bittersweet progress

Early on in my research, I had to resign myself to the fact that there are very few (if any) ‘original’ ideas or arguments,[1] and the more I have pressed on with my writing, the more I become aware of that truth.  For starters, my specific focus of 1 Cor 2.1–3.4 began with the prospect of representing a unique way of situating the argument, but Joseph Fitzmyer’s 2008 commentary quickly deflated my hopes of originality in that regard.[2] 

Then, I offered a critique of the usual arguments for and against a particular reading of 2.1 before offering my own conclusions, which I thought were (more or less) distinctive.  However, Veronica Koperski’s incisive 2002 essay[3] and Benjamin Gladd’s wonderful 2008 monograph showed my offering to be rather delayed and not atypical.

Not too long afterward I attempted to plow new ground with another tricky passage in the argument (i.e. 2.4), but quickly learned that James Dunn’s 1975 work (reprinted in 1997) already created adequate trenches and that Wolfgang Schrage’s 1991 commentary had brought in the crop and made a fine meal of it. 

The most recent occasion took place while attempting to provide a unique explanation for the apparent shift in style and content of 1 Cor 2.6-16.  I ran with a line of argument that seemed to offer a strong enough defense against those critical of this particular section of text (e.g. Widmann, Walker).  The quick version is that the wisdom of which Paul speaks in 2.6-16 is theological descriptor for the nature of the gospel he proclaims, thus maintaining a continuous line of argument from 2.1 onward.  For a while I thought I was onto something, but then I read this:

In v. 6-16 erläutert Paulus die Verkündigung und die Erkenntnis des gekreuzigten Messias als rettende Weisheit Gottes.

 –Eckhard Schnabel, Der erste Brief des Paulus an die Korinther (2006), 163.

Translation: ‘In verses 6-16 Paul explains the proclamation and the recognition of the crucified Messiah as the saving wisdom of God.’  Schnabel also contends that there is no need to argue for discontinuity in Paul’s argument; the apparent shift at 2.6 and the apparently diverent content of 2.6-16 can be explained by seeing Paul defining the nature of the gospel in terms of God’s wisdom, a gospel, as he says in 2.1-5, he proclaimed during his time in Corinth. Application (or significance): Schnabel beat me to it.

I freely confess that these sorts of things do bother me from time to time, and I admit to occasionally wrestling with the question: ‘Why even bother, if everyone else has said what I want to say?’  But then I am reminded of two things. First, and this is my alloted arrogant moment for the month, I remember that many of the conclusions or arguments I reach precede my awareness of them elsewhere.  While I may not come to an original idea, I did come to it via my own wrestling with the text and my own reasoning ability, and I need to take pride in the fact that the fruits of such labours are in the same basket of scholars who have gone before me. 

Second, I remember something one my previous professors once said.  To paraphrase (and adapt) slightly: doing a PhD is not so much about finding a great idea or a new way of arguing a point; doing a PhD is about examining and (re)finding yourself and learning from the incredible and new experiences such a process offers.  It is from that process that you begin to see not only who you are but who you have the potential to become.  Moreover, in seeing that reality and hope, you realise the uniqueness that God has given you and continues to shape; and it is from that realisation that a distinctively unique voice begins to be seen and heard in all that one does, especially one’s writing.

[1] Admittedly, this resignation was also prompted by many seasoned scholars telling me that exact thing. 
[2] He is the only other scholar I’ve encountered who isolates 2.1–3.4 as a distinct ‘rhetorical’ unit.  
[3] ‘ “Mystery of God” or “Testimony of God” in 1 Cor 2.1: Textual and Exegetical Considerations.’ Pages 305-15 in New Testament Textual Criticism and Exegesis: Festschrift J. Delobel. BETL 161. Edited by A. Denaux. Leuven.


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