The reader must forgive me for beginning this essay on Paul’s anthropology with some personal reflections. Such a beginning is clearly not in consonance with what purports to be an academic paper. However, I feel it beneficial to contextualize this paper within the development of my understanding of Paul.
When I first began to read Paul, I was impressed with Paul’s understanding of and emphasis upon the communal life of the Christian. I argued in an unpublished essay that Ephesians 1 (and subsequently, the whole of Ephesians) and the rest of Paul’s “election” language was not individually oriented, but rather directed toward the community. This became my interpretative framework to understand the rest of Paul through. What Paul is really concerned with, I thought, is the transformation through the Spirit within communities.
After a brief hiatus from in depth study of Paul, I returned to him, the only difference being that this time my reading was conjoined to exposure to some contemporary literature on his writings. It was there that I was first exposed to the “new perspective” on Paul (which I shall touch on below). It will suffice to say that I found much in the “new perspective” that was consonant with my ‘communal’ rendering of Paul’s theology. Rather than react like one would expect and affirm the “new perspective,” I went in the opposite direction and began to explore Paul’s understanding of the individual Christian apart from the community. From here, I was driven in to conversations about Paul’s anthropology (which shall also be addressed below). I found myself in somewhat of a quandary. On the one hand, I affirmed Paul’s emphasis on the communal life and his focus on our collective life “in Christ.” On the other hand, I saw as a fundamental requirement of this communal life the transformation of the individual. These somewhat competing paradigms did not seem to be sufficiently resolved by any of the literature I had read. Moreover, when I consulted an annotated bibliography on Pauline literature, I found only the comment that “All aspects of anthropology are pressingly in need of review, particularly (in the present section) the relation between individual and community.”
These personal remarks are intended, then, to set up this tension. My own struggles with these competing paradigms have in many ways paralleled my own growth in Christ. The emphasis on community that I had my first two years of university was in accord with the attempts by the culture of the university to correct the individualistic approach to Christianity that incoming freshman had adopted. However, I realized as my relationship with Christ developed that what was intended to serve as a correction was an over-correction. The pendulum had swung too far to the other side, and needed to swing back. This paper, then, is an attempt to find the middle, to place the two paradigms in the appropriate relationship and to harmonize in my own mind (and what may be in the literature) what was hitherto at odds.
The argument, then, that I will develop in the following pages can be stated as follows: Paul’s argument in Romans 4 has as its theological underpinning an anthropological understanding of “new creation.” Furthermore, Paul’s argument in Romans 4 illuminates the relationship between individual and communal paradigms.
Other posts in this series: