The Diffictult Task of Pauline Ethics – Part II

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.1
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 5:7.2 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.”3Thus 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.”4There 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.”5What 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.”6But 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.7He, 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.8
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.”9Schnabel, 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.”10This 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.”11Though 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’s12analysis 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).”13It 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.”14Thielman 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.”15What 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:

Theological Motivation
Normative Obligation
Concretizing Orientation
Dominical Sayings
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).16It is necessary to keep in mind however that “[f]or Paul Christian ethics is neither legalistically motivated nor antinomistically executed nor situation-ethically privatized.”17In Schnabel’s analysis the character of Pauline ethics18is 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.”19

But we also need to keep in mind that Pauline ethics cannot be divorced from his theology—as seen in the chart above.20Paul’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.”21In 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.22As 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.”23This 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 church24—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 believer25and 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.26I 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 law27but under grace (Gal. 3:10-12; Rom. 6:14)” yet he still “insists that they keep commandments that are derives from the law.”28James 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.”29Though 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).”30There 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.31
           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.32There are external norms and commandments and “freedom from the law” does not preclude its function for ethical formation for the believer.33

1For a detailed survey of nineteenth and twentieth research on the topic of Pauline ethics see Victor Paul Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 242–279. For recent research in the last four decades see Nijay Gupta, “The Theo-Logic of Paul’s Ethics in Recent Research: Crosscurrents and Future Directions in Scholarship in the Last Forty Years,” Currents in Biblical Research 7, no. 3 (2009): 336–361. For another survey which picks up Furnish’s work until 1994 (thus 1964-1994) see Wendell Willis, “Bibliography: Pauline Ethics, 1964-1994.,” in Theology and Ethics in Paul and His Interpreters (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 306–319. All of these works mentioned are to be credited for the overview given in this section.
2Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, trans. Kendrick Grobel (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007), 332. See also idem., “The Problem of Ethics in Paul,” in Understanding Paul’s Ethics: Twentieth Century Approaches, ed. Brian S. Rosner, trans. Christoph W. Stenschke (Grand Rapids, MI : Carlisle, U.K: Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1995), 195–216.
3Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul, 225. For an evaluation of the different indicative-imperative understandings see Michael Parsons, “Being Precedes Act: Indicative and Imperative in Paul’s Writing,” in Understanding Paul’s Ethics: Twentieth Century Approaches, ed. Brian S. Rosner (Grand Rapids, MI : Carlisle, U.K.: Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1995), 217–247.
4Richard B. Hays, “Ecclesiology and Ethics in 1 Corinthians.,” Ex auditu 10 (1994): 31–43; Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics, 1st ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996).
5Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 43.
6Udo Schnelle, Apostle Paul: His Life and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 232. Schnelle maintains that “Paul uses the Old Testament as a normative ethical authority only in a very reserved manner; the Torah is concentrated into the love command (cf. Rom 13:8-10) and thus integrated into the contemporary ethos” (557). For him “The Pauline ethic is not first of all an ethic of command but an ethic of insight” (558).
7Eduard Lohse, “The Church in Everyday Life: Considerations of the Theological Basis of Ethics in the New Testament,” in Understanding Paul’s Ethics: Twentieth Century Approaches, ed. Brian S. Rosner, trans. George S. Rosner and Brian S. Rosner (Grand Rapids, MI : Carlisle, U.K: Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1995), 252. He also points out the development of the double love commandment in Judaism prior to Jesus’ ministry and refers to the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. In Test Iss 5:1-2 we read for example: “Keep therefore the law of God, my children, and get simplicity, and walk in guilelessness, not prying over-curiously into the commands of God and the business of your neighbour; but love the Lord and your neighbour, have compassion on the poor and weak” (Translation from “The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs”, trans. R. Sinker, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VIII: Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: The Twelve Patriarchs, Excerpts and Epistles, the Clementina, Apocrypha, Decretals, Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac Documents, Remains of the First Ages, ed. Alexander Roberts et al. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 22. See also Test Ben 3:3 and Test Dan 5:3.
8Lohse, “The Church in Everyday Life: Considerations of the Theological Basis of Ethics in the New Testament,” 257, 260.
9Troels Engberg-Pedersen, “The Continuing Role of the Mosaic Law as Part of Paul’s Paraenesis,” Africa Theological Journal 25, no. 1 (2002): 52.
10Eckhard J. Schnabel, Der erste Brief des Paulus an die Korinther, HistorischTheologische Auslegung (HTA) (Wuppertal, [Germany]: R. Brockhaus, 2006), 325.

