Friday, August 28, 2009

Edward Adams: Construction of Worlds and Group Boundaries

Edward Adams employs sociological, anthropological, and linguistic methods combined with traditional historical critical methods to focus on the way Paul’s discourse constructs the social world of its recipients. He notes that Paul’s letters ‘shape every aspect of their members’ social experience: the social identity, social relations, attitudes and modes of behaviour’ and that ‘language in various modes of discourse’ may ‘create, maintain, and change social identity’ (2000: 24-25). With regard to these two methodological commitments, I follow Adams’ approach. The social situation in Corinth is addressed, building on the work of Mary Douglas, in the context of weak group boundaries; he notes ‘strong group boundaries go hand in hand with strong group identity and group solidarity’ and ‘the lack of cohesion in the Corinthian church suggest porous boundaries’ (98). For Adams, Paul is seeking ‘to build up the boundaries…to engender in the congregation a clearer sense of its distinctive religious, moral, and social identity’ (102-3). While I am in significant agreement with Adams, especially with regard to the apocalyptic approach of Paul (169), it appears that the Corinthian Christ-followers actually had a strong sense of social identity with regard to the broader culture and thus the boundary marking that needed to occur was internal more than external, though it does not exclude the other option (211).

With regard to the emergence of Christ-movement identity in general, Adams builds on Barclay arguing that gentile converts ‘would have suffered a considerable loss of social identity’ (2000: 222). This understanding of the social situation in Galatia leads Adams to helpfully incorporate the research of Tajfel to understand the situation (223); my work seeks to apply the social identity framework to the situation in Corinth in order to understand how the social implications of the gospel were experienced in a setting quite different from Galatia or Rome. Tajfel and Turner’s work have been applied to Romans and Galatians by Esler (1998, 2003) because of the presence of ethnic issues in those letters; however, Tajfel and Turner may be used more broadly to address issues of social identity, of which ethnicity is but one component. Marohl has applied this to Hebrews because of the presence of ‘intergroup comparison’ in that letter (2008: 80).


Adams, E. 2000 Constructing the World A Study in Paul’s Cosmological Language. (SNTW; Edinburgh: T&T Clark).

Esler, P.F. 1998 Galatians (New Testament Readings; London: Routledge).

Esler, P.F. 2003 Conflict and Identity in Romans: The Social Setting of Paul’s Letter (Minneapolis: Fortress Press).

Marohl, M.J. 2007 Faithfulness and the Purpose of Hebrews: A Social Identity Approach (PrTMS, Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Anders Runesson: Apostolic Judaism

Anders Runesson rightly recognizes ‘the inseparability of ethnic, cultural, national, and religious aspects of identity in antiquity’ (2008: 71). He follows William S. Campbell and Mark Nanos in arguing that, early on, the Christ-movement remained within Judaism, and he suggests that the term ‘Apostolic Judaism to indicate a common religio-cultural and ethnic focus’ may be employed to describe the movement which ‘included various Jewish groups; Christ-fearers [who] accept Apostolic Jewish authority and theology about their place within the people of God but are not part of the Ioudaioi’ (72-74). Runesson also follows Campbell in arguing that, for Paul, ‘non-Jews remain non-Jews with regard to ritual and cultural behaviour’ (77; Campbell 2008: 127) but differs somewhat from him with regard to Paul’s role in the establishment of a religion (cf. Runesson 2008: 79, 88; Campbell 2008: 51-52). Runesson’s correct conclusion concerning Paul’s view of the ‘law and faith, is that all people must remain in the condition in which they were when they were called’ and that to be ‘“in Christ” reflects an eschatological worldview in which Jews and non-Jews…together form the people of God’ with ‘the basic difference within the people of God between Jews and non-Jews’ being ‘along the lines of ethnic-cultural identity’ where both groups are urged ‘to accept this difference and keep the peace (1 Cor 7:17-20; Rom 15:7-12)’ (2008: 81-82). Far from the abstract, non-ethnic understanding of later ‘Christianity’, Runesson rightly understands Paul as one who defined the early Christ-movement in the context of kinship and ethnicity and not in the absence of these vital markers of community life.


