Saturday, December 22, 2012

μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα :: One-Woman-Man

The phrase μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα in 1 Tim 3:2 has often been misunderstood and used in inappropriate ways. The phrase literally refers to a “one-women-man.” While some have suggested polygamy as the background, this is unlikely.[1] It is also unlikely that this refers to the requirement for an overseer to have a wife.  Rather, many scholars take this as a reference to marital faithfulness, understanding this as the quality of relationships expected from those who are married.[2]

I would like to suggest that the counterpart in 1 Tim 5:9 adds to the probability of this interpretation. In 5:9 Paul refers to ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς γυνη, literally a “one-man-women.” In the first century women were not allowed to have multiple husbands or partners. Next, the context of chapter five is a discussion of widows (χήρα). The phrase must therefore refer to the quality of relationship experienced between the widow and her now deceased husband. To be accepted as a widow on the list, the widow must have been faithful in her marital relationship.

Thus, in 3:2, where Paul is discussing the character of leaders, it does not refer to the marital status required for those who are overseers, but rather the quality of relationship expected from those who are or were married. And thus, it refers to fidelity in marriage. This fits well with the whole section which focuses more on character qualifications than on status.

Douglas Moo acknowledges that this phrase need not exclude “unmarried men or females from the office … it would be going too far to argue that the phrase clearly excludes women….”[3] Thomas Schreiner acknowledges, “The requirements for elders in 1 Tim 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9, including the statement that they are to be one-woman men, does not necessarily in and of itself preclude women from serving as elders….”[4]

This is consistent with the argument above which notes that the most plausible explanation is to take the phrase μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα as a reference to marital fidelity.

[1] Although, S. M. Baugh, “Titus,” in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary ed. C. E. Arnold (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 3:501-2, suggests that this may be a directive prohibiting men from having concubines, and thus committing adultery, which amounts to polygamy.

[2] Sydney Page, “Marital Expectations of Church Leaders in the Pastoral Epistles,” JSNT 50 (1993): 105-20 and Towner 250-51 n. 42.

[3] Douglas J. Moo, “The Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11–15: A Rejoinder,” Trinity Journal 2 NS (1981): 198–222, 211.

[4] Thomas R. Schreiner’s “Philip Payne on Familiar Ground: A Review of Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters.” JBMW (Spring 2010): 33–46, 35.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Thematic Study

Perusing Ruth Anne Reese's exceptional commentary on 2 Peter & Jude for an upcoming lecture, I noticed this helpful commen on thematic study. 
         Themes, like dances, are recognizable patterns that serve as identifying markers for a text and help the reader make sense out of the whole of a given work. Themes may start from a particular point and work out variations on that point just as a folk dance may start with one series of steps and then reorder them to form a different pattern that still consists of the same steps. Themes are usually emphasized more than once in the whole of a work and often constitute a large part of the work. Like the variation of steps in a particular dance, themes give a text a unique shape even when the themes are common to other works, whether canonical or non-canonical. 
         The task of identifying themes asks the reader to work with the whole of the text and to draw connections that run through the length of it. This can be a quite different task from traditional exegesis, which often focuses on individual verses, sentences, phrases, and words and the history behind these. A thematic approach is concerned with the unity of an individual text and sees issues such as sources as secondary to the goal of identifying themes. Often the reader who is interested in thematic exploration can start with the main points of the introductory material and then attempt to see whether and/or how those points are supported in the rest of the text. However, even this beginning point is worth revisiting. Small points that may have been overlooked in the first reading of the introductory material can gain new significance in light of the middle or end of the book. Pursuing the themes of a particular work is one step in the theological task (exegesis in its more traditional form is another) as it pushes the reader to look for broad structures, and this can later be pressed and varied further into the canonical and then practical theological dance. Ruth Anne Reese, 2 Peter & Jude. THNTC. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 75.
My students will be working with the letter of James this week, trying to discern the various themes that emerge from that stunning piece.  It's amazing how often the opening chapter of a work will allude to if not directly state many central themes in a work. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why Complementarians are Wrong about 1 Tim 2:12

I recently participated in a conversation about Women in Leadership, and the focus was on Women in the New Testament, and especially 1 Timothy 2:12. 

During the discussion I noticed something that I've not realised before.  Paul's injunction, I am permitting no woman to teach or to dominate a man, is a blanket statement with no exceptions provided.  This is not the way complementarians understand this verse.  Complementarians understand this verse to mean that women are not allowed to teach men, but ἀνδρός, is a separate part of the statement relating to αὐθεντεῖν, and Paul does not say that women are not allowed to teach men, but rather that they are not allowed teach, as well as not being allowed to dominate men.

We are stuck with two options.  Either this blanket prohibition forms a contradiction with a passage like Titus 2:3, where women are to teach what is good (καλοδιδασκάλους); or we understand that this is a contextually determined statement, and the women are not to teach in this situation because they are part of the problem of spreading heresy (1 Tim 5:13-15; 2 Tim 3:6), and thus they are instructed to learn (μανθανέτω). 

The more I read the Pastoral Epistles, the more I am convinced this is a highly contextual letter, and attempts to read it without reference to the socio-historical context are dangerously misleading. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Romans 1 and Same-Sex Marriage for Christians

I was recently asked to participate in a panel discussion on same-sex marriage from a Christian perspective.  More specifically, I was asked to comment on this issue from Romans 1.  Given the popular nature of the discussion, I had to be very careful with the way I phrased things, and so I ended up with the following notes which guided what I said.  I'd appreciate any thoughts or responses. 


The Letter of Romans: Two Stories

Paul’s letter to the Romans tells two stories. The first one begins right at the beginning, in 1:1-16. The first thing to realise, is that first story is the story of good news and it is God’s good news. It is the story of God, who has had a vision for humanity all along. And God made promises to certain individuals and nations, which were told through his messengers in the holy Scriptures. And God’s climactic plan, is ultimately and fully realised in the coming of God’s own Son. This Son was an heir to the people of God through King David. But his true identity as God’s son, was boldly indicated and validated through the resurrection of Jesus by God’s Spirit. And this news is for the whole world, because God’s promises relate to the whole world. And thus everyone is invited to participate in God’s restorative vision for the whole cosmos, and especially humanity - that group that is called to represent Him to others and creation. The story also tells of Paul, who is a slave (a metaphor of pure allegiance and devotion) to God’s purposes and also the Roman churches, who have embraced this fantastic news about who God is, and what God is doing.

BUT - to fully realise the extent of God’s covenant faithfulness to humanity, one has to tell the darker side of this story. The story of how humanity lost its way. And that is the topic of 1:18-32. This is the story of how things are NOT meant to be. It is a tragic story of exchanging truth for lies, of exchanging hope for despair, and of the distortion of God’s creative efforts and design for humanity.

God’s response to humanities disregard for his design and intention is not to enforce his wil. Rather God’s response is to allow us the freedom to make our own decisions, even though God himself is calling and inviting humanity into another way of life. God warns that there are consequences for disregarding his pattern and design, and that is why Paul gives a list of 22 or more, different activities that show that humanity has departed from God’s way. Doing evil, covetousness, malice; being full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, gossiping, slanderers, God-haters, insolence, haughtiness, boastfulness, inventors of evil, rebellion toward parents, foolishness, faithlessness, heartless, ruthless.

Yes, Paul does mention same-sex activity a few verses earlier (he had no clue what an “orientation” was, he was interested in practices that distort God’s design). However, Paul is not focussing on one group of individuals, but rather telling the story of the many and varied activities that humans do that are contrary to God’s design. By including all these vices, Paul reminds us that, “we all have sinned, and done what is wrong in his sight,” and we all have to make changes to our lives. AND there is NO-ONE that is morally superior to anyone else. We are all broken human beings, being called by God back together, so that together we can become a mosaic of God’s gracious intervention, so that we rebuild, and re-imagine ourselves as God’s image bearers walking in the trajectory of Christ.

And that is what the book of Romans sets out to do. So that sets the context in which to analyse Paul’s statements regarding same-sex activity.

Romans 1:26-27 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.

The most important element of this discussion is what Paul means by “natural” and “unnatural.” He is not referring to genetics but rather to God’s design for humanity and creation. God’s natural design is for one man and one women to be brought together into a covenantal relationship of mutual benefit and edification. Unnatural activity is thus anything that goes against this design.

I want to read you two quotes. The first is from Dan O. Via, a New Testament scholar.
Perhaps most importantly he regards same-sex relations as contrary to nature (1:26-27), contrary to the order of the world as created by God.
The second quote is from Luke Timothy Johnson, a New Testament scholar.

There is no need to belabour the obvious point that the classification of same-sex intercourse among vices is characteristic of Paul (Rom. 1:24-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). The issue in regard to such texts and the present-day struggle of communities with homosexuality is not so much an exegetical as a hermeneutical one.
I am not quoting these two scholars just because they agree with what I've said above.  I am quoting them because both Johnson and Via argue for acceptability of same-sex relationships. They do so not on the basis of any ambiguity in Scripture. They both concur that scripture is clear in its injunction against same-sex activity. They do so on the basis that they do not deem these passages relevant to contemporary Christian ethics.

Whereas I would argue, that the Genesis stories set the trajectory for human relationships, confirmed and validated by Jesus in his discussions of marriage, and negatively illustrated by the variety of New Testament authors which note where and how humanity has departed from God’s design. And we cannot just pick and choose which parts of God’s vision we want to embrace.

So what does this have to do with a conversation on same-sex marriage? Well, if Scripture prohibits a key activity that would consummate a marriage between two people, then it follows that for Christians who accept the authority of Scripture, it is not possible to be in same-sex marriage.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Arsenokoités - ἀρσενοκοίτης - Responding to Dale Martin #3

3. Usage and Meaning

Martin draws attention to its various usages in various contexts and claims that these contexts provide the interpretive clues to understanding this term. Martin cites one example where the term is found, “among vices related to economic injustice or exploitation.” And that is in the Jewish writing, Sibylline Oracles. Martin suggests that the term relates to some kind of economic exploitation relating to sex, but not necessarily homosexual activity. How Martin arrives at his understanding that this word pertains to sex, without appealing to some etymological understanding, we are not told. Furthermore, John J. Collins, an expert on the Sibylline Oracles suggests no hesitation in understanding, and translates, μὴ ἀρσενοκοιτεῖν, categorically as, “Do not practice homosexuality” (Sib. Or. 2:73).  When there are other ambiguous words in this writing, Collins provides some comment. But with regards to ἀρσενοκοίτης, he does not. This suggests that there is no ambiguity with regards to the meaning of this word. And contextual factors are obscured by the fact that this writing contains various interpolations that may have separated this section from its original context.

Next Martin appeals to the Acts of John, and makes the kind of argument that this relates to some kind of economic exploitation because it does not occur in contexts which discuss other sexual sins. However, what Martin fails to disclose is the context of the passage, and how critical editions of the Acts of John have translated this particular passage. J. K. Elliott’s, The Apocryphal New Testament, which provides a critical translation of these texts, offers the following translation: “In like manner the poisoner, sorcerer, robber, defrauder, sodomite, thief, and all who belong to that band, accompanied by your works you shall go into the fire that never shall be quenched, to utter darkness, to the pit of torture, and to external damnation” (Acts of John 36). The context is one of the apostle John pronouncing judgement on the men of Ephesus for various activities which shall incur the wrath of God. The list which contains various activities which are illustrative of pagan society that has rejected God and thus shall face judgement. The list is reminiscent of Romans 1:18-32, which is a standard Jewish critique of pagan practice culminating in a pronouncement of judgement by God.

What Martin fails to note, and we may only speculate why, is the specific Christian contexts in which this word is found. 1 Cor. 6:9, issues a list of activities that, if characteristic of the Christian life, will mean a forfeiting of God’s kingdom. In this list Paul appeals to several sexual sins, πόρνοι (illicit sexual activity); μοιχοὶ (adultery); μαλακοὶ (passive homosexual practice); ἀρσενοκοῖται (active homosexual practice). The context here is clearly sexual sins that if habitually practiced will entail a forfeiting of God’s kingdom.

Then, the list in 1 Tim 1:10, is prefaced by a statement affirming the goodness of Torah (1 Tim. 1:9), and then Paul offers a list that echoes various elements of the Torah, and perhaps even the Decalogue. This provides a contextual clue for how Paul understood ἀρσενοκοίται, and confirms the appeal to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. The Mosaic moral code is explicitly appealed to as an aid to instruct those who engage in the list of vices mentioned in these verses. The addition of the phrase, “and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me” (1 Tim 1:10-11), suggests that this list is not exhaustive, but rather illustrative of vices that are destructive for God’s people.
Finally, we may appeal to another specific from the early Christian letter of Polycarp, who writes the following to younger men in the city of Philippi.

Polycarp, Phil. 5:3
Similarly, the younger men must be blameless in all things; they should be concerned about purity above all, reining themselves away from all evil. For it is good to be cut off from the sinful desires in the world, because every sinful desire wages war against the Spirit, and neither fornicators nor me who have sex with men (whether as the passive or as the active partner - οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται) will inherit the kingdom of God, nor will those who do perverse things. Therefore one must keep away from all these things and be obedient to the presbyters and deacons as to God and Christ. The young women must maintain a pure and blameless conscience.

The context given here is specifically that of sexual desires and activities that may defile the community. Polycarp appeals to the congregation to have self-control concerning these desires, and in a passage reminiscent of 1 Cor. 6:9, warns of the devastating consequences of those who participate in such activities.

