Archives For Paul

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Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross

Cruciform = cross shaped.

This book is very good. Very, very good. Sometimes Gorman pushes things a little bit further than I would to make his point, sometimes his application of his ideas goes in interesting directions, sometimes his interpretations of passages don’t land where I’d go (and where other much smarter people than me go), and sometimes his tangents and arguments are a little coloured by his understanding of what hobby horses cruciformity rides – but it’s truly fantastic. One of the best books I’ve read while at college…

Want proof. Compare, side by side, the overture to Jesus’ work on the cross in Philippians 2:6-8, with how Paul describes his ministry in 1 Corinthians 9:19, and throughout the chapter. Amazing. I’d never noticed this before – maybe you have.

Here are some of the big ideas he riffs off for a few hundred pages of gold…

“The son’s act on the cross was an act of family resemblance, of conformity to God. God, therefore is a God of self-sacrificing self-giving love, whose power and wisdom are found in the weakness and folly of the cross. ”

“If on the cross Christ conforms to God, then God conforms to the cross. The cross is the interpretive or hermeneutical lens through which God is to be seen; it is the means of grace by which God is known.”

“As a colony of cruciformity, the church first tells its story to itself in liturgy and prophetic edification, so that it can live the story of cruciform faith, love, hope and power within itself. It is then equipped to tell and live the story – the gospel message – in the world, summoning people to faith by the power of the Spirit, and living by love and hope even in the face of opposition from enemies of the cross.”

“Paul’s communities become living commentaries on their master story… For Paul, the most faithful interpretation of the Messiah’s story is not a letter or an argument but a living body, one whose life unfolds step by step in ways analogous to Messiah Jesus. Such a body will bear – literally, or metaphorically, or both – “the marks of Jesus” branded on its body (Gal 6:17)”

You may have noticed things are a little quieter than normal here… there are various reasons for that. The big one is that we’re in the throes of moving house (we have to find a new rental before next weekend). Robyn and I are both also working on our Masters projects. Which are pretty time consuming.

I’m not sure how much the Internet wants to read my thoughts as they develop (I’m pretty excited – but I realise pouring over classical texts looking for relatively obscure parallels to bundle together isn’t everybody’s cup of tea). So I’ll try to keep project related posts to a minimum…

But here are some cool bits about the connection between Paul and Cicero that I’m trying to establish… from James May’s “Cicero and His Life” in Companion to Cicero: Oratory and Rhetoric.

For the record – my thinking is that Paul borrowed from Cicero in his critique of the sort of oratory that was popular in Corinth – particularly in heavily emphasising ethos to the point of embodying his message.

There are a few connections between Paul and Cicero – Paul was a Roman citizen from Tarsus – one of the big three cities for a rhetorical education. Cicero was governor of Tarsus for a year (well – Cilicia, the province that Tarsus is the capital city of), around the time that he wrote a couple of his more famous rhetorical handbooks. I read one tangent in one article somewhere that suggested Paul’s grand daddy may even have received his Roman citizenship for helping Cicero in a military campaign. Here are some details about Cicero in Tarsus…

But in March of 51 B.C., much to his dismay, he was sent as proconsul to the large province of Cilicia in Asia Minor. Upon his arrival, he found matters, both civil and military, in much disarray. He set about restoring order, fixing reasonable interest rates, and fighting extortion. Faced with the threat of a possible invasion by the Parthians, he shored up his military forces and undertook a small campaign against the hill-tribes of Mt. Amanus. After a siege of 46 days, he captured the stronghold, and was granted a supplicatio (a public thanksgiving) by the Senate. Although he long cherished hopes for a triumph, these were never realized.

 

There are some cool connections with how Paul describes his approach to public speaking and some stuff Cicero commends (eg a weak entry when your topic is substantial and overwhelming), but none more than the idea that to be truly persuasive a speaker should not just believe in their cause, but embody it.

Both men – Cicero, and Paul – were essentially speaking against the Roman empire and the sweeping, blasphemous claims of the emperors who believed they were gods on earth. So there’s a connection there too. Both were martyred for their opposition to the empire.

