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

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Why did the "pillars" ask Paul to "remember the poor"?

Gal 2:6-10 is one long and complicated sentence:
6 And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders ... those leaders contributed nothing to me   ...  10 they asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do. 
6 ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν δοκούντων εἶναί τι ...  ἐμοὶ γὰρ οἱ δοκοῦντες οὐδὲν προσανέθεντο ... 10 μόνον τῶν πτωχῶν ἵνα μνημονεύωμεν,  καὶ ἐσπούδασα αὐτὸ τοῦτο ποιῆσαι. 
In this blog post I will argue that Paul and the Jerusalem church leaders independently concluded that it was time for a collection, which would unite the church behind the gospel of gentile liberty. I will also argue that Paul writes, "which was actually what I was eager to do" to refute the idea that his participation in the collection showed that he was a servant of the Jerusalem  church leaders and supported gentile liberty only to please them.

It is generally agreed that "remember the poor" refers to a request made by the "pillars" (James, Peter, and John) to Paul and Barnabas to organize a collection for poor believers in Judea. This blog post will shed new light on the motivations for the request and on why Paul mentions it. First we need to explore the evidence that Paul had already organized an earlier collection from gentile churches to Judea before he was requested to "remember the poor". Three points support this view.
1) "remember" (μνημονεύωμεν) is a present subjunctive, which may a continuing action that implies an earlier remembering of the poor.
2) Paul seems to be saying that he had already been eager to "remember the poor", even before his was asked. I'll return to this below. It would appear, then, that Paul and the pillars independently decided that a collection would be worthwhile. It would be a bit of a coincidence if Paul and the pillars came up with the same idea at the same time without any prior precedent. However, if there had been an earlier collection then the thought of a repeat of the enterprise would naturally present itself to both Paul and the pillars. 
3) Acts confirms that Paul did indeed participate in an earlier collection (Acts 11:27-30)

2 Cor 9:11-15 gives us important information on the benefits of the collection:
11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13 Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you.
The collection would relieve poverty, and also do something further. The generosity of the donors would demonstrate their obedience to the gospel and show how much God had transformed their lives. The Judean believers (including those who were not beneficiaries of the collection) would then glorify God for working so powerfully in these gentile churches, and they would realize that the gentile believers shared their same faith. The Christians in Judea would then have warm feelings towards their gentile brothers and sisters. Paul seems very confident that the collection will have this positive impact. It is as if he is speaking from experience, and I have argued above that he did indeed have the experience of an earlier collection or collections.

Now, Paul's earlier collection must have had the same effect of giving Judean believers a sense of unity with the donor churches. There is no reason why one collection should have this effect and another not. Also, Paul would not have been so confident in 2 Cor 9:11-15 if his earlier collection had not had this effect. Therefore, at the time of Paul's visit to Jerusalem (Gal 2:1-10) both Paul and the Jerusalem church leaders knew that a collection for the poor among the churches of Judea would unite the believers there in warm affection towards their uncircumcised fellow-believers. The generosity of the gentile believers would prove their commitment to the faith more than any surgical operation could ever do. Any opposition to gentile liberty would then diminish.

Now, there are two probable implications of all this. Firstly, the Jerusalem church leaders wanted to unit the Judean churches in support of the Law-free gentile churches. I don't think they would have requested a collection if they did not want its expected outcome.

Secondly, it was in Paul's interests to organize a collection, and indeed he was eager to do so (2:10). The Jerusalem apostles therefore did not make any concessions to Paul in return for his commitment to the collection. Why would they trade something to get Paul to do what he would surely have done anyway? His decision to "remember the poor" was therefore not a concession that he had to make in order to get permission to continue his preaching, as many suppose. This collection was not an obligation laid on Paul as part of a negotiated agreement. I see no evidence that there were any negotiations between Paul and the pillars or that they were in dispute in the first place. Paul and the pillars independently decided that another collection would aid the poor and help to unite the church.

Now let's turn to the question of Paul's purpose in writing Gal 2:10. In JSNT back in 1979 Larry Hurtado proposed that Paul brings up the collection in Gal 2:10 because the Galatians had drawn some false inferences from it. I think he is correct. Hurtado writes "it is not difficult to think that some of his converts could have wondered whether Paul was raising the funds because he in turn was under orders from Jerusalem." Paul writes that the pillars added nothing to him (Gal 2:6) ... "only (μόνον) that we remember the poor". The word "only", as Hurtado points out, may suggest that the request to remember the poor (2:10) was an exception to the statement that they had added nothing to him (2:6). Paul then goes on to point out that this exception was not really an exception because he was already keen to do it, even before he was asked. Since this exception did not really count, Paul would not have been under an obligation to mention it for the sake of giving a complete account. This raises the suspicion that the Galatians' misinterpretation of the collection has provided the occasion for this verse. Hurtado also points out that Paul's choice of words here, "remember the poor", presents this collection as a benevolent act, "thereby downplaying any sense of it being a tax upon Paul's churches."

