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

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Erastus was the anonymous brother of 2 Cor 12:18

2 Cor 12:18
In 2 Cor 12:17-18 Paul argued that he had not exploited the Corinthians through Titus:
Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? I urged Titus to go, and sent (συναπέστειλα) the (τὸν) brother (ἀδελφόν) with him. Titus did not take advantage of you, did he?
The Corinthians probably suspected that Paul was trying to profit personally from the collection for Judea, that Titus organized (2 Cor 8:6).

The anonymous 'brother' here has puzzled commentators:
Who this brother was and why he is mentioned at this point is something of a mystery. (Belleville p320)
But it makes perfect sense if Titus was Timothy. The anonymous brother of 2 Cor 12:18 would then be Erastus, Timothy's traveling companion (see Acts 19:22). He was treasurer of Corinth and his mission was to help Timothy organize the collection (see Rom 16:23 and my last post here). Erastus was well known to the Corinthians and, presumably, trusted in the administration of money. He would have had oversight of the collection and his presence with Titus-Timothy would have guaranteed that there was no embezzlement. This explains why Paul mentions the anonymous brother (Erastus) in 2 Cor 12:18: Paul's decision to send Erastus with Titus-Timothy demonstrates to the Corinthians that Paul had no intention of using Titus-Timothy to cheat anyone out of money. This fits the wording well:

1. While Paul says that Titus had not defrauded the Corinthians, he does not say the same thing about the anonymous brother. This shows that the brother's integrity was not in doubt.
2. Paul does not write "I sent the brother", or "I sent Titus and the brother". Instead he writes, "I sent the brother with [him]", using the verb συναπέστειλα. It is the brother's presence alongside Titus that is in view.
3. The article, τὸν, probably suggests that the brother was well-known to the Corinthians. Harris (p891) writes,
The article ... is more probably anaphoric ("the well-known brother" or "the brother whom you know")
4. The root verb sent (apesteila), was "a technical term for the dispatch of an emissary" (Belleville p320), so it is unlikely that the brother was just returning home to Corinth. Paul had given him a role (to help with the collection). The brother's role in the collection is confirmed by his anonymity, which serves to protect the collection from theft or confiscation (see my earlier post here).

Strachan (p35), while unaware that Titus was Timothy, comes close to identifying the anonymous brother as Erastus:
Our brother refers to some unknown individual whose character was so well known to the Corinthians that no question could be raised regarding his complete honesty. His presence would guarantee Titus' integrity.
The absence of Timothy and Titus from 2 Cor 12:18 and Acts 19:22 respectively
If Titus and Timothy were different men it is slightly surprising that Timothy is absent from 2 Cor 12:18 and Titus from Acts 19:22. Indeed, Plummer (p365) wrote,
The fact that Timothy is not mentioned here makes it probable that he never reached Corinth.
Concerning Acts 19:22 Dunn (p262) asks, "why no mention of Titus?". Haenchen (p569) came close to realizing that Titus was Timothy when he observed that:
a journey of Timothy has taken the place of the journey of Titus
The mission of Timothy and Erastus (Acts 19:22) matches the mission of Titus and the 'brother' of 2 Cor 12:18. This supports the case that Timothy was none other than Titus renamed.

For more on 2 Cor 12:18-19, see this earlier post.

Any comments?


  1. If Timothy is Titus, explain 2 Tim 4:10

  2. Troy, this issue is addressed in elsewhere on this blog, as well as in my 2001 JSNT paper.

  3. Hi Richard, I've been reading your posts about the brothers in 2 Cor. 8-9. Thanks for these.

    Have your views changed or become more certain since writing these posts?

    Also, who is Strachan mentioned in this article?

  4. Hi Marg,

    The Titus-Timothy identification has only become stronger over the years. I wrote a little about it in my 2018 article in Biblica. Strachan wrote a commentary on second Corinthians, first printed in 1935.

    Concerning the anonymous brothers of 2 Cor 8-9, I now have a bit more evidence of measures taken by the early Christians to protect their donors and donations. Also, the case for the famous brother being Lucius of Rom 16:21 (Luke) and the author of Acts is now quite strong and I may try to publish on this in the coming years.

    Was Mary Magdalene's role underplayed by Paul and Mark to protect her (and her donations) while she was still alive? What do you think?

  5. Thanks, Richard. This is interesting. I did read some of your info about donors.

    I'll have to think about Mary Magdalene. We know she was a woman of means. It is disappointing that she is never mentioned in Acts or by any of the NT letter writers.

    I wonder about the anonymity of the chosen lady and "she" who is in Babylon. Were the letter writers concerned for the safety of these women and so they obscured their identity? I'm fairly convinced the chosen lady is a person. I'm less convinced about "she" who is in Babylon, but I don't rule it out that she is a person.

  6. Agreed.

    Hmm.... I have argued here, following Bauckham, that Junia was Joanna.
    But Mary (Rom 16:6) is greeted before Andronicus and Junia, so she must have been more important even than them, in some sense. It is unlikely that it is just that Mary had spent more time with Paul, for there is no such indication. This Mary was likely very important for the church, as I argued some time ago:
    There is some discussion in the comments of that blog post about whether this Mary was Mary Magdalene. The idea is growing on me because persecution of church donors in Palestine could have caused both Mary Magdalene and Joanna to go into exile. There were poor among the Christians in Judea, perhaps because the donors had been targeted by opponents. Luke mentions Mary Magdalene and Joanna together, and in that order, so perhaps Paul did the same. I think she would need to drop her epithet "Magdalene" after moving to Rome.

  7. I'll go and look at your post on Mary of Rome.