I met with John (Barclay) today for an end of term superving session.  A central part of our session was refining the direction of my thesis now that we’ve been through several of Paul’s letters and through several Pauline interpreters.  He pressed me to define the question (and sub-questions) that I am attempting to answer.  (After I got here I learned that the primary thing that they are looking for is a good set of questions, not some good proposed analysis, in a thesis proposal.)  So we ended up with something like this for my main question:

In what ways does the Pauline conception of the relationship of the believer to Christ anticipate/prefigure(?) later notions of theosis?   My sub-questions and the relative space I entend to spend on them:

  • What are later notions of theosis?  (~20%)  — I’ll probably pick a couple of test cases: one 2nd/3rd century (maybe Irenaeus or Clement of Alexandria) and the other say 6th century (possibly Maximus the Confessor).
  • What are the Pauline notions of the relationship between the believer and Christ? (~60%)  — Focusing on 1) Undisputed letters and 2) Colossians/Ephesians; divided between exegetical and thematic analyses.
  • What are the similarities/differences between Pauline conceptions and later notions of theosis? (~20%)

As you can see I am taking more of a history of interpretations approach rather than a history of religions (whether Jewish, Hellenistic, apocalyptic, mystic, or whatever).  These historical factors will inform my analysis but my opinion is that these have been overworked and don’t offer that much room for study.  Fortunately, John is in agreement with that opinion.  My goal is to see how those later interpreted Paul and how their questions can help inform our analysis of his work.