March 29, 2007

Studying Paul with J. D. G. Dunn, 2

I've been continuing my study of James Dunn's Theology of Paul the Apostle. And I have been really ejoying his comprehensive and systematic treatment of Paul's thought. His work is so encyclopedic that I won't even try to "summarize" it in the traditional sense. But instead, I want to continue working through the various pieces of the book, and glean some insights for understanding Paul better. Chapter Two of the book concerns God and Humankind.
Dunn's discussion of God focuses on the "taken-for-granted" nature of Paul's talk about God. God is clearly at the center of Paul's thinking, but at the same time Paul doesn't really expound in any systematic way who God is. But it is emminently clear that Paul's God is the God of the Jews, and further, that God is one. (And Dunn points out that this is actually a source of some tension in Paul's thinking that the one God is in fact the God of the Jews, as he understood himself as the one called to preach this God to the Gentiles.) Really, there isn't too much that is surprising in Dunn's treatment of God, but it still provides an indispensable starting point for a systematic exposition of Paul's theology. And it is worth keeping in mind that Paul considers God's existence and basic character as essentially axiomatic.
The second focus in this chapter (§3) is humankind. Dunn advances his discussion by looking carefully at the important terms that Paul utilizes to discuss humanity: soma, sarx, nous, kardia, psyche, and pneuma. And each discussion proves to be fruitful. But I think the central insights have to do with "body" and "flesh" (soma and sarx, respectively). The core point that Dunn advocates with regard to soma is that Paul understood persons to be fundamentally embodied. That is, when Paul speaks of "body," he dosen't simply mean the physical material that is occupied by a separate "spirit," but more it denotes "the person embodied in a particular environment." The point, then, is that there doesn't exist for Paul a simple spirit-body dualism, but that body denotes an embodied "I" that is more robust, for Dunn more relational, that simply a fleshly shell. The other key point that Dunn makes (and this one is less controversial) is in regard to "flesh." Dunn carefully notes the variety of ways that Paul uses sarx, and lays them out on a spectrum, from simply denoting the physical body to denoting the source of corruption and hostility to God. In this spectrum, he finds the link in the notion that sarx, flesh, is "what we might describe as human mortality." It is closely related to that whithin humans that is fallen, but is not itself the source of that fall, and neither is it in itself evil. It is instead the weak and corruptible material of human existence. Thus, Dunn concludes that flesh was "neither unspiritual nor sinful."
The variety of insights go much further and deeper than these few highlights, but they go to demonstrate the quality of Dunn's work, and also help to illumine some important foci of Paul's thought. And they will lead us into a further discussion, shortly, about the nature of humankind as fallen.

No comments: