(a) The 'informed audience' - 'a person who knows the original context of every one of Paul's quotations and is willing to engage in critical dialogue with Paul about his handling of the biblical text' (68).
(b) The 'competent audience' - the 'hypothetical person who knows just enough of the Jewish Scriptures to grasp the point of Paul's quotations in their current rhetorical context' (68).
(c) The 'minimal audience' - '...people in this category were aware of the high degree of respect given to the Scriptures in Christian circles. As a result, they would have been inclined to take seriously any argument that claimed to be grounded in the biblical text. But their ability to follow the argument of a passage laced with quotations would have been limited' (69).
Monday, December 24, 2007
Following on from our previous post on “Contextual Hermeneutics” I have found two posts that also deal with this issue. Nijay Gupta writes on A Couple of Disturbing Trends in Pauline Scholarship. This is followed by Matthew Montonini’s post Were Paul's Audiences Scripturally Illiterate?
Both posts propose issues that I’d like to discuss further. Gupta suggests “What we do know is that the encoded/implied reader was quite savvy with Scripture.” While Matthew outlines the position of Chris Stanley in his book Arguing with Scripture: The Rhetoric of Quotations in the Letters of Paul (T & T Clark, 2004). Stanley offers three different proposed audiences:
Both posts deal with the question we raised in our first post on Contextual Hermeneutics. How much background information can we assume in any of Paul’s churches? Views that suggest an “informed” or “competent” audience appear to be more assumption than demonstration. More discussion needs to take place on factors that could determine what the audiences capabilities were.
Instead of discussing the broad outlines of each view, let us take the specific example of the Thessalonian community. How plausible is it, that a congregation established a few months ago would be either an “informed audience” or a “competent audience”? Thus, for a specific example I alluded to, 1 Thess 4:4 and the understanding of skeuos is still relevant. Would Paul have expected his readers to pick up on the supposed allusion to 1 Sam 21:5, as commentators have? Or would Paul be working with a more rabbinic background understanding? Or did Paul simply choose a word that was multifaceted?
In this case, it seems more likely to me, that the Thessalonian church would be classified as a “minimal audience”. It appears a priori implausible to suggest that recent Gentile converts were “savvy with scripture”. I’m quite happy to concede that the Thessalonians were a ‘minimal audience’ with a respect for the Scriptures. I’m even happy to concur with the notion of formal scripture readings in the community, and leaders in the community reading the LXX. But this would definitely not amount to the audience being informed or competent in the Scriptures. Not after such a short time.
Thinking wider therefore, what we probably have reflected before us in the Pauline churches are various stages of these three categories. Perhaps some in the Galatian churches would have been “informed” community members. It seems likely that Rome would have had a competent audience, if not an informed one.
But can we suppose any at Thessalonica? I’m not convinced.
 Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, pg. 51 n.59
 Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, pg. 227