Thursday, July 22, 2010

Studying Paul’s Citation Practice

Paul and the Language of Scripture: Citation Technique in the Pauline Epistles and Contemporary Literature (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series)Unfortunately it seems that Christopher Stanley's fine work Paul and the Language of Scripture has gone relatively unnoticed in the world of NT academics. An ATLAS search for book reviews yields only six results and only three of those results are from major journals (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Journal of Theological Studies, and Evangelical Quarterly). Despite the general lack of response, Stanley's work appears in numerous bibliographies and has much to commend it. I recently became aware of the book through a bibliographic reference while studying Paul's use of the OT and decided I needed to give it a read. I'm not only glad to have read it, but I had difficulty putting it down – which is something to be said for a book that was originally a PhD dissertation.

First published in 1992 in the SNTS monograph series, Paul and the Language of Scripture (PLS) is an adaptation of Christopher Stanley's PhD. dissertation at Duke University under D. Moody Smith. Smith is now the George Washington Ivey Professor Emeritus of NT at Duke and distinguished scholar of Johannine literature. Filled with untranslated Hebrew, Greek and German the book is certainly identifiable as a PhD. dissertation in NT studies. However, it is also well written lucidly argued and relatively easy to follow. His argument is so fascinating that I've already taken 14 pages of notes and I'm not finished taking notes on the second half!

Stanley seeks to establish two points beyond doubt. First, he argues that "Paul actively adapted the wording of his biblical quotations to communicate his own understanding of the passage in question and to obviate other possible readings of the same text." To establish this point he develops a rigorous methodology for identifying, classifying and analyzing Paul's citations of the OT. Second, Stanley suggests that, "In offering such 'interpretive readings' of the biblical text, Paul was working consciously but unreflectively within the accepted literary conventions of his day" (29). This second thesis is established by analysis of both Greco-Roman and Jewish citation patterns in the first century. Though I might contest some of Stanley's arguments, it seems to me that he has well-proven these two theses.

The book consists of nine chapters in three parts. Part one focuses on bringing much needed clarity to a difficult issue and determining a methodologically sound approach to Paul's citations of the OT. The first part has two chapters that provide a very helpful overview of the methodological issues. Part two, consisting of four chapters, focuses on identifying the source(s) of Paul's quotations (chap 3) and then analyzing his use of the sources (chapters 4‒6). Identifying Paul's sources is an important but often overlooked step in the whole discussion of Paul's use of the OT. To make an anachronistic, but I think still helpful comparison, it is crucial to know which text a preacher is using while preaching. It would be unfair to evaluate a preacher's "use of the text" while looking at the KJV when the preacher was using the NIV. Similarly, one cannot evaluate Paul's use of the OT based on the Masoretic Text (MT) or even the LXX when Paul was most likely using a Greek translation of a Hebrew text that predates the MT and has affinities with a textual tradition not dominate in the LXX tradition. This is of course a difficult task since there aren't copies of "Paul's Bible" lying around. So, Stanley suggests a nuanced method for reconstructing the source Paul used so as to identify his adaptations. After establishing an admittedly minimalistic methodology (56) Stanley launches into his analysis of Paul's use of the text (chapters 4-5) then offers his summary conclusions (chapter 6).

Part three of PLS (chapters 7‒8) focuses on comparing Paul's use of scripture with surrounding literature. In chapter seven, Stanley analyzes Greco-Roman citations of Homer's work (the "Bible" of the Greeks) and compares it with Paul's use of the OT. In chapter eight, Paul is placed alongside other Jewish writers and their citation practice. In the end, Stanley concludes that Paul fits nicely with both Greco-Roman and Jewish citation practices.

There is much to be learned from Stanley especially as it relates to methodology, but let me highlight one of the arguments I found particularly interesting. The issue of Paul's written source is hotly debated. Some have suggested early Christian "testimonia" like what has been found at Qumran (4QTestimonia) while others have advocated the position that Paul quoted from memory. While appreciating but critiquing these arguments Stanley suggests that Paul's citations came from a written source – his own notes. Note taking was, as Stanley cogently argues, widely practiced in Greco-Roman culture and established as regular practice by Paul's day (see pages 73-79). This argument does not leave out the possibility that Paul may have on occasion quoted from memory, particularly more well-known passages (79), but that his usual practice was a written source probably compiled as he wrote.

For anyone interested in Paul's use of the OT this book is a "must-read." If nothing else, it will bring clarity to the host of complex and exciting questions that must be asked in order to appreciate what Paul is doing and how he went about incorporating the OT into his writing.

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