Paul Among Jew and Gentile

I realize you are still waiting on another blog I promised you about miracles, it is coming. In the meantime, I decided to post my first book review. I had a person the other day ask me what all my papers entailed after suggesting that because I am a writer it should be easy. This person was not the first person to make this suggestion however, as I explained, it is not simply easy for me to write scholarly which is different from my reflective style of writing. So… I have decided to post my papers for you this year, being my senior year and all, not as bragging rights but as a point of interest that you too might understand something about what I am learning and perhaps discover something new for yourself. If anything, it should make for interesting conversation, which I am always on board with – so long as I have my coffee in hand.

Let’s have some conversation and coffee!

Book Critique #1, here we go…

Paul Among Jew and Gentiles by Krister Stendahl

Krister Stendahl, born April 21, 1921, was a Swedish theologian and New Testament Scholar, along with being a Bishop of Stockholm. He served as professor and professor emeritus at Harvard divinity school and had a true love for the Bible. He opened new ways of interpreting the Apostle Paul, pushing churches toward unity and tolerance. In addition, he believed that theology is much too serious and must include playfulness and irony – he had a sense of humor. He died in 2008, at the age of 86, having been married to his wife for 61, years. They had two sons, one daughter, and nearly a dozen grandchildren. (041608, Martin, New York Times & main page, viii, Paul Among Jew and Gentile)

Stendahl’s purpose is to show that Paul’s writings were written for a specific people during a specific time and not out of an introspective conscience human predicament as the West has made him out to be. He reflects new ways of viewing Paul, suggesting that he must be heard as one who speaks out of calling rather than conversion, justification rather than forgiveness, weakness rather than sin, love rather than integrity, and unique rather than universal. By bringing to light these things, he also raises the question, “How can letters which Paul directed to specific churches in specific situations be the word of God for the church at large in all times?” (p. 6)

In Stendahl’s essay, The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West, he suggests that the Apostle Paul is hailed as a hero of introspective conscience, using the scripture verse in Romans 7:10 as bases for this belief in Western civilization. (p. 78) He suggest that Paul is writing to the Jews, whose purpose of being Christian is found in keeping the law, that the law is no longer relevant as Christ had come. In other words, the law was a guide, or what Stendahl references as “custodian and/or schoolmaster”, to the Jews until Christ came and once Christ came, the law had done its duty and is now obsolete due to faith. Because of Christ coming, Stendahl goes on to suggest, the law need not be imposed on the Gentile – Christ brought salvation for all. Standahl then ties in the idea of justification, forgiveness, weakness, sin, and guilt, which I will address in the following paragraph as he expounds on these topics more clearly in his next essay. However, he ends the essay suggesting that we all have a form of “legalist Jew” in us and we should be found liberated having a better understanding of the original text rather than the translated text.

In Stendahl’s essay, Paul Among Jew and Gentile, he points out that it is not whether Paul lived among both rather it is the relation between both the Jew and the Gentile that is overlooked. In addition, he suggests that Paul’s presentation of justification by faith is not the key role rather serves as the criterion for the true gospel. Stendahl suggest that Romans is not in-and-of-itself simply about justification, not about Christianity verses Judaism, rather indeed it is a letter explaining God’s mission for him, explaining the relation between two communities and their God-willed coexistence. He continues by discussing Paul’s call rather than his conversion, suggesting that he did not change his religion he merely was called to share that his religion was for all, not simply the Jew alone – making a connection between the resurrected body and the resurrected spirit. He states that Paul references his calling in Galatians as a similar calling to that which Isaiah and Jeremiah received their calling – within the womb, by name, and because of this Paul felt chosen, hand-picked, and divinely put on a mission. He then continues in the essay to reflect the difference between Luther and Paul and how Luther found comfort in Paul’s writings while he was in the midst of turmoil however, Paul was no man living in turmoil. Stendahl reflects these differences through the use of scripture found in Philippians and Acts, suggesting that Paul was blameless, a thousand dollar graduate, and a very happy Jew. Due to Luther’s inner turmoil, Western culture has changed Paul from being an apostle to the Gentile into a Christian, a Christian of conscience. Stendahl continues in his essay to discuss the law and life, how law cannot give life, does not give life, if it did, we would be justified by law, not by faith – faith being life. The righteous live by faith, which renders justification by faith rather than forgiveness. This lends way to weakness rather than sin and Paul did not go through the valley of sin and guilt, rather he went from glory to glory. In such weakness, God’s strength is then magnified. Stendahl then suggest that Paul’s reference to weakness is not due to shortcomings rather to outside opposition, which becomes the thorn in his flesh. This thorn is then viewed not as in relation to salvation rather in relation to ministry. Stendahl proceeds with the belief that when Paul references love in 1 Corinthians 13, he is referencing the concept of love rather than integrity. Paul’s intention was to reflect a mere attitude of the heart. Stendahl compares love in scientific terms, suggesting that love is more of a radiation rather than matter. [Matter suggest something tangible, finite, whereas radiation suggest something that is instead infinite penetration in-and-of itself.] Stendahl finally wraps up this essay suggesting that Paul was unique and not universal. He was uniquely chosen, called, to a task to a specific people during a specific time. However, he lays out the belief so beautifully by referencing Paul in 1 Corinthians suggesting, that the uniqueness itself is not in the gospel as taught one way, rather the diversity of individuals, not to be debated rather to be left to God to sort out in due time. (p. 68)

