One of the key points of concern that has undergirded my thesis research on 1 Corinthians 2 is the relationship of Paul to the “apocalyptic.” Since Kasemann said that apocalyptic was the mother of Christian theology, biblical scholarship has witnessed a diffusion of apocalyptic interpretations of Paul, such as J. Louis Martyn, Douglas Campbell, Beverly Gaventa, Alexandra Brown, and T.J. Lang to name a few I am more familiar with. However, acknowledging the influence of NT Wright on my scholarship, I have developed particular concerns about the way “apocalyptic” is used to interpret Paul. While concerns about the slipperiness with of the definition of “apocalyptic” and the emphasis over history certainly motivate some of my concern about “apocalyptic,” the primary contention I have come to have with “apocalyptic” interpretations is a historical and hermeneutical one: what historical and exegetical warrants do we have to consider “apocalyptic” to refer to an important set of themes, motifs, language, ideas, and/or concepts that are needed to interpret the letters of Paul? Put more simply, what reasons do we have to suggest that Paul’s letters we influenced by the features we witness in apocalyptic literature?
To my still developing understanding, there seems to be a problematic historical assumption at the core of “apocalyptic” readings: that because (1) we have good historical grounds to consider the existence of pattern of apocalyptic thinking, however we should define it, in Second Temple Judaism (the existence of apocalyptic literature), (2) that Paul is a Jew (the evidence is self-evident), and (3) that Paul’s letters have languages and motifs that resemble what is seen in apocalyptic literature, we can then (4) read Paul against an apocalyptic background. If this representation of the evidence for apocalyptic interpretations is more or less correct, then we have a problem. The same type of evidential grounds can be offered for reading Paul like a Greco-Roman philosophy. There is the existence of Hellenistic philosophical literature during the Roman Empire, Paul grew up in a Greco-Roman environment and was a Roman citizen, and Paul has language and motifs that resemble what is seen in Hellenistic philosophical literature. Both historical, literary, biographical, and linguistic evidences can be offered in favor of reading Paul against an apocalyptic and philosophy background. How do we differentiate between the validity of the interpretations of Douglas Campbell and Troels-Engberg Pederson, who provide starkly different accounts of Paul?
If we are to work under the assumption that we can find a reason to distinguish between these two different ways of interpreting Paul, perhaps the best starting point is the clearest evidence we have about the thinking of Paul: the textual evidence. On what grounds can we differentiate between apocalyptic and philosophical influences on Paul’s discourse? The strongest evidence would be not simply be some a similarity of words, phrases, motifs, or individual ideas between Paul and either apocalyptic or philosophical literature. Two people can use the same symbols and concepts, but that doesn’t imply that one person influenced other. Rather the observation of a shared constellation of words, phrases, motifs, and ideas. The more similarities, the more likely there is an influence.
Of course, multiple correspondences does not tell us the nature of the influence. It is readily assumed in the historical interpretation of the Bible that common language implies share or similar meaning. However, there are condition where shared language may be the result of conflicts of meaning, where one person uses the language and concept of another person or social group to directly or indirectly challenge what the other people or group is putting forward. Without trying to make my cases here, I would suggest that 1 Corinthians is best understood as Paul’s resistance to the influence of Hellenistic philosophy and 2 Corinthians is best understood as Paul’s resistance to other teachers who had made claims about themselves based, upon other things, claims to apocalyptic revelation.
There is, furthermore, a potential mistaken, overgeneralization that can be drawn from cases where we find a high degree of influence. If understand Paul’s acceptance or critical relation to specofic influence as evidence that represent Paul’s view on a whole class of similar literature or ideas, we are risking a hasty overgeneralization. In other words, just because Paul may be understood to agree or disagree with one specific historical instance of a significant influence on Paul, whether it be person, a historical event, or some literature does not mean Paul would reject everything that we can put under a similar label. For instance, just because I think Paul is critical of the Roman empire and its wisdom in 1 Corinthians 2.6 does not mean that I think Paul rejects the governmental authority of the Roman empire entirely (see Romans 13). Similarly, just because Paul may be critical or amendable to specific philosophical and apocalyptic sources does not constitute his view on all philosophy and apocalyptic literature.
This thereby necessitates that we either (1) have good grounds to think that Paul shared the same classifications and categories we do, such as apocalyptic literature, that would strengthen the case for a more general acceptance and influence on Paul, either amenable or critical (but it doesn’t cinch the case) or, in lieu of that, (2) focus on more specific influences, such as Paul and the Stoics and Paul and the apocalypse of Daniel, rather than the general influences of Paul and Hellenistic philosophy or Paul and apocalyptic literature. While there is some evidence for thinking that Paul might have understood Hellenistic philosophy as a class, there is not the clear grounds that Paul would have shared our categorization of apocalyptic literature. In fact, insofar as Paul is immersed in the culture of Second Temple Judaism and the learning of various texts, Paul would like understand what we today understand as “apocalyptic literature” more as specific pieces of literature and their specific origins rather than as a generic class. It is similar to how those who have not studied Christianity without much depth may primarily categorize the repository of Christian literature as “the Bible” without much thought to the specific pieces of literature, whereas Biblical scholars would focus more on individual pieces of literature, such as Romans or Isaiah.
The question to draw from this chain of reasoning is this: is Paul “apocalyptic” or is Paul influenced by something more specific, such as Daniel? There is strong evidence to consider that Daniel 2 exhibits a remarkable influence on 1 Corinthians 2.6-16, and the entire chapter of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 almost assuredly takes Daniel 12.1-3 as its starting point to understand the resurrection of Jesus. To that end, I would put forward the relationship of Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar’s court in Daniel 2 as a paradigm for then understanding Paul’s relationship to Hellenistic philosophy, particularly Stoic philosophy which enjoyed influence in the halls of Roman power.
My contention from this is that it is better to talk about a Danielic Paul than an apocalyptic Paul, as (1) we may have a stronger, evidential case for that specific influence and (2) more specific knowledge of the various influences, such as both apocalyptic and philosophical, can help us to draw hypotheses about the configuration and coordination of the nature of those historical influences upon Paul in a way that allows us to then consider which configurations make the most coherent sense of Paul’s discourse.