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.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ignatius, women, greeters, and Lucius as author of Acts

Women did not travel
I argued earlier that women did not travel (except in the company of male members of their households). Here I will first support this conclusion using data from Ignatius and Clement of Rome.

Clement (65), writing probably at the end of the first century, mentions three messengers: Claudius, Ephebus, and Valerius Vito. All three are men.

Ignatius, writing in the early second century, mentions 12 messengers/envoys by name and they are all male: Burrhus (Eph 2; Philad 11; Smyrn 12), Crocus (Eph 2; Rom 10), Onesimus (Eph 2, 6), Euplus (Eph 2), Fronto (Eph 2), Damas (Mag 2), Bassus (Mag 2), Apollonius (Mag 2), Zotion (Mag 2), Polybius (Tral), Philo (Philad 11; Smyrn 10, 13), and Rheus Agathopous (Philad 11; Smyrn 10).

Furthermore, Ignatius's letter to the church of Rome was delivered by "men of Ephesus" (Rom 10). Also, Ignatius assumes that enjoys that will be selected by the Philadelphians (Philad 10) and by Polycarp (Poly 7-8) will be male.

Ignations mentions 7 individuals who, as far as we know, have not travelled. 3 of them are women, shown in red: Polycarp (Poly); Procurator's lady (Poly 8), Attalus (Poly 8), Alce (Poly 8; Smyrn 13), Tavia (Smyrn 13); Daphnus (Smyrn 13); Eutecnus (Smyrn 13).

All this confirms what we deduced previously from Acts, the letters of Paul, and the disputed letters of Paul: women did not travel (except with family).

Greetings are sent between individuals who knew each other
Ignatius wrote his first four surviving letters from Smyrna where he must have spent considerable time (presumably while waiting for a ship and the right winds). Two of his three later letters were sent to Smyrna (Smyrnaeans and Polycarp) and these are the only letters sent to a place where he spent considerable time (he had not been to Rome, Ephesus, Magneia, or Tralles, and there is no evidence that he would have been allowed to tarry in Philadelphia). It is surely no coincidence, then, that all those whom Ignatius greets individually (the non-travelers listed above) are in Smyrna. His personal acquaintance with them makes him mention them individually.

The only time when an individual joins with Ignatius in sending greetings is when Philo greets the Smyrnaeans (Smyrn 13). Presumably Philo has stayed in Smyrna on his journey to catch up with Ignatius.

The evidence from Ignatius therefore confirms the common-sense view that greetings are sent to and from individuals who have met.

Implications for the identities of the greeters in Rom 16:21-23
Just as Philo, mentioned above, was a man, so too were all those who send greetings in Rom 16:21-23, as well as the greeters in Philemon 23-24. This is no co-incidence. Only men travelled and therefore only men would have met those addressed. Lucius (Rom 16:21) and Luke (Philemon24) were therefore travelers and this supports the view that they were the same person and the author of Acts. I have argued this point in more detail before, here, but without the supporting data from Ignatius and Clement of Rome.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gal 5:11 the key to understanding Galatians

Here I will argue that Acts 16:1-4 provides the background that explains Gal 5:11 and the whole of the letter to the Galatians.
Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went from town to town, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached  the apostles and elsders who were in Jerusalem. (Acts 16:1-4)
But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? (Gal 5:11)
Paul circumcised Timothy in anticipation of the onward journey and then delivered the decision of the Jerusalem elders that circumcision was not necessary. These actions appear contradictory to many commentators and we must ask how the Galatians explained them. I suggest that the Galatians reasoned,
"Paul is educated in the scriptures so he knows that circumcision is necessary. He has circumcised Timothy in preparation for the onward journey because he intends to preach circumcision in his new territory, which will fall under his jurisdiction. Here in south Galatia, however, Paul acts as envoy/postman of the Jerusalem church and obediently preaches their law-free gospel, even though he does not believe it. Since Paul believes in circumcision, it is OK for us to receive circumcised".
To put it another way, the Galatians assumed (perhaps rightly) that their churches fell under the authority of Jerusalem so that Paul was obliged to toe the (law-free) party line of Jerusalem there. When traveling to Europe, on the other hand, Paul was the leader of the missionary team and was free to preach his own doctrine, which the Galatians assumed (wrongly) (on the basis of Timothy's circumcision) would include circumcision. I have argued previously, here, here, and here, that the entire letter to the Galatians is explicable as Paul's response to this kind of misunderstanding in Galatia. Galatians and Acts are thereby reconciled. Paul distances himself from the Jerusalem church in Gal 1-2 precisely to show that he preached non-circumcision out of conviction and not out of obedience to the Jerusalem church. In this post I will show that the Galatian misunderstanding, as formulated above, produces a convincing explanation of 5:11.

