement we are left to an unchastened quantitative approach.

            How we come to know Paul, specifically in his letters, will be a function of engaging the relational epistemic process. Yet this is only half of the epistemological focus; the other half of course is God. The two are interrelated but the focus on Paul is not always compatible with the focus on God. Considerable knowledge has developed about Paul which is perhaps better characterized by the limits of human construction, and which has little if any significance to God. Knowledge of God (not mere information about God), on the other hand, cannot be similarly reduced and limited to human construction. To engage the relational epistemic process to know God in Scripture is contingent on God’s self-revelation, that is, on God’s communicative action in self-disclosure within God’s relational context and process—as witnessed on the Damascus road. Our response as readers in study or as church requires not only vulnerable involvement to complete the communication connection but also necessarily involves ongoing epistemic humility. Epistemic humility is indispensible to signify that knowing the whole of God is contingent on the relational initiative of God’s grace—and that any other constructed information about God is mere ontological simulation and epistemological illusion from reductionism (cf. Paul’s polemic, 1 Cor 4:6-7; 14:36).

This points to the functional significance of Paul’s epistemological experience on the Damascus road that relationally rendered him in epistemic humility, and thus initiated the relational epistemic process constituting his letters as the text of Scripture, the revealed Word from God (cf. Paul’s relational responsibility, Col 1:25). And this further points to contingency in the relational epistemic process not on mere Christophany(-ies) but on the whole incarnation of the Word, moreover on the presence and involvement of the whole of God (notably the Spirit), and therefore on the whole of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition.

 

 

Related Issues in Hermeneutical Impasse, Flow and Outcomes
 

            Essentially for us, if Hoboken (which is in New Jersey, USA) is indeed farther away than the sun, as Mooch determined, then we not only have a problem involving reductionism of human ontology, and thus of engaging relationships, but also an issue involving hermeneutics of what we see or read in a text. What we perceive or pay attention to is one issue; how we interpret what we perceive is a further issue. No one can question the clarity of Mooch’s vision to see the sun, but his not paying attention to distance or his lack of depth perception raises the issue of the reliability of his lens. Furthermore, his interpretation of the sun being closer because that’s all he could see raises concern about the validity of his hermeneutic. Mooch concluded about the sun's nearness without positioning it into full context; and he failed to consider Hoboken in the context of the whole, which he could not see either from his quantitative position or by his interpretive lens. Thus Mooch’s conclusion was based on the limited information and partial knowledge from his reductionist process, which yielded distorted understanding—not to mention reconstructing the cosmos. Yet, this is the common outcome from any of our perceptions not seen (or read) in the context of the whole, notably for Pauline studies as well as in the sphere of biblical and theological studies.

            In his concern for contemporary NT studies, Markus Bockmuehl makes a plea for returning to its own object of study, the text of Scripture, yet to read the text in a further and deeper way.[9] This points to a qualitative hermeneutic having relational significance to God. In recent years, Kevin Vanhoozer, among others, has been advocating theological interpretation for more coherent understanding from the convergence of biblical and theological studies. He defines such reading of Scripture simply as coming to hear God’s Word and to know God better.[10] This process is rightly simple, yet to engage this process as relational is not the requisite involvement readily pursued, nor can that involvement be pursued readily. Such pursuit easily becomes misguided, particularly when assuming a reductionist ontology of the person. Nevertheless, these concerns are much-needed qualitative shifts for deeper understanding, which is further signified by the concern for wisdom in hermeneutics.

            In a common concern by a group of biblical scholars and theologians for wisdom in the interpretation of Scripture, David Ford and Graham Stanton share their working view:

More widely, wisdom is about trying to integrate knowledge, understanding, critical questioning and good judgment with a view to the flourishing of human life and the whole of creation. Theological wisdom attempts all that before God, alert to God, and in line with the purpose of God.[11]

Kevin Vanhoozer takes us even further by defining wisdom as an understanding of the whole. He says contemporary epistemology needs to recover two notions that have been neglected: (1) understanding (a grasp of meaning) and (2) wisdom (an understanding of the whole).[12]

            Daniel Hardy points also to the primacy of the Scripture for a ‘density of meaning’ in which the texts open a new depth of meaning beyond other focuses in biblical interpretation. This density of meaning for Hardy conveys more than simply a quantitative ‘extensity of meanings’ found in the Scripture but suggests a qualitative ‘intensity of meaning’ in which “both God and humanity are joined, both heaven and history, not simply by way of assertions about them, but as dynamically interwoven and mutually operative.”[13] For the intensity of meaning, Hardy recognizes the need for the academy to be freed from the constraints of a merely quantitative interpretive framework, as well as from the reductionism of both the text and in practices/projects which distract from the text.

            Yet, the qualitative significance of understanding wisdom in Scripture needs to be distinctly addressed in the integrated relational context and epistemic process, which can only be engaged with epistemic humility. This is why Jesus jumped with joy when the Father’s self-revelation made relational connection with vulnerably engaged “children,” not with the detached or measured engagement of “the wise and intelligent” (Lk 10:21). We today are challenged by this same process. That is, Jesus points to the necessity of the “hermeneutic of a child” who is vulnerably engaged essentially in a relational epistemic process. This hermeneutic certainly does not eliminate reason but puts rational interpretation into its rightful whole created context of relationship; thus in doing so, it does not disembody the text (the revelation of the Other) from its subject matter (the communicator as Subject in relationship). Just as a child vulnerably engages this relational context by the relational process of trust (not to be confused with fideism), this relational involvement with epistemic humility opens up outcomes of learning, understanding and experiencing whom/what we can know, count on, and be defined and determined by—as well as provides ongoing feedback of the significance of these aspects.

