New Testament 102: Paul and Parousia

Paul doesn’t just spend a lot of time in 1 and 2 Thessalonians talking about his parousia but also about the parousia, the second coming of Christ. There was certainly an element of eschatological hope underpinning the gospel the Thessalonians are said to have accepted – but Paul’s main concern seems to be putting those expectations in their right place.

Ben Witherington III (or BW3 as Tamie called him in the comments the other day) suggests the word parousia often had royal significance, he notes that Christ’s parousia is mentioned six times in the letters to the Thessalonians – he suggests Paul is co-opting the imperial terminology here and applying it to Christ.

Paul’s view of Christ’s parousia involves him descending from heaven and the dead rising – it is eschatological. BW3, and BW1 (Bruce Winter) both think that the talk about the second coming is to help comfort the bereaved. Bruce argues that food shortages and earthquakes had been taking a toll, and that this had caused a heightened eschatological anxiety. BW3 says the hope of heaven, and the second coming, was part of that healing process. Especially in 1 Thessalonians 4-5. Which he says (I should mention this is in his socio-rhetorical commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians) in verses 14-16 are about reassuring the Thessalonians that their dead loved ones will take part in the parousia event.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 makes the Imperial context clear – if the son of lawlessness is understood to represent the Roman Imperial Cult, and the Emperors who turn themselves into gods. It also draws a direct contrast between Jesus’ parousia, and that of the emperor.

Dunn says that Thessalonians is dominated by the parousia like no other Pauline writings – and suggests that 1&2 Thessalonians are amongst his earliest letters (implicitly suggesting that Paul got over this phase), he also (like BW3) points out that the parousia will bring relief from the Thessalonian’s present sufferings (at the hands of lawless men). Paul was concerned that they know the day of the Lord had not arrived already, which some had suggested, but that they’d know it if they saw it. He says that it’s clear Paul was addressing a particular concern of the Thessalonians here that didn’t come up elsewhere. Paul was not surprised, as the Thessalonians were, that some of them had died. And the dead were to share in the benefits of the kingdom too.

Here are some related paragraphs regarding the Imperial Cult in Thessalonica from the same extended edition of an essay that I used for the Galatians post (read: this is the stuff that got deleted from the final version so I’m just happy to be using it). He says that it is particularly in cases where Paul speaks eschatologically that imperial terminology crops up.


Harrison (2002) suggests Thessalonica was enraptured with the ‘imperial gospel’, whose ‘eschatology’ proclaimed that Augustus had arrived as the ultimate Saviour, and that Paul writes to radically subvert this idea.[1] He suggests use of κυριο without deference to Rome was inconceivable.[2]

Numismatic and epigraphic evidence support the notion of a flourishing imperial cult in the city.[3] Its citizens are zealous for the emperor. The accusation brought against Jason and his fellow Christians in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-7) is that they preach a different emperor. Judge (1971) suggests this charge arises from an oath of fealty the Thessalonians swore to the emperor as part of their cultic practices.[4] Donfried (1997) suggests Christians in Thessalonica had been martyred at the time of Paul’s epistle, for breaking this oath.[5]

Paul believes the Thessalonians to have given up on idol worship (1 Thess 1:9), which included the deified Caesars.[6] Donfried suggests the calling of the Christians into God’s own kingdom (1 Thess. 2:12), and παρουσία, απάντηση (1 Thess. 4.15-17) has imperial undertones,[7] Harrison agrees, drawing on the use of the Latin equivalent of παρουσια on imperial coinage to support this view,[8] Oakes suggests the use of παρουσια, in this case, has no imperial significance, [9] but agrees with both that the use of the shorthand form of an imperial slogan (1 Thess. 5.3), was deliberate. [10]


[1] Oakes, P, p 306, Harrison, ‘Paul and the Imperial Gospel at Thessoloniki,’ JSNT 25 1, 2002, pp 71-96, Harrison suggests 1 Thess 4:13-5:11 is a deliberate and provocative reimagining of Augustan eschatology, post death Augustus is believed to rule the world from heaven via his star sign, maintaining the political status quo. Paul’s contrast of a king who will return from death is couched in imperial terminology and could not fail to be understood that way.

[2] Harrison, J.R, p 78

[3] Harrison, J.R, ‘Paul and the Imperial Gospel at Thessoloniki,’ p 81, “The obverse of a series of Thessalonian coins show the laureate head of Caesar and carry the legend ΘΕΟΣ. The reverse displays the bare head of Octavian either with the legend ΘΕΣΣΑΛΟΝΙΚΕΩΝ or ΘΕ|ΣΕΒΑΣΤΟΥ”

[4] Judge, E.A, ‘The Decrees of Caesar at Thessalonica,’ The First Christians in the Roman World: Augustan and New Testament Essays, ed. Harrison, J.R, (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck), pp 456-462, orig 1971, the oath (CIL II172) the people of Antium swore to Caligula thirteen years before Thessalonians was written reads: “On my conscience, I shall be an enemy of those persons whom I know to be enemies of Gaius Caesar Germanicus, and if anyone imperils or shall imperil him or his safety by arms or by civil war I shall not cease to hunt him down by land and by sea, until he pays the penalty to Caesar in full I shall not hold myself or my children dearer than his safety and I shall consider as my enemies those persons who are hostile to him If consciously I swear falsely or am proved false may Jupiter Optimus Maximus and the deified Augustus and all the other immortal gods punish me and my children with loss of country, safety, and all my fortune.

[5] Donfried, K.P, ‘The Imperial Cults and Political Conflict in 1 Thessalonians,’ Paul and Empire, ed Horsley, R.A, pp 221-223

[6] Oakes, P, p 309

[7] Donfried, K.P, ‘The Imperial Cults and Political Conflict in 1 Thessalonians,’ Paul and Empire, pp 215-216

[8] Harrison, J.R, ‘Paul and the Imperial Gospel at Thessoloniki,’ JSNT 25 1, 2002, pp 71-96, p 81, 83

[9] Oakes, P, p 315, though it was common terminology that described an arriving political leader

[10] Oakes, P, p 318, Harrison, p 86-87

New Testament 102: A list of scholars to quote

Well kidlets (and others), it’s just under 10 hours until exam time. Here are some names who have come up (and some who haven’t) in my batch of New Testament Study notes – so that you can say “x says” and appear to be interacting with other scholars.

Winter:

  • Gallio was a skilled jurist who established the legality of Christianity throughout the province of Achaea
  • Mars Hill didn’t host the Areopagus
  • Paul’s appearance at the Areopagus was a triumph of philosophical apologetics engaging with Stoic and Epicurean thought.
  • Paul’s appearance at the Areopagus took place in the appropriate forum for introducing new gods to Athens, and he demonstrated that the God of Christianity was a legitimate God for an Athenian to worship.
  • Paul was deliberately anti-sophistic in his approach in 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians
  • Paul was urging people to act as civic benefactors in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2.
  • Paul was urging people to act as personal benefactors to the poor, not to the lazy, in 2 Thessalonians – and also trying to stamp out harmful pagan client relationships in the church.
  • The issue in Galatia was that a bunch of Gentiles saw circumcision as an opportunity to pretend to be Jewish, and thus to avoid persecution for not participating in the Imperial Cult.
  • Some of the court proceedings in Acts appear to be reported in the style of court documents, or to contain accounts taken from court documents – they follow the pattern exordium (including a captatio benevolentiae  – saying nice things about the person hearing the trial), narratio, confirmatio (where you address the matter of the charges), the refutatio (where you refute the charges), the peroratio (the plea for help).

F.F Bruce

  • The style and theology of the Areopagus address is very similar to Romans 1
  • The speech is a Hellenistic version of the gospel
  • The God Apollo’s sentiments, previously expressed before the council were “once a man dies and the earth drinks up his blood, there is no resurrection.”

J.D Charles

  • The Areopagus speech was a successful foray into philosophical apologetics.

Ramsay (1895)

  • Paul abandoned philosophical apologetics after the Acts 17 attempt and “resolved to know nothing.”

Porter

  • Paul was on trial before the Areopagus for potential sedition charges

Hardin

  • Jews in Galatia often participated fully in the imperial cult anyway.

Rajak

  • Religio Licita was a phrase cooked up by Tertullian, but the Jews did enjoy protections and exemptions because of the Mos Maiorum and because they made regular sacrifices for the emperor.

Garland

  • Established the criteria by which new Gods could be introduced to Athens and showed (with others) that that was the role of the Areopagus.
  • Argued that the marketplace was the best place to introduce Gods.

Geagan

  • The Areopagus decides what Gods are in or out.

Barnes

  • Paul was on trial before the Areopagus

Raymond Collins

  • Paul was an orator, and 1 Thessalonians 2 was Paul recounting his method as an orator.

Gill

  • The Erastus inscription may refer to Erastus from Romans 16 because Aedile is the kind of title that could describe the role he performed because Corinth didn’t have their Aedile control the city’s games.

Ernst von Dob­schutz

  • Suggested Paul was depressed when he wrote 1 Thessalonians

Funk

  • Suggested Paul used forms of parousia (written, promises of visits, and mentions of messengers) to boost his authority with readers.

Bar­clay

  • Talks about when it is appropriate to employ the “mirror method” for figuring out the opposition behind a text (and advocates skepticism where the mirror seems to increase conjecture).

Weima

  • Thinks Paul is facing some opposition from non-converted citizens of Thessalonica who resent Christianity’s approach to the Roman religion.

L. Alexander

  • Luke-Acts is similar in form to a first century philosopher’s biography (with some differences)

Gempf

  • The way Luke records speeches is similar to the way Roman historians dealt with speeches, it was an oral, not a written, culture – so if speeches were written down they were often abridged – the ancients were more interested in “form than accuracy” – his recordings of speeches may not be word for word transcripts, but they are records of historical events.

New Testament 102: Did Paul have a body image problem

One of the questions from the past exams for this subject was about Paul’s focus on his parousia, now that’s a word that means “bodily presence” and is most often associated with the second coming. But in this case that’s not what it’s all about…

Bruce argues in The Entries and Ethics of Orators and Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:1-12) (PDF) that Paul was perhaps worried that the Thessalonians were drawing parallels between himself and the famous orators, or sophists, of his day, a position he argues that he consciously did not choose in Corinth because the Corinthians were rhetorical fanboys who wanted the apostles to be like the famous orators so that they could copy them and join the club, not like little old Paul who instead of coming to town like a flashy orator knowing everything and delivering extemporary speeches by request, came to town “knowing nothing but Christ crucified.”

The coming or ‘entry’ of an orator to a city could be something of an event in the early empire. For example, Dio Chrysostom records the enthusiastic welcome he received and the attention accorded to him when he visited:

the great cities of the empire—escorted with much enthusiasm (ζηλος) and honour (φιλοτιμία) the recipients being grateful for my presence and begging me to address them and advise them, and flocking about my doors from early dawn.

Bright young up and comers would offer themselves (or be offered by well connected, and well heeled parents) as apprentice sophists (or orators) to these visiting speakers, who would earn a living as teachers of philosophy and public speakers. There were plenty of places to speak on such occasions – theatres, odeions, and bouleterions, as well as public halls and temples were all known to hold such oratory spectacles.


The view from the poor man’s seats in the Odeion of Ephesus

They could attract upwards of one thousand people to hear their opening speech, though if you were rubbish you were said to have only attracted 17.

The speaker, upon entering a town would give the following speeches:

  1. The Dialexis: An introductry speech, warm, flattering, disarming, given sitting down, and the curtain raiser to the main event. only it was the main attraction giving the speech, not an underpaid underling. The Dialexis also served as an opportunity to talk up one’s own renown, in order to whet the crowd’s appetite for the main event.
  2. The Enconium: Probably like the second warm up guy you don’t see on television shows with a studio audience, or the guy who gets cheap pops from a crowd by saying “you’re the best town I’ve ever been in…”
  3. The Topic and the Speech: At this point the audience could call for a speech on whatever they wanted, and the sophist would demonstrate his ability by pulling something together on the spot – kind of like our good improv comics. There were occasionally Dorothy Dixers, where an audience member had been selected to ask for a preferred topic, and while the orator was expected to speak on the spot, he could also elect to come back a day later, fully prepared. Plagiarism was a no no. The speech had to be original, and audiences were pretty cluey and had often heard or read many of the great speeches given elsewhere.

The Rewards: A skilled operator earned the opportunity to teach the children of the rich, to continue making public declamations for a period, or he might be appointed to represent somebody in court. Occasionally, if they were really spectacular, they’d be granted citizenship and appointed as a politician, ambassador or lobbyist. Failing to impress the crowds with the three sequential speeches meant moving on to a new town.

Orators were a pretty corrupt bunch, in it for fame, fortune, and praise. Dio Chrysostom calls the professional orator: “gorgeous peacocks lifted aloft on the wings of the glory and their disciples.” They also had a reputation for deceiving themselves, and others.

Paul on his own “Entry”

One of the cool things in Greece was being able to read the words εχοδος and εισοδος on street signs. They mean exit (like the book of Exodus) and entry respectively. Or literally (kind of) out way and in way. There’s a little Greek primer for you ahead of next week (when I move on to studying Greek).

Bruce argues that some people have been talking up Paul’s entry:

8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God

Bruce points out that Paul’s hearers are reporting on the nature of his arrival, and on the effect this had on the hearers. He then goes on to repeat his message:

“They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”

And provides a quick evaluation of the mission (chapter 2):

1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.

Paul’s measure of success runs counter to that of his sophist contemporaries, he’s not interested in crowds or fame or fortune – but rather in lives turned to God. Paul provides an account of his methods contrary to the methods of the sophists:

3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 7 Instead, we were like young children among you.

Paul’s approach, as described here, could hardly be confused with that of the sophist. And it seems he deliberately intended to present his parousia as anti-sophistic.

“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. 9 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”

Unlike the sophists the Thessalonian culture was used to – Paul was not about personal gain, and he sought to demonstrate that in his physical presence, and time spent with the Thessalonians. His contrast was not with other apostles who may have come in seeking to be financially recompensed for their time, but rather a stark contrast with the trumped up peacocks of his day.

Some words from Bruce:

The εἰσοδος is then a quasi-technical term for Paul in that it refers not only to his actual coming, but also to his professional conduct as a gospel messenger who lives amongst those who accepted his message as the λόγος of God. It is also clear that he describes his entry in an antithetical way. The force of his feelings can be more clearly appreciated from the way the passage is structured with its particles. Succinct negatives precede his positive self-description.

Bruce suggests 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 supports that view:

“Firstly, he emphasizes to the community that ‘and I coming to you, brethren, did not come preaching the mystery or testimony of God with superiority of rhetoric or wisdom… The reason given was that the topic had already been determined by the preacher—Jesus and his crucifixion (2:1).

Such a message required no rhetorical presentation lest, as Paul had previously explained, the cross of the Messiah be emptied of its saving power by means of oratory.

Secondly, he further reflects on the relationship of rhetoric to his presentation. ‘And I was with you in weakness and fear and much trembling’—hardly the υπόκρισις recommended by Philodemus in his lengthy discussion in his treatise on the rhetoric of ‘bodily presence’ with gestures and voice. Further, his ‘rhetoric’ and preaching were not undertaken with persuasive rhetorical techniques. On the contrary, his message (λόγος) and preaching (κήρυγμα) were not in the persuasiveness of wisdom. He did not engage in the ‘demonstration’ (αποδείξις) of ‘proofs’ (κήρυγμα) used by the orators in the ‘art of persuasion’ but by that of the Spirit and of power. The purpose of so doing was spelt out by Paul—so that the Christian’s ‘faith’ or ‘proof’ (πίστις) would not rest in the wisdom of men i.e. the orators but in the power of God.”

So, all in all, Bruce persuasively suggests that Paul was deliberately anti-sophistic in his approach to teaching the Thessalonians and the Corinthians. But why?

Interestingly, Paul was writing to the Thessalonians from Corinth, where he was obviously experiencing much the same problems. Perhaps:

He now wished to explain the entry and professional conduct of himself in Thessalonica in terms that would have explicated his enigmatic anti-sophistic stance.

Or, maybe he wanted to avoid going through the same painful experience in Thessalonica that he had been through in Corinth.

Bruce suggests that defining the relationship was important:

Paul had no desire for his relationship to be hindered by the powerful, secular perception of a disciple to his orator or sophist. His second entry to Thessalonica or that of any other Christian teacher must not be identified or compared with orators because of the deleterious effects it would have on relationships and the integrity of the teaching ministry within the Christian community.

