Five Rules for Interpreting the Apostle Paul


Today on the Facebook, the Westar Institute reshared this 2015 blog post from Cassandra Farrin discussing five interpretive keys–Scott calls them “quick and dirty rules”– to reading St. Paul suggested by Bernard Brandon Scott. Says Scott:

If you’re going to interpret Paul’s words, you’ve got to put them in a context. This is the problem with literalism. People say, “I want to interpret the Bible literally.” That’s nonsense. That means they want to put it in their context. … Words mean what they say in the context you put them in. You’ve got to step back and put the words in a larger frame.

Of the five, two strike me as self-evidently compelling: that Paul was addressing the nations and that he is best understood when read in the original Greek. (Alas, I, a typical USAmerican monoglot, know exactly enough Greek to look at a page of Greek and say, “that’s Greek.” Also, to look at a page of Coptic and say, “that’s Greek.” Anything more complex, I’m all, like, “Kyrie eleison!”)

The other three rules are more reasonably controverted, though each is a perspective that deserves strong consideration when reading the New Testament. These rules are:

  • Set Acts of the Apostles aside.
  • Paul was not a Christian.
  • An apocalyptic scenario underlies Paul’s understanding.

Each are discussed in greater detail in Farrin’s blog post, which directs readers to sources for Scott’s more in-depth studies.



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