Paul and Scripture

Like seemingly most things Pauline, Paul’s use of Scripture is an oceanic field of study. A steady stream of books, articles, and lectures flow from what seems to be an endless high tide of material.

Obviously, there are several reasons for the great interest in this subject but these three quotes help in finding a bearing:

N.T. Wright –  One of the central tensions in Paul’s thought, giving it again and again its creative edge, is the clash between the fact that God always intended what has happened in fact happened and the fact that not even the most devout Israelite had dreamed that it would happen like this. (Paul: In Fresh Perspective)

Richard Hays – The message Paul finds in the Old Testament is the gospel of Jesus Christ proleptically figured, a gospel proclaiming the inclusion of the Gentiles among the people of God…He saw himself…carrying forward the proclamation of God’s word as Israel’s prophets and sages had always done, in a way that reactivated past revelation under new conditions. (Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul)

Steve Moyise – Paul believed that the Scriptures were the very ‘oracles of God’ (Rom 3:2) and thus carried supreme authority in all matters. However, he had also come to believe that the divine plan revealed in Scripture had taken a significant step forward in the coming of Jesus Christ…This revelation caused Paul to look at the Scriptures with new eyes, sometimes clarifying what was written and sometimes reinterpreting it. (Paul and Scripture) 

Paul redefines, reactivates, even reinterprets scripture in light of God’s revelation of Jesus Christ. While his readings may not seem that foreign to many of us, that is only because we are conditioned to read the Old Testament through the eyes of Paul. Paul was our original guide through the Old Testament and so it hard for us to imagine how shocking many of interpretations must have been to the first hearers of his letters.

So how did Paul arrive at his conclusions? Steve Moyise (Paul and Scripture) lists three modern approaches to Paul’s use of scripture: 

  1. Intertextual –  A text is not discreet packet of meaning but part of web of other texts. Quotes/Allusions bring in more than cited words but also associations from surrounding verses. (e.g. Richard Hays)
  2. Narrative – A text (quote, allusions) brings with it is a narrative framework. The key to understanding its meaning is finding the larger story on which it hangs not in investigating the surrounding context. (e.g. N.T. Wright)
  3. Rhetorical –  Highlights what Paul does with the text in order to persuade his readers to accept his interpretation. Rhetorical views focus on those things to which Paul draws attention and not to those things he conceals. (e.g. Christopher Stanley)

Which view (or whose view) do you find the most helpful? Which views (or whose views) do you find the most suspect? Is there a view missing from the list?

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