Saturday, March 21, 2009

It's Mothering Sunday tomorrow.  Well, more accurately, it's Mothering Sunday in the UK.  Other countries honour their mothers on a different day.  Most people in Hong Kong follow the American date, which is strange given Hong Kong's recent British colonial past.  

At Christ Church, however, we go with the Anglican tradition of celebrating Mothering Sunday on the fourth Sunday of Lent.  As we keep saying, it's Mothering Sunday and not Mother's Day, but no-one really seems to listen!  We will, however, be saying 'thank you' to our mothers tomorrow.  As a token of our thanks, we will give the mothers in the congregation a posy of flowers.

The irony is that even as I type the posies are being made - by a team of our mothers!

Have a Happy Mothering Sunday whichever country you are in!

2. Works of the Law and Good Works: Works in Context

I began the first in this new series by suggesting some questions I would like to ask Paul.  At the heart of the recent debate about what Paul means when he talks about 'works of the Law' and 'good works' is the issue of historical context and what the nature of the argument was between Paul and his fellow Jewish believers.  The so-called New Perspective suggests that it was essentially about who could be a member of the Church.  Previously, it was thought to be about how you could be saved.  (For more on this, see my blogs under the link, Paul)

As a favourite writer of mine, Don Garlington, himself a believer in the New Perspective, has argued, the two are not necessarily exclusive as membership of the Church is membership of a community of salvation.  Nevertheless, there is, at least, an important difference in emphasis.  It would be really helpful to have the arguments of Paul's opponents in their own words.  In the New Testament, we only have Paul's response to them.

Reconstructing history is an art as much as a science.  One reconstruction will give you one answer; another, an entirely different one.  The strength of the New Perspective is that it gives priority to the historical context and insists on understanding Paul against the background of first century Judaism.  The problem with those who reject the New Perspective is that all too often they sound as if they are rejecting it, not because they disagree with its historical research, but because it does not fit their doctrinal system.

This allows writers like N T Wright to argue that faithfulness to scripture means faithfulness to the original meaning of Scripture and not faithfulness to later interpretations of it.  It also allows New Perspective people to portray themselves as faithful historians and interpreters of Paul and their opponents as prejudiced and dogmatic.  Some of those who have written and spoken against the New Perspective have only themselves to blame for influence the New Perspective has had and continues to have.

The New Perspective is right to insist on an accurate, historical understanding of Paul and what he wrote, free from theological preconditions.  Challenging and painful though it might be at times!  This, nevertheless, raises the question of what an accurate, historical understanding of Paul should be.  Some scholars are beginning to ask, on the basis of historical research, whether the New Perspective is as right in its understanding of Judaism and Paul as some within it like like to think.

But we can begin by agreeing what should never have been in contention: to understand Paul we need to understand Paul in his original context.  And that brings us back to the first blog in this series: why did Paul get into such of a state over 'works of the Law'? 

No comments: