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Abstract

In the final chapter, the findings of the preceding chapters are re-examined to answer two main questions. The first question relates to the unique contribution of Paul to the discourses in which he participated. The second question concerns a comparison of the results with recent research on Paul’s use of pistis language. For each discourse, elements of Paul’s creative appropriation of and contribution to existing discourses can be identified. Overall, Paul is the first to so prominently use pistis language to define his philosophical-religious movement. This prominence of pistis language serves an inclusive and democratising purpose beyond what was culturally customary, as it is used to overcome ethnic, social, and gender-related forms of exclusion. This study’s method of discourse analysis is shown to contribute to the field by developing a means to distinguish between the diversity of contexts at play in each passage and by elucidating Paul’s innovative appropriation of cultural and philosophical ideas. It is concluded that the popularity of pistis language in the early Christ movement can be attributed to its semantic flexibility and cultural comprehensibility, allowing early Christ-followers to express various concepts such as provisional but reasonable ‘conviction’, life-transforming ‘persuasion’, exemplary divine ‘faithfulness’, ethical-religious ‘reliability’, and a political bond of ‘good faith’ between God and humanity. Finally, the author offers some thoughts on the relevance of a Paul’s thought on faith to the present world and contemporary theology.

Open Access
In: Paul and the Philosophers’ Faith

Abstract

In this introductory chapter, the author offers an overview of the monograph’s focus and methodological considerations, in light of the history of research on Graeco-Roman and early Christian faith language. First, supported by developments in cognitive linguistics, the author considers pistis and related terms as fundamentally polysemous, meaning that they participate in a variety of semantic domains or cultural frames. Second, the author argues for a discourse-analytical approach in order to move past the unhelpful dichotomy between ‘Greek’ and ‘Jewish’ types of faith while avoiding parallelomania. Third, the author highlights the added value of including philosophical literature as comparative material to Paul’s letters, an approach that is not typically taken in biblical scholarship but is supported by recent research on the interconnection between ancient philosophy and religion. In accordance with these three insights, the set-up and scope of the book is explained. Each chapter explores a specific semantic domain (word-level) and several corresponding cultural discourses (text-level) in Graeco-Roman sources contemporary to Paul, before moving on to an in-depth interpretation of specific passages from Paul’s letters in light of the discourses described. Overall, the study provides an innovative approach to understanding the language of pistis in Paul’s letters by analyzing its semantic polyvalence within the context of its cultural and intellectual milieu.

Open Access
In: Paul and the Philosophers’ Faith

Abstract

Chapter 7 examines pistis discourses related to hierarchical relationships and social-political contexts. It is argued that it is fruitful to interpret Paul’s terminology of ‘faith’, ‘power’, and ‘grace’ within the context of patronage. In line with this discourse, the author suggests that when pistis terms occur in Paul’s letters in the context of the ‘proclamation of the good news’, this can be understood as the public proclamation of God’s ‘good faith’ or ‘protection’ shown in Christ through the ambassadorship of Paul. Instead of focusing on this supposed contrast between cruel Roman fides and benign Greek pistis—as anti-imperial understandings of Paul’s faith language tend to do—it is suggested that the contrast lies in the specific lord or patron proclaimed. Within this discourse of public patronage, two aspects are highlighted. Firstly, that pistis/fides (‘good faith’) was considered an essential civic virtue due to its trans-juridical orientation: it reaches beyond the protection written laws can provide. This is confirmed by philosophical discussions on benefaction that emphasize the importance of long-term public fidelity but warn against turning this relationship into a formalized, short-term business transaction. Secondly, that the scope of this ‘good faith’ extends beyond any legal system, meaning pistis/fides has trans-ethnic potential since it can create reliable connections with people (even enemies) across national borders. These insights are used to clarify Paul’s contrasting of faith and law: unlike written law, pistis is able to overcome both self-righteous formalism (as it is trans-juridical) and ethnic particularism (as it is trans-ethnic).