Why has Martin not mentioned these contexts in his contextual analysis? Is it because it radically undermines his case that the word relates to economic exploitation? His case rests on one contextual case from the Sibylline Oracles which is plagued with textual issues, and experts who offer no comment on the supposed ambiguity of the word; one reference from the Acts of John, which does not help his case; and finally the avoidance of counter-evidence which directly undermines his case. Martin’s contextual argument has not been demonstrated, and fails to convince. Rather, a contextual analysis confirms the etymological analysis provided above, that this word was created with reference to Lev. 18:22 and 20:13, with which most scholars agree. Furthermore, this fits accurately within the context of Second Temple Judaism, with its overwhelming critique of homosexual practice.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Arsenokoités - ἀρσενοκοίτης - Responding to Dale Martin #2b

At this point we must cite the conclusion of Dan O. Via, a New Testament scholar who advocates for homosexual unions. 

I believe that Hays is correct in holding that arsenokoitēs refers to a man who engages in same-sex intercourse (Hays 1997, 97). The term is a compound of the words for “male” (arsēn) and “bed” (koitē) and thus could naturally be taken to mean a man who goes to bed with other men. True the meaning of a compound word does not necessarily add up to the sum of its parts (Martin 119). But in this case I believe the evidence suggests that it does. In the Greek version of the two Leviticus passages that condemn male homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13) a man is not to lie with a male as with a woman each text contains both the words arsēn and koitē. First Cor 6:9-10 simply classifies homosexuality as a moral sin that finally keeps one out of the kingdom of God.
Dan O. Via and Robert A. J. Gagnon, Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 13.

Thus, there is no ideological bias here.  Our quest here is historical accuracy, with little thought for the practical consequences that follow from the conclusions reached. 

Arsenokoités - ἀρσενοκοίτης - Responding to Dale Martin #2

2. Etymology

ἀρσενοκοίτης is a compound word which is derived from two words, ἄρσην (male) and κοίτη (a bed; sexual promiscuity). To decipher it’s meaning, it would be helpful to look at other similar compound words. Wright provides a list of various compound words which have the -χοίτης suffix. These are, χλεψιχοίτης, refers to someone seeking illicit sex; δουλοχοίτης, refers to sexual relations with slaves; μητροκοίτης, to sexual relations with one’s mother; πολυχοίτoς, sexual relations with many people; and ἀνδρoχοίτoς, one who has sex with a man. These compounds are important to note, because they offer direct evidence against Martin, who claims that, “It is highly precarious to try to ascertain the meaning of a word by taking it apart, getting the meanings of its component parts, and then assuming, with no supporting evidence, that the meaning of the longer word is a simple combination of its component parts.” All of the above compound words gain their meaning from their component parts and thus do provide supporting evidence that there were many variations of the -χοίτoς, group that gained their meaning from their component parts. Thus Martin’s appeal to an etymological fallacy on the part of those who take this as a reference to same-sex activity is mistaken.

Wright’s list of compound words lists ἀνδρoχοίτoς, one who has sex with a man. This raises the question about why Paul used ἀρσενοκοίτης instead of ἀνδρoχοίτoς. The reason for this is clear when we see the origin of ἀρσενοκοίτης.

Lev. 18:22
  •  καὶ μετὰ ἄρσενος οὐ κοιμηθήσῃ κοίτην γυναικός βδέλυγμα γάρ ἐστιν
  • You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
Lev. 20:13
  •  ὃς ἂν κοιμηθῇ μετὰ ἄρσενος κοίτην γυναικός βδέλυγμα ἐποίησαν ἀμφότεροι θανατούσθωσαν ἔνοχοί εἰσιν
  • If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.
As you can see, the bold/underlined parts of the Greek phrase are strikingly similar, almost exactly so, to the word ἀρσενοκοίτης.  Hence, most scholars take this as the idiom from which the word ἀρσενοκοίτης was coined. As Wright notes, “If, as seems likely, the ἀρσενοκοίτ- group of words is a coinage of Hellenistic Judaism or Hellenistic Jewish Christianity, the probability that the LXX provides the key to their meaning is strengthened.” Thus, the component parts of the word contribute to its meaning, and the LXX references to Leviticus provide the origin and context of this specific word, both suggest that the meaning relates to male homosexual activity.
We may now explore whether there are further reasons to accept this basic understanding, or whether it gained some specific nuanced meanings in other contexts.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Arsenokoités - ἀρσενοκοίτης - Responding to Dale Martin #1

In this brief section I will offer critical comments on the meaning and usage of ἀρσενοκοίτης (and cognates), as well as a critical interaction with the proposal of Dale Martin.

1. Lexical Definitions

The first place to begin any serious investigation of biblical texts, is with the original languages. This raises several questions of interpretation and nuance in understanding the semantic range of particular words under consideration. When faced with the complexities of New Testament linguistic investigation, the student of these scriptures has several standard tools which have been tested through decades of scholarship and remain the standard and primary reference tools for scholars. These resources are periodically updated to keep up to date with the latest in scholarship, and they also represent a wide variety of ideological views, thus eliminating biased approaches. The quickest way to identity linguistic ambiguity in a given word, is to see the semantic range given by the various lexicons and dictionaries.

If there was ambiguity with the word ἀρσενοκοίτης, we would see this ambiguity reflected in the definitions offered by the following representative lexicons and dictionaries.

• BDAG, “A male who engages in sexual activity with a person of his own sex.”

• Louw-Nida, “Male partner in homosexual intercourse – ‘homosexual.’”

• Balz & Schneider, “Referring to a male who engages in sexual activity with men or boys.”

• NIDNTT, “male homosexual, pederast, sodomite.”

• LSJ, “lying with men, N.T.”

• Gingrich, “one who engages in same-sex activity, sodomite, pederast.”

There is no ambiguity mentioned in any of the lexicons above, and these are the standard tools for academic lexical, philogical and semantic analysis. The only lexicon to offer any semantic range beyond that of same-sex activity, is Louw-Nida which suggests that, “It is possible that ἀρσενοκοίτης in certain contexts refers to the active male partner in homosexual intercourse in contrast with μαλακός, the passive male partner (88.281).”  Note, it says that it is possible, not that it always works like this.  Bruce Winter has provided a substantial argument for this position in 1 Cor. 6:9 [See B. W. Winter, After Paul Left Corinth]. 

Next we'll offer a critique of Martin's appeal to the etymological fallacy. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

my new daily prayer

O God, the fountain of all wisdom, in a deep sense of my own ignorance, and of that great charge which lies upon me, I am constrained to come often before You, from Whom I have learned whatever I know, to ask that help without which I shall disquiet myself in vain; most humbly beseeching You to guide me with Your eye; to enlighten my mind, that I may both see for myself and teach others the wonders of Your law; that I may learn from You what I ought to think and speak concerning You.

Direct and bless all the labours of my mind, give me a discerning spirit, a sound judgment, and an honest and faithful heart. And grant that , in all my studies, my first aim may be to set forth Your glory, and the salvation of humankind; that I may give a good account of my time at that great day, when all our labours shall be tried.

And if You are pleased that by my ministry sinners shall be converted, and Your kingdom enlarged, give me the grace of humility, that I may never ascribe the success to myself, but to Your Holy Spirit, Who enables me to will and to do according to Your good pleasure.

Grant this, O Father of all light and truth, for the sake of Jesus Christ.


Thomas Wilson
J.W. Doberstein (ed.) The Minister’s Prayer Book (Fortress, 1986), pp. 154-55 (slightly adapted).

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Contextual Summary on Why Paul Prohibited Women Teaching in 1 Tim 2:12

Paul’s letter to Timothy and it’s various instructions must be understood within the context within which it was written. The letter itself provides most of the evidence needed to reconstruct the problem, and understand Paul’s instructions within that context. Paul is writing to Timothy to deal with a serious problem of false teaching and those who are spreading it (1:3-4; 6-7; 19-20). A careful reading of the letters to Timothy reveal that Paul describes these false teachers in strikingly similar ways to the way certain women are described.

In 1:4, the problem is various “myths” (μύθοις) and in 4:7 “myths” (μύθους) characterise some of the old women. In 1:4, the false teachers “promote controversies” and in 5:14 the widows are instructed not to give an enemy opportunity for slander, with 3:11 stating “women must … not be malicious talkers.” Then in 1:6 “some persons (τινες) want to be teachers of the law but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.” While in 2:14 Paul notes that, “the woman are thoroughly deceived.”

The problem is acutely stated in 1 Tim 5:13 which describes certain women as, “going about from house to house… talking nonsense, saying things they ought not …” The same situation is described in 2 Tim 3:6-7, where the writer notes that there are those, “who make their way into households and take captive ignorant women.” In 4:1: “some persons (τινες) will follow deceiving spirits of things taught by demons” and in 5:15 “already some [younger widows] have turned away to follow Satan.” They have, according to 5:11 “set aside their first faith.”

Thus when Paul states the problem in the opening verse 1:3: “certain persons (τισὶν) teach false doctrines” he has in mind that there are false teachers who have persuaded certain women to believe their false teaching and they are now spreading that false teaching. Paul’s response to this is clear in 2:11, “let a woman receive instruction with submissiveness … without disruption” and 2:12: “I am not permitting a woman to teach.” The reason for this is abundantly clear: Women have been deceived, just like the example of Eve in 2:14. Paul’s instruction is that they should receive instruction and not be allowed to presently teach because what they are teaching is false and dangerous. Paul offers a temporary injunction on women teaching so that they can learn the truth of the gospel.

I imagine that after they have learned, they would resume normal teaching responsibilities as did Phoebe in Romans 16:1; Priscilla in Acts 18:26; and implied in her apostolic status, Junia in Romans 16:7.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Social-Prejudice Against Early Christians

Stephen Mitchell in his important book on Anatolia, describes the pressures faced by the audience of 1 Peter and other Christians residing in Asia Minor. 

One cannot avoid the impression that the obstacle which stood in the way of the progress of Christianity, and the force which would have drawn new adherents back to conformity with the prevailing paganism, was the public worship of the emperors... In the urban setting of Pisidian Antioch where spectacular and enticing public festivals imposed conformity and a rhythm of observance on a compact population, where Christians could not (if they wanted to) conceal their beliefs and activities from their fellows, it was not a change of heart that might win a Christian convert back to paganism, but the overwhelming pressure to conform imposed by the institutions of his city and the activities of his neighbours.[1]
1 Pet. 1:6; 2:19, 20; 3:14,17; 4:19; 5:9, gives evidence of Christians facing severe social prejudice and Mitchell's quote alerts us to some of the historical facets that caused such social-prejudice. 

[1] Mitchell, Anatolia, II.10.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Pliny and the Christians - Text and Bibliography

I'm currently working through the letter of Pliny to Trajan concerning the early Christians in Asia Minor.  Below is an excerpt of this letter from the Loeb edition, with a bibliography of literature that I am finding helpful in discerning the issues with using this as evidence for early Christianity, and how one should appropriately understand this text within its socio-historical context. 

If you know of any other resources that should be added to this bibliography, please leave a comment. 

Pliny, Epistles, 10.96
It is a rule, Sir, which I invariably observe, to refer myself to you in all my doubts, for who is more capable of guiding my uncertainty or informing my ignorance?

Having never been present at any of the trials of the Christians, I am unacquainted with the method and limits to be observed either in examining or punishing them, whether any difference is to be made on account of age, or no distinction allowed between the youngest and the adult; whether repentance admits to a pardon, or if a man has been once a Christian it avails him nothing to recant; whether the mere profession of Christianity, albeit without the commission of crimes, or only the charges associated therewith are punishable - on all these points I am in considerable perplexity.

In the meantime, the method I have observed towards those who have been denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were in fact Christians; if they confessed it, I repeated the question twice, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed. For whatever the nature of their beliefs might be, I could at least feel no doubt that determined contumacy and inflexible obstinacy deserved chastisement. There were others also possessed with the same infatuation, but being citizens of Rome, I directed them to be taken to Rome for trial.

These accusations spread (as is usually the case) from the mere fact of the matter being investigated, and several forms of the mischief came to light. A placard was put up, without any signature, accusing a large number of persons by name. Those who denied they were, or had ever been, Christians, and who repeated after me an invocation to the gods, and offered formal worship with libation and frankincense, before your statue, which I had ordered to be brought into the court for that purpose, together with those of the gods, and who finally cursed Christ - none of which acts, it is said, those who are really Christians can be forced into performing - these I thought it proper to discharge. Others who were named by the anonymous informer at first confessed themselves Christians, and then denied it; true, they said, they had been of that persuasion but they had quitted it, some three years, others many years, a few as much as twenty-five years previously. They all worshipped your statue and the images of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to perform any wicked deed, never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called opon to make good; after which it was their custom to separate, then reassemble to partake of food -- but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. Even this practice they had abandoned after the publication of my edict, by which, according to your orders, I had forbidden political associations. I therefore judged it so much the more necessary to extract the truth, with the assistance of torture, from two female slaves, who were styled deaconesses: but I could discover nothing more than depraved and excessive superstition.

I therefore adjourned the proceedings, and betook myself at once to your counsel. For the matter seemed to me to be well worth referring to you -- especially concerning the numbers endangered. Persons of all ranks and ages, and of both sexes are, and will be, involved in the prosecution. For this contagious superstition is not confined to the cities only, but has spread through the villages and rural districts. It seems possible, however, to check and cure it. It is certain at least that the temples, which had been almost deserted, begin now to be frequented; and the sacred festivals, after a long intermission, are again revived; while there is a general demand for sacrificial meat, which for some time past has met with few purchasers. From hence it is easy to imagine what multitudes may be reclaimed from this error, if a door be left open to repentance.