An implication of all this is that the collection of money from Galatia had at least been started by the time Paul wrote the letter. Along with the majority of scholars, I think that the letter makes no appeal to the Galatians to give to the collection, so I conclude the the collection had already been completed by the time that Paul wrote. This is exactly what I had argued on other grounds here.

Why, then, does Paul proclaim his independence from Jerusalem in 2:10 and indeed throughout Gal 1-2? We have to remember that the Galatians thought that Paul believed that gentiles should be circumcised (Gal 5:11). The Galatians would assume that he was writing against circumcision only to please the Jerusalem leaders (Gal 1:10). The agitators, you see, were saying "It's OK to be circumcised because Paul believes in cirmcumcision: he teaches you not to be circumcised because he is under orders from Jerusalem, as the collection demonstrates." See here for an explanation of how this works.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Was Paul worried that his collection would be rejected by Jerusalem?

Paul writes
"join me in prayer ..... that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God's will I may come to you with joy ..." (Rom 15:31-32).
"ministry"(διακονία) here probably refers to the collection, at least in part, given Rom 15:25. Many conclude from this that Paul thought that his collection might be rejected by the Jerusalem church. The theory is that the Jerusalem Christians might refuse to accept the money because it came from uncircumcised men.

This interpretation, which is very common, is one of the pillars of the view that Paul and the Jerusalem church leaders were in conflict over the place of Gentiles in the church. Here, however, are some counter arguments, not all of which have equal strength.

1) It would have been immodest for Paul to write "join me in prayer .... that my gift to Jerusalem may be impressive to the saints". He may therefore have chosen the phrase "acceptable to the saints" for modesty. When people give money they often underplay its potential impact by saying things like, "I hope it will make a small difference", when they actually mean "I hope it will make a big difference". Therefore, isn't it possible that Paul was hopeful that the collection would be a spectacular success, but worried that it might merely be a OK? The text need not be telling us that Paul was contemplating the possibility that the collection would be a failure or be rejected.

2) If Paul's ministry in Jerusalem is indeed "acceptable to the saints" he will come to Rome "with joy" (ἐν χαρᾷ). Paul's choice of words here shows that he was more optimistic than is often supposed. If he was hoping that the collection would be merely acceptable we would expect him to write "with relief", not "with joy".

3) There is no hint of foreboding in Rom 15:28-29
So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain; and I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
Nor is there any foreboding elsewhere. Indeed, in 2 Cor 9:11-15 Paul seems confident that the collection will be well received.

4) Why do commentators assume that the donors' foreskins were the only possible impediment to the triumph of the collection? Are there not other things that could have taken the shine off the collection? Perhaps Paul worried that the Jerusalem believers might think that the quantity of money, though generous, was not consistent with Jesus' radical teaching on giving. Perhaps he was concerned that there might be disputes about how he distributed the money. Perhaps the recipients might grumble that they had expected the collection earlier. Perhaps he worried that the amount of poverty in the Judean churches was more than he expected and that the funds would then be insufficient. There are all sorts of reasons why it was impossible for Paul to predict how successful the collection would be. The commentators' assumption that theological disputes were at the front of Paul's mind say more about the commentators' interests than about the text, in my opinion.

5) Jews often received financial support from gentiles, without objection. Indeed, the Jerusalem church leaders had asked Paul to "remember the poor" (Gal 2:10), so it is hard to imagine that they would have objected when he did so.

6) Those in poverty do not quibble about the ideology of those who offer them aid. Has anyone cited a precedent for this kind of thing?

7) Only the most uncompromising, vehement, opponents of Paul's theology would even consider rejecting his collection. It is at least questionable whether Paul would use the word "saints" to describe such people. Paul uses the word only in a very positive sense.

8) It is far from certain that there were any Christians in Judea who opposed Paul's inclusion of uncircumcised Gentiles. There were many who were zealous that the Law be observed by Jews, but we have no evidence that they wanted Gentile Christians to observe the Law too (Acts 21:20-21).

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Ivar Vegge on Paul's confidence and Titus-Timothy

Ivar Vegge's influential monograph, "2 Corinthians - A Letter about Reconciliation" (WUNT2 2008), argues convincingly that Paul's expressions of confidence should not be taken at face value but are a rhetorical tactic to encourage the Corinthians to live up to those expectations. Expressions of confidence are a kind of "idealized praise" that sets the addressees up as their own example to follow. By expressing confidence in the Corinthians, Paul makes them more receptive to his appeal by making them feel that they are being encouraged rather than rebuked. Vegge shows that this style of rhetoric was common in the ancient world. This insight goes a long way towards explaining why Paul's tone is so different in 2 Cor 7, compared to 2 Cor 10-13. I highly recommend the book.

In 2 Cor 1:13-16 we read,
I hope you will understand until the end - 14 as you have already understood us in part - that on the day of the Lord Jesus we are your boast even as you are our boast. 15 Since I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you  might have a double favour
Paul here says that he made his travel plan with confidence that the Corinthians would boast in him. Now, Vegge follows the conventional assumption that the tearful letter announced that the travel plan of 2 Cor 1:15-16 had been cancelled. This would give the following sequence, as recalled by Paul:

1. Paul was confident that the Corinthians would boast in him so he planned to visit them (2 Cor 1:14-15).
2. Paul's confidence was dashed by the Corinthians, so he had to cancel the visit.
3. Paul boasted to Titus about the Corinthians (2 Cor 7:14).
4. Paul wrote a tearful letter "in order that your zeal for us might be made known to you before God" (2 Cor 7:12).
5. Paul sent the letter with Titus to Corinth, cancelling his promised visit.
6. Paul's boasting about the Corinthians was justified (2 Cor 7:14-16).

Thus Vegge himself writes,
The rhetorical point in 1:15 is that the Corinthians themselves were the reason he had to cancel the visit. His earlier confidence in them was frustrated by them. (p177)
The problem here is that it would have been counterproductive for Paul to draw attention to earlier misplaced confidence. If Paul is here telling the Corinthians that they had let him down they would have responded with defensiveness and anger. This would have undermined Paul's purpose of achieving reconciliation. Vegge has shown convincingly that Paul's rhetorical tactic elsewhere in 2 Corinthians is to emphasize that his confidence had been well founded (e.g. 2 Cor 7:14-16), yet he would have us believe that Paul does the  opposite in 2 Cor 1:13-15. If Paul refers to earlier frustrated confidence here it would contradict Vegge's main hypothesis. If not, what would? Given the rhetorical function of expressions of confidence, the travel plan of 2 Cor 1:15-16 was not abandoned because of anything that the Corinthians had done wrong. It must have been abandoned for another reason. A further problem with Vegge's (conventional) reconstruction is that 3 and 4 look suspiciously like a duplicate of 1. Paul's confidence that the Corinthians would boast in him (1:14) looks very like his confidence that they would realize their zeal for him (7:12).

Vegge's difficulties have arisen out of his assumption that the tearful letter canceled Paul's visit. All is resolved when we realize that the travel plan had to be abandoned only after Paul ran out of time because of Titus's delayed arrival in Corinth. The sequence, as recalled by Paul, then becomes:

1. Paul sent Titus to Corinth with the tearful letter, announcing that he would visit them soon (and again after going to Macedonia). He was confident that his letter would make them zealous for him so that he would be able to visit them soon without it being a painful visit.
2. Titus was delayed so Paul had to cancel his visit because there was no longer time.

This greatly simplifies the sequence, and makes rhetorical sense. My mentioning his confidence in them, Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to live up to that confidence, as they had started to do. The sequence is confirmed by 1 Corinthians, which was written when Titus-Timothy was on his way to Corinth. Paul hoped that Titus-Timothy would encourage their zeal for him so that his next visit need not be painful (1 Cor 4:15-21). When Paul wrote there was no longer time for more than a passing visit, so he rather apologetically cancelled the visit that Titus-Timothy was about to announce (1 Cor 16:5-9). Now, this assumes that Titus and Timothy were one and the same person, which I argued in JSNT (2001). On page 20 Vegge gives a good summary of the sequence of events that my paper advocated. However, without explanation he writes, "The identification of Titus with Timothy is strained". How is it "strained"? He does not say. Perhaps he was put off by the fact that I (tentatively) partitioned 2 Corinthians. I no longer do so. Also, if the Titus-Timothy hypothesis were wrong, we would expect the (very simple) sequence of events that follows from it to run into difficulties at some point. But there is nothing in Vegge's book that contradicts that sequence, with one possible exception which I will now discuss.

I place no visit by Paul to Corinth between the writing of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. On page 25 Vegge says that Hyldahl's rejection of this "interim visit" "does not stand up to scrutiny". Does Vegge give evidence for the interim visit? Not really. He merely refers us to page 88 where he writes, "Nothing in 1 Corinthians indicates that Paul has been in Corinth two times before he writes this letter (an argumentum ex silentio)." As Vegge admits, this is merely an argument from silence, and it hardly justifies his confidence on the next page when he writes "Paul must have carried out his visit at a point after 1 Corinthians."

Curiously, Vegge seems to equate Titus with Timothy when he writes, "When Paul sends Titus instead of coming in person (1 Cor 4:14-17), this could easily be interpreted as a confirmation of the fact that Paul did not dare to come back to Corinth." p263. Vegge here illustrates how well our information in 1 Corinthians about Timothy's future mission to Corinth matches what we learn about Titus's past mission in 2 Corinthians.

In conclusion, Vegge's insights do not speak against the Titus-Timothy hypothesis, but almost require it. Vegge, Titus-Timothy is your friend.