I wonder how much common pictures of Paul, academic and popular, really stop us reading the kind of evidence he provides for the earliest churches.
It is true that significant revisionist strides have been made by the majority who accept the larger part of Sanders’ reconstruction of Second Temple Judaism as “covenantal nomism”: at least in terms of Law and Gospel the academic Paul looks far less Lutheran, individualist and anti-semitic than he once did. However, I regularly feel that other parts of the picture – especially a Paul who is primarily charismatic, and dependent on private revelation rather than tradition, church and authority, have yet to be rethought in the light of more general shifts in scholarship.
In particular, I wonder whether the evidence of 1 Corinthians, despite the huge amount of scholarship devoted to its sociological and anthropological study, is really being taken seriously.
In that letter we have not only two explicit examples of handing on received tradition (11:23-26, 15:3-7), and an early appeal to the sensus fidelium (11:16, cf 7:17), but we have two explicit and significant references to the Jesus tradition (7:10 especially contrasted with 7:12, and 9:14). The first of those references – a rare factual example of how the earliest churches used Jesus tradition – seems to have been cheerily ignored by most theories of how they used, adapted or invented it. The second shows how the relevance and significance of it can be open to interpretation then as now.
The picture that we get in 1 Corinthians, of a Paul concerned with tradition and catholicity is set aside by all those who prioritise the clearly polemical and angry arguments of Galatians. Yet privileging Galatians as a template for understanding Paul is clearly a theological decision that owes much to the matrix which reads him as the first Reformer. Given how much the picture of Protestant Paul has been dismantled in the 35 years since Sanders published Paul and Palestinian Judaism, how tenable is it still to sideline the more complex evidence of 1 Corinthians?