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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Edward Adams' "The Earliest Christian Meeting Places"


In this recent monograph in the LNTS series, Edward Adams suggests that the early Christians may have met in such places as shops, workshops, barns, warehouses, hotels, inns, bathhouses, rented dining rooms, gardens, watersides, open urban spaces, and burial sites. He explores literary evidence, archaeological evidence, and comparative evidence (meaning data on the meeting places of Jews, associations, and philosophical schools).

Some of the book is available online here.
Hurtado has summarized the book here.

Adams helpfully gathers together a lot of relevant data from a wide variety of sources, so the book is a valuable resource. However, I have some criticisms.

1. Adams claims that there is a consensus that the early Christians met almost exclusively in private houses (homes). His thesis is that this consensus is mistaken. The problem that I have with this is that it is much too vague to be useful. What exactly does Adams mean by "almost exclusively"? 99% of the time? 90%? 70%? He does not say. It is therefore not clear to me whether Adams actually disagrees with his opponents. Perhaps he and they merely have different understandings of what constitutes "almost exclusively". This is one of many cases were New Testament Studies suffers from lack of numeracy. Nowhere does Adams deny that the Christians met in private houses most of the time.

2. He does not make a clear distinction between meetings designed to spread the word to non-believers and meetings of established churches. Evangelistic proclamations will naturally occur in public spaces (e.g. the agora and Areopagus of Athens, Acts 17:17-19). Established churches, however, are more likely to meet in private houses for greater to avoid provoking hostility from the non-Christian population.

3. On page 13 he writes "During spells of persecution or intense harassment, to be sure, inns, restaurants, bathhouses, etc., are not really plausible as meeting places, but in such periods, even meeting in houses would have been difficult." and "the persecution of Christians was sporadic and local and not constant and empire-wide." Thus, Adams considers times when persecution was so intense that it was not safe for believers to meet at all, and times when persecution did not threaten at all, but he overlooks the much more common intermediate scenario. It is clear from the New Testament that there was an ever-present risk of persecution, but that the persecution was not so intense as to make it impossible for Christians to meet at all. Paul suffered frequent persecution (Rom 15:31; 16:4; 7; 1 Cor 4:12; 2 Cor 1:8-11; 4:8-10; 6:4-9; 11:23-26, 32-33; Gal 5:11; 6:17; Phil 1:7; 1 Thess 1:6; 2:2, 15; 3:4, 7; Phlmn 9, 13; Acts 9:6, 23-25, 29;13:50; 14:5, 19; 16:19-24; 17:5, 10, 13-14; 18:12; 19:26; 20:3, 23; 21:27-28:31) precisely because he proclaimed his message publicly in synagogues and public spaces. His converts suffered much less persecution (Phil 1:28-30; 1 Thess 1:6; 2:14; 3:3; Acts 14:22; 17:6; 18:17), presumably because they took the precaution of not doing what Paul did. They met in private houses, and thus minimized the risk of provoking opposition. The relative lack of persecution of Paul's converts does not show that they had no need to restrict their meetings in private houses. Rather, it shows that they minimized their exposure to persecution by taking sensible precautions, such as meeting in private houses. Adams' logic seems flawed.

4. On page 29 Adams writes:
In 1 Cor. 11.22, Paul asks rhetorically, 'Do you not have homes (οἰκίας) to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God...?' In 11.34, he issues the instruction: 'If you are hungry, eat at home (ἐν οἴκῳ), so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation'. The rhetorical questions of 11.22 and the injunction of 11.34 would have less persuasive value if some th the congragants (the host and his family) were eating in their own house.
Adams makes a very important point there, and I am grateful to him for it. He is right to infer that 1 Corinthians was not addressed to a group that included a host and his household. However his is wrong to conclude that the church of Corinth had not host. Another option, which I have argued before on other grounds, is that the host and his household were Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, who were with Paul at the time of writing and were therefore not part of the audience. So, while Adams makes much of this text, I am not convinced that he draws the right conclusion.