Campbell, W.S. 2008 Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity (London: T&T Clark).

Runesson, A. 2000 ‘Particularistic Judaism and Universalistic Christianity? Some Critical Remarks on Terminology and Theology’, Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism, 1: 120-44.

Runesson, A. 2008 ‘Inventing Christian Identity: Paul, Ignatius, and Theodosius I’, in B. Holmberg (ed.) 2008: 59-92.

Holmberg, B. (ed.) 2008 Exploring Early Christian Identity (WUNT, 226; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Halvor Moxnes: The Cultural Identity of the Christ-movement

The formation of early Christ-movement identity emerged within the nexus of Judaism and the broader Roman world. How this occurred is one of the chief research interests in the work of Halvor Moxnes who focuses primarily on ‘the cultural stuff’ of the earliest Christ-movement (2005: 266-67). Moxnes understands ‘ethnicity and the formation of boundaries’ as ‘integral’ to ‘the cultural assumptions’ of ‘early Christian writers’, as well as ‘family and kinship relations’ (267-68). This implies that passages traditionally understood as containing significant abstract doctrinal content are to be reinterpreted as focusing on the concrete dimensions of ‘identity formation’ (268). Moxnes may be over-reaching here. There is a tendency to ‘downplay’ the theological content of the New Testament writings in favour of other preferred readings; however, the concept of theologizing provides a better corrective than the almost complete dismissal of theological content. Campbell notes concerning the theologizing of Paul: it ‘is an activity rather than simply an acquired mode of thought…and ongoing and dynamic process’ (2006: 159). Paul is empowering his audience to live together in community; his theologizing is his primary means to form the identity of his communities. Moxnes’ otherwise fine approach may be too bold on this point.

Moxnes argues that one can ‘read Paul’s letters as attempts to create and maintain an identity for the new and emerging groups that were established through his and others’ missions’ (2005: 271). This reading, according to Moxnes, foregrounds the presence of boundary marking language and ‘descent and consent language in the construction of [that] identity’ (270). Moxnes’ work emphasizes the importance of ritual in forming identity and understands baptism as a boundary crossing event within the Pauline communities that is informed by consent and descent language (Gal 3:27-29). Though Moxnes’ work recognizes that previous identity is not obliterated, his approach subsumes it too much under the new identity which resulted from ‘putting on Christ’ (273). Moxnes argument is weakened if one considers 1 Cor 12:13 in which the gender binary is missing. His argument for Abraham as the focus of identity, while evident in Romans, is understood differently in Galatians and is missing from 1 Cor. It does not follow, however, that Paul is not inventing a field of descent for his communities that is directly related to Judaism. He clearly does this.

Moxnes understands Paul’s identity forming strategy in 1 Cor as the establishment of a social identity ‘within the daily life and social contacts of a Greco-Roman city’ (2005: 276; Moxnes 2003: 3-29). Paul’s boundary marking in 1 Cor, according to Moxnes, is pre-eminently applied to the body (2008: 168-71; see 1 Cor 5; 6:12-20; 10:20-22; 12). The body becomes the focal point for identity formation both individually and corporately, Moxnes’ concludes ‘his [males in Corinth] body tells him that his identity is always determined by his relationships’ (2008: 171). Moxnes’ research in 1 Cor 6 is a stark reminder of the cultural distance between contemporary interpreters and first century Christ-followers and he provides an important corrective concerning the processual nature of ‘the construction and maintenance of boundaries’ in identity formation (2005: 279; 2008: 168). He also doubts the general usefulness of Paul’s letters in developing an ethical framework for contemporary society, except within ‘the form of a dialogue with Paul, rather than a normative application of his specific views’ (2005: 281). While I am in agreement with Moxnes that Paul was writing in order to form the social identity of his communities, it does not follow that one cannot hope to apply Paul’s teaching in contemporary society. Moxnes conception of New Testament Theology may be too stark on this point and my research seeks to combine the identity and theological understanding of Paul into a coherent whole.

Campbell, W.S. 2006 Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity (LNTS, 322; London; T&T Clark).

