Engberg-Pederson, Paul and the Stoics (2000)

Troels Engberg-Pederson, Paul and the Stoics (2000)

Thesis: The Stoic worldview (a movement from individual (I), through a higher power (X), to community (S), as represented in the image below) underlies Paul’s anthropology and ethics.

 

Engberg-Pederson’s I-X-S model. (Image credit: vridar.org)

Pederson’s I-X-S model. Image credit: vridar.org

 

Ch. 1, “An Essay in Interpretation”: In this chapter, Engberg-Pederson situates his study among the rest of Pauline scholarship. He explicitly rejects theological readings of Paul. He sees his study as a work of social history, but one that discusses Paul’s ideas, rather than the activities of early Pauline Christians (as pursued, for example, by Wayne Meeks’ The First Urban Christians). He also has the explicit goal of presenting Paul’s anthropological and ethical thought in a manner that is applicable to the present (Western) world.

Ch. 2, “The Model” sets forth the I-X-S model depicted above, which, Engberg-Pederson argues, is a quintessentially Stoic line of thought that underlies all of Paul’s letters. Engberg-Pederson also pre-emptively argues that this model does not “saddle Paul with a form of individualism which either could not be his or is unlikely to have been it, nor does it imply any return to the naive, directly (auto)biographical and psychological readings of an earlier age” (43).

Ch. 3, “The Stoics” traces the I-X-S model through Stoic thought, using as its base book III of Cicero’s De finibus bonorum et malorum, “which is the best systematic statement of Stoic ethics that we have” (46). In Stoic thought, the move from I to X (i.e., individual to Reason) is a change in viewpoint from subjectivity to objectivity, leading one to wisdom. The change from X to S is taking the wisdom one has gained from Reason and using it altruistically.

Chs. 4-5 (“Philippians I: The Problem and Beginning of a Solution” and “Philippians II: The Solution Developed”): Chapter 4 analyzes three of the themes in Philippians (“the call, joy and suffering, and self-sufficiency”) and finds that they “fit completely into an I->X line of the I->X->S model on its Stoic interpretation” (102); that is, because they show how Paul has turned his back on the world (I) and moved on to Christ (X). Engberg-Pederson also discusses how Paul’s use of the I-X-S model is different from the Stoics’, namely how Paul places Christ at the X pole, whereas the Stoics placed Reason there. Chapter 5 argues that Paul acts toward the Philippians in the same way that Stoic teachers acted toward their pupils: he positions himself as the model to follow as they try to live like Christ. When they “acquire the full normative knowledge (at X) that set [Paul] going in his dealings with them . . . they will no longer have a special relationship with him but will be able to practice their new knowledge (as expressed in Paul’s maxim and prefigured for them in the Christ event) in relation to everybody (within the group)” (119; emphasis added)—that is, at the S pole.

Chs. 6-7 (“Galatians I: The Problem and the Beginning of a Solution” and “Galatians II: The Solution Developed”): In these chapters, Engberg-Pederson frames Pauline theology and ethics in terms of the I-X-S model. For Engberg-Pederson, theology reflects the X-I relationship, while ethics comes from the S-S relationship (i.e., relationships among members of the community). Moreover, because theology and ethics are different parts of the same worldview, they are intimately connected—a thought most clearly expressed when Paul bases his ethical arguments to the Galatians in terms of a particular set of beliefs about God, Christ, and the Law. Engberg-Pederson also adds a few layers to his I-X-S model: the A relationship (= X-I) is God’s relationship with humanity, Ba is the human relationship with God (I-X), Bb is human relationships with each other, and C is “actual practice [that] does not stand for any special relationship” (137).

Chs. 8-10 (“Romans I: The Problem,” “Romans II: The Solution,” and “Romans III: The Solution Developed”): These chapters have the same basic argument as chapters 6-7—namely, that proper faith (the I-X relationship) is the basis for right actions (the S-S relationship). Engberg-Pederson sees three basic themes in Romans related to his model: “(a) the theme of total directedness towards God (Ba: I->X), (b) the consequent removal of the I-pole that stands in the way of the proper inter-human relationship (Bb) and the proper practice (C), (c) and the resulting total openness towards others (Bb: S->S)” (199-200; emphasis original).

Ch. 11, the conclusion: Engberg-Pederson summarizes his argument in the form of four theses:

  1. “A historical thesis: that there is a fundamental similarity in the basic model that structures both Stoic ethics and Paul’s comprehensive parenesis in his letters as a whole.”
  2. “An exegetical thesis: that a reading that draws on Stoic ideas helps to solve a number of problems that have traditionally engaged interpreters of Paul’s letters,” like the relationship between “the descriptive and the prescriptive parts” of Paul’s letters.
  3. “A hermeneutical thesis: that a kind of reading that draws on Stoicism to emphasize and develop those ideas of a cognitive type that are in fact there in Paul is positively required for an exegesis of his letters to have fulfilled its task.”
  4. “A theological thesis: that Paul must be read directly, philosophically, even naturalistically as a person who is speaking of the world as it is available to all partners in the dialogue, in exactly the same way as this was done by his fellow Jews (like Philo) and Greeks (like Plato or the Stoics)” (301-304; emphasis original).

For an extensive, critical review of this book, see J. Louis Martyn, “De-apocalypticizing Paul: An Essay Focused on Paul and the Stoics by Troels Engberg-Pederson,” JSNT 24 (2002): 61-102.

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