            Rational interpretation alone tends to disembody the object of the text from its relational context and process, ironically, for example, by a quantitative framework embedded only in history—which is analogous to our friend Mooch’s "objectivity" that was unable to see the whole. This reduces the ontology of the object of the text in effect by fragmenting the whole object into component parts without understanding the object-Other as communicator-Subject self-disclosed for relationship together. However, engaging the Object of the text also as Subject is a function only of relationship, the relational involvement of which is irreducible and essential in order to grasp meaning and the whole. The fragmentation by rationalistic thinking signifies the human shaping or construction of the text, knowledge of God and understanding the whole, by efforts essentially of self-autonomy, self-determination and even self-justification. This is the hermeneutic of “the wise and intelligent” exposed by Jesus, which still challenges us today. Paul also addressed this reductionist function in wisdom and its perceptual-interpretive framework when he echoed Psalm 94:11 to counter reductionism in the early church (1 Cor 3:20) and its relational consequence (1 Cor 4:6; 8:1; 14:36).

            This critique does not extend the existing issue between reason and faith but deepens the issue in order to address the underlying problem for both faith and reason. Nor is this an attempt to traverse Lessing’s “ugly, broad ditch” (the gap between reason and faith)[14] but to deepen the ditch by defining faith only as the relational involvement of trust—just as Jesus did above—and thus also to redefine the gap with God indeed existing even for many professing mere faith.

            This points to the limits, if not impasse, in the hermeneutical process which prevent further flow to deeper outcomes beyond merely what we know, to more significantly whom we know. Understanding and wisdom involve more than acquiring knowledge (even as so-called truth and moral imperatives) and must involve a deeper epistemology to have a grasp of the meaning of God’s self-revelation, and thus an understanding of the whole, the whole of God and God’s created whole.

Our understanding can be provisional and subject to further clarification or correction in the hermeneutical process. This occurs as the whole is illuminated, which our cartoon friend Mooch ignored, avoided or simply precluded by his logic in modernist assumptions and his limited observation of the sun. Emerging with postmodernism is a deconstructionist hermeneutic in which meaning is elusive yet pursued in an ongoing exercise of inclusivity and likely futility. These hermeneutical dynamics are signified by the notion of a ‘hermeneutical circle’: back and forth, or round and round in what can easily become a vicious circle. Engagement, however, in the relational epistemic process involves the hermeneutical dynamics more accurately defined not as a circle but as a ‘hermeneutical spiral’, or what James Dunn correctly describes as a ‘three-dimensional cone’.[15] In a ‘hermeneutical cone’, successive interactions, even if they appear to be repetitious, between reader and text, Paul and God in a nonlinear-reflexive dynamic have an outcome of further and deeper understanding of the integrated functional and relational significance (defining meaning) of the person (both human and divine, Paul and God) and persons in relationships together both in community and communion constituting God’s whole. Moreover, this hermeneutical cone will be invaluable for seeing the development of Paul’s theology through his letters.

            Each successive step in the process of this two-fold epistemological focus with a compatible hermeneutic brings forth the further outcome of deeper involvement in the relational convergence of God’s whole only on God’s terms. And while our understanding and grasp of meaning may still be somewhat provisional in this relational epistemic process, each outcome is more conclusive for both our further understanding of the whole and, more importantly, also our deeper experience of being whole. These outcomes are more definitive in the relational epistemic process, because they involve the whole ontology of our person from inner out engaged in the relational context necessary to constitute both epistemic and relational outcomes from the experiential reality of God’s whole—the definitive whole vulnerably disclosed by God in his relational process. For Paul, this comprehensive reality was the experiential truth and whole of the gospel.

            The experiential truth of the gospel was what deeply affected Paul on the Damascus road, that is to say, the gospel of ‘the embodied Truth for relationship’. The Truth cannot be reduced to mere propositional truth claims, for such reductionism would essentially disembody the Word made flesh, and thus render the gospel devoid of its integrated functional and relational significance of the whole of God. Again, this Truth was vulnerably disclosed in order to constitute the whole of God’s thematic relational response to make whole the human condition in relationship together. Such reductionism then is not the gospel Paul encountered on the Damascus road. Paul experienced only the embodied Truth for relationship together because the Truth is only for relationship, nothing less and no substitutes. This relational outcome was the experiential truth of the whole gospel through which Paul’s hermeneutical process flowed to understand the whole as God’s relational whole only on God’s relational terms.

            Therefore, even for Paul, experiential truth must involve a relational epistemic process where truth is beyond oneself/ourselves as “subject” and is definitively found in the Other as “object” (notably in quantitative history); yet, and this is critical, this Object is also distinctly known (specifically, qualitatively experienced) as Subject in relationship together. This conjoined Object-Subject is nothing less than the embodied experiential Truth, who as Object authored the propositional content of the gospel, and who, most importantly, as Subject constitutes the inseparable functional and relational significance of the gospel—with nothing less, even for Paul’s so-called gospel. This is the Truth of the gospel for whom Paul definitively witnessed that will unfold in this study of Paul’s life, practice, thought and theology.

