Monday, June 2, 2008

Paul the Platonist? 'Pneuma' in Romans 6-8


Emma Wasserman on Paul and Platonism, in JSNT:

As I have argued for chs. 6 and 7, a Platonic discourse about the soul provides for a more coherent interpretation of Paul’s diverse statements about sin. Once we understand the divide in Platonic terms as between sin, flesh, members, body (negatively) and passions, which are opposed to reason (the inner person), [nous] and law, these different statements cohere as elaborations of the same oral-psychological premises. But ch. 8 introduces something new to the picture developed in chs. 6–7: the [pneuma] (spirit) of God. This has important implications for God’s intervention with Christ in 8.1-13, as it suggests that Paul envisions a special type of [pneuma] that dwells inside the mind and restores its capacity for reason and self-control. While I cannot here explore the mechanism by which this happens, an infusion of God’s [pneuma], Paul consistently treats the new way of life offered to Gentiles as a new state of self-control. This makes good sense when considered as a restoration of the Gentile mind that God punished in Rom. 1.18-32 by handing it over to the rule of passions and to an evil mind (1.24, 26, 28).

Appreciating Paul’s use of Platonic assumptions allows one to make sense of the association between sin and flesh throughout 8.1-13 as well as exhortations such as ‘if by the [pneuma] you put to death the doings of the body, you will live’ (8.13). On my reading, this means that the [pneuma] enables a new mastery of the body with its passions and desires that allow for ethical behavior and acquittal at the final judgment. Platonic premises are particularly helpful for understanding 8.5-11 which attribute some form of intelligence to the flesh. ... In service of the analogy, Paul poses two hostile powers within the body, here flesh and spirit, and attributes them antithetical reasoning activities.


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