Both arguably made ethos a much more substantial aspect of persuasion than it had been, or than it was considered by opponents who would do and say anything for status. Here’s a quote from Cicero on ethos and persuasion (De oratore 2.182)…

“Well then, the character, the customs, the deeds, and the life, both of those who do the pleading and of those on whose behalf they plead, make a very important contribution to winning a case. These should be approved of, and the corresponding elements in the opponents should meet with disapproval, and the minds of the audience should, as much as possible, be won over to feel goodwill toward the orator as well as toward his client. Now people’s minds are won over by a man’s prestige, his accomplishments, and the reputation he has acquired by his way of life. “

Here’s a bit from May on how Cicero embodied his position – even to the point of suffering…

“In stark contrast stands the character of Cicero the patriot, true and unfailing, ready and willing to put his life on the line for the survival of the state—in fact, he is in a way the symbol, even the literal embodiment of the Republic. Nearly twenty years after his consulship, Cicero finds himself once again leading the Senate and the state in the midst of an internal crisis. Two decades earlier, he had fashioned himself as the imperator togatus (the civilian commander ), the pacis alumnus (the nursling of peace), who would go to any length—including voluntary exile—to save the state without recourse to arms. Now, on the contrary, he presents himself as the princeps sumendorum sagorum, ’the leader in the putting on of military cloaks,”

For Cicero the pursuit of the Republic meant fashioning, and refashioning the understanding of his character as he rose through the ranks – always making sure his life matched his message as a visual.

Paul takes this principle, and adapts it to the unchanging message of sacrifice and the deliberate giving up of status for others that is part of speaking about the crucified King.

Here’s some key bits from 2 Corinthians, where I reckon Paul hammers this cross-shaped ethos thing.

Chapter 4

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from Godand not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.

Chapter 5

11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart.13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again

18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Chapter 11

“Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiledand have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 

Cicero was an impressive guy. He wanted people to follow him – imitate him – and be equally impressive. He was an incredible communicator. Paul was, in my mind, more impressive (while, paradoxically, being deliberately unimpressive) – and he called people to follow a more impressive guy. Jesus. His communication, from a PR point of view, has been much more impressive than Cicero’s. Cicero’s campaign basically died with him – Paul’s has lasted two thousand years, and essentially changed the Roman Empire for the better.

This observation may seem a little random, coming as it does, in a stream of posts about the Old Testament.

But I’ve been thinking about my New Testament essay, which I handed in a couple of weeks ago – that addresses the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, and the prohibitions it places on Gentile Christians.

Acts 15 starts with a question of salvific significance – do Gentile Christians need to be circumcised in order to be saved?

1 Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”

5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

And ends with these four prohibitions that are passed on to Gentile churches and Christians around the world. In between, Peter points out that salvation for the Jew and Gentile is found in Jesus – which I think settles the question of salvation, and then he moves on to addressing the question of how Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians can live together.

19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

My dear brother Kutz reckons the prohibitions are also salvific in focus – ie the Gentiles have to follow them in order to be saved. I don’t know… I reckon the issue of table fellowship Paul discusses in Galatians 2 might also be underpinning the concerns of the council… There’s also the question about what verse 21 contributes to the prohibitions.

Anyway, what this question really brought to the fore for me is an unhelpful dichotomy I think modern scholarship places on the text. Most people have tried to understand these prohibitions by suggesting that they are either fully in response to Jewish concerns (ie the Old Testament laws regarding Gentiles (from Leviticus 17-18 in particular), or the Noahic Covenant (which are pre-Jew/Gentile) , or the Old Testament laws that come with a warning that transgression will lead to being cut off from the people), or that they are responses to Graeco-Roman culture – that the prohibitions are directly related to the practices in Idol temples (Ben Witherington III). The problem is that none of these options are perfect fits – and scholars always seem to try to shoehorn the passage into their preferred reading. Very few have suggested that it might in fact be the shortest possible way or representing all of these concerns. A dichotomy has been created where perhaps it is unnecessary. People want the context of the New Testament to be either really Jewish, or really Roman – when I reckon it should be understood as both (it’s a bit of a simplification, everybody recognises (well almost everybody) that it’s both, it’s just a question of degree). We find both represented ideally in Paul, whose background must have some bearing on how we interpret his writings. He’s a very Jewish Jew, who happens to have a very Roman background too (coming from Tarsus), or at the very least Roman citizenship. In Paul we see a possible  Graeco-Roman philosophical education (judged on references to his hometown, and his familiarity with Platonism, Stoicism and Epicurianism demonstrated in his Areopagus address and epistles) matched with education in the Jewish law. Which makes him a perfect person to address both concerns. It’s a case of “both and” not “either or” – which is why I went for a bit of an “everybody is right” approach to the question of the origins of the Acts 15 prohibitions. And I like it.

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

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.

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.

Doing some further reading on Paul and his interaction with Greek philosophy I came across this paragraph that Strabo, a Greek philosopher, wrote about Paul’s home town of Tarsus.

This is the kind of place Paul grew up in (which explains his conversance with Greek philosophy)

The people at Tarsus have devoted themselves so eagerly, not only to philosophy, but also to the whole roud of education in general, that they have surpassed Athens, Alexandria, or any other place that can be named where there have been schools and lectures of philosophers.

