Christian Ethics

A passage that seems to me to encapsulate Paul’s thought is 1 Corinthians 1:14-17:

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

You can tell that on a certain level, he would prefer to say “I thank God that I baptized none of you,” full stop. Then he remembers Crispus and Gaius, but continues as though he has baptized none — and then he remembers some more, and leaves open the possibility that he baptized others he can’t recall…. But anyway, “Christ did not send me to baptize.”

The key here is what the parenthetical asides reveal: Christ also did not send Paul not to baptize. This is what “death to the law” represents — not only does the law not positively determine you, but it also does not negatively determine you as something to be studiously avoided. To be free from the law is also to be free to fulfill the law — and this includes the nascent “new law” of the sacraments (cf. the Council of Trent) in the Christian communities.

A parallel here can be found in Acts, where Paul personally circumcizes Timothy. Putting myself in the position of Paul’s Jewish opponents, I can see being more angered at this act than at the hypothetical insistence that Timothy doesn’t need to be circumcized — by nonetheless going ahead and circumcizing him, Paul shows that his position with regard to the law is thoroughly unprincipled. It is in this radical amorality that Paul shows himself to be in genuine continuity with the life and teaching of Jesus.

6 thoughts on “Christian Ethics

  1. You are really challenging my previously well-maintained and comfortable position of “Been there done that nothing to see there” position in regard to the Bible. Damn you. Why don’t you just finish it off by recommending Derrida’s best work on the subject.

  2. Of course such a loopy lutheran reading of an amoral Paul, and Jesus, is left with the age old question of Paul’s actual responses to ethical issues. He did, afterall, denounce motherfuckers and appeal to the Torah’s dictates on the muzzled ox. And Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence, divorce, the poor, etc. are also hardly antinomian. Paul suspended circumcision for missionary purposes, just as jews for centuries had been suspending almost any law in order “to save a life.” The Timothy deal is much better explained by his being a product of a mixed marriage. Jews keep the law, gents don’t have to. Is Timothy Jew or Gent? He might be a Jew, snip it off. The baptism deal is just Paul’s way of dealing with his emerging pop status. And, “into the name of” is something of a technical formula. Not into my name, but Christ’s …

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