Return to my M.A. Thesis – Definition of Terms

It has been a while, but here is another post on my thesis I wrote for TEDS M.A. New Testament … more will follow. 

 

“Well, that’s just semantics!” is a frequently heard argument when it comes to a point in discussion where we realize that the entire time the subject matter was agreed upon, yet different terminology was used. Take for example my use of Law and Torah which I do use quite interchangeably—two different words pointing to the same referent. But what is meant by Law/Torah and what do we mean when we talk about ethics (or paranaesis/paraklesis)? These terms need to be defined, so that we will not end up with the dilemma of getting lost in translation or different understandings about terms.

Paraenesis/Paraklesis/Ethics

At this point I do not wish to report on word studies on παρακαλέω or παράκλησις, but I do wish to clarify what is meant by ethics throughout this thesis.[1]  Technically the terminus technicus for ethical admonition would be paraklesis but throughout this work the terms ethics, moral instructions, or paraklesis will be used interchangeably.[2] Whatever terms we use we need to clarify their referent.

It is of interest to observe that Paul based his moral exhortations in a certain way.[3] We read in Rom 12:1 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God” (emphasis mine), in 12:3 “by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you” (emphasis mine) and in 15:30 “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit” (emphasis mine). Paul thus appeals to the Roman Christians on the basis of God’s grace.

Other crucial elements of this kind of ethics contrary to any philosophical system are the marks of a “relationship with God; … [the] imposed obligation to obedience; its appeal to the deepest in people; its down-to-earth social relevance; and its capacity for continual adaption and development.”[4] These are fundamental in understanding Paul’s moral reasoning. But coming back to the definition of terms, Vetschera’s definition of paraenesis is: “a literary work which by its structure and aim delineates a collection of precepts which relate unexceptionally to the practical conduct of life, indeed to promote it, as far as it can, and to lead to virtue.”[5] It is about how we live. Ethics, in short, tells us in what manner we should behave in our day to day situations. “In Paul, all of this complements his missionary preaching, setting out parameters of the Christian life-style which pleases God, however similar it is to that of their non-Christian neighbors.”[6] A living sacrifice pleasing to God (cf. Rom 12:1); this is what ethics is all about. Again Rosner is right on spot when he states that “we are simply thinking of the dogmatic distinction between doctrine, what Christians believe, and ethics, how Christians behave.”[7] Our behavior is what counts as we are being conformed into the image of Christ (cf. Rom 8:29) and we ὅμοιοι αὐτῷ ἐσόμεθα (1 John 3:2).

Law/Torah[8]

Again I want to stress that at this point I am not trying to define νόμος or תֹּורָה in their technical usage, to trace the development of the terms, or to draw an understanding of the law in the final age.[9] For this the sources below will need to suffice.[10] Here I want to clarify what is meant throughout this work when Law/Torah language is being used. For this purpose I will stress some of the summarizing highlights found in these articles as well as some other ones on the topic at hand.

As a start Joseph Bonsirven calls the term Torah an “impressive and almost untranslatable word.”[11] In one sense this is true. It is quite complicated to establish a coherent system of thought and meaning for this term which is applicable to all the implications at all times. But this is not the task here. In my opinion, we can define the term and have a meaningful discussion thereof. We need not talk about semantic range or pragmatics at this point but rather establish the referent to which Torah is pointing.

First of all it is quite important to keep in mind that Torah is more than just precepts of laws or law regulations. M. J. Selman states: “A survey of the 220 occurrences of tôrâ throughout the OT reveals three main aspects to this word. It involves (1) teaching or instruction to be learned, (2) commands to be obeyed and (3) guidance about how to live in specific situations.”[12] Peter Enns for example points to Ps 78 and writes that “[i]t is important to see that תּוֹרָה encompasses not only specific legal or moral instruction, but also a historical review of Israel’s past, i.e., the narrative portions of the Pentateuch. In other words, Ps 78 suggests that the Pent. as a whole was seen as תּוֹרָה.”[13] Further, Torah needs to be seen in “its theological character” which means “the context of Yahweh’s covenant with his people.”[14]

Having stated the above the term Torah in my understanding and usage for this thesis refers to “(1) teaching or instruction to be learned, (2) commands to be obeyed and (3) guidance about how to live in specific situations” as pointed out above.[15] But more will be said in reference to νόμος and its significance in the book of Romans in a later post.


[1]For dictionary articles on παρακαλέω/παράκλησις see  J. Thomas, “παρακαλέω,” ed. Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990); Otto Schmitz, “παρακαλέω κτλ,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964); G. Braumann, “παρακαλέω,” ed. Lothar Coenen, Erich Beyreuther, and Hans Bietenhard, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986).

[2]See Thomas, “παρακαλέω,” 24. and Schnabel, “How Paul Developed His Ethics,” 268. Contra Michael B. Thompson, “Teaching/Paranaesis,” ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 922. . Similarly, Everett Ferguson writes: “Paranaesis is a broader term for moral exhortation to follow a given course of action or to abstain from a contrary behavior,” Backgrounds of Early Christianity (3rd ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 322.

[3] Braumann, “παρακαλέω,” 570, states that Paul “does not give his readers direct moral instruction, but addresses them ‘through’ (dia) God or Christ” which then shows his understanding of being some kind of mediator.  I think that Paul gives direct moral admonition but he does this on the basis of God’s act in Jesus Christ. Braumann is to be credited with pointing to the passages in Romans.

