Reflections from Seminary Students

“Empire, Church, and Missio Dei: On Praying for Our Kings (1 Timothy 2:1-2)”: The 2011 Paul T. Walls Annual Lecture

April 27th, 2011 § 0 Comments

Listen to the lecture

On Thursday, April 7, Rob Wall — SPU’s Paul T. Walls Professor of Scripture and Wesleyan Studies — addressed a crowd of students, faculty, staff, and community members at the annual Walls Lecture. Speaking from a Wesleyan perspective on 1 Timothy 2 — possibly the most controversial chapter of Paul’s letters — Walls focused especially on Paul’s command in verses 1–2 to pray  “for everyone — even for kings.”

Here is Wall’s own translation of those verses:

First, I request that supplications, prayers, petitions, thanksgivings be therefore offered for everyone — even for kings and everyone in a position of authority — so that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in full godliness and rectitude.

Wall began the lecture by expressing his concern that inevitable political differences not fracture the Body of Christ. “My exhortation this morning,” he said, “is that we consider Scripture’s instruction as a way forward in understanding a common grammar for our political discourse and practices.”

He considered objections to the letter’s canonicity, and of the letter’s disputed authorship — all of those claims ultimately irrelevant, said Wall. For “We read 1 Timothy as Scripture, not because Paul wrote it but because God’s Spirit sanctified it for holy ends!” The letter, he told his audience, was written to Timothy in Paul’s absence, and so “is of indispensable value in guiding faithful readers of Paul’s standard letters, who also in absence of Paul must rightly apply his apostolic ‘word of truth’ to the church’s ever-changing social locations.”

Wall went on to give a fascinating literary analysis of the passage — the letter is an example of paraenetic literature (literature that exhorts) — referring to its employment of repeated catchwords and literary inclusio, and the importance of its use of basileo (king) rather than “more modest expressions of political authority (exousia, diakonos).”

Wall then considered the objection among many that the purpose clause verse 2b (“so that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in full godliness and rectitude”) signifies that prayers for our political leaders “are really a political strategy of accommodation, if not compromise, to keep the peace.”

After looking at sermons of Wesley’s that offer insight into the passage, Wall ended his lecture asking, “For what should a Wesleyan congregation pray when petitioning God for our kings? How do we pray for President Obama?”

The answer may surprise you, and there is much more to this insightful and intriguing lecture, but only hearing it in its entirety can do it justice. We invite you to do that.

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