But it is so different from other cities that there the men who are fond of learning, are all natives, and foreigners are not inclined to sojourn there; neither do these natives stay there, but they complete their education abroad; and when they have completed it they are pleased to live abroad, and but few go back home. But the opposite is the case with the other cities which I have just mentioned except Alexandria; for many resort to them and pass time there with pleasure, but you would not see many of the natives either resorting to places outside their country through love of learning or eager about pursuing learning at home. With the Alexandrians, however, both things take place, for they admit many foreigners and also send not a few of their own citizens abroad.

Further, the city of Tarsus has all kinds of schools of rhetoric; and in general it not only has a flourishing population but also is most powerful, thus keeping up the reputation of the mother-city.

I thought that was interesting anyway.

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).”

The morning of day two was more time spent on site at the archeological dig in Ancient Corinth. We walked through the museum where there are plenty of statues of emperors both deified and “living.” Plus statues of soldiers and other trinkets uncovered on site.

The museum gestapo wander round the halls enforcing their two photographic rules – no flash, and no posing.

After wandering the museum we wandered the site. Standing on site gives a phenomenal picture of the intersection of religion, law, and commerce in the city, and the way this intertwining would have presented major problems for Christian converts.

Here’s a model of the city from the Orthodox conference centre.

Roman culture was status heavy – life was all about how important you were, and becoming more important. So the radical realignment of identity that comes through being sanctified in Christ and being statusless would have felt like having the marble roads pulled from under your feet.

Statues and buildings were public relations propaganda. Which I’m finding particularly interesting. The placing of buildings, the statues therein, and even the material they were constructed from said something about the people who frequented them and served to build that status.

This inscription, in a footpath, is possibly linked to Erastus, the treasurer of Corinth, mentioned in Romans 16. Bruce says that Paul’s commands to do good in Romans 13 specifically 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.

At some point in the process we climbed the massive hill that sits behind Ancient Corinth, it’s called the Acrocorinth, which means the Corinth hill. There is an old school castle on top. It was almost cooler than checking out anything to do with Paul. Almost.

More photos are in my Picasa album, photos of the people I’m on the trip with are available on Facebook if you’re my friend.

We hit Ancient Corinth on day two in Greece – our visit to the site was sponsored by the Bishop of Corinth. His minion who wore black, carried worry beads and looked like a gangster watched our trek around the site, before we made our way to a newly minted “St Paul Centre” for an absolutely opulent (and free) lunch put on by the Bishop.

The site itself is amazing. There’s a museum filled with relics that have been uncovered in the dig. The chief archeologist gave us a run down of the landscape. The city of Corinth sits under a pretty impenetrable fort (more on that later) atop the Acrocorinth, it has a steady supply of water, is resource rich, and sits beside the Corinthian isthmus, a vital trade link between two major oceans.

The city was pulled apart by the Romans, who later rebuilt over the top of the Greek foundations in the late BCs. The dig has uncovered much of Roman Corinth, and gone deeper into Greek Corinth. One of the best bits from the head digger was a look at a little secret passage that they found in an underground Greek temple (no longer underground).

On the Roman Corinth front, the city puts the New Testament into real perspective – which I guess is the point of the visit. Standing in the centre of the city square you’re struck by the intersection of commerce, justice and religion. Roman business and Roman Law were inextricably religious. And the construction of the city and placement of idol statues (especially of deified emperors) hammered that home. The temple of Apollos is pretty impressive (some of its pillars still stand) but the imperial temple dominated the landscape, and could be spotted from just about anywhere in the city.


The imperial temple – the pillars have been slightly rebuilt, though much shorter than they would originally have been.


The temple of Apollos

The coolest bit of the trip (Bible wise), was standing in front of the Bema, or justice seat, where Paul appeared before Gallio in Acts 18.

12 But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before (AC)the judgment seat,

13 saying, “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.”

14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you;

15 but if there are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters.”

16 And he drove them away from the judgment seat.

This is one of the only geographic points we have for Paul’s visit – so as we stood here and looked around, not only could we imagine the streets alive and an impending riot being quelled by Gallio’s prudent judgment, but we were standing somewhere where Paul himself stood, and where an event of some significance in the New Testament occurred. Gallio’s judgment, and reputation as a juror, meant Christianity was suddenly a legal religion in the empire.

There have been a couple more “aha” moments that will doubtless be the subject of subsequent posts. Stay tuned for our visit to a real castle. It was incredible.

Ben Witherington III, blogger, biblical scholar and widely published New Testament author, is guest lecturing at QTC today on the book of Acts.

