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

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rom 16:21-23 and the missing names

With a single hypothesis I will show that a) In Rom 16:21-23 Paul sends greetings from everyprominent believer who was in Corinth at the time, b) There were no prominent believers in Corinth when 1 Corinthians was written, c) Acts mentions all of Paul's prominent co-workers.

In Romans 16 Paul sends greetings to no fewer than 26 individuals and others. As is often pointed out, he does this to emphasize his close links with the Roman church. In Rom 16:21-23 he sends greetings from 8 companions, and, in the collectivist culture of the day, this further emphasizes the strong close relationship between Paul and the church of Rome. We should therefore expect that Paul would send greetings from every prominent believer who was with him in Corinth during the days or weeks when he wrote the letter. Any conspicuous absences from the greeters would have raised eyebrows in Rome. There are, however, 4 names that are strangely absent from the list. These are shown in the red box below.

Titus was sent to Corinth shortly before Romans was written (2 Cor 8). Furthermore, he was to bring the collection to completion in Corinth (2 Cor 8:6) and was the Corinthians' co-worker. We should therefore expect that he would be the Corinthian's delegate to deliver their collection to Judea.

Stephanas is also absent, in spite of the high praise that Paul has for him in 1 Cor 16:15-17.

Crispus was an archisynagogos, and therefore his important role is recognized by Luke (Acts 18:8). He was one of the first converts in Corinth and was baptized by Paul himself (1 Cor 1:14). The omission of Stephanas and Crispus is surprising as it would have been seen as a snub to the church of Rome, or indeed to Stephanas and Crispus themselves.

Acts 20:4 names those who must have assembled in Corinth when Romans was written. The first named is Sopater/Sosipater, who does send greetings. Second, and therefore also prominent, is Aristarchus. He had been chosen to deliver the collection from Thessalonica and was therefore a leading, trusted, believer. We travelled a lot on church business, and was therefore widely known (Acts 19:29, 27:2)

The green box in the diagram also highlights another problem: the name "Titus" is strangely absent from Acts, and the same is true of "Stephanas". Acts mentions all Paul's other important co-workers (Luke chooses to down-play Paul's imprisonments, and therefore has no occasion to mention Epaphroditus).

The blue box represents further problems. We read in 1 Corinthians that there were divisions in the church of Corinth, and this problem is explicable if there was a power vacuum there. But if Gaius-Titius-Justus, Erastus, and Crispus were all in Corinth at that time there could be no power vacuum, and the divisions would be somewhat surprising. James Dunn writes, "Even if we assume that the problems in Corinth were being caused by some of the leaders - the patron, or elite group in the church - it is hardly likely that there was not one to whom Paul could appeal." (Beginning from Jerusalem p639). Paul urges the Corinthians to unite behind Stephanas, but makes no mention of Gaius, Erastus, or Crispus in this context.

There is a further problem associated with the presence in Corinth, of these prominent Corinthians at that time. At that time not many of the Corinthians were powerful or of noble birth (1 Cor 1:26). Yet Gaius was able to host the whole church, Erastus was the oikonomos and Crispus was the former synagogue ruler! The church of Corinth met together in the house of Gaius (Rom 16:23; 1 Cor 11:18; 14:23) and from this it is generally estimated that it can have consisted of no more than 50 people. Paul's statement that "not many" of them were of high social status is therefore surprising if those fewer than 50 people included Gaius, Erastus, Crispus, and all Crispus's household (Acts 18:8), especially when it is remembered that only about 3% of urban populations were rich.

The solution to all the problems outline above is the observation that we are looking at some cases of double naming. The practice of giving new names in the early church did not die out after the cases of Simon-Peter and Joseph-Barnabas, and then revive with the case of Ignatius-Theophorus. No, I propose that new names were also given to prominent members of Paul's churches. This is hardly a radical suggestion, yet it sheds a flood of light on the New Testament. All four people in the red box above have dopplegängers elsewhere, as indicated by the dotted lines.
Udo Borse and I have argued that Titus was Timothy. John Chrysostom, A. Myrou, and I have argued that Crispus was Sosthenes. Stephen Carlson and I suggested that Stephanas was Gaius Titius Justus. I have also argued on this blog that Aristarchus was Jason. Each of these 4 cases, the name that occurs later chronologically is Greek and has a meaning that suits the individual perfectly. I believe that the Titus-Timothy hypothesis and the Crispus-Sosthenes hypothesis are each strong enough to stand alone, and it is certainly possible to assess each case individually. But I am now struck by the synergy between these four hypotheses in the way that they collectively solve the problems described above.

The red box is emptied: Titus-Timothy, Gaius-Titius-Justus-Stephanas, and Jason-Aristarchus all send greetings to the Romans. Crispus-Sosthenes was probably in Ephesus when Paul wrote Romans (1 Cor 1:1).

The Green box is emptied: Both Titus-Timothy and Gaius-Titius-Justus-Stephanas are mentioned in Acts.

The blue box is emptied: Gaius-Titius-Justus-Stephanas and Crispus-Sosthenes were both in Ephesus with Paul when 1 Corinthians was written. Furthermore, if Titus was Timothy, he was on his way to Corinth via Macedonia with Erastus (see Acts 19:22 and 2 Cor 12:18) when 1 Corinthians was written. Therefore Erastus too was absent from Corinth at the time.

Having emptied all the problem boxes we get the following picture:

In short, it seems to me that the new name hypothesis brings the NT into sharper focus. We see that Paul sent greetings to the church of Rome from all the prominent believers who were in Corinth at the time. We see that Luke is silent about no important companions of Paul. Finally, we see that Paul had few, if any, high status friends in Corinth when 1 Corinthians was written, and this explains how divisions had arisen, and how Paul could write that not many of his addressees were of high social standing.

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