[4]R. E. O. White, “Ethics, Biblical,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001), 402.

[5]R. Vetschera, Zur Griechischen Paränes (Smichow: Prague) 1911–1912 quoted in Benjamin Fiore, “Parenesis and Protreptic,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996), 5:163. See also  S. C. Mott, “Ethics,” ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 269.

[6]Fiore, “Parenesis and Protreptic,” 164.

[7]Rosner, “‘That Pattern of Teaching’: Issues and Essays in Pauline Ethics,” 4.

[8]For detailed word analysis see Peter Enns, “Law of God,” ed. Willem VanGemeren, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997); G. Liedke and C. Petersen, “תֹּורָה tôrâ instruction,” ed. Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann, Tehological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997); H.-H. Esser, “νόμος,” ed. Lothar Coenen, Erich Beyreuther, and Hans Bietenhard, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986); H. Hübner, “νόμος,” ed. Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990); Frank Thielman, “Law,” ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993); M. J. Selman, “Law,” ed. T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003)..

[9]For an introductory survey of the law in the final age see e.g. ch. 17 “Covenant and Law in the Final Age” in Scott, Jr., Customs and controversies, 325–333.

[10]For a more introductory historical and theological framework Frank Thielman, “Law,” ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993); M. J. Selman, “Law,” ed. T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003). On a distinctive literary analysis for theological implications see Tod Linafelt, “Prolegomena to Meaning, or, What is `Literary’ about the Torah?,” Theological Studies 69 (2008): 62–79. For temporal significance of the Torah in Judaism see J. Neusner, “The Religious Meaning of the Torah,” Review of Rabbinic Judaism 11, no. 1 (2008): 1–32. For the preciousness of the law in Rabbinic Judaism see e.g. Exodus Rabbah 33.1, Siphre Numbers, Shelah, 115, 35a, Kiddushin 30b found in C. K. Barrett, The New Testament Background: Writings from Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire That Illuminate Christian Origins, Rev. ed. (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1989), 192–194. Later the “law was identified with Wisdom (Sirach 24)” Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, third ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 539. see also Claude Cox, “When Torah Embraced Wisdom and Song: Job 28:28, Ecclesiastes 12:13, and Psalm 1:2,” Restoration Quarterly 49 (2007): 65–74.

[11]J. Bonsirven, Palestinian Judaism in the Time of Jesus Christ, trans. William Wolf, 1st American ed. (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964), 80.

[12]Selman, “Law,” 498.

[13]Enns, “Law of God,” 897.

[14]Selman, “Law,” 509. See Gordon J. Wenham, “Law,” in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer et al. (London; Grand Rapids, MI: SPCK; Baker Academic, 2005), for keys ideas of the covenant: (1) Divine grace in past history; (2) Law; (3) Blessing if law obeyed; and (4) Curse if law disobeyed (444).

[15]Some see Torah primarily as story; see e.g. James A. Sanders, “Torah and Christ,” Interpretation 29, no. 4 (1975): 380 and John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary, Library of Biblical interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992). But it is not the story of the Pentateuch alone: “To the Jew … the term Torah implied a teaching or instruction, and was therefore wide enough to embrace the whole of Scriptures,” so S. Schlechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (New York: Schocken Books, 1961), 125; quoted in Stephen Westerholm, “Torah, Nomos, and Law: A Question of ‘Meaning’,” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 15, no. 3 (1986): 328. Schlechter also observes that even if the term Torah would be reserved for the Pentateuch, it has to be seen that the Pentateuch is “no mere legal code” and points out that major parts of it are “simple history.” Yet Westerholm rightly points out that Torah can at points be translated as νόμος. We can see that Torah might refer to the entire Hebrew Scriptures also in Paul. He uses νόμος in Rom 3:21 and Gal. 4:21 to refer to the Pentateuch. But in Rom 3:19 where he just quoted from primarily the Psalms and also Isaiah he writes: “οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι ὅσα ὁ νόμος λέγει τοῖς ἐν τῷ νόμῳ λαλεῖ” (emphasis mine). Here then the term νόμος needs to refer to at least those two referents. These, according to the division of the Hebrew Scriptures, represent the Writings and the Prophets; Esser, “νόμος,” 444. He is to be credited with the observations above and the following. In 1 Cor 14:21 Paul quotes from Isa 28:11-12 (which itself alludes to Deut 28:49) and calls such ἐν τῷ νόμῳ γέγραπται. This is not to say that νόμος never refers to “the Mosaic law, and the Decalogue in particular (Rom. 2:14a; 2:17; 3:28; 7:12; Gal. 5:3) in its demand for unconditional obedience from the Jews” (idem.). Liedke and Petersen point out that “the view, developed in Hos, Isa, and esp. Deut, of the unity of the ‘law,’ which leads to the designation not only of the Pentateuch but of the entire OT canon as tôrâ”, Liedke and Petersen, “תֹּורָה tôrâ instruction,” 1422. Jesus himself in John 10:34 quotes Ps 82:6 which he introduces with the question “οὐκ ἔστιν γεγραμμένον ἐν τῷ νόμῳ” (emphasis mine).

 

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