            Reflecting on the flow and outcome of this hermeneutical process helps us to further formulate a working view of wisdom, which we can experience with Paul during the course of this study:

Wisdom signifies the relationally reciprocal means both to know the whole, that is, of God’s intimate desires as disclosed to us, as well as to act on these desires only in the relational response desirable to God; wisdom ongoingly involves the relational means to both, for which it is accountable. Therefore, wisdom is not an end in itself which we can claim as an attribute in our possession; nor is wisdom a source of knowledge and behavior which, in effect, become self-determining or self-promoting, regardless of ethical and moral value. Rather, wisdom is a function in relational significance which witnesses to and highlights the whole of God, who initiates vulnerably disclosing himself relationally with us as the source of all wisdom constituting our wisdom by reciprocal relationship. Thus by its relational nature, unmistakable wisdom functions only with epistemic humility to illuminate the whole of God.

Any significant accounting of wisdom in the interpretation of Scripture must involve this function.

            The function of wisdom to help us understand the whole leads us to the question: What is this whole, God’s whole? First, we cannot think or describe in quantitative static terms that which is qualitatively dynamic, though not the same as being ‘in process’. In the whole’s functional significance, being whole or wholeness is understood as involving necessarily the following:

Being whole, wholeness, constitutes the ongoing life and function of the whole of God (the Trinity), who created human life and function with the ontology of the person in the qualitative image of God, and thus the person was created whole signified by the qualitative function of the heart; this function of the person is integrated inseparably to the created design and purpose for relationships and the relational involvement necessary together to be whole in likeness of the relational ontology of the Trinity—nothing less and no substitutes (cf. Gen 1:27; 2:18; Col 3:10-11). Therefore, the individual person alone is never sufficient to complete being whole; to be whole by its created nature in the image and likeness of the whole of God involves also the relationships together necessary to be whole, God’s relational whole. This also is signified by how each person in the Trinity is understood. No trinitarian person alone is the whole of God. That is, each trinitarian person is wholly God but is not complete in being the whole of God apart from the other trinitarian persons; necessarily by its nature only the three trinitarian persons together constitute the relational ontology of the Trinity—in whose likeness human persons have been created and thus must function by its nature to be whole, God’s relational whole.

Anything less and any substitutes are reductions of the whole, thus can never reflect, experience or represent wholeness; at best they are only the ontological simulations and epistemological illusions from reductionism and its counter-relational work. In Paul’s journey to wholeness, he did not become a trinitarian in the later theological tradition. Yet, Paul fully grasped the whole of God, and all reference to the Trinity in this study is rendered by ‘the whole of God’.

            This is the promissory witness of Scripture and the whole of God’s thematic relational response to make whole the human condition since the primordial garden—that is, for all who receive and respond back. To constitute Abraham in covenant relationship together, God defined for him the following terms for relationship: “Walk before me and be blameless” (Gen 17:1). “Blameless” (tamiym) denotes to be complete, whole; that is, tamiym is not about mere moral and ethical purity but it involves the ontology of being whole. It is on the basis of this integrated functional and relational significance that those whose life and practice are tamiym are blessed along with Abraham (cf. Ps 119:1). Paul did not receive this blessing on the Damascus road for his rigorous faith as a Pharisee and intense service persecuting the church. On the contrary, tamiym signifies the epistemological clarification and hermeneutical correction he experienced instead. It is this definitive whole that redefined Paul’s person from inner out and newly determined his life, practice, thought and theology.

            Therefore what emerged from Paul’s confrontation by the Light—unlike the misleading glare from Mooch’s sun—was indeed the relational outcome of the definitive blessing by the whole of God who “made his face shine upon you and was gracious to you…turned his face toward you and gave you shalom [wholeness]” (Num 6:24-26).

 

 

A Necessary Approach to Paul
 

            As a Jew Paul knew the significance of having Yhwh “put my name on the Israelites and I will bless them” (Num 6:27). While rooted in ancient Israel and likely embedded in Second Temple Judaism from the exile, however, Paul had yet to grasp the relational significance of “give you peace.” Since the Jewish people were collectively redeemed earlier from slavery and later from exile, and presently constrained by Greco-Roman dominance, Paul’s likely perception of peace focused on the reductionist function of Israel more as nation-state rather than in the integrated functional and relational significance of covenant relationship together. Yet the latter is the only significance to the definitive blessing by the whole of God to “give peace” to those who bear his name. The term for “give” (siym) has various shades of meaning signifying to bring change and establish a new relationship together. That is, the blessing from God will bring redemptive change and establish a new relationship together in wholeness, just as God covenanted with Abraham.