5. On page 72 he quotes the Martyrdom of Justin:
Rusticus the prefect said, 'Where do you (Christians) assemble?'
   'Wherever is chosen and it is possible for each one', said Justin, 'for do you think it is possible for all of us to gather in the same place (of assembly)?'
   Rusticus the prefect said, 'Tell me, where do you assemble, that is, in what place?'
   Justin said, 'I have been staying above the baths of Myrtinus for the entire period I have resided in Rome for this the second time. And I know no other meeting place except the one there. If anyone wishes to come to me there, I am accustomed to share with him the words of truth.'
Adams (p74) writes:
An intriguing feature of this passage, and one that is constantly overlooked, is Justin's claim, in response to Rusticus's questioning, that the Christians gather, 'wherever is chosen and it is possible for one'. The answer implies that Roman Christians at the time utilized whatever space (not just domestic space) they could for meeting purposes.
But it is important not to overlook the fact that Justin is choosing his words carefully to avoid betraying other Christians. If Justin had replied, "we meet in the house of Claudia and the house of Vibius", Rusticus might have raided those houses and arrested the owners and the congregants. Rusticus was not asking about meeting places out of idle curiousity. He was considering arresting other Christians. Justin answers the question as vaguely as possible. His statement "I know of no other meeting place except the one there [above the baths]" is surely not true, but we can assume that Justin expected Rusticus to find it plausible. This, and the fact that Rusticus needs to ask where the Christians meet, suggests that there was no well-known public meeting place of the Christians in Rome. They met in private houses, it seems. The evasion, incidentally, continues in the next passage, where Rusticus asks Justin's co-accused who had taught them the faith. When they say "our parents" he asks them "where are your parents". They disclose no sensitive information: Euelpistus says that his parents are in Cappadocia (which is convenient) and Hierax says that his parents are dead (which is even more convenient).

6. Adams (p74) makes much of the words of Celsus. Celsus discusses Christian "wool-workers, cobblers, laundry makers, and the most illiterate and bucolic yokels", who encourage children to go to "the wooldresser's shop, or to the cobbler's or the washerwoman's shop" to receive Christian instruction. Adams (p138) concludes "Celsus identifies the wooldresser's shop, the cobbler's workshop and the fuller's workshop as settings in which Christian instruction typically takes place." However, it is not clear to me how he differentiates the workshops from the adjoining living spaces. If the washerwoman wanted the children to come to her house she would surely still direct them to "the washerwoman's shop", for that is the landmark that they would know. In any case, Celsus is not referring here to the main church meetings. These probably took place in large private houses, but Celsus does not mention them because he is trying to emphasize that the Christians were of low social status.

7. Adams tries to show that the word οἶκος (house) is not often used in the New Testament to refer to an assembly of Christians, and he includes the compound οἰκονόμος in his analysis. He writes:
The term οἰκονόμος refers in the first place to a household manager or estate manager, but it could also be used for the holder of a civic office, as in Rom. 16.23, with regard to Erastus, who is designated,   οἰκονόμος τῆς πόλεως, or more generally for someone entrusted with management.
But Adams assumes his own conclusion that οἰκονόμος in Rom 16:23 refers to a civic office. If οἶκος = church, then οἰκονόμος τῆς πόλεως can mean "manager of the church of the city". That is to say, Paul could be describing Erastus as the treasurer of the believers of Corinth, as Justin Meggitt has proposed. Paul nowhere refers to the secular role of any fellow-believer, so it is unlikely that he does so here.

8. On pages 25, 26, 31, 39, 65, 95, 111, 118, and 131 he uses arguments from  silence that seem week to me.

9. Adams does a fine job of assembling a lot of evidence that church meeting places were generally in houses. I therefore find it surprising that he comes down against the consensus view. From the evidence  that he cites, I would have expected a conclusion like "churches met in houses at least 70%-95% of the time".