11Thomas R. Schreiner, “The Abolition and Fulfillment of the Law in Paul,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, no. 35 (1989): 60. Similarly Hooker, “Interchange in Christ and Ethics,” 13. “As a guiding principle, the notion of conformity to the gospel can take one a long way. The problem is that it does not offer very clear guidance” in ethical issues (13).
12Here Schreiner refers to Lindemann, “Die Biblischen Toragebote und die Paulinische Ethik.”
13Schreiner, “The Abolition and Fulfillment of the Law in Paul,” 64. This, however, should not be dichotomized. The OT law as well as Pauline epistles is clear that it is about the inner affections of the worshipper (see e.g. Deut 10:12-22; cf. also chapter four of this thesis). It is not the case that we find the OT only concerned with external observations and regulations, which then in the NT becomes a matter of inner disposition. What Jesus is faulting in the Pharisees is that they misinterpret the Law and neglect the “weightier matters of the Law” (Matt 23:23).
14Ibid., 65.
15Frank Thielman, “Law and Liberty in the Ethics of Paul,” Ex Auditu 11 (1995): 72.
16See also J. F. Kilner, “A Pauline Approach to Ethical Decision-Making,” Interpretation 43, no. 4 (1989): 366–379. He maintains that there is a three-fold basis to Paul’s moral reasoning. It is (1) God-centered, (2) reality-bounded, and (3) love impelled.
17Schnabel, “How Paul Developed His Ethics,” 297. See also Hans-Joachim Eckstein , “Gesetz, Evangelium und Weisung bei Paulus,” 17. Accessed on 03-22-2012 at downloads/Eckstein_Gesetz.pdf; published in: W. Haubeck / W. Heinrichs, Gesetz und Evangelium. Zuspruch und Anspruch in Bibel, Verkündigung und Seelsorge, Theologische Impulse 19, Witten 2009, 29-61; who writes: “In Ethik, Paränese oder Paraklese wird nicht dargestellt, was der Mensch nun seinerseits und von sich aus zu seinem Heil beizutragen hätte, sondern anschaulich vor Augen gestellt, wie sich ein Leben in der Gnade Jesu Christi, in der Liebe Gottes und in der Gemeinschaft des Heiligen Geistes konkret im Leben der Glaubenden entfalten kann.”

18For a similar breakdown see the dissertation by Wolfgang Schrage, Die konkreten Einzelgebote in der paulinischen Paränese: Ein Beitrag zur neutestamentlichen Ethik (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, G. Mohn, 1961). specifically ch. VIII „Die den apostolischen Forderung zugrunde liegenden inhaltichen Normen“ in which the following items are mentioned: Natur, Sitte, „Ordnungen“, Altes Testament und Gersetz, die Herrenworte, und Liebe als oberste Norm.

19For a description and understanding of the terms see Eckhard J. Schnabel, “How Paul Developed His Ethics: Motivations, Norms and Criteria of Pauline Ethics,” in Understanding Paul’s Ethics: Twentieth Century Approaches (ed. Brian S. Rosner; Grand Rapids, MI: Carlisle, U.K: Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1995), 293–97 and idem., Law and Wisdom from Ben Sira to Paul: A Tradition Historical Enquiry into the Relation of Law, Wisdom, and Ethics, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. Reihe 2; 16 (Tübingen: Mohr, 1985), 299–342.
20See e.g. J. D. G Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 626 who writes that the dichotomy of “theology followed by application” is wrong because “Paul never spoke other than as pastor. His theology was a living theology, a practical theology through and through.” See also Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul, 110.
21Schnabel, “How Paul Developed His Ethics: Motivations, Norms and Criteria of Pauline Ethics,” 269.
22The salvation-historical motivation mentioned by Schnabel is here subsumed under the eschatological paradigm. Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul, 213 mentions three “basic motifs”: a theological, an eschatological, and a Christological motif. The above analysis leans heavily on Schnabel, “How Paul Developed His Ethics: Motivations, Norms and Criteria of Pauline Ethics,” 293-294.
23 Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 738.
24See also Hays, “Ecclesiology and Ethics in 1 Corinthians.”
25As Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul, 50 states in regards to a Hellenistic or Jewish background of Paul’s ethical reasoning: “A one-sided decision about Paul’s background … is bound to result in a one-sided interpretation of his ethics. This ethic can be brought into sharper focus when it is acknowledged that Paul was a Jew of the Diaspora—of the Hellenistic world.”
26Though see the next two chapters which will deal with the issue of Paul and the Law and the role of the Law in Romans.
27See future posts on being “under the law”.
28James W. Thompson, Moral Formation According to Paul: The Context and Coherence of Pauline Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 111.
29Ibid., 113.
30Schreiner, “The Abolition and Fulfillment of the Law in Paul,” 54. See also Z. Holloway, “A Conceptual Foundation for Using the Mosaic Law in Christian Ethics — Part 2,” Churchman 120, no. 3 (2006) who writes “Paul chooses to use direct quotes precisely because these Mosaic commands still hold some kind of imperatival force. The above quotes are used in parenetic passages, and not merely in an indicative way, to provide background to Paul’s own imperative commands. Rather Paul continues to use the Mosaic commands as imperatives, authoritative as command” (218; emphasis original).
31Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 662. See also in support of such Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul, 28–44; Traugott Holtz, “The Question of the Content of Paul’s Instructions,” in Understanding Paul’s Ethics: Twentieth Century Approaches, ed. Brian S. Rosner, trans. George S. Rosner and Brian S. Rosner (Grand Rapids, MI: Carlisle, U.K: Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1995), 51–71; Richard B. Hays, “The Role of Scripture in Paul’s Ethics,” in Theology and Ethics in Paul and His Interpreters (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 30–47.
32Or as Schreiner, “The Abolition and Fulfillment of the Law in Paul,” 65, puts it: “[U]niversal moral norms from the OT law were genuinely a part of Pauline ethics, but they were by no means the heart of Pauline ethics.”
33See also Schrage, Die konkreten Einzelgebote in der paulinischen Paränese, 9–12, whose entire argument is that there is a “biblischen Materialethik mit inhaltlichen Normen und Geboten” (9). 

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