I have just come across another review of my monograph Paul and the Rhetoric of Reversal in 1 Corinthians (other reviews are listed in the ‘resources’ page of this blog). This one is in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, and is by Trent A Rogers. I like it when I see authors engaging with reviews of their books (unless it’s uncomfortably polemical), so I thought I’d take up the conversation briefly.
Rogers gives a great summary of the book, saying in part:
Paul’s kerygma about Christ is a “renegotiation” of the Jewish theme of dual reversal “in which those who are boastful rulers in the present are destined for destruction, while those who are righteous sufferers in the present are destined for divinely granted vindication” (p. 2). In early Christian thinking, “the reversal motif has been renegotiated to express the ‘gospel’ or kerygma of the death, resurrection, and deferred cosmic vindication of Jesus, the Christ” (p. 30). Paul urges the boastful and autonomous Corinthians to identify with Christ in his death and resurrection and thereby to move from “presumptuous autonomy to dependence on God in Christ” (p. 38, italics mine). The choice is between aligning themselves with the condemned boaster/ruler or with the sufferer who awaits vindication.
This is indeed a right sense of what I argue in the book. He goes on to give an equally accurate run through of each of the chapters.
Rogers then points to the difficulty of discerning unified coherence in the letter: do we opt for an approach that sees each issue as basically unrelated to the others (so, e.g. Fitzmyer), or do we go to the other extreme and try to make each topic ‘really’ about one central issue (so Mitchell)? Rogers kindly comments:
In many ways, Malcolm strikes an appropriate balance between these approaches in showing how the kerygma shapes both the macro-level structure and the pastoral application of the kerygma to particular themes. Moreover, I think he is correct in arguing that Paul employs specific rhetorical techniques primarily at the micro-level rather than in the letter as a whole.
Rogers recognises that a key part of my argument is that Paul’s gospel is informed by a pervasive motif of ‘dual reversal’ in early Judaism. Have I successfully made the case that such a motif was indeed prevalent? Rogers thinks so, affirming that it is especially prominent in situations of marginalisation and oppression. But he has a couple of hesitations about the extent of its influence on Paul’s gospel and epistolary practice.
Here is his concern regarding the impact of the reversal motif on Paul’s gospel:
Yet does this dual reversal theme best explain Paul’s kerygma and the structure of 1 Corinthians? Dual reversal is certainly an aspect of the kerygma-possibly even a major aspect-but I am unconvinced that dual reversal is the decisive influence on Paul’s kerygma. Where are the themes of sin/atonement and adoption, or more specific to 1 Corinthians, the idea of the church as the body of Christ?
I’m actually okay with this – I’m happy with the reversal motif simply being a ‘major aspect’ or one decisive influence on his kerygma. As for the matter of the body of Christ, I do see this as an important feature of Paul’s gospel, as I try to point out in chapter 4. Perhaps, though, I could have tied this theme in more emphatically in the conclusion.
And here is his concern regarding the impact of Paul’s gospel on the macro structure of his epistle:
Malcolm is aware that he is trying to apply this conceptual motif to the structure as a whole, but he does not sufficiently demonstrate that authors are applying conceptual motifs to the macro-level of their letters in a way that is analogous to his proposal in 1 Corinthians. That the message about Jesus dominates Paul’s thought is undeniable. The proposals that this message is best understood as a reconceptualization of the Hellenistic Jewish motif of dual reversal and that this kerygma structures Paul’s letters at a macro-level are not as convincing.
It is true that I don’t spend a lot of time in the book considering other examples of the application of a gospel conceptualisation to macro-structure. This might well have strengthened the book. For this, though, you will need to look to my (subsequent) chapter in the book Horizons in Hermeneutics, called ‘Kerygmatic Rhetoric in New Testament Epistles,’ as well as a forthcoming article on the gospel of God’s Son in 1 Peter. In these works, it perhaps becomes clearer that I am interested in the flexible influence of conceptual imagery on macro-structure, rather than the application of rigid forms. I have no problem with this happening very differently (or not at all) in different letters.
I applaud Malcolm’s approach of looking at the rhetorical structure more broadly (while also affirming the value of formal rhetorical analysis at the microlevel). Although I take issue with some of Malcolm’s conclusions, he makes a contribution in understanding both the central theme of the letter and the structure of the letter. I recommend this book as a balanced and well-researched read for someone trying to understand the argumentative flow of 1 Corinthians.
In all, a generous and helpful review.