  • Barnes, T. D. “Legislation against the Christians,” The Journal of Roman Studies Vol. 58, Parts 1 and 2 (1968), 32-50.
  • Benko, Stephen Pagan Rome and the Early Christians (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 4-14.
  • de Ste. Croix, G.E.M. Christian Persecution, Martyrdom, and Orthodoxy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 110-12; 124-128.
  • Downing, Gerald, “Pliny's Prosecutions of Christians: Revelation and 1 Peter,” JSNT 34 (1988), 105-23.
  • Fishwick, Duncan, “Pliny and the Christians,” American Journal of Ancient History 9 (1984) 123-130.
  • Harris, Murray. “References to Jesus in Early Classical Authors.” Gospel Perspectives: The Jesus Tradition Outside the Gospels. (Sheffield: JSOT, 1985), 343–68.
  • Knox, J. “Pliny and 1 Peter: A Note on 1 Pet. iv.14–16 and iii.15,” JBL 72 (1953), 187–89.
  • Kraemer, Jr. Casper J. “Pliny and the Early Church Service: Fresh Light from an Old Source,” Classical Philology 29.4 (Oct., 1934), 293-300.
  • Sherwin-White, A.N. The Letters of Pliny: A Historical and Social Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966), 691-712.
  • van Voorst, Robert E. Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 23-29.
  • Wilken, Robert L. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 1-30.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Navigating Life in the Graeco-Roman World as a Christian

In one of the most helpful summaries of Christian engagement and navigation of the Graeco-Roman world, Barrett outlines the specifics of such a negotiation and how the Christians were to be loyal to Christ and yet not abstain from interactions with those outside the Christian family. 

Paul did not ask his converts to come out of the world; he did not even ask them to abstain from non-Christian dinner parties, though he was aware that these could constitute a problem. He did not expect marriages to be broken up on the ground that only one of the partners had become a Christian; Christian and non-Christian (unless the latter took the initiative) should continue to live together. A widow, remarrying, should, however, exercise a Christian choice. Paul could, in the interests of the Gospel, live like a Gentile, and it was possible for unbelievers to find their way into the Christian assembly. On the other hand, Paul warned his readers against the practice of taking part in meals in idol-shrines, and expected them to settle their own disputes without making use of non-Christian courts; and one must remember the moral break made by conversion (1 Cor. vi. 9 ff.), and the separate existence of the church as the community of God's elect (1 Cor. i. 1-9). The position was anything but simple. The Christian was in the world, but must remember that the outward shape of this world is passing away (1 Cor. vii. 29 ff.). He could not but live in the midst of unbelievers, and must live in contact with them since in this way he might hope to save them (see 1 Cor. vii. 16 for a special case); but he himself was a member of the holy people, who would judge the world (1 Cor. vi. 2 f.).[1]

[1] C.K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. (London: A. & C. Black, 1973), 196.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Social Reality of Early Christianity

Meeks describes the social reality of early Christianity when he writes,

Christians had no shrines, temples, cult statues or sacrifices; they staged no public festivals, musical performances or pilgrimages.  As far as we know, they set up no identifiable inscriptions.  On the other hand, initiation into their cult had social consequences that were more far-reaching than initiation into the cults of familiar gods.  It entailed incorporation into a tightly knit community, a resocialisation that demanded (and in many cases actually received) an allegiance replacing bonds of natural kinship, and a submission to one God and one Lord excluding participation in any other cult.  Moreover, this artificial family undertook to resocialise its members by a continual process of moral instruction and admonition; hardly any aspect of life was excluded from the purview of mutual concern, if we are to believe the writings of the movement’s leaders.  The church thus combined features of household, cult, club, and philosophical school, without being altogether like any of them.[1]

[1] Wayne Meeks, “Social and ecclesial life of the earliest Christians” in Cambridge History of Christianity eds. Margaret M. Mitchell and Francis M. Young (Cambridge, 2008), 152.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hebrews 13:24 - Leadership in Early Christianity 3

13:24 Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy send you greetings.

This final verse notes that the author greets “all” the leaders in the community. This may suggest either a geographical location in which there are many congregations or it may suggest that there are multiple leaders within the one congregation. Either way, deSilva is probably right to note that this will elevate their visibility as exemplars of faithfulness in word and deed. It is important for the congregation to be aware of who these leaders are, so that they may heed their instruction in teaching and exemplary living. This perhaps supplies the reason for their specific mention here. Generally speaking, leaders are not often addressed in the opening and closing of Scriptural letters, unless there is an issue being addressed (cf. Phil. 1:1-2; 4:2-3). For the community of God’s people to experience the benefit and blessing of these leaders, they must be identified and exhorted in the manner that has preceded this greeting.

Synthesis - Leadership in Hebrews 13 
Looking back on past leaders, the author of Hebrews encourages the congregation not to forget leaders who skilfully spoke the word of God, and faithfully lived the Christian life. Appealing to these two factors, the author encourages us to think carefully about how they lived, with a view to imitating their way of life. Addressing current leaders, the author exhorts the congregation to faithfully heed and submit to godly leadership. Following good and faithful leaders will give them an advantage, and benefit them in their current situations. There is a subtle hint at the great responsibility of leaders, and the fact that they will give an account to God, which causes them to take serious their task, and causes them to realise that they are accountable for the way they lead.

If Hebrews is written to exhort and encourage those who were tempted to either fall away, or return to Judaism, then this final chapter serves to alert leaders to their job as those who are to help others by faithful teaching and faithful living, and thus help those who are struggling.  The community is instructed to heed these leaders and take careful note of their teaching and praxis.  In this way, there will be a mutually beneficial relationship between those who lead and those who follow, and God's purposes will be served faithfully. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Hebrews 13:17 - Leadership in Early Christianity

The next verse that discusses leadership in Hebrews 13 is found in verse 17. 

13:17 Heed your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you.

We are struck with a translational problem in the opening word of this verse. The Greek word carries with it the connotation of “persuasion” and not merely “obedience”, hence our translation of “heed”. To “heed” someone is to pay careful attention to what they’re saying and doing.  Lane helpfully notes that,

The distinctive vocabulary selected by the writer is instructive. Normally in the NT the verb ὑποτασσεσθαι “to subject oneself,” to “obey,” is used to call Christians to the acknowledgement of constituted ordinances of authority (e.g., Rom 13:1-7; 1 Cor 14:33-36; Col 3:18-4:1; Eph 5:21-6:9; 1 Pet 2:13-17, 18-3:7). The writer, however, defines the obligatory conduct of his audience with the verb πείθεσθαι, “to be persuaded,” “to obey.” This verb certainly demands obedience. But the specific quality of obedience for which πείθεσθαι asks is not primarily derived from a respect for constituted structures of authority. It is rather the obedience that is won through persuasive conversation and that follows from it.
This persuasion probably comes from preaching and teaching the gospel and the Scriptures. It should also be noted that this kind of leadership is not domineering or imposing. It is within the context of faithful communication and exemplary living (13:7) in the community, that followers are exhorted to “heed” and “submit” to their leaders. Submission carries with it the idea of finding one’s appropriate place in relationship to one’s leaders. This is therefore a voluntary submitting to appropriate people who are themselves guided and constrained by the Spirit, gospel and the Scriptures. Thus Koester says,

By requesting that listeners heed and yield to their leaders (13:17a), the author assumes that leaders cannot simply impose their will, but depend upon the respect of the community.
The Christian community addressed is served by a team of leaders, not an individual, as is demonstrated from the use of the plural “your leaders.” This is significant because it provides accountability and thus safety for the community of followers, since they are to “heed” and “submit” not to a single person, but rather the team of those appointed to lead them.

