Identity and moral formation in early Christian communities : discursive functioning of Paul’s use of scripture in First Thessalonians

Lee, Kiwoon (2018-11)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The dissertation explores the dynamic nature and purpose of the first letter to the Thessalonians – probably one of the earliest Pauline letters. It seems to provide a significant account of the formation of identity and ethos in early (Gentile) Christian communities in the Roman Empire. The study is particularly interested in how Hebrew (Old Testament) Scriptures function in the letter, since it appears that echoes of these writings constitute a major feature of Paul’s discourse (with primarily Greco-Roman believers). On the basis of an exegetical analysis of the letter, the dissertation concludes by inviting present-day readers to revisit the discursive processes represented by it. On the one hand, the letter testifies to the shaping of the Thessalonian faith community’s identity and lifestyle. On the other hand, it draws its readers into its implied transformative power. In the final analysis, these processes are briefly appropriated in the context of contemporary moral challenges in South Korea. Recent scholarship on the Thessalonian correspondence focused on probable influences of the Hellenistic rhetorical environment on Paul’s letter-writing. Despite valuable contributions of this approach, the study raises critical questions regarding its methodological relevance. First, scholars seem to have straitjacketed Paul’s argumentation (primarily) into Hellenistic rhetorical conventions. Second, as a result of this approach, the significance of Paul’s Jewishness has to a large extent been neglected. Concentration on processes of Paul’s literary production has devoted little attention to ways in which Paul’s scriptural orientation crucially functions in his discourse. Third, by (mainly) focusing on Paul’s rhetorical strategies in a first century context, rhetorical critics have not dealt adequately with the pragmatic dimension of Paul’s letter – also for today. By suggesting that New Testament scholarship move beyond the limitations of the previous approach, the dissertation acknowledges the multidimensional nature of Paul’s discourse (in terms of syntactic, semantic and pragmatic elements). It takes significant additional aspects into account in order to complement previous research, but also to overcome some of its limitations. Accordingly, the project focuses on the following aspects: (1) the formative influence of social, cultural and religious occasions on Paul’s discourse (both his Jewishness and the Thessalonians’ historical circumstances); (2) the informative role of literary and linguistic elements in 1 Thessalonians; and (3) the text’s transformative power that implicitly impacts the identity-awareness and ethos of the audience. The dissertation examines formulations in Paul’s letter as part of a dynamic process. In concrete terms, Paul’s discourse is viewed as a communicative act that takes place through interaction between his scriptural world and the Thessalonians’ historical situation. The study argues that Paul’s daily ethos in the world of first-century Hellenistic Judaism was fundamentally shaped by the Hebrew Scriptures and his Jewish tradition. Without any direct quotations, it has nevertheless been illuminating to engage probable ways in which his scriptural world seems to be embedded in his interpretation of the particular social, political and religious situation of the faith community in Thessalonica. By using biblical resources (1 Thess 1:9-10 and Acts 17:5-6) and some extrabiblical inscriptional and other archaeological witnesses, the research attempts to construct the chief discursive exigency of 1 Thessalonians as issues concerning identity and ethos in a pluralistic religious world. The community’s new beliefs and morality would not necessarily be compatible with that of the Thessalonian society around them, thereby (potentially) causing social harassment and alienation. Keeping Paul’s Jewishness in mind, the research argues that his apocalyptic perspective might have led him to render the Thessalonians’ crisis with their neighbours as an eschatological phenomenon. The research delves into the question of how Paul, in an attempt to address a (potential) crisis confronting the Thessalonians, affirms the community’s faith in Christ, their selfawareness, and moral responsibility as God’s chosen people in the end-time. Through an analysis of 1 Thessalonians 1:1-2:12, 4:1-9, 5:1-11, the dissertation indicates how Paul allows probable scriptural echoes to function discursively in order to present the Gentile Christian community – in continuity with Israel. Specifically, echoes of sanctification/holiness from the Holiness Code, New Covenant prophecy, and the Day of the Lord seem to constitute major components of his identity- and ethos-building discourse. Recurrence of these echoes in the letter convincingly suggests (if not denotes) that the Gentile Christians, in Paul’s view, had been incorporated into God’s encompassing salvation story. In so doing, he establishes their distinctive identity and ethos as opposed to outsiders. Ultimately, the study hopes that its findings may also challenge and enable presentday readers/audiences to appreciate and (re)appropriate the (trans)formative potential of Paul’s discourse in contexts of identity and moral crises, including that of the researcher in South Korea.