I’ll be updating it as the three hours of lectures go on – check back in this arvo for the final version. What follows are bits and pieces from his lectures:

One of the things I would want to stress to you is that what we’re dealing with in Acts is a form of ancient historiography. Luke is writing in the traditions of Hellenistic and Jewish history writing that had their own conventions which are not identical with the conventions of modern historiography.

One of the great problems with interpretation of the text is anachronism – reading our concerns, our modern concerns, back into the text. Acts is one of the main areas where this happens.

For example: Acts 2 is about a miracle. The miracle of speaking in tongues. But it’s ultimately about empowering the church for mission, not about a particular kind of post-conversion spiritual experience that we will all receive.

All of us are guilty of anachronism – we all read the Book of Acts with modern eyes.

Hermeneutically speaking we need to have some rules about how we read Acts.

  1. If we find a repeated pattern we can assume this is normative.
  2. If we find a special event not repeated it might be an unusual historical occurrence and not a principle on which we should hang out shingle.
  3. Does the author of Acts affirm the pattern? Positive repeated patterns are a good interpretive rubric (the telling of Saul’s conversion as a very important event is told three times – clearly it’s important). Does the author of Acts condemn the pattern. Some texts are “go and do likewise” others are “go and do otherwise.”
  4. We can’t just deduce doctrines from the reporting of history unless we have other methodologies – Acts reports what happens, not always what ought to have happened.

Chapter 6 begins “so the word of God spread…” one of the things about the structure of the book is what we have in the book of Acts is an arrangment of panels of material with little linking summary statements – like this one in Acts. Acts is not presented in strict chronological order – there’s a broadly chronological order, but sometimes Luke wants to give background flashbacks to help follow through a theme in the narrative. There’s finess in what Luke is doing. He is operating like Roman historians who tell the chronological sequential narratives about different regions in different literary units. We have some of that in the book of Acts.

Luke is wanting to talk about the geographical spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome. This is historiography, not biography. It’s not just about Peter or Paul – in fact, after Acts 15 we don’t hear about Peter again. It’s not a biography of Paul and it ends on an unfinished note. There’s no story about the death, or martyrdom, of Paul. This is not bios but a historical monograph.

Luke isn’t interested in the Acts of the Apostles but the Acts of the Holy Spirit – how the work of the gospel is fulfilled throughout the world.

There’s lots we’d like to know that Luke is not telling us. Don’t eisegete. We need to be comfortable with the limitations of the text. We can’t bring our own interests into the text. We have to let Luke be Luke. Ancient historiographers were not as hung up about chronology as we are. They didn’t measure time like we do. They were less concerned about precise chronology and happier with general accounts, we can’t impose our precision on their accounts. Ultimately the text as received is what God has decided to give us. It’s important that we leave dogma at the door.

The phrase “The Word of God” refers to the oral proclamation – not some document, in a culture where less than 20% of people could read the primary method of receiving the good news was through oral proclamation of the good news. That’s what the phrase must mean throughout the book of Acts (not the Hebrew bible, not any written documents).

We live in a culture of texts as “literate” people. They weren’t. Most ancient people preferred the oral word to the written word. Consulting with living voices and eyewitnesses was culturally preferential to reading written accounts. Written documents had very limited functions in antiquity. They were not for everybody.

This is a massive work by ancient standards – Luke contains the limit in letter count that you could get on one piece of papyrus. Luke was pushing the envelope in terms of content, Acts makes use of the space on a papyrus in a similar way. Ben thinks Theophilus was Luke’s patron. A real person, not a general title for “lovers of God”…

On the Stoning of Stephen…

Stephen is a Greek speaking Jew, speaking in the synagogue of the freedmen. Stephen is meant to be a deacon, looking after the practical needs of the church, and here he is preaching.

There are a lot of parallels between how Luke tells the story of the death of Jesus and how he tells the story of the death of Stephen. In essence Stephen models Christ’s death. Luke is using a historiographical tool to use history to teach morality. He’s encouraging Christians to follow the model of Isaiah’s suffering servant – and providing a biblical framework for Christian martyrdom – “father forgive them”…

The “Acts of the Apostles” is a misnomer – it’s not anthropological or biographical but theological – and this informs its approach to history. We hardly see any of the apostles except for Peter and Paul.

Luke sees himself as writing in the tradition of Jewish historiographers – like the Maccabees and OT writers.

There’s false witness in both accounts, born out in the Sanhedrin. Jesus should have been stoned (if not for the passover festival). Because there were probably 400,000 people in the city at the time the Jews wanted to make sure that it was the Romans who killed Jesus so that no Jews could say that the problem was of Jewish origin. In the case of Stephen it’s the Jews who carry out the killing. Romans reserved the right of capital punishment in their own hands. The Jews had no legal right to engage in vigilante justice. Their only recourse to capital punishment (legally) was the violation of the Holy of Holies in the temple.