Gal 5:11 refers to the time of writing, but also refers to an earlier time or times. Paul says that he is still being persecuted, which is a clear reference to an earlier time when he was also being persecuted. Similarly he says that he is not still preaching circumcision, and Paul refers here to an earlier time when he did indeed, in a sense, preach circumcision. Now, in this short, pithy argument, we should assume that the word still refers back to the same time in both cases, and it is natural that it should refer to the time of Paul's most recent visit to Galatia. Now, Paul's argument in Gal 5:11 rests on the assumption (shared by the Galatians) that he would not be persecuted if he did not preach a law-free gospel. Therefore, at the earlier time alluded to by both "stills" Paul must have been preaching a law-free gospel (since he was being persecuted) at the same time as he (in a sense) preached circumcision. The verse therefore refers, almost certainly, to the time of Timothy's circumcision, when Paul "preached circumcision" (at least to Timothy and by the example that his circumcision of Timothy set) while delivering the decisions of the Jerusalem church that said that circumcision was not necessary. The apparently contradictory simultaneous actions of Paul in Acts 16:3-4 are exactly what is implicit in Gal 5:11.

Some might argue that the two "stills" could, in principle, refer back to two different times, and that this would avoid the assumption that Paul preached circumcision and non-circumcision at the same time. This would allow two possibilities, depending on which of the two times was first.
1. Paul preached circumcision, then he preached non-circumcision and was persecuted, then (at the time of writing) he continued to preach non-circumcision and is persecuted. A difficulty here is that when Paul says that he is still being persecuted, the still here would be redundant to Paul's argument. Furthermore, we would expect Paul to say "again preaching circumcision" instead of "still preaching circumcision", since Paul would have been countering the assumption that he resumed his preaching of circumcision rather than merely extending it.
2. Paul preached non-circumcision and was persecuted. Then he preached circumcision and was not persecuted. Then (at the time of writing) he preached non-circumcision and was persecuted again. The problem here is that we have two distinct periods of persecution, so we would expect Paul to write "again being persecuted" instead of "still being persecuted".
Therefore we cannot escape the conclusion that 5:11 refers to an earlier time when Paul was seen to have been preaching circumcision and non-circumcision at the same time.

5:11 in its context
Dunn (p278) says that Paul here "turns abruptly to a different point". Longenecker (p232) says that Paul writes, "without any preparation of the reader for what follows". F.F.Bruce (p236) says that Paul's argument here is "not obviously related to anything in the immediate context either before or after". Betz (p268) writes that "Without preparation, Paul confronts the readers with a rhetorical question and statement...". As far as I know, no-one has even attempted to explain how 5:11 fits its context. This is a huge problem for the commentators' understanding of the background to Galatians, since there are strong indications that 5:11 is not a digression, but is central to the entire letter:
1. It comes between two statements, shown in brown below, where Paul calls a punishment on the "agitators/influencers".
2. In 5:11 Paul corrects the misunderstanding that he believed in circumcision and this confusion is mentioned in Gal 5:10.
3. Importantly, as the table below shows, Paul follows the same line of argument in the same sequence in the three passages where he discusses the agitators/influencers. 5:11 is not an anomaly, but has its equivalent statements in the other two passages at the same locations in the sequence of thought. I have discussed this table in more detail here.