            As we talk about Paul emerging from the Damascus road, we are discussing a person who still remained a Jew and also became a follower of Christ. This suggests either a primary identity of Jew or follower of Christ, or a hybrid identity; yet either identity still defines Paul only by human contextualization. In Pauline studies this has involved comparing or contrasting Judaism and early Christianity as religious frameworks. These approaches have not been sufficient to fully understand Paul, no matter how nuanced or “fresh” the study. We need to go deeper to both see and understand Paul’s whole person. The defining issue underlying Paul’s life and practice—whether as a Jew in Judaism or even as a follower of Christ in Christianity—that he “discovered” and experienced on the Damascus road and subsequently grasped in  relational progression, was the vital issue of reductionism versus God’s whole. This issue engages the functional dynamics of reductionism as sin, signifying the workings of the human relational condition to be apart from God’s whole. In spite of his rigorous faith and intense service, this is the condition in which Paul was not merely contextually embedded but functionally enslaved, and thus in need of redemption and reconciliation to God’s whole. I will contend that reductionism as sin and sin as reductionism became the heart of Paul’s polemic and the substance of his fight for the truth (read whole) of the gospel—God’s relational whole on God’s relational terms. This of course was the journey first of his own experience, and then his ongoing practice in ministry and forming theology.

            Paul's vital issue of reductionism versus God's whole is not clearly perceived by examining only his human contexts, whether religious or sociocultural. Fragments of it are certainly present there, yet an interpretive lens that limits Paul to human contextualization is unable to piece together the various parts of Paul necessary for the understanding of the whole to go beyond reductionism—the workings of which notably influenced or shaped his human contexts, including the early church.

            This issue only emerges clearly and becomes conclusive in the whole of God’s relational context and process, in which Paul became engaged and by whom he was ongoingly constituted. Thus, to examine Paul apart from God’s relational context and process is to decontextualize him not only from the defining issue underlying his past life and practice, but also from the primary identity presently defining what and who his person is, as well as from who and what determined the whole of his practice, thought and theology. Such decontextualization leaves us with a fragmented Paul, the fragments of which are insufficient to understand the whole of Paul. The outcome is a Paul who will remain beyond our relational and theological grasp.

            I suggest that the approaches (past and present) to Paul themselves have generated many of the Pauline issues (most notably the doctrine of justification) in contemporary studies (including the so-called new Paul perspective), and were not functional issues for Paul himself. Related to this, Markus Bockmuehl observes in the nineteenth and twentieth-centuries NT scholar’s archeological approach and assumption:

The earlier the sources, the closer we get to the truth; the later the sources, the more corrupted they have become by pious accretions and ecclesiastical impositions of conformity. But it also soon became clear that the more we deconstruct our sources, the taller our speculations become—and the more we end up unself-critically talking to ourselves about ourselves.[16]

Likewise, the more Paul has been fragmented, the further the speculation about him has developed. More than a few Pauline issues would have no significance today if the approach of modern readers perceived Paul in his involvement in God’s relational context and process and not merely in his human contexts.

            The issues of anything less and any substitutes of Paul's primary context were not functional issues for Paul, since they were not the source of defining and determining who he was and whose he was. In approaching Paul we can neither fully understand particular aspects nor find a unity in his thought and theology until we grasp where Paul is coming from—that is, what defined and determined his life and practice. The significant nature and function of who Paul was and whose he was were conjointly qualitative and relational involvement.

            This of course points to the qualitative assumptions I have in my own perceptual-interpretive framework. Moreover, I suggest that this qualitative lens leads to the necessary understanding that does not stop at the whole of Paul and his relational witness, but, even more significantly, leads to understanding of the whole of Jesus and of God in both self-disclosure and relational response to us, and thus of the whole of Scripture. The fact and reality of persons in relationships require a hermeneutic for contemporary readers to go beyond the function as mere observers of information in order to engage the qualitative relational context and process necessary for deeper meaning and more complete understanding. This study takes this approach as the necessary basis to support the following outcomes.

            The ongoing dynamic interaction of these two contexts (divine and human) is critical to our perception and understanding of reductionism. We need to realize that the context of the whole is necessary to expose the presence of reductionism and to understand its functional dynamics, most significantly in its counter-relational work. Paul was not only engaged by God’s relational context on the Damascus road of human contextualization but he also reciprocally engaged God’s relational context by his own vulnerable involvement in God’s relational process. His relational involvement with the whole of God was made functional even from within his human contexts by what can be defined as the process of reciprocating contextualization:

the ongoing relational involvement with God in the trinitarian relational context on God’s terms for relationship together, by which engagement in human contexts is determined by God in order to be God’s whole, live whole together, and thus to make whole in the world.[17]

Without the primacy of God’s relational context for reciprocal contextualization, we are left with only the influence and shaping from human contextualization, which in itself has been influenced and shaped by reductionism. It is an insurmountable challenge to recognize the source of this influence and shaping unless we have God’s whole (from top-down self-disclosure) for reference in the process of reciprocating contextualization. Reductionism in effect reverses this process from the bottom-up by giving primacy to human contextualization both to define and determine human ontology from outer in, as well as to construct knowledge of God in order to effectively counter God’s whole.

            This process of reciprocating contextualization functionally determined Paul’s person, practice, thought and theology. Thus ‘the historical Paul’ seen within human contextualization in the canonical texts is also ‘the relational Paul’ in God’s relational context and process constituting God’s revealed Word, which further made definitive God’s whole to him to additionally constitute the significance of ‘the theological Paul’. The historical Paul, relational Paul and theological Paul converge in the text of God’s Word by reciprocating contextualization to define and determine the whole of Paul’s person, practice, thought and theology.

