I have just finished an exam on Biblical Ethics and was asked to comment on the role of the parousia in Pauline ethics. Here’s a bit of what I had to say.
The study of Pauline ethics has focused intensely on the role that the eschaton plays in his ethical formulation. Although scholars in the early 20th century sometimes overstated the role of eschatology in Paul’s thought, an analysis of the Pauline corpus showcases the centrality of the parousia. In this essay, I will define what I mean by the “eschatological perspective” of Paul and describe how this idea is significant for his view of the Christian life.
The “eschatological perspective” in Paul is the idea that the coming of the Lord Jesus in glory informs how the Christian should live their life in the present. While some scholars believe that this idea was minimized in the deutero-Pauline canon, throughout his works Paul often grounds his ethical stance in the idea that Christ was coming back, God was going to raise the dead and the whole world would stand before God in judgment. With this idea in mind, Paul demands his congregations to live in accordance with this truth.
Paul exhorts his congregations to live in certain ways based upon the coming appearance of the Lord. In 1 Corinthians 7:26-31, Paul writes to the single members of the Corinthian congregation that they should “remain as [they] are” (1 Cor 7:26) Not only the single, but the married members should think of themselves as having no wife or husband (1 Cor 7:27). Why should this be so? Because “the appointed time has grown very short” (1 Cor 7:29). God has broken into human history in the person of Jesus Christ, bringing the new age crashing into the present. For Paul, we are living in the midst of a strange era, an interim period where God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, has made a way for the Gentiles to be grafted on to the family tree of the Jewish people. However, this also means that God is preparing to restore the creation to a better place than it was before the Fall. In light of this, Christians must deal with the world in a different way. Paul wants his congregations to act in a way that acknowledges the coming appearance of the Lord Jesus.