For more on 5:11 see my review of Douglas Campbell's paper here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Douglas Campbell on Gal 5:11

Here I review Douglas Campell's recent paper, "Galatians 5.11: Evidence of an Early Law-observant Mission by Paul?", NTS 57 2011, p325-347.

Gal 5:11 is an immensely important verse:
But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.
ἐγὼ δέ, ἀδελφοί, εἰ περιτομὴν ἔτι κηρύσσω, τί ἔτι διώκομαι; ἄρα κατήργηται τὸ σκάνδαλον τοῦ σταυροῦ.
Here is Campbell's abstract:
Galatians 5.11 refers to Paul ‘proclaiming circumcision’—a proposition that he is concerned to refute because he constructs two compact but powerful inferences designed to falsify it. One argues from present persecution, the other from the cross. Following a precise reconstruction of these it can be shown that the three main previous interpretations of the reference of Paul's ‘proclamation of circumcision’ are dubious, whether in terms of a blatantly false charge by opponents, a phase in Paul's pre-Christian Jewish life, or an occasional apostolic mission to Jews. A fourth, embarrassing reading is more likely, especially when other comparable missionary work is considered. Early on Paul proclaimed a fully law-observant gospel to pagans that included circumcision, but then later revised his praxis.
Campbell shows (uncontroversially) that the original text contained both instances of "still" (ἔτι). He then argues (against J.L.Martyn) that the word has the same meaning (of extension in time) in both cases. Therefore, when Paul writes (5:11a) "if I am still preaching circumcision", he concedes that there was an earlier time, known to the Galatians, when he had actually preached circumcision. Concerning that earlier occasion when Paul had preached circumcision, Campbell lists what he considers to be the only three possibilities:

(1) 5.11a refers to preaching activity by Paul before his call;
(2) 5.11a refers to missionary work to Jews by Paul after his call;
(3) 5.11a refers to an early phase in Paul's missionary work to pagans, after his call, when he did expect his male converts to be circumcised (a phase that has now passed).

Unfortunately, Campbell has overlooked a fourth possibility, namely, that 5:11a refers to a recent episode in Paul's missionary work when he had "preached circumcision".

Campbell argues against (1) by pointing to the growing consensus that Jews rarely, if ever, evangelized Gentiles. He also points out that it is hard to see how pre-conversion preaching by Paul would have been relevant to Paul's debate here.

Campbell finds (2) problematic because it would make the text irrelevant to the Galatian audience. Why would Paul's Gentile addressees have cared whether Paul had preached (or continued to preach) circumcision to Jews? Also, Jews were already circumcised.

Campbell therefore prefers option (3). He suggests that, for a while after conversion, Paul believed that male Gentile converts should undergo circumcision. This means that Paul later changed his mind and Campbell cites several cases in which people have changed their minds on similar matters. He deals with other objections to option (3) and concludes that it is correct.

My assessment of Campbell's paper
The paper provides a good review of much of the discussion of this very important verse. His arguments against the popular interpretations are well made, and convincing. However, I feel that his study is incomplete, in that he has dealt with only a subset of the relevant issues and texts. I also offer some objections to Campbell's reconstruction:

1. If I have read him correctly, he proposes the following sequence of events:
a) Paul converts, b) Paul preaches circumcision to Gentiles and is not persecuted, c) Paul permanently abandons preaching circumcision to Gentiles, d) Paul visits the Galatians, e) the Galatians think Paul is preaching circumcision to Gentiles, but he is being persecuted for preaching a law-free gospel, and he writes the letter.
Paul says that his is "still" being persecuted and that he is not "still" preaching circumcision. As Campbell points out, these two instances of the word "still" must have the same meaning. They must also, surely, refer to the same earlier time, but Campbell's reconstruction does not allow this because he has the persecution begin only after the period when Paul preached circumcision.

2. According to Campbell the Galatians believed the following sequence:
i) Paul preached circumcision, ii) Paul preached a law-free gospel and was persecuted, iii) Paul preached circumcision again.
The Galatians would then have seen two distinct periods in which Paul preached circumcision. It would then be surprising that Paul says "If I still preach circumcision", rather than "If I again preach circumcision", especially as the period of persecution that would intervened between the two periods of preaching circumcision is in view  in this verse.