            This, I suggest, is how Paul needs to be approached in order to grasp him. Modern readers cannot directly engage the historical Paul seen within past human contextualization, as if to be transported back into the past as direct participants. Yet, we can engage the relational Paul and theological Paul who converge with the historical Paul. This process of engagement requires our qualitative involvement from a non-reductionist lens to become essentially indirect participant readers—readers who do not construct, deconstruct, reconstruct or otherwise shape the text on one's own terms, which includes one's unchastened imagination (cf. Paul's lens in Eph 3:20). The latter human activities are precluded for indirect participant readers, because the text involves persons beyond mere objects of study who are subjects with their own integrity functioning in an identity only they have defined and determined, thus which are not reducible or negotiable to readers' terms and shaping. This not only redeems such readers of the responsibility to speak for the text, namely Paul, Jesus and God; of equal importance, it also reconciles all readers to the vulnerability necessary first to listen to the text for the whole of Paul, Jesus and God speaking for themselves, and then to further participate with our relational response. Our relational response to the past with Paul is as indirect participants but our relational response to the present with God can only be as direct participants. The relational response of these readers is not virtual (as faith often becomes) but the vulnerable relational involvement of their whole persons.

            Therefore, this engagement of Paul does not occur by reading the canonical texts as mere object for study but only by relational involvement in the text as God’s communicated Word constituted by God’s relational context and process (as noted earlier in Lk 10:21). The texts themselves are the same text of Scripture—quantitatively and qualitatively—but are only approached with different processes of engagement. Unlike Karl Barth’s qualitative yet ambiguous engagement,[18] however, the above process of engagement with God’s Word is distinguished by the relational involvement of reciprocal contextualization. Our relational involvement in the same text—in which the historical, relational, and theological Paul converge—is our connection with the whole of Paul, who was also relationally involved with the same God’s revealed Word to him (communicated Word to us), which was constituted in the same relational context and process of God. The same text and same relational context and process signify our mutual participation in which we not only further know Paul but more deeply know the whole of God. This relational outcome is the intensity of meaning (noted earlier) experienced with the whole of Paul—the relational outcome which his whole person intensified throughout his letters, and which this study hopes to make clear.

            The above convergence for the theological Paul in Scripture to constitute the significance of his theology, moreover, points to the interdependence between theology and Scripture. This interdependent relationship has been separated, treated as distant or casual in significance, and its function between biblical and theological studies essentially absent. Markus Bockmuehl further observes today: “Much theological and biblical scholarship does not now pay even lip service to the once universal conviction that Christian theology is at its heart an exegetical discipline. …For its [early church] theologians, the study of Scripture was both source and destiny of their reason and wisdom.”[19]

            If we are to understand both Paul and Paul’s theology, then our biblical study and theological task must also converge in the text-as-God’s-Word for understanding of the whole. Just as Paul implicitly understood the necessity of the irreducible relationship between his interpretation of God’s revelation to him and his theology—the former being the basis constituting the significance of the latter—this is how we also need to approach Paul and indeed participate with him in the relational epistemic process to understand God’s whole. This inseparable relationship points to the need for theological interpretation which is both qualitative and relational; this is necessary in order to be compatible for the relational epistemic process—a necessary approach to Paul in this study.

 

 

Doing Theology
 

            The previous discussion raises some issues about the conventional task of doing theology. In my opinion I do not think that Paul intentionally engaged in doing theology, much less imagined himself as a theologian. Paul was otherwise engaged in reciprocating contextualization between his involvement in God’s relational context and process constituting God’s vulnerable relational action, and his involvement in the human condition of human contextualization. Paul’s ongoing involvement in the latter was always to make definitive, on the basis of his involvement in the former, God’s relational response to make whole the human relational condition. This constituted, for example, his involvement with those to whom his letters were addressed. This making-definitive purpose necessarily included a form of theological discourse, yet in effect Paul was too involved mutually with God’s life and human life to consider a separate task of doing theology. In this sense, Paul was involved in the dynamic relational process of living theology rather than in the static activity of merely “doing” theology.

            Doing theology presents issues and can be more questionable than meaningful. In addition to the issues already noted earlier, we can further learn from Paul about theological engagement and process. As we will gain from Paul, engaging theology must not be done in isolation or in a “spiritual vacuum”, even as one is reflecting. We should not be misled by such a perception of Paul, notably when he went off to Arabia following his Damascus road experience without consulting the other apostles (Gal 1:16-17). Such isolated or private theology likely becomes one’s personal theology (which some have interpreted about Paul and his gospel), or more of a sense of theology on “my terms,” perhaps even better described as “egology” not “theology.” The implication of Peter’s contrary behavior with Jesus points to such a theology formulated on his own terms (see Mt 16:21-22, Jn 13:6-8)—even after confessing a fundamental truth-claim of faith revealed to him by the Father (Mt 16:15-17). These efforts justify a postmodern hermeneutic of suspicion and deconstruction.

