Thursday, February 21, 2013

A new book on Paul and the Torah

No, I'm not talking about Introduction to Messianic Judaism (though if you haven't gotten your copy, you should get one!). I'm talking about James Thompson's Moral Formation according to Paul. Another point to Dr. Scot McKnight (who's gotten a lot of play on this blog recently) for bringing this to our attention at A Question for the Apostle Paul:
 “How should we live?” That’s the question so many today want to ask Paul — and about as many answers as the numbers of those who ask him the question! There are tensions when one asks this question of Paul — he was after a Jew and a Jew would say “Obey the commands.” But many think that’s not what Paul would say. This question has been posed in a remarkably sensitive manner by James Thompson, at Abilene Christian University, in a book called Moral Formation according to Paul.


Thompson knows that many today — Christian theologians in particular — don’t want Paul to be offering a Torah-shaped set of ethics. So there are a number of approaches to Paul’s sources:1. Some see his sources in typical Greek and Roman (and Jewish) moral traditions. That is, folks like Dio Chrysostom or Plutarch or Musonius.
2. Some think Paul’s ethic is absolutely reduced and emerged from the command to love. Bultmann. Or Freedom. Strecker. Even in a situational framework. Robin Scroggs.
3. Yet others think it is all about guidance and discernment of life in the Spirit. Here he appeals to Udo Schnelle and Jimmy Dunn.
4. Some think what Paul wanted was for people to do what he did: imitate Christ.
5. Last he looks at Richard Hays’ proposal of three focal images: cross, community and new creation.
Thompson thinks each falls short and that there is no going forward until one understands the central place the Torah played in Hellenistic Judaism — Paul’s concerns, after all, are with Gentile converts to the gospel in the Diaspora. And in that location the Torah was very, very important, even if it wasn’t halakic and even if it didn’t often sound like the rabbis were to sound.

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