Recently, as I was perusing a book on Paul’s temple imagery in 1 Corinthians, I was struck by a couple of trends in how scholars approach his letters. The first is the matter of determining authorial intent. Call me old fashioned, but a reading that takes no interest in what Paul actually intended is doomed to be damaging. The author of this monograph, John Lanci, writes:
‘The goal [of this study] is to construct a plausible reading of the text, rather than to discover the original intention of its author…I will nowhere discuss the original intention behind the argument’ (3).
Now, if the monograph were titled in such a way as to focus on the reader’s interpretation rather than the original author’s than I can swallow such a statement. The fact that he titles the book “Rhetorical and Archaeological Approaches to Pauline Imagery” means to me that he wishes to trace Paul’s rhetoric – an element that is inseparable from intention. If we are interested in Paul’s persuasive power (rhetoric), can it be done by just proposing a plausible ‘reading’? Now, what Lanci ends up doing is pretty good and I appreciate that he is attentive to the social background of the original readers. What I am more concerned with is when we give up on trying to know what Paul actually intended to say!
More and more people are asking, ‘how did the readers receive Paul’s statements?’ To a large degree this is not only highly speculative, but also almost completely irrelevant to what Paul has to say to us. Now, if you are just saying, ‘Paul knew his audience and spoke to them in terms they would understand’, that is well and good – but that still involves authorial intent. In my mind, a helpful reading must still be interested in intent of author matters.
Second, we continue to see Paul in terms of either Hellenism OR Judaism and this is simply wrong. But, it is certainly recognized that the Jewish Scriptures (in Greek) were the single most influential materials for his language in his letters. Lanci argues against the notion that Paul’s imagery of temple in 1 Corinthians must refer to the Jerusalem Temple. Instead, Lanci proposes that Paul’s temple language is mulivalent. I would agree that Paul was not trying to establish a ‘spiritualized’ replacement for the Temple, but his language is almost always distinctly Jewish (i.e., influenced by the LXX).
Lanci’s reasoning is this: Paul’s audience was composed of Gentiles. Paul would have wanted to communicate to his audience ‘in their own idiom’ (10). Thus, it is ‘not unlikely’ that he would use imagery that came from the set of knowledge available to his readers (10). Here is where I think Lanci errs. If we were in Paul’s shoes, we would probably write very differently – a few more examples from Greek life and argumentation from Hellenistic philosophies. But, our starting place must be what Paul’s argumentation style actually WAS. And, we know that he reasoned FROM SCRIPTURE REGARDLESS OF HIS AUDIENCE. Though quotations are more prominent in some letters than others, all of his letters are saturated with echoes and allusions. 1 Peter, for example, was written to Gentiles. Should the author have been more sensitive to the fact that his readers may not have known Exodus 19.5-6?
We cannot know what Paul expected from his readers (despite Chris Stanley’s objections). What we do know is that the encoded/implied reader was quite savvy with Scripture. Paul’s primary tool of identity transformation apart from the example of Christ (and himself) is his Judaeo-graphic hermeneutic – his bringing of his audiences into the story, characters, statutes, themes, places, and objects of the Old Testament. What did it mean to his audience when he called them a lump of dough from Passover? What did it mean when he told them ‘OUR Fathers…were baptized into Moses’ (1 Cor. 10.1-2)?
To borrow from Richard Hays, Paul sought the ‘conversion of [their] imagination’ by reframing their past, present, and future in terms of the the Scriptures through echoes, quotations and even metaphors. That is not to deny that metaphors of, lets say, running or politics, came from the wider web of knowledge in the ancient world. Certainly. But, on the matter of such an important image as the temple, all ‘backgrounds’ would probably not have had equal weight.