            Likewise, engaging theology only in human contextualization, even as one is in conversation with the Word as Peter was, becomes theological discourse determined by human shaping (individual and/or collective). This also is theology on my/our terms, not God’s terms, thus has more the sense of anthropological theology or sociocultural theology. This also can be seen in Peter’s (also collective) theology about purity (Acts 10:13-14). The human shaping of Peter’s theological discourse in this situation demonstrated that his theology was not determined by his dialogue with Jesus earlier, when Jesus emphatically declared what is unclean and defined the whole of human ontology from inner out signified by the heart (Mt 15:10-20). Even after this interaction with the embodied Word, Peter continued to shape his own theology based on a reductionist interpretive framework. Moreover, even after the above Christophany corrected his theology, Peter continued to be shaped by his human contextualization with the Jews, thus affecting his relationships with Gentiles.

            This is neither to suggest that Paul was immune to such shaping nor without influence from some of the same sources, as we will discuss later in this study. Yet, for Peter this is the relational consequence of engaging reductionism in its counter-relational work, the repercussions of which directly conflicted with the truth of the whole gospel. Therefore, Paul’s direct involvement with the experiential Truth of the gospel provided the definitive theological basis by which he confronted Peter about his reductionism (see Gal 2:11-14); this was the relational outcome of Paul’s reciprocating contextualization.

            Paul and Peter did not simply have a difference of theological opinion, shaped by their respective so-called specialized missions in human contextualization. Their different interpretive frameworks and related lenses determined the extent to which the embodied Word (or text-as-God’s-communicated-Word for us) was paid attention to or ignored, which applied also to the Jewish Scripture. Paul’s primacy given to God’s Word revealed to him was the basis which made conclusive his thought and theology. The absence of this primacy led to Peter's unfounded thought and tenuous theology. From the point of view of historic Christian thought and life from its inception, Markus Bockmuehl comments that “to read Scripture is never some jumping-off point from which to abstract or develop the ‘real’ intellectual or theological task.”[20] Paul established the precedent needed for doing theology to be of significance to God, not to us, and to be defining God’s Word, not ours.

            In other words, theology which truly signifies a word from above is a function of relationship in God’s relational context and process. For engaging theology to have this significance, it must, by the revealed nature of its Subject, always be engaged in relationship with this Subject, not with impersonal subject matter. This is the context and terms (process) of God’s revelation—notably self-disclosed in the embodied Word and further constituted by the Spirit. Thus, unlike the static activity of merely “doing” theology, doing-as-living theology is first and foremost the personal engagement of God in relationship, not on my/our terms but only on God’s relational terms—the only terms which constitute God’s revelation/communication in the text of Scripture. Reciprocally, involvement with God in the whole of God's relational context and process also includes doing-as-living theology in relationship with God’s people for wholeness in theology and practice. These functional relationships together provide the qualitative relational context and process for God’s people to know God in communion wholly, and thus to grow in the relationships together necessary to be whole (one) in likeness of the relational ontology of the whole of God. This is the nature of Paul’s theology that he made consummate in the ecclesiology of the whole, which will unfold in this study.

            Moreover, this experiential truth from the relational involvement in living theology further extends theological discourse by reciprocating contextualization in relation to all humanity and creation. It is this relational context and process in which living theology becomes truly ‘logos of God’, that is, theology which speaks of God’s whole on God’s relational terms for the human relational condition—thus discourse more relational than theological. For Paul, this is the experiential truth and whole of the gospel—the only gospel his person ongoingly witnessed to and his theology increasingly made definitive in its functional and relational significance, as I will point out through the course of this study.

            Paul’s involvement in the dynamic relational process of living theology informs us of a further important matter to understand about his thought and theology. It would be unfounded to consider Paul’s thought and theology as having emerged from the Damascus road essentially fully developed. This would imply that Paul’s life and practice post-Damascus road neither experienced growth nor needed development but were fully mature. Such an assumption derives from a reduction of Paul’s whole person that sees and defines him on the basis of what he did and the role he served, notable as they were given his call and commission to assume leadership in the early church. Yet, as evidenced in the Pauline corpus, first and foremost for Paul was the experiential truth of relationship together with the whole of God emerging from the Damascus road, with further and deeper relational involvement together in relational progression since that pivotal relational encounter. Paul’s person was indeed on a journey which unfolded in his letters distinctly as a relational journey. In a later letter Paul puts his whole life into this deeper relational context to testify to his own ongoing process of growth and development, albeit in God’s eschatological trajectory (Phil 3:7-11).

            Paul's relational journey with Christ together with the Spirit went deeper than as servant-apostle or only in his mission-role. His whole person ongoingly engaged them in the whole of God’s relational context and process for involvement in the relational epistemic process. This relational involvement was necessary not only for “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” but also for the increasing synesis (understanding the whole) to make conclusive the theological basis for the relational and functional significance of the whole gospel, not a reduced gospel of human shaping. While the theological Paul germinated from the Damascus road, his theology was increasingly constituted as God’s whole was made definitive to him in God’s relational context and process, which included deeper theological reflection on the Jewish Scripture. Contrary to any perception of Paul as a ready-made theologian with an instant theology, I suggest in this study that in the process of living theology, Paul’s thought and theology unfold and cohere in his letters. This view thus both points to his growth and development in the wholeness constituted ‘in Christ’, and further suggests a likely chronological order for his letters.

            Challenged by the above discussion, we need to ask ourselves whether we are simply engaging the activity of “doing” theology, or are actually involved in doing-as-living theology. In terms of function, the latter is more accurately defined as simply the dynamic relational process of living theology. The theological task then is either engagement as an end in itself, or involvement as the means to something further and deeper.

