Book Review
Bassler's Pauline Theology, Volume I: Thessalonians, Philippians, Galatians, Philemon

Book Review on: Bassler, Jouette (Ed.). Pauline Theology, Volume I: Thessalonians, Philippians, Galatians, Philmon. offered by JS.

There are some things in Paul's letters hard to understand... 2 Peter 3:16

This two volume edited collection of articles is the result of the Pauline Theological Consultation of the Society of Biblical Literature formed in 1985 to reassess the way Pauline theology is conceived. The committee decied to study Pauline theology as it was expressed in each letter, beginning with the shorter letters, in order to free the shorter letters from the theological dominance of Paul's longer works. Chapters which address Philemon include:

      1. "Putting Paul Together Again: Toward a Synthesis of Pauline Theology" (1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philippians, and Philemon) by N.T. Wright (183-211).
Wright does not believe these are the earliest letters written. Wright puts Galatians first. Philemon and probably Philippians are placed during a hypothetical Ephesian imprisonment period with Colossians written by Paul around the same time. 1 Corinthians is placed before and 2 Corinthians after the imprisonment (183). According the Wright, Paul's theology is concerned with the communities he is called to found and nurture, not a separate exercise of systematic theology. What issues were options for Paul to address? Which did he take up? Wright regrets that Paul cannot respond to the contridictions and inconsistencies in his letters. Four themes are suggested to use in synthesizing Paul's theology: apocalyptic; covenant people; Jesus Christ; and eschatology and mission. Philemon does not include apocalyptic elements, probably due to its brevity (197). Justification, a word Paul seldom uses, may be seen "not as a means or mode of entry into the people of God... so much as the declaration that one is already a member" (202). Philemon 6 is the "driving heart" of the letter which Wright translates "I am praying that the mutual participation which is proper to the Christian faith you hold may have its full effect in your realization of every good thing that God wants to accomplish in us to lead us into the fullness of Christian fellowship, that is, into Christ" (203). "The theology of Philemon as a whole, then, is the outworking of the nature of koinonia, the unity which the church must express because it has it already in Christ... the church is the true humanity which cannot but transcend all known barriers if it is not to lose its very raison d'etre... This, again goes back to a Jewish perception of Israel's vocation: Israel would be the true Adam, God's true humanity" (204). See also Phil 2:1-5 and Eph 4:15. The unity of the church was important to Paul "because he understood the church as the elect people of the one God and therefore inevitably a single worldwide family. Barriers of all sorts, but especially those between Jew and Gentile, were to have no place, for the very highest of theological reasons, in the church" (210-211).

      2. "Crucified with Christ: A Synthesis of the Theology of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philemon, Philippians, and Galatians" by Richard B. Hays (227-246).
"The community called to live 'in Christ' will necessarily live in a way that corresponds to the pattern of faith/obedience defined by Christ's death on the cross" (240). Paul explicitly urges Galatians to "become as I am" because he hopes to see Christ formed in them (241). Christians are called to cultivate practices that build the community up in love (Phlm 4-7); Phil 2:1-4; Gal 5:13-15; 1 Thess 4:9-12; 5:12-22) (243). Phlm 16 "suggests that Paul's language in Galatians about liberation and bondage through Christ has a literal application" (245).

      3. "Salvation History: Theology in 1 Thessalonians, Philemon, Philippians, and Galatians: A Reponse to Wright, Hays and Scroggs" by David Lull (247-266).
"In Jesus Christ, Paul found fulfillment of the twin pillars of his thought: God's promise to set the world free from the grip of the power of sin, and God's promise to unite Jews and Gentiles in the redemption of the world" (265). This agrees with Wayne Meeks The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul that Paul tried to establish appropriate patterns of behavior and social structures within communities (248).

If you'd like to respond to this summary or ask questions about it, please use the User Response form below.

Response #1

hi j.s.
      Thanks for the great review of Bassler in the Philemon bibliography for your class. I was wondering what you thought about a couple of things: in the first article you review it says that because of the length of Philemon Paul does not include any references to "apocalyptic." Two questions occur to me: 1) what does length have to do with the "eschatological" starting point (i.e. what does "apocalyptic" have to do with "eschatology" in paul?) and then 2) do we not talk about "time" in v. 15 is some "eschatological" (apocalyptic?) sense and wonder what the two dimensions "hora" and "aionion" have to do with one another? I think these matters might be worthy of discussion. Thanks.

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