3. An Intercultural Latino Reading of Paul
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3 An Intercultural Latino Reading of Paul The Example of 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 Efrain Agosto Introduction On a vacation with my wife in the southeastern part of the United States a couple of summers ago, we stopped at a restaurant and sat in a booth behind a family that was clearly speaking something other than English. I sat with my back to the family, so I could not see them as they spoke. Olga, my wife, however, not only heard them speaking but also saw their faces as they spoke. For some reason, I thought I heard them speaking Spanish. Olga corrected me when I mentioned this. She assured me they were speaking Portuguese, a language not too far from Spanish but nonetheless not one either one of us understands fully, like Spanish. I was taken aback by my mistake and reflected later that because I did not see the faces of the family, nor was I really within distance to hear exactly what they were saying, but rather only mumblings, I could not really make out the actual language, only accents and occasional Spanish-sounding words. Not having a “visual,” I was relying on sounds and linguistic similarities. I was wrong. I also reflected later, and even discussed this with a New Testament introductory class, that so it goes with interpretation of texts, especially religious texts like the New Testament. Some readers, especially those who come from religious backgrounds in which they are accustomed to hearing their sacred texts read out loud and interpreted by authorized leaders, think they understand because they have “heard” these texts before. Yet they have not really “seen” them to their fullest possible extent, “face-to-face.” This “visual gap” is compounded by the cultural blinders that all of us have in reading and 49 understanding ancient texts like the New Testament. Not only are we removed by historical distance (over two thousand years in the case of the earliest Christian literature), but also, no reading is “purely” devoid of our own cultural, historical, religious, economic, and educational biases. Even the most expertly trained reader tries to check his or her cultural baggage at the door to read these ancient texts more carefully; yet we cannot! We must acknowledge that reading texts, especially religious texts from the first century CE, is often an exercise in finding out what we ourselves bring to the table of interpretation, so that we “read ourselves” and our cultures as well as “read” the text and its culture. U.S. Latino/a interpreters of New Testament texts want all readers to understand how we “visualize” the various documents present in the collection we call the New Testament. Not only do Latino and Latina readings provide unique insights into meaning of New Testament texts, but also, because of our cultural, linguistic, religious, and socioeconomic concerns and experiences, we can provide readings that few “see” the same way because of what we “see” up close that sometimes resonates with the struggling, marginalized communities represented in much of the New Testament world. In this chapter, we will explore how the apostle Paul, especially in a passage from his first letter to the Corinthians, visualizes his ministry to his congregations, and how a Latino/a “intercultural” approach to reading Paul can help “visualize” his letters with distinctive cultural “eyes” in order to enhance meaning and avoid “blinded” or “near-sighted” approaches to reading and understanding. The ancient culture in which Paul was immersed and the culture of this reader—a male, U.S. Latino/Puerto Rican New Testament critic—will engage in an “intercultural” reading that hopefully produces new insights into the encounter with a Pauline text. Latina/o Resources in Understanding Paul First, we should acknowledge that the U.S. Latino/a presence in biblical, theological, and religious studies has grown exponentially in the last twenty years. Generations of immigration from Latin America and targeted efforts by various scholarship organizations1 have yielded, especially more recently, a wonderful crop of Latino/a scholars in religious and theological studies, including a good cohort in biblical studies. However, this growth has produced few Latino/a biblical scholars that have focused on Pauline studies. Jean-Pierre Ruiz asserts this point in a recent essay and goes on to cite Latino/a attention to Johannine materials (for example, Fernando Segovia and his students from Vanderbilt University, Francisco Lozada, and Leticia Guardiola-Saenz). Another example of such focused attention is the themes of hermeneutics and 50...


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