Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Colossians Remixed 10

In Colossians Remixed, Walsh-Keesmaat argue that there are three important rules for interpreting a text: context, context, context. Which is what the first four chapters did. What surprises, of course, many today is that they would choose “empire” as the context for Colossians. Is it the best one?
One of the responses I am having to W-K, along with saying to myself “that’s pretty good,” is “Is this Jewish enough?” In other words, is Paul’s concern “Rome’s empire” or “Israel’s history”? Not that we have to choose between the two. Here’s a question: I can agree that “fruitfulness” has a long and storied history in the OT. Is that enough or do we also need the Roman image of fruitfulness in order to set Paul’s message in context? Is fruitfulness the reward for faithfulness or is it reward in the face of empire building?
Chp 5 interacts imaginatively with folks who are asking just this question of the authors.
Monday we will observe how Paul himself moves to “image” in Colossians 1:15 and how W-K see 1:15-20 as subversive poetry.

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posted September 28, 2007 at 7:34 am

I wondered that also. Fruit is a constant metaphor throughout the OT.
Also, I wonder about the setting of Colosse (Colossae?) for a letter so focused on Roman Empire. I realize the known world was subject to that empire, but wasn’t Colosse small and agrarian comparatively? I would expect it to be more concerned with local affairs than say, Galatia. If W-K have the context right, then one would expect at least Galatians to be even more so, correct?

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posted September 28, 2007 at 9:26 am

You’ve hit the same thoughts and questions that came to my mind while reading this book. I do think though, as you imply, we can have both ‘contexts’ strongly within Paul and his letter(s): a strong, even primary, Jewish-shaped and focused mind but with a full awareness of who all will be threatened by the “coronation” of Christ, whom God is requiring all men (even Roman governors) to “receive” and “obey.”
I think Saul’s zealous Jewishness gave him a strong “counter-empire” bent anyway (exaltation of Israel necessarily required the humbling of the gentile nations), which Paul channeled full bore into Christology–Jesus is God’s promised (Jewish) authority and God now requires all men to obey his Annointed.
Again (from my comment to your last CR post), I can’t help but think that Rome’s personal involvement in Jesus’ death (and subsequent resurrection) made the gospel itself (the story of Roman crucifiction and resurrection) a statement wherever it was told, a comparison, of Rome’s power and authority relative’s to that of Jesus. Just as God demonstrated his power in the Exodus by intentionally coordinating “comparison” to Egypt and Pharoah, he intentionally chose the Roman cross as the foil, the symbol of Jesus’ glorification. No one could tell the story of Jesus’ glorification in the empire without also humbling Rome. If the gospel itself carried that clear comparison/contrast, it could have easily colored the whole of Paul.
I think I’m just now getting Wright’s point. Better late than never!

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Paul Norridge

posted September 28, 2007 at 1:38 pm

Their comments on fruitfulness and associated allusions was the least convincing bit of the book for me. It seems such an obvious and widespread metaphor that it’s hard to say that Paul had empire in mind at that point.

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tim atwater

posted September 28, 2007 at 2:04 pm

I agree (especially) with T above and previous post (9) — and (especially also) with Scot Watson back on post 7 — and Diane and others over the past few days —
Perspective and context are very difficult to be objective about — but is the bible (often) out to be objective?
Or is the bible mostly out to subvert or overthrow false objectivity with shocking subjectivity?
(for example, this week and last week’s lectionary readings from luke 16 — the dishonest manager and the rich guy in hell and Lazarus in heaven) —
Wesley said preachers need to soak up all of scripture and let all of scripture soak us up… and i find its only from looking at each story from as many angles as possible that i can begin to get it… but then i still need to stand as a partisan within the story–
I think that W-K generally do well at bringing up the Jewish context of Colossians —
and isn’t the story also about transcultural Paul translating the up-to-now entirely Jewish God story for Gentiles also? Doesn’t any story necessarily change at least a little in translation? (no language probably can carry all the meanings?)
Regarding the empire theme, i believe W-K do quite well with emphasizing how this is very Jewish in terms of carrying on the Exodus theology…
surely Exodus theme permeates scripture –and because of this — isn’t the burden of proof really on the those who see Paul offering a more neutral or benign view of empire??
Re Romans 13 I’ve been persuaded for a long time that the accents fall on “to whom (honor, etc etc) are due…”
Neil Elliott has a good piece on this in Horseley, editor, Paul and Empire. It’s probably more about permissioning Christians in Rome to pay taxes to avoid execution than any kind of a mandate… (This doesn’t resolve apparent differences in emphasis in other letters, i admit, but it at least opens the possibility of this being the main interpretive direction in a context where Christians were at increasing risk of death just for being Christian — a very very very different context than USA today…etc)
As a mostly recovered once political activist, i could pick away at a few parts of W-K’s analysis… (I think the story today is more about the transnational corporation as the real power behind contemporary empire than about the US political scene… and Canadian politics aren’t really much different from US, so more attention to their own home turf would be apropos)… but in general they (W-K) are very well grounded in the biblical word.
thanks again for the series

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