Paul’s Scripture

In my quest to understand the gospel of Paul I have first decided to research how he used OT scripture. Following this, I want to understand Paul’s expectation that his audience would understand his use of OT passages. My preliminary thoughts on the matter lead me to assume that Paul expected the recipients of his letters to know the OT thoroughly enough so that when he did cite an OT passage it would refer them back to the contextual meaning of this passage.

So in using a pithy statement of scripture, Paul intended to evoke a broad context that established the foundation for the context of his own citation. In other words, when he quotes a passage from the OT it is not for the purpose of taking a scripture out of context to prove his point. He is not using his apostolic authority to rearrange theological concepts. What he is doing is creating the setting for a continuum between OT and the his own ministry of the gospel of Jesus.

Since the beginning of my time in academia I have been taught that because Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles he was obviously contextualizing the Gospel for the predominantly Gentile church. This contextualization was evident in the way Paul structured his letters, the imperial metaphors he used, the way he took OT scripture and quoted it to suit NT purposes, and the structure of the house churches he established. The predominately Gentile churches that Paul continued to minister to were very Gentile in their approach to this new religion of Christianity.

But what if the opposite were true? What if these churches were actually a lot more Jewish then we assume them to be? I have heard it taught that the Jewish influence started to fade from the churches, especially in Rome, as persecution against the Jews increased and they had to flee for their lives. With the lack of ethnic Jewish influence the church became predominately Gentile in ethnicity and therefore more Gentile in their approach to the interpretation of scripture. This is evident in early patristic writers such as Origen. To him the OT was a source from which to make Christian allegory. But before Origen, in the apostolic period, the OT was held as the divinely inspired scripture for the Christian in and of itself, without need to allegorize its contents.

In the early churches the OT was the sacred source of understanding God’s plan for the redemption of mankind through the Son, Jesus Christ. It was this Scripture that Paul established his apostolic authority on due to his encounter with the risen Jewish Messiah. It was this scripture that was taught and spoken aloud in the house church meetings. “… the scriptures that were taught in the house churches and quoted by Paul were the Jewish Scriptures that proclaimed a Jewish Messiah. The central pillars of the new movement hailed from Jerusalem and, like the synagogues of the Diaspora, members of the Christian assemblies understood themselves to be part of a larger, translocal religious movement.” (Hubbard, Christianity in the Greco-Roman World, 2101, pg 207)

OT use wasn’t relegated to the obligatory Psalm during worship or the systematic compiling of proof texts for the Messiah. It was considered the word of Yahweh to his people, the same people who were once pagans that worshiped multiple god’s with many forms of idolatry. Now these former pagans are members of the New Covenant, a covenant that finds its foundation in the OT scripture as it reveals Yahweh’s relational methodology between Himself and his chosen people, Israel.

When Paul uses the OT he links the Christian to the foundational theological moorings found in Yahweh’s plan for redemption. A plan that has been in process since the beginning of time. Paul’s scripture cannot be discovered from the apocalyptic context of 2nd Temple Judiasm. It must be interpreted through Torah centered hermenutic of the OT Writings and Prophets.

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