Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Paul As . . . Tradent

Paul is sometimes pictured as a "loose canon" who fashions Christianity into his own idiosyncratic vision. This seems at odds with the evidence that Paul was a tradent, receiving and passing on the traditions that he received from the early Palestinian community. Several lines of evidence can be offered:
1. The tradition of the resurrection appearances of Jesus - 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. This suggests to me that the gospel narratives offer up a tradition that was not available to Paul and that may have developed subsequent to his writing. In short, Paul is not editing the gospel accounts of women being the first witnesses to the resurrection.
2. The tradition of the institution of the Lord's Supper - 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. As in the previous passage, Paul uses the language of receiving and passing on of oral tradition. Here the tradition goes all the way back to Jesus and does not refer to mystic visions/revelations (see earlier post on Paul as mystic.)
3. Use of the maranatha prayer - 1 Corinthians 16:22. Without explanation to the Corinthians, he uses liturgical language of the Aramaic speaking Jerusalem community.

In brief, Paul uses historical and worship traditions that derive from the early Jerusalem community. He will be at odds with elements of that church on inclusion of Gentiles and the role of the law in the non-Jewish faith communities he planted. But he seems at one with Jerusalem on historical and worship traditions and devotion to Jesus as Lord and Messiah.

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