‘Written For Our Instruction’ -- By: Brian S. Rosner

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 43:2 (NA 1992)
Article: ‘Written For Our Instruction’
Author: Brian S. Rosner

‘Written For Our Instruction’1

Brian S. Rosner

As a Jew who became the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul stood between the Jewish and pagan worlds. Consequently NT scholars have long debated the question of the sources of Paul’s thought. To which sphere was he more indebted? In particular there is perennial interest in the extent to which Paul uses the Jewish Scriptures when he regulates conduct in his churches.

The view that Scripture did not play an important role in the formation of Paul’s ethics is held by a host of not only Protestant but also Roman Catholic and even Jewish students of Paul’s letters. It is represented on both sides of the Atlantic but is especially strong in Germany. Evidence for this position may be marshalled from many quarters. The following three points are often adduced: (1) Paul makes some very negative statements about the Law of Moses, cites Scripture rarely and frequently appears to depart from its teaching (eg. ‘circumcision is nothing’); (2) Paul’s ethics, it is believed, are fundamentally indebted to sources and factors other than Scripture, such as the words of Jesus, a belief in the impending return of Christ, and the non-Jewish ethics of his time; and (3) the Scriptures, many scholars would argue, were Paul’s ‘witness to the Gospel’ (Rom. 3:21), but when it came to questions of conduct, Paul did not consider them to have been written for the ethical instruction of Christians.

The thesis attempts to evaluate this widely held view by investigating a representative sample from Paul’s ethics, 1 Corinthians 5-7. Most commentators indicate by their silence that the Old Testament has little to do with Paul’s instructions here, and for each section several scholars emphatically deny that Scripture has played a formative role. The conclusion to which the research has led is that in spite of the few quotations of Scripture in 1 Corinthians 5-7 and other indications to the contrary, Scripture is nevertheless a crucial and

formative source. It not only influenced Paul’s ethics through Paul’s use of it directly, but also indirectly through Paul’s familiarity with Jewish moral teaching, which itself distilled and developed the moral teaching of the Scriptures. Jews in the ancient world had incorporated the main ethical teachings of their Scriptures in writings which presented the Jewish inheritance to the reader (Jew or non-Jew) familiar with Greek traditions and customs. Such teaching can be found in the Apocrypha, the Old Testament Pseudepi...

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