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.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The role, authority, and names of Stephanas

Paul was the main founder of the church of Corinth. This fact gave him authority over the congregation there (see 1 Cor 4:15-16 and 2 Cor 10:8,15). We should therefore expect that those who had helped Paul establish a church would also derive authority commensurate with the role that they had played in the formation of the church. I shall first argue that Paul's selection of co-senders shows that the churches did indeed owe respect to those who had helped Paul to found them.

It was rare in the ancient world for the author to include co-senders. Karen Fulton is doing a PhD on co-senders and finds only about 80 such cases. It is significant, therefore that Paul includes named co-senders: Timothy and Silvanus in 1 Thess; Timothy in 2 Cor, Phil, and Phlm; and Sosthenes in 1 Cor. What all these people have in common is that they all participated in the founding of the church in question (see 2 Cor 1:19 and Acts). Rom and Gal have no named co-senders and this is explicable because no-one who was with Paul at the time or writing had helped to found those churches. The role of Sosthenes in the establishment of church of Corinth is clear from Acts 18:8 and from the meaning of his name, if we accept that Sosthenes was Crispus renamed. So, Paul includes co-founders as co-senders. This suggests that the co-founders had authority in the churches that they helped to establish. Paul adds their authority to his own by including their names as co-senders.

This helps us to understand Paul's rhetoric in 1 Cor 16:15-16. Here Paul is urging the Corinthians to be submissive to the household of Stephanas. We also read that the household of Stephanas had been the "firstfruits (ἀπαρχὴ) of Achaia". It is widely agreed that the term "firstfruits" has the sense of "the first with the prospect of more to follow". Paul is not saying that Stephanas was merely the first convert of Achaia, because that would not have really helped him to convince the Corinthians to be submissive to this household, and because Athenians were actually the first converts (Acts 1:34). No, that Paul goes to the trouble of mentioning it at all suggests that the role of "firstfruits" was a more substantial role that commanded respect. It seems, then, that Stephanas had put his house and household at Paul's service and that this had allowed the formation of the church of Corinth.

Now, I have argued here and here that Stephanas was Gaius Titius Justus renamed. However, Doug Chaplain objects:

"Richard Fellows suggests with many that in the Corinthian Church Gaius and Titius Justus are to be identified as the same person. He goes a step further and suggests the man with this good proud Roman name is also to be known by a Greek nickname and identified with Stephanas. ....

I would say that 1 Corinthians 1:14-16 makes that inherently unlikely.

It seems to me that by far the most natural reading is to see Gaius and Stephanas as different people. It would be odd, I think, for Paul to use (what is a conjectural) praenomen for him as an individual and a nickname for him as the paterfamilias of a household.

I am grateful to Doug for the feedback and for getting me to think about this issue again. He is right that "Stephanas" cannot have been a "nickname" in the modern sense of the word, but that is not what is being proposed. Nicknames in modern times are usually informal names that are often humorous, but religious bi-names in the ancient world were very different. I am proposing that Paul gave Gaius Titius Justus the name/epithet "Stephanas" to honor him for making his house available for Paul to use for preaching.

Dale Allison believes that ancient authors could refer to someone by one name and then switch to another name for no apparent reason. However, I have not found this to be the case very often. I think it is valid to ask why the same person would be called "Gaius" in 1 Cor 1:14 and Rom 16:23, "Stephanas" in 1 Cor 1:16 and 1 Cor 16:15-18, and "Titius Justus" in Acts 18:7. In 1 Corinthians Paul is trying to unite the church under Stephanas's roof. To do this he bolsters the authority of Stephanas by reminding the Corinthians that Stephanas's household was the "firstfruits". It therefore makes perfect sense that Paul should call him "Stephanas" in 1 Corinthians, since this name/epithet honors him for his benefaction of providing a house. The Corinthians will have known the significance of the name and why it was given and Paul's use of it here is in keeping with his desire to remind the Corinthians that the household of Stephanas was the firstfruits and worthy of respect. It is true that in 1 Cor 1:14 Paul calls him "Gaius", but this refers to a time before he had earned the name "Stephanas". It is not surprising that Paul should call him "Gaius" in Rom 16:23. Someone's original name did not usually fall from use after they received a religious bi-name. Thus Peter continued to be known as "Simon/Simeon" (e.g. Acts 15:14). Similarly, Bar Kokhba continued to sign his letters "Bar Kosiba". Unlike the Corinthians, the church of Rome would probably not have known the significance of Gaius's bi-name, and Paul had no reason to use it. It is also not surprising that Acts should call him "Titius Justus" (Acts 18:7). By using his nomen and cognomen here Luke may be deliberately revealing that he was a Roman citizen. In any case, this verse refers to a time before Titius Justus would have received his bi-name.

