Paul, in Other Words attempts to interpret Paul’s letters by describing the symbolic universe of Paul as ‘a first-century Eastern Mediterranean non-elite, typically viewing his cosmos’ (p 12), using cultural anthropology as a help in adjusting to a culture totally different from ours. Paul’s cosmos is made up of six areas: purity, rites (rituals and ceremonies), body, sin, cosmology and evil. Paul’s socialization was as a Jew of Pharisaic stripe, and a cultural context shared by Jews, Greeks and Christians.
Another key to Pauline interpretation is Neyrey’s listing of reading assumptions: occasional letters, inconsistency, conserver, reformer, saint Paul, history. Insightful comments about the role of body language and metaphor draw heavily from 1 Corinthians (p 102ff). Neyrey examines sin, pointing out Paul’s concept of sin as a two-fold phenomenon: rule breaking and/or corruption.
Also useful is Neyrey’s reflections on rituals and ceremonies in the church. Rituals focus on acts that involve border crossings (graduations, sickness); ceremonies confirm the orderly separation (baptism). Paul often disagrees with the divisions that rituals and ceremonies create, and ‘brings to the centre people usually left on the periphery’ (p 77); specific Pauline ceremonies include meals, the collections, and letters (p 78).
Neyrey’s treatment helps us realize the strength of our culture and its possibilities, inviting a ‘modern reader to a greater sense of ecumenism, the appreciation of other Christians in their distinctive otherness. Cultural uniformity is neither possible nor desirable’ (p 224).