Holmberg, B., and Winninge, M. (eds.) 2008 Identity Formation in the New Testament (WUNT, 227; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck).

Moxnes, H. 2003 ‘Asceticism and Christian Identity in Antiquity: A Dialogue with Foucault and Paul’, JSNT 26.1: 3-29.

2005 ‘From Theology to Identity: The Problem of Constructing Early Christianity’, in T. Penner and C. Vander Stichele (eds.) 2005: 264-281.

2008 ‘Body, Gender, and Social Space’, in B. Holmberg and M. Winninge (eds.) 2008: 163-81.

Penner, T. and C. Vander Stichele (eds.) 2005 Moving Beyond New Testament Theology?: Essays in Conversation with Heikki Räisänen (Helsinki: Finnish Exegetical Society).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Denise Kimber Buell: Ethnic Reasoning

Ethnic reasoning and the dynamic interaction between fixity and fluidity are central elements of the identity forming program of the early ‘church’. Denise Kimber Buell, while writing primarily about the later first through early third centuries, argues that early Christian texts used ethnic categories in forming their identity. It should be noted that most of the texts studied by Buell are from an era later than 1 Corinthians (my area of research). However, from a methodological standpoint much of her framework may be applied to the earliest Pauline communities throughout the Roman empire, as long as one does not read back into Paul’s writings the ethnic argumentation of later writers. Ethnic reasoning is a discursive strategy within early texts which defines ‘ethnicity through religious practices, viewing ethnicity as mutable even if “real”, universalizing ethnicity and religion, and using ethnic ideas as polemic’ (Buell 2005: 33). Buell understands these later authors to be arguing for a universalistic ‘Christian’ identity. In her earlier writing, she contends that ‘being in Christ’ does not ‘eliminate the other various measures of identity – Judean, Greek, slave, free, male, and female’ (Buell and Hodge 2004: 248). While this appears to argue for the existence of particularistic identity, later she concludes ‘that Paul does’ not ‘envision a new people, distinct from Israel’ (2004: 249). The tension resulting from the application of fixity and fluidity is central to Buell’s work.

Buell’s concept of identity formation occurring on the borders of fluidity and fixity is both a help and a hindrance. She argues that certain boundaries are fixed but that these boundaries may be ritually redrawn or discursively rendered culturally insignificant (2005: 7-10). In this way she has rightly considered the complex interrelationship between the essentialist and constructionist positions of identity formation. There are a few weaknesses with this approach. First, it is not clear what mechanisms trigger the border crossing between fixity and fluidity and what distinguishes identity from other culturally defined categories, such as religion (but see Buell 2005: 10). Second, this framework assumes a type of strategic essentialism while rejecting the possibility of hybrid identity as a viable option to the fluidity and fixity framework.

Buell’s approach seeks to problematize identity concepts based primarily on ethnicity; in this, her work diverges from that of Campbell in two ways. First, she questions readings in which ‘ethnicity is a given, biological category’ (2005: 12) whereas Campbell argues for ‘the continuing importance of primordial dimensions of ethnicity’ (2006: 4). Second, she argues ‘that interpretive frameworks that implicitly or explicitly make race or ethnicity a primary site of difference between Jewishness and Christianness in the ancient world will continue to produce a harmful paradox’ (2005: 12). One could, however, simply argue for a particularistic understanding of early Christ-movement identity in which ethnicity is not obliterated but transformed. Early Christ-movement identity does not need Judaism as a foil or as the object against which to define itself. Ehrensperger notes ‘the interpretation of Scriptures is a crucial issue that we must address in the process of reformulating Christian identity without anti-Judaism’ (2004: 18). This is exactly what Campbell seeks to accomplish; in other words, the recognition of an ethnic component in the formation of early Christ-movement identity does not necessarily have to lead to an ethnoracial universalism such as Buell reconstructs but simply implies that Jews relate to God as Jews while gentiles relate to God as gentiles (Campbell 2006: 127).


Buell, D.K. 2005 Why This New Race: Ethnic Reasoning in Early Christianity (Gender, Theory, and Religion; New York: Columbia University Press).