The Romans would never execute a Jew on the charge of Jewish blasphemy. Jesus was executed on a charge of treason, claiming to be a king. Stephen was stoned for blasphemy.

The account of the stoning of Stephen is the longest narrative in Acts and contains the longest speech – it was obviously important to Luke. Luke is dealing with an explanation of how Christianity and Judaism have split. He’s explaining the origins of this split. The ending of the life of a pious Jew, Stephen, and the emergence of Saul/Paul as a force for the gentile mission is a pivotal moment in this movement.

One of the repeated themes of Acts is “father forgive them because they are ignorant”… this comes up in Peter’s sermon “you crucified Jesus because you were ignorant”… Luke doesn’t want to write off Jews, he wants to show that they are not forsaken but that they are in a position where they have rejected Jesus.

In the speech of Stephen we see a retelling of sacred history – from Abraham on, recounting the sad story of the unfaithfulness of the Jews to the work, word, and messengers of God. It’s a repeated pattern in Israelite history, all the way down to Jesus. The Sanhedrin aren’t thrilled with this reinterpretation of their history – in their mind they are good evangelical, bible believing, Jews. This was the ultimate insult. And it resulted in the death of Stephen.

The end of Stephen’s speech is not recorded – the speech (like many times in Acts, eg Paul in Athens) goes on until it is interrupted – and at that point the speech cuts off and is replaced by narrative. This is what happens here. Stephen is in full swing, condemning the Sanhedrin – who become teeth gnashingly furious. It’s when Stephen calls Jesus the “Son of Man” (the only use of the title in Acts) that they rush him and kill him (which is where he cries out “do not hold this sin against them”).

Paul’s “persecution of the church unto death” is the sin he constantly dwells on when describing his pre-Christian life. In Philippians he calls himself “blameless under the law” – nobody could accuse Saul/Paul of being a lawbreaker. But he kept the letter of the law while missing the spirit of the law. He makes this point and then acknowledges that he is the “least of the apostles because he persecuted the church unto death.”

This is how Luke introduces the story of Saul/Paul.

On Paul
Iconography – icons were not intended to be photos but representations of the character of the person. Big heads were not symbols of knowing lots, but of being wise. Descriptions in ancient texts functioned in the same way – they’re not so much about what the people looked like (which was not an issue for ancient writers) but descriptions linked with character.

Who is Paul: he’s responsible for over a third of the New Testament.

Paul the teacher (Acts 11:26)
Paul the prophet (Acts 13:9-11)
Paul the apostle (Acts 14:4, 14, Galatians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 8:23)

Ben reiterates that “The Acts of the Apostles” is a silly name for the book that Luke would have been bemused by. The inspired part of Acts begins with verse one, not with the late addition of the title.

On Barnabas (Paul’s missionary buddy)

Originally Joseph, Barnabas, the name, means “son of prayer” or “son of encouragement”… he’s a Levite convert from Cyprus, part of the 70 select disciples of Jesus, he sold his land to help the poor, held to have been stoned in 60AD.

On Paul again
If we met Paul today, quite a lot of us would probably find him difficult to get on with.

Paul’s Roman citizenship is a trump card that he trots out to save his life. He doesn’t mention, directly, in his letters that he was a citizen. It’s Luke who mentions that.

Paul was probably amazingly fit – his missionary journeys required long treks through harsh terrain. Some of the geography he had to cross in short periods of time were pretty incredibly hostile. To walk from Perga to Pisidian Antioch (like Paul did) requires 600 miles of walking over some pretty massive hills.

When you start seeing the proportions of what’s going on you see that being called to be the “apostle to the Gentiles” is like being told you’re the apostle to the whole world except Israel.

On Paul’s Conversion
There are three accounts of Paul’s conversion in Acts (ch 9, 22, 26) – they are widely separate. The first is in the third person, told about Paul. The second and third are in the first person. Paul himself is reporting the story. In both cases he tells the story in a rhetorically effective way depending on his audience. Paul is speaking to the crowd in the temple precinct (ch 22) and King Agrippa and Roman officials (ch 26).

The first account is Luke’s account of Paul’s conversion. Luke wasn’t there. So where did he get it from? Luke 1:1-4 – he consulted with the eyewitnesses. In this case he must have received it from Paul, his companion from the second and third missionary journeys recorded in Acts.

Acts 9 is straightforward narrative. One of the things Ben wants to dispel is that Paul’s name doesn’t occur as a result of the conversion but when he runs into Sergius Paulus (who has an inscription in Galatia) that he changes his name.

