Paul and co-workers

This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology. You can visit my web pages here, but note that they are not kept up-to-date.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Thomas Schmeller, the unity of 2 Corinthians, and Titus-Timothy

On 24th May 2010 I argued on this blog (see here) that 2 Cor 1-9 is conciliatory and has a warm tone because Paul did not want to jeopardize the collection that Titus was organizing.

Then, on 17th Nov 2012 Thomas Schmeller (of Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität) gave a paper at the 2012 SBL annual meeting. His paper is called "No Bridge over Troubled Water? The Gap between 2 Corinthians 1–9 and 10–13 Revisited" and is online here. The last two pages contain the important bits. He too argues that Paul adopts a conciliatory tone in 2 Cor 1-9 for the sake of the collection.

Then, on 30th Nov 2012 I emailed Schmeller, pointing him to my blog post and suggesting that he considered Titus-Timothy.

Then, in 2013, JSNT published Schmeller's piece, almost unchanged (JSNT 36(1) 73-84).

Then, on 27th July 2013 I emailed Schmeller again and expressed disappointment that he had not interacted with my blog post, either in his JSNT paper, or on the blog, or by email. He has responded to neither of my emails.

Now, Schmeller's proposal in his paper is not identical to that in my blog post. He is right, for example, to bring in the insights of Vegge. However, there is enough overlap that one should expect some kind of interaction. Maybe my communication with him was too late for him to cite my blog in his JSNT paper. But why present at SBL without leaving time to benefit from feedback? And why no replies to my emails?

This year, in his 2 Corinthians commentary (p31), Guthrie endorses Schmeller's JSNT piece, summarizing that the two parts of the letter have different tones because:
chapters 1-9 prepare for Titus's visit, but 10-13 prepare for Paul's own visit to Corinth. Titus's earlier visit had been successful, while Paul's earlier visit had been a disaster.
This is not quite right as it stands.

1) 2 Cor 12:16-18 prepares for Titus's visit.

2) The following texts from 2 Cor 1-9 prepare the Corinthians for visits and use the first person plural, so they most naturally refer to the future visits of Paul and his co-sender, Timothy. Titus is not in view, unless we equate Titus with Timothy (as we must).
"Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?" (2 Cor 3:1)
"... we commend ourselves...." (2 Cor 4:2)
"... we do not proclaim ourselves ..." (2 Cor 4:5)
"and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again" (2 Cor 5:11-12).
3) Timothy also travelled to Corinth, but there is no place for Timothy in Schmeller's reconstruction. If Timothy was not Titus we would suppose that his visit to Corinth had also been a disaster and that, like Paul, he probably travelled back to Corinth after the arrival of 2 Corinthians (see Rom 16:21). Thus, on Schmeller's scheme, we would expect that chapters 10-13 would prepare for the visits of both Paul and Timothy. So why does the first person singular dominate these chapters?

So I still prefer my proposal from May 2010.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Reply to Schellenberg

Firstly, thank you, Ryan, for your thoughtful rebuttals and clarifications. This moves the conversation forward faster than can be done by means of journal articles alone. I'll comment on each of your numbered points, which correspond to my numbering in the earlier post.

1) Yes, my choice of words was confusing. I did not mean to imply that it would be shameful to be dependent on Paul's letters.

2) On page 212 you summarize your main argument: "First, we noted the striking correspondence between Luke's "primary toponyms" - that is, the places in which the action happens - and those cities that appear in the Pauline corpus, as well as correspondence between Luke's "redundant toponyms" and those absent from it. Given that the scope of Paul's work was broader than that directly attested either in the letters or in Acts, this is difficult to explain except as literary dependence of Acts on Paul's letters." This argument works only if the "broader scope" covers the same time period as the "striking correspondence". You now rely on 2 Cor 11:23-27 to argue for the "broader scope", but the imprisonments and shipwrecks could have occurred well before Paul's Aegean ministry, which is where the "striking correspondence" occurs. Rom 16:7 might be a hint in that direction. In any case, if we were to reconstruct events without regards to Acts we would not put Paul in boats in his Aegean period more often than Acts does, so it is hard to see the relevance of the shipwrecks. Also you require that the "broader scope" involved the kinds of activity (such as establishing churches) that Luke would want to report. Imprisonments are not in this category, and Acts would be less interesting if there were more than one shipwreck narrative. Also note that 2 Cor 11:23-27 cuts both ways: if Luke used Paul's letters why did he not use 2 Cor 11:23-27? The "striking correspondence" is not quite so striking when we remember this and other "misses", such as Illyricum, Spain, and Arabia.

