Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Paul, Lonergan, and the Law

I've been thinking about Paul lately, for a variety of reasons. It has me thinking about Paul and the Law. I know: stunningly original topic. No one has enter thought about Paul and the Law before. Yet there you have it.

Thinking about Paul and the Law also gets me thinking about Lonergan, as in, how would one think about Paul in Lonerganian terms. As a Jesuit and a theologian Lonergan is not unfamiliar with Paul, and cites him on occasion. That's not what interests me. What interests me is how, as a New Testament scholar active in 2014, working on this side of the New Perspective debates, how might Lonergan's overall project help me think about Paul?

One of the central problems of Pauline interpretation is understanding how it is that Paul can both affirm that the Law is good whilst sharply critiquing the Law. Lonergan has this wonderful phrase, "the level of our time." By that he means that insights from one generation build upon other, such that over time truth leads to truth whilst dispensing with errors. As such one can affirm that there was a time when x was well and good but that that time has passed. I think that Paul evinces a similar but less-developed awareness. The less-developed aspect of this awareness is primarily that Paul could not understand the concept of development itself; as Meyer has argued we did not begin to fully grasp the significance of development, whether doctrinal, or biological, or social, or psychological, until the nineteenth century. Thus he has to envision any such transformation as a sudden rupture; he lacks the conceptual apparatus to do otherwise. Thus, in acknowledging that the Law as written no longer works for the world as is he must suppose that epochal change is underway, and moreover it had to be something that God always intended; and this change he locates in Jesus.

What is interesting is to compare Paul to the rabbinic tradition. The rabbinic tradition likewise evinces an awareness that the Law as written no longer works for the world as is, at least not without some effort. Its response is to generate an ever-developing set of texts and discourses to make the Law work in our world. The world as is now has cars; how therefore should one relate to cars in a way that is consistent with the Law? What is again interesting is that this ongoing development was given warrant by a narrative that denied the presence of development, or more exactly could not conceive the presence of development. Thus emerges the idea of Oral Torah: all the Law was given to Moses at Sinai, even if we are just now writing it down. Of course today Judaism, like Christianity, has become aware of development and thus its brightest intellectual lights are articulating ways to think about halakah in a way that is both historically and theologically robust; and it strikes me that one of the great developments of the twentieth century, in both traditions, is that each is now listening to and learning from the other in ways almost unprecedented in their respective histories.

If the historical Jesus ever lets go of my imagination I might one day turn more fully to Paul. In the mean time, those are some initial thoughts on Paul, Lonergan, and the Law.

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