November 10, 2009

Paul's Letters - Does Their Sequence Matter?

Update: my timeline is here.

Chronological issues are nothing to sneeze at. The task is indeed daunting. So? What isn't? I only get frustrated when Theologians seem to honestly prefer that we wind up with the smallest amount of context that's strictly attested - say, for Paul's epistles - rather than considering the actual scheme of interconnected events carefully and prudently, from a historian's perspective.

My opinion may not surprise you, but I mention it now on the heels of another T.C. Robinson special on Viola & Barna's Pagan Christianity. I'm a bit over my quota in that conversation today, so go on over and balance that out if you like. TC, Peter, Kurk and some others have made excellent points and the discussion is still very warm. Jump on in! In this post, I just want to repeat one specific thought that I shared over there because, personally, I consider it quote-worthy!
Suggesting that the sequence in which we examine Paul's letters has no affect on our understanding of those letters is like suggesting the Civil War can be understood by studying its battles in alphabetical order.
Yes, of course historical issues are difficult. Yes, of course there will always remain an element of uncertainty to such considerations. But, what, are Theological constructions absolutely certifiable? (Sorry, pun only partly intended.) Despite all our preferences, whatever they may be, nothing changes the undeniable fact that the whole story is sure to be greater than the sum of its parts - and this point remains true regardless of how fully we might be able to reconstruct it.

Our capacity for reconstruction is debatable. Strong-arm tactics designed to discourage any attempt at reconstruction (or any attempt to study Paul's epistles based on a tentative reconstruction) should be academically (and perhaps faith-ic-ally) inexcusable.

5 comments:

A. Amos Love said...

Bill

"Our capacity for reconstruction is debatable. Strong-arm tactics designed to discourage any attempt at reconstruction (or any attempt to study Paul's epistles from a tentativereconstruction) should be academically (and perhaps faith-ic-ally) inexcusable."

huh?

What did you say?

Read the thread at newleaven.

You guys are way to smart for me.
I have to look up way to many words.
And I still don't know what you're trying to say.

I'm sure it's excellent, if I could only understand it.

It's not my fault, really, i have a polish uncle who taught me everything i know.

Now you know my major disability. ;-)

Maybe, in simple words please, you can
explain why the order matters.

By the way, you made some good points of why they should still read Pagan Christianity.

But will they? Hmmm?

T.C. R said...

Bill,
Nice post. Thanks for the mention.

I don't think anyone is really denying the importance of the big picture or story.

Bill said...

Amos - it's a difference of two mentalities. Is context to help us grasp theological points? Or do all the details add up to a beautiful story? Both can be true, but I think we're extremely unbalanced.

TC - You're probably right. It's like arguing over what BLUE is. Obviously, there are shades of blue. Unfortunately, some people's idea of "context" is a pretty pale 'blue'. That makes it tough to show what you SEE, when there's no other word to use except "blue".

(Did that make sense, Amos?)

Thanks for the ongoing discussion, both of you.

J. K. Gayle said...

Strong-arm tactics designed to discourage any attempt at reconstruction (or any attempt to study Paul's epistles based on a tentative reconstruction) should be academically (and perhaps faith-ic-ally) inexcusable.

Well said, Bill. And thanks for getting some of us to your blog from that fascinating and now-long discussion at T.C.R.'s blog.

A. Amos Love said...

Bill

"(Did that make sense, Amos?)"

Yes fully. Well maybe a little. I'm not so sure. Nope.

Starting to feel kinda blue... {;o(... and,
I'm getting blue in the face trying to understand.

"it's a difference of two mentalities."

Context and what?

Why only two? Could there be more than two?

Unbalanced? How?

Maybe, once in a blue moon,
you can just answer the question so i can get it.

"Maybe, in simple words please,
you can explain why the order matters."

I know it's usually me, your humble blog student,
who's talking a blue streak.

But - try writing a few extra real words.
It won't hurt. I doubt if your fingers will turn black and blue from the extra typing. Okay!

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