3. Gal 1:11-12 suggest that Paul's law-free gospel was received by him at his original revelation. Can this objection be overcome?

4. Campbell's reconstruction requires that Paul preached circumcision in the first phase of his missionary career and was not persecuted. However, we know that the persecution started very early (Acts 9:23).

5. Campbell offers no explanation for how the Galatians came to believe that Paul was preaching circumcision at the time of writing (Campbell refuses to appeal to the circumcision of Timothy and on page 339 he seems to assume (against the evidence) that Timothy would have been considered Jewish because of his Jewish mother).

6. Campbell, along with all other commentators, interpret Gal 5:11 in isolation. They fail to see its connection to Gal 5:2-10. I have argued here that the three passages that deal with the agitators, namely Gal 1:1-10, Gal 5:2-12, and Gal 6:11-17 contain the same sequence of thought. Gal 5:11 should be interpreted alongside its counterparts Gal 1:8-9 and Gal 6:17. Rather than being an aside or anomaly, as is universally believed, Gal 5:11 must be central to the background of the entire letter. 

7. On page 344 Campbell writes, "Paul's opponents are, after all, trying ot embarrass him (or worse)." There is no evidence for this. Indeed, 5:11 suggests that the influencers/agitators thought that Paul was on their side. As Nanons, for one, has pointed out, there is no evidence that they challenged Paul's authority, and it is hazardous to assume that they were "opponents".

So, while Campbell has successfully shown that the common understandings of 5:11 are problematic, I do not feel that he has yet solved the problems. I am willing to be corrected, though, and I will invite him to comment.

In my next blog post I intend to give my own interpretation of Gal 5:11.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

New evidence that Hebrews was written by a man

The author of the epistle to the Hebrews had previously visited the recipients and intends to travel to them again (Heb 13:19, 23). This suggests that the author was a man, since women rarely, if ever, traveled, except in the company of male members of their households. This point has been overlooked, as far as I can tell.

I argued here that those who travelled among the diaspora churches were all men. I think that women could  take any role in the early church, but (due to the misogyny of the wider non-Christian society) did not travel. Most of the New Testament was written by people, such as Luke and Paul, who, through travel, had witnessed events and developed relationships that gave them occasion to write histories and letters. This, I think, goes a long way to explaining why no New Testament document is attributed to a woman. Women, I suggest, had the authority to write scripture, but, since they did not travel, they did not have the occasion to write it.

Tal Ilan's "The Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity Part III The Western Diaspora 330BCE-650CE" contains 1230 entries for females and 4419 entries for males. Ilan conveniently gives a description field for each entry, in which she includes any references to the person's place of origin in the source.  For example, an epitaph records Judah "of Tarsus" (Ταρσεύς). I laboriously searched all 1230 female entries and found just 18 with a place of origin description. I then searched a representative 1230 male entries and found some 45 such entries. From this we can project that the data base contains about 162 male entries with a place of origin description. By any measure, therefore, far fewer women than men had a place of origin description. This does seem to support the assumption that women rarely travelled. Reference to a person's place of origin is unlikely if the person was born, lived, and died in the same location.

Some have argued that Hebrews was written by Prisca/Priscilla. I am grateful to Ruth Hoppin for making the evidence available here and here, and to Brian Small for hosting some further discussion here and here. I would be interested to know how Ruth and others respond to the evidence that women did not tend to travel on church business.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

2 Cor 12:2, revelations, chronology, and Paul's reluctance to boast

I will argue here that Paul's point in 2 Cor 12:2 is that, unlike the "super-apostles", he had received revelations that he had not boasted about during his stay in Corinth.

Commentators seem muddled about why Paul describes his revelation using third person singular narration (2 Cor 12:2-5), and why he mentions that the revelation was "before 14 years". I believe that Paul does these things to show that he is, and was, reluctant to boast of his revelations.

