On 6 November FARMS sponsored a conference at BYU on the New Testament letters of the apostle Paul. Titled "We Follow the Admonition of Paul," the half-day event featured presentations by the authors of two recent books on Paul's writings and responses from a panel of BYU professors.
Though by design the conference revolved on issues triggered by the two books, the discussions helped increase understanding of Paul and his writings in a general way as well. In opening remarks, author John W. Welch fixed the spotlight on Paul, saying, "One hundred years from now, none will care about what Faulconer [the other featured author] and Welch say about Paul, yet the writings of Paul, which will be around for thousands of years, will still be read."
In the first presentation James E. Faulconer, dean of General Education at BYU and professor of philosophy, described himself as an "enthusiastic amateur." He said that his book Romans 1: Notes and Reflections (FARMS, 1999) "shows that an amateur can read carefully and think deeply" about Paul's epistles, which seem not to be fully appreciated by Latter-day Saints. He said that although his book deals only with Romans 1, that chapter is a helpful preamble to the whole book of Romans.
Faulconer went on to discuss the structure of Romans, pointing out that chapters 915 are not ancillary to the first eight chapters of Romans, as many commentators believe. Rather, they serve the important purpose of explicating the implications of the earlier chapters. Whereas chapters 18 can be divided topically into sections on faith and eternal life, the remaining chapters quite naturally focus on covenantal aspects of the faithful life, he said. He explained obedience as an act of worship, and "reasonable service" (Romans 12:1) as referring to cultic or possibly temple service. This underlying structure gives a unity to Paul's writings that many scholars miss as a result of the perceived opposition between grace and works, he said.
Responding to Faulconer's book and presentation, Richard L. Anderson, a BYU emeritus professor of religious education, mentioned the need to integrate Romans 1 with the rest of Paul's letters. As an example of this approach, he pointed out that Romans 1:16 and 6:13 link belief in Christ (a concept that, in translation, loses its active dimension) to baptism, an action based on trust and obedience.
Another panelist, Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, an associate professor of LDS Church history and doctrine at BYU, remarked that Faulconer makes a convincing case that Romans 1 is a lens for understanding the rest of Romans. He then discussed Paul's use of the word translated as "servant" in the phrase "servant of Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:1).
The original Greek word meaning "slave" was appropriate for the Roman Christian congregation Paul addressed, Holzapfel said, because Rome was a slave society where slaves (especially imperial slaves) enjoyed certain advantages over freeborn poor. He added that Paul's greetings in Romans 16 reveal that the Roman congregation included Jews, Greeks, and Latins, many of whom (judging from their names alone, some of which appear on monumental inscriptions from Rome) were slaves, freed slaves, or their descendants. Holzapfel also praised Faulconer's book as an excellent interpretation of Paul and commended Faulconer for the insight that the King James Bible is important for Latter-day Saints to read because, among other things, its language is the same used in latter-day scripture.
Comments from other panelists centered on why the words faithfulness and loyalty are better translations of the Greek word translated as "faith" and "belief." The panelists also noted that Romans is Paul's greatest epistle and that Latter-day Saints should view it as a key text.
John F. Hall, a professor of classical studies and ancient history at BYU, and John W. Welch, Robert K. Thomas Professor of Law at BYU and editor-in-chief of BYU Studies, narrated a slide presentation on the travels of the apostle Paul. They took turns sharing interesting historical and cultural details of the many sites they visited on their recent trip. The information-packed visual tour provided a relaxing but thoroughly instructive interlude.
John Welch said that the aim of his book An Epistle from the New Testament Apostles (Bookcraft, 1999) is to make all 21 letters in the New Testament read as one single letter. He explained that the book is arranged by themes and gives readers a helpful composite view of the New Testament epistles. This approach to studying the scriptures makes correlations between the New Testament and LDS teachings and values more apparent, he said. "All the key elements are there." He noted, for example, that the Articles of Faith draw liberally from the New Testament, impressively demonstrated by a chart he displayed that listed Pauline references for all 13 articles of faith.
The first panelist to respond to Welch's book was Frank F. Judd Jr., an instructor in BYU's Department of Ancient Scripture. He described the book as "thought provoking, innovative, and full of potential." The book's technical method of displaying the scriptural texts gives a sense of how important the Old Testament was to early Christians, he said, since it clearly can be seen that Paul and the other New Testament writers often quoted directly from the Old Testament. Judd praised the fine index but noted a few minor editorial lapses. He thought the book would be more useful if the author explained why certain variant readings were chosen over others.
John Hall began his remarks by quoting David R. Seely, a BYU professor of ancient scripture who called Welch's book a "unique and ingenious presentation" that offers the "easiest way to become conversant" with the contents of the New Testament epistles. Hall said that Welch has "masterfully" included in his book some of the most important translation problems and variants. He added that a serious study of the New Testament requires a thorough linguistic background in Greek and Latin. He also emphasized the general need for increased confidence in the accuracy of the New Testament, since many portions of it exist that were written within a few centuries of the original.
Welch took a few moments to endorse the credibility of the New Testament texts and to note that Joseph Smith's changes to the New Testament affected only 2 percent of the text.
Many points of discussion reinforced the observation that the book of Romans is of great doctrinal importance and that the apostle Paul possessed surpassing ability as a missionary and profound teacher of the gospel.