Friday, February 15, 2013

Book Review: Arguing with Scripture: The Rhetoric of Quotatioons in the Letter of Paul by Christopher Stanley

The Blurb…
Overall, this study has some major positives, but also some unfortunate drawbacks that give great pause to one who may want to recommend such a work.  On the positive:  Stanley’s method is enlightening and can be built upon for further insight into the Pauline use of scripture… [his] study gives the NT, and specifically Pauline community, much to consider. 

Stanley, Christopher D. Arguing With Scripture: The Rhetoric of Quotations in the Letters of Paul. 1st ed. New York; London: T&T Clark, 2004. $40. Pp. 196.

In Arguing with Scripture, Chris Stanley studies a select few of Paul’s explicit quotations from a rhetorical critical method, informed by reader-response criticism.  The question that governs this study is, “Was Paul’s method of quoting scripture effective in his argumentation?”  Stanley asks this question from the perspective of the original audience and the effect of Paul rhetoric would have had upon this group.  Stanley evaluates Paul’s argumentation by asking a clarifying question to the above governing question, “How well does Paul’s strategy of biblical argumentation cohere with what we can surmise about the capabilities and inclinations of his audiences?” 
In order to test his theory and investigate Paul’s use of Scripture in his argumentation, Chris Stanley interacts with only explicit OT citations in this book from Paul’s letters to the Romans, Corinthians (1 and 2) and Galatians.  Stanley notes that “The only quotations that Paul’s first-century audience definitely would have recognized are those marked as such within the text,” such as: “Those introduced by an explicit quotation formula, such as ‘as it is written’; “those accompanied by a clear interpretive gloss”; and “those that stand in demonstrable syntactical tension with their present Pauline surroundings (Rom. 9:7; 10:18; Gal. 3:12).”  Stanley opines that, “we should not assume that the original recipients of [Paul’s] letters would have recognized even a verbatim quotation from Scripture unless it was marked within the text” (47).  Besides the quotations coming from the Pauline Hauptbriefe, Stanley’s method for selection of quotations to study in this monograph is unclear, but those chosen are some of the more difficult and enigmatic quotations in Pauline interpretation.  I will suggest a couple other quotations that would have been helpful to cover below. 
The next part of Stanley’s method is the imaginative one.  Here Stanley imagines more diversity among Paul’s audience than normally observed by, I think, traditional historical-critical exegetes.  Stanley creates three audience types hearing Paul’s rhetorical use of the Old Testament.  First, “the informed audience,” who consist of those that would have known the original context of each of Paul’s quotations and would have interacted critically with Paul’s scriptural argumentations.  Second, “the competent audience,” who consist of those that would have known just enough about the Jewish Scriptures to understand and grapple with Paul’s quotations in the rhetorical context in which Paul placed them in his letter. Third, and finally, “the minimal audience,” who, according to Stanley, would have been characterized as those who had little knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures.  Stanley notes, that in his method, the “minimal audience” would have been made up of “illiterate Gentiles, though literate recent converts might also be found here” (69).   But, since all in this final category were “in Christian circles,” according to Stanley, “[they would have been] aware of the high degree of respect given to the Scriptures” (69). This part of Stanley’s methodology is greatly influenced by the “questionable assumptions that scholars have traditionally made” concerning Paul’s authorial intentions and the reader’s reception of such rhetoric Stanley notes in his introduction (cf. Stanley’s 8 assumptions, which are too lengthy to summarize here.  Numbers 3, 4, 5, 7, 8 apply most relevantly to the diversity of Paul’s audience). 
An analysis of one chapter will unfold Stanley’s method best.  In 1 Corinthians we see our best example of difficult citations selected by Stanley, and their mixed reactions by Stanley’s imagined audiences.  Three citations are covered in 1 Corinthians, and they can be broadly summarized thus (citations/overall response/description of response, per Stanley’s judgment):

1 Cor. 1:19 = Isa.29:14 – Negative. The citation is vague in Paul’s rhetorical context and how it was lifted from its original, OT, context, and thus would have not made much sense in the flow of Paul’s argument to any competency level.

1 Cor.  10:7 = Ex.32:6 – Positive. The citation would have been persuasive to Paul’s Corinthian audience at all competency levels because Paul “knitted his own voice so closely with the voice of Scripture”. (90)