The Greek form of the name Saul, σαυλος meant “to walk like a prostitute” in Greek. Which isn’t likely to work in the work of his missionary context. παυλος in Greek just meant “a short person.” The name change comes because of his missionary work in the gentile world, not because of his conversion. That’s a myth.

Luke, in composing Acts, knows, when he writes what he writes, that he doesn’t have to tell the story on the first go – because he’s going to come around to it again later in the piece. The provision of more detail is a rhetorically effective account – not a contradiction. It’s an elaboration to keep the narrative retelling fresh on the second and third iterations. The mechanism of the encounter – the voice of Jesus speaking to Saul – is the same in each account. Verbatim.

Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus makes it clear that when you persecute the church you are persecuting Jesus, and that his salvation was not through keeping the law – but through grace.

What is the change that happens in Paul’s life? What is the process that we’re talking about? Does he go from being a Jew to being a Gentile? No. Does he go from a person who believes in the Hebrew scriptures to one who doesn’t? No. What happens is that he goes from being an opponent to a proponent of Jesus as a messianic fulfillment. This is not a new religion. But the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise of blessing to the nations. We can not forget that we have been grafted in to Israel through the work of faithful Jewish missionaries.

Paul doesn’t ever call us Christians – but talks about us being “in Christ” – has that ever struck you as odd as a description of the people of God? This is not a mere metaphor. We are being told that Christ is present everywhere at once. He is the atmosphere in which we live. When Paul wanted to describe who we are, he said we are “Jew and Gentile” in Christ. In Romans 9-11 he goes on a rampage rebuking the Christians for thinking they had supplanted the Jews.

He says: “I would be willing to be cut off from Christ permanently if my people could be reconciled and brought back in” – which one of you would willingly give up your salvation to save others…

and then (paraphrasing)…

“You Gentiles are the wild olive branches that have been grafted in” so you have no basis for being arrogant.

The truth then, and the truth now, is that many Jews don’t believe in Jesus because of the church. Not because of Jesus.

This conversion story has a call that comes with a commission. Paul was not just called to be a follower of Jesus but commissioned to be part of the ministry of the body of Christ. This is true for everybody. Paul and Peter’s missions were not geographically exclusive. It wasn’t a turf war. Paul, Peter, and Apollos were all part of the same team ministering in the same cities.

There’s not always a crisis point that leads to conversion. Sometimes it’s a process that takes time. Your conversion does not need to replicate what happened to Saul. It’s like labour – some are short, some are long, some are painful – in the end a new creature is born. There are a variety of patterns of conversion in Acts. It’s a mistake to schematise what our God personalises.

The eyes have it: sight as the thorn in Paul’s flesh

Galatians (Paul’s earliest work) 4:12-15: “I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong. 13As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. 14Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. 15What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.”

What is this about? Ben thinks Paul had ongoing eye problems. When you have a vision you’re supposed to report what you saw, and Paul, on the Damascus “heard” the Lord Jesus. “See with what large letters I write my name” why did Paul write in large letters and need a scribe? What was the stake in his flesh? A physical problem that was chronic but did not effect his ministry. In the ancient world the eyes were seen as the windows to the soul – bad eyes meant a bad soul. Ancient peoples didn’t believe that the eyes were a receptacle of light but the things through which the soul projected…

Paul says, when I came to you you did not condemn me, and did not spit (which was the appropriate cultural response to the “evil eye”… the Galatians didn’t judge Paul on that basis.

Why did Paul need a personal physician on his missionary journeys? Because he had a condition that was not fatal but needed treatment all the time.

Why did the Corinthians say his letters were powerful but his presence weak? He had an ethos problem – his eyes. They weren’t impressed with his appearance. But his words were powerful.

The Roman soldier who was first up the wall was given incredible honour – when Paul escapes persecution via the basket lowered down a wall he claims to have been “first down the wall” an inverted version of Roman honour.

The early letters of Paul are not the early thoughts of Paul – they’re letters from the experienced Paul. Years after his conversion. It seems that Paul laboured in the vineyard for many years before seeing any results.

Ben draws a parallel between Jacob and his post wrestle itch (from Genesis) and the purpose it served as a reminder – and Paul’s continued malady. This doesn’t mesh with prosperity/health gospels – and many prominent and influential Christian ministers and thinkers have died of diseases or suffered chronic ill health. We can’t link prosperity and faith.

Closing points (of sorts)

Luke’s lithmus test for salvation is the Spirit – there is no Christian without the Holy Spirit – we can only tell if someone has the Spirit or not by their words and conduct. Water baptism does not save (or do anything).

