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Paul’s Letters and Early Christian Worship

January 11, 2012

Yesterday I complained about the neglect of the historical (and theological) significance of earliest Christian worship among NT scholars, and today I report a contribution toward the amelioration of that situation, represented in a book I’m to review:

John Paul Heil, The Letters of Paul as Rituals of Worship (Eugene, OR:  Cascade Books, 2011).

Heil’s starting point is the valid observation that Paul’s letters were originally addressed to, and intended to be read as part of the gatherings of, small churches of the early decades of the Christian movement.  Heil works through the Pauline Corpus, epistle by epistle, highlighting features that reflect early Christian worship, and/or that comprise what he calls actions of “epistolary worship”.  The latter include such things as Paul’s prayer-statements, benedictions, doxologies, etc.  I’ll have more to say in the formal review, so here I simply draw attention to the book as a helpful study. 

Paul’s letters have been studied for their theological content, for what they reflect about the social composition of early churches, for their formal and rhetorical features, and for other purposes.  But, whatever else may be said about them, Paul’s letters were expressive of the religious faith and practice of early churches, and were intended to form part of the corporate worship gatherings of the churches to which they were addressed.

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  1. Scott F permalink

    While I can see elements in Paul’s letters that would be useful parts of worship, my modern mind has trouble viewing the whole of 1 Corinthians, with its denuciations and admonitions, as part of a regular gathering.

    • Each case has to be argued on its own merits, but I’d advise caution in judging what might have comprised early Christian corporate gatherings bsed on our “modern mind”. E.g., the expulsion of the man judged guilty of an inappropriate sexual relationship described in 1 Cor 5:1-8 wouldn’t likely fit many modern church gatherings, but it’s specifically set in such a setting there.

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