            Living theology by its nature necessitates an integrated functional and relational significance, which vulnerably involves the reciprocal relational process of mutually engaging God and being engaged by God, thus involvement in the process of receiving and responding to God’s communicative action. This relational involvement is the necessary relational means, not mere method, to deeper outcomes. In this process the following working paradigm for these theological outcomes can be defined to provide focus for our theological engagement:

Theology emerges from the intimate reflection on the outcome of receiving and responding to God’s communicative action. On this basis, theology needs to be understood beyond the task of formulating doctrines (even systematically) informing us about God to its deeper significance of making definitive the coherence of God’s self-revelation vulnerably communicated to us as God’s Word only for the primacy of relationship together: First, in order that we can vulnerably know the triune God and intimately experience the communion of life together in the ongoing function of transformed relationships as the whole of God’s family. Second, so that we relationally embody the interdependent relationships together necessary to be God’s whole in likeness of the Trinity, and thus relationally witness to the experiential truth and whole of the gospel for the human condition to be made whole—God’s relational whole only on God’s relational terms, with nothing less and no substitutes.

            Therefore, living theology is only a relational outcome—relational outcome from and with God. In this reciprocal relational process, theological engagement never disconnects the significance of theology from the text of God’s communicated Word, and always keeps inseparable the integrated relationship between theology and practice. Thus, this relational outcome for living theology is signified by ‘wholeness in theology and practice’, which is what Paul’s person and theology make functional for us, as this study attempts to clarify. And what I hope we grasp also from Paul in the course of study is the experiential truth that anything less and any substitutes would be ontological simulations and epistemological illusions from reductionism.

 

 

The Basis for Certain Assumptions
 

            Along with the qualitative assumptions I have in my own perceptual-interpretive framework noted earlier, there are other working assumptions or presuppositions in this study which will be helpful to note.

            Pauline studies has long entertained a wide range of speculation (or theory). The diversity of speculation is neither lacking nor likely to end; and the prevalence of speculation suggests that theorizing is the defining characteristic for all studies of Paul. Stephen Westerholm describes those who write about Paul:

Given a first-century apostle a few of whose letters we have read, we make bold to distinguish what he said from what he really thought, and even to pontificate on why he thought the way we think he did. Indeed, as the assumptions that governed Paul’s thinking become more and more remote from our own, the assurance with which we pronounce on the direction and deficiencies of his reasoning seems only to increase.[21]

            This seemingly endless process for speculation to prevail, on the one hand, is understandable in part given the need to make some assumptions about Paul. On the other, though speculation about Paul will always be necessary to some extent, speculations rise or fall with our perceptual-interpretive framework and our assumptions. Some assumptions have more of a basis than others. For the study of Paul, I suggest there is a basis to make certain assumptions.

            Scholars have determined that the most undisputed letters in the Pauline corpus are limited to 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Romans, Philippians and Philemon, and not necessarily in this order. The other six letters traditionally attributed to Paul have various points of dispute which may or may not be sufficient for scholars to exclude them from the Pauline corpus. In this study, my working assumption is to include all thirteen letters in Paul’s corpus partly on the basis of the following, with more said about specific letters later. Though disputed letters appear not to be congruent with, for example, Paul’s writing style (the issue of dissimilarity), they still seem congruent with Paul’s thought (the issue of similarity). The degree of dissimilarity-similarity is clearly an issue, yet it is not unreasonable to assume the following: On the basis of congruence of thought, it is not incompatible to include the disputed letters in Paul’s corpus, even though who specifically penned them is unclear. Where there is some variation in Paul's thought (notably in Col and Eph) from undisputed letters, this difference emerged in later letters as the further development of his thought and theology—notably from Galatians and Romans, yet only as a further application and extension of them. This development did not signify dissimilarity, but rather constituted the further and deeper understanding of the whole in Paul's thought. Moreover, and in my opinion of greater significance, on the basis of the Spirit’s influence/function—admittedly also overlapping into assumption—to develop these letters, notably their thought, as well as to have them included in the canon, I affirm without equivocation that they are wholly compatible as Paul’s own thought and can be included in Paul’s corpus.

            Additionally related, the chronology of Paul’s life and order of his letters are not definitive, which is further signified by various theories. These speculations make the issue of Paul’s chronology tenuous and, in actuality, effectively detracting from the more primary significance of his life as a whole and of the substantive content developed in his letters—though development in his thought and theology suggests an order for his letters, to be discussed later. I will concentrate on the primary significance throughout this study and only touch on issues of chronology along the way, as it is necessary for the primary significance—for example, about whether Romans or Galatians was written first.

            In this approach certain assumptions will definitely be made—for example, about dating the Pastorals later than Paul, discussed later—which I hope will not diminish the qualitative (though it limits the quantitative) focus necessary for the primary significance of Paul’s life and letters. Paul’s purpose most certainly was not to highlight his life, and thus to get embedded in the details about him—many of which are only of secondary significance compared to the primary significance of his purpose. I will assume that same purpose in order to not make Paul the highlight of this study; this allows greater attention to the second part of the two-fold epistemological focus, God. What we can expect then to emerge from such Pauline study are not variable fragments from the Pauline corpus, which often have been difficult to interrelate, much less unite. Rather what will emerge is Paul’s coherence with the whole of God’s thematic relational response of grace to the human condition for relationship together as God’s whole only on God’s terms.