3. Your argument about the "striking correspondence" is statistical so we have to be careful to include all the "misses" as well as all the "hits". If you are excluding the PE you have to include Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Iconium, and Miletus in the list of "misses". Also Troas becomes half a "miss" because Paul refers only to the region, the Troad, and not to the city (see Thrall). If, on the other hand, you hypothesize that Paul used the PE, you should include Nicopolis and also deal with the tensions that exist between the PE and Acts. Either way, the "striking correspondence" is not so striking. Also, I was not completely convinced by your attempt to explain why Luke would not have mentioned Paul's visit to the Troad (2 Cor 2:12) or his second or third visits to Corinth. Luke would have been able to mention these visits without having to bring up the controversies that Paul had with the Corinthians. In any case, Luke was not reluctant to describe conflicts between Christians. The lack of "striking correspondence" does not disprove your theory, but it does mean that you need other evidence. Let's turn now to that other evidence.

4. The second argument in the summary on page 212 states "The failure of each author to name specific localities for Paul's work in Galatia further strengthens the case." As I think you agree, this argument has force only if we accept that Luke was a north Galatianist. I am a south Galatianist because I see Gal 2:3-5 as Paul's response to the events of Acts 16:1-3, and because the Galatians seem to know Barnabas, and because Luke's whole point in Acts 16:6-10 is that God was calling the missionaries to Macedonia without delay. There is no hint that he stopped to preach anywhere on the route. Luke was a south Galatianist.
The argument would not be strong, even if Luke was a north Galatianists. It is true that Acts 16:6 and Paul both mention Galatia without naming cities. However, again, we must list the "misses" as well as the "hits". Luke mentions Phrygia in the same breath, but Paul nowhere mentions Phrygia. Also, Luke does not record evangelism in "Galatia" in Acts 16:6 and this would be surprising.

5. If, as I argued, Acts had accurate independent information about the movements of Erastus and Timothy (which is a small detail), then he is likely to have had independent information about the major movements of Paul. I agree that this does not completely disprove your theory, but it does give you a bigger burden of proof.

6. The third and final argument (on page 212) reads "the twin announcements in Acts 19:21 and 20:22 of Paul's intention to make a perilous visit to Jerusalem and then to proceed to Rome evince not only knowledge of Paul's route but also knowledge of his anticipatory description of that route in Rom 15."  I'll change my argument here and question whether the correspondences between Rom 15 and Acts 19:21; 20:22 are really so compelling. Works as large as Acts and the Pauline corpus are likely to have some points of verbal agreement, merely by chance. The other texts that concern itinerary do not have such verbal agreement so they must be counted as "misses" if you count this one as a "hit".

7. The understanding of 1 Thess 3 and Acts 17:14-15 suggested by Donfried and me is not "complex", but simple. It involves no duplications of events. Indeed, those who read 1 Thess 3 without regard to Acts have Timothy travel from Macedonia to Achaia twice, but Donfried and I have him make only one such trip. Why do you find the theory "complex"?

I have a couple of further questions:

a) Do you know if anyone has attempted to quantify the frequency of shipwrecks in the first century mediterranean?
b) When ancient authors took personal names from a source did they always leave those names in the same form? That is to say, might Luke have read Rom 16:21 and abbreviated the name "Sosipater" to "Sopater", and might he have read "Prisca" in 1 Cor or Rom and changed it to "Priscilla"?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Schellenberg responds

Ryan Schellenberg has kindly taken the time to respond to my last blog post, in which I commented on his JBL paper "The First Pauline Chronologist?" I paste his reply below, with his permission. I plan to comment again sometime in the next few days.


1) It’s not clear to me how any one is winning or losing here. The task, as I perceive it, is to understand how Luke constructed the book, not to judge or “accuse” him. In any case, the article  begins by acknowledging that scholars on both sides of the debate adduce as evidence the correspondence between Paul’s itinerary in Acts and that in the letters (p. 200). Given that this correspondence can be explained in multiple ways—Luke as an eyewitness; dependence on Paul’s letters; other sources—the burden of the article is to determine which explanation of the data is preferable (again, see p. 200f.). In other words, you seem here simply to be restating the problem the article seeks to address (but doing so in a way that presumes that Luke’s honor is at stake, and thus prejudicing the question).

2) I agree with you that Rom 15:19 admits of interpretations other than that Paul engaged in substantive missionary work in cities unmentioned in the Pauline corpus. (Though note that this interpretation of the verse is important in the efforts of scholars like Witherington and Keener to argue for Luke’s historical accuracy.) More to the point, perhaps, is the text I cite next, 2 Cor 11:23-27, which  refers to (mis)adventures that are simply undocumented in Acts. Two examples: Paul writes to the Corinthians of having experienced “far more imprisonments”; up until this point in the Acts narrative, Paul has only spent one night in a Philippian jail. Wherever those other imprisonments occurred, Acts hasn’t told us about them. Nor does Acts give any account of the three shipwrecks to which Paul refers. One could perhaps argue that Luke provides a complete itinerary but has left out a number of the episodes which occurred enroute, but that would be a way of defending a presumption, rather than evaluating historical probability. 

