«INTRODUCTION The Rationale for My Dissertation The phrase “sw~ma Xristou~” (body of Christ) in Pauline letters, especially in 1 Corinthians ...»
The Rationale for My Dissertation
The phrase “sw~ma Xristou~” (body of Christ) in Pauline letters, especially in 1
Corinthians 12:27, has been read by many scholars1 as a metaphor for an ecclesiological
organism of unity aiming at overcoming the problems raised by diversity, while some other
scholars read it primarily in connection with Pauline theology as a metaphor related to ethical exhortation and/or mission.2 An ecclesiological, metaphorical organism approach overlooks the ethical meaning of the body of Christ and condones society’s dominant ideology of hierarchical “unity” which is promoted by the Greco-Roman rhetoric of homonoia (concord).
The shadow side of this approach is multifold. First, the “body of Christ” functions as an See Margaret Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation: An Exegetical Investigation of the Language and Composition of 1 Corinthians (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press. 1992), 20-64. Mitchell reads 1 Corinthians as a deliberative rhetoric in which the “body of Christ” is a central metaphor for an organism. See also C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 20-64; 65-68; 157-164;
See Ernst Käsemann, Perspectives on Paul, trans. Margaret Kohl (Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1971), 102-121.
See also E. Schweizer, The Church as the Body of Christ (Richmond: 1964), 23-40; “The Church as the Missionary Body of Christ,” NTS 8 (1961), 5; “Swma ktl” in TDNT 7 (1971):1074-80.
exclusive boundary marker that silences the voice of marginality in the community and society.
Second, by limiting its notion of the body of Christ to a language concerning “belonging,” this approach leads to a narrow, rigid, closed conception of community. Third, and consequently, such a boundary marker blocks the possibility of an ethical interpretation of the “body of Christ” in the community and in the larger context of society – especially in the context of power conflicts both inside the community and outside of it.
Dissatisfied with such an ecclesiological rendering of the body of Christ, this dissertation seeks to re-claim, with some other scholars such as Käsemann and E. Schweizer,3 a Pauline theology or ethics based on a different connotation of the “sw~ma Xristou~” -- which lies in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Accordingly, one can read sw~ma Xristou~ as a liberating, ethical space in which believers can associate their faith and life with Christ’s cross and resurrection in their concrete life contexts. However, with postmodern sensitivity, my efforts in this dissertation go one-step further; I will deconstruct the Pauline texts and the community they reflect with attention to the voices of marginality. In the following, I will explain why a postmodern approach to the text, its community, and its readers is crucial to the task of biblical interpretation.
Often, biblical scholars, treating the text as an object distant from their own social For a full discussion, see Chapter II.
location or theological views, blind themselves to the broad and deep connotations of the text found in the horizon that brings text and readers together. Dramatically turning its course in the 1970s, biblical interpretation is moving away from a Eurocentric, “objective” model to one of liberation and postmodern deconstruction.4 This shift begins with the recognition that readers employ a diversity of analytical approaches that can be related to different methodology. It continues when interpretive choices are exposed and analyzed in view of ethical responsibility.
Accordingly, biblical studies, along with literary and cultural studies, raises a new set of ethical, hermeneutical questions related to readers. All these questions set the postmodern agenda that focuses on community, gender, ethnicity, and geopolitics.5 Caught in this wave of postmodern yearning, I will register my own voice of postmodern “de(re)construction”6 along those of many practitioners of biblical hermeneutics.
Neighboring disciplines such as new literary criticism and postcolonial theories have had a decisive impact on biblical studies in the way that traditional hermeneutics began to give way to a new paradigm of postmodern hermeneutics. See Antony Easthope, Literary into Cultural Studies (London; New York: Routledge, 1991), 19-25, 47-51, 74-74, 107-125. Fernando F. Segovia, Decolonizing Biblical Studies: A View from the Margin (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2000), 3-50; also the rest of chapters.
