Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Tool to Revolutionize Pauline Studies: An Interview with James Ware

In recent times, many useful compendiums on Pauline parallels have appeared. None, however, have been able to accomplish what James Ware's creation promises to do, bring students of Paul face-to-face with the Greek text, enabling them to see parallels in the Pauline corpus as never before.

This unique work entitled, Synopsis of the Pauline Letters in Greek and English, will be a must have resource for all serious students of the New Testament. I really do believe that this work will revolutionize Pauline studies in future research of this field. I was fortunate enough to have a chance to discuss the details of  this volume with the author, James Ware, associate professor of religion at the University of Evansville.

On to the interview:

1.This is a unique volume in many ways. Talk about the need for a Pauline synopsis in Greek and how it fills a niche left by other Pauline synopses.

We have long needed a synopsis of Paul’s letters in Greek. The Synopsis of the Pauline Letters in Greek and English is the very first synopsis of related passages in Paul’s letters in both Paul’s original Greek and English translation. This volume contains both Greek text and English translation, on facing pages. The Greek text is that of the Nestle-Aland 27th edition, the standard critical edition of the New Testament, and the English translation is the NRSV. But I also believe this synopsis is a quantum leap over previous tools for the study of parallel passages in Paul in other key ways. This synopsis features a revolutionary format--based upon an entirely new approach to the study of parallel passages in Paul--which enables users for the first time to work with the multiple and many-faceted parallels to any passage in Paul in a systematic and comprehensive way. The work also has a lot of features designed especially for the English-only user designed to help bridge the gap between the original text and English translation. I include notes to explain key Greek terms underlying the English translation, and in key places where the NRSV obscures things for the English reader, I introduce an alternate translation which follows the Greek more closely. And unlike previous such tools, this volume is cloth-bound and elegantly designed, with a flexible binding which allows it to lay open easily on the desk. It will sit proudly on the shelf alongside your other tools for biblical study. In fact, it is my hope that this work will take its place alongside other standard tools of New Testament study, such as gospels synopses, concordances, and so forth, as an essential resource for the close study of Paul’s letters.

2. Before discussing the unique features of this volume, you have made an important methodological choice in choosing all of the Pauline letters ascribed to the apostle as well as relevant material from Acts. What lead you to this decision and how does this in turn benefit the reader of this volume?

Yes, as you mention, the Synopsis of the Pauline Letters enables the user to study parallel passages in the entire corpus of Paul's letters in the New Testament, together with related passages in the book of Acts. Regarding the inclusion of the entire Pauline corpus: I believe the goal of any standard tool should be to be as neutral as possible on such historical questions such as authorship and so forth. There is thus simply no defensible reason for such a tool to omit any of these letters, such as the pastorals, as some previous tools have done. Solid scholars such as Luke Timothy Johnson have made a strong case for Pauline authorship of the pastorals, and among those who reject Pauline authorship, almost all are agreed that these letters contain authentic Pauline fragments. Under such circumstances, omitting them would not make much sense. Besides, by including the pastorals, this work can be another tool in exploring the precise relationship of these letters to the other Pauline epistles, whereas excluding them would illegitimately preclude such work in advance. The neutrality of this work on such questions is reflected in the title: it is a synopsis of the Pauline letters, that is, the entire Pauline corpus in the New Testament, designed to be useful to all who study Paul, irrespective of their views on authorship questions.

The inclusion of relevant passages from Acts is also important. With the inclusion of the entire Pauline corpus as well as Acts, the user is able to work with the entire canonical witness to Paul’s teaching and ministry in the New Testament. By the way, I found in doing this work that the correspondences between Paul’s letters and Paul’s speeches in Acts are eye-popping, much more extensive than the standard (sometimes disconcertingly shallow) scholarly treatments of these passages might lead one to believe. And the differences are also interesting. For instance, it is clear that Paul’s Jewish identity is a major emphasis of Luke, whereas Paul in his letters tends (in general) to put much less emphasis on his Jewishness. With this synopsis, such similarities and differences jump right out from the page, and can be carefully studied and explored.

