Revelation and divination in the Letters of Paul
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/07/2022
Sharp, Matthew Timothy
This thesis examines Paul's claims to divine knowledge from the perspective of divination in the Graeco-Roman world. Throughout his letters Paul claims to convey the words and will of a deity (usually his ancestral God, or that God's Messiah, the Lord Jesus), and his letters suggest a variety of means through which this will is discerned: he has visions and revelations of the risen Jesus, he receives prophetic words and wisdom transmitted by holy pneuma, he interprets Jewish sacred texts, and, more generally, he reads the signs of divine activity through which God’s character and disposition are revealed. I argue that Pauline scholarship has so far lacked an adequate category through which to account for all of these methods of divine communication in Paul's historical context. Studies of Paul and “revelation” have generally proceeded from a theological framework, which focuses on the event of God’s saving action rather than Paul’s own role in obtaining and mediating divine information. True revelation, it is supposed, was absent from Paul's broader context existing only in Judaism and Christianity. Studies of Paul as a prophet or visionary, while acknowledging parallels with Paul's broader culture have tended to make “inspiration” a defining characteristic, and so have excluded the full range of available evidence. In contrast to these approaches I argue that Paul's various means of divine communication can be understood within the context of ancient divination, which I employ as a redescriptive third order category that effectively situates Paul in his ancient context. The thesis is organised thematically with each chapter covering a particular aspect of divination in Paul’s letters. Chapter one treats the “mechanics” of divination in Paul, examining how Paul conceptualises the transmission of knowledge from the divine to the human level in conversation with contemporary philosophical reflections on the same topic. Chapter two treats the role of visions in providing divine information, while chapter three deals with instances of divine or inspired speech. Chapter four examines Paul’s divinatory use of texts in comparison with the use of oracle collections and textual divination in the ancient world. Chapter five considers the role of signs and omens from which Paul draws inferences about divine activity and disposition. I argue that each of Paul's divinatory methods are comprehensible within his ancient Graeco-Roman context. I also argue that close attention to the particular ways Paul speaks about divine communication has implications for understanding his anthropology, cosmology, and theology.