3) The scope of the study is limited by the geographical data in Paul’s letters, which provide information only about this portion of Paul’s itinerary. Evidently, this means that Paul’s letters cannot have been used as a source for the itinerary of ch. 13–14. This complicates the question of Luke’s sources, perhaps, but does not invalidate my hypothesis. Analogously, the hypothesis that Luke used the Gospel of Mark as a source is not compromised by the fact that it fails to explain the material in Luke 1–2.

Perhaps I could have been clearer with regard to my references to 2 Timothy. I do not in fact argue that Luke used 2 Timothy, but rather point out that my hypothesis can be extended if one posits his use thereof (see p. 213). I am not committed to any particular reading of the evidence here, but mention it because: a) a number of scholars who doubt the authenticity of 1 Tim and Titus have argued that 2 Tim is authentic; and b) Walker has argued, on other grounds, for Paul’s use of 2 Tim. In other words, my goal was to lay out the data and point out that the question of the status of 2 Tim merited further study.

4) As I note on p. 200 and reiterate in the final paragraph, what I am proposing is not that Luke has undertaken the sort of careful collation of data that nurtures modern critical scholarship, but rather that he has been informed by geographical cues in the letters. In other words, from 2 Cor 2:12 he remembers Troas as a “Pauline place”, and perhaps remembers also that Paul did not pause there but continued on his journey west. This would account very well for the story in Acts 16. (Ancient writing/reading technology would have made flipping from text to text to remind himself that this happens after Paul has already been in Corinth untenable.) 

In regard to your more general concern—whether the way Luke mentions place names betrays literary dependence—I’d invite you to reconsider the case of Galatia. See the first paragraph on p. 202.

5) Acts having information independent of Paul’s letters hardly “undermines . . . the whole thesis.” Of course Luke had other information too, as Acts 1-14 amply attests. Given Paul’s reputation, he can hardly have heard nothing about his mission except what the letters contain. My argument is not that Luke had no knowledge except Luke’s letters (see p. 213), but rather that they are the source from which he derived the Pauline itinerary. Again, an analogy: If Luke’s gospel betrays knowledge of traditions that are not in Mark, that hardly undermines the hypothesis that he used Mark.

6) It seems to me that alternative hypotheses you provide for the resemblance between Acts 19:21 and 20:22 and Rom 15 are essentially different ways of saying that the author of Acts was dependent on Romans. (But why should the specific phrasing of the letter have been so memorable, if Luke was talking to Paul daily, at all stages of planning and conception of his travels.)

7) I invite you to consider again the context in which my reference to the Acts 17 vs. 1 Thess 3 contradiction arises. If one is creative enough, perhaps one can find “elegant harmony” here. That is, if one begins from the presupposition of agreement, one can come up with complex (if not quite elegant) explanations for apparent disagreement. But my point is that in his Gospel it is quite clear that he is willing to depart from his sources, and that therefore we should approach Acts expecting to find the same. To my mind, this makes attempts to harmonize Acts 17 and 1 Thess 3 (or, e.g., Gal 1–2 and Acts 9:26) look very much like those theories that have Peter denying Jesus six times so that the Gospel accounts might stand in “elegant agreement.”

8) Yes, of course. But then Acts is unusual in this regard regardless of what comparators we choose. The most thoughtful reflections on this are that of Loveday Alexander in “Narrative Maps.”

9) What geographical knowledge Luke has—better at sea than inland (see n. 33 and, again, Alexander’s essay)—may be consistent with the notion that he accompanied Paul, but of course it can also be explained in any number of other ways, as I suggest in pp. 208-9. Only if one assumes in advance that Luke travelled with Paul does it look like clear evidence for that position.

On Acts 20:4, it should be noted that I am not “adding assumptions” to my hypothesis, but rather noting that it works well in concert with another common source-critical theory (see n. 76). As I state clearly on p. 212, there is no reason to assume that Luke’s use of Paul’s letters precludes his use of other sources. The point is simply that Luke’s use of Paul’s letters provides the most economical explanation for a certain set of data. (An analogy may again be helpful: The notion that Luke used Mark works well in concert, many think, with the idea that he used either Matthew or Q.)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Review of Schellenberg's "The First Pauline Chronologist"

Ryan S. Schellenberg "The First Pauline Chronologist? Paul's Itinerary in the Letters and in Acts", JBL 134 (2015).

