Sola Scriptura: 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Timothy 1:12-14

Sola Scriptura

We have here been considering the primacy of the Apostolic Tradition as a source of religious authority for early Christians. The Apostolic Tradition has three fundamental components:

    1. The proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel
    2. The words of Jesus—sayings, teachings, parables—along with his example (of what he said and did), preserved and transmitted by the apostles to the early congregations
    3. The authoritative teaching by the apostles

The first two components were discussed in the previous two studies (last week and the week prior); it now remains to example that last of these three.

3. Authoritative Teaching by the Apostles

We may begin by returning to our previous examination of Paul’s teaching on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, which is based on three different authoritative sources:

    • Verses 10-11: Paul cites a Jesus tradition (saying/teaching by Jesus) as a command— “not I, but the Lord”
    • Verses 12-14ff: He gives a similar directive, for which no Jesus tradition was available, based on his own inspired apostolic authority— “I, not the Lord”
    • Verses 25ff: He has neither a command from Jesus, nor an inspired directive of his own; rather, Paul offers an authoritative opinion (gnw/mh), as advice, or by way of a recommendation, for believers.

The last two sources fit under the same heading for this article, representing two kinds of authoritative apostolic teaching. The New Testament Epistles are replete with examples of apostolic teaching, which may be divided into three general categories:

    • Theological and doctrinal teaching
    • Ethical instruction, and
    • Guidance on congregational activity and organization

Rather than selecting from the hundreds of passages that deal with these areas, it is perhaps more useful here to consider the place of the Apostolic Tradition as a whole, embracing all three of the components outlined above. The principal noun referring to this Tradition is para/dosi$, from the verb paradi/dwmi (“give along, give over”); it thus signifies something that is “given along”, or ‘handed down,’ from one person to another, and from one generation to the next. Our word “tradition” is cognate to the Latin traditio, which has a comparable meaning to para/dosi$.

Para/dosi$ occurs 13 times in the New Testament; however, eight of these are part of a single Synoptic episode (Mk 17:3, 5, 8-9, 13; Matt 15:2-3, 6). The other five occurrences are in Paul’s letters, thus making the word something of a Pauline term.

The earliest of these, in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, is significant, in light of our previous study on 1 Cor 7:10ff (cf. above). If we combine the evidence from both Thessalonian letters, it is possible to compare Paul’s eschatological teaching in 1 Thess 4:13-5:11 with that of 2 Thess 1:5-2:15. The teaching in 1 Thessalonians is rooted in “an account by the Lord” (or, “a word of the Lord,” lo/go$ kuri/ou), which could refer to a variety of eschatological sayings/teachings by Jesus, such as those contained in the “Eschatological Discourse”. The wording in 5:2-4ff almost certainly is based on sayings by Jesus as well.

By contrast, 2 Thessalonians 1-2 represents more distinctly Pauline teaching—that is, stemming from Paul’s own, inspired status as an apostle. He attempts to explain and expound the early Christian eschatological framework, such as is found in the “Eschatological Discourse”. Paul concludes his eschatological instruction with these words in 2:15:

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold firmly to the (thing)s given along [parado/si$ plur], which you were taught, whether through an account (of speech) or through our (letter) sent to you.”

Paul includes his current eschatological instruction as part of the various authoritative apostolic teachings he (and other apostles like him) have ‘given along’ to the Thessalonians. The mention of an e)pistolh/ (epistle) simply means that the apostolic authority was the same, whether it was spoken (when the apostle was personally present), or conveyed through writing (when he was absent). It does, however, also anticipate the preservation of letters like 2 Thessalonians, and their eventual inclusion among the New Testament Scriptures.

The same noun (para/dosi$) occurs in 3:6, in connection with Paul’s ethical instruction. The faithful and upright conduct, to which he exhorts the Thessalonians, is contrasted (as a warning) with the conduct of “…every brother walking about (in a) disorderly (manner) and not according to the (thing) given along [para/dosi$] which you received alongside [vb paralamba/nw] from us”. The verbs paradi/dwmi (“give along”) and paralamba/nw (“receive along, take long”) are similar in meaning, describing the same dynamic from two different vantage point—i.e., the giving of the tradition (by an apostle), and the receiving of it (by the congregation). For examples of paradi/dwmi in this context, cf. Luke 1:2; 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3; Rom 6:17; 2 Peter 2:21; Jude 3. For other instances of paralamba/nw, cf. 1 Cor 11:23; 15:1, 3; Gal 1:9, 12; Phil 4:9; 1 Thess 2:13; 4:1.

Another verb, which can be used, even more forcefully, for the giving (and preservation) of the Apostolic Tradition, is parati/qhmi, “set/place alongside”. This verb can be used in reference to the act of teaching (e.g., Acts 17:3), but it is not used this way in the NT Epistles. Rather, it specifically means “place (something) along into one’s care,” i.e., entrust it to someone (cf. Lk 12:48). It can refer to entrusting a person into another’s care (Acts 14:23; 20:32); however, in the Epistles, it is the Apostolic Tradition, we may say, that is entrusted. This is the specific context in the Pauline Pastorals, in which the apostle (Paul) “places along” the authoritative tradition(s) to ministers such as Timothy (2 Tim 2:2; cf. also 1 Tim 1:18), who will then transmit them to the believers (and congregations) under his charge.

The related noun paraqh/kh, derived from parati/qhmi, when used in this context, is more or less synonymous with para/dosi$, but entailing also the added meaning associated with the verb parati/qhmi described above. The Apostolic Tradition that is “given along” (para/dosi$) is also “placed along” (paraqh/kh) into the care of ministers like Timothy, to be preserved and guarded carefully. This latter noun occurs just three times in the New Testament, and all in the Pastoral Letters (1-2 Timothy). The main passage, in which the noun occurs twice, is 2 Timothy 1:12-14:

“…I suffer these (thing)s, but I am not ashamed, for I have seen the (One) in whom I have trusted, and I have been persuaded that He is able to guard the (thing) placed alongside [paraqh/kh] me unto [i.e. until] that day. You must hold (firm to the) under(lying) pattern of words being [i.e. that are] healthy, which you heard alongside [para/] me, in (the) trust and love th(at is) in (the) Anointed Yeshua; the beautiful (thing) placed alongside [paraqh/kh] you must guard, through (the) Holy Spirit th(at is) dwelling in us.”

Note the chain of transmission, presented as a chiastic outline:

    • God guards [vb fula/ssw] the Tradition
      • this Tradition was placed alongside [paraqh/kh] Paul
        • Timothy heard it alongside [para/] Paul
      • the Tradition was placed alongside [paraqh/kh] Timothy
    • Through God’s Spirit, Timothy is to guard [vb fula/ssw] the Tradition

Timothy is similarly commanded to “guard” the Tradition (paraqh/kh) at the conclusion of 1 Timothy (6:20). It is worth mentioning that most critical commentators regard the Pastoral Letters as pseudonymous ‘Deutero-Pauline’ works. As such, they likely would have been written toward the end of the first-century (c. 90-100), rather than the early 60’s. The specific emphasis on guarding the Apostolic Tradition (from false believers and ‘heretics,’ etc) does seem to reflect a later development, but it is possible that Paul could already be using such language c. 63-64 A.D. I tend to regard 2 Timothy (on objective grounds) as a genuine work by Paul, but find the arguments for pseudonymity reasonably strong in the case of 1 Timothy.

Similar critical considerations go into judging the date (and thus the context) of 2 Peter and Jude—two letters which share with 1-2 Timothy a concern for guarding the Apostolic Tradition against false believers. Note, for example, the wording of 2 Peter 2:21 in the overall context of the eschatological-ethical warnings in chaps. 2-3. Jude is even more pointed in this regard, with the warnings and exhortation framed by the grand statement in verse 3:

“Loved (one)s, (in) making all haste to write to you about our common salvation, I held (myself with) constraint to write to you, calling you along to struggle over the trust once (and for all) having been given along [vb paradi/dwmi] to the holy (one)s.”

By this rhetorical syntax, the author prepares his audience for the forceful warnings that follow. He “held (himself) with constraint” in writing, because he knew that it was necessary to give the tough message warning his readers against the dangers posed by false believers within the congregations. This statement, in my view, truly does represent a relatively late development, as can be seen by the way that the noun pi/sti$ refers, not simply to trust in Jesus, but to the authoritative (apostolic) Tradition as a whole.

In conclusion here, it is also worth mentioning the reference to the letters of Paul in 2 Pet 3:15-16, usually taken by commentators as a sign for a late dating of 2 Peter (and for its pseudonymity). Whether or not this critical opinion is valid (and it may be debated), there can be little doubt that the process of collecting and preserving the New Testament Letters was already underway by the end of the first-century. This very process implies a recognition of the authoritative character of these letters, insofar as they reflect (and preserve) the Apostolic Tradition. It is possible the apostolic missionaries and leaders themselves sought to preserve some written record of their teaching. To be sure, the letters written by the apostles would have been considered just as authoritative as their spoken words when personally present (e.g., 2 Cor 10:11; 2 Thess 3:14, and cf. the discussion above). Indeed, Paul urges the Thessalonians to have his letter read (out loud) to a wide audience (1 Thess 5:27). See also the way the author of the book of Revelation refers to his work (22:6-9, 18-19, etc).

By the end of the first-century, the writings of the apostles—some of them, at any rate—were effectively being treated as authoritative Scripture, on a par with the Old Testament Scriptures, even as the Apostolic Tradition, on the whole, superseded those very Scriptures. Around the same time (c. 90 A.D.), all four of our Gospels had been written, preserving, in a similar way, a different aspect of the Tradition. The process of producing a corpus of New Testament Scriptures was well under way.

Notes on Prayer: Colossians 1:3; 4:2-3, etc

We conclude our series of studies on the references to prayer in the Pauline letters with a survey of the remaining letters—beginning with Philemon and Colossians, and then turning to consider the references in the disputed letters of Ephesians and 1 Timothy.

Philemon 4-6, 22

The letter to Philemon was, of course, written to an individual rather to the collective believers of a city or territory. Even so, the references to prayer follow the same pattern of the other letters addressed to congregations. The references occur in the introduction (thanksgiving) and closing (exhortation) sections of the letter-body, and are framed specifically in terms of the relationship between Paul and his audience. The prayer references in the thanksgiving (vv. 4-7) could have easily been lifted right out of one of the other Pauline letters.

“I give thanks to my God for (His) good favor, always making mention of you in my (time)s of speaking out toward (Him) [proseuxai/], hearing of your love and trust which you hold toward the Lord Yeshua and (directed) to all the holy (one)s, so that the communication of your trust might come to be working in (the) knowledge about every good (thing) that (is) in you for (the sake of the) Anointed…” (vv. 4-6)

Several of the features here we have seen repeatedly:

    • Paul refers to making mention of the believers (here, Philemon) to God regularly during his times in prayer
    • He gives thanks because of their faithfulness in response to the Gospel (as it has been reported to him)—trusting in Jesus, demonstrating love, growing in faith and virtue and understanding
    • He expresses the wish that they continue to remain faithful

But Paul’s prayers are only one side of the relationship that he holds (as an apostle) with the congregations—they are also asked to pray for him. And so Paul would request this of Philemon as well, just as he does at the close of the letter:

“…but also make ready for me a place (of lodging) for the stranger, for I hope that, through your speaking out toward (God) [proseuxai/], I shall be given to you as a favor (from God).” (v. 22)

The middle-passive verb xari/zomai means “show favor, give (something) as a favor”; in the passive, it refers to the gift or favor itself. It is related to the verb eu)xariste/w in v. 4, which, in a religious context, refers to the favor shown by God, and the gratitude or thanks that we show to Him (in response) for this favor. Here, the favor God will show, through the cooperation of Philemon in his prayers, is to allow Paul the opportunity to visit him.

Colossians 1:3, 9

The prayer references in Colossians follow the same Pauline pattern. The first references occur in the introduction (exordium), which may be divided into two sections—the first containing the thanksgiving (1:3-8), and the second, Paul’s exhortational prayer-wish for the Colossian believers (1:9-14). The opening reference to prayer in the thanksgiving (v. 3) is virtually identical to the statement in Philemon 4 (cf. above). Notably, the statement in Colossians is given in the first-person plural: “We give thanks to God for (His) good favor…always over you, speaking out toward (Him) [proseuxo/menoi]”. In Colossians, Paul gives particular emphasis to his co-workers and fellow missionaries, and so the plural here is significant (cf. verse 7, and further below).

As is typical for Paul, his thanksgiving effectively takes the form of praise for the faithfulness of the believers he is addressing. Specific mention is made of their trust and love, remaining firm in the truth of the Gospel (vv. 4-5), as also of their growth in virtue and understanding (vv. 6-7), and of unity in the Spirit.

The second prayer-reference in the introduction, correspondingly, comes at the opening of the exhortational prayer-wish in vv. 9ff:

“Through [i.e. because of] this we also, from the day on which we heard (this), do not cease speaking out toward (God) [proseuxo/menoi] over you…” (v. 9a)

Paul’s wish (as a prayer to God) is for the Colossians to continue in faith and virtue, growing further in spiritual knowledge and understanding, etc.:

“…and asking (Him) that you would be filled (with) the knowledge about His will, in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v. 9b)

The remainder of the prayer-wish—also to be characterized as an intercessory request—is phrased in the typical manner of early Christian ethical instruction and exhortation, of which there certainly are a number of Pauline examples:

“…(for you) to walk about (in a manner) up to a level (worthy) of the Lord, into everything (that is) pleasing (to Him), bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the knowledge of God, being (em)powered in all power, according to the might of His splendor…” (vv. 10-11a)

Also typical of Paul, is the eschatological aspect of this exhortation—a theme that is developed throughout the letter—but nuanced here with a strong dualistic Christological emphasis:

“…(the Father), (hav)ing made us fit for the portion of the lot of the holy (one)s in the light, (and) who rescued us out of the power [e)cousi/a] of darkness and made (us) stand over into the kingdom of His (be)loved Son—in whom we hold the loosing from (bondage), the putting away of sins” (vv. 12-14)

On the Christological hymn (‘Christ hymn’) that follows in vv. 15-20, cf. my earlier series of notes.

Colossians 4:2-3, 12

The Pauline pattern continues with the prayer-references in the closing (exhortation) section of the letter (4:2-6). Typically, in these sections Paul emphasizes the other side of the prayer relationship between himself and the congregations—namely, that they should regularly be praying for him. He leads into this with a general exhortation for the Colossians to remain firm in prayer:

“In speaking out toward (God) [proseuxh/], you must be firm toward (it), keeping awake in it with thanks for (His) good favor” (v. 2)

The verb proskartere/w (“be firm/strong toward [something]”) is a key word characterizing the unity of believers in the early chapters of Acts (1:14; 2:42, 46; 6:4; 8:13; 10:7). Paul also uses it in Romans (12:12; 13:6), and the prayer context of its use in 12:12 is comparable to what we find here. The noun eu)xaristi/a corresponds to the related verb eu)xariste/w in 1:3 (cf. above), emphasizing again the relationship between prayer and the favor God shows to us. As Paul makes clear, there are two aspects to this relationship: (1) we give thanks for the favor God has shown, and (2) we ask that He will continue to show us favor, and that we will act in a manner that is worthy of His favor.

The prayer-emphasis shifts in verse 3:

“…at the same time, also speaking out toward (God) over us, that God would open up for us a door for the account [lo/go$], to speak the secret [musth/rion] of the Anointed, through which I have been bound”

The prayers believers are to make on his behalf typically relate specifically to his missionary work, defined in terms of preaching the Gospel. Here, two key terms are used, in a technical sense, for the Gospel:

    • lo/go$, “account,” that is, a spoken account, shorthand for the expression the “account of God” (Acts 4:31; 6:2, et al)—viz., the account of what God has done through the person of Jesus.
    • musth/rion, “secret” —on this usage, cf. the recent discussion on Rom 16:25-26, as well as my earlier word study series. The Gospel of Christ is a “secret,” hidden throughout all the ages past, and revealed only now, at the present time, through the kerygma (proclamation) by the prophets and apostles of the early Christian mission.

This is a regular theme in Paul’s prayer-references—that believers work together with him (and his fellow missionaries), through their prayers. We have seen repeatedly in our studies the importance of praying for the needs of others, rather than simply for our own needs. It is a key New Testament principle that such selfless and sacrificial prayer is assured of being answered by God.

As in the introduction (cf. above), Paul uses the first-person plural. Sometimes he does this in his letters as a rhetorical device, but here he is specifically including his fellow missionaries and co-workers with him. In the closing that follows in vv. 7-17, Paul mentions ten different persons, among them Epaphras in vv. 12-13. He was mentioned earlier in 1:7, and also in Philemon 23 (both in the context of the prayer-references, cf. above). Epaphras apparently was an apostolic missionary in his own right, and one who would have had much more frequent contact with the congregations of the region. Paul refers to him much as he does to himself, as a “slave” (dou=lo$) of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1). In 1:7 the word is su/ndoulo$ (“slave together with [me/us]”), while in Philem 23 he is called “one taken captive [lit. at spearpoint] together with (me)” (sunaixma/lwto$), i.e. “co-prisoner, fellow prisoner”.

Like Paul, Epaphras’ role as an apostolic missionary led him to pray frequently (and fervently) for the believers of that area. Paul describes this here in v. 12 as “struggling over you in his speaking out toward (G0d) [proseuxai/]”. The verb is a)gwni/zomai (“struggle”), used, viz., in athletic competitions; it is something of a Pauline term, as 6 of the 8 NT occurrences are in the Pauline letters (elsewhere, 1 Cor 9:25; Col 1:29; 1 Tim 4:10; 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7). The occurrences of the substantive (verbal noun), a)gw/n, used in a similar context, should also be noted—1 Thess 2:2; Phil 1:30; Col 2:1; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7. In Paul’s usage, the verb alludes to believers (esp. missionaries) laboring—and enduring suffering—for the sake of the Gospel.

 

 

 

Saturday Series: Galatians 1:11-2:14

Narratio (Galatians 1:11-2:14)

Following the introduction (exordium) to the letter (1:6-10, see last week’s study), Paul proceeds with the narratio in 1:11-2:14. In classical rhetoric, the narratio (Greek di¢¡g¢sis) refers to a statement (narration) of the facts of a case, along with related events, by the author/speaker; it also sets the stage for the principal arguments (or proofs) which follow. Cicero defines it as “an exposition of events that have occurred or are supposed to have occurred” (De inventione 1.19.27; see Quintilian 4.2.2ff, and Betz, pp. 58-9).

In Paul’s letters, the narratio tends to be autobiographical in character, since the issues dealt with in the letter are typically related in a fundamental way to Paul’s missionary work. That is certainly the case here in Galatians, and all the more so, since the rhetorical thrust of the letter has a strong apologetic character, in which Paul defends the legitimacy of his apostolic ministry.

Verses 11-12 make up the propositio, or opening statement, intended to influence the audience. This is indicated by Paul’s use of gnœrízœ gár hymín (“For I make known to you…”) at the start. This sort of opening is relatively common, positioning and presenting the speaker/author’s arguments as something the audience is already familiar with (“You are certainly aware of…,” “You are not unaware of the fact…,” “You must remember…,” etc). Verses 11-12 are transitional, joining the exordium to the narratio that follows; note the significance of this central proposition:

“For I make known to you, brothers, the good message [euangélion] being brought as a good news [euangelisthén] by me, that it is not according to man, for not even did I receive it along from a man, nor was I taught (it), but (it came) through an uncovering of [i.e. revelation by] Yeshua (the) Anointed.”

Here Paul begins to develop themes and lines of argument which were introduced in the letter opening (vv. 1, 4) and the exordium (vv. 6-9). Two key themes, which are interrelated in Paul’s argument, are presented in the proposition: (1) his apostolic commission came as the result of a direct revelation from Jesus himself, and (2) the Gospel (euangélion, “good message, good news”) as proclaimed by him is part of this same revelatory commission. The central point was made back in verse 1—namely, that the Gospel Paul proclaims was not taught to him by other human beings, but came to him directly by revelation from Jesus Christ. This fact is intimately connected with his role as a representative and emissary (apostle) of Christ, both aspects—Gospel message and apostolic authority—being central to his exposition.

The exposition/narration that follows in 1:13-2:14 does more than simply present the facts of the case; rather, Paul uses this rhetorical opportunity to develop these two key lines of argument. This is done by three narrative stages—that is, in three sections of the narratio. Indeed, as noted above, the narratio itself is autobiographical, and can be divided into three parts:

    • Paul’s early career—the call to be an Apostle (1:13-24)
    • The meeting in Jerusalem—confirmation of Paul’s role as Apostle to the Gentiles (2:1-10)
    • The incident at Antioch—questions regarding the Gospel as proclaimed to the Gentiles, concerning Jewish-Gentile relations and the Law (2:11-14)

Let us examine briefly how Paul uses the rhetorical and epistolary form of the narratio to develop the argument by which he hopes to persuade the Galatians.

Paul’s early career (1:13-24)—From the standpoint of this study, three basic themes or points can be isolated:

    • His religious devotion and zeal—that is, his Jewish identity (vv. 13-14). The “traditions [lit. things given along, passed down] of the Fathers” certainly includes legal (i.e. commands and regulations of the Torah) as well as extra-legal religious matters. His devotion extended even to persecuting the early Christians in Jerusalem and Judea, which corresponds to the scenario described in Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-2ff. Note also how here he effectively contrasts Judaism with the Gospel (presented in v. 15), but not as either competing or complementary religions; rather, the revelation of Jesus Christ to him represents something entirely new.
    • His call and commission as Apostle (to the Gentiles)—it came directly from God and Christ (vv. 15-17) This is indicated by two aspects of the narrative:
      (1) He was set apart (vb aphorízœ) by God (even before he was born), being called by the favor of God and through the (personal) revelation of Christ (vv. 15-16a)
      (2) He did not consult at first with other Christian leaders (in Jerusalem), i.e. his instruction and earliest ministry work was directly under the guidance of God and Christ (vv. 16b-17)
    • His ministry work becoming accepted within the wider early Christian community—including contact with the apostles in Jerusalem (vv. 18-24)

The meeting in Jerusalem (2:1-10)—I have discussed this passage in some detail in relation to the so-called ‘Jerusalem Council’ of Acts 15. I would generally follow the majority of commentators in their view that Acts 15 and Galatians 2 refer to the same underlying historical event[s], though this identification is not without difficulties. However one chooses to interpret the relation between these passages at the historical level, here we must focus exclusively on what Paul writes in his letter. The following points should be noted:

    • Paul’s attendance in Jerusalem is also the result of a revelation (vv. 1-2, cp. Acts 15:2f)
    • At issue is the Gospel Paul has been proclaiming to the Gentiles (v. 2)
    • There were some (Jewish Christians) in Jerusalem who would require/compel Gentile believers to be circumcised [and, presumably, to observe other Torah regulations as well] (v. 3; this is more prominent in Acts 15:1-11ff)
    • Paul characterizes these Jewish Christians (“Judaizers”) as “false brothers” (pseudádelphoi), indicating that they have come in surreptitiously (infiltrating/spying), and with false/improper motives (v. 4); note the introduction here of a motif (slavery vs. freedom) which will appear throughout the epistle.
    • Paul clearly contrasts this Jewish-Christian view with the “truth of the Gospel” (al¢¡theia tou euangelíou)—as such, Paul feels compelled to oppose it (v. 5)
    • The authority and importance of the (apostolic) leaders in Jerusalem, judged in human terms, is devalued by Paul (v. 6, 9)
    • And yet, Paul’s role as apostle to the Gentiles is confirmed—along with his missionary approach and the Gospel he proclaims—by the leaders in Jerusalem (James, Cephas/Peter, and John) (vv. 7-9)

We can detect how many of the important themes and motifs of the epistle, to be expounded by Paul, are introduced and interwoven throughout this narrative. The points of controversy and conflict are brought forward, and already Paul has begun the polemical (and vituperative) treatment of his opponents which will increase markedly in the climactic sections of the letter.

The incident at Antioch (2:11-14)—For a detailed treatment of this section, see my earlier discussion, and also on the Peter/Paul controversy in Christian tradition. It also may be worth consulting my notes on the so-called Apostolic Decree from Acts 15. Here we have a narrative snippet from a minor, but significant, event in early Church history, which shows the cultural and religious difficulties in incorporating Gentile (non-Jewish) believers within a largely Jewish-Christian matrix.

The incident at Antioch, by all accounts, did not involve Jewish Christians urging or compelling Gentiles to observe the Torah; rather, it had to do with the behavior of the Jewish believers. Should Jews (as believers in Christ) continue faithfully to observe the Torah regulations and/or their religious traditions if it meant separating themselves from fellowship with Gentiles? The issue may even have gone deeper, for Paul speaks of Peter as starting to be in a Gentile manner of living (ethnikœ¡s); this perhaps indicates that Peter has ceased to observe certain Torah regulations (such as the dietary restrictions, cf. Acts 10:9-16), at least when living and eating among Gentile believers. Social pressure (from prominent Jewish believers) apparently caused Peter to return to his prior religious scruples.

Paul saw and sensed in this a great danger, as it seemed to place Jewish distinctiveness ahead of Jewish-Gentile unity in Christ. This is an important observation directed at those commentators who would view Paul’s arguments regarding the Law in Galatians as being limited to what is necessary for salvation. The incident at Antioch shows that Paul’s argument goes well beyond this, for it relates to the very notion of Christian identity. Galatians is first surviving Christian writing (however one dates it exactly) to address this issue head-on.

Through this relatively lengthy narration (narratio), Paul has moved from a defense of his apostleship (section 1) to a defense of his view of the Gospel and what it means to be a Christian (section 3). He has effectively laid out the groundwork for his lines of argument in chapters 3-4. However, before Paul begins with his “proofs” in chaps. 3-4, he first must present the central proposition (propositio) which he seeks to prove. This is done formally in 2:15-21, which we will examine in next week’s study. The issue is stated, in practical terms, at the close of the narratio, which the question (posed to Peter, but, by extension, to all Jewish Christians):

“how can you make it necessary (for) the nations [i.e. Gentiles] to live as Jews?”

Paul’s view of the Gospel is that it is not necessary at all for believers (esp. Gentile believers) to “live as Jews” (vb Ioudaï¡zœ), by which is meant accepting the binding authority of the Torah regulations. He will expound this proposition in vv. 15-21, and then go on to prove it (probatio) through six lines of argument in chaps. 3-4.

References above marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia, ed. by Helmut Koester, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1979).

Saturday Series: Galatians 1:6-10

Exordium (Galatians 1:6-10)

Last week, we began our rhetorical-critical study on Galatians, starting with the opening (epistolary prescript) of the letter (1:1-5). We saw how Paul’s rhetorical purpose resulted in the adaptation of the traditional opening (even as realized in the majority of Paul’s letters). Both the superscription and the greeting (salutatio) were expanded to include thematic elements that will become important for the rest of the letter—namely, (1) the legitimacy of Paul’s status as an apostle, and (2) an emphasis on the Gospel message (kerygma) proclaimed by Paul (as an apostle). Today we will move on to the start of the body of the letter proper, the introduction or exordium (to use the classical rhetorical term).

This opening section of a speech (or letter) can also be referred to as a proeemium or principium. From the standpoint of classic Greco-Roman rhetoric, the exordium is treated, for example, by Aristotle (Rhetoric 1.1.9; 3.14.1ff), Cicero (De inventione 1.4.6-7.11), and Quintilian (4.1.1-79); see Betz, p. 44. The exordium can serve a number of different purposes for the speaker/author. The author (in the case of a letter) can state his/her reason for writing (causa), introduce the subject to be addressed, present the facts of the case, and/or prepare the audience so that they are more likely to be receptive and respond favorably to the message.

For the exordium of Galatians (1:6-10), Paul has several key purposes or themes which he wishes to introduce. One may divide the exordium into three parts. In the first of these (vv. 6-7), Paul gives the reason for writing to the Galatians; in Latin rhetorical terminology, this is the causa (or cause) for his writing.

“I wonder that so quickly you (would) set yourselves away from the (one hav)ing called you in (the) favor [of the Anointed], (and) to a different good message, (for) which there would not be another, if (it were) not (that) there are some (people) troubling you and wishing to turn away [i.e. distort] the good message of (the) Anointed.”

Paul’s approach here is indirect, in that he does not adopt a standard direct and straightforward opening (principium), but takes a ‘subtler’ and more creative approach, using a method called insinuatio. This approach tends to be used when the audience has (already) been won over by the arguments of the author’s opponent(s) (see Betz, p. 45). Note the present tense verbs in vv. 6-7, indicating that the influence of Paul’s opponents on the Galatians is something current and ongoing.

The forcefulness of Paul’s language is also an indication of the urgency of the situation. He begins, “I wonder/marvel [thaumázœ] that…”, a deliberative rhetorical technique that draws attention to the course of action being taken (or about to be taken) by his audience; similarly, his use of the adverb tachéœs (“[so] soon/quickly”). It is a device of ‘indignant rebuttal’, implicitly attacking the things said and done by the opposition side. On the rhetorical use of the verb thaumázœ in this regard, see Betz, p. 47.

Note the two parallel verbs in vv. 6-7:

    • metatíth¢mi (“set [something] after”, i.e. change the place of)—metatíthesthe “you have moved (yourselves) away from [apó]”
        • The transfer is away from the one calling the Galatians to faith and salvation, i.e. God (but in a secondary sense, also Paul as apostle), and toward (“unto”, eis) “another Gospel” (héteron euangélion)
    • metastréphœ (“turn after/across”, i.e. turn to a different place or condition)
        • Paul’s opponents (the ones “troubling” [tarássontes] the Galatians) wish “to change/pervert/distort” [metastrépsai] “the Gospel of Christ” [to euangélion toú Christoú]

As Betz notes (p. 47), much of this vocabulary reflects a partisan political context—being applied to a religious setting. Paul immediately establishes two sides, tied to a particular view of the “good message” (Gospel) proclaimed by the early Christians. On one side, we have the Gospel as proclaimed by Paul (and his fellow missionaries), and, on the other side, the version of the Gospel held by his opponents (yet to be introduced in the letter).

This sense of conflict relates to the two rhetorical themes introduced by Paul in the opening (epistolary prescript) of the letter (vv. 1-5, see above). We have: (1) the essence of the Gospel message, and (2) the legitimacy of Paul as an apostle proclaiming this message. His primary focus is on the first point—the essence and truth of the Gospel. This is why he speaks of a “different” (héteros) or “another” (állos) Gospel—that is, a version of it different from the one he has proclaimed to the Galatians. It is not clear, at this point in the letter, what this “difference” entails, only that the matter is most serious, in his mind. This explains the forcefulness of the language here in the causa, but also the introduction of the curse-formula that follows in vv. 8-9 (see below).

The second theme is also present: the legitimacy of Paul as an apostle. The expression “the (one) having called you” (ho kalésantos hymás) is ambiguous. It is best understood in terms of God the Father as the One who calls believers to faith in Christ (“in the favor [i.e. grace] of Christ”); however, it could also refer, in a subordinate sense, to Paul as the one who calls them through his proclamation of the Gospel. Almost certainly, Paul has both levels of meaning in mind.

Paul cleverly disparages the view of the Gospel held by his opponents, in verse 7, by emphasizing that there really cannot be a different Gospel—i.e., there is only one Gospel, and by implication it corresponds with Paul’s version of the Gospel. Indeed, he goes on to say that he would not even bother to speak of “another” Gospel, were it not for the fact that there have been some (tinés) people “troubling” (vb. tarássœ) the Galatian believers with their claims and teachings. Paul states that these ‘other’ people actually wish to the distort/pervert (vb metastréphœ, see above) the truth of the Gospel. Certainly, Paul’s opponents would not see the matter this way, and would claim just the opposite, attributing any distortion of the Gospel to Paul.

The seriousness with which Paul views the matter is indicated by the double curse (anathema) he gives in verses 8-9. It is not uncommon for classical orators to make use of threats as a means of persuading their audience, nor is the use of curses in a speech (or letter) unknown. However, typically, any curse formula would appear at a later point, toward the end of the speech or letter—a portion referred to as peroratio. It is unusual to include a curse formula as part of the introduction, as Paul does here. Rhetoricians tend to view threats or curses as something that should be used only as a last resort, when other means of persuasion do not seem likely to succeed (see Betz, p. 46). Paul’s use of it here illustrates two pertinent facts: (1) that his opponents have been successful, to some measure, in persuading the Galatians; and (2) it shows the seriousness and urgency with which Paul views the matter. It was most serious, indeed, for a missionary or leading figure in the Church to proclaim a “different” Gospel:

“But, even if we, or a Messenger out of heaven, should proclaim as (the) good message [to you] (something) alongside of [pará] the good message which we proclaimed to you, may he be set up (as cursed)! As we have said before, even now again I say: if anyone proclaims as (the) good message to you (something) alongside that which which you received along (from us), may he be set up (as cursed)!”

Implied within the curse is an affirmation of Paul’s own apostolic authority—this will be the main focus of the narration section (narratio) that follows in vv. 11ff. Paul’s position and authority as an apostle (representative of Christ) is also indicated in verse 10, which serves as the transitus, or transition, between the exordium and the narratio. This transitional declaration is also important for a proper understanding of Paul’s application of rhetorical techniques in his letters:

“For do I now persuade men or God? Or do I seek to please men? If I would yet please men, a slave of the Anointed (One) I would not be.”

Paul seems to deny that he is trying to persuade (vb peíthœ) people, and yet clearly that is what is is doing in his letter. The point is, however, not that he makes no use of persuasive (rhetorical) techniques, but that he does not rely upon them to convey the truth of his message. Nor does he seek to “persuade God,” an idea which he perhaps includes here because of the curse-formula in vv. 8-9. God is not to be swayed or persuaded by quasi-magical means. More critical is Paul’s final point in verse 10: that he is not writing to please men. His duty, as an apostle, is to proclaim the Gospel; to this end, he is effectively a “slave” (doúlos) of Christ.

This statement leads to the question of Paul’s apostleship—and the relation of his apostolic authority to the truth of the Gospel message that he proclaims. It is this theme which comes more firmly into focus in the next section of the letter (the narratio, 1:11-2:14), which we will examine in next week’s study.

References above marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia, ed. by Helmut Koester, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1979).

Saturday Series: Galatians 1:1-5

The Saturday Series studies this Fall will focus on the area of Rhetorical Criticism, a specialized field of Biblical Criticism, in which a Scripture passage (or book) is examined from the standpoint of rhetorical analysis—that is, a study of how the message is communicated by word (spoken or written), particularly the art of persuasion and the techniques and arguments used.

Rhetorical Criticism is a relatively new field of Biblical Criticism, introduced and applied primarily to the New Testament Scriptures, in light of Classical Greco-Roman rhetoric. To be sure, rhetorical analysis can be applied to any book or passage, but for the most part it has been the reserve of New Testament scholars, and its application has yielded many valuable insights.

In particular, study of the New Testament letters—and especially the letters of Paul—has benefited greatly from application of rhetorical analysis, as part of an examination of the epistolary form and techniques used by the author. Rhetoric is perhaps more commonly understood in terms of oral speech, but many of the techniques relate nearly as well to literary communication of a message, especially when presented in an epistle or letter.

As a way of introducing the methods and techniques of rhetorical criticism, we will take an inductive approach, working from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, which happens to possess one of the clearest rhetorical structures of any New Testament book. Paul is trying to communicate a very particular (and important) message in this letter, and he effectively uses a number of rhetorical techniques to achieve his goal. Despite the self-effacing tone Paul adopts at times (e.g., 2 Cor 11:6), he was quite well-versed and adept in classical rhetorical techniques, and did not hesitate to apply them in an effort to persuade his audience (his protestation in 1 Cor 1:17; 2:1ff notwithstanding).

Epistolary Prescript (Galatians 1:1-5)

The technical term for the opening of the letter (here 1:1-5) is the epistolary prescript. The openings of Paul’s letters tend to follow the standard framework of Greco-Roman letters, though not infrequently he adapts this in small but important ways. In the case of Galatians, the adaptations to the epistolary prescript are rhetorically charged—meaning that he includes here, in the opening of the letter, in seed-form, key lines of argument that will be developed in the following sections.

The standard elements of the prescript (opening) are: identification of the author(s) (superscriptio, vv. 1-2a), identification of the addressee(s) (adscriptio, v. 2b), and the greeting (salutatio, vv. 3-5); here the greeting includes a doxology (v. 5). Paul’s rhetorical adaptations occur in the superscriptio and salutatio (greeting, vv. 3-4). Let us look at each of these.

“Paulus, an apostolos, not from men and not through a man, but through Yeshua (the) Anointed, and God (the) Father, the (One hav)ing raised him out of (the) dead, and all the brothers with me…” (vv. 1-2a)

Paul often begins his letters by identifying himself as an apóstolos (lit. “[one] set forth”, i.e. sent forth); we typically transliterate this word in English as apostle. Occasionally he qualifies this by including an expression or short phrase, such as “called through (the) will of God” (1 Cor 1:1; cp. Rom 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Col 1:1). Here in Galatians, however, he has included a much more expansive insertion (in green above); this insertion can be divided into three parts:

    • “not from men and not through a man” —i.e., the source of his apostolic commission (and authority) is not human
    • “but through Yeshua (the) Anointed and God (the) Father” —i.e., identifying Jesus Christ and God the Father as the source of his commission
    • “the (One hav)ing raised him out of (the) dead” —further identifying God the Father in terms of the resurrection of Jesus

The middle element essentially echoes the phrase “called through the will of God” (see above). It is the first and third elements which relate to two key components of Paul’s rhetoric in Galatians: (1) his apostolic authority, and (2) the Gospel that he proclaims (as an apostle).

1. His Apostolic Authority. Paul as an apostle, that is, one who is set forth as a special emissary and representative (of Christ). This will be a central theme in establishing the argument of the letter—Paul’s role and authority as an apostle to the Gentiles. Note how he qualifies the term “apostle” in verse 1— “not from men and not through a man, but through Yeshua (the) Anointed and God (the) Father”. In other words, his apostolic authority comes directly from Jesus Christ and God the Father. It does not come from a human being (“from [apo] men”), nor was it established through a human intermediary (“through [dia] a man”).

There appears to have been some controversy around Paul’s identification as an apostle, since he was not an eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus, nor was he commissioned by Jesus personally (prior to Jesus’ ascension)—see Acts 1:21-22. We can sense this tension at various points in his letters (1 Cor 4:9; 9:1ff; 15:9), and Paul’s opponents may have emphasized the illegitimacy of his apostleship (see esp. the polemic in 2 Cor 11:5ff). In Galatians Paul similarly defends his apostleship.

2. The Gospel he proclaims. Consider also how his apostleship is connected to the Gospel message here in v. 1 with the concluding formula “…the (One) raising him [i.e. Jesus] out of the dead”. The nature of the Gospel that Paul proclaims, as an apostle, is very much at issue in Galatians, since he argues throughout that the Jewish Christians who have been influencing the Galatian congregations essentially proclaim a different Gospel.

Turning to the greeting or salutation (salutatio), the standard Pauline greeting occurs in verse 3:

“Favor [i.e. grace] to you and peace from God our Father and (the) Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed”

As in verse 1, God the Father and Jesus Christ are mentioned together.

Verse 4 applies to Jesus a more extensive Gospel formula than we saw in verse 1; indeed, it functions as a kind of summary of the Gospel proclamation (kerygma):

“…the (One) giving himself over our sins, that he might take us out of the standing evil Age, according to the will of our God and Father”.

This is important, since a proper definition and understanding of the Gospel (“good message”) is likewise central to the argument of Galatians, as we will see.

These expansive insertions within the framework of the epistolary prescript are a bit unusual, and reflect the importance (and urgency) of the issue that Paul is addressing here. They anticipate the forceful rhetoric that he will use throughout the letter.

In next week’s study, we will turn to the next section of Galatians, the introduction (exordium) in 1:6-11.

Notes on Prayer: 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

In last week’s study, we explored the New Testament references dealing with prayer for healing (from illness or disease). It was noted, somewhat surprisingly, how rare such references are. There is only one passage (James 5:13-18) which clearly directs believers to pray for healing, and essentially promises an answer to such prayer. However, to this must be added another passage, which, it would seem, provides an example where God does not answer a request for healing or deliverance from physical affliction. This is Paul’s famous “thorn in the flesh” passage in 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10. It is a passage that continues to be much debated, both in terms of its precise meaning and the wider implications related to prayer and the Christian life.

To begin with, we must look at 2 Cor 12:7b-10 within its overall context in the letter. It is part of the “catalog of hardships” in 11:21b-12:10, in which Paul details various sufferings he has endured as a minister of the Gospel. This, in turn, is part of a larger discussion in which he argues against certain ministers (from outside of his apostolic circle) who were exerting an undue influence on at least some in the Corinthian congregations. The particular line of argument runs through chapters 10-13, one of the harshest and most polemically tinged sections in all of Paul’s surviving letters. He compares himself with these ‘foreign’ ministers, in the hopes of restoring a damaged relationship with the Corinthians churches. Throughout the letter, Paul argues strongly that he deserves recognition as a leading minister and missionary (apostle) who played a central role in the very founding of the congregations, and in their subsequent early growth. The feeling on his part is that others have usurped his proper place in relation to the Christians of Corinth, and this is expressed, with special force and verve in chapters 10-13 where he attacks certain ‘false apostles’ (11:13) who have actively worked to undermine his relationship with the believers there.

One of the arguments used in chaps. 10-13 involves the suffering and hardship Paul has endured as an apostolic missionary (11:23b ff). He ties this to the faithfulness he has shown in his ministry work, with its resultant successes and accomplishments (vv. 21b-23a, etc). Modern readers will likely find Paul’s self-effacing comments here (in vv. 21b, 23a; 12:2, 5ff) most unconvincing, and rightly so; their purpose is largely rhetorical. Paul was genuinely proud of what he had endured (and accomplished) as a minister of the Gospel, and frequently speaks of “boasting” of this in his letters. However, the thought that he expresses in 12:5-10 is also genuine. Paul was fully aware that his ministerial accomplishments were primarily the result of the power of God (and Christ) working through him.

This brings us to the illustration in 12:7b-10. In verses 1-10, he contrasts the special blessing given to him (by God), in the form of unique divine visions (vv. 1-6), with a special affliction, also given to him by God (vv. 7-10). He frames this contrast in terms of the motifs of strength and weakness (a)sqe/neia). That God gave to him an affliction, as a counter to the blessing, is stated clearly in verse 7:

“…and in the overcasting [i.e. surpassing] (nature) of the uncoverings [i.e. revelations]. Through (this), (so) that I should not lift myself (up) over (others), a sharp (stick) [sko/loy] was given to me, in the flesh, a messenger of (the) Satan, so that he should ‘strike me on the ear’, so that I should not lift myself (up) over (what is proper).”

The key expression is sko/loy th=| sarki/, a skólops in the flesh”. The relatively rare noun sko/loy (skólops) indicates an object, usually made of wood, with a rough, sharp, or jagged edge. It can refer to a pointed stake, a splinter, or the “thorn” of a plant—thus the common English rendering “thorn in the flesh”. This is the only occurrence of the word in the New Testament, and it is equally rare in the Greek version of the Old Testament (LXX Num 33:55; Hos 2:8 [10]; Ezek 28:24; Sirach 43:19). In Hos 2:8 [10] and Ezek 28:24 the reference is to a thorny bush, while Num 33:55 refers to both ‘splinters’ in the eye and larger ‘thorns’ that prick the body.

Commentators have long debated just what Paul is describing through this expression. There have been three main lines of interpretation:

    • That it refers to some kind of temptation to sin, often assumed to be of a carnal/sexual nature
    • That it refers to a physical ailment
    • That it is comparable to the earlier references of persecution mentioned earlier in the passage

In my view, the first and third options are both quite unlikely, for different reasons. While some commentators may wish to shield Paul from the idea that he was seriously tempted toward (carnal) sin, preserving him as a paragon of virtue, there is no reason to think that he did not experience temptations of this sort. It is simply that here the context does not suggest anything like temptation to sin. As far as identifying the sko/loy with some form of persecution, Paul had already dealt with that aspect of his hardship/suffering (in some detail) in vv. 23b-26. Here, he is clearly referring to a special sort of affliction, unique to him, that would correspond to the special blessing he had received in his person (in the form of revelatory visions).

The best explanation is that the sko/loy refers to some kind of persistent physical ailment, perhaps involving the eyes (which would provide a clear parallel with his visions). While we cannot entirely rule out a psychological or spiritual affliction, the characterization of the sko/loy as being located “in the flesh” suggests something physiological. This is fully in accord with the idea that the ailment is a “messenger of Satan”, since, according to the worldview of the time, ailments and illnesses of all sorts were generally attributed to the activity of evil/malevolent spirits. As previously noted, the healing miracles of Jesus (and the apostles) were closely connected with exorcism miracles—both going hand in hand. Here, the “messenger” is said to “hit (him) on the ears” (vb kolafi/zw), a Greek idiom that could be used figuratively for any sort of abuse or ill-treatment. In the Synoptic Passion narrative (Mk 14:65, par Matt 26:67), as also by Paul in 1 Cor 4:11, it is used in the more concrete (literal) sense of striking someone with the hands (i.e. boxing, punching, slapping) upon the face or head.

Paul states that this affliction was given to him (or allowed) by God so that he would not “lift himself (up) over” (vb u(perai/romai), which I have translated literally above. Paul uses it twice in the verse, and I have filled out the idiom two different ways: “lift myself (up) over (others)” and “lift myself (up) over (what is proper)”. In popular English idiom, we might say that the affliction serves to “keep (Paul) in his place”. He criticizes the ‘false apostles’ for vaunting and elevating themselves over others, and, in his polemic, studiously avoids doing the same thing himself, even as he lists out here his many gifts and accomplishments. Along with these accomplishments, however, was this humbling affliction, serious enough that Paul would ask the Lord repeatedly to have it removed:

“About this I called the Lord alongside three (times), so that it might stand away [i.e. be removed] from me” (v. 8)

Here “the Lord” (o( ku/rio$) would seem to refer to Jesus Christ, even though it was more customary to pray to God the Father, “through” Christ, or “in his name” (cf. 1:5, 20, etc). However, it would not have been unusual for early Christians to direct prayers and personal requests to Christ, especially in the case of Paul, who attested special communication with the risen Jesus (e.g., Gal 1:11-12, 16; 2:2, and here in 12:1-2ff). The verb parakale/w (“call alongside”) is not a regular verb for prayer in the New Testament, though clearly the sense here is of a prayer or petition to God (or to Christ). Apparently, Paul’s request was not answered, in the sense that the ailment was not removed; the answer that was given to him (by the Lord) is of a very different sort:

“And he said to me: ‘My favor [xa/ri$] is sufficient for you—for my power is made complete in your lack of strength [a)sqe/neia, i.e. weakness]’.” (v. 9a)

The verb a)rke/w denotes the idea of being content or satisfied with something—i.e., Paul must be content with the fact that he has this particular ailment, and that the favor of God (and Christ) continues to work through him in spite of this. Indeed, Paul’s weakness (lit. “lack of strength”) is itself a special kind of blessing, as it means that God’s own power (du/nami$) is manifest more clearly in Paul’s person, since it is not being communicated to others as a result of Paul’s own strength and ability. In its own way, this truth was a special revelation given to Paul, and communicated to all believers (in turn) through his writing. Indeed, it may be regarded as a far greater revelation than those heavenly visions vouchsafed to him earlier. Paul seems to recognize this fact, as he states in v. 9b:

“(With ut)most pleasure, then, will I rather exalt in my lack of strength [pl.], (so) that the power of (the) Anointed should set up (its) tent [i.e. dwell/rest] upon me.”

I translated the verb kauxa/omai in the more fundamental sense of “exalt”, though it is typically rendered as “boast”, and is part of Paul’s distinctive language of boasting. He often freely boasts/exalts in what he has accomplished as a minister of the Gospel (cf. above), but here, in light of his rhetoric and the line of argument he is using, he is much more cautious, emphasizing how he prefers to boast/exalt in his own weakness (“lack of strength”) since it brings out all the more clearly the power of Christ that is at work in him. The exact wording of the Lord’s message to him utilizes the important verb tele/w (“[make] complete”): “my power is made complete in your lack of strength”.

This may not be a welcome response for those requesting healing from God for certain physical ailments. And yet, it is important to emphasize again the relative lack of references in the New Testament regarding prayer for healing. Even in James 5:13-18, as also in 3 John 2, the emphasis is on prayer for the health and well-being of another believer, not for oneself. In one of the few instances where a believer does pray for relief from a physical ailment (apparently), here in our passage, the believer was not delivered from the suffering caused by the ailment. Even if Paul’s affliction, his sko/loy, was not dire or life-threatening, it was serious (and/or irritating) enough that he asked three times for it to be removed. It would seem that, after this, Paul ceased to ask for healing from his affliction, realizing that it served a greater purpose for him in God’s eyes. Note, for example, how Paul brings the illustration back into the wider discussion of his suffering as a minister of the Gospel, in verse 10, and the message of how all such affliction only serves to glorify the power of Christ that is at work in him (and in all faithful believers).

As we consider the wider application of this passage, in terms of prayer for healing, I would conclude with three main points:

    • There is nothing wrong with believers praying for healing or for relief from physical ailments. The overall witness of the New Testament certainly allows for it under the wider heading of requests we would make to God “in Jesus’ name”. In addition, there is the example of James 5:13-18, with the promise that prayer in Jesus’ name, made in full trust of Christ, can and will bring healing.
    • At the same time, request for physical health and healing should in no way take precedence as the focus of our prayers. Rather, giving honor to God and the work of His Kingdom—the proclamation of the Gospel and the presence of the Spirit—must be the primary emphasis in our prayer. This is confirmed by the Lord’s Prayer itself, and is supported by the New Testament witness at every turn.
    • It is more important, especially for those gifted as ministers or leaders in Christian communities, to pray for the healing of others, rather than for oneself. This is fully in accord with the main principles of the Gospel, and emphasizes the self-sacrifice that is essential for the faithful servant of Christ. The one faithful to the call of ministry is willing, even pleased, to serve in the midst of suffering and hardship (which includes physical ailments and illness). While one may still pray for healing and relief personally, it is more important to recognize (with Paul) the revelation expressed in 2 Cor 12:9—that Christ’s own power is made complete in our weakness.

 

Saturday Series: 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (concluded)

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, continued

Last week, under the heading of Literary Criticism (and Composition Criticism), we explored our passage (2 Cor 6:14-7:1) from the standpoint of Pauline authorship, both in terms of the immediate context of 2:14-7:4, and the letter of 2 Corinthians as a whole. In particular, at the close of the prior study, I gave consideration to the place of the passage within the entire letter, on the theory that our canonical book was, in fact, composed as a single letter by Paul. Compilation theories are common among critical commentators, and are plausible (more or less) to some degree, but they all face considerable difficulties with relatively little hard evidence to support them. At the same time, the structure and flow of 2 Corinthians, considered as a single letter, is also problematic.

Last week, I noted that there is a consistent (and apparently straightforward) letter at the core of 2 Corinthians, one centered on the financial collection for the Christians in Jerusalem (chaps. 8-9); it could plausibly be reconstructed as follows: 1:1-2:13; 7:5-16; chaps. 8-9; and 13:11-14 (or a comparable closing). What distorts this clean structure are the two lengthy discussions on Paul’s apostolic status and relationship to the Corinthians—2:14-7:4 and 10:1-13:10—which fit uneasily into the formal epistolary and rhetorical pattern, and which largely account for the shifts in tone and emphasis. Both of these lengthy sections could serve as the core of letters themselves, with a self-contained structure that extends and distorts the outline of 2 Corinthians when taken as a whole. Thus, the critical view that one or both of these sections come from separate letters. But what of the possibility that they were both authored by Paul as part of the same letter (i.e. our canonical 2 Corinthians)? This could have a considerable bearing on the place and purpose of 6:14-7:1, and so should be examined in a bit more detail.

If, in fact, the financial collection for Jerusalem is the center of the letter, and Paul’s main purpose for writing, then the two ‘digressions’ on his apostolic status (in connection to the Corinthians) could be related to this. Is it possible to explain the letter’s (current) structure on this basis? and what, then, is the relationship? To begin with, in the structure of the letter as we have it, the two apostolic ‘digressions’ are embedded as part of the sections that bracket the central instruction regarding the collection for Jerusalem:

    • Extended Narration (narratio)—1:15-7:16
      [2:14-7:4—Excursus on Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians]
    • Main Proposition (propositio) and Arguments (probatio) with Exhortation (exhortatio?)—8:1-9:15
    • Extended Exhortation (exhortatio), with concluding Argument/Appeal (peroratio)—10:1-13:10

Moreover, in spite of the differences in tone and style between the two apostolic discussions, they share a number of features and details in common, and are clearly related to the same basic subject—Paul’s role and status as an apostle to the Corinthians believers. Let us briefly consider the structure of these two sections—first, the discussion in 2:14-7:4:

    • 2:14-7:4—Excursus on Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians
      • Basic proposition (2:14-17)
      • Issue 1: On Ministers and letters of recommendation (3:1-18)
      • Issue 2: On the honesty/sincerity of true apostles (such as Paul) in the preaching and ministry (4:1-6)
      • Issue 3: On the (physical) suffering of apostles such as Paul for the sake of the Gospel (4:7-5:10)
      • Exhortation/Appeal to the Corinthians, regarding Paul’s role as Apostle (5:11-6:10)
      • Personal (Concluding) Appeal by Paul (6:11-7:4)

Second, that in 10:1-13:4:

    • 10:1-13:4—Extended Exhortation (exhortatio): Excursus on Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians
      • Initial Appeal and Statement (10:1-6)
      • Issue 1: The nature of Paul’s (apostolic) authority—theme of boasting introduced (10:7-18)
      • Issue 2: Comparison between Paul and other would-be Apostles who are influencing(?) the Corinthians (11:1-12:13)
      • Issue 3: Paul’s apostolic authority—exercise of discipline (12:14-21)
      • Closing appeal (13:1-4)

There is a general similarity in terms of structure: an initial statement, followed by three issues/arguments addressed by Paul, ending with a forceful exhortation/appeal. Admittedly, there are also significant differences, especially in terms of the thrust of each discussion. In particular, in 10:1-13:4 Paul uses a much stronger (and harsher) tone, similar in style and language to what we find in Galatians; as in that letter, Paul focuses on specific ‘opponents’, other (outside) leaders/ministers who are influencing the congregations he helped to found. There remains considerable scholarly debate as to just who these other (would-be) apostles are, along with the exact nature of Paul’s conflict with them. Based on the data in 2 Cor 10-13, we may plausibly determine the following details: (a) they were Jewish, (b) they came from outside the initial apostolic mission that founded the congregations, (c) they came with noteworthy credentials (commendatory letters), (d) they had a charismatic emphasis (more so than Paul), and perhaps were also more eloquent and impressive as speakers. It is unlikely that these were Palestinian Jewish Christians (from Jerusalem, etc); they appear to have been from the wider Hellenistic Jewish world, perhaps similar in background to Apollos. Interestingly, unlike in Galatians, Paul mentions no specific theological or doctrinal differences; his attack on them has more to do with how he viewed their personal character and understanding of the apostolic ministry.

Though it requires reading between the lines a bit, I believe the situation addressed by Paul in 10:1-13:4 is also in view in the earlier discussion of 2:14-7:4. In particular, the importance he gives to the question of letters of recommendation in chapter 3 is noteworthy. In an age when communication was extremely slow (and could be unreliable), transmission and presentation of letters played a key role in establishing a person’s legitimacy, qualifications, and intent. We also know from early Christian writings of the issues surrounding traveling ministers, the difficulties faced in establishing their pedigree and character, etc., including the potential danger an illegitimate itinerant minister could pose to a congregation. See, for example, chapters 11-13 of the so-called “Teaching (Didache) of the Twelve Apostles”. Apart from all other concerns, it was natural that a missionary like Paul would be highly protective of the congregations he played a role in founding. Moreover, from 1 Cor 1:10-17, it would seem there was a tendency among at least some in Corinth to identify themselves strongly with specific apostolic figures, in a partisan way that Paul found troubling. This could help us understand how influence from other outside ‘apostles’ could have quickly taken hold at Corinth, especially if such persons had impressive recommendations and/or demonstrated exciting charismatic abilities.

I think it may be possible to reconstruct a scenario that could explain why Paul writes as he does, including the two lengthy apostolic discussions. He wishes to see the effort of the financial collection for Jerusalem, so important in his mind, be carried through to completion (1 Cor 16:1-4, etc). However, significant problems had arisen which have disrupted and strained his relationship with the Corinthian congregations. He mentions one specific issue in 2:5-11, but it is clear that the conflict goes deeper and is more serious than this. He would not write so extensively defending and explaining his apostolic role and status, in relation to the Corinthians, were this not the case. Based on a careful reading of both apostolic discussion sections, it is possible to isolate two major (and likely related) issues: (1) the influence of other ‘apostles’ from outside who raised questions regarding Paul’s behavior and qualifications, etc, and (2) accusations/suggestions of misconduct by Paul. It is proper to consider them in this order and weight, since that is how Paul treats them in both discussions:

    • Extended discussion, with arguments, illustrations, etc, on Paul’s apostolic status and qualifications, both in relation to the Corinthians (emphasized in 2:14-7:4), and in comparison to these other ‘apostles’ (emphasized in chaps. 10-13)
    • At the close of the discussion, mention of accusations of misconduct, along with an implicit, but forceful denial.

Though less attention is given to the latter, it would seem to be the point that is most relevant for connecting the two apostolic discussions to the central matter of the financial collection for Jerusalem. The suggestions of misconduct occur at roughly the same point in each discussion—at the close of his arguments and in the context of the concluding appeal. In this first discussion, it happens to occur directly after 6:14-7:1 (a point to be further considered below), in 7:2ff. As I noted previously, Paul gives a concise three-fold denial of misconduct toward the Corinthians, using three verbs:

    • “we treated no one unjustly” (oudéna ¢dik¢samen)
    • “we corrupted no one” (oudéna ephtheíramen)
    • “we sought to have more (from) no one” (oudéna epleonekt¢¡samen)

In the second discussion, he addresses the matter in more detail, in 12:14-18:

“See, this (is the) third (time) I hold (myself) ready to come toward you, and I will not numb [i.e. weigh] you down—for I do not seek the (thing)s (that are) yours, but you. … And it must be (then), (that) I did not weigh you down; but (surely) (operat)ing under (an) all-working (cleverness), I took you with a trick! No, by any (one) whom I se(n)t forth toward you, did I seek to get more (from) you through him? I called Titus alongside and se(n)t him forth (to you) together with the brother; Titus did not (make) any attempt to get more (from) you (did he)? (and are we) not (moving) in the same track?”

Paul’s language here needs to be understood in light of the wider discussion in 2 Corinthians (especially here in chaps. 10-13), where Paul emphasizes that he did not burden the Corinthians with requests/demands for financial assistance (to support his ministry work)—on this point, see 11:7-11; 12:13, and the similar discussion in 1 Cor 9:1-18. The specific verb used in 12:14 (also 12:13 and 11:9) is katanarkᜠ(“numb down”), synonymous with katabaréœ (“weigh down”) in verse 16. This should have been viewed as a sign of Paul’s love and concern (his heart opened wide, 6:11); and yet, it appears to have played a part in suspicions and accusations against him. Twice in 12:17-18 (see the italicized words above), the verb pleonektéœ is used in this regard. It means simply “hold/have more”, but is often used in the sense of seeking to gain/get more from others (i.e. act greedily), sometimes with the harshly negative connotation of deceiving/defrauding others. This is one of the three verbs in Paul’s three-fold denial in 7:2 (see above), which would seem to confirm that the wrongdoing (adikía, “injustice”) of which he is suspected and/or accused relates primarily, if not entirely, to the idea that he is trying to get hold of money from the Corinthians through deception. If this is so, then it almost certainly is connected with the fundraising effort for Jerusalem (chaps. 8-9).

The accusation or suspicious criticism against Paul may have been along the following lines: He claims that he doesn’t ask any money of you for himself, but can you be sure he isn’t trying to defraud you with this collection? What if he is trying to trick you with these requests for money? Given the harshness of Paul’s attack in 10:1-13:4, it is likely that these other ‘apostles’ were at least partly responsible for spreading suspicions of this sort. As such, his collection efforts (and any accusations regarding them) cut right to the heart of his relation to the Corinthians as an apostle. Thus, he felt it necessary to expound and explain this to them in considerable detail—the nature of the apostolic ministry, and what it means for he (and his fellow missionaries) to be specially chosen and sent forth (i.e. an apostle) by God to proclaim the Gospel. At some level, he must have been hurt by any suspicions or accusation against him, however unfounded, and this comes through, especially in the first discussion, in the concluding exhortation/appeal (6:11-7:4), when he declares:

“Our mouth has been opened up toward you, Korinthians, our heart has been made wide; you are not in a narrow space in us, but you have (only) a narrow space in your inner organs (for us)! But (to give us) the (same) wage (back) in exchange, as (my dear) offspring, I say to you—make wide (your hearts) also to us, …. make space for us!

The striking difference in tone between 2:14-7:4 and 10:1-13:4 has been noted numerous times, and this, too, can perhaps be explained in context of the Jerusalem Collection (chaps. 8-9). Since the Collection is foremost in mind, central to the letter and Paul’s purpose for writing, it would make sense that he waited until the matters regarding it were addressed before embarking in his polemic against the would-be apostles that were influencing the Corinthians. In other words, the two apostolic discussions are, in effect, two halves of a single line of argument separated by the matter of the Collection. In the first half (2:14-7:4) Paul presents himself as a true apostle, whom the Corinthians should regard in their proper relationship to him; in the second half (10:1-13:4), Paul compares/contrasts himself with these would-be ‘false’ apostles. We may view this as two sides of the same conflict.

Even if this line of interpretation is essentially correct, how does 6:14-7:1 relate to it? In the previous study, I laid out a possible contextual relationship, relating the injustice (adikía) that characterizes the non-believer (6:14ff) with the accusation/suspicion that Paul has acted unjustly (vb. adikéœ, 7:2). As it happens, there is a similar sort of dynamic at the end of the second apostolic discussion; note the following comparative outline:

    • First appeal—for the the proper relationship between Paul & the Corinthians (6:11-13 / 12:14-18)
    • Warning against behavior that is improper for believers, drawing upon traditional ethical-religious instruction (6:14-7:1 / 12:19-21)
    • Second appeal—picking up and restating the substance of the first appeal (7:2-4 / 13:1-4)

Due to the harsher tone of 10:1-13:4, the warning in 12:19-21 seems less out of place than in 6:14-7:1, and it also happens to resemble more closely the type of traditional ethical instruction (utilizing standard vice lists) Paul gives elsewhere in his letters (Gal 5:19-23; Rom 1:29-31; 13:13; 1 Cor 5:9-11; 6:9-10). Even so, a strong argument can be made that 6:14-7:1 and 12:19-21 play the same role in both sections, and are evidence for the careful construction of those apostolic discussions within the setting of the letter as a whole. Though the context is less clear in the case of 6:14-7:1, it is strikingly evident in 12:19ff:

“In (what has) passed, do you consider that we are giv(ing) an account of ourselves to you? (It is) down before God in the Anointed {Christ} (that) we speak—and all th(ese thing)s, loved (one)s, (are) over [i.e. for] your (be)ing built (up). For I am afraid (in) no (little) way (that), (in my) coming, I should not find you like I wish (you to be), and I should be found like you do not wish (me to be)…”

In other words, the purpose of the apostolic discussions—both here and in 2:14-7:4—despite their apologetic character, where Paul seems to be defending his apostleship, is to the restore and preserve the proper relationship between Paul and the Corinthians. Note the important reciprocal language he uses: “For I am afraid … (that), (in my) coming, I should not find you like I wish (you to be), and I should be found like you do not wish (me to be).” Both sides of the relationship are threatened. This reflects a key theme that runs through both Corinthian letters—the importance of unity among believers, and how this aspect of our Christian identity is threatened by divisions and partisanship. In 12:20b, Paul neatly summarizes this disruption of unity through the popular ‘vice list’ format.

As in the case of 6:14-7:1, it is fair to refer to this as a description of what should not be present among believers (pístoi, those trusting)—rather, such disputes and divisiveness would more properly be characteristic of non-believers (ápistoi, those without trust). Moreover, the kind of immaturity that would lead to such division—including, to be sure the influence of the ‘false apostles’ and suspicions/accusations against Paul—might equally show one prone to more basic immorality and improper behavior. Again, as in 6:14-7:1, Paul refers to the immorality characteristic of non-believers, here indicating more directly that this may be a genuine problem for some Christians at Corinth (12:21). Thus, while Paul may deal with such ethical-religious matters in more detail in 1 Corinthians (5:1-13; 6:9-20; 10:14ff), it is not necessarily out of place here in 2 Corinthians, where the very character of what it means to be a true believer in Christ (in unity with others) is being addressed.

Conclusion

It may be helpful here, in conclusion, to bring together the strands of our study by way of a brief summary.

    • That there are a significant number of unusual or atypical details—words, phrases, style, points of emphasis, etc—in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, compared with the other undisputed Pauline letters, seems rather clear, as documented especially in our first study and in the separate note on 7:1.
    • For many commentators, these differences suggest that the passage is a non-Pauline interpolation, and thus not part of the original text. Such views are often related to the theory that 2 Corinthians is a compilation of letters (or parts of letters) by Paul.
    • The passage may be characterized as Jewish Christian homiletic material, based on a verse from the Torah (Lev 19:19), with a poetic exposition that includes a short chain (catena) of Scripture references, and concluding with a forceful exhortation (7:1) for believers. See our second study, as well as the article on 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
    • There is evidence that Paul not infrequently made use of various sorts of traditional material—creeds, hymns, baptismal formulas, vice lists, Scripture catena, etc—which likely were not entirely his own creation, but reflect the early Christian tendency to adapt and promote traditional ways of thought and expression. A strong argument can be made that just such traditional material/expression was utilized by Paul in 6:14-7:1—this would explain many of the apparent differences in vocabulary and style, without excluding Paul as final author.
    • All interpolation theories face the profound difficulty of explaining just why 6:14-7:1 was included at its current location, especially since nearly all commentators consider 2:14-7:4, at least, to be part of a single letter. Though not without its own problems, the theory that Paul himself included the material as part of his line of argument/exhortation at the end of 2:14-7:4 is preferable. It does, however, require that some attempt be made to explain the sudden shift in tone by which our passage appears to interrupt the flow between 6:13 and 7:2.
    • Compilation theories for 2 Corinthians as whole, while plausible in varying degrees, remain highly speculative and ultimately rest on slight support. In terms of the external evidence (manuscript tradition, early versions, etc), there is no indication whatever that 2 Corinthians ever existed in a form different than our canonical text. If it is a compilation, it had to made early on, well prior to the middle of the 2nd century. Thus, it is at least worth seriously considering, on objective grounds, the possibility that Paul intended, and wrote, the letter as we have it.
    • The difficulties of structure, as well as the shifts in tone and style, are largely due to the two lengthy discussions on Paul’s apostolic status—2:14-7:4 and 10:1-13:4—which extend and distort the epistolary (and rhetorical) form of the letter. If original to 2 Corinthians, these sections surround the central discussion in chapters 8-9, on the financial collection for Jerusalem, and would have to be connected with it in some fundamental way.
    • The two apostolic ‘digressions’, while differing in tone and emphasis, share many key themes in common, as well as a basic outline—(1) initial statement, (2) discussion of three issues (with arguments, illustrations), and (3) a concluding exhortation/appeal. The primary subject in each is that of Paul’s role as an apostle, and his relationship, as such, to the Corinthians. These parallels strongly indicate careful authoring, with each discussion set within the structure of the letter, surrounding the matter of the financial collection.
    • Toward the end of each apostolic discussion, Paul mentions suspicions/accusations of wrongdoing on his part. Similarities in language suggest that more or less the same issue is being addressed in each discussion, and that it involves deceit/fraud related to the financial collection (on this, see above).
    • Connected with this, in each apostolic discussion, Paul includes a warning to the Corinthians regarding behavior that is improper for a believer, framing it in traditional religious-ethical terms: (a) Jewish Christian homiletic in 6:14-7:1, and (b) Greco-Roman/Jewish ‘vice lists’ in 12:19-21. Such behavior contrasts with how a true believer should behave—indeed, it is characteristic of non-believers.
    • Thus, in each instance, as part of his appeal regarding his apostolic status (and relationship to the Corinthians), Paul includes a warning to the Corinthians that they not behave like unbelievers—acting in a divisive and (potentially) immoral way. There should be unity among believers, which involves preserving the divinely ordained relationship between a true apostle (Paul) and the congregations he helped to found. The restoration/preservation of this relationship was essential for the completion of the fundraising mission for Jerusalem, but ultimately points to deeper issues as well—regarding Christian identity and how believers ought to think and act in relation to one another.

While these critical studies do not resolve all of the questions surrounding 6:14-7:1, nor of 2 Corinthians as a whole, I hope they have served to demonstrate ways that critical methods and approaches can elucidate a Scripture passage. By confronting serious critical questions head on, without glossing them over or brushing them aside, it only strengthens our understanding of the Scriptures, giving us, I believe, more insight into the inspired text and how it came to be produced. The purpose of these Saturday Studies is to introduce any and all interested readers to the techniques and methods of Biblical Criticism, and how they may be applied to our study of Scripture. Next week, we will shift are attention to an entirely different area of the Scriptures. I hope you will join me for this new study!