Contestation of Testimonies - A Narrative Analysis of Identity Formation in Philippians
Yip, Ying Lam
Date: 10 June 2019
University of Exeter
PhD in Theology
Ever since Richard Hays’s “discovery” of a narrative substructure beneath Paul’s discourse, understanding of Paul’s theological thinking has been enriched through narrative analysis. Despite such development, no specialized narrative study has been devoted to the identity formation processes in Philippians. Furthermore, narrative studies ...
Ever since Richard Hays’s “discovery” of a narrative substructure beneath Paul’s discourse, understanding of Paul’s theological thinking has been enriched through narrative analysis. Despite such development, no specialized narrative study has been devoted to the identity formation processes in Philippians. Furthermore, narrative studies of Paul, following Hays, have not considered the contestation of narratives as an essential part of the landscape for Paul’s epistolary discourses. Based on Paul Ricoeur’s narrative theory and James Dunn’s five levels of story model, it is my purpose in this thesis to show that the “Christian identity” of the Philippian community is being shaped amidst competing narratives with divergent construals of time. In particular, it is inside an intra-Jewish contestation of testimonies that Paul updates his understanding of God and contends with a group of Jewish Christian leaders regarding the meaning of his suffering. A successful shaping of the community’s “Christian identity” would hinge on their compliant reading and re-telling of Paul’s testimony distinguished by a Christologically adapted structure of time. Facing a double contestation of narrative, in which both the political authorities and a group of Jewish Christian leaders see his imprisonment as futile and unnecessary, Paul has been alerted to an emerging crisis in which the Philippian community’s conviction in suffering with him has begun to decline. It is thus essential for Paul to synthesise and install a new paradigmatic story of Christ so that his suffering can be discerned as the defining mark of God’s renewed manifestation in an era of Christ’s eschatological Lord- ship. In a contestation of authority for the re-appropriation of God’s past work, Paul contrasts the future-oriented temporality of his testimony with the past-oriented one of the Jewish Christian leaders. With no objectively verifiable evidence, Paul affirms the value of his present suffering in truthfulness and installs his testimony to be the exem- plary story for the Philippian community. If the community rejects the narratives of Paul’s opponents and voluntarily re-tells Paul’s, their identity will be renewed after the temporal structure of Paul’s testimony. Their story will be conformed to that of Paul. Their conviction concerning the value of suffering with Paul will be restored, and their “Christian identity” will be shaped.
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