My assessment, then, is that this book is a valuable resource, but its conclusion is misleading. Leave comments below if you disagree.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

1 Cor 16:15-18, the cost of sea voyages, and the identity of Stephanas

Stanford University has produced "ORBIS", a valuable site for calculating the cost of travel in the Roman empire. Thanks to Charles Savelle for bringing this to our attention.


Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus travelled from Corinth to Ephesus and back (1 Cor 16:15-18). According to ORBIS the land journey was 1473 km and would have taken 50 days each way. So if they took the land route they would have been on the road for 100 days each (300 days combined), with a commensurate loss of income. Even a labourer earned one denarius per day (Matt 20:2). The opportunity cost of sending three men by land to Ephesus and back was therefore large.

The sea route is only 453 km and took only about a week, but it cost about 65 denarii each way per person in the first century. It therefore cost about 390 denarii to send the three men to Ephesus.

Now, what does all this tell us about the purpose of the journey of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus to Ephesus? It is normally assumed that they visited Ephesus to deliver the Corinthians' letter, at the request of the church. But if this were the case it is surprising that three people were sent. Why would the Corinthians not have sent just one letter carrier by sea, costing just 130 denarii for the round trip? Why expose three people to the dangers of shipwreck when only one was needed? People did not make unnecessary journeys and the group of three men demands an explanation. No explanation has been given before, as far as I know.

All is clear when we accept that Paul had honoured Gaius, by giving him the name "Stephanas", as I argued here. The church meetings were held in the house of Gaius-Stephanas (Rom 16:23). It was therefore the role of Stephanas and his household to control the proceedings, but the meetings had become disorderly (1 Cor 11-14) because the church members did not show enough respect for their hosts. Stephanas and two members of his household (Fortunatus and Achaicus) therefore travelled to Ephesus to report the problems to Paul and solicit his support, which he gave in 1 Cor 16:15-18. Fortunatus and Achaicus accompanied Stephanas because they shared with him the responsibility of hosting the church and they too needed Paul's endorsement if they were to be able to control the unruly congregation.

The church as a whole did not initiate the visit of the three men to Ephesus. They went on their own initiative and the church merely took the opportunity to send a letter with them.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Continuity of leadership in Paul's churches

In this post I argue that local church leaders tended to remain in their leadership positions and were not eclipsed by later converts. This helps us to discern the identities of several of Paul's co-workers.

Probably towards the end of the first century the church of Corinth deposed its leaders. Clement of Rome then wrote to them to urge them to re-instate their elders. The shock that Clement expresses in his letter suggests that it was rare for churches to turn against their leaders. Indeed, Clement's words imply that it was expected (and perhaps the norm) for church leaders to remain in office until death.
And as they [the apostles] went through the territories and townships preaching, they appointed their first converts (ἀπαρχή) - after testing them by the Spirit - to be bishops and deacons for the believers of the future. (42:4)
Similarly, our Apostles knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be dissensions over the title of bishop. In their full foreknowledge of this, therefore, they proceeded to appoint the ministers I spoke of, and they went on to add an instruction that if these should fall asleep, other accredited persons should succeed them in their office. (44:1-2)
How happy those presbyters must be who have already passed away, with a lifetime of fruitfulness behind them; ...  (44:5).
Continuity of leadership is not surprising. In the early days of the movement, those who took prominent positions within the churches risked persecution, so it is reasonable to suppose that they were dedicated to the cause. It therefore seems unlikely that the apostles, who appointed the leaders, would later replace them with other leaders.

Also, the numbers of Christians grew dramatically in the early years, and we know from the writings of Ignatius and Polycarp that Paul's churches continued to flourish. This suggests two things. Firstly, apostasy cannot have been common. Secondly, while divisions within churches were inevitable, they cannot have been so serious as to have jeopardized the viability of the churches. Continuity of leadership is therefore to be expected.

