Last week we looked at the ipsissima verba Pauli to briefly see his use of Scripture for ethics. In today’s post, I would like to consider some of the secondary literature to survey other paradigms of Pauline ethics. Here I do not envision a full bibliographic and exhaustive list of options in Pauline ethics, but to mention some representative views and scholars so that a broad overview can be established.
Different Paradigms of Pauline Ethics
Rudolf Bultmann in his Theology of the New Testament thinks of the indicative-imperative paradigm. He reasons that the imperative, i.e., the ethical instructions in Paul, are based on the indicative. This indicative speaks of the believer being justified before God. Thus the phrase “Become what you are!” is the ethical way of thinking of the apostle. Or stated differently, the believer is already in right relationship to God (the indicative) and that is why she needs to conduct her life accordingly (the imperative). Bultmann writes that “the imperative, ‘walk according to the Spirit,’ not only does not contradict the indicative of justification … but results from it: ‘Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be fresh dough, as you really are unleavened’” referencing 1 Cor 5:7. Similarly, though with different emphases is the work of Victor P. Furnish. One exemplary quote should suffice here. Furnish writes: “God’s claim is regarded by the apostle as a constitutive part of God’s gift…. The Pauline imperative is not just the result of the indicative but fully integral to it.”Thus he differs from Bultmann in that the “becoming” is already part of “being” itself.
A similar approach to Pauline ethics can be found in the works of Richard Hays. In his works we find the norm for instruction in the appeal to the eschatological community itself. For Hays “[e]thics is ecclesiology” and ethics cannot be done without community. “Ethics is simply the church’s imaginative outworking of its identity as the Israel of God.”There seem to be no external rules or norms but “right action must be discerned on the basis of a christological paradigm, with a view to the need of the community.”What is best for the community—the people of God—is hence the standard of behavior.
One of the most predominant characters in Paul’s moral reasoning is seen in his emphasis on love. Udo Schnelle maintains that Paul’s moral instruction stems from many sources (like nature and popular morality, Old Testament) but that “[t]he norm of Pauline meaning formation is love.”But we also need to keep in mind that the love command itself is already found in Torah. We find for example the love command for one’s neighbor in Lev 19:18 and the love for the “stranger/sojourner” in v. 34 and of course the command to love God (see e.g. Deut 6:5; 10:12; 11:1, 13). Thus “love” is already an ethical standard within Torah. Eduard Lohse sees the double commandment of love the key to New Testament ethics in general.He, however, seems to be cautious in that he refers to the love commandment as “the fundamental orientation” and that therefore concrete situations may have to look for different sources of ethical standards; for example to the Old Testament, instructions found in Judaism, or even to Stoic philosophy.
Another similar viewpoint is expressed by Troels Engeberg-Pedersen who writes that in Paul’s paraklesis“the Mosaic Law returns again, though not with a vengeance and neither as a whole, but in piecemeal manner of Paul’s particular, paraenetic instructions.” He further maintains that this is so “because in its supposed essence (the love command) and also in all those specific instructions that can in so many ways be referred back to the love command, it of course continues to express the will of God.”Schnabel, however, rightly argues that love is not a foundation for ethics. He writes: “Liebe begründet keine Ethik. Die Liebe ist der Maßstab für die Art und Weise, wie bestehende Werte und Gebote zu praktizieren sind.”This then sounds similar to that of Lohse. Love itself is fundamental to ethics, but it is not fundamental ethics. Love by itself does not tell us what to do. As Schreiner puts it, “Love without specific and concrete moral explication easily becomes a plastic notion which is molded in the way each person desires.”Though I wish not to deny the power and utter necessity of love for Christian living, I do want to caution to solely base our ethics on such.
