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

Friday, January 30, 2015

Review of Douglas Campbell's "Framing Paul"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I anticipate three possible objections:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Craig Keener on Crispus-Sosthenes

Craig Keener, in his Acts commentary, mentions the theory that Sosthenes was Crispus (p2683, 2749, 2776) and he cites my own work. He writes,
Since Crispus was an early convert (1 Cor 1:14), Sosthenes also seems a believer (1:1), and both are described by Luke as "synagogue rulers" (Acts 18:8, 17), it is possible that these are two names for the same person (allowing frustrated members of the synagogue community to beat their former leader Crispus in 18:17). This proposal is ultimately unlikely, however; why would Luke change names without an explanation connecting them? (That Paul likewise uses both names reinforces the objection.)
Keener here considers the Crispus-Sosthenes hypothesis but raises the superficial objection that Luke does not explicitly identify them. In this post I will answer Keener's objection using his own observations.

If Luke expected his readers to already know that Sosthenes was Crispus then he would have no reason to state the fact. Keener argues that the audience of Acts already knew James (2241), Jason (2533, 2549), probably Alexander (2869) and possibly Tyrannus (2829). Indeed, he believes that Sosthenes was known to Luke (2779). It is therefore odd that Keener does not explore the possibility that the audience of Acts knew Crispus-Sosthenes. The little that we know about him suggests that he may well have become well known throughout the Aegean churches. He was the synagogue ruler and therefore high status. Many in Corinth had come to the faith under his influence (Acts 18:8), and his name, "Sosthenes" (saving strength), reminded everyone that Paul had honoured him for the part that he had played in the formation of the church. He was so well respected in Corinth that Paul cited his endorsement of the contents of 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 1:1). He had been with Paul in Corinth for 18 months and in Ephesus for perhaps 2 years. We know of no other person in the Aegean region who had spend more time with Paul. He had the wealth to travel among the Aegean churches and his fame would have been spread by 1 Corinthians itself when the letter was copied. It is not at all surprising that Luke's audience, which was likely the Aegean churches (see here and here), knew Crispus-Sosthenes.

There is also a good reason why Luke would have wanted to avoid explicitly identifying Sosthenes as Crispus. Throughout his commentary Keener is acutely aware of the fact that Luke presented the faith as unthreatening to Rome. Indeed, on Acts 18:12-17 he writes,
Although Gallio as an actor within the narrative was not trying to provide an apologetic for Paul or his movement, this is de facto how his response functions in the larger context of Acts' apologetic. As soon as a governor's verdict was read out, it was recorded in the province's official proceedings. Because he was a governor and not a local judge (like Thessalonica's politarchs, Acts 17:6-8), Gallio's decision could have far-reaching implications. It would establish a favorable precedent for the Christians ....  Luke's marshaling of such precedents would provide Christians with a sense of security and perhaps evidence they could use to respond against slanders in the public arena. (2773-4)
If Luke had explicitly equated Sosthenes with Crispus the text would not have provided the Christians with such a positive precedent that they could bring before Roman officials. Gallio had allowed the Jews to beat a Christian benefactor and this is hardly the kind of precedent that Luke wanted to publicize. Luke's purposes were served by his silence about the identity of Sosthenes.

Keener also objects that 1 Cor 1:1 calls him "Sosthenes", whereas Cor 1:14 calls him "Crispus". However, in 1 Cor 1:1 Paul is appealing to the authority of Sosthenes so it unsurprising that he should use the name that honoured him. In 1 Cor 1:14 Paul is wanting to avoid any hint that being baptized by him is a point of honour, and perhaps for that reason he uses his ordinary name, "Crispus". In any case, 1 Cor 1:14 refers to a time before Crispus was given the name "Sosthenes".

Finally, Keener makes a point that supports the Crispus-Sosthenes hypothesis:
We know of food shortages close to 51C.E., and these often contributed to instability ... The schism in the Jewish community had, among other things, caused rancour and divided the community's patrons and resources at a time when it could ill afford the division (after Claudius's expulsion in 18:2). (2765)
This economic hardship explains why the Jews beat their benefactor, who had defected to the Christians.