Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Audience competance and Paul's intentions

How do we determine whether Paul is intentionally alluding to various scriptures (and or Jewish interpretive traditions of these) where some (or many) scholars believe he is?

It is often thought that an awareness of the scripture knowledge of the specific audiences to which Paul writes (including 2nd Temple Jewish literature and interpretive traditions) will assist us in establishing this, but I have some doubts. The general line of thought is as follows: if the recipients of a particular letter are unlikely to detect and/or understand a particular "allusion" to scripture within the letter because they are not sufficiently familiar with the scripture alluded to, then it is unlikely that Paul intended such an "allusion".

Apart from the difficulty in establishing the general amount and nature of scripture knowledge and the amount and nature of scriptural knowledge in specific churches, this line of thought rests on the twin premises that Paul is sensitive to the scripture knowledge of his audiences and so places constraints on his references to them (including "allusions") in his writing. As far as I know these are assumptions lacking explicit evidence in his writings (Could 1 Peter 3.15-16 refer at least in part to scriptural allusions?). Furthermore, what amount of scripture knowledge did Paul feel constrained to, and how would we determine this? Did he know, assume, or expect that there would be those present at readings of his letters with adequate scripture knowledge (perhaps the 'informed' or 'competent audience' in Chris Stanley's terminology) who could point out or explain references to the scriptures?


Richard Fellows said...


I don't think I have an answer to this question. However, it seems to me that if the readers were former God-fearers, then they might have quite a bit of knowledge of scripture. One reason to believe that they were God-fearers is that Acts 18:8 seems to take it for granted that the readers would understand that the converts were God-fearers. In this verse the conversion of Crispus the synagogue ruler led to the conversion of many others. It makes sense that Crispus would carry many of the congregation of God-fearers with him.

J. Matthew Barnes said...

What sort of reconstruction would make sense of Paul's use of Scripture if his audience had no knowledge of it? And if they had no knowledge of Scripture, why would Paul have included so many quotations, allusions, and echoes?

If (and this is a big if) the churches had Scripture-literate members then they could share what Paul meant with the others. And as Richard points out, there were probably people who understood Scripture in most of the churches.

I can't imagine a scenario where Paul would have used Scripture the way he did if he didn't think someone would be able to understand him. He was much too practical for that!