This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology.

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.


  1. Thanks for this nice article. Keep it up. :)

  2. Thanks for your review, which helped me flesh out some of the bits of the book that I only skimmed. I read the middle section more carefully, and I think the thing that stood out for me which I don't think you've given enough weight to is the argument about the 'enemies' and the surprise of their arrival at Corinth bringing with them not only opposition there and then that needed dealing with, but also setting out a clear motivation for Paul to write to the churches in Galatia (which he had to respond to despite the likelihood of him having lost influence over those fellowships) and to the Philippians.

    I found the reconstruction of Phil 3 as a copy of a previous letter to them convincing. The implication was that Paul's letters were copied and kept from an early stage, and therefore the idea that such copies were expected to be read by the other churches on route and in the locale where Paul was writing them from was perhaps a natural implication of this observation. It made sense of the awkwardness with which Paul responds to the gift from the Philippians if he knew that the Corinthians were likely to think that Paul was acting as a client of Jerusalem, or perhaps even acting deceptively, about the collection for Jerusalem.

    My impression of this kind of argument was that each individual point was more on the tentative side of things, but that they formed a fairly coherent narrative, one that had the virtue of giving an insight into the motivation behind Paul's letters. Because of this, I think that this reading of the letters will be very appealing, and what will be required to undermine Campbell's position is not just objections to this or that aspect of the argument but a more compelling narrative that holds the biblical data together.

    Thanks for the opportunity to begin to express my thoughts about this text.
    Alistair McKitterick

  3. Thanks, Alistair.

    I may not entirely understand your point about opposition. I see no need to suppose that the Judaizers were active only in one period and I am unpersuaded that Galatians, Romans, and Philippians were written in the same year. Paul wrote Galatians in response to news about the Galatians. Are you suggesting that another motivation is needed? I do not think it is likely that Paul had lost much influence over the churches of Galatia (see the link below).

    I have re-read pages 125-133. Campbell's theory on Phil 3 is indeed intriguing. He points out that this section has a different tone from the rest of the letter. Fair enough, but Campbell's proposal does not solve that problem. Why would Paul quote a previous letter that has the wrong tone, rather than compose something that is more appropriate to the present situation? There are strong verbal links between Campbell's supposed earlier letter (particularly towards the end) and the rest of the canonical epistle, and this counts against his theory. An alternative explanation of the data is that Phil 3:1b ff was written in Paul's own hand. This would explain "to write the same things to you is not troublesome to me". "the same things" would then refer to what has already been written. Paul then repeats much of the earlier themes, but in more pointed terms. By picking up the pen, Paul takes sole responsibility for what is written, and his co-sender (Timothy) is off the hook, which is important because Timothy will visit Philippi shortly.

    Concerning the supposed Nebenadressat in Philippians, one could equally argue that the letter was not written in Corinth because Phil 4:10-16 would have snubbed the Corinthians, from whom Paul refused to take payment (1 Cor 9; 2 Cor 12:14-15). I am unconvinced that Paul's letters were read to anyone before despatch. In any case, arguing for provenance using Nebenadressat lacks proper controls unless one lists all the "misses" as well as the "hits" (though this would take a lot of space).

    I agree that Campbell's reconstruction as a whole must be judged against others to see which gives the best overall explanation of the data (and I would include the Acts data). My blog posts explain my own reconstruction. See this one in particular.

  4. The questions you pose about Campbell's construction of the frame for Paul's career are understandable in light of the scarcity of information in Paul's epistles and the fact that Campbell must make many judgments in making his case. However, Knox's approach to bracket Acts until one has first constructed a chronology on the basis of the information in the epistles is a sound methodology. Campbell intends to write a future book in which he will assess Acts. Campbell says, "The result of a strict application of Knox's approach could be a stunning validation of Acts" (p. 22). It would seem that Paul's statement in Galatians that he went to Jerusalem for a conference after fourteen years requires that Paul had already conducted his missionary activity in Macedonia and Achaia before the conference. This would indicate that the "second missionary journey" of Paul in Acts should be located prior to the conference rather than after it; if so, then the reason Luke located it after the conference was because of his purpose to show both the unity of the church in its mission and the ever-widening outreach of the church in phases. This does not mean that there is not good information about the direction of Paul's movements in Acts, but only that the chronology of Paul's career in Acts is misleading only because Acts locates the conference in Jerusalem earlier than it occurred to suit Luke's own purposes in writing a story, not of Paul's career, but of the early church. It is best to wait until Campbell publishes his work on Acts before assuming that he disparages Acts. I assume he will adjust the chronology of Paul's career in Acts, but that much of its information about Paul's career before his final visit to Jerusalem will be affirmed and that its information about Paul's final visit to Jerusalem and its aftermath will be treated as indispensable eyewitness testimony.