            We should not look for a unity in Paul’s thought and theology within his letters until we understand where Paul is coming from, that is, what primarily defines and determines his life and practice. Without this grasp of Paul, any apparent unity and coherence will either be imposed on Paul by his readers or remain elusive to them. The congruence in Paul’s life and practice to his purpose and thus his coherence were constituted in cooperative relationship with the Spirit. This is the often-forgotten-trinitarian Person, whom Pauline scholarship has neglected or conveniently minimalized,[22] yet whom Paul depended on to further unfold, develop and bring to completion the whole of God’s relational response in the eschatological big picture—including the relational outcome 'already' constituted by the Spirit, which is at the heart of Paul. And it is by this same dependence on and cooperative relational involvement with the Spirit in which I also engage the Spirit for this study, along with Paul.

            In doing so, I also bring with me into this study the related Christian confessions of faith and theological convictions not just about the Spirit but most notably about Jesus, the embodied Word from God the Father—who communicated for relational necessity, “Listen to my Son” (Mt 17:5)—and thus expressly about the whole of God, the Trinity. These personal convictions of the relational God bring a qualitative bias to my interpretation both of Paul’s corpus and of the whole biblical text. Markus Bockmuehl reports that this would be contrary to some professional societies and departments of religious studies where assertions are made: that such convictions have no place in serious study of the Bible, and that such presuppositions must be set aside by biblical exegetes (without clarity of how or why one might achieve this), moreover that such theology must be erased from scholarly discourse.[23] Such a mindset begs the question: Who then of significance in relation to God can engage the text of God’s Word and can participate in discourse which is indeed theological? Given that this so-called objective approach has illuminated little significance, if any, about the text and its subject matter, I do not consider it unreasonable to engage this study vulnerably with who I am, where I am, and, thankfully, whose I am, nor consider it meaningful any longer to engage this study other than with this approach.

            While in ongoing reciprocal relationship with the Spirit, I enter this study with a lens that seeks not to highlight my view by eclipsing the text, nor to have my view validated. Rather, by the nature of my qualitative lens, I am responsible to engage the text and its subject(s) on their terms, and thus to interact with them in mutual function to “listen” first and then to respond from where I am. My response and involvement, however, always need to be compatible with the qualitative-relational terms of God's self-disclosure (review previous discussion of Lk 10:21). My engagement, therefore, needs to be with vulnerable involvement, not detached or measured observation, so that my “listening” is open to changing, even transforming, where I am and thus to further and more deeply (re)define and determine my interpretation and response. This is how Paul listened on the Damascus road and what emerged from him in the journey of his person.

            For us as it was for Paul, in this dynamic relational epistemic process both knowledge of God is received and understanding of the whole of God is experienced—the relational outcome of which is the basis for theology and living theology. What follows in this study is a summary account of this experiential truth for Paul.

 


 


[1] James D.G. Dunn, “Introduction” in James D.G. Dunn, ed. The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 13.

[2] Unless indicated, all Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

[3] For a recent discussion of these limits, see Hans Küng, The Beginning of All Things: Science and Religion, trans. by John Bowden (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 179-91.

[4] Thanks to the creator of “Mutts”, Patrick McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, July 18, 2009.

[5] Markus Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word: Refocusing New Testament Study (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 33, 35.

[6] For a brief description of Schleiermacher’s position in modern hermeneutics, see Anthony C. Thiselton, “Biblical studies and theoretical hermeneutics” in John Barton, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge Press, 1998), 95-113.

[7] Greek and Hebrew word studies used in this study are taken from the following sources: Horst Balz, Gerhard Schreider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990); Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975); R. Laid Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce Waitke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980); Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974); W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1981); Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (Chattanooga: AMG Publ., 1996).

[8] Jens Zimmermann, Recovering Theological Hermeneutics: An Incarnational-Trinitarian Theory of Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 131.

[9] Markus Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word.

[10] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ed., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 19-25. For an overview of theory of interpretation and its history from which a proposal for the recovery of theological hermeneutics is made, see Zimmermann, Recovering Theological Hermeneutics.

[11] David F. Ford and Graham Stanton, eds., Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom (London: SCM Press, 2003), 2-3.

[12] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, First Theology: God, Scripture and Hermeneutics (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 340.

[13] Daniel W. Hardy, “Reason, Wisdom and the Interpretation of Scripture” in Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom, 72-76.

[14] Gotthold Lessing, Lessing’s Theological Writings, trans. by Henry Chadwick (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1956), 55.

[15] James D. G. Dunn, “Criteria for a Wise Reading of a Biblical Text” in David F. Ford and Graham Stanton, eds., Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom, 51.

[16] Markus Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word, 162.

[17] For further understanding of the function of reciprocating contextualization seen in the life of Jesus, see my study, Sanctified Christology; A Theological and Functional Study of the Whole of Jesus (Christology Study, 2008), online at http://www.4X12.org.

[18] See Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. III, eds., G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1958), 65-81.

[19] Markus Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word, 88.

[20] Markus Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word, 90.

[21] Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 214.

[22] As one exception to this urgent discussion on pneumatology, see the exegetical study by Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994).

[23] Markus Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word, 76.

 

 

 

 

©2010 T. Dave Matsuo

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