The final two essays, Judgment and Mercy, and Glossolalia, I will lump together and explain why in my final thoughts on Stendahl’s perspective. Stendahl shares about his speech on Judgment and Mercy occurred during the civil rights movement and suggest that never had the theology of the Pauline model of the cross been more to the point than at this time. He shares how the Rabbinic exegesis had taken the words of Judgment to mean God’s left hand – suggesting that when the word Elohim was one of strict judgment – and then taken the word Mercy to mean God’s right hand – suggesting that when the word Yahweh was one of compassion. This model was taken on by different persons and finally in Christian tradition as a sense of a “soul game”. However, he suggests that Isaiah 40 is the key to understanding judgment and mercy. Stendahl suggest that when Paul speaks of freedom and liberation in Galatians it creates static and dynamic; judgment is the moment I which God liberates but he can only liberate those who need liberation. He continues with the statement that judgment is then a double-edged term – mercy and vindication, doom and condemnation, all held within it. In the end, Stendahl suggest that it is the words of Joel the prophet that we should all cry out – weep and rejoice. In the Glossolalia, Stendahl was speaking at a conference at the Charismatic movement. Stendahl suggest that Paul was wise in the fact that he called the Glossolalia – speaking in tongues – a gift rather than stating that it is a problem. He uses the word problem in comparison to “mere tongues” and “mere sounds” and “languages” which is what was the conflict then and now. Whereas, the difference for Paul was between the unintelligible speaking and a miraculous communication understood by those who listen which Stedahl states is reference by Paul in Acts 2. Stendahl continues with Paul suggesting the differences 1 Corinthians 14 by suggesting the edification for ones’ self is rendered through the use of “tongues” however the edification of the church is rendered through prophesies.

Let me first begin by stating, I lumped the final two essays together due to their lack of significance in the title of the book. While Stendahl references Paul’s writings and addressing the church in these matters, it seems that is less about Paul’s mission among the Jew and the Gentile and more about the followers, i.e. the church, as a whole. It would almost suggest that perhaps Stendahl had no more material to go along with his title and thus he found the opportunity to throw in two essays that had not yet been published, in order to simply have them published; having said that, I will now address my thoughts on the first two essays.

It was natural for me to understand his references that perhaps Paul was not a great theologian writing to a conscience minded Western civilization however, it was difficult for me as I read his references in scripture to see Paul as not the humble person I thought him to be, rather he now seems arrogant. Time and time again in reading the text as Stendahl suggested it be read, I found myself consistently returning to the thought, “this was an arrogant man!” And that arrogance is where I found my struggle. I had always viewed Paul as a man that struggled, what can I say, I am a product of western civilization birthed out of Luther however, I am okay in learning that he was not conscience rather a man called to a divine mission. I appreciated the suggested view of the call rather than conversion and was able, after reflection, to relate that to my own call and conversion – they are different and do not always occur in an order that one must be converted before called. There were many things that Stendahl wrote that I found to speak to my core, in a good way. Those items are underlined and marked with a, “GOOD!” written out beside them. There also questions that I had about law and his suggestion that it no longer applied – those are underlined with question marks notated along the side. However, after re-reading and working through what he was saying, a deeper understanding has penetrated my feeble mind and I can appreciate what Stendahl reflects Paul to be really saying about the law. I will say I am unsure that Stendahl really ever answered the question, “How can letters which Paul directed to specific churches in specific situations be the word of God for the church at large and in all times?” It is likely that I over looked his answer with my own wrestling of the text however, I would like to answer the question, in the simplest of form – if I may. If Luther could find comfort in the misreading of text and Stendahl [or another scholar/theologian] can bring to light the truth within the misreading of the text, then perhaps today we can find and apply both the understanding of Paul and misunderstanding of Luther and take the Pauline writings to be a double edged writing – learning from Paul’s experience to walk out a divine mission in bringing a diverse peoples together and applying it to the diversity found in our own culture, our own churches, and our own families yet living it through Luther’s internal conscience which perhaps keeps us on the straight and narrow, what Martin Buber would call the “Narrow Ridge” – a paradoxical unity.

(For your own copy of Stendahl’s book, click here.)


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