Here are some of the other options people had put forward with regards to the issue Paul is writing against in 1 Thessalonians 2:

It is suggested in the light of the above evidence cited from non-biblical sources and the discussion of their resonances with 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 that there is no need to posit a Pauline ‘defence’ against an attack by Jewish, Gnostic or Gentile Christian teachers as the reason for him writing it. It also rules out the need to cast around Paul in this passage the cloak of the ideal philosopher, whether it be in the Cynic or any other philosophical traditions. Why would Paul wish to identify himself with the philosophers? He believes he has adopted God’s attitude towards the wise, including the philosopher, as he formulated his gospel strategy…

Some have even suggested that Paul was feeling depressed:

“But while scholars debated the exact identity of Paul’s opponents in Thessalonica, they did agree that the charges implied in 1 Thess. 2.1-12 were actual accusations brought against Paul. Thus in the late 1960s Walter Schmithals could say with justification, ‘On this point the exegetes from the time of the Fathers down to the last century have never been in doubt There were, however, two notable exceptions to the widespread consensus about the apologetic character of 2.1-12. The first was Ernst von Dobschutz, who already at the turn of the century anticipated our modem tendency to look for psychological explanations to understand Paul. Von Dobschiitz argued that the defensive character of 2.1-12 arose out of a deep depression on Paul’s part because of the apostle’s great concern that the new Thessalonian converts had negative feelings” Weima, “An Apology for the Apologetic Function of 1 Thessalonians 2.1-12,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, April 1999

Weima’s take on the apostolic parousia of the next slab of Thessalonians is worth reading:

“The recognition of 2.17-3.10 as an ‘apostolic parousia’ also suggests that Paul is indeed concerned in this letter with defending himself. This epistolary convention was first identified and defined by Robert Funk, who observed that Paul frequently attempts to make his presence (hence the term ‘parousia’) felt among his readers in a more authoritative way by three means: by referring either to the writing of the letter itself, to the sending of his emissary, or to his own future visit…”

“The function of the apostolic parousia of I Thessalonians, however, is slightly different than elsewhere in Paul’s letters. For in 2.17-3.10 Paul makes his parousia or ‘presence’ more powerfully felt among the Thessalonians not so much to exert his apostolic authority as to reassure them of his continued love and care for them .2′ The need for Paul to reassure the Thessalonians of this fact was due to his sudden separation from them (2.17-20) and the subsequent persecution (3.1-5) that they had to endure-events that apparently left Paul feeling vulnerable to criticism for his failure thus far to return to them. The apostolic parousia thus serves as an effective literary device by which Paul emphasizes his ‘presence’ among the believers in Thessalonica in such a way that his readers are reassured of his ongoing love for them and any lingering uncertainty over his inability to return is removed. There appears to exist, therefore, a parallel between the function of the apostolic parousia of 2.17-3.10 and the function of the autobiographical section of 2.1-12-a parallel that strengthens the claimed apologetic function of this latter passage.”

A guy named Barclay talks about mirror reading and the parameters for using the “mirror reading” technique:

“Barclay offers the following observations with respect to a responsible use of mirror reading: ‘If a scholar proposes a reconstruction that arises out of the text itself, and if that reconstruction then helps to make sense of difficult statements in the text, we need not reject it on the grounds that “it is just a theory”. On the other hand, the more an interpretation depends on inferences as opposed to explicit propositions in the text, the less persuasive it is. And if some of the inferences are themselves built on inferences, the greater the scholar’s burden to come up with probative data. Moreover, if a historical reconstruction disturbs rather than reinforces the apparent meaning of a passage, a skeptical response is both natural and justified. In other words, theories that ask us to overhaul a generally accepted interpretation may be regarded as less probable than proposals that illumine, nuance, and sustain an exegesis that has stood the test of time.”

Weima discusses the approach some scholars have taken to identifying the opponents Paul is writing against in the passage – and deals at length with “mirror reading” trying to infer from Paul’s arguments what the criticisms he wrote against were… Bruce’s hypothesis sees to be a pretty reasonable explanation of what was in the mirror. Other people have suggested identifying the opponents is an impossible task.

I like Bruce’s conclusion:

Paul as a preacher had reflected not only on the use of classical rhetoric for the presentation of his message and rejected it. He also resolved in his own mind that it was highly inappropriate for the messenger of the gospel to adopt the εἰσοδος conventions and ethics which governed the first century orators and sophists on their initial visit to a city and their long term relationships with its citizens.

So cop that Augustine, you can take your Cicero and stick him somewhere else… The Bruce has spoken.

New Testament 102: Defending Erastus

I mentioned the Erastus inscription in an earlier post. David Gill has written a useful article on Erastus the Aedile (PDF)  laying out just what it was an Aedile did, and making the case for linking the footpath with the guy in Romans 16.

What an Aedile did/was

They were responsible for the maintenance of public streets and buildings, which included the market places, they managed the revenues derived from such places, and they served as judges. In most colonies the aediles were also responsible for the public games but not at Corinth. The colony took charge of the administration of the internationally important games at Isthmia, which it did through the appointment of an agonothetes or president; judging from the careers of Corinthians this was considered to be one of the most prestigious posts.

In addition to paying for such public monuments—which would have been appropriate for marking the aedileship where responsibilities included public buildings and streets—the aedile was expected to pay a charge for holding the office. Although the costs are not known for Corinth, evidence from North Africa and Italy suggests sums in the region of HS 4,000 to HS 20,000, depending on the size of city. Thus these freedmen were likely to have had substantial means.

What was the equivalent Latin term for the post of oikonomos in a Roman colony such as Corinth? H.J. Mason has argued, using the Erastus inscription and ones from Philadelphia and Izmir, that the Greek term oikonomos was the equivalent of an aedile.  G. Theissen, however, tries to argue that the term oikonomos was the equivalent of the term quaestor.

There’s a convoluted argument from the Greek terms, and Latin terms that ends up suggesting (following a bloke named Kent) that because the Corinthian Aedile wasn’t responsible for managing the games, his responsibilities were more in line with the “oikonomos”…

“In particular he points out that although in most colonies the aediles would have been responsible for the public games, at Corinth, because of the nature of the festival at Isthmia, this aspect of their duties were dealt with by other, more senior, officials, the agonothetai. Therefore the term oikonomos may have been particularly apt for the Corinthian situation, and as Kent reminds us it ‘describes with reasonable accuracy the function of a Corinthian aedile’.

Gill’s conclusion ties in with Bruce’s argument about Paul wanting people to be civic benefactors.

“How are we to interpret this epigraphic evidence? Some (e.g. Roos, Cadbury, Lane Fox) have taken the view that an oikonomos was a slave, which would not allow a link with Erastus the aedile. However, this does not explain why Paul draws attention to this man’s standing in society, something he rarely does. The context of the epistle to the Romans may be of help here. In it Paul commanded: ‘Do the good (deed) and you shall have praise from the (civil) authority’.  Does Paul emphasise the status of Erastus because here is a Christian official who has indeed become a benefactor of his city, possibly in his capacity as aedile?”

And any article that ends with this sort of quote is probably a good idea to be pulling out in an essay at QTC:

I am grateful to A.J.S. Spawforth and B.W. Winter for their comments and advice.

New Testament 102: Seeking the Welfare of the City in 1 & 2 Thessalonians

Bruce’s teaching on this matter has been pretty influential – here’s a photo of two of his students seeking the welfare of the ancient city of Corinth.

As mentioned in the previous post, the issue of public benefaction presents an interesting dilemma for interpreting 1 Thessalonians 4 – which prima facie (at first glance, just a little phrase I picked up in my three years as a law student) suggests Christians should live quite lives…

Bruce’s contention is that the rhetorical purpose of 1 Thessalonians is to break down harmful social structures the church have inherited from Roman culture, or in this case, a particular harmful social structure – the patron client relationship.

A secular patron who converts to Christianity must go from being a patron seeking honour from his clients, to a private benefactor, bestowing generosity on those around him without the honour his previous status brought. Bruce contends that Paul’s sharp use of his own example in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 came as a result of the Thessalonians’ collective inability to do this. Christians, so far as Paul was concerned, were to be benefactors (whether public or private) of those around them.

“7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

And this, in verse 12:

12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.”

Some scholars have speculated that the situation underpinning these non-working eaters was a drought and work shortage – Bruce suggests this would make Paul a little unsympathetic to their plight. Others suggest that converts had taken the example of the Cynics and quite their jobs, taking to the streets. Others suggest it was an aversion to manual labor that prevented the Thessalonians getting in and working.