The first leaders of the early church were Peter, James, and John. It is no coincidence, I think, that these were the first, or among the first, disciples of Jesus (Mark 1:16-20; John 1:40-42). These were the "firstfruits" of the Jesus movement and they retained their leadership roles until they died, as far as we can tell. It may also be significant that when Peter becomes the first to declare that Jesus was the Christ, he is immediately appointed to a permanent position of leadership (Matthew 16:16-19).

The disciples decided to appoint someone to replace Judas (Acts 1:21-22). Their criterion is interesting. The candidate had to have accompanied Jesus since the time of the baptism of John. Only an early convert was suitable for the role. Now, it is true that James the brother of Jesus became the leader of the Jerusalem church even though he was not a follower of Jesus before the resurrection. However, he seems to have been given the leadership at the time when Peter had to go into hiding in ~44A.D. (Acts 12:17), after he had been within the fold for more than 10 years (Acts 1:14).

Acts 13:1 gives the names of 5 "prophets and teachers" in Antioch in about 46 A.D.: Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, and Saul. Barnabas was a believer already in the earliest days of the movement (Acts 4:36-37). Lucius was from Cyrene and was therefore probably among those from Cyrene who came to Antioch from Judea following the death of Stephen (Acts 11:20-21). He therefore probably came to the faith before Paul (Saul). Manean and Simeon had Hebrew/Aramaic names and Manean had been  σύντροφος of Herod. They were therefore probably not natives of Antioch. They may well have escaped to Antioch during the time of the persecution, along with Lucius. Saul's conversion had been in 35A.D.. Perhaps he is mentioned last because he was the most recent convert of the five. While we cannot be sure of all the biographical details, we can be assured that the group as a whole had many years of experience in the faith. They had probably all been believers for longer than the native Antiochenes whom they taught.

During the "first missionary journey" Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in each church (Acts 14:23). I doubt that Luke would have gone to the trouble of mentioning this if elders such as these were appointed for only a short time and were soon replaced by others.

Paul's letters also show that it was considered an honour to be an early convert. In 1 Cor 16:15 Paul commends the household of Stephanas for being the "firstfruits (ἀπαρχή) of Achaia". Similarly Rom 16:5 celebrates Epaenetus for being the "firstfruits (ἀπαρχήof Asia", and in Rom 16:7 Paul recognizes Andronicus and Junia for being in the faith before he was. Also, in 1 Cor 15:8-9 Paul shows that he was "the least of the apostles" by pointing out that Christ appeared to him "last of all". Furthermore, Luke honours his host, Mnason, by writing that the was a disciple of long standing (Acts 21:16).

It is generally acknowledged that Euodia and Syntyche were leaders of the church of Philippi (Phil 4:2-3). They were probably also among the earliest converts there because Paul writes that they had "struggled beside me in the work of the gospel". This probably refers to Paul's first visit to Philippi because:
a) the struggle referred to here may allude to the persecution that Paul suffered in Philippi at that time (1 Thess 2:1; Acts 16:22-23),
b) on the assumption of an Ephesian provenance Paul had visited Philippi only once,
c) the "work of the gospel" may refer to the evangelization of Philippi.
Therefore Euodia and Syntyche were probably early Philippian converts who had leadership roles there after several years.

In summary, all the data suggests that Clement was right. Those who were first to believe commanded the respect of later converts and retained their leadership roles. We should not suppose that new converts could attain positions of leadership in the church (except of course in new churches when all the local believers were new converts). Experience mattered. Being filled with the Spirit was not enough.

Implications for the identities of Crispus, Sosthenes, Gaius, Titius Justus, Stephanas, Jason, Aristarchus, Timothy, and Luke

We have seen above that prominent early converts were appointed to permanent leadership positions so it would be natural for them to be given new names to reflect their new identities and roles. Thus Jesus gave new names to his "firstfruits", Simon (Peter), and James and John (Boanerges) (Mark 3:16-17), in accordance with the OT practice of renaming those who were given a new calling.  Did Paul, likewise, give new names to his "firstfruits"? I have made the case in detail on this blog and I will not repeat the arguments here. I will merely show that the observations about church leadership above lend a little support to the renaming hypotheses.

