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Constructing the World: a Study in Paul's Cosmological Language.

By Edward Adams. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2000. 320 pages. Cloth. $65.00.

This book is a revised University of Glasgow dissertation that explores the rhetorical force of Paul's cosmological language through an in-depth study of the terms "world" (cosmos) and "creation" (ktisis). Adams is interested in the "coherent relationship" between Paul's uses of these terms and the situations being addressed. His attempt to ascertain the social function of this language is guided by two pivotal questions. How does Paul's use of "world" and "creation" reflect the social situation he is confronting, and how is his usage meant, in turn, to affect that situation? Adams draws on the sociology of knowledge, critical linguistics, and sect typology to develop an approach that is oriented to the particular "response to the world" Paul attempts to evoke from the recipients of his letters. The second part of the book deals with the linguistic background of "world" and "creation" in Greek and Hellenistic philosophy and the Septuagint and other Jewish writers, but the greater part of the book is devoted to a textual analysis of these terms in 1 Corinthians and Romans, though there is a very short chapter on Galatians and 2 Corinthians.

Adams' study of Paul's cosmological language in I Corinthians builds on previous scholarship which analyzed the Greco-Roman social milieu of the community Paul founded there. On this view, the letter betrays Paul's concern that believers in Corinth have not sufficiently distinguished themselves from the social practices and attitudes of the surrounding society. Hence, Paul attempts to establish a clearer sense of the congregation's distinctive religious, moral, and social identity by invoking an apocalyptic dualism that sets the dominant social and value system associated with the "world" (cosmos) in antithesis to God's new order. Adams's exegesis does not advance our knowledge of the social setting of 1 Corinthians of the overall rhetorical strategy of the letter, though he does explicate the role of Paul's apocalyptic dualism in that strategy.

The real contribution of this study is in the contrast and comparison it makes of Paul's use of the same terms in Romans. Adams underlines the strong emphasis in Romans on God as creator and observes that Paul uses "world" and "creation" in this letter to construct a positive assessment of the world as a vehicle of revelation. Although hostile forces have overpowered the cosmos and Gentile society is out of harmony with the cosmic and natural order, it is not inherently bad. Paul's perspective here is almost antithetical to that of 1 Corinthians, which is characterized by God's apocalyptic judgment of the present evil world. Adams accounts for this shift by providing a succinct yet incisive discussion of the social situation in Rome as one of conflict with outsiders. In the time between Claudius's expulsion of the Jews from Rome in 49 C.E. and the persecution of the church by Nero in 64 C.E., the church in Rome had become predominantly Gentile in its makeup, and as it developed away from Judaism it became more vulnerable to social opposition. The situation in Rome is the converse of that in Corinth, where in Paul's estimation believers did not sufficiently distinguish themselves from outsiders in their beliefs, attitudes, and conduct. In Romans Paul uses the terms "world" and "creation" to depict the world as God's good and well-ordered creation so as to counsel social integration and promote within the Roman congregations values that are held in common between Christians and outsiders (cf. Rom 12:14-13:10).

This study demonstrates how Paul's assessment of the relationship between church and society influenced not only his use of language but also his message and theological perspective. However, the focus of the monograph is narrow and the style rather technical, so this is probably a book whose primary readership will be the guild of New Testament scholars.

Ray Pickett

Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest
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Author:Pickett, Ray
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2003
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