Underpinning the issue in 1 & 2 Thessalonians (especially 2) is the fact that some Christians are providing food for those who aren’t working for it – there’s some sort of patron-client thing going on. And Paul has a problem with this. But some have identified a problem with suggesting there’s a problem with the patron-client relationship being the model – because patrons only formed relationships with people of the same social status with less wealth, this objection comes from the characterisation of the early church as lower class only… So the idea that they’re clients suggests that they have some status.

Clients had all sorts of social obligations to their patron, and by keeping them they were able to receive the generosity of the patron, it was a symbiotic rather than parasitic relationship though, because the patron’s social status was based on the size of his clientele. It’s possible that a bloke named Aristarchus who gets two mentions in Acts as a member of the church was a wealthy guy (there is an Aristarchus from Thessalonica at the same time who was a local pollie). Someone of that standing would have had the means to be both a civic and a private benefactor. Jason, Paul’s host in Thessalonica also appears to have been a wealthy man. And women could be benefactors too.

A patron who converted would have had to maintain their non-Christian client base. And Christian patrons with Christian clients would have resulted in an unhealthy power dynamic cutting both ways (the patron would have to honour their client’s requests, while the client would be the patron’s subordinate). Not an easy situation to be in, so Paul was keen for them to avoid those relationships all together.

Many have taken the 1 Thessalonians 4:11 verse mentioned in the previous post to entail keeping out of public life, to turn to a life of political quietism. The term was used to describe a person who gave up public duties in order to rest – but the alternative Paul puts forward is not to rest, but rather to stop being a busy body and to get back to working with one’s hands. Bruce thinks the starkest contrast possible to the life of the quiet worker who fed themselves by their labours was the client. Clients were political activists for their patrons – like a crowd in South Park chanting “rabble, rabble, rabble” their job was to make noise on their patron’s behalf. There are shades of Plato’s Republic in this command not to be a busybody, Plato says to “do one’s business and not to be a busybody is just.” Paul’s use of the term “busybody” most likely describes clients doing their patron’s work in the public square, and not looking to their own affairs.

Paul wanted Christians to live lives admired by all, “commanding the respect of outsiders” (1 Thes 4:12), and the life of the client impressed nobody but his patron – groups of clients would even get into fisticuffs with clients of their patron’s rival.

Paul’s exhortation towards quietism is not a general command – but a specific one to the “some” who do not work, “such” as they are to do their own work and eat their own bread.

Paul wants the Thessalonians to follow his paradosis his example amongst them, in word and deed. Commanding people to stay away from (and not feed) the idle man was the manner Paul used to break the link between patron and client within the church – but Christians weren’t just to work for their food, they were to do good too (2 Thes 3:13). They were to be a benefit for their city – Bruce argues that Paul’s objections to the patron-client relationship aren’t about upsetting the civic apple cart, but rather are about encouraging the Christians to make positive contributions to the city, rather than being a drain on resources. Christians were to be benefactors to the truly needy, not to those who were able to work, but wouldn’t.

New Testament 102: Seeking the Welfare of the City in 1 Peter

You know you’re on a good thing if you’re preparing for an exam and the lecturer’s pet topics share the title of his books… Bruce wrote a book called “Seek the Welfare of the City” where he picks up that the New Testament picks up Jeremiah 29:7 “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile, Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers you too will prosper.” No. Bruce doesn’t pull one of those eisegetical fallacies and suggest that urban ministry is the only way to go – he suggests Christians have certain responsibilities when it comes to the welfare of their fellow citizens.

For the purposes of this exam it pays to be aware of this theme as it presents in 1 Peter, and in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. There’s a chapter in his aforementioned book Seek the Welfare of the City drawn from 1 and 2 Thessalonians and a journal article called The Public Hnouring of Christian Benefactors on 1 Peter and Romans 13. It’s on Ebsco’s journal article collection.

1 Peter

1 Peter 1:1 addresses the “elect sojourners of the dispersion” – a theological, rather than social description, and an allusion to the Jeremiah passage. One of Peter’s big arguments is that Christians weren’t saved to just keep doing what they were doing. Salvation involves a change of heart, and a change of heart involves a change of action. And the change of action is a change to loving those around you… and that change will be noticed by others. Which is kind of the logic in 1 Peter 2:

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 1617 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.

Bruce uses evidence of the first century practice of epigraphically honouring benefactors to show that the government did indeed make a practice of recognising the good deeds of civilians, and that this result was essentially guaranteed, as Paul also suggests in Romans 13:

1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

I’m using the NIV here, because the ESV has a bunch of footnotes and they’re annoying to delete. But the ESV translates will be commended as “you will receive his approval” and many have commented on the certainty these two passages demonstrate in terms of the reward for being good.

We have some evidence that a Christian did indeed step up in this way – Erastus the Aedile of Corinth is mentioned in Romans 16, and an extant inscription in Corinth to such an Erastus has been a matter of some scholarly dispute. Mainly because some scholars are idiots and believe that all the Christians in Corinth were paupers (despite Paul saying “not many of you were of noble birth… etc” they read that as “none of you were…”

When we were in Corinth, Bruce said that being a benefactor, and the commands in Romans, referred to indi­vid­u­als act­ing in what­ever capac­ity they had to serve the city. He says this looked like mak­ing a finan­cial bene­fac­tion for a project, or run­ning for office.

Peo­ple who ran for office had to promise bene­fac­tions, and this foot­path inscrip­tion says that it was pro­duced under the Aedile­ship of Erastus.

Bruce asks:

Given these non-literary sources as well as the literary evidence of authorities praising benefactors, and the reference to this same activity in the New Testament passages, what conclusions can now be drawn about the New Testament meaning of the terms which promised to evoke this official response?

The Greek words used to describe good deeds in Rom. 13.3-4 and 1 Peter 2 are used in inscriptions to refer to a public benefaction.

Would the congregations, however, have understood the terms to refer to a public benefaction? Apart from the political context of both New Testament passages, which would have readily suggested the meaning of benefaction because of the praising by rulers, Paul in Rom. 5.7 refers to ‘the good’ man. His argument is that for a righteous man one would hardly be prepared to lay down his life, “although perhaps for a good man one will even dare to die’. The order is firstly διακαιος, and then αγαθος. Paul believes that the latter is a greater possibility because of obligations established through the receiving of a benefaction. This has been rightly taken to refer to one’s benefactor.

So Bruce concludes that these imperatives to act as benefactors in 1 Peter are indicative of at least the presence of some people of means within the church. Being a benefactor didn’t come cheap. His argument is also that the rulers of a city were hardly likely to notice small good deeds, so the implicit guarantee must be something bigger.

The cost of a benefaction was very considerable and would be beyond the ability of some, if not most, members of the church. However, there must have been Christians of very considerable means to warrant Paul’s imperative in v. 3 and also that of 1 Pet. 2.15.37 This further supports the view that there were some members of significant social status and wealth in the early church.

These wealthy Christians had a special role to play in earning some PR air miles for the early church:

The writer of 1 Peter, as does Paul, endorses public benefactions per se but in 1 Peter there may have been a need to press home the importance of ethical conduct expressed in high-profile good works. This could well have been because of the natural tendency to withdraw from them in the face of possible persecution… The New Testament stance is clear that their light was so to shine in this arena also that men would see their good works.

This interpretation also raises the question of “living quietly” as advocated by 1 Thessalonians 4.

But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

Yep, Bruce is aware of the apparent contradiction.

The conclusion of this paper also runs counter to the view that Paul encouraged his converts ‘to stand aloof from public life’, an argument based on a possible parallel thought in 1 Thess. 4.11 and the Epicurean stance of withdrawal from society.

Before we get on to resolving what 1 Thessalonians 4 means, Bruce makes this point about the function of benefaction:

“It was done to bring good to the life of the citizens in terms of their physical and environmental needs. This teaching is in keeping with the highly important theme of the Christian lifestyle, expressing itself in the doing of good in all aspects of life. Verses 14-15 are set within such a context in 1 Pet. 2.11-3.17…There is no suggestion that the Christian endorsement of this socio-political convention in the city was done in order to maintain the status quo but because it brought good to the life of the city… The committing of one’s soul to a faithful Creator is accomplished by doing good and this again reflects the strong encouragement given to Christians to make positive contributions to the everyday life of others. “

These good deeds were done to the dual end of silencing unwarranted criticisms of Christians (particularly those who thought Christian conversion meant withdrawing from society).