Schreiner makes a crucial observation which cautions our reluctance: “It should also be said that Lindemann’sanalysis rightly shows that the moral norms of the OT law were not the most crucial element of Paul’s ethical view. What was more important was the affections, i.e. the motives of the heart which manifested themselves in concrete actions (Gal. 5.14; Rom. 13.8-10).”It seems therefore that Lohse, Schnabel, and Schreiner are saying something similar in different ways. Schreiner sees love as the “center of Christian ethics” but not the exclusion of specific “commandments and obligations” which otherwise would mutate into “a mystical and sentimental fog.”Thielman similarly observes that the logia Jesu, “the example of his selfless work of redemption, and the moral precepts of the OT as they are absorbed into the ethical perspective of the New would retain their status as non-negotiable ethical guidelines for believers.”What is being said here is that for Paul ethics is multi-faceted and there is no one ultimate factor which stands out the most.
Having briefly looked at different paradigms of Pauline ethics, we do well to look for some clarification and systematic treatment concerning Paul’s paraklesis. We find help in Eckhard Schnabel’s analysis of the subject at hand. He divides the issue of Pauline ethics into motivations, norms, and criteria and therefore is able to clearly elaborate on Paul’s moral reasoning. The following chart illustrates Schnabel’s understanding:
Teachings of the Apostles
Order of Creation
The Holy Spirit
The Existing Orders
Via this chart we see that Pauline ethics and the study thereof is not a matter of simplicity, nor can we boil down the issue to only one aspect (e.g. the love command).It is necessary to keep in mind however that “[f]or Paul Christian ethics is neither legalistically motivated nor antinomistically executed nor situation-ethically privatized.”In Schnabel’s analysis the character of Pauline ethicsis best seen through (1) the theological motivation, that is “God’s salvific action in Jesus Christ and its consequences” and thus “theocentric”, (2) the normative obligation, that is “Paul assumes binding norms in his explication and concretization of right Christian conduct,” and (3) the concertizing orientation which implies two aspects “the believer is to live in correspondence to the binding norms of Christian ethics and he is to realize the ‘obedience of faith’ in the concrete situations of everyday life.”
But we also need to keep in mind that Pauline ethics cannot be divorced from his theology—as seen in the chart above.Paul’s moral reasoning stems from his theology which finds its ultimate center in God’s eschatological action, the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, “who is the Kyrios of the church” and thus “establishes, implies and inspires Christian behavior.”In the following I will specifically pay attention to the different paradigms of Paul’s ethics via (a) eschatology, (b) Christology, (c) pneumatology, and (d) ecclesiology.As one can see Torah is not among the theological motivation but, according to Schnabel, it has a normative obligation, to which we will turn after the short overview of the different paradigms.
The Eschatological Paradigm
Many passages (cf. e.g. Rom 13:11-14; 1 Cor 3:11-14; 4:5; 9:24-25; 2 Cor 5:10; Gal 6:7-10; Phil 3:14) speak of the future reward of the believer. This already gives theological motivation for one’s behavior. But in 1 Cor 15 Paul addresses the believers in Corinth with his view of the resurrection due to moral issues within the church. There are three imperatives in 1 Cor 15:33, 34, and 58. All these reflect the moral conflicts the Corinthian church is having. That is why Paul argues that it really matters what we do with our human bodies. A belief in the bodily resurrection corrects our day to day behavior. In that light Paul exhorts the Corinthian believers: “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning” (v. 34a).
Not only that but “[p]hysical, earthly, and bodily existence have to do with the nature of creation as God made it and, in a completely redeemed and transformed version, is part of the nature of the context and existence that God has in mind for us and the rest of creation throughout eternity.”This means that the eschatological motivation also keeps creation and salvation together.
The salvation-historical motivation (which belongs to Paul’s eschatological understanding) “solves” the problem of the indicative and the imperative. The “already-but-not-yet” are in tension. Christ has brought the current aeon to and end, yet the new one has not fully broken in. Thus we need ethical commands to discern “what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2).
The Christological Paradigm
For Paul the life, death, and resurrection as well as the lordship of Christ build a foundational aspect for his ethical instructions. We read e.g. in Rom 6:4 that we “were buried therefore with him [i.e., Christ] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” This newness of life is grounded in the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As we are now “in Christ” we live for and through him. Further, “if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (14:8). With that in view Paul can appeal to the Christian in Rome “by [the] Lord Jesus Christ” (15:30). The Christological paradigm can also clearly be seen in passages like Phil 2:5-11 and Eph 5:25.