In Rom 15:19 Paul says that he had "fulfilled the gospel" from Jerusalem clear around to Illyricum. This means, for Schellenberg, that Acts does not provide "a complete account of the geographical scope of Paul's work". He then notes that the places that Luke uses as a narrative setting in Acts 15:36-20:16 correspond almost exactly to those places named in Paul's letters. He argues that this correspondence is more than we would expect if Luke's information was independent of Paul's letters, given that Paul worked in many places that are named in neither Acts nor Paul's letters. This is Schellenberg's main argument for his thesis, which is that Paul's letters were Luke's source for Paul's itinerary of Acts 15:36-20:16.

There are a number of problems with Schellenberg's paper:

1) Luke, naturally, narrates events that occurred in cities where Paul established churches, and Paul too tends to name places precisely because they were the locations of his churches and major centres of his work. Thus it should not be surprising that there is much correspondence between the places named by Luke and those named in the letters (Antioch, Syria, Cilicia, Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Iconium, Galatia, Asia, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, Cenchreae, Ephesus, and Miletus). It would be surprising if Luke, a companion of Paul, had not mentioned them. If Luke had failed to mention Paul's work in Ephesus or Philippi, for example, the critics would accuse him of ignorance; but Schellenberg accuses him of dependency on the letters because he does mention them. This seems like a game of "heads I win, tails you lose".
2) Rom 15:19 does not require us to believe that Paul personnally established any churches beyond those recorded by Luke. Paul's method was to go to the major urban centres. The gospel would then spread to the surrounding areas because Paul would preach to visitors from those areas. He might also send out emissaries.  See Acts 19:8-10; 1 Cor 16:15; 1 Thess 1:8; Col 1:7; 4:12-13. When Paul says that he had fulfilled the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum he is not saying that he had visited every intervening town himself. He had not visited the Lycos valley, for example.
3) Schellenberg arbitrarily limits the scope of his study to the texts that best fit his case. By limiting his scope to Acts 15:36-20:16 he ignores Luke's narrative setting in Cyprus, which is not mentioned by Paul. Also, his use of the disputed letters is questionable and selective. He suggests that Luke may have got the place names of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra from 2 Tim 3:11, but fails to mention that Paul's itinerary in 1 Timothy is famously hard to reconcile with Acts. Nor does he mention that Trophimus stays behind in Miletus in 2 Tim 4:20, but not in Acts 20:15; 21:29. If Luke was so sloppy in his use of sources, why does he not make mistakes (when he is judged against the undisputed letters)? Schellenberg does not mention the possibility that the author of 2 Timothy got place names from Acts.
4) The way that Luke mentions place names does not betray a literary dependency on Paul's letters. If Luke had got the name "Troas" from 2 Cor 2:12 we would expect him to record the evangelization of Troas at Acts 20:1. Instead Luke has Paul pass through Troas without preaching there at a much earlier date (Acts 16:8) and he also records a later visit (Acts 20:6-12). Luke's account is consistent with Paul's but not dependent on it.
5) Schellenberg writes, "If Richard Fellows's suggestion that Titus was Timothy is correct, then Luke could have decided to refer to him exclusively as Timothy for precisely the same reason" [because "Titus" was associated with controversy]. However, the Titus-Timothy hypothesis proves that Acts had information that was independent of Paul's letters, and this undermines Schellenberg's whole thesis. See my discussion here.
6) Schellenberg thinks that Acts 19:21 and 20:22 are dependent on Rom 15:25; 30-31. I was not convinced by his arguments. In any case, if the author of Acts was a companion of Paul he would have been with Paul when Romans was written and might well have heard the letter being read at that time (indeed I have argued that he was the Lucius of Rom 16:21). He might also have heard the letter after he arrived in Rome. The author's use of Paul's letters would not provide an argument for a late date of Acts.
7) In note 50 Schellenberg mentions Donfried's explanation of how the movements of Timothy in Acts 17:14-15 are consistent with those in 1 Thess 3. He then writes, "I will refrain from comment on the question here". This will not do. If Donfried's explanation (or my own variant of it) makes sense, then we have here a case where Acts looks on the surface to be contradicted by Paul, but on closer examination is found to be in elegant harmony with him. This is hard to explain if Luke got his information from Paul's letters.
8) Apocryphal Acts contain very few redundant toponyms. Acts is very different.
9) Schellenberg tries to address some of the problems with his hypothesis, such as the scarcity of "redundant toponyms" in Luke's gospel, and the Acts narrative in Beroea and Derbe. He has to concede that Luke had good geographical knowledge (which is consistent with him being a companion of Paul). He also has to hypothesize that Luke got Acts 20:4 from a source and took place names from it. It's OK to add assumptions to a theory, but we then need more evidence to prevent the theory from collapsing under its own weight, and in my view that evidence is lacking.