The public acknowledgment of a generous Christian benefactor by crowning him as a noble person, and the permanent reminder of the benefaction on an inscription would be the means of refuting unfounded rumours against Christians as being men of ill-will, subversive to the peace and well-being of a city.

1 Peter 2:12 gives another reason for doing said good works:

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God”

New Testament 102: What’s going on at the Areopagus (part two)

So Paul’s speech at the Areopagus is an opportunity to introduce a new Gdo to Athens. The God. And it’s not an opportunity he lets slip. He grasps wit with both hands and uses it as a chance to preach the gospel, and in doing so he demonstrates more than a passing familiarity with the philosophy and practices of those he engages with. Bruce says he did this because he had found common ground between inconsistencies in Stoic and Epicurean thought and practice, and similarities between their doctrines and the Old Testament.

“He [Paul] was not borrowing his theology from the philosophical schools for pragmatic purposes.”

Bruce sees his speech before the Areopagus (as do I, as a pretty masterful piece of apologetics, for an article to that effect rather than my notes on his lecture on apologetics see Introducing Athens to God: Paul’s failed apologetic in Acts 17? (PDF), J.D Charles agrees in this article Engaging the (Neo)Pagan Mind: Paul’s Encounter with Athenian Culture as a Model for Cultural Apologetics (PDF)). Other scholars think it’s an apologetic model Paul tried and gave up, feeling a bit disillusioned (this view was made popular by a guy named Ramsay in St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1895)), or that Paul was actually on criminal trial to determine if his teaching was subversive (see this Google Books reference from Stanley Porter). I think Bruce’s reading actually makes the most sense, only Porter’s criminal trial theory explains the presence in the narrative of Acts, the idea that Paul gave up this sort of apologetic falls over a bit when you observe Paul’s continued engagement with Greek philosophy (see his quote from Epimendes in Acts 17:28 and his other Cretans quote in Titus and the Epimenedes Paradox), and Roman law and culture in his subsequent trials. Plus the narrative of Acts 17 reports converts (so it’s hardly a failure). Some suggest Paul’s resolving to know nothing but Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2) was Paul’s general approach to apologetics and not one particular to Corinth in the light of their issues with idolising gospel preachers as though they were first century orators.

Paul’s Apologetic Method (and the introduction of new Gods)

Paul opens with observations about the culture, and at the same time, points out that the God he is talking about is not a new God, but an Old God…

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

Then he addresses specific questions the Areopagus sought to answer regarding new gods

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

He begins to look at what divine honours might be appropriate or required for such a God (what do you give the God who has everything?).

26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

Then he demonstrates his familiarity with their culture and thinking

28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

This verse actually contains a quote from Epimendes and another from a Aratus, a Stoic philosopher.

Then he again turns to the question of temples and statues

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.

And finally, he turns back to the question of what God requires from converts and the proof of God’s epiphany (in this case Jesus and the Resurrection, the gospel he had been preaching)

30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Bruce suggests Paul makes five affirmations about the knowable God – that he made the world, determined the boundaries of the nations, that he can be sought through general revelation, that idols don’t represent him since we are his offspring, and that all people are called to turn to him or face judgment.

The Stoics, in De Natura Deorum had a sequence to be met in the presentation of new gods: first: prove God exists, second: explain their nature, third: show that the world is governed by them, fourth: show that they care for mankind.

Bruce says:

“The summary in Acts 17 assumes their belief in God‘s existences and His role as the creator of the world who is Lord of heaven and earth, (v. 24a). It affirms He gives life and all things to all his creation, (v. 25b). His providential care is intrinsically bound up with the needs of all mankind, (v. 26). Paul developed his theme on the nature of the known God thus.”

Paul also tackles issues of divine providence, from Bruce:

…in the Athenian speech there are important resonances with the Stoic view of providence. This may well have been Paul‘s most important bridge with that segment of his audience. Balbus sets out what he sees as the Stoic thesis that the world is ruled by divine providence…of the gods‘, only familiarity blinds us to nature‘s marvels.‘ For him providential government of the world can be inferred firstly, from divine wisdom and power,  secondly, from the nature of the world, thirdly from a detailed review of the wonders of nature,  and fourthly from the care of man.

Also, Bruce points out that Paul’s use of the singular “God” rather than “gods” was right down the alley of the Stoics and Epicureans – and elements of his speech to the Areopagus directly attack their understanding of theology.

The Stoics and Epicureans would have had no difficulty with the use of the singular ‘god’, for in one sentence they used the singular and plural interchangeably. For example, Diogenes Laertius speaks of ‘worshippers of god’ as those who ‘have acquaintance with the rites of the gods’ and who know ‘how to serve the gods’.

Much of Paul’s argument also plays on tensions between Stoic and Epicurean thought, in the same way that his argument before the Pharisees and the Sadducees played on tensions between those two groups.

Epicureans believed that God was living, immortal, and blessed – terminology Paul often uses to describe God in his letters. The Epicureans would have found common ground on that point, and further on the point that God could be discovered (and that an unknown God could be made known) because they believed God was knowable and clear to all. They also, importantly, dismissed the idea of God(s) living in temples – they didn’t like anything that looked like superstition, and both agreed that God had no need for human resources.

But the notion of an afterlife was completely foreign to Epicurus (the founder of the Epicureans) who said:

“Death is nothing to us; for the body, when it has been resolved into its elements, has no feeling and that which has no feelings is nothing to us”

Which is probably why the crowd reacted like they did when Paul mentioned the resurrection (in much the same way that the Sadducees reacted in his audience with the Jews).

Bruce thinks Paul was actually calling the Stoics and Epicureans out on social compromise on their philosophies – and offering a better way.

“The Stoic self-contradiction, as Plutarch pointed out, was that they  attend the mysteries in the temples, go up to the Acropolis, do reverence to statues, and place wreaths upon the shrines, though these were the works of builders and mechanics”

Epicurus himself had believed that popular piety was not correct—‘For the utterances of the multitude about the gods are not true preconceptions but false assumptions,‘

Some final thoughts from Bruce:

“Stoicism and Epicureanism in the imperial period had to endorse religious pluralism if they were to maintain their following, given participation in the imperial cult as one of the ways of affirming their loyalty to the empire.”

“No dialogue can be called  Christian‘ that does not possess the five elements expressed in Acts 17. So Paul‘s sermon in Athens was highly pleasing to Almighty God and these essential elements are to be repeated if we are to win the hearts and the minds of our contemporaries who need to believe the gospel.”

J.D Charles agrees (though he spends his time pondering the philosophical nature of Athens):

“Summing up Paul’s rhetorical strategy in Athens, we may note that the Apostle was knowledgeable, dialectical, well-read, relevant, and rhetorically skillful. What particularly strikes the reader is his ability to accommodate himself to the knowledge-base of most Athenians. Viewing Paul’s encounter with Athenian culture as such, we may conclude that his ministry was not a “failure.” Nor is it necessary to assume that his not-too-distant reflections about the power of the cross, recorded in 1 Corinthians 1–2, were penned with a wrong apologetic model (i.e., Athens) in mind.
To the contrary, a more accurate assessment of Paul’s ministry in Athens may be summed up by his own testimony to the Corinthians: “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more. To the Jews I became a Jew … ; to those without the law, I became like those without the law … I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor 9:19–22).”

New Testament 102: What’s going on at the Areopagus (Part One)

There are some moments when you sit in a lecture with our principal Bruce Winter and you just go “aha.” For me, one of these moments came when he was talking about Acts 17, Paul’s speech at the Areopagus. The New Testament is clearly a product of its time and culture. Reading a little bit of Greek philosophy (which for some reason I was last week – actually, it was for a Church History essay) you see how the ideas of Christianity interacted with the ideas of the surrounding culture (and not just in church fathers like Augustine and Clement, but also in the New Testament). Paul is clearly conversant with Greek philosophy – he interacts with, and cites, Stoic and Epicurean ideas while he’s in the marketplace, and later while standing in front of the Areopagus on, or beneath, Mars Hill.

Paul in the Marketplace (Agora)

Garland’s Introducing New Gods suggests that Athens was of vital importance for the introduction of new gods into Greek culture. Gods introduced in Athens would become trendy throughout the region. He suggests the marketplace was the best place to introduce new gods to Athens, because it was the public square. It was the Facebook of the first century. Luke makes a similar statement in Acts 17.

16Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was(AA) provoked within him as he saw that the city was(AB) full of idols. 17So(AC) he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said,(AD) “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities“—because(AE) he was preaching(AF) Jesus and the resurrection. 19And they took him and brought him to(AG) the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this(AH) new teaching is that you are presenting? 20For you bring some(AI) strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

Paul’s presence in the marketplace piques the interest of the Areopagus – a gathering of the city’s political leaders. Aristotle said the Areopagus was a place for serious discussions (and nothing silly). Athenian politics seems to have been split between the Council of 600, the Areopagus, and the Boule (a representative council of the Demos (citizens)). Each had different roles to play in governing and different responsibilities in the social, economic, religious, and political spheres. The marketplace was the heart of the city. The Bouleterion (the place where the Boule met) was in the middle of the marketplace, and Bruce argues that it is likely the Areopagus actually met there rather than on the rather uncomfortable rocky outcrop Mars Hill (for my reflections from Mars Hill see this post). Garland suggests anybody looking to bring a new God onto the Greek scene could start in no better place than the Agora:

“A convenient forum in which to advertise the benefits of a new god and hence to drum up popular support would have been a public meeting place such as the Agora, the civic, administrative and commercial heart of the city and a popular venue for all those who wished to exchange ideas.”

In his article On Introducing Gods to Athens: An Alternative Reading of Acts 17:18-20 (PDF), Bruce adopts Garland’s research into how new gods were introduced into Athenian culture, and texts about the role of the Areopagus in consecrating and introducing the Imperial Gods into Athens (he follows a guy named Geagan who wrote a book called The Athenian Constitution After Sulla) to conclude that one of the responsibilities of the Areopagus (alongside the Demos and the Council of 600 (it seems, as I’m trying to cobble together a few views, that the Areopagus set the agenda for the Demos and functioned as Athen’s Boule)) was to introduce new gods into the Greek Pantheon (a view supported by ancient literature – including Aeschylus’ Eumenides (see this work by Kauppi), and that Paul was invited before the Areopagus so they could consider adopting his God, and that such an introduction needed to cover certain areas of concern.

Bruce, following Garland (and to an extent the work of a guy named Barnes who established the role of the Areopagus) says these criterion were:

  1. Had there really been an epiphany of the divinity?
  2. Was official recognition to be given?
  3. What divine honours and statues would be appropriate?
  4. When would the annual official feast day be?

Bruce, following Garland, suggests those introducing a god also had to buy consecrated land to build a temple, build an altar for sacrifices and host an annual feast day, he argues that Paul’s presentation before the Areopagus specifically addresses these points. He shows that the Lukan account is laced with terminology to suggest this reading, for example, when the Athenians suggest Paul is a “herald of foreign divinities” the Greek word is the same used for one who introduces new Gods into the Pantheon (it’s also the word used for the priests of the Imperial Cult).

New Testament 102: The Galatian Equation

Galatia. A place Paul wrote to. That’s about all I know about Galatia, not having been there. Except that Galatian Christians faced much the same problem from Rome as Christians throughout the empire. Which is where this post is heading. I’m finally finding a use for the extended edition of an essay I wrote last semester (the extended edition was twice the word limit, I removed half the essay and handed it in – taking out pages at random1). Eagle eyed readers will notice the same clump of references regarding the legal status of Christianity that featured in the last post. It’s from a different essay. I aim to include them in every essay I write for Bruce (3 out of 3 so far)2.

Basically, one of the issues going on in Galatia is circumcision. Sometimes you just have to cut to the chase on these things. Romans weren’t circumcised. As demonstrated by this picture that Facebook flagged as inappropriate.

Romans weren’t circumcised, but Jews were – which meant that Roman converts to Christianity could literally blend in by getting the snip (really? How literal is that? Did they invert their clothing in the first century? Covering everything but their bits?). Well no. But Romans thought circumcision was an abominable practice, and they tolerated it in Jews but abhorred it personally – and it was a real marker of converting to Judaism, which earned one exemption from the Imperial Cult, and thus freedom from some of the persecution that came from converting to Christianity. Below you’ll find my take on the issue from the essay I hacked to pieces (the footnotes are there so you can dig up Bruce’s article on the matter – except I can’t find it on google, I think last time I found it I found the book of the proceedings of the conference it was presented at somewhere on the interwebs), it was more than possibly identical to whatever handouts he gave us in class. Anyway, here are some bits and bobs:

The question of references to the Imperial Cult in Galatians is a Jewish question. Winter’s (2002) thesis on the motives behind Jewish agitation in Galatia (Galatians 6:12) is that Jewish Christians were encouraging gentile converts to use Jewish camouflage to avoid participating in imperial cult, or persecution for failing to participate.[1] Jews in the Roman Empire are understood to have been exempt from cultic practices, free instead to practice their own religion.[2] This freedom varied from emperor to emperor, and region to region. There was no written charter providing such freedom.[3]

Josephus and Philo record that the Jews abrogated their cultic responsibilities by offering sacrifices for the emperor,[4] Herod, not content with this arrangement, built three temples dedicated to the emperor and Rome, McLaren (2005) suggests honouring the cult was a major priority in Judea.[5] This did not prevent the use of the cult as a weapon in Jewish-Roman relations.[6]

Winter (2001) argues that Gallio’s decision (Acts 18:12-17) initially served to protect Christians from participating in the Imperial Cult under the mos maiorum, and Gentile converts to Judaism were recognised as Jewish by imperial law.[7]

Hardin (2008) in his extensive treatment of the situation follows Winter, adding a minor addendum to reflect his findings that the Jews actually participated almost fully in the practices of the Imperial Cult. He suggests Christians were in no man’s land – neither Jew, nor gentile, and that the agitators, Jewish converts, wanted the church to pick a side.[8] He concludes his monograph by suggesting that the imperial cult forms an important backdrop for the study of Galatians, and the New Testament as a whole.[9]


[1] Winter, B.W, ‘The Imperial Cult and Early Christians in Roman Galatia (Acts XIII 13-50 and Galatians VI 11-18),’ in Actes du ler Congres International sur Antioche de Pisidie, eds., T. Drew-Bear, M. Tashalan and C. M. Thomas: Iniversite Lumiere – Lyon 2 and Diffusion de Boccard, 2002, 67-75, This thesis finds some support from Stanton, G, Jesus and Gospel, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2004, pp 43-46, and Hardin, J.K, ‘Avoiding Persecution and the Imperial Cult,’ Galatians and the Imperial Cult, (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck), 2008, pp 85-115

[2] Letter of Claudius to the Alexandrians, Papyrus found at Philadelphia in the Fayum, Egypt, The Roman Empire: Augustus to Hadrian, ed. and trans. Shrek, R.K, pp 83-86 – “Therefore, even now I earnestly ask of you that the Alexandrians conduct themselves more gently and kindly toward the Jews who have lived in the same city for a long time, and that they do not inflict indignities upon any of their customs in the worship of their god, but that they allow them to keep their own practices just as in the time of the god Augustus, which practices I too have confirmed after hearing both sides”

[3] Rajak, T, ‘Was there a Roman Charter for the Jews?’, The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol 74 (1984) pp 107-123, Pucci Ben Zeev, M, ‘Jewish Rights in the Roman World – The Greek and Roman Documents quoted by Josephus Flavius’, 1998, Mohr Siebek, pg 412, Rutgers, L.V, ‘Roman Policy Towards Jews’, Judaism and Christianity in First Century Rome edited by Donfried, K.P and Richardson, P, pp 93-116, one only needs to consider Caligula’s aborted attempt to hijack the temple, and its destruction under Nero to accept this point.

[4] McLaren, J.S, ‘Jews and the Imperial Cult,’ p 271

[5] McLaren, J.S, ‘Jews and the Imperial Cult,’ p 259, these temples were constructed at Caesarea Maritima, Sebaste, and Banias

[6] McLaren, J.S, ‘Jews and the Imperial Cult,’ p 262, Imperial cultic requirements were a flashpoint. The Greek citizens of Alexandria triggered the incident leading to Claudius’ missive by erecting statues of the emperor in the synagogue. If the Jews removed the statues this would be seen as imperial impropriety, Josephus’ account of the incident suggests the Greek citizens used the cult as a weapon, Pilate also caused some consternation in Judea by introducing inscribed shields to Jerusalem, see Fuks, G, ‘Again on the episode of the gilded Roman shields at Jerusalem,’ Harvard Theological Review, 75 no 4, 1982, pp 503-507

[7] Winter, B.W, After Paul Left Corinth, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), 2001, pp 278-280, Winter, B.W, ‘Gallio’s Ruling on the Legal Status of Early Christianity (Acts 18:14-15),’ Tyndale Bulletin 50.2 (1999) 213-224.