Tongues (angelic language) are a legitimate and biblical gift (not found in Acts 2 – but mentioned later).

The Holy Spirit’s job is to convict, convince, convert. It will always point people towards Jesus.

Our gifts are for the benefits of others. The fruit of the Spirit is for the nourishing of the body. There is one fruit of the Spirit – not many. In the Greek. These fruits are meant to be present in all Christians. The fruit of the spirit is about character renovation, the gifts are about ministry. There’s not a necessary link between gifts and maturity. Gifts should be exercised by the mature. If you can’t speak the truth in love you need to stop speaking it. Your character is more important than your gifting. Christianity is more often caught than taught.

“The most important ministry you can have is not the songs (etc) that come from your mouth but the fruits that come from your life.”

The Spirit in the Book of Acts, above all other things, is the spirit of mission and evangelism. All the other achievements of the Spirit (eg healing) are peripheral to that mission.

We’re doing a bit of a mini-subject on apologetics this semester as part of a weekly “preparations for ministry” session.

Yesterday’s session featured Bruce Winter sharing some insights on the important discipline of apologetics garnered from his extensive studies on Paul and his culture, and from his experience as an apologist in Singapore and while working as an academic in England (Cambridge).

Here are my notes:

Every Christian is required to be ready to give a reason to the hope that lies within them.

It’s interesting that the word there – apologia – goes beyond the idea of giving some answer. Stoic philosophers used apologia to argue their case while interacting in a substantial way with the mindset of the people they’re addressing.

How are we going to engage in apologia with people in the 21st century? Two Ways To Live isn’t going to work for everybody. We see from the way that Paul tackles apologetics that he engages the culture around him.

We need to engage the audience and move around their world – Paul’s letter to the Romans is a great apologia that removes objections to the gospel – objections that come from the mindset of people living in first century Rome.

Paul argues that we need to pull down every argument against God both within and outside the church – he talks about demolishing the stronghold of people’s ideas contrary to God, he distinguishes between the argument and the person. Paul demolishes and reconstructs these arguments “captive to Christ.

Acts 17 is a good example, and a good paradigm, of Paul connecting with the audience and their expectations and producing converts. This is the parliament of Athens.

Five things to learn from Paul to connect and engage with people’s world. This message needs to engage the thought world of the people around it.

  1. We have to connect our message with the audience we’re speaking to – Paul connects – he makes the connections the audience required (in introducing a new God to the council – eg the building of a temple, holy days/sacrifices), he also uses their culture (eg the statue of the unknown god) to engage.
  2. We have to structure our message in a way that provides a hearing for the gospel - The framework we present the gospel in changes based on the audience – talking to sciency people requires a different presentation to talking to people from different religious backgrounds. The main aim is that people hear the gospel connected to their world.
  3. Know how to connect the message, and know what it needs to correct – Paul knows that people need the gospel, but he also knows what the objections to it are, and he addresses them with the correction of the gospel.
  4. Converse with their world – it’s remarkable when you read historical sources talking about the nature of God and compare it to the way Paul quotes their arguments and poets/philosophers in his apologia. He understands their world, their language, and their issues. Paul is even able to point out inconsistencies in their current thinking and actions (they talk about the nature of Gods not living in temples made by man, but visit temples – Paul points out they aren’t living up to their basic beliefs and teachings.) He’s read the literature. He knows their teaching. He is well able to bring them to that point through the quotations of their poets.
  5. He confronts his audience - Paul doesn’t steer clear of the topic of God’s judgment and the predicament that places his audience in. God’s judgment coupled with God’s amnesty (he calls on all people, everywhere, to repent). Paul doesn’t compromise. He’s not prepared to negotiate on the fixed points that his audience was bound to be opposed to. It’s a different worldview.  Paul’s sermon in Acts 17 converts people from those opposing points of view and philosophy.

Some questions to ask regarding our approach:

  • How are we going to talk to different audiences?
  • How do we talk to those dealing with the certain uncertainty of death?
  • How do we connect with their views and preconceptions about Christianity and the world?
  • How can we talk to them about their world?
  • How do we talk to affluent people who think they have everything? Their question is different – “what’s missing?” – “what is it?” How do we raise the issue of the gospel in a way that articulates this need in a way they might never have considered?

A question to prompt thought in others is: If you had your life over again how would you do things differently? Everybody is fundamentally aware that they do the wrong thing at least occasionally.

We’re not dealing with blanks slates but people who have spent their lives deliberately ignoring (and justifying ignoring) general revelation. Romans 2 suggests that it’s our conscience that judges us as we face God at judgment day – so the question “how can God…” is irrelevant.

