Thursday, May 14, 2009

Origins of Paul's Theology

In the field of New Testament Studies, there more than a bit of debate about the origin of Paul's theology. What gives birth to it? What is its genesis? One might ask the question what theology drives Paul's theology? Of course, one cannot discount his Damascus Road experience as Seyoon Kim makes clear in his work The Origin of Paul's Gospel. In his follow up work, he makes it equal clear that this drove his missions particular his first retreat into Arabia, which Kim argues was for the purpose of ministry/mission not idle reflection.

Michael Bird has a helpful blog post where he weds missions with apocalyptic theology as the 'mothers' of Paul's theology.

I think mission is the mother of Pauline theology insofar as Paul's call to go and be the apostle to the Gentiles is the central driving force of his theology. What is more, Paul's theology is done on the mission field (not in a seminary, college, university, or academy) and on the move and he has to literally walk and talk his way through several challenges (relating to pagans and Jews) and many crises (Antioch, Galatia, Corinth, Jerusalem).

Yet apocalypticism is the mother of Pauline theology to the extent that just about everything in the NT is pervaded by eschatology. Now, when Kasemann said "apocalyptic" he meant the shadow of the parousia casting itself upon the present time. But since Paul believed that Christians were the one's upon whom "the end of ages had come" (1 Cor. 10.11) then this eschatological perspective permeates everything. Now all apocalypticism is eschatological, but not all eschatology is apocalyptic. The apocalyptic aspect of his thinking comes through in Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, Romans (and I would even say Colossians). That is defined, chiefly, by a pessimistic view of the current age, a dualism of good/evil and now/then and heaven/earth etc. Paul believed that the God of Israel had radically acted in Jesus to save persons from the current evil age (Gal. 1.4; Rom. 1.17; Col. 1.12; 1 Thess. 1.10 etc.).

There can be little doubt in my mind that the center of Paul's thought is the inbreaking of the age to come in the midst of the present evil age. This centers his view of the what the death and resurrection of Christ entail and accomplish. The effects of this death are thoroughly eschatological/apocalyptic. The arguments about the precise center of Paul's theology or the genesis of his theology will continue, yet for Paul he is content to preach one thing: Christ crucified. That message is itself apocalyptic/eschatological. It is the climax of redemptive history.

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