Crispus-Sosthenes
I argued in Tyn Bul 2005 p111ff that Sosthenes (Acts 18:17; 1 Cor 1:1) was Crispus (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor 1:14) renamed. He was an early convert in Corinth and therefore had the respect of the Corinthian believers. This, and his role in the conversion of many Corinthians, explains why Paul includes him as his co-sender of 1 Corinthians. His name added authority to Paul's letter.

Gaius-Titius-Justus-Stephanas
Gaius was the host of Paul and the whole church of Corinth (Rom 16:23), yet in Acts Paul preaches from the house of Titius Justus (Acts 18:7). It is often supposed that Paul used Titus Justus's house during his first visit to Corinth, but switched to Gaius's house later. However, our findings on the continuity of church leadership makes this less likely. This supports the view that "Gaius" was the praenomen of Titius Justus.

In 1 Cor 16:15-16 Paul urges the Corinthians to be submissive to the household of Stephanas, the "firstfruits of Achaia". Is he promoting the leadership of Stephanas at the expense of Gaius and Crispus? Again, this would conflict with the evidence that changes of leadership were rare. The problem is resolved by the realization that Stephanas was Gaius Titius Justus renamed (see here for the evidence), and that Crispus was Sosthenes, who was no longer in Corinth (1 Cor 1:1).

Jason-Aristarchus
Jason (Acts 17:5-9; Rom 16:21) was the earliest known convert in Thessalonica and host of Paul. He was Paul's firstfruits in the city and therefore, in light of our findings above, he probably became a leader of the church there. Indeed, Luke mentions him as if he is already known to the audience of Acts. This supports my view that he was probably renamed "Aristarchus", which means "best leader". See here.

Titus-Timothy
Acts 16:1-2 tells us that in Lystra Paul found Timothy, who "was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium". Paul then appointed Timothy to be his fellow-missionary (Acts 16:3; 1 Thess 3:2; 2 Cor 1:19 etc.). Now, if Timothy was a resident of Lystra he could have been converted no earlier than Paul's first missionary journey. He would then have been a relatively new convert at the time that he joined Paul's traveling team. This is unlikely, given the importance placed on being a Christian of long standing. Why would Paul appoint a novice from Lystra rather than an experienced believer from Antioch? It is more likely that Timothy was an earlier convert and that Paul had sent him as his emissary to the churches of south Galatia, including Lystra. This explains why the believers in Lystra and Iconium commended Timothy: he had fulfilled his duties as Paul's envoy well.  So, while Luke does not say so explicitly, the implication is that Timothy was in Paul's orbit in Antioch prior to the "second missionary journey". This supports my contention that he was Titus renamed.

So, it seems to me that the observations about continuity of leadership in the first century church strengthen the cumulative case that Paul gave new names to his prominent early converts.

Lucius-Luke
It is often suggested that Luke was from Troas, simply because the first "we passage" in Acts starts there (Acts 16:8-10). It is, however, unlikely that Paul would recruit someone who would have been so new to the faith. This supports my view, which I have argued on other grounds, that Luke had joined Paul's team in Syrian Antioch and had avoided first person narrative for the land journey for stylistic reasons. See here. He may have been Lucius of Cyrene (Acts 13:1).

Let me know if I have missed any arguments, for or against.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Von Lips revises his view on Titus-Timothy

The only publication to argue that Titus and Timothy were different people  is Hermann von Lips' 2008 book. At the time von Lips understandably knew only my 2001 paper and the earlier work of Borse. I then addressed his points on my blog here.

However, in a 2012 book von Lips gives a very different assessment of the Titus-Timothy hypothesis ("Ohne den 2. Korintherbrief kein Titusbrief!" in Der zweite Korintherbrief. p160-174)". Most of this article is available at google books here. He gives an overview of biographical details about "Titus" and  "Timothy" and presents many of the reasons for seeing him as one person, and cites a post from this blog. He concludes:
Wir können nicht definitiv klären, wie die Relation zwischen Titus und Timotheus ist, ob mit diesen Namen ein oder zwei Personen angesprochen werden.