Please push back in the comments section if I have been unfair. I will invite Schellenberg to do so.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gal 2:18; 1:8; 5:11 and the rumour that Paul is preaching circumcision

Here I will argue that in Gal 2:18 Paul is (amongst other things) denying the rumour that he has returned to preaching circumcision.

Gal 2:18-21 Gal 5:11 Gal 1:8
18 But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, εἰ γὰρ ἃ κατέλυσα ταῦτα πάλιν οἰκοδομῶ, But my friends, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you
then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor.
let that one be accursed!
19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing. In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.

The majority of commentators agree that "the very things" in 2:18 refers to Law observance in some sense, at least for Gentiles. Paul is then saying "If I build up Law observance, which I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor." Now, this sounds very much like Gal 1:8 and Gal 5:11, as can be seen in the table. All three texts bring up the scenario of Paul preaching circumcision/Law observance, and all three have the form of a condition - an "if" statement. Paul's discussion of the crucifixion of Christ in 2:19-21 parallels his mention of the cross in 5:11b. Furthermore, the words "then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor" in 2:18b parallel "let that one be accursed" in 1:8b. These parallels demand that the texts be interpreted together.

Both 2:18 and 5:11 are first class conditions. The protasis in first class conditions is frequently a statement believed by the audience, but not by the writer/speaker (e.g. 1 Cor 15:13). It is never a purely hypothetical statement believed by neither the writer nor his audience, as far as I can see. For a complete list of NT first class conditions, see Ruben Videira-Soengas. So, either Paul or the Galatians believe that he is building up Law observance again, and that he is now preaching circumcision. Since Paul did not believe these things, it follows that at least some of the Galatians did. So, in 2:18, as in 5:11 Paul is opposing the rumour that he supports Law observance/circumcision. This is a new proposal, I think, and I anticipate four possible objections:
1. "Paul's opposition to circumcision would have been clear to all, so no Galatians could have believed that he was now supporting circumcision."
Paul had delivered the decisions of the Jerusalem church leaders, confirming Gentile liberty (Acts 16:4). He had acted as a messenger, and a messenger (apostle) was expected to deliver his message whether he approved of it or not. The Galatians had no way of knowing whether Paul's support for Gentile liberty was genuine or whether he had merely been trying to please the Jerusalem church leaders. It seems that the agitators proposed the latter. I have argued this in detail here.
2. "The "I" in 2:18 could ever to Peter rather than to Paul."
This seems unlikely since Peter has not been named since 2:14 and it would be difficult for the Galatians to realize that Pal is referring to Peter here. Also, why would Paul not simply name Peter here? It has been suggested that Paul is being diplomatic by alluding to Peter indirectly using the first person singular, but if Gal 2:11-14 is about Peter, it is hardly diplomatic towards him!
3. "The "I" in 2:18 could refer to the Galatian addressees, rather than to Paul."
It is, of course, possible that Paul is offering himself as an example for the Galatians to follow, and that he wants them each individually to identify with the "I" (Gal 4:12). However, it is unlikely that the "I" does not include Paul here. When Paul uses building metaphors, as he does in Gal 2:18, he is invariably talking about the building of the community, rather than about individualistic convictions. He uses οἰκοδομέῶ at Rom 15:20; 1 Cor 8:1, 10; 10:23” 14:4, 17; Gal 2:18; 1 Thess 5:11 and οἰκοδομή appears at 1 Cor 3:9; 14:3, 5, 12, 26; 2 Cor 5:1; 10:8; 12:19; 13:10; as well as Eph 2:21; 4:12, 16, 29. In each case the metaphor is for the building up of others in the community. Therefore we should paraphrase 2:18 “If I again build up a community based on Law observance, which is the very thing that I once tore down, …”. This makes perfect sense if Paul is the “I”, since he is the architect of the communities that he forms. But it is hard to see how the “I” could refer to the Galatians. It would need to represent each Galatian acting individually (otherwise why not use second person plural), but this is tension with the fact that the metaphor is about mutual up-building.
4. "You are mirror-reading Gal 1:8; 2:18; and 5:11 and mirrors can be placed at all sorts of angles. Could it not be coincidence that these texts can be seen as Paul's denials of a rumour that he was preaching circumcision?"
My method has controls. In Paul’s other letters there is no text that can be read as a denial that he preached Law observance. Such texts appear 4 times (Gal 1:8; 2:5, 18; 5:11) and only in the letter written to the province where he had circumcised a disciple. This is surely no coincidence.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Review of Douglas Campbell's "Framing Paul"

This book aims to decide which letters were written by Paul and to deduce their sequence and provenance. This is an important quest, and Campbell is right to note that chronological matters get insufficient attention (pxvi-xvii).

