Parsing Paul: Quantitative and Qualitative Results

The paper pretty much followed my original plans. In the final paper, which I titled Parsing Paul: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Commentary on Six Passages from Romans[1],
I examined commentary on verses 3:20-30, 4:25, 5:5, 6:19-23, 8:30-33, and 10:3-9, in one Orthodox, one Roman Catholic, and ten Protestant commentaries: Anglican, Wesleyan, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reformed Evangelical, Anabaptist, Baptist, Baptist Evangelical, Black Church, and Pentecostal.

One of the most interesting results was the variation in how much commentary was devoted to each of the six passages. In order to do a fair comparison, I did some normalization:


For each passage, the pericope(s) in which it was placed by the commentary were noted, and the number of pages devoted to those pericopes were counted: this provides an imprecise but objective and consistent assessment, and the variety in text division is also of interest. This page count was summed to produce the total number of pages of interest (POI). . . . Dividing the number of pages per passage by the POI produced a normalized percentage for each passage that could be directly compared across commentaries.

The legend shows the significant concept in each passage: in order, they are justify, resurrection, Holy Spirit, obedience, assurance, and the end of the law. Look at the variation on resurrection and the Spirit!

Of course,

Many factors other than perceived importance may influence the amount of commentary on a given passage, however, including variation in the division of the text, the complexity of the text, the amount of new material introduced in the passage, and the ease with which the passage is reconciled with important doctrinal concepts.

And speaking of doctrine, that was another interesting thing:

Commentators might use doctrine to explain the text, or the text to explain doctrine, or avoid explicit discussion of doctrine altogether. The incorrect doctrines espoused by other traditions may be explicitly engaged, either polemically or more in sorrow than in anger. All these strategies were observed in the commentaries under study. The explicit refutation of other doctrinal positions was generally limited to non-mainline churches, perhaps because the mainline is still in the privileged position of having defined the majority understanding of Christianity in this country. In some cases, various possible interpretations of the text were examined without explicit reference to doctrinal positions; this gives a more reasoned impression of the position finally espoused, and was common among those who explicitly engaged contemporary theologians.

(emphasis added for blog) This was interesting to me because I’m increasingly hearing that the mainline is not only demographically, but conceptually, increasingly irrelevant or basically defunct. So my reaction to this finding was, well, here’s at least one way in which the mainline is still relevant.

To be continued: with further results in future posts.


[1] After regretfully discarding my initial impulse, An Orthodox, a Catholic, and Ten Protestants Walk into a Bar Bible Study

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One Response to Parsing Paul: Quantitative and Qualitative Results

  1. Pingback: Parsing Paul, Part 2: Word Study Results | Gaudete Theology

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