Monday, 16 June 2008

How to Read Paul

I linked to Childs' latest posthumous book on Paul lately, but didn't say anything about the content. Here's the blurb:

Brevard Childs here turns his sharp scholarly gaze to the works of the apostle Paul and makes an unusual argument: the New Testament was canonically shaped, its formation a hermeneutical exercise in which its anonymous apostles and postapostolic editors collected, preserved, and theologically shaped the material in order for the evangelical traditions to serve successive generations of Christians. Childs contends that within the New Testament the Pauline corpus stands as a unit bookended by Romans and the Pastoral Epistles. He assigns an introductory role to Romans, examining how it puts the contingencies of Paul’s earlier letters into context without sacrificing their particularity. At the other end, the Pastoral Epistles serve as a concluding valorization of Paul as the church’s doctrinal model. By considering Paul’s works as a whole, Childs offers a way to gain a fuller understanding of the individual letters.
I will be focusing my doctorate on the Psalms, but I think in some ways this collection of books parallels the Pauline epistles. Unlike the interwoven traditions that make up the Pentateuch, the Psalms are quite evidently individual units. Nevertheless, the canonical shape of the Psalter coerces a particular kind of reading that brings to light each Psalm's true theological content, while not sacrificing its particularity. I look forward to reading this latest book from the blesséd master (pbuh).
Daniel Driver lists the table of contents here.


Bill Heroman said...

Phil, I've been meaning to come back and comment here. Sorry - been busy. We haven't met, but I appreciate your request for criticism. I equally hope you might feel free to return the favor over at my blog. :)

I haven't got any citation on this, other than the NT itself, but Paul's letters absolutely appear to be arranged on two principles - size and audience. First, 9 letters to churches are arranged by order of their length. Then, 4 letters to individuals are put by their length as well. Besides, Philemon is last of all, after the 'pastorals'.

Of course, whether or not this affects Childs arguments (or your view of the Psalms) is more than I can say. I know the OT Prophets seem to go by length as well, as do the NT's "Hebrew Epistles" after Philemon. But I've never studied anything on the arrangement of the Psalms.

Hope this helps.

Phil Sumpter said...

Dear Bill, thanks for interacting with my post. Don't worry about taking time, it's an issue I struggle with constantly.

I haven't read Childs' book and my knowledge of the NT is really quite limited (to my shame ... though I have to admit it is partly intentional). The important thing for interpretation is the hermeneutical significance of the arrangement and not just the presence of a particular order. Is there theological intentionality involved? What kind of intentionality is that? The ordering of different books within a canon seems to be on a different level to the ordering of units within a book. And within the Psalter the fifth book is far more flexible. The same applies to the prophets. There is a different order depending on the Hebrew or Greek tradition, and even within different Hebrew orders there is diversity (Isaiah is sometimes the last book). These are the issues that I need to get my head round, at least.

I've added your blog to my Google widgit thing. Though I'm afraid N.T. Wright and NT history are a bit out of my league! Look forward to hearing from you.