3. One of the great features of this work is the 177 groups of related passages. Explain how you arrived at these categories of Pauline thought and taking a number and topic label, give an example of how a Pauline theme can be traced through his letters.

I found in working with Francis and Sampley’s Pauline Parallels and other tools (besides the fact that they only provided the parallels in English), that they were very difficult to use effectively, as the target passages are not categorized by theme, but simply by a phrase or two drawn from the target passage. The reader is constantly left scratching one’s head over the precise connection between the passages. That is why I based this synopsis on entirely different principles. In this tool, the topic is clearly labelled for each group of parallel passages, so the user immediately knows the structural, formal or thematic relationship connecting the passages. The passages are grouped by epistolary structure (topics 1-8), epistolary forms (topics 9-14), literary forms (topics 15-22), content or theme (topics 23-161), key events of the Pauline mission (topics 162-166), and Paul’s co-workers (topics 167-177). Each topic is given a number and a topic label (e.g. 1, "Salutation, " 89, "The Resurrection of the Body," 124, "The Fruit of the Spirit," etc.). As far as the passages collected under each topic, the work includes both obvious and debatable parallels, leaving to the user’s judgment the relevance of any particular passage. The collection of parallel passages represents literally thousands of hours of work with concordances, commentaries, and other tools to uncover all relevant, or even possibly relevant, parallels. Of course, there is a subjective element involved here, especially when it comes to the thematic topics, but I have attempted to follow Paul’s own categories of thought, informed by the best of current scholarship on Paul. The Table of Topics at the front of the work contains a convenient reference list of all the topics. A fellow scholar remarked to me that simply reading through the Table of Topics is an education in Pauline theology!

4. You have endeavored to make this synopsis user friendly. Talk about how important the "Table of Parallels" is in using this synopsis.

The "Table of Parallels" is the real key to the effective use of this synopsis. The "Table of Parallels" lists, in canonical order, every passage from Paul’s letters, as well as the book of Acts, found in the work. The assumption is that, most of the time, the user will be studying a particular passage in Paul, whether for a sermon, Bible study, paper, or what have you. The user simply looks up the passage in the Table of Parallels, and this leads the user to every topic where that passage is found. Notice that I said "every topic": a passage is usually found in more than one topic, often several. This is where this synopsis is such an improvement over previous tools. Most passages in Paul contain more than one theme. Instead, in any passage in Paul, themes and motifs "cascade" one upon another. Previous tools operated on the (obviously false) assumption that any passage in Paul has only one key theme, and these tools locate the passage under that one theme, ignoring all the others. As a result, these works are very incomplete and frustrating to use. By contrast, the Synopsis of the Pauline Letters in Greek and English is really revolutionary, because it permits the user to unpack each of these various themes and motifs in any passage, and trace the parallels to each of them throughout Paul’s letters. As one of my students put it, its like an "exegetical explosion." That’s what makes this work such a powerful tool.

By the way, the work also contains an Index of Subjects, so whenever the users wish to trace a particular subject through Paul’s letters, they can do that as well.

5. I was pleased to find that this volume also includes a textual apparatus. What were some of the factors that lead you to include this feature and how did you determine what textual information to include/exclude?

We wanted this to be a truly comprehensive scholarly tool. When working with passages relating to the mystery of Christ in Paul, for instance, it is important to know that, while the Nestle- Aland text reads "the mystery of God" in 1 Corinthians 2:1, there is also strong manuscript support for the reading "the testimony of God." At the same time, a full apparatus, including even the most minor differences which are relatively insignificant for exegesis, did not seem necessary. The solution we came up with was to create for this volume a streamlined, working apparatus, including only those readings of greatest importance for exegesis. This too was a gargantuan task, but I am very excited about the results. The apparatus includes over 175 of the key instances of textual variation in the Pauline corpus and Acts. I think it would be hard to find a textual variation of truly significant importance for exegesis that is not included in this apparatus. And the apparatus has a unique design, differing from Nestle-Aland, but clear and easy to use, which allowed a lot of information to be packed into a small space. For each variant, the apparatus includes the evidence of all available papyri, all the major uncials, and even a select number of important minuscules! And the introduction includes a complete list of the manuscripts cited in the apparatus, providing each manuscript’s name, date, text type, and even current location. Users can use this for reference as they work through any reading in the apparatus. And the introduction also includes a brief but very helpful introduction to text criticism and using a textual apparatus, for those new to this sort of thing or who need a helpful refresher.