Open Access
In: Paul and the Philosophers’ Faith

Abstract

In this chapter, it is argued that we can understand Paul’s thinking on justice, faith, and the law (including ‘justification by faith’) as part of the larger cosmological story he tells about the importance of Christ’s coming, which coincides with the coming of a personified Faith (Galatians 3.23,25). This narrative is compared to contemporary Graeco-Roman discourses on the return of a Golden Age, in which both justice and faith are important societal virtues that flourished without the help of external legislation. The related discourse of ‘unwritten law’ within philosophical treatises concerns a redefinition of the idea of law as universal, internal, and embodied. By using these ideas as an interpretive lens for Paul’s ‘justification by faith’ language, the author suggests that we can understand several phrases and passages as creative reconfigurations of these discourses. More specifically, the author posits that the ‘disclosure of God’s justice irrespective of the law’ (Romans 3.21) is consistent with Golden Age expectations. The philosophical discourse of ‘unwritten law’ is shown to offer a cohesive interpretative frame to otherwise loosely related or even contradictory emphases in Paul’s ‘justification by faith’ language: namely, ethical transformation through the ‘law of faith’ (Romans 3:27), participation in Christ and his pistis as the embodied law (Romans 3.22–26), and incorporation of the nations under one universal law of faith (Romans 3:29–30).

Open Access
In: Paul and the Philosophers’ Faith

Abstract

Chapter 4 traces possible ancient correlates to the modern understanding of faith as a weak or irrational type of knowledge. The author examines passages from the works of Galen, Lucian, and Celsus to demonstrate that different epistemic values were assigned to the concept of pistis in this period. The chapter also discusses the Platonic epistemological discourse in which pistis played a role, particularly in the works of Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Philo, and Plutarch. Across these diverse authors, pistis language is used to describe both strong and weaker types of knowledge, but it is never inherently thought of as unsubstantiated or blind. In fact, in the Platonic scheme, pistis is thought of as the best type of knowledge humanly attainable. It is highlighted that pistis evolved as a reasonable cognitive mode to approach the transcendent and became increasingly used by later authors to bridge the epistemic gap between human uncertainty and divine stability. Similarly, in Paul’s letters, pistis is a reasonable human gateway to knowledge of God. It is not contrasted with reason or knowledge, but with sight (2 Corinthians 5.7) and love (1 Corinthians 13.13), which act as more-than-earthly means of engaging with the divine. This chapter concludes that Pauline pistis remains indirect and provisional in epistemic contexts; it is only as firm as the object whose stability it mirrors, but is never irrational or fideistic in nature.

Open Access
In: Paul and the Philosophers’ Faith

Abstract

Chapter 6 delves into the ethical aspect of pistis and the tense relationship between ‘faith’ and ‘good deeds/works’. This chapter highlights how moral imitation was prevalent in various aspects of life in the Roman Empire during Paul’s time and explores the role of pistis in moral training and mimetic relationships. In these contexts, the concept of pistis was used both as an attitude towards a model (trusting) and as a dispositional quality or virtue (faithfulness) to model one’s character on. The more specific topos of homoiōsis theōi is discussed to show that within a variety of philosophical schools the ultimate aim was to become like God, who is seen as the most trustworthy ‘object’ of one’s trust, whereby lower gods or wise humans function as intermediaries to imitate. In Paul’s letters, faith also often indicates a virtue that requires practice, whereas the use of pistis to indicate a kerygmatic complex (‘the faith’) is argued to be a later development. In inter-human relationships, imitation in ‘faithfulness’ is encouraged by Paul, as these relationships provide a ‘mimetic chain’ leading up to Christ. The reluctance to explicitly designate God as an example corresponds to the tendency within philosophical discourses to seek intermediary models. When the imitation concerns Christ, pistis language may indicate the attitude of imitation (trust in Christ) or the virtue to be imitated (faithfulness of Christ). Building on these mimetic patterns in Paul’s letters, the pistis Christou formulations are understood as intentionally ambiguous: Christ’s faithfulness to God becomes that of his followers through their faith in him.

