Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul: The Material Spirit

By Gagliano, Giuseppe | Anglican Theological Review, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul: The Material Spirit


Gagliano, Giuseppe, Anglican Theological Review


Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul: The Material Spirit. By Troels Engberg-Pedersen. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. xv + 287 pp. $51.00 (paper).

There is immense power in simple ideas. Troels Engberg-Pedersen's investigation is built on a basic premise with enormous implications: when Saint Paul writes of spirit (pneuma), he is describing a material substance. In essence, the author justifies a cosmological reading of pneuma in the Pauline corpus, which he contrasts with a metaphorical or non-physical interpretation of the concept, and assesses these implications for the notion of self in the epistles.

First comes the cosmology. This pneumatic investigation begins by focusing directly on the apostle's worldview. Engberg-Pedersen takes a close look at 1 Corinthians 15 and Paul's account of the resurrection body, arguing that his description is more akin to Stoic than Platonist thought. Fundamentally, he is building on his previous work on Paul and Stoicism, but prior knowledge of this study is not necessary for delving into Cosmology and Self. This initial understanding of pneuma is then translated to other genuine Pauline letters, where the role of the spirit is analyzed in the lives of Christian believers and higher principalities.

Then comes the self. About halfway through the book, the author shifts from justifying a cosmological reading of spirit to the task of philosophical exegesis. Here, the conversation changes from Paul's own philosophical context and worldview to ideas taken from Continental philosophy, which tease out his purposes as a religious leader. Pierre Bourdieu's notion of habitus as a bodily and social understanding of the self is particularly important in this analysis. The book ends on a self-reflective note, in which the author examines Paul's bodily practice of letter-writing and missionary activity.

A warning to the casual reader: Engberg-Pedersen's approach begins in a fairly direct way, but the path becomes more treacherous along the journey. The analysis of pneuma and Paul's general worldview is built up steadily at the onset, but explorations into habitus and bodily practice take time and effort to digest. …

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