Paul’s Letters and Early Christian Worship
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.