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Neues Testament


Edsall, Benjamin A.


Paul’s Witness to Formative Early Christian Instruction.


Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2014. XIII, 297 S. = Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 2. Reihe, 365. Kart. EUR 79,00. ISBN 978-3-16-153048-7.


Tor Vegge

The monograph is a study of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians and first letter to the Corinthians followed by a topical comparison with Paul’s letter to the Romans, methodically designed to identify knowledge presupposed in those letters, a knowledge either imparted by Paul in previous teaching, or a learning supposed to be shared by informed readers among Christ-believers in Rome. The book is a lightly revised version of Benjamin A. Edsall’s doctoral dissertation submitted to the Faculty of Theology, University of Oxford.
E. hopes to contribute to a discussion of early Christian teach­ing. »Is there a kerygma, didache, catechesis, baptismal instruction, or some other type of teaching that unified the early Christian movement? If so, how might one find this without presupposing it a priori?« (2). E. intends »to re-open the question of formative early Christian instruction and place the results on a firmer methodo-logical basis than form criticism provides« (15).
In his methodological considerations E. refers to rather basic functions of communication, or rhetoric, i. e. that an orator must build his arguments on shared knowledge and common concep-tions. The term endoxa, as coined by Aristotle, is used through the investigation, endoxa understood as »opinions ›that seem [true] to all or to most or to the majority of the well known and respected ones‹« (the citation is from Aristotle Topica 100b) (24). This basic insight of communication combined with a theory of symbolic universes (Sinnwelten) (32–36) and the latter concept’s relevance for teaching seem to be the basic theory on which E.’s analyses rest. With reference to Berger and Luckmann, symbolic universe is understood as »system of meaning, usually including a cosmology and anthropology, [giving] order to human experience and an evalua-tive framework for one’s actions« (34). As applied method E. utilises »three types of appeal to presumed knowledge« (30): explicit reminders about Paul’s teaching, direct appeals to knowledge and implicit appeals to knowledge. There is a logic in the method that implies moving from the more secure conclusions to the less secure (30).
E. starts the text-analyses commenting on explicit reminders about initial teaching. The reminders point to topics as e. g.: turn-ing from idolatry to monotheism; Jesus’ »resurrection, his coming from heaven and imminent judgement« (64); faith; ethical teach­ing; The Lord’s Supper. E. is interested in those topics, their rela-tions within a symbolic universe and the question of early Chris-t-ian instruction (15). But he is careful in his evaluations that the reminders are dependant on the rhetorical situations and that the teaching referred to is not to be taken as exhaustive (88). For direct and implicit appeals to knowledge, the linking to Paul’s teaching is much more difficult (91). But the elements referred to in the ex-plicit reminders are expected to be included in a symbolic universe together with other elements of which some are indicated in direct and implicit appeals. The formulations peri de, oidamen hoti, ouk oidate signal direct appeals to knowledge in 1 Corinthians. The direct appeals include teaching that seem linked to or expanding on topics referred to in the explicit reminders. For the third type, implicit appeals E. applies a rather straightforward take. »Implicit appeals« refers to what Paul simply presumes his audience »to know with no further justification« (122).
The summary (Chapter 8) of the analyses of 1 Thess and 1 Cor serves the next step: a comparison with Romans that is done looking in Romans for the topics singled out in 1 Cor and 1 Thess. Topics mentioned in the summary are: God as the one true God the father; Jesus as Christ and Lord who died »for us«, was raised by God and will come again imminently as judge; the concept of participation in Christ; The Holy Spirit; moral topics, which included prohibi-tions and also the virtue of love; communal worship, community structure; community identity as a holy community; an apocalyptic cosmology and eschatology that included the parousia of Jesus; the resurrection of believers (170–171). That themes are lacking, as the concept of justification, »does not […] necessitate that they were not significant for Paul’s thought« (171–172). Here the topics of Paul’s formative instruction are related to the theory of symbolic universes and the summary suggests a comprehensive doctrinal dimension.
In the comments to Romans E.’s analysis highlights the passages where Paul argues more extensively and seems to suppose that what he presents differs from knowledge held by the audience. E. does not suggest firm conclusions, but different explanations including on p. 211 a reference to »the rhetorical situation in each letter«. The comparison is made between what is assumed to belong to Paul’s formative teaching in Thessalonica and Corinth and the teaching Paul supposed the believers in Rome were familiar with. E. notes »both continuity and difference« (210).
In the general conclusions E. holds that his study »has shown that in the middle of the first century CE there was no formalized, unified ›pattern of instruction‹ or catechesis […]. Yet […] Paul imparted a markedly detailed set of teachings, which included belief and praxis and which cohere within a larger Jewish symbolic universe« (227). The study leads E. to conclude »that the convictions Paul believed himself to share with his Roman readers do resemble a musical theme of surprising fullness and complexity« (227).
For my part I highly welcome this study and a discussion of presupposed knowledge and experience by the intended audiences of New Testament letters. The study is well written, and well struc-tured with clear specifications of issues to be discussed in each chapter and short summaries at the end of each chapter. The fol-lowing comments are more an attempt to engage in the discussion than a direct critique of E.’s study.
This discussion of early Christian teaching is difficult to pursue without running into some theological controversies as the ques-tion of ideological plurality vs. conformity among the first Chris-tians, and further how far the earliest Christian teaching is in line with the later formulated creeds of the church. It is no ideal to avoid such issues especially when the investigator shows an awareness of the reception history.
E. shows interest in how the topics observed function in a context wider than the particular letters. And when a theory of symbolic universes is applied to the collection of topics the outline of a totality emerges, anticipating elements of a comprehensive symbolic universe (see e. g. 34.35.224). And additionally, the often emphasised »ad hoc nature of Paul’s letters« (172), gives the opportunity to assume a comprehensive, systematically ordered theology existing behind the vi-sible texts as an implied system of thought, that some even may suppose to be grounded in a divine world order which have revealed itself in fractions in the Christian canonical texts. For my part I am sym-pathetic to E.’s theoretical considerations. Our problem is that a symbolic world containing practically all the parts of later Christian doctrine in a harmonious order is not accounted for in any contempor-ary source. I appreciate E.’s valuable contribution to the discussion.