Conclusions and prospects for further research
It is time to summarize the findings, to consider their usefulness for contemporary theology and practice, and to offer some suggestions for further investigation.
Sandra M. Schneiders’s “global criteria” ask if an interpretation “makes the text speak” and “exploits the potentiality of the text to illuminate the faith of the community without violating the canons of good exegetical and critical method.”1 The variety of appraisals of death evidenced in Paul’s letters is an aspect of those letters that calls for interpretation. The perspective of psychological coping offers a way to let the texts speak as they stand, without their emendation or rearrangement.2 It offers a plausible explanation for what could have previously been seen as an anomaly of the texts, namely the variation of attitudes toward death to which the letters testify. In addition, the perspective of psychological coping offers a conceptual framework by which the diversity becomes both meaningful and relevant. For instance, Terrance Callan’s attempt to reduce Paul’s appraisals of death to a “basic” perspective suppresses the plurality of expressions and strategies that the letters show, and renders the texts as less rich than they in fact are. By contrast, an important aspect that is emphasized by the perspective of psychological coping is that different strategies may be beneficial in different circumstances. Over the course of his years of travel and communitybuilding, Paul wrote to assist certain persons and groups in their specific circumstances. He also wrote to receive relevant assistance himself. While some twentieth-century monographs on Paul searched for unchanging and everlasting truths, the result was often readings that made normative claims about life and death but paid little attention to Paul’s historical situation and the historical situation of his assumed audience. However, fellowship and encouragement are his main goals in several of his letters. The letters are thoroughly embedded in history.