Individual and Community in the Apostle Paul's Psychology

By Maxwell, Paul C. | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Individual and Community in the Apostle Paul's Psychology


Maxwell, Paul C., Journal of Psychology and Theology


Dunson, Ben (2012).

Individual and community in Paul's letter to the Romans. Wissenschafdiche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 332. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck. Paper. xii + 217 pp. $117.50. ISBN. 9783161520570.

Reviewed by: Paul C. Maxwell, M.Div.

Ben Dunson (Ph.D. University of Durham) is Professor o fNew Testament at Reformation Bible College.

The nature and structure of the Apostle Paul's psychology has been a topic of contention among exegetes, theologians, and clinicians alike. From Saint Augustine to Sigmund Freud, from Krister Stendahl to Carl Jung, there has been a tug-of-war over Paul's philosophy of consciousness, pulling between untethered individualism and clenched communal solidarity. Ben Dunson's illuminating publication, a revision of his doctoral dissertation which he completed at the University of Durham under the supervision of the New Testament scholar Francis Watson, makes an insightful contribution to this conversation. The organizing task of the monograph is to demonstrate that the concepts of "individual" and "community" in Paul's writings must be understood together--that is, as mutually informing concepts, in contrast to a tendency in New Testament scholarship to isolate one or the other as an object of study. Dunson seeks to demonstrate that the psychology that Paul presents in the book of Romans does not accommodate giving precedence to the individual or the community in formulating the Apostle's theory of personhood.

In chapters 1 and 2, Dunson labors to unveil a methodological rift in biblical scholarship on Pauline psychology. The two figureheads of the 206 century that represent opposing approaches are Rudolf Bult-mann and Ernst Kasemann. Bultmann, after seeking to strip Paul of his theological and cultural mythos, explains human psychology in terms, says Dunson, of "two fundamental categories: the individual before (personal) faith, and the individual after (personal)

faith" (p. 30). For Bultmann, it is faith at the individual-existential level that gives the reader access to Paul's "understanding of human existence" (Existenz-verstandnis). Conversely, Dunson explains, Kasemann (Bultmann's student) criticizes Bultmann's crass individualism by contending "that a proper appreciation of the supra-individual motifs [i.e., cosmic motifs] is necessary for a correct understanding of Paul" (p. 40). Instead, persons "arc interactive by nature, and cannot be described in merely, or even primarily, existential terms. Kasemann's . understanding of humanity [is] fundamentally relational" [i.e., communal] (p. 50). Kasemann gives ultimate explanatory power for Paul's understanding of the individual to the world outside the individual. Thus, the antithesis that characterized the conflict between Bultmann and Kasemann arises out of their respective commitments to organizing Pauline psychology either according to the individual-existential (Bultmann) or the communal-cosmic (Kasemann),

In chapter 3, Dunson engages the claim that any notion of individualism is an anachronism in Pauline scholarship. Some scholars argue this point from the claim that Paul's thought-world did not contain a philosophy of personhood advanced enough to construct an individualistic psychology. Dunson argues that the existence of the thought of Epictetus (ca. AD 55135), whose philosophy has self-interest at its center, around the time of Paul corroborates "how thoroughly at home such a question is in a near contemporary of Paul's, no matter how different the foundational philosophical and theological outlooks of each thinker might be" (p. 65).

Standing on this juxtaposition of Bultmann, Kase-mann, and Epictetus, Dunson then creatively contributes to the search for Paul's theology of "the individual." Dunson refuses the reductionistic tendencies of Bultmann and Kiisemann, and instead sets forth an eightfold psychological typology--or, a psychological taxonomy of individuals in Romans. …

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