To begin with, the neologism of de(re)construction refers to both theory and practice. The theme of deconstruction and re-construction runs through the whole dissertation and will become clear gradually. Suffice it to say now: de-construction and re-construction should take place continuously; there is no sense of “being done onceand-for-all.” Rather, the task always demands a new way of de-construction and re-construction. De-construction and re-construction are mutually bound in service of community for all. De-construction itself is not a goal or a means to achieving re-construction. As Derrida put, “deconstruction is not a method or some tool that you apply to something from the outside. Deconstruction is something which happens and which happens inside.” See Jacques While recognizing the diversity inherent in postmodernism, my own version of postmodern biblical hermeneutics specifically emphasizes both de-construction and re-construction beyond power or identity politics.7 In an effort to re-cover the authentic, diversified sense of global community beyond fragmentized community, this dissertation primarily engages biblical hermeneutics that involve theories and practices of biblical interpretation.8 For this engagement, I need to make explicit my own worldview and social location, thus inviting other readers to rethink their own place in the journey of faith or life. By doing so, the goal of this dissertation is to seek a better, more healthy hermeneutics with which the world of peace and justice for “all” is envisioned. In fact, that vision is an age-old promise and mission - once taken by Abraham, Jesus and Paul – and we continue to tread this stony, narrow road.
In my life and academic study, I have always wondered why I should be engaged in biblical studies. The more I ponder my life and biblical studies, the more I realize that I am Derrida, “The Villanova Roundtable,” in John D. Caputo, ed. Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997), 9. See also his Memoires: For Paul de Man, Trans.
Cecile Lindsay, Jonathan Culler, and Eduardo Cadava (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 124. Rather, de-construction already contains re-construction and vice versa. Therefore, one should think of de(re)construction as an inseparable, ongoing work of both theory and practice.
Derrida, “The Roundtable,” 16. See also Margaret A. McLaren, Feminism, Foucault, and Embodied Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2002), 117-127.
Derrida coins the phrase “relationless relation” in expressing our relation to others, community, state, and the world. Derrida envisions the world of being different, relationless, but of relatedness due to relationless. This is a paradox but important in our imagination of the world relations including our personal relationships with others.
Derrida, “The Roundtable,” 14.
reading “myself” in the Bible (and in the “world”) along with the joyful challenge of reading “with others.”9 I am no longer interested in finding a single “truth”10 as Pilate asks Jesus “what is truth?” but in the diversity of truths in our life today (John 18:38).11 Jesus “came into the world to testify to the truth” (John 18:37), which must involve “others” with whom I read the Bible, joining in the common struggle for meaningful, faithful existence in the midst of an unfaithful, hopeless world. In a way, the hermeneutical key is “others” that constitutes my (our) Derrida, “The Roundtable,” 13. See also Paul Ricoeur, Oneself as Another, trans. Kathleen Blamey (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1992), 21-23.
Cartesianism promotes a perspective of dualism, reductionism and positivism by which philosophical universalism could take root. In the end, “truth” is the opposite of otherness and difference. See Bryan Turner, The Body and Society: Explorations in Social Theory (London: Thousand Oaks, CA.: Sage Publications, 1996), 9-13.
See also Walter, Lowe, Theology and Difference: The Wound of Reason (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993), 74: “... the question of truth is more than a question: it is a reality. And it is a reality which has hold of us.”
See also James S Hans, The Question of Value: Thinking Through Nietzsche, Heidegger and Freud (Carbondale:
Southern Illinois University Press, 1989), 123-24; John D. Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics: Repetition, Deconstruction, and the Hermeneutic Project (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 7.