The Pneumatological Paradigm
The pneumatological motivation also is the power with which the believer in the New Covenant is “equipped” to actually keep the covenant with God (cf. Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 36:22-37). Thus Paul sees the Holy Spirit as the person who enables us to live a life pleasing the Lord. Paul writes in Rom 8:3-4 that “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” In this passage we actually see the eschatological action of God in His Son as further motivations and foundational paradigms in Paul’s moral reasoning (see the respective sections on such). Our lives are lived in the power of the Holy Sprit and “if we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:13-25).
The Ecclesiological Paradigm
The fellowship of the believers is another motivational paradigm in Paul’s paraklesis. This is most evident in Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian church—specifically 1 Cor 8:1-11:1 where the issue of food sacrificed to idols is talked about. But we also see the ecclesiological dimension of Paul’s moral reasoning in chs. 12-14. We read for example in 1 Cor 12:7 in conjunction with the manifestations and gifts of the Holy Spirit, that these are given “for the common good.” In regards to prophetic speech Paul also states that this is given for the edification of the church (14:4). The moral conduct of the Christian is thus not purely a private manner as if our freedom in Christ justifies to sin against our brother and sister which ultimately is a “sin against Christ” (8:12). Other passages which speak of the pneumatological paradigm can be found e.g. in Rom 12:16; 15:5; Phil 2:2 and 4:2.
At this point I wish once more to clarify that the purpose of these posts is not to establish thecriteria for Pauline ethics, but to show that Torah is critical to a certain extent for the New Testament believerand to the way Paul understands it in light of Rom 13:8-10. Another item which needs to be addressed here is that I am not writing about salvation and justification—but about ethics. The main issue is not the Law in general in Pauline theology, but its function within the moral demands for the believer.I wish to demonstrate this with a detailed discussion of Rom 13:8-10.
At the beginning of this section we were talking about von Harnack’s evaluation and I do want to make some more points concerning Paul’s use of Torah for ethical norms. It is of interests to observe that Paul “derives a limited number of commandments from the Torah, omitting … the laws that are badges of membership: circumcision, Sabbath, and food laws. Thus he affirms in Galatians and Romans that the believers are not under lawbut under grace (Gal. 3:10-12; Rom. 6:14)” yet he still “insists that they keep commandments that are derives from the law.”James W. Thompson links Paul’s moral reasoning to his understanding of the Law in general. As we have observed in the introduction to this section Paul does indeed view the Scriptures as written down for our instructions and thus it comes as no surprise that he uses the Law—being part of Scripture—for moral instruction. Thompson again observes that since “the world of the Torah provided the churches with identity” so does it also provide “their ethos as they placed themselves within Israel’s story.”Though I would like to disagree that Christians are placed “within Israel’s story” and would affirm that the Messianic era extends Israel’s story, nevertheless Torah is binding as God’s revelation in that it still instructs the believer. And it is crucial to keep in mind that “there is no necessary polarity between life in the Spirit and external demands. The Spirit and the Word work in harmony for Paul (Gal. 3.2; Rom. 10.16-17).”There is no need to distinguish between obedience to the Spirit and obedience to God’s Word. Unfortunately such a distinction is often heard in our churches today. Another crucial observation is made by Dunn which is worthwhile quoting here at lengths:
Paul cited scriptural authority only when arguing a controversial line, whereas his paraenesis usually lacks much explicit scriptural reference precisely because the paraenesis was uncontroversial; an allusion was sufficient. In other words, the authority of scripture as a continuing criterion for Christian conduct is for the most part simply presupposed. It was scripture understood in light of Christ, but it was still authoritative scripture.
Let me conclude this section with stating again that my goal is not to demonstrate that Torah is the only way of moral reasoning for Paul but that it is for sure part of the apostle’s ethical commands.There are external norms and commandments and “freedom from the law” does not preclude its function for ethical formation for the believer.