I would also add that the English text also includes a textual apparatus, which explains clearly what the variants are for the English reader, and also indicates the general weight of the manuscript evidence for each reading. These notes incorporate all the textual notes in the NRSV, but these NRSV notes have been corrected and expanded at many necessary points. And our English apparatus includes many additional variant readings not given in the NRSV notes. In addition, the English reader can also easily pass their eye over to the Greek apparatus for further information. The introduction to using the apparatus that I mentioned above provides all the background the English reader needs to effectively use the Greek apparatus as well as the English.

6. In my use of this, I can already see how this volume will improve my handling of the Greek text of Paul’s letters. Was this one of your goals in writing this volume?

Yes, one of the advantages of the facing page format is that it is very helpful for those who are seeking to improve their Greek skills, or whose Greek skills may be a bit rusty, in that it provides the translation help they may need at spots, all the time encouraging them to check out Paul’s precise wording on the facing page Greek text. By the way, one of the key aspects of this volume that I think both Greek and English users will appreciate is this: believe it or not, previous tools for comparative study of Paul have by their own admission based their parallels on English translations of Paul’s letters, not the Greek text! It is amazing how many parallels in these previous tools are included or not included, based on the vagaries of translation, often missing obvious connections within the original text. I would think that both those using the volume primarily in Greek, and those using it in English, would want the parallels collected on the basis of Paul’s original text. The Synopsis of the Pauline Letters is based in its entirety on the Greek text of Paul’s letters. Our synopsis is the first work that does this. I think this aspect is crucial for a reliable, scholarly tool for the study of parallels in Paul.

7. Name some of the benefits that the student of Paul’s letters will receive from this volume and give an example how this synopsis has benefited your own scholarship.

I knew I really had something when the manuscript was only partially completed and in unwieldy manuscript form, and yet I found I was already using the work constantly myself in my own study and research. I turn to it all the time now in my own scholarship. To give an example of the usefulness of this volume, let me explain another way in which this resource is a quantum leap over previous tools. The Table of Parallels not only includes every passage in Paul’s letters, arranged according to the standard sense divisions, but also individual units and sub-sections within each passage. So, for instance, if the user is studying Romans 1:1-7, the Table of Parallels, of course, directs the user to topic 1, "Salutation," where the user can compare this passage with every other salutation in all of the Pauline corpus. But the Table of Parallels also directs the user to passages parallel to the very important confessional formula embedded within that passage, Romans 1:3-4. The user can compare this formula to all other such formulas in the Pauline letters under the topics "Summaries of the Faith," and "Proposed Creedal Fragments." The user can also study passages parallel to the content of this formula in the topics "The Son of God Made Flesh" and "The Resurrection of Jesus." And the Table of Parallels lists other sub-sections of Romans 1:1-7 and their related topics. In fact, for Romans 1:1-7 alone, the Table of Parallels directs the user to ten different groups of related passages! The truly revolutionary design of this work makes it comprehensive in a way not achieved previously. I have been working recently on the resurrection in Paul’s letters. The synopsis allowed me to pinpoint specific parallels to the confessional formula in Romans 1:3-4, and this study led me to an important insight into Paul’s theology of Jesus’ resurrection. One of the reasons I am excited that the book is finally out, is that I can now use it in my own research and study of Paul!


Patrick G. McCullough said...

Great interview, Matthew. Thanks! The tool looks fabulous! Can't wait to give it a look-see in Atlanta.


Matthew D. Montonini said...

Your welcome, Pat. Hope you have fun at SBL!

Matthew D. Montonini said...
This comment has been removed by the author.