The writer has already noted two important features of Christian leadership, namely that of declaring the word of God and exemplary living (13:7). Now he further elucidates their roles by noting that “they are keeping watch over your lives.” The notion of “keeping watch” often suggests a volatile, even hostile, context (Mk. 13:33; Lk. 21:36; Eph. 6:18). Since vs. 9 alerts us to “strange teachings”, the function of keeping watch over the community of disciples would include watching out for destructive or harmful teaching, ideas or practices that may infect the people of God with lies that obscure both their understanding and their praxis. This suggests that leaders should be aware of the influences and affects of the world upon the people of God, and they should respond appropriately as those who are concerned about and care for the people of God (cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-10).

These leaders are, in effect, stewards in the household of God (3:6; 10:19), who exercise authority on the basis of their responsibility before God, a responsibility discharged now in the role of servant leaders who “lose sleep” in order to exercise oversight of the community of believers. (deSilva) 
These leaders, as with all leaders, “will give an account”, which recalls earlier teachings that insinuate a context of judgement before the throne of God (see Luke 16:2; Acts 19:40). A time will come when leaders report back, not only on their own lives and teaching, but they must also account for how they guided and directed the people with whom they were entrusted.

Their diligence is spurred by their awareness of God’s judgement. They are themselves under authority, and must “given an account” of themselves to the Judge of all (12:23), who is a consuming fire (12:29). The realisation that leaders must render an account not only for their own lives but for the care they have shown for the lives of those under their authority should be a powerful check against the natural tendency toward arrogance among those placed in such positions. (Johnson)
Therefore, the writer of Hebrews exhorts the congregation to heed and submit so that this is done “with joy and not with groaning”. Hebrews notes that it was for the “joy” set before Jesus, that he endured the cross (12:2), and thus the work of leadership should be practised with joy, since it is for the well-being and benefit of the church, even though this may require effort, sacrifice and struggle. As Johnson states,

The onerous work of leadership is made joyful when carried out in an atmosphere of trust and cooperation. In contrast, when such dispositions are lacking, leaders “groan” as though under a heavy burden (Job 9:27; 23:2; Isa 19:8; Ezek 21:6; Rom 8:23; 2 Cor 5:2-4; Jas 5:9).
Uncooperative followers who cause distress and anguish for leadership cause themselves harm, and the writer of Hebrews again wants to encourage his audience because he cares for them. He does not want to see them “harmed,” a word which suggests “losing out on an advantage.” Another way to translate it would be, “of no benefit to you” (NLT) or “that would be unprofitable for you.” (NKJV). Leadership is there for the well-being and benefit of followers and if the community does not respond well to biblical leadership, then they lose a significant advantage and will miss the benefit and help of having them involved and instructing their lives.

If the leaders receive the support and cooperation of their fellow believers, however, they can serve as a first line of defence against false teachings from without as well as weakening from within. The fact that the author mentions the inexpediency of making the leaders “groan” in close proximity to their impending account to God for their charge suggests more threatening admonition: not only will the community itself benefit less in the present time if their leader’s ministry is hindered by opposition within the group, but the hearers will fare worse when the leader bear witness to the pride and disobedience of the insubordinate. (deSilva)
In this verse the author of Hebrews encourages his congregation to take serious those who are over them in the Lord. They are accountable to God, and thus the congregation should trust them and obey them as faithful ministers of the word, and as exemplars of the gospel.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Hebrews 13:7 - Leadership in Early Christianity

Hebrews 13 contains 3 verses which speak directly to the issue of leadership. These verses are particularly significant because they alert us to perspectives on leadership not usually mentioned or noticed, especially with regards to the Pauline writings. Beginning with vs. 7, the author looks back at past leaders and notes two features of their lives that are exemplary for the contemporary congregation.
13:7 Continually remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; contemplate the outcome of their conduct, and imitate their faithfulness.

The congregation is urged to regularly call to mind their leaders. These were people entrusted with the task of guiding and directing them in the journey of following Jesus. The word used for “leaders” is one of several used to describe Christian leaders in the church (cf. Luke 22:26; Acts 14:12; 15:22; 1 Clem. 1:3; 21:6). It is used of leadership in a variety of circumstances, including political, military and religious contexts. The exhortation to remember them suggests that they were good leaders who embodied something worth remembering and learning from.

Firstly, these leaders are described as “those who spoke the word of God to you”, since this is one of the most important functions of biblical leaders (Acts 6:2; 8:14; 13:5; Gal. 6:6; Col. 1:25, 28; 2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Tim 4:11; Tit. 2:1). This is important for several reasons. Firstly, not many people could read and Bible’s were not freely available. There was no local bookshops with devotionals and study bibles to help people grow in their faith and obedience to God. So leaders had to be relied upon to deliver the teachings of Scripture.

“Those,” again plural not singular suggesting many teachers, who instructed them are to be remembered for a) what they taught, and b) how they lived in response to what they taught. These leaders taught not only with their words but also with their lives.  Attridge suggests that,

Like the following summons to “imitate” the faith of the leaders, the call to observe them is part of common early Christian advice to follow those who follow Christ.

This is further seen in the injunction to “contemplate the outcome of their conduct.” They not only spoke the word of God, verbally guiding and instructing them via the teachings of Scripture, but also embodied and practiced God’s ways and will. They were exemplary in their conduct, and thus provided a concrete model of what the word of God looks like when performed in real life. Their teaching was thus not mere theory, but it affected the way they lived and acted as they embraced the values and vision of life in God’s kingdom under God’s reign.

This passage then assumes, though we cannot comment on the extent, that leaders are active in several contexts where their lives can be put on display for followers to observe and consider. This further implies a relationship between the leaders and followers. If it is the role of followers to consider their leaders teaching and exemplary living, this indicates a proactive element on the part of followers to carefully observe/consider their leaders actions in various contexts. It is as if followers are to “take notes” about how their leaders handle various situations, and embody the life of faithfulness to Scriptural teachings. This would then add the responsibility of leaders who are called to such a weighty and important task of moulding and shaping those seeking to follow Jesus.

