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Paul the Letter Writer. By Chan Wai Hung. Introduction. Each Paul’s letter : Deal with different problems and issues Facing particular communities Distinctive contents Particular themes Is there any `Overall’ theology of Paul?. 1 Thessalonians. Place: from Corinth Time: 41-50CE

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paul the letter writer

Paul the Letter Writer

By Chan Wai Hung


Each Paul’s letter :

  • Deal with different problems and issues
  • Facing particular communities
  • Distinctive contents
  • Particular themes

Is there any `Overall’ theology of Paul?

1 thessalonians
1 Thessalonians
  • Place: from Corinth
  • Time: 41-50CE
  • Themes: made righteous or `justified’ by faith,

urged to live holy life and love one another,

  • Problem: The death before Jesus come
  • Teaching: The day of Lord will come suddenly
  • Place: southern part of the Roman province
  • Themes: expresses Paul’s astonishment to quick

change of the church to other gospel,

urged to live holy life and love one another

  • Problem: The Galatians quickly turning to another


Application of Jewish Law and circumcision,

  • Teaching: Christian’s freedom doesn’t imply immoral,

Christian live in Spirit not under law,

1 corinthians
1 Corinthians
  • Issues: The divisions among the Church

issues connected with those divisions

(sexual immorality, taking case to court,

worship appearance, the Lord’s Supper,

use of spiritual gifts, the resurrection…etc. )

  • Teaching: urged to live holy life and love one another
2 corinthians
2 Corinthians
  • Themes: confrontation from Paul ,

comparing Paul with his opponents,

Paul’s thankfulness

  • Theme: Personal window on social relationship in

early church

  • Issue:Onesimus run away or done some wrong things

to his owner

  • Teaching: set free to Onesimus
  • Theme: Rejoicing
  • Issue: preaching of circumcision by Jewish-Christian


  • Teaching: stand firm in their commitment to Christ,

selfless love to one another

  • Time: 55-58CE.
  • Theme: Theological argument as base,

Ethical instruction

  • Issues: Paul need practical and spiritual support,

Tensions between Jewish and Gentile Christian,

  • Teachings: Both sides are under sin and saved by God,

justified by faith, released from sin by

dying with Christ, new life in the Spirit


Can we read Paul’s letter without the context?

Is there any difference between reading Paul’s letter as `overall’ Theology and as contextual response?

criticism of pauline letters

Criticism of Pauline letters

Rhetorical criticism

Social Scientific approach

Political approach

Feminist interpretation

rhetorical criticism
Rhetorical criticism

Greco-Roman Rhetoric :

the art of public speaking to persuade the listeners


  • Understand letter structure
  • Examine Paul’s style by techniques of that time
  • Get the central thesis or argument of Paul
  • Appreciate better to Paul’s art work
rhetorical criticism1
Rhetorical criticism

Hans Dieter Betz:

The rhetorical structure of Galatians :

  • The epistolary prescript (1.1-5) :opening
  • The exordium (1.6-11) :prepare the reader
  • The narratio(1.12-2.14) : statement of facts
  • The propositio (2.15-21): summary of narratio , main theses
  • The probatio(3.1-4.31): The Proof of the case
  • The exhortatioor paraenesis (5.1-6.10) :

Exhortation and instruction

  • The conlusio(6.11-18): sum up and final concerns
rhetorical criticism2
Rhetorical criticism

Margaret Mitchell

Three Types of rhetoric identified

Forensic or Judicial: persuade to make judgment of past events

Deliberative: persuade to take action in future

Epideictic: persuade to reaffirm points at present

1 Corinthians as Deliberative rhetoric

social scientific approach
Social-scientific approach

Social-scientific approach:

Use of theories from Anthropology and Sociology


understand relationship between early Christians and the wider world

social scientific approach1
Social-scientific approach

The social level of the Pauline Christians

GerdTheissen (1974) : Corinth Church

  • Majority lower class
  • Few influential members from upper class
  • Mixed levels but very top and bottom

Justin Meggitt(1998) `new consensus’

  • Majority come from poor
  • Close to subsistence level
social scientific approach2
Social-scientific approach

The character of the Pauline congregations


  • Baptism works as `ritual of initiation’
  • Lord’s Supper as `ritual of solidarity’

Robin Scroggs (1975): NT Church as Sociological `sects’

  • Distinction between insider and outsider,
  • Intensity of fellowship love,
  • Egalitarianism and lack or organized hierarchy
social scientific approach3
Social-scientific approach

Leadership in the Pauline churches

  • Lack of formal offices
  • Spirit’s gifts distributed not by official positions
  • Leadership positions started after Paul’s death
  • BengtHolmbery:

3 levels of authority relationship of Paul:

      • with leaders in Jerusalem,
      • over his own congregations,
      • within those congregations themselves
political approach
Political approach

Relationship between Paul and the Roman Empire

Adolf Deissmann,

  • Parallelism between the cult of the emperor and the cult of Christ,
  • Christians using terms from emperor worship

Richard Horsley, (1997)

  • Paul seems submission to the state, and see imperial authority as instruments of God
  • Building new society as alternative to Rome dominaton
  • Household assemblies opposed the state
feminist approaches
Feminist approaches


A modern debate about position of women in society and church.


  • Argued that Paul was in favour of women’s liberation and equality
feminist approaches1
Feminist approaches

Elisabeth SchusslerFiorenza,

`In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Orgins‘,1983

  • Reconstruct early history of Christianity,
  • Suggested that the history was male centered,
  • Text was written by man and interpreted by man,
feminist approaches2
Feminist approaches

The earliest Christianity :

(i.e. Jesus movement & Pauline Church)

  • Equality in Spirit,
  • Full and active participation of women,
  • Husband and wife owe to one another , implies equal and parallel status for both partners. (1 Corinthians 7)
  • Paul advice of free from marriage bond opposite to exiting law and culture, offered possibility of indepant of women.
feminist approaches3
Feminist approaches

Correction of interpretations of Paul’s teaching about women in Church:

  • 1 Cor 11.2-16 : all things come from God, women has rights to pray and prophesy
  • 1 Cor 14.34-35 : wife, not women
  • Col3.18-4.1, Eph 5.21-6.9 The `household codes’: Not Paul’s writing but his `patriarchal zed’ followers

Paul’s impact on women’s leadership in Christian missionary.

feminist approaches4
Feminist approaches


Paul’s impact on women’s leadership in Christian missionary movement is double edged.

  • Affirms equality and freedom,
  • Subordinates women’s behavior in marriage and in worship.