Paul’s Focus On Identity -- By: Klyne R. Snodgrass

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 168:671 (Jul 2011)
Article: Paul’s Focus On Identity
Author: Klyne R. Snodgrass


Paul’s Focus On Identity*

Klyne R. Snodgrass

* This is the third article in a four-part series, “A Hermeneutics of Identity,” delivered as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectureship, February 2-5, 2010, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.

Klyne R. Snodgrass is Paul W. Brandel Professor of New Testament Studies, North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois.

If anyone focused on identity, it was Paul. Esler correctly describes Paul as an entrepreneur of identity.1 Similarly those in pastoral roles should see themselves as entrepreneurs of identity. Pastors seek to help people understand who God says they are and how they should live; pastors communicate identity. This is the reason a hermeneutics of identity is so important. It is a direct path to understanding who God says humans are to be.

Paul and the other New Testament letter-writers began their epistles by identifying themselves and their recipients. They took the ancient letter introduction, which designated sender and recipient, and Christianized it by emphasizing the religious identity of both. For example Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:1-2, “Paul, called an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Sosthenes the brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, those set apart in Christ Jesus, called holy ones, with all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, both theirs and ours” (author’s translation). The identity of everyone concerned was established from the outset. That identity was determined by God, His actions in Christ, the fact that the people were in both Corinth and Christ (an interesting pairing of geographies), and the fact that they were joined with all the others who call on the Lord.

In Paul’s letters he often discussed the matter of identity. His debates with opponents were over what constitutes the identity God seeks. His instructions on conflicts and questions in churches were largely about what identity in Christ means. Three texts are paradigmatic in dealing with identity: 1 Corinthians 15:8-10;

Ephesians 5:8; and portions of Galatians 2 and 3. Each of these texts is foundational for understanding identity, and each one is surprising in what it affirms.

1 Corinthians 15:8-10

This passage about Paul’s own identity is often ig...

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