Rival apostles were gaining the loyalty of the Corinthians by boasting (2 Cor 10:12, 17; 11:12-13). Paul therefore wrote to win the Corinthians back. To do this, he had to stoop to the level of the super-apostles by indulging in some boasting himself, but he did so with great reluctance, distancing himself from the boasting as he did it. Thus he repeatedly described his boasting as foolishness:
I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! I feel a divine jealousy for you, ... (2 Cor 12:1-2)
What I am saying in regard to this boastful confidence, I am saying not with the Lord's authority, but as a fool; since many boast according to human standards, I will also boast. (2 Cor 11:17-18)
But whatever anyone dares to boast of - I am speaking as a fool - I also dare to boast of that. (2 Cor 11:21)
I am talking like a madman (2 Cor 11:23)
I have been a fool! You forced me to it. (2 Cor 12:11)
It is likely that the super-apostles had boasted about visions and revelations and that the Corinthians had compared Paul unfavorably with them. The Corinthians would have assumed that Paul had not received many revelations because he had not told them about them. Paul then needed to show the Corinthians that he had indeed received powerful revelations that he had not previously told them about. But how could he do this without, by example,  endorsing the same inappropriate boasting for which he condemned the super-apostles? This dilemma explains Paul's approach in 2 Cor 12:1-5.

Paul frames his discussion of his revelation by further emphasizing his reluctance to boast:
It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. (2 Cor 12:1)
On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, ... (2 Cor 12:5)
He also demonstrated to the Corinthians that he was reluctant to talk about the revelation:
was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. (2 Cor 12:4)
and he may here be contrasting his own modest reticence with the unrestrained boasting of the "super-apostles".

Paul's use of third person narrative
Paul's purpose of showing his reluctance to boast is also served by his use the the third person. By transferring the story from himself to "a man in Christ", Paul makes his account sound much less boastful and by this means he expresses his disapproval of direct boasting. That this is the reason for his use of the third person is demonstrated by 2 Cor 12:5 where he virtually says as much.

Luke too uses the "modest third person", as I argued here.

The significance of "14 years" in 2 Cor 12:2
The revelation that Paul chooses to cite as an example is not mentioned elsewhere either by Paul or by Luke and its content could not be repeated (2 Cor 12:4). This suggests that Paul did not often talk about this revelation and I suggest that he had not breathed a word about it to the Corinthians during his visit(s) to them. Paul's decision to cite this particular revelation and to mention its date now become clear when we consider the chronology. Paul had visited the Corinthians in 50-51, some 5 or 6 years before the time of writing. It would therefore have been immediately obvious to the Corinthians that Paul had received his revelation well before his 18 month visit to them and that he had kept a modest silence about it throughout that time. Paul's mention of the "14 years" therefore serves to show the Corinthians that they should not conclude that Paul did not receive revelations from Paul's silence about them. By mentioning the 14 years Paul is contrasting his own modest silence about the revelation with his rivals' boasting. I think this point about the relative chronology of the revelation and Paul's first visit to Corinth may be new, as I have not seen it in the commentaries.

Paul could have written, "I have received greater revelations than the super-apostles, but, unlike them, I don't talk about them", but such a boast would have negated itself and would have been against Paul's principles (2 Cor 12:6b). The subtle mention of the 14 years allows the Corinthians to come to the same conclusion on their own, without Paul having to spell it out to them.

Some think that Paul refers to the revelation of 14 years ago because it was his most recent major revelation, and they infer that he had few revelations. Thus Barrett p 308: "So Paul must go back fourteen years ... for a suitable example of visions and revelations of the Lord. He was thus ordinarily anything but a visionary ...". This thinking is flawed. Paul mentions this revelation precisely because he received it well before his long stay in Corinth (and because he had not previously mentioned it to the Corinthians).

It seems to me that 2 Cor 12:2 lends a little support to the chronology of Acts. The text fits Paul's purposes best if he had spent several months in Corinth within the previous 9 years or so. Only then would the Corinthians have realized instantly (without counting years) that Paul had been with them for a long time without breathing a word about his earlier revelation. The 18 month stay of Acts 18:11, five or six years before the time of 2 Corinthians, works nicely.