[8] Hardin, J.K, ‘Avoiding Persecution and the Imperial Cult,’ Galatians and the Imperial Cult, (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck), 2008, pp 85-115

[9] Hardin, J.K, Galatians and the Imperial Cult, p 155

1 That is simply not true, and I apologise for the dishonesty.
2 That is actually true.

New Testament 102: All about Gallio

Bruce has a real soft spot for Gallio. I reckon if he played that speculative game “who would I invite to dinner,” Gallio would make the list. Gallio is a popular boy in Corinth too. His appearance in Corinth at the Bema (Justice Seat) in Acts 18 marks the one exact spot we know Paul stood in Greece. The Orthodox Church in Corinth made the scene with Gallio the mural on the back wall of their brand new conference room…

Here’s Robyn standing in front of the Bema.

All this is only vaguely related to the potential essay question. But I’m setting the scene.

Here’s the passage from the Extra Spiritual Version (ESV), complete with whatever footnotes Bible Gateway thinks are relevant:

12But when Gallio was(W) proconsul of Achaia,(X) the Jews made a united attack on Paul and(Y)brought him before the tribunal, 13saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to(Z) the law.” 14But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious(AA) crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint.15But(AB) since it is a matter of questions about words and names and(AC) your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16And he drove them from the tribunal. 17And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.

Cool story. I love how the crowd turn on the agitator at the end. They were there to give a beating – so they’re going to give a beating. All right. This judgment may well, if some first century historical reconstruction type people, have made Christianity a legal presence in at least the Achaian province of the empire. Gallio was the proconsul of the province. He was like Chuck Norris in Walker Texas Ranger. If you messed with him you got round house kicked to the face. Gallio’s brother was Seneca. So was his father. Seneca the Older paid to have his kids brought up real good in Roman society. Gallio was even adopted by a rich benefactor (and so changed his name from Novatus to Gallio) His kids were movers and shakers. Seneca the Younger (he’s on wikipedia) was a philosopher who was also Nero’s (the crazy emperor) tutor and adviser. He eventually killed himself (because he had to) after failing to topple Nero in a backstabbing conspiracy (the guy was a nutter – Nero that is). Gallio suffered a similar fate – Nero ordered him put to death, but he may have beaten him to it. Dodging a bullet by taking a bullet (well, a sword or an arrow).

The crux of it

Some people suggest he was basically a pimple on the backside of Roman history who made no real contribution to Rome or humanity. Others think Gallio was a bit blasé about the whole trial of Paul thing. Wikipedia does anyway.

“His behaviour on this occasion shows the impartial attitude of the Roman officials towards Christianity in its early days.”

Lets treat that as a summary of the consensus view on the matter and then we’ll disagree with it. And show that Gallio’s snap judgment (and he was famous as a juror) was a legal decision with consequences that spread through his province and made Christianity a legal subset of Judaism under his rule. While this didn’t set an empire wide precedent (Gallio wasn’t the emperor) – it certainly says something about the legal situation of Christians in first century Rome.

The esteemed B.W Winter wrote an article for the Tyndale Bulletin called Redeeming Gallio and His Judgment in Acts 18 (PDF), there’s another one called Gallio’s Ruling on the Legal Status of Early Christianity (.doc) You should definitely read them if you want to pass this exam.

Here’s the summary of the first one:

“By first-century Graeco-Roman standards, a recent assessment of Gallio – a Roman senator, proconsul and consul of Rome – would have been seen as something of a damnatio that resulted in the dismissal of his achievements and the formal disfiguring of his name from the imperial inscription that bears it in Delphi. However, a re-examination
of the evidence of ancient witnesses comes to a somewhat different conclusion about this important Roman senator. Such testimonies would confirm Luke’s presentation of this legally competent proconsul who made a landmark judgement under Roman law on the status of the early Christian movement.”

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (and what would he know – he’s only an “expert on Paul” according to Wikipedia) reckons Gallio was a hypochondriac wuss who ran away from his post when the going got tough. But Bruce says the Emperor Claudius reckons Gallio was alright, and if he was alright by Claudius, he’s alright by us too. Gallio’s name wasn’t removed from the Delphi inscription because he wasn’t disgraced. And he went on to be a consul of Rome. Basically Murphy-O’Connor is the bad scholar in this answer. And Bruce is fighting the good fight for Gallio. Murphy-O’Connor says the only good thing about Gallio is that he helps us date Paul’s time in Corinth (because Gallio himself was only in Corinth for a year (51-52 A.D).

Gallio did his year of regional service, and then got sick (he wasn’t a hypochondriac, as the bad guys have suggested). Here’s a paragraph from Bruce about a paragraph from a primary source about Gallio:

“In a discussion titled ‘On the Medicinal use of seawater’, Pliny the Elder (AD c.23/4-79) recorded ‘there being many other uses, the chief however being a sea voyage for those attacked by consumption, as I have said, and for haemoptysis, such as quite recently within our memory was taken by Annaeus Gallio after his consulship (post consulatum)’ According to Pliny it was after he completed the one-year term set for a senatorial consulship.”

Gallio the Juror
Gallio was a nice guy. According to his brother.

“Seneca reminded Lucilius that his brother was not inept in his rela­tionships with others. He had a great ability to get along with other people and his unaffectedly pleasant personality charms even those it pays no attention to … No other human being is so charming to just one person as he is to all people.’ In Corinth, Gallio politely addressed them as Ό Jews’, and explained that he simply could not proceed be cause there was no case to answer under Roman law. Luke records that he added, ‘If it were a matter of wrong-doing or vicious crime, then I would have reason to allow the legal proceedings’ (18:14).”

Bruce makes the point that Gallio has more integrity, and was less swayed by Jewish political pressures, than Felix or Pontius Pilate before them – he recognises the trial is a farce. And he calls them on it.

“The impression gained from Seneca is that Gallio was an astute judge of situations, and would have been aware of the hubris and the troubling nature of the litigation that had driven the Jews to pursue this case, and the duplicity that stood behind their charges. In fact Luke recorded that he ‘drove’ (άττήλασεν) the plaintiffs from the tribunal.”

Bruce further suggests the decision was thoroughly grounded in Roman law – and a right exercise of due process. He thinks the Jews were suggesting that Paul was operating outside the law because he’d left Judaism but had not taken up the Roman Imperial Religion (which was his legal obligation – from which Jews were exempt). Gallio decides that it is a Jewish matter, that Christianity is still “Jewish” in essence, and that Roman law doesn’t apply. He says the only law that is relevant to the case is “your law” – meaning Jewish law. He made the judgment before Paul had even had a chance to start his defense because he was such a top-notch juror. Like Judge Judy.

On the Beating of Sosthenes

“What was the reason for this fracas in the Corinthian forum? There are a number of possibilities. It is known that leading Roman citizens followed by their clients attended in the forum, and they operated as loyal supporters of their patrons in the realm of politela. Those standing around saw the dismissal of Jews’ case in the Roman criminal court as an opportunity to demonstrate their support for the emperor’s recent anti-Jewish decree recorded by Luke in Acts 18:2 – ‘because
Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome”

“It is more likely that Luke’s final comment [But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.] is to be interpreted as referring to how Gallio had operated in this case. He drove the accusers from the judgement seat because their case was groundless in Roman law, carefully following the correct legal protocol within whose paramètres he alone operated. He was rightly not concerned with matters outside the formal court hearing, for what happened was not within his remit unless Sosthenes subsequently brought another private prosecution, for assault. As Luke rightly noted ‘and none of these things (18:15, 17) concerned Gallio’, but had Paul been guilty of those in 18:14 he would certainly have proceeded with the case.”

