Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Considering New Paradigms on St Paul

Getting to know Saint Paul today: A change in paradigm?
David M. Neuhaus SJ

Recent Pauline scholarship has revealed new perspectives from which we can examine the life of the apostle and the world he lived in, claims David Neuhaus SJ. What are these developments, and how can they change our traditional understanding of Saint Paul?

Introduction: Who is Saint Paul?
The figure of Paul marks the passage from Jesus of Nazareth, recognized after his death by his disciples as the promised Messiah of Israel, to the Universal Church that preached the Gospel to all the nations. Paul has been seen as the pioneer of Christian mission, the father of Christian theology and even the real founder of Christianity. Some have seen him as a apocalyptic thinker, others as a Pharisee rabbi become Christian yet others as a cultivated Hellenist or a Gnostic syncretist or an incoherent religious fanatic.

Getting to know Paul has never been easy. It is difficult to derive a clear autobiographical picture from his own writings. There are contradictions between these writings and the supposedly “biographical” presentation of Paul by Luke in Acts. In addition to this, in the past few decades, new historical and exegetical perspectives have changed how we understand the world in which Paul lived and worked. These perspectives have undermined at least some of our most basic suppositions in getting to know Paul. They would seem to necessitate a change in paradigm in order to read Paul and ascertain his role. I will propose here four aspects on which our understanding of Paul and his world have changed in the past decades. The question I pose here is: have the consequences of these changes been integrated into our reading and understanding of Paul? Can we integrate them without a new paradigm in Pauline studies? What can the new paradigm be?

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