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die proefskrif ondersoek die dinamiese aard en bedoeling van die eerste brief aan die Thessalonisense – waarskynlik een van die vroegste Pauliniese briewe. Dit blyk ‘n belangrike weergawe te wees van hoe identiteit en etos in vroeë (nie-Joodse) Christelike gemeenskappe in die Romeinse Ryk gevorm is. Die studie is veral geïnteresseerd in hoe Hebreeuse (Ou Testamentiese) Geskrifte in die brief funksioneer, aangesien dit voorkom of eggo’s van hierdie geskrifte ‘n kerndeel van Paulus se gesprek (met hoofsaaklik Grieks-Romeinse gelowiges) uitmaak. Uiteindelik nooi die proefskrif hedendaagse lesers – op grond van ‘n eksegetiese ontleding van die brief – om die prosesse van gesprekvoering wat dit verteenwoordig opnuut te waardeer. Aan die een kant getuig die brief oor die geloofsgemeenskap in Thessalonika se identiteit- en leefstyl-vorming. Aan die ander kant word lesers sélf in die sfeer van die brief se bedoelde transformerende krag ingetrek. In ‘n slotgedeelte van die proefskrif word kortliks na die implikasies van hierdie prosesse in die huidige konteks van morele uitdagings in SuidKorea gevra. Onlangse navorsing oor Paulus se briewe aan die Thessalonisense het veral gefokus op die waarskynlike invloed van die Hellenisties-retoriese omgewing op Paulus se briefstyl. Ten spyte van waardevolle bydraes deur hierdie benadering, vra die proefskrif kritiese vrae oor die metodologiese toepaslikheid daarvan. Eerstens kom dit voor of navorsers Paulus se wyse van argumentering (primêr) tot Hellenistiese oorredingsgebruike beperk (het). Tweedens, die gevolg van hierdie benadering was dat die belang van Paulus se Joodsheid tot ‘n groot mate in die proses verwaarloos is. In prosesse wat gekonsentreer het op hoe Paulus se literêre vermoë gevorm is, is min aandag gegee aan hoe beslissend sy Skrif-oriëntasie in sy briewe funksioneer. Derdens, deur (hoofsaaklik) op Paulus se oorredingstrategieë in eerste eeuse konteks te fokus, het retories-kritiese navorsers nie genoegsaam met die pragmatiese dimensie van Paulus se briewe – ook met die oog op vandag – rekening gehou nie. Deur voor te stel dat Nuwe Testamentiese navorsing verby die beperkinge van die vorige benadering beweeg, erken die proefskrif die multidimensionele aard van Paulus se gesprek (in terme of sintaktiese, semantiese en pragmatiese elemente). Dit neem belangrike addisionele aspekte in ag – ten einde vorige navorsing nie slegs aan te vul nie, maar ook van die beperkinge daarvan te bowe te kom. Hiervolgens fokus die projek op die volgende aspekte: (1) die vormende invloed van sosiale, kulturele en godsdienstige werklikhede op Paulus se diskoers (beide ten opsigte van sy Joodsheid en die Thessalonisense se historiese omstandighede); (2) die informerende rol van literêre en linguïstiese elemente in 1 Thessalonisense; en (3) die teks se transformerende krag wat implisiet die identiteitsbewussyn en etos van die gehoor beïnvloed. Die proefskrif ondersoek formuleringe in Paulus se brief as deel van ‘n dinamiese proses. Konkreet gestel, word die gesprek as ‘n kommunikasie-handeling tussen Paulus se teks-geöriënteerde wêreld en die historiese situasie van die Thessalonisense beskou. Die studie argumenteer dat Paulus se daaglikse etos in die wêreld van eerste-eeuse Hellenistiese Judaïsme beduidend deur die Hebreeuse geskrifte en sy Joodse tradisie gevorm is. Sonder enige direkte aanhalings, was dit nogtans verhelderend om te vra na waarskynlike maniere waarop sy geheue van die Skrifte as lens gedien het vir sy verstaan van die spesifieke sosiale, politieke en religieuse situasie van die gemeenskap in Thessalonika. Deur middel van bybelse bronne (1 Thess 1:9-10 en Hd 17:5-6), buite-bybelse inskripsies en ander argeologiese getuienis, poog die navorsing om die dringendste behoefte wat 1 Thessalonisense aanspreek te konstrueer as kwessies rondom identiteit en etos in ‘n pluralisties-godsdienstige wêreld. Die gemeenskap se nuwe geloofsoortuigings en leefwyse sou nie noodwendig versoenbaar wees met dié van die samelewing rondom hulle nie, wat potensieel tot sosiale teistering en vervreemding kon lei. Met Paulus se Joodse agtergrond in gedagte, argumenteer die studie dat sy apokaliptiese verstaan van die werklikheid hom kon lei om dié spanning tussen Christengelowiges in Thessalonika en hulle bure as ‘n eskatologiese verskynsel te beskou. Die navorsing ondersoek die vraag hóé Paulus – in ‘n poging om die (potensiële) krisis in die gemeente van die Thessalonisense aan te spreek – hulle geloof in Christus, selfbewussyn en etiese verantwoordelikheid as God se uitverkore volk in die eindtyd bevestig. Deur 1 Thessalonisense 1:1-2:12, 4:1-9, 5:1-11 te ontleed, toon die proefskrif aan hoe Paulus waarskynlike eggo’s uit die Skrifte aanwend om die Grieks-Romeinse Christengelowiges – in kontinuïteit met Israel – voor te stel. Spesifieke eggo’s met betrekking tot heiliging/heiligheid uit die Heiligheidskodeks, die Nuwe Verbond-profesie, en die Dag van die Here blyk kerndele van sy identiteit- en etos-vormende diskoers uit te maak. Herhaling van hierdie motiewe in die brief suggereer (indien dit nie oortuigend aantoon nie) dat nie-Joodse Christene, volgens Paulus, in God se omvattende verlossingsverhaal ingesluit is. Hierdeur bevestig Paulus hulle unieke identiteit en etos as verskillend van dié van buitestaanders. Ten slotte word hoop uitgespreek dat die bevindinge van die studie ook hedendaagse lesers/gehore mag uitdaag en in staat stel om die (trans)formerende potensiaal van Paulus se gesprekstyl in kontekste van identiteits- en morele krisis te (her)ontdek, insluitend die konteks van die navorser in Suid-Korea.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/105012
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