This is a proud moment for the Campbell family. The first academic paper to be presented by any of our line for eons, possibly the first ever. Dad has had this idea germinating for some time, so I’m really proud to be sitting here listening to its presentation.

A precis of the argument goes a little something like this:

In Pauline epistles, particularly Galatians, Ephesians, Philipians and Colossians, Paul deliberately employs the pronouns “us” and “you” to distinguish between Jewish Christians (us) and Gentile Christians (you). Commentators have suggested this might be a stylistic alternation. Which doesn’t make as much theological sense as reading the letters as addressing Jewish and Gentile Christians in different passages.

He’s following DWB Robinson, who in 1963, suggested that Paul used “the saints” to refer to Jewish Christians.

Paul consistently uses “we” or “us” language to talk about past bondage to the law. Galatians 3 is a key passage where this reading makes sense. There are plenty of corroborative passages where the language switches from you to us when Paul starts talking about the law. This doesn’t go the other way (from us to you).

Paul more often uses “you” to talk about being foreign to God, or not knowing God, being worldly or uncircumcised.

Passages with a we/you parallelism read better read in this light.

Galatians 2:15 provides an interpretive key “we who are Jews by birth,” while Ephesians 2:11 says “you who are gentiles by flesh.” There are a couple more instances of each of these distinctions.

So who are the saints?

All Christians? Spiritual beings?

After surveying the gospels, Revelation and the Epistles, Robinson found that the use of the term refers to Christians, and particularly Jewish Christians, and mostly the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.

Robinson on Colossians 1:

“This means that we have an inheritance which ‘you‘ have been counted worthy to share. And ‘we‘ are ‘the saints’.

Robinson suggests the flow of Paul’s logic is:

  1. We, the saints, have enjoyed the blessings of God’s covenant fulfilment in Christ.
  2. You, the Gentiles, have been invited to join us.
  3. Now we, together, are united in Christ

Ephesians 1-2 Case Study

Paul spends chapter 1 claiming the privileges of Jewish Christians. The key comes in verse 12 “we who were the first to hope in Christ.” Paul develops a parallel between the Jews and Gentiles in 1:3-12 and 1:13-14. As a result the Gentiles are to have love for the saints (v 15).

The same logic and contrasts continue in chapter 2. You Gentiles were dead in your sins (2:1), we Jews were also dead (2:4).

In Ephesians 2:6 Paul fuses the two together into one category – using the same prefix on the verbs “made alive,” “raised,” and “seated” (the prefix translates as “together”).

Implications

This idea has some implications for some pretty major doctrines.

  1. Predestination – If Ephesians 1′s “we” refers to the saints of Israel being elected before creation where does that leave us?
  2. A new approach to Christians and the Law – Our position with regards to the previous efficacy of the law (or lack of position) rarely comes into consideration because we often read the OT as Christian prehistory.
  3. A fresh insight into the Spirit – Reading 3:14 and 4:6 in parallel suggests that the role of the Spirit post Pentecost is linked to the Gentile mission.
  4. A need to nuance “every member ministry” – The popular notion of “every member ministry” built on Ephesians 4:11-12 needs to be reconsidered in this light.
  5. A revised view of the Old Testament as Christian prehistory – we don’t need to see ourselves in terms of the struggle of removing ourselves from the curse of the law (our problem, as slaves to sin, was deeper).
  6. A revised Old Testament hermeneutic – Our desire to identify with Israel rather than the gentile nations (like the Philistines) might be misplaced.
  7. Evidence for common authorship of Galatians, Ephesians and Colossians – you may not be aware, but a bunch of academics don’t think Paul wrote these anymore – this theologically consistent use of the pronouns throughout these epistles suggests common authorship.

From the PR point of view this idiom is pretty stupid. Some publicity is not good publicity, but in terms of establishing a brand you could argue that Paul fathered this idea in his letter to the Philippians, in chapter 1:18…

15Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

Paul really was awesome. I’m writing an essay about the early church which is turning into an essay on the church in Corinth. Which has brought me to the point where I am arguing that Paul borrowed from some structures that existed in the first century in order to not be too much of a Christian weirdo – but that he was very keen not to borrow the easiest structures – the one where he’d be some big noting keynote speaker who crowds would flock to see. That seems to be the desire of the Corinthian church for Paul. And he’s at his most vitriolic when he’s correcting that expectation. This is from 2 Corinthians 11 and 12. I love the bit in parenthesis in verse 23…

5But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” 6I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.  7Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge?

12And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. 13For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

16I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. 21To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!

What anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

30If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.

Refreshing and inspiring at the same time. This is why Paul makes the grade in my ten Bible stories for boys… though he probably wouldn’t want to…