Correct methodology in this quest is obviously to take all the evidence into account. On any issue the data has to be weighed according to their relevance and according to the reliability of their sources. Reconstructing the history behind Paul's letters therefore requires an evaluation of the reliability of each source document. This is an iterative process in which we must continually re-assess our estimates of the reliability of the sources by judging them against our evolving reconstructed history. No source can be dismissed at the outset.

Unfortunately Campbell does not realize this and proceeds with a flawed methodology that he inherited from Knox. He (rightly) keeps an open mind about the disputed letters:
we cannot  at the outset simply exclude as an obvious matter any letters bearing Paul's name. We must make a case for exclusion with respect to each putative Pauline letter; epistolary data is in effect innocent until proved guilty. (p25)
yet he arbitrarily dismisses Acts with a wave of the hand:
the data concerning Paul in the book of Acts, the second principal historical reservoir for his life, is something of an unknown quantity. We do not know who wrote Acts, when, where, or - perhaps most importantly - why. (p20)
The Acts data is initially opaque, irrespective of what we make of Paul. It could be spun out of thin air, for all we know. (p21)
He then proceeds to build his reconstruction using only Paul's letters, which provide insufficient data on many issues.
We will rely on slender snippets of evidence in what follows, because that is all we have - occasional and fragmentary remains of conversations that took place millennia ago. But we do have evidence, and it will not do to dismiss parts of the following reconstruction with a generic claim that "this is insufficient" or "there is still not enough evidence." If this is the evidence that we have and it explains the data in the best existing fashion, then the correct scientific conclusion must be to endorse it and not to complain that we need more data that unfortunately does not exist. (p18)
Campbell's conclusion here is a non-sequator and is obviously false. We should not endorse any conclusion that relies on nothing more than slender snippets of evidence. Yet Campbell does just that throughout the book, building speculation on speculation. However, Paul has left us clear statements on some matters, such as the sequence in which he evangelized the towns of Macedonia and Achaia, and his final voyage around the Aegean. Campbell does a good job at reconstructing these events, as others have done. The fact that Acts scores highly when assessed against these events should give Campbell pause and prompt him to re-consider his dismissal of Acts. Unfortunately he does not make any assessment of Acts and hardly refers to it at all. This left me feeling cheated that I had paid good money for a half finished work.

I very much enjoyed Campbell's demolition of the very common view that Paul visited Corinth and wrote the tearful letter between 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. It is odd that he does not equate Titus with Timothy.

He accepts the conventional view that Paul wrote Romans during his last visit to Corinth. He assumes that the letter was read to the Corinthian believers before it was sent and he suggests that Paul wrote much of the contents of the letter with the Corinthian church in mind. In the same way he proposes that Paul's call for the Philippians to unite was intended more for the Corinthians, to whom he read the letter before sending it.  He also believes that most of Gal 5:13-6:10 was inappropriate for Paul's Galatian audience, but was written primarily to be read to the Corinthians before the letter was dispatched. Thus Campbell arguments that Philippians and Galatians were written from Corinth during Paul's last stay there. Clearly there could be all sorts of theories about letters being written in part to be heard by the communities where they may have been written, and I am concerned that Campbell does not apply proper controls. More importantly I was unconvinced by the concept. If I need help doing the dishes I ask my children directly. I do not write a letter to my sister, urging her to do the dishes, and then read that letter to my children! Campbell does not explain why Paul would communicate to the Corinthians using letters to other churches rather than just talk to them directly. Nor does he explain why Paul would expose himself to ridicule in Galatian by writing things to them that did apply.

His other main argument for placing Philippians (and Galatians) shortly before Romans is that he sees Judaizing opponents in these letters. This is one of Campbell's slenderest snippets of evidence since it rests on the assumption that the Judaizing movement within the Church loomed large at only one time.

In 2 Cor 8 Paul sends collection delegates to Corinth, and this tells us that the plan was for Paul and the collection delegates to travel from Corinth to Judea without returning to Macedonia. If Philippians was written at this time we would have to suppose that Paul changed his mind and decided that both he and Timothy would return to Macedonia. Also, Campbell does not explain why, on his chronology, there is no mention of the collection in Philippians.

Campbell argues persuasively that Gal 2:10 is a reference to the collection of money from Galatia for Judea. He uses a line of reasoning that Hurtado put forward back in 1976, but does not cite his work. He then assumes, without argument, that the collection from Galatia was intended to be at the same time as the collection from Macedonia and Achaia. His main argument for diverging from the Acts chronology, and for placing Galatians late, hangs on this unexamined assumption.  Nor does he explain why Galatians contains no encouragement to the Galatians to give generously, and no expression of disappointment at their failure to give.

