Monday, November 03, 2014

Today is Nijay Gupta's birthday

Happy birthday to fellow biblioblogger, Nijay Gupta

To celebrate, I thought I'd write up a brief post on Nijay's fine book, Worship That Makes Sense to Paul: A New Approach to the Theology and Ethics of Paul’s Cultic Metaphor (BZNW 175; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010).

Readers of this blog know that my doctoral dissertation focused on the historical Jesus' relationship to what I call "cultic restoration eschatology". However, in revising my thesis for publication and in light of recent shifts in historical Jesus methodology, I've come to see that I need a section on Paul's cultic theology. 

In the past year and a half I have therefore dedicated a lot of my research time to this area. (That work, in part, produced the paper I presented with John Kincaid earlier this year at Houston Baptist University and the one we will be presenting later this month SBL).

Nijay's book has been very helpful in researching this area of Pauline thought. Gupta's study not only deals judiciously with primary texts but deftly handles the secondary scholarly literature as well. Below is a brief excerpt from pages 138-40. I highly recommend the book.


An important part of Paul’s overall strategy of re-training [the Philippians'] worldview is his use of cultic language in 2.17: ‘But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering (σπένδομαι) upon the sacrificial service (θυσίᾳ καὶ λειτουργίᾳ) of your faith, I am glad and I share my joy with all of you’ (my translation). Though the words here are common to the wider lexicon of cultic language in the ancient world, Paul is almost certainly drawing from the imagery of the Jewish sacrificial system. As Fee observes, this is his common practice (cf. Rom. 12.1) and Philippians 2.14-15 is infused with echoes and allusions to the Old Testament.[10] On face value, Paul’s language of being poured out, in light of his situation, would suggest that he is referring to his martyrdom (cf. 2 Tim. 4.6; Ignat. Rom. 2.2 [σπονδίζω]).[11] Others, however, see it in reference to Paul’s whole life.[12] But Morna Hooker is correct in not separating his death from his ministry work ‘since it is the manner of that ministry that is leading him into the danger of death—just as it was Christ’s self-emptying and manner of living that led to his death’.[13] 
Paul’s imprisonment and difficulties were not seen by him as marks of failure and shame. Rather, they are an offering to God through Jesus Christ. What about the Philippians’ ‘sacrifice’ and ‘service’? What does that entail? The only lexical clue we have is the association with their πίστις.[14] This polyvalent term could, of course, refer to their belief, but its use in Philippians overall leads one to the notion of faithfulness in the midst of suffering. In 1.27, Paul encourages them to maintain unity as they fight together (συναθλέω) for the ‘faith (πίστει)’ of the gospel. The concept is one of persevering in the cause of the gospel even under intense opposition.[15] The idea that faith/belief is bound up in suffering is found in 1.29 where the gift (ἐχαρίσθη) not only to believe in Christ, but to suffer for his sake.[16]  Though persecution and social ostracization would have been devastating to the identity of the community, Paul's use of cultic language offered them a chance to see their experiences from God’s perspective. Not only that, but, if the Philippians felt such a bond with Paul that his persistent absence made them question their ability to remain steadfast in the gospel-mission (1.26; 2.12), the linking of his own ‘offering’ with theirs in 2.17 reminded them that they suffer together for the same cause and rejoice together as well (συγχαίρω; 2.17b, 18).[17] 
The πίστις of sacrificial (θυσία) worship should also be seen in terms ofChrist’s own self-giving. Though θυσία does not appear in 2.6-11, the reference to Christ’s death on a cross was clearly interpreted as a sacrifice in early Christian tradition (e.g., Eph. 5.2). Thus, although Christ’s own ‘sacrifice’ is not mentioned in Philippians 2, it appears to be the model for Paul’s language. This is more likely if the πίστεως Χριστοῦ in 3.9 refers to the ‘faithfulness of Christ’.[18] Paul, in making such statements, was using cultic language not just to show how significant their faithful suffering was, but also to make a point about how to suffer in the right way – as Christ humbled himself, believing in the God who raises up and exalts his servants. 
An interesting dimension of Paul’s imagery in 2:15-17 is the inclusion of λειτουργίᾳ in 2.17 which forms a hendiadys with forming one concept, ‘sacrificial service’.[19] Though λειτουργίᾳ has a wide range of meaning, given the cultic context, it almost certainly is referring to temple service. What it means here is unclear. But as λειτουργίᾳ generally notes service to a dignitary (and in the case of temple service, to God), the Philippians are reminded that their work is not in vain. If one takes the sacerdotal aspect as prominent, there may also be an underlying theme of mission – a priesthood that shines as light in the world (2.15-17; cf. 1 Peter 2.9).[20] This would serve to emphasize that their cultic activity is not just passive (suffering quietly as an innocent sacrifice), but propels outward as the covenantal ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exod. 19.5-6) were meant to be ‘a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth’ (Isa. 49.6; cf. Isa. 60.3). Thus, it would take a fresh perspective to join the imprisoned Paul in his joy and exultation (Phil. 2.18) – one that saw life (2.16) in a dead sacrifice and profitable service in a grassroots mission thwarted by (some) Jews and impeded by the Empire.

[10] Fee 1995: 251n. 52; also Fowl 2005: 128. 
[11]  See, e.g., the comments by J.B. Lightfoot 1913: 118. 
[12] Bockmuehl 1998: 161. 
[13] Hooker 2002: 390. 
[14] Peter Oakes comes to the conclusion that Philippians bears the twin themes of suffering and unity, the former being such a prominent aspect of the letter that if Paul were referring to their ‘sacrifice and service’ as anything else (such as their ‘financial gifts’) would seem ‘absurdly trivial’ (2001:82). 
[15] See O’Brien 1991: 251. This, though, is not equivalent to the idea that ‘faith’ is a replacement term for ‘Christianity’ as Mundle proposes (1932-93). 
[16] See Jervis 2007: 60. 
[17] Hooker 2002: 390. 
[18] See Koperski 1996: 195; Bockmuehl 1998: 210-211. 
[19] O’Brien 1991: 306. 
[20] Ware 2005: 273.


Susan Moore said...

So, it seems an issue remains in understanding, “being poured out like a drink offering…”; who is doing the pouring, and is Paul in agreement with this pouring out of himself or would he rather not be poured out?

Who can pour out (self-empty) the Son of God but God? Who has power over God? No one! So it cannot be true that Paul pours out Paul like a drink offering to God like God pours out God for God. For if humans were able to pour out their (fallen) humanness in sacrifice to God, then the sacrifice of Jesus would not have been useful as a substitutionary atonement for our sin. Nor can we pour out the God in us, because we do not have power over God.

And it seems in order to understand this puzzle, one must have some knowledge of the hearts that are involved, which can only come by way of further revelation, which would elevate this writing out of sterile academia (and that would be awesome and is desperately needed).

I like this though, it questions instead of presumes, and would like to hear it in person. Happy Birthday, I pray him many more.

Susan Moore said...

Go for it. One cannot live in fear.