(We can not definitely clarify the relationship between Titus and Timothy - whether one or two people are addressed with these names)
He gives two reasons for his indecision on Titus-Timothy (p167):
1. He finds tension between the circumcision of Timothy and the non-circumcision of Titus in Gal 2:3. He mentions that I offer a solution, but unfortunately he does not discuss it.
2. He is unconvinced by Borse's explanation for why Paul calls Timothy "Titus" when he does. However, Borse's explanation is not mine.
Even though von Lips does not properly explain his reservations about Titus-Timothy, this recent article is much better than his 2008. It is encouraging to see some engagement with my blog, and I think that this discussion of Titus-Timothy does indeed belong in a book on 2 Corinthians.

So we have now had four authors who have supported Titus-Timothy in print, and one who is undecided. No-one now argues against Titus-Timothy in print. So come one, you two-person theorists (you know who you are), you must either argue your case or abandon your position.
Also, Titus-Timothy has made his first appearance in a historical novel. You can download this well researched Spanish novel for free, here. Thanks to Xabier Aletheia for bringing this novel and von Lip's new article to my attention.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Hegesippus on the unity between Paul and James

Here I argue that Hegesippus was a supporter both of Paul's legacy, and of James. This bolsters my view that there was no doctrinal division between Paul and James.

Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History 4.22.7-8 tells us that Hegesippus was a Hebrew, and from 4.22 we learn that he travelled to Rome via Corinth:
Hegesippus in the five books of Memoirs which have come down to us has left a most complete record of his own views. In them he states that on a journey to Rome he met a great many bishops, and that he received the same doctrine from all. It is fitting to hear what he says after making some remarks about the epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. His words are as follows: “And the church of Corinth continued in the true faith until Primus was bishop in Corinth. I conversed with them on my way to Rome, and abode with the Corinthians many days, during which we were mutually refreshed in the true doctrine.

This journey was in about A.D. 160 because Eusebius says that it was at the time of Anicetus. Hegesippus passed through Aegean churches such as Corinth. Presumably these churches had preserved Paul's letters and his legacy. Since Hegesippus was in agreement with the doctrine held by all  the bishops that he met, we can assume that he was no opponent of Paul's influence. Indeed, his statement that Corinth "continued in the true faith" suggests that he believed that Corinth was already in the true faith, at least after Clement's correcting letter (and Clement was also a fan of Paul). So Hegesippus endorsed Paul's legacy.

But Hegesippus was also a huge admirer of James:
The manner of James’ death has been already indicated by the above-quoted words of Clement, who records that he was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple, and was beaten to death with a club. But Hegesippus, who lived immediately after the apostles, gives the most accurate account in the fifth book of his Memoirs. He writes as follows: “James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Saviour to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James. He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath. He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people. Because of his exceeding great justice he was called the Just, and Oblias, which signifies in Greek, ‘Bulwark of the people’ and ‘Justice,’ in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him. (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.23.3-7)
So, Hegesippus endorsed James too. It is therefore hard to believe that there was a lasting doctrinal schism between Paul and James, yet this seems to be the view of many. Neither Hegesippus, nor Luke saw any rift between the two men. The rift is created only by those who misread Galatians. See here.



Incidentally, Peter Kirby has an interesting post on Hegesippus. He suggests that some words of Hegesippus have been misattributed to Josephus by Clement of Alexandria and by Origen. I think this kind of confused attribution is very possible, especially if Hegesippus's Hebrew name was Joseph.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Antipas" (Rev 2:13) as a symbolic name

David Lincicum has tentatively suggested that "Antipas" in Rev 2:13 could be a symbolic name. See here.
Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives. (Rev 2:13)
Lincicum provides three new arguments, which I now summarize:

1. The nominative case ending of Ἀντιπᾶς is odd, but is explicable if the seer wanted to draw attention to the meaning of the name.
2. The symbolism of names is very important in the book of Revelation. Consider, for example, the name Jezebel (2:20), which was surely not her birth name.
3. The name could be interpreted as Ἀντι + πᾶς, that is, ‘on behalf of or in place of all’. Thus the name could signify that Antipas had died as a martyr on behalf of all the believers in Pergamum. This idea of vicarious suffering by Christians is well attested.

It should also be noted that the earliest Christians thought that those who showed exceptional commitment to the faith should have names with appropriate meanings (Phil 2:8-9; Matt 16:16-18, Acts 4:36-37, and Rev 2:17).

Now, if the name "Antipas" in Rev 2:14 is symbolic, it may still have been his birth name: it may be that the new meaning was attributed to his name following his demonstration of commitment.

We actually have 3 variants of the symbolic name theory:
1. He received the name (or its new interpretation) while he was still alive, perhaps awaiting martyrdom. Compare Peregrinus Proteus taking the name "Phoenix" in anticipation of his death.
2. The name (or just its new interpretation) was given to him after his death, but before the writing of Revelation.
3. The name was ascribed to him for the first time by John's revelation.
I don't know how to decide between these possibilities.

The Christian martyrs in New Testament times are Jesus-Christ, Stephen (which means "crown"), James and John Boanerges, Simon-Peter, Saul-Paul, James the Just-Oblias, Antipas, and Ignatius-Theodorus. They all received a new name, except perhaps for those (Stephen?) who happened to have been born with a name that already had an appropriate meaning. While we cannot be sure that "Antipas" was not his birth name, it seems likely that the church attributed meaning to the name. Lincicum is onto something.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

When did Paul first preach a gospel of Gentile liberty?

According to Paul (and others), Gentile men who accepted Christ were part of the people of Israel without having to be circumcised. Now, I used to assume, with the majority, that Paul preached this message from the start of his ministry, soon after his conversion. However, a recent lecture by Gerry Schoberg has caused me to dismiss this assumption. His conclusions are a little different from mine but can be found in his new book, Perspectives of Jesus in the Writings of Paul PTMS190.

Thesis
The first preaching by Paul to Gentiles that we know about is during the "first missionary journey" in about 46AD, yet Paul's conversion was in 35AD. Here I argue that Paul did not preach a circumcision-free gospel during the intervening 11 years.

Evidence
1. If Paul had established Gentile churches in this time period Acts would have said so, since Luke is very interested in the spread of the gospel to Gentiles (see Schoberg p119).

2. We have no surviving letters of Paul to any churches that he established in this time period (see Schoberg p119).

3. The church of Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch after hearing the news of the conversion of many Gentiles there (Acts 20-22). If Paul had already established Gentile churches, why did Barnabas not visit them instead?

4. Barnabas found Paul in his home town of Tarsus (Acts 11:25), which is where Paul had gone years earlier (Acts 9:30). This gives the impression that Paul had remained there, perhaps because he had family and friends there.

5. The controversy in the church about circumcision arose only in ~48AD when men came to Antioch from Judea. If Paul had been establishing churches of uncircumcised Gentiles  ever since his conversion in 35AD, why did the controversy not arise earlier?