It is disappointing that Campbell does not engage with Carlson's work on Gal 2:12, even though he surely must have known about it. Instead he opts (implausibly) for Leudemann's view that the Antioch incident took place before the Jerusalem visit of Gal 2:1-10. It is also disappointing that Campbell assumes that letter carriers read the letters that they delivered, even though Peter Head (who has studied the issue in detail) has told him that there is no evidence for this.

Like most commentators, he places 1 Thessalonians  soon after Paul's first visit to Thessalonica. Strangely, he says that it was written from Athens. Others (e.g. Donfried and Witherington) have pointed out that if it was written from Athens Paul would have written "left alone here" instead of "left alone in Athens" in 1 Thess 3:1.

Campbell places Colossians and Philemon very early suggests that they were written not far from Colossae. His reasoning is this:
Moreover, the letter (Philemon) presupposes an effective founding visit from some member of the Pauline mission. But Paul himself sends no greetings from the local "brothers"at his location, so he does not seem himself to be imprisoned at the site of a successful mission; no local christian seems to be named besides itinerant members of his circle of coworkers. (p256. See also p261).
This is very weak. People send greetings to those they know. The greeters in Philemon (and Colossians if genuine) are all itinerant co-workers because it is the itinerant co-workers who had visited the addressees. The absence of local believers among the greeters means only that Philemon had not visited a church in the town where Paul was being held. It does not mean that there was no church in that town. Campbell's early dating of Philemon and Colossians is therefore without evidence.

Campbell judges Paul to be the author of  Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Thessalonians. I don't have much to say about his arguments and I am not an expert on this issue. He feels that many of the arguments for pseudonymity have been over-stated. I wonder, however, whether he over-corrects and ends up giving insufficient weight to those arguments.

He judges the Pastoral Epistles to be pseudonymous. It is refreshing that, unlike some others, he does not seek to give the author the benefit of every doubt on the historical accuracy of the contents. For me, his chapter on the PE was the most valuable. His discussion of the author's knowledge (or lack of it) of "Titus" and "Timothy" was particularly inlightening.

While my review of the book is rather negative, it has to be said that I am hard to please when it comes to books on NT chronology. If I have been overly critical please let me know in the comments.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Reconciling 1 Thess 3:1-2 with Acts 17:14-15

Here I will argue that 1 Thess 3:1-2 has been misinterpreted and that Acts is right that Paul and Timothy were never together in Athens. Here are the texts:

1 Thess
3:1 Διὸ μηκέτι στέγοντες εὐδοκήσαμεν καταλειφθῆναι ἐν Ἀθήναις μόνοι,
Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we decided to be left alone in Athens;

3:2 καὶ ἐπέμψαμεν Τιμόθεον, τὸν ἀδελφὸν ἡμῶν καὶ συνεργὸν τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳτοῦ Χριστοῦ, εἰς τὸ στηρίξαι ὑμᾶς καὶ παρακαλέσαι ὑπὲρ τῆς πίστεως ὑμῶν
and we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker of God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith,

3:3 so that  no one would be shaken by these persecutions.  ...

3:5 διὰ τοῦτο κἀγὼ μηκέτι στέγων ἔπεμψα εἰς τὸ γνῶναι τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν,
For this reason, when I could bear it no longer I sent to find out about your faith;

17:14 Then the believers immediately sent Paul away to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained behind.

17:15 οἱ δὲ καθιστάνοντες τὸν Παῦλον ἤγαγον ἕως Ἀθηνῶν, καὶ λαβόντες ἐντολὴν πρὸςτὸν Σιλᾶν καὶ τὸν Τιμόθεον ἵνα ὡς τάχιστα ἔλθωσιν πρὸς αὐτὸν ἐξῄεσαν. 
Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him.

17:16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, ...

18:5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, ...

It is almost invariably assumed that 1 Thess 3:1-2 implies that Paul and Timothy had been in Athens at the same time. This would indeed be in tension with Acts, which says that Timothy stayed behind in Beroea. I propose the following explanation:

Paul and some believers from Beroea travelled to Athens while Timothy and Silas stayed in Beroea. In Athens Paul sent the Beroean believers back to Berea. He was anxious to hear news of the Thessalonian believers so he asked these Beroeans to tell Timothy "come to me soon and visit Thessalonica on the way". Thus, it was these Beroeans who carried the message that sent Timothy to Thessalonica. Their early departure from Athens meant that Paul would be alone there, but it also meant that Paul would soon hear news about the fate of the Thessalonian church. It is this dilemma that Paul describes in 1 Thess 3:3-5. The timing of the return of Paul's Beroean companions to Beroea was determined by Paul's anxiety about Thessalonica.

This explanation creates no conflict between 1 Thess and Acts and has the advantage of parsimony. It adds no events that are in neither text and it adds little to either. Indeed, the only detail missing from Acts is Paul's request to Timothy to make a detour via Thessalonica.

