From January 2005 till May 2008, I attended Cincinnati Christian University (Seminary division) for my MA in Biblical Studies and New Testament Research. After my first year, I became deeply interested in Ancient Near Eastern wisdom, Jewish wisdom traditions, and Graeco-Roman rhetorical theory. This interest heightened my curiosity to find any and all points of contact between those fields and Pauline studies. Such curiosity led to the focus of my MA thesis.
In broad strokes, my topic dealt with a specific element in rhetorical discourse–that of ethos (or, one’s [moral] character)–and how Paul possibly used this element in various writings. This concern naturally placed me within the discipline of Rhetorical Criticism; however, I did not wish to remain within the typical confines of Rhetorical Critical studies. I wanted to explore the concept of ethos within a framework that (to my knowledge) had not been considered–i.e. the wisdom traditions of the ancient world. Here is the general scope of that thesis:
Paul’s use of ethos is understood to be more in line with the wisdom traditions of the Ancient Near East and ancient Judaism than with the rhetorical models of the Greco-Roman world, as will be demonstrated by a critique of 2 Corinthians 10-13. Traditionally, ethos has been understood to be an appeal made by the speaker in which his or her moral character is viewed as trustworthy. In the Graeco-Roman model, ethos is secondary to the overarching argument; it is established so that the audience trusts the advice or plan of action offered by the speaker. In the Ancient Near East, the equivalent of ethos is employed because one’s character is the topic of discussion. Thus, the establishment of ethos is not viewed as an adjunct to a much larger set of arguments; it is the argument itself.
The connectivity between the Ancient Near Eastern understanding of ethos and Paul is the implementation of a device that will be labeled a “moral apologetic.” This device can be defined as a person’s behavior serving as a defense for the claims being made concerning his or her moral character. The harmony of speech and deed was an integral element of wisdom instruction in the Ancient Near East. The Christian gospel, according to Paul, makes a similar claim that those who are “in Christ” receive a new wisdom for how life is to be lived. This new wisdom, given to the individual by God through the Holy Spirit, becomes the standard by which morality is measured. The apologetic value of this is found in the integration of the claims of Christianity and the moral life of the one who makes such claims. This balance, therefore, serves as a window through which others can examine the validity of the Christian gospel.
As you can probably tell, my research was certainly not limited to Pauline studies–let alone New Testament studies; but that non-limitation was my original intent. I wanted to survey what I believed to be the broader and (in some respects) forgotten background of Paul’s personal heritage and likely influences. For me, there are resonances in Paul’s thought that sound much, much deeper than 1st century Judaism and Greco-Roman Hellenism, and these much deeper resonances have the right to be heard and appreciated.
The Focus of My PhD
This has been a rather arduous journey since we arrived in September (2008). My original topic, which was submitted in October 2007, had been treated by able scholars during the time between submission and arrival. Thus, my supervisors encouraged me to explore another avenue. For roughly three months, I read as much as I could on various topics and debates related to Pauline theology. Initially, I landed on the idea of the examining the Spirit’s role in Pauline ethics and how this relationship might contribute to discussions within the so-called “New Perspective on Paul.”
In the meetings that followed with my supervisors, we concluded that such an idea was not only too broad but also too massive for a PhD thesis. So the hunt continued. About two months later, I decided to tweak the most recent idea and blend it with the general aims of my MA thesis. From that, I was able to locate an area of Pauline scholarship that was ripe for exploration. I submitted a general essay detailing the scope and viability of this new topic, which was graciously approved by my supervisors. As a result, the proposal process was put into motion; and on the seventh revision, my proposal was accepted by my supervisors. Here is the general scope of this thesis:
This thesis will examine Paul’s teaching on the interrelationship between the Spirit, the cross of Christ, divine wisdom, and communal discernment as found in 1 Corinthians 2.1–3.4. Individually, these themes, and specific pairings of these theme, have been explored in recent scholarly works with regard to Paul’s letters in general and 1 Corinthians in particular. However, in light of the fact that 1 Corinthians 2.1–3.4 contains the highest concentration of the themes of the Spirit, the cross, divine wisdom and discernment in this letter and in the whole of Paul’s writing, it is surprising to note that no scholarly works have been dedicated to this particular text. This thesis seeks to fill that void. Four basic questions will guide this project. First, what is the Spirit’s role in relation to Paul’s proclamation of the cross? Second, what is the relationship between the Spirit and Paul’s teaching on divine wisdom? Third, what is the role of the Spirit in producing wise discernment within the believing community? Finally, how is Paul’s teaching on interrelationship between the Spirit, divine wisdom, and communal discernment in 1 Corinthians 2.1–3.4 related to the rest of the letter?
I would be delighted to hear from anyone who may have some further insight on themes related to this topic. I also welcome comments, questions, and critiques of this general scope.
 I am drawing on M.V. Fox at this point–see his article, “Ancient Egyptian Rhetoric,” Rhetorica 1.1 (1983): 16.