Last Monday Francis Watson kicked off the NT Seminar this year with a paper on Paul’s dependence upon Isaiah 53 for his thought on the death of Christ.  Not only was this the first paper of the year, but this was Francis’ first activity as a staff member here at Durham.  This paper is the one he’ll be giving at SBL next month.  (Sorry in the delay of the post.  I’ve been a bit busier with term up and running.)

Although ‘a soteriological reading of Isaiah 53 is never made explicit in Paul’s texts’ (as say in Acts), Watson sees it as visible in the substructure of Paul’s theology.  Watson looks first at the two direct quotations from Is 53 in Paul: Rom 10.16-17 and 15.21.  In the former, there is no direct allusion to Christ as the Suffering Servant, but in the later the ‘concerning him’ can only refer to Christ.  Accordingly, we know that Paul knew this passage and made some connection between the two; however, the direct connection between the two at a soteriological level is still at a substructure level for Paul.  Watson’s thesis then is that the equation of the two ‘unlies every Pauline statement that assigns soteriological significance to the death of Christ.  Barely visible beneath the surface of Pauline discourse, its significance is absolutely fundamental.’  Quite a bold statement.

Watson then turned to specific lexical items that reflect Is 53, though he repeatedly argued that these are not either allusions or echoes because Paul was not pointing readers back to that text.  These lexical items are 1) Christ died ‘for us’, 2) the death of the Servant ‘for our sins’, 3) the ‘giving up’ of the Servant, and 4) the humiliation of the Servant.  He tracks different items in Paul’s langauge that reflect each of those thoughts.  However, some connections are only made tenously.  For instance with 1), the LXX tradition contains περι ημων in Is 53.4, but Paul almost universally uses υπερ ημων.  Watson pointed to a probable usage of περι ημων in 1 Thes 5.10 based upon his analysis of TC issues. 

While the connection between Paul’s language and Is 53 may be circumstantial, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that Paul used that text.  My question to Watson was how can we say that Paul’s thought was only mediated through this text.  I asked how frequent some of the the specific textual items that he used (e.g., 1 and 2) are found in other LXX literature, especially that of Leviticus.  Watson said he hadn’t looked fully at that yet and couldn’t say.  Others asked about why Paul wanted to keep this in the substructure rather than making it evident like other passages.  Unfortunately I can’t remember Watson’s response.  John Barclay asked about the difference of Paul’s emphasis on Sin (singular) as a power versus this passage that focuses on sins (plural) as telling against Watson’s thesis.  Watson thought that dichotomy was a little too strong.

It was a good paper, and defintely enjoyable for me since I’m looking at soteriolgy in Paul.  I’m glad Watson will be around more often, though he won’t physically move here until next summer.