The usual understanding of 1 Thess has Timothy travel to Athens and then make an additional round trip between Athens and Thessalonica. According to ORBIS this round trip by sea was 1080 km, and cost 195 denarii. This is about 6 months wages for a labourer. Paul had to work to earn his keep and this was time that he would surely have rather spent preaching. The missionaries did not have money to spare. It seems unlikely that the team would have chosen to pay for Timothy to make an unnecessary journey back to Thessalonica from Athens. It was more rational for Timothy to stay behind in Macedonia and plan to join Paul latter. The usual interpretation of 1 Thess 3:1-2 has difficulty explaining why Timothy did not visit Thessalonica before leaving Macedonia instead of returning to Thessalonica from Athens.

I anticipate three possible objections:

1. There is nothing in 1 Thess 3:1-2 to suggest that Timothy was not with Paul when Paul sent him to Thessalonica so we can assume that he was. However, this line of reasoning assumes that Paul wrote to record the movements of Timothy. When reading Paul's letters it is easy to forget that they were written for people who knew much more of the background than we do. The audience of 1 Thessalonians already knew the movements of Paul and Timothy. Paul's purpose in writing 1 Thess 3:1-5 was not to record Timothy's journeys but to stress that he (Paul) had been worried about the Thessalonian believers.

2. Acts 17:5 says that Timothy's instructions were to come to Paul ταχέως (as soon as possible). Is this consistent with a detour via Thessalonica? Yes it is. Beroea was only 73 km from Thessalonica, which was the largest city in Macedonia and would be a suitable port from which to find a boat to Athens. Also, the Greek word ταχέως simply means "soon" or "quickly" and does not mean "immediately" in a modern north European sense. In 1 Cor 4:19 Paul says "I will come to you soon (ταχέως)" even though he was going to stay in Ephesus until Pentecost and then make a long detour to Macedonia before travelling to Corinth (1 Cor 16:5-8).

3. Some commentators take the plural verbs in 1 Thess 3:1-2 to refer to Paul and Silas. However, Paul uses the first person singular in 1 Thess 3:5 so, unless he is being inconsistent, he must be using a rhetorical plural in 1 Thess 3:1-2.

I am not the first to suggest that Timothy was never with Paul in Athens. Karl Donfried (Paul, Thessalonica and Early Christianity, 2002, p214) cites Dobschütz [1909] and Rigaux [1956] and writes,
In other words: Paul may have sent Timothy back to Thessalonica either while they were still together in Berea or after Paul arrived in Athens. With regard to the latter, it is possible that those who accompanied Paul from Beroea to Athens (Acts 17.15) presented to Timothy, upon their return, Paul's request. Of these two options, we prefer the former since the latter suggests, dubiously, that Paul had received some new information in Athens.
I don't understand why Donfried thinks that Paul would have had to have received new information in Athens. Paul's anxiety about persecutions in Thessalonica would have been heightened by the arrival of Thessalonian opponents in Beroea (Acts 17:13-14). Persecution from these opponents was enough to force Paul's departure to Athens, so Paul would certainly have worried that these same opponents were persecuting the Thessalonian believers. This worry would have continued to trouble Paul in Athens in the absence of new information. 1 Thess 3:1"when we could bear it no longer" implies such a sustained period of anxiety.

Donfried's preference that Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica from Beroea is unlikely. Paul says that the sending of Timothy resulted in him (Paul) being left alone in Athens. However, the sending of Timothy from Beroea to Thessalonica need not have resulted in Paul being alone in Athens: Paul's Beroean companions or Silas could have stayed with Paul in Athens until Timothy arrived. Furthermore, Paul writes "when I could bear it no longer I sent to find out about your faith" (3:5), but on Donfried's reconstruction he had to bear it for a lot longer anyway. Paul's words make little sense if the interval between the sending of Timothy and Timothy's return to Paul in Corinth with news of Thessalonica (Acts 18:5) was longer than the period of Paul's anxiety about the Thessalonians prior to the sending of Timothy. This makes it unlikely that the sending of Timothy was as early in the sequence as Donfried's preferred option requires.

Others, on the assumption that Timothy was in Athens when Paul sent him, suggest that Acts got it wrong. However, this is special pleading in light of all the details that Acts gets right in this time period (and at other times). Both Acts and 1 Thess have Paul visit Athens after Thessalonica. In both texts Paul has reason to be concerned about persecution in Thessalonica at that time. Both have Paul spending time alone in Athens. Both have Paul eagerly wanting to meet with Timothy. Both have Paul, Silas/Silvanus and Timothy back together later (1 Thess 1:1; Acts 18:5).