The Reception History of the Pauline Epistles: Beyond the Commentary Tradition

The study of the reception history of Paul’s letters is a difficult task. For understandable reasons (notably the paucity of obviously relevant works of art, literature, music and film that bear explicit hallmarks of Pauline influence) those who approach the letters through the interpretative lens of reception history are drawn to the significant and fascinating explicit history represented by commentaries, homilies and exegetical discussions from the patristic, medieval and Reformation and early modern periods. In this paper, I argue that, while valuable, this narrower focus on what Luz describes as the text’s ‘history of interpretation’ (Auslegungsgeschichte) is insufficiently broad and that reception history work on the Pauline letters should pay greater attention to two further sources that provide insights into their history of influence (Wirkungsgeschichte). First, greater attention should be paid to the homiletical reception of the Pauline texts in sermons from all eras of Christian history (and not just those of the patristic and Reformation eras). Second, the effective history of the epistles in relation ‘the church’s activity and suffering’ (Luz) should be accorded a greater degree of interpretative significance. Examples from the reception history of 2 Corinthians relating to both of these concerns will be given as a part of the paper.