This is further demonstrated in what Moffatt calls, “their consistent and heroic life,” where the congregation is called to imitate (2 Thess 3:7, 9; 3 Jn. 11) their faithfulness, not just their faith. They have lived in such a way that their lives become heroic, much like the heroes of Hebrews 11.  Lane notes that,
The accent falls specifically on the firmness of faith, which characterised the exemplary conduct of the leaders throughout their lives. The quality of their faith aligns them with the exemplars of faith under the old covenant, whose faithfulness is celebrated in 11:4-38.
This is the goal of leadership as the writer of Hebrews sees it. To faithfully attend to the word of God, leading God’s people in his will and ways, and embodying this reality so that the followers can learn in word and deed what it means to be a disciple of King Jesus. This is why these leaders should be remembered. Leaders are to be the heroes of the community, embodying Godly values, vision and service in the word of God with every facet of their lives on display for the community and the world to witness.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Following Jesus in the Ancient World

The situation faced by the Christians of Anatolia, modern day Turkey, would have been something like this: 

Christians in the first-century Mediterranean world would have attracted widespread but localised ill will for their failure to participate in the religious celebrations that permeated Roman culture – some in honour of the goddess of Rome herself, Roma, others in honour of the emperor and his divine attributes, and so on.  Failing to associate themselves with these religiocultural activities, Christians would have invited social ostracism and other forms of harassment.  Indeed, their behaviours would have been perceived by the general populace as antisocial, perhaps even bordering on the unlawful; failing to participate in these activities, they would have been charged with bringing on the city or town the disfavour of the gods.  Official Roman policy need not have dictated action against Christians for followers of Jesus as Lord to be subjected to mob action on account of their association with the name of Christ.[1]

[1] Achtemeier, Green, Thompson, Introducing the New Testament, 519-20.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Second Temple Judaism often viewed holiness as a call to separation from secular society, because that was contaminated and unclean.  However, in the life and teachings of Jesus, we see a dramatic shift in perspective regarding holiness.  This is helpfully captured by Marcus Borg, in his brilliant book, Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus

In the teaching of Jesus, holiness, not uncleanness, was understood to be contagious.  Holiness – the power of the holy, of the sacred – was understood as a transforming power, not as a power that needed protection through rigorous separation.  Such is implied in the metaphor of the physician in Mark 2:17 par., set in the context of table fellowship.  Physicians are not overcome by those who were ill, but rather overcome the illness.[1]
Borg further notes that, "The viewpoint of the Jesus movement in Palestine is clear: holiness was understood to overpower uncleanness rather than the converse."

This understanding of holiness permeates early Christianity, and has its roots in the teachings of Jesus.  As Borg further notes,
This prodigious modification of holiness in both Paul and the Palestinian church is best explicable as derivative from (and evidence for) the practice of Jesus.  He implicitly modified the understanding of holiness.  No longer was holiness understood to need protection, but as an active force which overcame uncleanness.  The people of God had no need to worry about God’s holiness being contaminated.  In any confrontation it would triumph.[2]
Thus, when we study holiness in early Christian writings, we should be careful about what is determinative in our understanding - be it Philo, Qumran, the Pharisees, or other writers from Second Temple Judaism - because Jesus seems to have had the greatest impact on Christian conceptions of holiness. 

[1] Marcus J. Borg, Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus. (Harrisburg: Trinity International Press, 1998), 147.
[2] Borg, 149.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Letter Carriers

After reading E. Randolph Richards, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing (IVP, 2004), recommended to me by Joel Green, I have become very interested in the function and authority of Letter-Carriers, especially in the New Testament. Important to this discussion are the two essays:
  • Mitchell, Margaret M. “New Testament Envoys in the Context of Greco-Roman Diplomatic and Epistolary Conventions: The Example of Timothy and Titus.” JBL 111 (1992): 641-662.
  • Peter Head, “Named Letter Carries among the Oxyrhynchus Papyri.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 31.3 (2009): 279-299
These two articles are helpfully noted by Kevin Scull here and here. Named letter carriers in the NT include, Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2); Tychicus (Col. 4:7); and Silvanus (1 Pet. 5:12). Obviously Timothy and Titus were letter-carriers, but do we have any of the letters they carried?
[[ Have I missed anyone? ]]
According to W. G. Doty, Letters in Primitive Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1973), letter carriers originally received “authority to convey the letters, to expand upon them, and to continue Paul’s work.”

Any other interesting articles on letter-carriers and their function? 

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The First Letter of Peter by Feldmeier - REVIEW

The First Letter of Peter: A Commentary on the Greek Text – Reinhard Feldmeier
Translated from the German (2005) by Peter H. Davids. Baylor University Press, 2008

Feldmeier is well known to Petrine scholarship for his offering in Die Christen als Fremede: Die Metapher der Fremde in der antiken Welt, im Urchristentum und im ersten Pretrusbrief (Tubingen, 1992). For those without German, access to German scholarship on this epistle is now available not only through the translation of Goppelt’s commentary on 1 Peter (Eerdmans, 1993), but also in this offering. My thanks to Carey Newman for convincing me to purchase this commentary at SBL Auckland, 2008.

As a candidate seeking to further his own understanding of 1 Peter, and learning to engage with commentaries, I write from that perspective. I have no expertise in the Greco-Roman world or early Christian literature. But as one making his way through commentaries on 1 Peter written in English, my comments here may prove helpful to others, especially scholars seeking to write for my ilk.

The commentary opens with an introduction that deals with the usual suspects.
  1. “The Situation of Suffering”,
  2. “The theological interpretation of the situation”,
  3. “The arrangement of the letter”,
  4. “The crossing of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of soteriology”,
  5. “1 Peter and tradition”,
  6. “Questions of introduction”,
  7. “The influence of First Peter”.

This is then followed by a section by section, often verse by verse analysis with an original translation of the author (which is now translated into English, which makes it a double translation). Every section opens with a heading, and then a short bibliography of relevant articles or books on that specific section. There are no surprises in the structuring of the epistle, for those familiar with other commentaries on 1 Peter.

Interspersed among the comments are eleven excurses that explore further various topics within the letter.
  1. Hope
  2. The Reception and Transformation of metaphysical attributes of God in 1 Peter
  3. Temptation/peirasmo"
  4. The Soul and Salvation of the Soul in 1 Peter
  5. The Desires
  6. God as Judge
  7. Rebirth
  8. The Context of the Exhortation to Subordination
  9. Subject and Responsible Citizen
  10. “Humility”/tapeinovfrosunh
  11. Devil/Satan
Exegetical issues: Three problematic texts

1:1-2    Feldmeier concurs with other commentators that this is not specifically a social description of the audience, contra Elliott, but rather a theological description of Christian status in the present form of the world. [52-54]

3:18-22    Suggests that the “spirits” in question, are the souls of those who died in the “deluge”, that is the flood. This is seen as a decent into Hell to proclaim the victory of Christ over evil powers. Admits that any interpretation of this passage is uncertain. [203-206]

4:6    Sees this as an evangelistic invitation to those who died in the deluge, but suggests this is a one off event, probably not repeated. [215-216]

The commentary makes consistent use of background materials in early Judaism to elucidate and explain various features and ideas in 1 Peter. Reference is also consistently made to early Christian writings that show how ideas developed and expanded. This suggests that this is a very historically oriented commentary. There is no attempt to construct a theological understanding of 1 Peter in the commentary itself.

The commentary is rather unevenly spread over the various chapters. Introduction = 45pgs; Chapter 1 = 78pgs; Chapter 2 = 57pgs; Chapter 3 = 33pgs; Chapter 4 = 19pgs; Chapter 5 = 27pgs; Bibliography = 64pgs. This ends with a helpful scripture and ancient materials index, but no subject or author index.

Greek is often discussed in the body of the commentary, though never consistently, and this is not transliterated. In the footnotes, the Greek is never transliterated. The numerous Latin phrases are never translated either, while the Hebrew is only seldom transliterated or translated. Which begs the question, who is this commentary intended for? Scholars? Perhaps in it’s original German format, but that seems unlikely given the amount of attention paid to the various sections.