6. Paul went up to Jerusalem (in ~48AD) 14 years after his conversion and presented his gospel of Gentile liberty to the church leaders there (Gal 2:1-3). He did so privately because he was worried that he had been running in vain. Why did he take 14 years to check that he had not been "running in vain"? Why did he not make an earlier visit to Jerusalem to discuss the issue? Why did he not present his gospel to them during the famine visit (Acts 11:29-30; 12:25)? John Chrysostom notes, but does not solve, this puzzle:
What is this, Paul? You would not consult the apostles at the beginning or after three years, but you now consult them after fourteen years are past, to make sure you are not running in vain? Would it not have been better to have done so at first, rather than after so many years? And why did you run at all, if you thought you might be running in vain?
 It makes little sense if he had been preaching that same gospel for all those years, but it is perfectly consistent with the account of Acts. According to Acts Paul had been on only one missionary tour before he laid his gospel before the Jerusalem church leaders. The Holy Spirit had commissioned Paul and Barnabas for that tour, so he had no opportunity to check that Jerusalem endorsed his message. His uncertainty about what Jerusalem believed would have been heightened when the men who came from Judea claimed that Jerusalem supported their view that Law-observance was necessary (Acts 15:1,24).

7. Gal 1:23 reads 'they only heard it said, "The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy."' Now, the faith that Paul had tried to destroy did not include a circumcision-free message (Peter's Cornelius episode came later). Paul makes no distinction here between the faith that he proclaimed early in his ministry and the pro-circumcision faith of the church of the time.

8. Gal 5:11 reads "why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision". This may refer back to a time earlier in Paul's ministry when he had preached circumcision to Gentiles.

9. Paul wrote Galatians to counter the view that he believed in circumcision (for Gentiles). The Galatians were thinking that Paul preached Gentile liberty only to please the Jerusalem church leaders. See here. We can imagine how this misunderstanding could have arisen if Paul had not started preaching Gentile liberty until after the Jerusalem church leaders had come to support it. If, on the other hand, Paul had preached a circumcision-free gospel before anyone else did, then it would be surprising that he does not say so explicitly in his letter.

Conclusion
For the reasons given above, we can be confident that Paul did not preach a Law-free gospel until several years after this conversion. His missionary tour of Cyprus and south Galatia with Barnabas was probably the first time that he did so. It is likely that Paul did evangelize Gentiles in the early years, but he did not preach against circumcision at that time.

When did Paul first receive his circumcision-free gospel?
What, then, are we to make of Gal 1:10-12?
Or am I trying to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not according to man; for I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Paul is challenging the rumour that he opposed circumcision in Galatia only to please men (i.e. the Jerusalem apostles). Paul therefore points out that he had received his gospel of Gentile liberty by revelation at his conversion. At least, that is how he interpreted the revelation in retrospect, it seems. Why, then, did he not preach that gospel from the start? Well, we know from Gal 2:2 that it would have been futile for Paul to preach Gentile liberty when the rest of the church did not yet support such a view. Paul could preach against circumcision only after the Jerusalem church became supportive of that view, following Peter's vision. The church of Antioch was the first to include Gentiles in large numbers (Acts 11:19-22), and it is interesting that at that time Barnabas recruited Paul to come to Antioch to teach (Acts 11:25-26). Presumably Barnabas knew that Paul would support the steps that Antioch had taken to include Gentiles.

I propose, therefore, that Paul received his gospel of non-circumcision (at least in some respects) at his conversion, but did not preach it until much later. Many will object to this. They will use passages such as Gal 2:11-14, 5:2-12 to argue that Paul was uncompromising in his opposition to circumcision and would have preached against circumcision from the start. However, they fail to understand that Paul wrote Galatians to correct the view that Paul actually believed in the need for circumcision. Paul takes an extreme position in these passages only to correct the Galatians' view that a) he believes in circumcision and b) he is writing only to please Jerusalem. Interpreters have become victims of Paul's rhetoric and have cast him as a heroic, principled, individual, rather than as a first century team player who belonged to a collectivist culture.

Imagine a parallel universe in which the rumour in Galatia had been different. Imagine that the Galatians had accused Paul of being a maverick who was stubbornly uncompromising and unwilling to collaborate with other church leaders. Paul would then have written to the Galatians to counter that misinformation. He would have given evidence of his close co-operation with the Jerusalem church, and subsequent generations of commentators would have come away with the view that Paul was a sycophant of Jerusalem. We cannot understand Galatians without first discerning the misinformation that Paul writes to correct.