Saturday, 9 June 2007

The Apostle Paul - A Storyteller?

Is Paul a storyteller? A philosophical debater? My own research in Paul has led me to consider the narrative dynamics approach to Paul (taking the cue after Richard Hays, NT Wright, Ben Witherington III, Steven Fowl, and Michael Gorman, amongst others - well..more about this approach later). I recently wrote a short article that is published in the first issue of Berita STM for 2007. This article is reproduced below.

I Love to Tell the Story

When we think of the Apostle Paul, we would naturally think of him as a courageous missionary who contributes significantly to the expansion of Christianity; an excellent communicator who articulates his thoughts eloquently and persuasively in his letters; and a principled person that stands his ground without compromise, refutes false teachings, and confronts those who oppose the gospel of Christ.

Many of us may not consider him as an engaging storyteller. If we consider the world that Paul lives in, narrative and story are fundamental to the very fabric of oral cultures that he is accustomed to. Paul’s symbolic universe is essentially made up of a series of stories. When Paul thinks of sin, he thinks of the story of Adam (Rom 5:12-19); when he thinks of the law, he thinks of the story of Moses (2 Cor 3:7-18); and when he thinks justification, he thinks of the story of Abraham (Rom 4:1-25; Gal 3:6-9). Above all else, when Paul thinks of grace and redemption, he thinks of the story of Jesus Christ, especially the story of his death and resurrection. It is this story that Paul places special emphasis in his letters, particularly in his correspondence to the Corinthians (1 Cor 2:2; 11:23-26; 15:3-9; 12, 20; 2 Cor 4:7-15; 5:14-15; 8:9; 13:4). Why does Paul continue to recount the story of Jesus to the Christ-believers in Corinth?

First, this is the story that Paul wants the church in Corinth to embrace. In his initial proclamation of the gospel in Corinth, Paul emphasizes on the story of Jesus and him crucified so that their faith is grounded in the unshakable foundation of Christ, and not any clever rhetoric or human wisdom (1 Cor 2:1-5).

Second, this is the story that Paul wants the church in Corinth to proclaim. In instituting the Lord’s Supper, Paul not only draws on the story of Jesus, he also reminds the church that whenever they gather to celebrate the Eucharist, they are in fact proclaiming this story until Jesus comes again (1 Cor 11:26).

Finally, this is the story that Paul wants the church in Corinth to live out in their daily lives. In exhorting the church to give generously to the financial project that Paul initiated in helping the church in Jerusalem, Paul appeals to the story of Jesus (2 Cor 8:9). It is this character of Jesus Christ that considers the needs of others before self that Paul wants the church to emulate (see also Phil 2:5-11).

For Paul, the Easter story is not simply an event in the past that has no contemporary significance, neither it is a story that is worthy only to be recalled during the Lent season. It is a story that is to be embraced, proclaimed and lived out in our daily lives. No wonder, the story of Jesus is the story that Paul never gets tired of telling and retelling. It is the same story that we are called to tell and retell as beautifully reflected in the words of this hymn:

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.

I love to tell the story; ’tis pleasant to repeat
What seems, each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet.
I love to tell the story, for some have never heard
The message of salvation from God’s own holy Word.

I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.


rccnlj said...

:p Kononnya stress with sermon... Still got time to blog... *cheeky grin*

Kar Yong said...

ruth, it's antidote to stress in sermon preparation mah...can be rather therapeutic...

like you'd rather watch movie instead of memorising greek vocabulary and working on 1 Corinthians exegesis paper...


pearlie said...

Yes, blogging is indeed therapeutic, now you know :) Tell me about your sermon!

This is an interesting post as well but I haven't got time to read it since you should know reading your posts demand no mean intelligence. Later then!

Kar Yong said...

i'll post something about the sermon later this week...been really dead tired now...just got back from my uncle's funeral.

pearlie said...

I am sorry to hear about your uncle. I just got back from a long week of work. Need to catch up a lot on blogs and you have been really busy blogging!