1 Cor. 14:21 = Isa. 28:11 – Mixed. The “literate” (informed) audience would have had serious questions about how Paul cited this verse and its correlation to the original OT context; thus a negative response would have been likely from this audience.  However, the “competent” and “minimal” audiences would have accepted Paul’s arguments, since within Paul’s broader 1 Corinthians 12-14 discussion of charismata, the citation fits the context.  The “competent” and “minimal” audiences would have been unaware that Paul “had to ignore both the original sense and original language of Isa 28:11-12 in order to apply the passage to the Corinthians” (94).
                It would not be helpful to go into discussion of each verse covered above in any more depth than already reported.  In each case, Stanley pursues a method that simply gives reasons why an audience would or would not accept Paul’s argument based upon what seems to be his best judgment of the text.  The exegesis is regretfully very thin in the main body of the text.  Much of the textual interaction at times can be found in the footnotes, or assumed found in Stanley’s previous work (Paul and the Language of Scripture).  The lack of exegesis leads this reviewer to have to say that Stanley’s conclusions seem largely based upon “his best judgment[s] of the text,” simply due to the aforementioned problem. 
Stanley concludes his 1 Corinthians chapter noting that Paul would have had an overall convincing argument, because “Even if we ignore his claims to apostolic authority, the fact that Paul was both literate and conversant with sacred texts guaranteed him a measure of respect among the less educated members in his congregations, and Paul did not hesitate to play on that respect in order to advance his arguments.”  Therefore, according to Stanley, Paul may not have been quoting Scripture correctly, but he made sure it looked like he was.  Let the reader decide how convincing this case may be.
As mentioned earlier, Stanley’s quotations selection is unclear.  Two quotations come to mind within Stanley’s Pauline pericope that I wonder why he did not cover.  First, I wonder why he would not select other verses such as Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17, which is so hotly debated within literary investigations of Pauline interpretations of Scripture (though this citation is briefly covered in the Galatians chapter where Stanley concludes that nothing in the immediate context of that verse supports Paul’s Gal. 3:6-14 case, cf. pp.124-125).  In Romans, Habakkuk 2:4 fits his criteria since it is introduced by “just as it is written,” and would have been a clear quotation to Paul’s audience.  The analysis of such a quotation would possibly have demonstrated the advantage of a rhetorical reader-centered method against a primarily author-centered literary method; and possibly cleared up the continued opaqueness of this quotation in Paul.  Second, Gen 2:24 in 1 Corinthians 6:16 is a verbatim quotation that Paul would have known (and likely his readers would have been aware of) and ostensibly uses in relation to its original, OT, context to make his argument in 1 Corinthians.  Paul’s metaphorical use of Genesis 2 within this pericope is an interesting analogy to the creation story.  I would have been interested to know what Stanley’s three focus groups would have felt about such an analogy. 
               To Stanley’s credit, he does spot a problem with many who have proceeded in the interpretation of Paul’s use of Scripture, namely the audience.  Who is Paul’s audience? What is their make-up? How diverse are they?  How would they respond to scriptural argumentation?  But Stanley’s method seems to also raise many questions too.  I would like to hear better definition on Stanley’s view of the three audiences with varying levels of “literacy.” It first seems that Stanley assumes that biblical literacy equals functional, that is reading and compositional, literacy.  Rainer Riesner’s work (Jesus als Lehrer, 1981) on teaching in an oral culture according to a rabbinical model of elementary education, also could inform what an audience may and may not have known about scriptural context.  Studies like Riesner’s may have even further implication for Stanley’s study since even allusions to biblical texts would have been recognized by a highly oral culture that the first-century milieu.[1]  Secondly, the three audiences varying levels of “literacy” also seems to directly correspond to their levels of critical thinking skills as well.  In Stanley’s estimation, their ability to critically think is in quasi-direct correlation to their “literacy.”  I wonder how true of an assessment this may be.
                Overall, this study has some major positives, but also some unfortunate drawbacks that give great pause to one who may want to recommend such a work.  First on the positive.  Stanley’s method is enlightening and can be built upon for further insight into the Pauline use of scripture.  Note especially the section on “assumptions” as noted above as a helpful “shot over the bow,” per se, to those unwilling to progress in biblical exegesis and interpretation.  Stanley’s study gives the NT, and specifically Pauline community, much to consider.  Many positive insights can come out of Stanley’s method.  On the side that creates pause, first, Stanley all too often operates in the hypothetical to be helpful to any specific passages that are in specific focus.  Also, I am not sure if Stanley was limited on pages or words, but the book could have beefed up on exegesis and backgrounds to better flesh out Stanley’s test cases.  Finally, it is a disappointment, though understandable provided the circumstances and the rate of publishing today, that Stanley did not get to interact with Francis Watson’s magnum opus, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith, published in the same year (by the same publisher, T&T Clark).  One wonders what the interaction between such important works may have looked like. 
                So, “Was Paul’s method of quoting scripture effective in his argumentation?”  We are still waiting to hear conclusive evidence, which I think Stanley’s method can aide us in discovering.  Two-thousand years later as an evangelical-believer, I think I have come to one type of conclusion.  

Thanks to Bloomsbury and T&T Clark for the free review copy in exchange for an objective review.

[1] An analogy to the oral culture found in first-century Palestinian and Asia Minor culture, is the present day Indian culture (and there are also others that still exist).  An Indian friend was just commenting to me that children as old as five, who are functionally illiterate, will be given a rhythm to which they will chant the entire Vedas.  Additionally, at annual festivals in India the Vedas will be recited in full and then satires will be told at these festivals where the Vedas will be alluded to and recognized broadly by the audience. This analogy may not be fully relevant for the first-century Gentile that is new to the church, and was previously not a God-fearer or Proselyte, but gives good illustration to what an oral culture may look like to the modern Westerner who do not understand such a society.   

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