Tag Archives: philosophy

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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CFP: Religion, Literature, and the Arts Conference

Ninth Religion, Literature, and the Arts Conference
Sacrifice, Terror, and the Good
September 26‐28, 2013
University of Iowa, Iowa City IA

The 2013 Religion, Literature and the Arts conference at the University of Iowa will focus on the relationships between terror, sacrifice, and the good. If one of the chief functions of the humanities is to encourage us to think reflectively about what we take to be the highest good, sometimes the task of the humanities scholar must be one of recovery, and sometimes one of critique. Rather than leaping to the defense of the pure virtue of the good, the conference pauses to reflect on its terrifying aspects and how it may compel us to sacrifice even that which is dear to us. Working across time and place, we want to build an understanding of how sacrifice works to alleviate or induce terror, and the role of the good in this process.

We invite papers focused on one of these three key terms, as well as papers that conceptualize how these terms might relate to one another. The conference is hosted by the University of Iowa’s Department of Religious Studies, and so we welcome contributions working with both classic and contemporary theories of sacrifice, penitence, and trembling before the divine—Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Rudolf Otto, Georges Bataille, Rene Girard, Walter Burkert, Slavoj Zizek, Talal Asad, to name but a few examples. But we are equally interested in papers and presentations that cut across disciplinary boundaries and address the broad themes of the conference from other vantage points, working with texts and non‐textual artifacts alike. As a starting point, the following kinds of questions might be considered:

  • Does terror have its ethical or political virtues? Is there an aesthetics of terror? How is the experience of terror represented in literature and the arts, and to what end? Is terror induced by the call for sacrifice, or does it justify the call for sacrifice?
  • How did ancient or antiquated rituals of sacrifice operate? How are they taken up and reenacted in contemporary cultures, by artists, creators, and consumers?
  • Does pursuit of the good always demand sacrifice? In a time of abundance, are we still called upon to sacrifice? What is the value (ethical or aesthetic) of choosing a good that does require sacrifice? In what contexts is goodness experienced as something to be feared? Is the good an inherently terrifying subject, or an inherently dull one?

In thinking about developing a proposal, it might be helpful to consider the following three broad headings under which accepted papers will be organized:

Constructive Diagnoses
This track invites papers using philosophy, theology, psychoanalytic theory, political theory, and/or literary theory to define, diagnose, and perhaps undermine what given cultures define as the good. For example, papers might develop a phenomenology of terror, deconstruct the practice of sacrifice, or explore how the divine or the demonic function as manifestations of the good.

Cultural Manifestations
This track invites papers that explore the agony, ecstasy, or monotony of sacrifice within a given culture, society, community, or ritual setting, from a variety of methodological perspectives and in a variety of contexts. Examinations of specific historical events or material artifacts, investigations of the ways sacrifice has been represented in literature and the arts, and inquiries into specific rituals of sacrifice are all equally welcome.

Creative Interpretations
This track invites creative work that touch in some way on the themes of sacrifice, terror, and the good—fiction, creative non‐fiction, poetry, paintings, music, film, and/or dance. Where appropriate, the abstract in this case might take the form of an artist’s statement explaining how the work speaks to the themes of the conference.

Submission of Abstracts
Please submit abstracts of no more than 350 words, along with a working title for your paper, your name, institutional affiliation, and email address to the RLA working group at religion‐rla@uiowa.edu. The deadline for submissions is April 30, 2013.

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A Lie in Their Soul

“Men and women whose natures have been warped by bad education or circumstances, however, will have a perverted sense of the good (identifying it with the life of pleasure, say, or the life of worldly honor). These people (as Plato says) have a ‘lie in their soul,’ and are therefore incapable of reasoning correctly about moral matters. A properly cultivated emotional nature [cultivated by Christianity] is thus essential to sound ethical reasoning.”

William J. Wainwright, “Theistic Proofs, Person Relativity, and the Rationality of Religious Belief.”

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