Thursday, 11 September 2008

PhD First Impressions

I met with my supervisor yesterday for the first time, and so even though I don’t officially start until October , I feel like I am getting down to some serious work. One of the key things that was stressed was the need for some serious German work. It is important to be able to read recent German commentaries which may not be translated into English for a number of years. To that end, we will have a weekly (or so) reading group where we will look at a German theological text. I have done a bit of work, but feel this is going to be a painful process....

I have also been assigned to read two books for next week by the German NT scholar Albert Schweitzer: Paul and His Interpreters and The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle. Thankfully, these books are available in English! So, my first day has been spent ploughing through 250 pages of the first volume. In many ways, this is a summary of German NT scholarship up to around 1910. At the same time, Schweitzer poses and tries to answer his own questions . For him, the key issue for Paul is why his teaching is different (apparently) to that of Jesus, and why in fact Paul refers so infrequently to that of Jesus. His answer is simply:

It is as though [Paul] held that between the present world-period and that in which Jesus lived and taught there exists no link of connexion, and was convinced that since the death and resurrection of the Lord conditions were present which were so wholly new that they made His teaching inapplicable, and rendered a new basis for ethics and a deeper knowledge respecting His death and resurrection.

There are obviously huge problems with this fact there are obvious problems with the question! Are the teaching of Jesus and the Apostle Paul really so radically different? Did not the other apostles recognise that what Paul taught was identical to what they taught (Gal 2:7-9)?
However, Schweitzer does make some observations that we can use to help us to probe more deeply into Paul. How do we account for the differences between the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul? Is it merely that they are different genres or is something more going on? How did Paul think about Jesus on earth and in his exalted state – what kind of connection is there? These are questions I may spend the next little while looking at...

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