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Worship and the Risen Jesus in the Pauline Letters


Tony Costa

The very essence of the existential relationship between the human and the divine is communicated by the English word, ‘worship’. Although the word appears to carry a univocal meaning in English, no such word per se exists in the Greek New Testament. The English word at best explains but does not adequately and completely define the dynamics involved in the relationship between humanity and God. Worship and the Risen Jesus in the Pauline Letters approaches the subject of Christian worship in respect to its origins from the perspective of the earliest New Testament writer: Paul. This book seeks to address the relative absence in scholarship of a full treatment of worship in the Pauline Letters. Closely related to the theme of Christian worship in the Pauline Letters is the person of the risen Jesus and the place he occupies in the faith community. This work proposes a proper working definition of, including criteria for, ‘worship’. Paul employed an array of Greek words as descriptors to communicate the various nuances and dimensions related to one’s relationship with God. ‘Worship’ also functioned for Paul as a boundary marker between believers and unbelievers vis-à-vis baptism and the Eucharist. The eschatological and teleological aspects of worship are also examined through a study of the Carmen Christi (Phil 2: 6–11). This study maintains that worship in Paul is not defined by any one word but is rather a composite and comprehensive personal religious relationship between the worshipper and God.


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Chapter Two: The Problem of Defining Worship


C H A P T E R T W O The Problem of Defining Worship One of the difficulties and problems in canvassing the theme of worship in the Pauline letters is the paucity of complete descriptions of the worship setting in the Pauline communities. This may be due to the literary genre of Paul’s writings as “letters” or “epistles” that makes it difficult to arrange the materials related to worship into a structured schema.1 Paul did not write or compose worship manu- als or an order of service as we know them today in modern ecclesiastical circles. There was no clear and set order of service in Paul.2 Christian worship in terms of an order of service developed later and came to take a more substantial and forma- tive structure by the end of the second century CE.3 References to worship in the Pauline letters are rather scattered and at times fragmentary as we shall see. The difficulty is further exacerbated by the problem that there appears to be no formal definition of what worship is in Paul’s letters. I am not suggesting that a study of early Christian worship in Paul is absolutely impossible without a precise defini- tion for worship. I recognize that some scholars view worship along experiential or phenomenological lines.4 This study suggests that a definition for worship would be advantageous to obtain a deeper understanding of what Paul understood and saw as the basic essence and meaning of the relationship between the human and...

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