For example, the exegesis of 1:25 amounts to three sentences, hardly scholarly engagement, and there is no reference to the Greek text. Let me quote the entire commentary on this verse:
This “enduring” word is at the same time the word that – as the something of an afterthought explanation stresses – was proclaimed “to you” as gospel. What was said in 1:3f. about the “living hope” and the “imperishable inheritance” is also true of the “living word” and the “imperishable sperm”: It is the divine life that the elect share in through hope, through faith, and through the proclamation of the gospel. [124]

There is also little engagement with the inter-textual echo of Isa. 40:8. Compare this with Achtemeier, Michaels, Elliott, and Jobes, who offer far more detailed comment on the Greek text, inter-textuality, and the exegesis. The treatment is thus too short to be significantly helpful to those wrestling with the text.

On page 248 there is an error of note, perhaps by the editors at Baylor, where there is a comment in the margin noting that the translation is “Not clear. Please fix.”

This begs our previous question, who is this commentary written for? David Horrell suggests that the translation of this commentary will be valuable for a wider audience [Horrell, 1 Peter (T & T Clark, 2008), 29]. I’m not sure that’s true. This commentary should have been previewed by a graduate student, which would have made it more beneficial to readers. This would have afforded opportunity to offer advice on how best to translate this commentary so that it actually becomes useful for students. The long sentences, Greek, Hebrew and especially Latin needed to be transliterated, and at the very least translated in brackets. Perhaps the translator, P. H. Davids, could also have offered a brief overview of the commentary and its position on certain exegetical or historical issues.

I wouldn’t recommend this commentary to lay readers, although it is a must read for scholars and those doing serious study in this fascinating letter. We should thank Baylor and Davids for making German scholarship on 1 Peter available to a wider readership, but unfortunately a better job could have been done in the editorial phase. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Opponents in the Pastoral Epistles #2

The quest to understand and identify the opponents has left many an interpreter confused.  The simple fact is that our data is incomplete, and we do not have a full profile of these "opponents".  However, that does not mean we are completely ignorant about them, and today I'd like to propose that the opponents were Christians. 

We may draw from several strands of evidence within the letters to come to this conclusion.  Firstly, 1 Tim 1:6-7 speaks of those who have "deviated" [ἀστοχήσαντες] from the faith.  Then, in 1:19-20 the author speaks of Hymenaeus and Alexander, as those who have shipwrecked the faith.”  This suggests that they had faith, or were faithful, but now this has been destroyed.  The result of this shipwrecking of faith, is that they have been "delivered to satan so that they may learn not to blaspheme.” 

The second letter to Timothy speaks in a similar fashion of those, namely Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have “swerved from the truth” [2:18]  This suggests that they had the truth, but have now abandoned it in favour of a different view.  In 3:8 the author uses Jannes and Jambres as an illustration of the opponents who have a "corrupt mind and counterfeit faith". 

Thus, we may conclude that the opponents identified within the letters to Timothy were at one stage part of the Christian community in Ephesus, and were at one stage considered fellow Christians. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Purpose of 1 Timothy

1 Tim 1:3-7 - a working translation.
Just as I urged you to remain in Ephesus, as I was going into Macedonia, so that you may command/instruct certain people a) not to teach a different/divisive doctrine; b) not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies which give rise to useless/empty speculation rather than focussing on the work/economy of God [“the way God has organised life”] which is by/through trust/faithfulness.

The goal of [this] instruction is love from a pure heart; a conscience that is good; and trust that is sincere, which some have missed out on by turning to meaningless conversations; desiring to be teachers of the law and yet not having understanding about that which they are so confident in communicating.

1 Timothy, like Galatians, opens without a “thanksgiving” prayer. The prayer is delayed until 1:12-17, where Paul gives thanks as it relates to his own experiences and mission, and not for Timothy and the audience. Rather, what we find in this opening section is the programme for the letter as a whole. Here we have mention of the decisive issue that will shape our entire understanding of this letter, and how it must be understood within its specific context, dealing as it does with the specific issues at hand. Timothy is charged with protecting the gospel, and the community created by the gospel, because there are some within the community who have turned.
The key to understanding the letter lies in taking seriously that Paul’s stated reason in 1:3 for leaving Timothy in Ephesus is the real one; namely, that he had been left there to combat some false teachers, whose asceticism and speculations based on the Law are full of empty words, engendering strife and causing many to go astray. [Fee, God's Empowering Presence, 757.]
This is a corrective letter, much like 1 Corinthians and Galatians. This suggests that as we read this letter, and each section that makes up this letter, we should constantly be aware of this major issue currently plaguing the Christian community in Ephesus. This problem forms the matrix within which we are to read and understand Paul’s letter.

Theological Presuppositions and Authorship Issues

In discussing issues of the authorship of the New Testament writings, I often hear the claim that if one accepts a high view of Scripture, one should never entertain thoughts of pseudonymity (the view that someone other than the named "author" has written the particular writing in question).  The converse of this, is that only "liberals" embrace ideas of pseudonymous writings in the New Testament canon. 

And yet I wish to suggest that it is not as simple as, holding to view "A" of Scripture, that therefore one automatically holds to view "Z" of authorship. I know quite a few scholars who have a very high view of Scripture and it's authority, and yet for evidential reasons cannot accept that Paul wrote certain letters within the canon. Howard Marshall is perhaps the best example of someone who holds to a high view of Scripture, and yet does not think Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles.  Equally, I know of so-called "liberal" scholars who do not have a high view of Scripture and yet hold to the view that some of the disputed writings were in fact written by the named author. 

One cannot come to a conclusion on the issue of authorship, based on a theological presupposition.  That is an invalid move.  How can a theological conclusion change a historical event/process? 

The reason the writings of the New Testament are considered authoritative is because they are understood to be inspired by the Spirit. It is on the basis of their divine inspiration that they are authoritative, and not on the basis of the specific human author that was an inspired instrument (although, historically speaking, it seems likely that many of the writings were chosen because of who authored them [could Hebrews be the exception?]). While these specific writings are inspired they are also human products, in that human processes--including language, style, rhetoric, etc., are part and parcel of these writings. Pseudepigraphy could also be a part of that historical process that gave birth to the writings known as the New Testament.   As Paul Trebilco notes,
We should note that pseudonymous writing was not considered improper in the ancient world, and was common in Judaism.  If the Pastorals are by someone other than Paul the author, who stands in the Pauline tradition and has been considerably influenced by Paul, would be applying the Pauline tradition to new problems in some Pauline churches in his own day, and would be expressing what he believed Paul would have said.  However, because he saw himself as faithful to Paul's understanding, he wrote in his name.  Scholars argue that this was in no way to attempt to deceive; rather it was a way of acknowledging his indebtedness to Paul's theology. 
[Paul Trebilco, and Simon Rae, 1 Timothy. Asia Bible Commentary Series. (Singapore: Asia Theological Association, 2006), 3.]
Conclusions concerning the authorship of a particular writing should be judged on the external and internal evidence of each specific writing, and not assumed due to a theological presupposition.