Diversity is the uppermost issue for today’s theological reflections and in biblical studies. I use this term as closely related to pluralism. Theodore Brelsford put it as “the irreducible diversity of human life in all its aspects; the existence of distinctively different races, cultures, communities, traditions, views, values, etc.” See Theodore Brelsford, “Christological Tensions in a Pluralistic Environment: Managing the Challenges of Fostering and Sustaining both Identity and Openness” in Religious Education 90.02:174-89. In biblical studies, a new biblical approach to reading the Bible through the lens of diversity is revolutionizing our understanding about God, the world, and human beings. The typical case can be found in the works of scholars who read the episode of the tower of Babel (Gen. 11) as a punishment for hegemonic unity (monoculture, mono-language, empire-like) rather than as a punishment for human arrogance. In other words, God scatters people so that they might live in/with diversity. See Bernhard W. Anderson, “The Tower of Babel: Unity and Diversity in God’s Creation” in From Creation to the New Creation: Old Testament Perspectives (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1994), 165-178.
stories.12 This kind of experiential, intrinsic connection of me to the world and the Bible creates space for conversation with the past (history, literature, interpretation), which challenges me to re-imagine an alternative world that honors life13 and bodiliness (human mortality as well) as God’s gift. With this location of “me” in the world, I always keep in mind the “world” that I come from, and the “world” for which I live. This world involves our interpretation of where and who we are and what we are up to.
The world we live in now is severely fragmented by religion, race, culture, gender, class, and the various ideologies that accompany them, and we urgently need to analyze the rationales or ideologies behind such divisions of community because divisions of community affect all people. Here in the U.S., for example, the struggles related to race, class, and culture are obvious and re-emerge every day. A minority of people in each community busy themselves with keeping their own share of the pie bigger to the detriment of the majority of people in the communities -- the poor, third world immigrants, and strangers. Every Sunday the color line is very clear. People of the same color or culture flock together for worship and social cohesion, Brian K. Blount, Cultural Interpretation: Reorienting New Testament Interpretation (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1995), 1-8.
Douglas Knight, “The Ethics of Human Life in the Hebrew Bible,” in Justice and the Holy: Essays in honor of Walter Harrelson, eds. Douglas A. Knight and Peter J. Paris (Atlanta: Scholar Press, 1989), 82. Knight states that God is “the giver of life (Deut 30:19; Job 33:3), the fountain of life (Ps 36:9) and of living waters (Jer 2:13; 17:13), the preserver of life (Ps 64:1).” and often remain in their comfort zones while building walls that exclude others. The conditions of the poor and the unfortunate become estranged and hopelessly marginalized because the conception of community is too limited to embrace all of them. The world situation has become darker than in any time in history because of dividing and destructive ideologies. This phenomenal division is often hidden in the guise of multiculturalism or globalism where people are told they are in, but, in fact, they have no choice but to follow a global, harmful economic and political system. Therefore, my central questions concern who defines community and who is served by this definition.
In this world of hurt and fragmentation, I seek a world of redemption, as Paul did (Rom 8:23). Feeling hope and despair about the world and my country, Korea, once united, and now torn apart by war and conflicting ideologies, our Diaspora people today live their destiny in many parts of the world including the USA. We need redemptive healing through which many people can come together to celebrate their place. My heart and mind cannot rest as I think about the then-young Korean men and women, last century, taken away from their homes to serve the insatiable thirst of Japanese colonialism. Some are dead and others still alive. Some of us, including me, live away from home by choice in our search for a better life. But living in the U.S. as a border person, I come across ambiguities in my identity and ask where I should belong. Can I say, like Diogenes the Cynic (404 – 323 BCE), “I am a citizen of the world”?14 Am I like Paul, who says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24). Certainly, my heart searches for the meaning of life, body, and the community. As both Korean and American, or beyond these identities, at times I feel no sense of belonging anywhere because my identity seems ambiguous or hybrid. However, I do not deplore my border identity, but see it as a creative marginality, as bell hooks observes, through which I can contribute to the redemptive healing of the scattered, battered, and ruined bodies of our people and of others in the world by re-imagining a community and a world for “all.”15