On the Legal Status of Judaism (not from Bruce’s article)

If you’re a student preparing an exam answer you’ll already have done the subject The Cross and the Clash of Cultures, which apart from having an alliterative title, prompted me to do some research on the legal status of Judaism under the empire. Here’s a quote from one of my footnotes that may or may not be of use:

The actual nature of  Judaism’s status, whether or not it was a “religio licita” is in some dispute. The term religio licita seems to be a later development than this question – but the freedoms and exemptions for the Jews certainly existed. Caesar provided some freedom for Jews to practice their religion within the empire – but this may not have had the effect of freeing them for all time. cf Rajak, T, ‘Was there a Roman Charter for the Jews?’, The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol 74 (1984) pp 107-123 (I think it’s on EBSCO), which suggests that the phrase “religio licita” to describe Judaism was first recorded by Tertullian, that they only required “public backing, with muscle behind it” rather than a charter to establish these rights, and that it was not the nature of the polis to exclude citizens from the practice of customary activities. See also – Pucci Ben Zeev, M, ‘Jewish Rights in the Roman World – The Greek and Roman Documents quoted by Josephus Flavius’, 1998, Mohr Siebek, pg 412 –the treatment of Jews throughout the empire after Caesar’s death suggests this declaration was not all encompassing precedent, while Rutgers, L.V, ‘Roman Policy Towards Jews’, Judaism and Christianity in First Century Rome edited by Donfried, K.P and Richardson, P, pp 93-116 suggests that Jewish status under Roman law varied greatly from Emperor to Emperor – and that there was no charter or official policy regarding the Jews.

The Romans placed huge value on time honoured traditions – it was part of their shtick, they called it the Mos Maiorum and this was the recognition of tradition that protected the Jews from participating in the Imperial Cult.

On the Imperial Cult and Gallio’s Exemption

Here’s what Bruce says in the second article linked (up the top):

“Christianity was a sect within Judaism and therefore a religio licita, part of the mos maiorum. This was how Christianity was judged in the eyes of the Roman governor with expertise as a jurist. What Gallio ruled ‘when Paul was about to open his mouth’ (18:14a) had implications for this early Messianic movement. Whether Jewish Christians or Gentile Christians, Roman citizens, or provincials, they were all seen as ‘a party’ operating under the Jewish umbrella. Therefore being a Christian in the province of Achaea was not a criminal offence, according to Gallio.

Attention has been briefly drawn to the legal immunity the Jews enjoyed with respect to the veneration of the emperor because of the mos maiorum. While New Testament scholars have underestimated the importance of this cult during the Julio-Claudian emperors, evidence showed that it grew more spectacularly throughout the empire during the first century than even the early Christian movement did…

Paul used the same defense again in front of Felix, and then again in Rome in front of Festus and before Agrippa II – and Bruce argues that the verdict was the same on all counts – and the word “unhindered” at the end of Acts is incredibly important.

In the final hearing before Festus in the presence of Agrippa II, Paul again mounted his defence along the same lines—‘I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said should happen’ (26:22). Festus confirmed Gallio’s ruling that the case concerned ‘certain questions of their superstition’ and the alleged resurrection of Jesus (25:19).

While awaiting the hearing of his appeal, Paul was still allowed to engage in his ministry ‘with all boldness’. After that comment, Luke added the highly significant word, ‘unhindered’ (28:31). This term was used to indicate that there was no legal impediment to what a person was doing.

Addendum: On Murphy-O’Connor

Don’t be too nasty in your answer to the bad cop – Bruce has this to say in his final footnote:

“My point of departure with J. Murphy-O’Conner on the assessment of Gallio should not detract in any way from my appreciation of his important service to New Testament Corinthian studies with what is now the third edition of his excellent collection of primary literary sources and some of the important inscriptions.”

New Testament 102: Introduction

And so it begins. New Testament is first cab off the rank exam wise – and we’re looking at Acts (and by extension Luke) and a bunch of seemingly random epistles. Random because our lectures this semester were pretty random and we didn’t really cover half the books past papers cover.

Here’s what we know about the exam:

Structure
There are four questions on Acts (two to be answered).

And four questions on the following (two to be answered):

  • 1 & 2 Peter
  • 1 Corinthians (maybe)
  • Galatians
  • 1 & 2 Thessalonians
  • Hebrews
  • Ephesians
  • Colossians

What we also know
Bruce, our venerable lecturer, likes asking questions that help us develop our thinking in line with his thinking… so when it comes to Acts (and looking at the past papers) it’s likely that the (M Div and Grad Dip) questions will involve some element of the following (it’s also likely the answer will have something to do with the Graeco-Roman culture and its interaction with the issue at hand):

  • A question about the reliability of Acts (probably based loosely on the 6 volume “Book of Acts in its First Century Setting” series that he edited).
  • A question about Gallio’s judgment and its significance for Christians in the early church.
  • A question about Paul’s apologia at the Areopagus.
  • A question about the unity of Luke-Acts (which touches on rhetorical purpose etc)
  • Something about the repetition of the phrase “And the Word of the Lord grew and multiplied.” and its function within the book.
  • Something about the inclusion of legal terminology and court transcripts in the book (which may tie in with the Gallio question).

The B Th questions will quite possibly overlap with those issues – but they’ll also, I would think, include something about the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians 8-11:1, which was an essay question for the M Div.

As to the next section, they really are anybody’s guess… but I’d say there’ll be something about:

  • The circumcision debate in Galatians
  • The rhetorical (as in first century public speaking) undertones of 1&2  Thessalonians
  • Something about the structure of Hebrews
  • Something about Peter’s views of virtue and Christian living in 1 and 2 Peter.
  • And something about different purposes, issues or audiences in Colossians and Ephesians.

Here are the questions from the last two exams (we don’t have photocopies of the B Th past paper. Sorry):

Section A
  • Discuss the nature and importance of the “Community of Goods” in the early Christian community. (2009)
  • How important was the Jerusalem Council decision for both Jewish and Gentile Christianity? (2009)
  • Was the Acts 17 speech before the Council of Areopagus Paul’s unsuccessful foray into the field of philosophical apologetics? (2009)
  • ‘He appears to be the herald of foreign divinities’. How does Paul herald his gospel before the Council of the Areopagus in Luke’s summary of this address? (2008)
  • Are the court room appearances of Paul in Caesarea Maritima a Lukan invention? (2009)
  • Discuss Luke’s recordings of the formal hearings the Jews verses Paul in Roman courts in Acts and the outcomes. What do they tell us about the status of early Christianity? (2008)
  • Is the ending of the Book of Acts Luke’s real ending of his second volume? (2009)
  • ‘And the Word of the Lord grew and multiplied’. Discuss this theme in Acts and show how Luke justifies this conclusion at the end of the various phases of the expansion of the early Christian mission. (2008)
  • Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus reveals not only his own modus operandi as a church planter but a somewhat pessimistic view of his expectations of the future of the Ephesian church. Discuss. (2008)
Section B
  • Is James an epistle of straw? (2009)
  • Betz wrote that the main issue in Galatians is, ‘How can the spiritual man live?’ Evaluate this view. (2009)
  • How much can we learn about the activities of Paul’s opponents from his letter to the Galatians? (2008)
  • In 1 & 2 Thessalonians, why does Paul go into so much detail about the parousia? (2009)
  • What are the differences and similarities between Paul’s letters to Ephesus and Colassae? (2009)
  • Explain the function of the warning cycles within Hebrews. (2009)
  • Discuss how the theme of ‘how much more’ unfolds in the letter to the Hebrews. (2008)
  • Discuss the plight of all humanity as Paul unfolds the need for salvation in the opening section of Romans and the solution he subsequently sets forth. (2008)
  • In the light of what Paul knew about the Corinthian church’s problems as he wrote 1 Corinthians, was he not being pastorally irresponsible to have addressed them as ‘sanctioned in Christ Jesus’ (1:2)? (2008)

To clear up any confusion about what books we should be studying, I’ve emailed Bruce and I’ll update this post when he replies.

UPDATE: Here’s the transcript of my email conversation with Bruce:

“A few of us are unclear about exactly what books we’re expected to cover for the NT exam. Could you shed some light on that please?

We covered lots of Acts (and I understand there are four questions on Acts), and then 1 & 2 Peter, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Galatians and a bit of Hebrews.

The past papers have questions on Romans, Colossians, Ephesians, and 1 Corinthians – are we meant to have covered those?”

Answer:

“The exam will be on the books covered. The others will be covered either in NT or theology in the next 2 years so it is the books covered in class.”

Clarification question:

There is some confusion over the books we actually covered, are you able to provide a list that I can pass on to the google group?

Am I missing any books from my list in the original email? Did we cover enough of Hebrews for it to be examined?

Answer:

“The books are as you stated and the issue on Hebrews dealt with was the unfolding of person and work of Christ as an overview if you remember. I distributed material on Thessalonians and Galatians.”