  5. Anonymous, how do we know that Campbell intends to write a sequel in which he will bring in the evidence from Acts? I have critiqued Knox here.

    Concerning Galatians, the sequence is this: Paul's conversion 35AD; first Jerusalem visit 37; Jerusalem council (Acts 15, Gal 2:1-10) 48; collection from Galatia 49; arrival in Corinth 50; writing of Galatians ~51; writing of 1 Cor, 2 Cor, Rom and collection from Macedonia and Achaia 55-56. Knox and his followers base their chronology on the unexamined assumption that Paul collected money from all the provinces at the same time. Why do you place the second missionary journey before the council?

    1. Several times Campbell alludes to the need to address the information in Acts in a separate study. After he says on p. 22 that the eyewitness data in the "we" sections of Acts constitute a primary source, he states, "We will have to evaluate this carefully in due course...." On p. 410 he states, "This frame will be supplemented in due course by a consideration of the evidence in Acts." I interpret these and other similar statements to be expressions of Campbell's intention to write a sequel to "Framing Paul." I place the "second missionary journey" in Acts before the council in accordance with Campbell's frame, by which Paul's missionary work in Macedonia and Achaia, and the founding of the churches in those provinces, occurred before the conference mentioned in Galatians 2. Knox suggests that the "direction" of Paul's missionary activity in Acts corresponds with the information in the epistles, but that the "chronology" of Acts (specifically the timing of the "council") does not correspond with the chronology of Paul's career that can be constructed from evidence in the epistles. It would seem the placement of the "council" in Acts before Paul's missionary work in the farther regions of Macedonia and Achaia would serve the literary and theological purposes of emphasizing that Paul's most impressive missionary activity was not conducted until after he had received the blessing of the apostles in Jerusalem and portraying the widening of the church's mission from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. The portrayal of Paul's mission in terms of distinctive phases serves the narrative of the widening of the circle of Christian mission from Jerusalem. The story of the church's mission in Acts makes perfect sense on its own terms, and it accurately portrays the movements of Paul, but it appears that the chronology of Paul's career is being altered to fit into the story which is told in Acts. After all, Acts is not primarily the story of Paul's life, but the story of the early church, and Paul's story is employed in service of the bigger picture which Acts is painting.

    2. Anonymous, what is your reason for placing the second missionary journey before the council? You have not answered this question, except by appealing to Campbell and Knox, whose arguments I have already addressed. You need evidence.

  6. I assume that Paul's founding visits to the churches in Macedonia and Achaia occurred during the fourteen years of Paul's activity prior to the "council." You date the "council" in 48; Campbell, in 49; in either dating, there is a long period of time in which Paul was engaged in missionary activity throughout the eastern Roman Empire. 2 Corinthians was written after the council since it mentions the offering, and the existence of 2 Corinthians at the time of its composition requires that Paul had already founded the church. It seems plausible to me that this founding would have occurred in the fourteen years prior to the "council." Moreover, there is a difference between Acts and Paul's epistles concerning the number of visits Paul made to Jerusalem--Acts usually being understood as referring to five visits and Paul's epistles mentioning only three visits. Paul made his third and final visit to Jerusalem after the "council." Therefore, the chronology of Paul's activity following the council would match nicely the report in Acts about Paul's "third missionary journey," which culminated in Paul's final visit to Jerusalem. In other words, chronologically the timing of the "council" would seem to coincide with the timing of what Acts calls the "fourth" visit of Paul to Jerusalem rather than with what Acts calls the "third" visit. Therefore, it would seem that the activity ascribed to Paul between Acts' "third" and "fourth" visits--that is, Paul's first forays into Macedonia and Achaia--ought to be located during the period prior to the "council" or during the fourteen years of Paul's activity prior to the "council." I would infer, then, that Luke located this original activity of Paul in Macedonia and Achaia between Paul's "third" and "fourth" visits (rather than before the "council," which Luke says occurred during the "third" visit) to serve his literary and theological purposes. Luke had to locate Paul's original activity in Macedonia and Achaia prior to the final phase of Paul's career, which Luke portrays as the "third missionary journey." However, rather than portraying this original activity in Macedonia and Achaia prior to the "council," he locates it after the "council" and within his scheme of five visits by Paul to Jerusalem. If Paul's words in his epistles are to be taken at face value, Paul only made three visits to Jerusalem, and that his latter work in Macedonia and Achaia took place only after the "council" and involved receiving the offering of money. Thus Paul's work after the "council" fits Acts' "third missionary journey." If Luke is mistaken about the number of visits Paul made to Jerusalem, then his location of the "second missionary journey" between the alleged "third" and "fourth" visits is artificial.