So, there is nothing odd about the way that Paul sometimes calls him "Gaius" and sometimes "Stephanas". On the contrary, Paul's name selections seem to fit the contexts. I am therefore not convinced by Doug's objections to the hypothesis that Gaius was Stephanas. However, I find his comments on Stephanas here very insightful.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Osiek and the identity of Stephanas

Carolyn Osiek's paper, Diakonos and prostatis: Women’s patronage in Early Christianity is well written and informative. I want to highlight one thing that she writes:

Stephanas particularly can be singled out for his social prominence, for he hosts Paul and the whole church, the members of which are expected, as good clients, to be submissive to him (1 Cor 16:15-16). ... At a later time, Gaius hosts the whole Corinthian church (Rm 16:23).

Osiek infers that Stephanas "hosts Paul and the whole church" and Rom 16:23 says exactly the same thing about Gaius. Acts 18:7, on the other hand, gives this role to Titius Justus. 1 Cor 16:15 describes Stephanas's household as the 'firstfruits of Achaia', meaning that Stephanas's conversion was Paul's first breakthrough in Corinth, and again Acts gives this honor to Titius Justus.

We seem to have three socially prominent people who fulfilled the same role in the Corinthian church, and this is all the more surprising when we remember that not many in the Corinthian church were socially prominent (1 Cor 1:26). What is going on? It is often pointed out the "Gaius" could have been the praenomen of Titius Justus, but what about "Stephanas"?

The name "Stephanas" means "crowned" or such like, and it was common for those who funded synagogue buildings to be crowned (metaphorically or physically). It is therefore very likely that "Stephanas" was a conversion name/agnomen that Paul gave to Gaius Titius Justus, who had made his house available for Paul to use as a (rival) synagogue.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Misogynist corruptions of Paul

Did early copyist and writers alter Paul's writings to reduce the authority of women in the church? It seems to me that this question can be answered only by evaluating the cumulative case, rather than by looking at individual pieces of data in isolation. So here I bring together some of the relevant passages and recent discussions.

In the undisputed texts Paul sees an equality, or at least symmetry, between men and women (Gal 3:28; 1 Cor 7:3-5, 10-17; 32-34; Phil 4:3). In the disputed letters, in contrast, women are put down (Col 3:18-19; Eph 5:21-33; and 1 Tim 2:11-15, which is discussed by Emily Gathergood here). This raises the possibility that early interpreters of Paul were quite misogynist.

1 Cor 14:34-35 is found in different places in different texts and this is explicable if these verses were added to the margin of an early copy of the letter and were latter incorporated into the letter by later copyists. Philip Payne argues the case here, and Matthew Malcolm discusses it here.

Dominika Kurak-Chomycz argued here that some copyists may have amended their texts to put down Prisca.

It is now almost universally agreed that interpreters and translators changed Junia of Rom 16:7 to a man. This is discussed by Rena Pederson in her book "The Lost Apostle", and by Dianne McDonnell, Patrick McCullough, Bernadette Brooten, and Mark Goodacre.

Concerning alterations to Acts, Ben Witherington writes, "In view of the above evidence, it appears that there was a concerted effort by some part of the Church, perhaps as early as the late first century or beginning of the second, to tone down texts in Luke's second volume that indicated that women played an important and prominent part in the early days of the Christian community.' (The Anti-Feminist Tendencies of the 'Western' Text in Acts', JBL, March 1984).

I have not studied these issues in great detail, but, for now, I am convinced by the cumulative case, as is Bart Ehrman here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Johann Michaelis on Crispus-Sosthenes

John Chrysostom (4th century), A. Myrou (1999) and I (2005) have argued that Sosthenes was Crispus renamed. But neither Myrou nor I were aware that a certain Dr. Hoven make the same proposal, presumably in the 18th century.

The 1823 English translation of Johann David Michaelis's Introduction to the New Testament, p46 reads:

Dr. Hoven, in a Corollary annexed to his dissertation, De Christianorum Saeculi primivitaet moribus, asserts that Sosthenes and Crispus were one and the same person. But, as St. Paul names Sosthenes, 1 Cor. i.1. and mentions Crispus, ver. 14 . of the same chapter, it is evidecet that they were different persons: for he would surely not have created an unnecessary confusion, in mentioning in so short a compass the very same person under two different names.

This is a very weak counter-argument. Crispus-Sosthenes was responsible for the conversion of many in Corinth (Acts 18:8) and had so much authority among the believers in Corinth that Paul chose to include him as his co-sender of 1 Corinthians. The readers of 1 Corinthians would surely then have known both names of Crispus-Sosthenes, so there was no risk of 'confusion'. In 1 Cor 1:14 Paul correctly calls him "Crispus" because he is referring to his baptism, which would have been before he was renamed.

Furthermore, Paul refers to Simon as both "Peter" and "Cephas" in Galatians.