Obeying God? Obeying Paul? Bridging the socio-cultural context in the interpretation of Biblical imperatives
When do we encounter God in the Pauline imperatives, or when is it Paul, the man of his times, that we are dealing with? This article develops a model to help us determine the reach of the imperatives into our socio-cultural context today. The imperatives are shown to be more than ad hoc injunctions but, rather, legitimate expressions of the new symbolic world in which both Paul and believers participate by faith. The imperatives carry an illocutionary force which relies on such a shared symbolic world. By analysing Paul’s imperatives in terms of this symbolic world it is clear that he, at times, simply accepted the dominant cultural interpretation of reality of his day at the cost of limiting the expression of his symbolic world. At other times he modified the dominant cultural interpretation by calling believers to act contra-culturally in the light of the gospel’s new interpretation of reality. There are also instances where Paul directly rejects certain aspects of the culture of the day in the light of the symbolic world. Paul’s flexibility to develop a variety of responses towards the dominant culture of his day in the light of the indicatives of the gospel message provides an important key to developing a model to determine ‘if?’, ‘when?’ and ‘how?’, to apply the imperatives into our context today.