Open Access
In: Paul and the Philosophers’ Faith

Abstract

In chapter 5, the semantic domain that connects the concepts of faith, persuasion, and wisdom is explored. The author challenges the dichotomy of relational faith versus cognitive faith, which is often fuelled by the alleged opposition between Jewish and Greek thought, and proposes that Graeco-Roman discourses of persuasion help to overcome this contrast. Several discourses are explored, all of which show a constant focus on the relational aspect of faith alongside the mental or cognitive aspects. In the discourse on true philosophy versus superficial sophistry, one of the characteristics of philosophy is its ability to transform its adherents. This helps to understand Paul’s distinction between faith based on human wisdom and faith based on divine power (1 Corinthians 2.5): only a pistis that rests on the latter is capable of enacting moral transformation. Another discourse discussed is the Epicurean and Stoic ideal of the wise, whose trustworthiness (pistis) is deemed essential not only for stable cognitive persuasions, but also for the formation of proper friendships and helping others attain a similar level of wisdom. Similarly, in Paul’s thought, acting on the basis of one’s faith is good, but acting incongruently with one’s conviction for the sake of welcoming the less-advanced is better (Romans 14.1–15.7). Thus, in both philosophical movements and the Pauline tradition, the proper type of faith is a relationally configured conviction which offers a deep and transformative persuasion.

Open Access
In: Paul and the Philosophers’ Faith

Abstract

Chapter 2 concerns the semantic domain of divine-human relationships. It starts by exploring the difficulties in describing religion and faith in classical cultures. Post-Enlightenment assumptions still influence present-day research, resulting in a cultic understanding of ancient religion (polis religion), while philosophical and cognitive aspects (including the notion of ‘faith’) are neglected. To overcome these modern biases, the author advocates the use of a model from antiquity itself, the theologia tripartita, consisting of three approaches to the gods represented by lawgivers, poets, and philosophers. This pattern or tool is shown to recur in different variations across Greek and Roman authors. Within this discourse we also encounter the related topos of an original approach to the gods through the human mind (nous) in a primitive stage of humanity, which later became corrupted by the use of images and poetry. It is then argued that Paul offers a critique of pagan cult and myth (Romans 1.18–32) and teaches a philosophical alternative by defining his movement through the ‘measure of pistis’ and emphasizing a renewal of the mind (esp. in Romans 12.1–3). Cultic language, such as ‘the offering of your faith’ (Philippians 2:17) and ‘the spirit of faith’ (2 Corinthians 4.13) are understood in line with this discourse as metaphorical language, in which cultic terms are appropriated by a more philosophically inclined faith. Thus, the chapter offers a starting point for situating the early Jesus movement, and Paul’s pistis language in particular, within a wider Graeco-Roman, philosophical-religious continuum.

Open Access
In: Paul and the Philosophers’ Faith

Abstract

Chapter 8 of the book focuses on the denial of pistis (apistia, ‘disloyalty’/‘unbelief’, and apistoi, ‘disloyal’/‘unbelievers’) and the use of pistis to refer to people in Paul’s community (hoi pisteuontes/pistoi, ‘the faithful’/‘the believers’). The author first examines the use of pistis and apistia language as group designations in religious contexts in Graeco-Roman source texts, showing that these terms are regularly used as religious self- or other-designations, but rarely in an ‘absolute’ sense, without a specific object or a specific interpretation of (dis)loyalty. This suggests that this aspect of early Christian language use was indeed innovative. At the same time, hoi apistoi was not used as a general outsider-designation (‘the unbelievers’) prior to Paul. Hence, as such language developments take time, it is argued that apistoi was used to denote specific unfaithful categories of people on the periphery of Paul’s Corinthian communities rather than to refer to all religious outsiders in general. Their lack of faith is sometimes configured cognitively (‘the unpersuaded’), while other times it is ethical-religious in nature (‘the disloyal’), indicating their continuing polytheistic practises. Similarly, pisteuontes sometimes indicates those who faithfully received Paul’s message, and sometimes it is used to bring together different ethnicities in one bond of trust (‘all the faithful’). These findings provide additional evidence that pistis has a strongly polysemous character, requiring an understanding of semantic domains for proper interpretation, even for apparently neutral self- and other-designations.

Open Access
In: Paul and the Philosophers’ Faith
Author:

Abstract

δεκτός in Acts 10:35 may be understood as a term from the Jewish purity and consecration system. With a high degree of consistency, Hebrew רצון and רצה are rendered in cultic contexts in the LXX with words of the δεκ- lexeme. While verbs of the δεκ- lexeme are not uncommon prior to the LXX, adjectives of the δεκ-lexeme are uncommon outside of the LXX prior to the NT, establishing the use of δεκ- adjectives in the LXX as the primary context for δεκτός in Acts. This interpretation is consistent with themes of purity and consecration in the Cornelius episode and throughout Luke-Acts.

In: Novum Testamentum