Buell, D.K. and C.J. Hodge 2004 ‘The Politics of Interpretation: The Rhetoric of Race and Ethnicity in Paul’, JBL 123: 235-251.

Campbell, W.S. 2006 Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity (LNTS, 322; London; T&T Clark).

Ehrensperger, K. 2007 Paul and the Dynamics of Power (LNTS, 325; New York: T&T Clark).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Caroline Johnson Hodge: Gentile Kinship in Christ

NB: If interested, I have written a complete review of If Sons, Then Heirs, in the Journal of Beliefs and Values. See: Caroline Johnson Hodge, If Sons, Then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), Journal of Beliefs and Values volume 29, no. 1 (August 2008): 217-19.

The framework of multiple identities serves as the interpretive grid for Caroline Johnson Hodge. She resists the universalism and particularity binaries when discussing identity and maintains ‘that Paul uses embodiedness to construct universalizing arguments, arguments that revolve around an embodied Israel and assume its continued election’ (2007: 127-28). Central to her approach is challenging ‘the traditionally popular notion that Paul advocates the melding of differences into one “Christian” identity’ (127). She remarks ‘although Ioudaioi and gentiles now share a common ancestor, Paul does not collapse them into one group (of “Christian,” for example). Gentiles-in-Christ and Jews are separate but related lineages of Abraham’ (5). For Hodge, ethnicity and kinship language is central for Paul’s rhetorical constructs (4). In this way, her work resonates with the ethnic reasoning of Denise Buell.

Consideration of the transitional nature of Paul’s identity and the fact that he never left Judaism are central tenants to her understanding of the way Paul sought to form gentile ‘in Christ’ identity ‘as an “entrepreneur of identity,” Paul manages both the multiple facts of his own identity as a teacher of gentiles and the new possibilities of aggregate identity for gentiles-in-Christ’ as he teaches them (120). She rightly understands Paul as one who never broke from Judaism but incorporated the concept of ‘adaptability’ into his teaching (121-25; 1 Cor 9:19-22). While Paul’s ministry shows evidence of adaptation to his audience, the example provided by Hodge (i.e. Philodemus) would have been more convincing if there was evidence of this approach within the Hebrew Scriptures. Her understanding of identity hierarchies is instructive and her kinship reading of ‘in Christ’ is most helpful (131-32), though it could be extended by also understanding ‘in Christ’ as a social identity. She comes close to this view with regard to Gal 3:28 where she notes, ‘Paul calls for a unity of those in Christ, but not an erasure of other identities. We might imagine this “in-Christness” superimposed over other facets of identity, like being called in the 1 Corinthians passage above’ (126). For Hodge, gentiles are now ‘within the larger network of Israel’. They do not have ‘to become Ioudaioi or cease to be Greeks, but he expects gentiles-in-Christ to make radical adjustments to their identities’. Hodge continues, ‘they must give up their gods and religious practices in order to proclaim loyalty to the God of Israel; they must accept Israel’s messiah, scriptures, stories of origin, ethical standards, and even ancestry’ (131). In this way, Hodge’s work extends that of both William S. Campbell and Denise Buell, though some of her exegetical decisions (e.g. seeing Paul only writing to gentiles, the centrality of Abraham when he is not mentioned in 1 Corinthians) may limit the usefulness of her approach when applied to 1 Corinthians. The most significant weakness of her approach, however, is that she over-estimates the fluid nature of identity.


Buell, D.K. 2005 Why This New Race Ethnic Reasoning in Early Christianity (Gender, Theory, and Religion (New York: Columbia University Press).

Buell, D.K. and C.J. Hodge 2004 ‘The Politics of Interpretation: The Rhetoric of Race and Ethnicity in Paul’, JBL 123: 235-251.

Campbell, W.S. 2006 Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity (LNTS, 322; London; T&T Clark).

Johnson Hodge, C.E. 2007 If Sons, Then Heirs A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mark Nanos: The Continuing Identification with Jewish Identity

Mark Nanos argues that the Christ-movement remained within the synagogue community and thus their social identification was formed within the Jewish context, a context that still maintained the vital significance for ethnicity within the Jesus-movement (1996: 31; 2002a: 89; 2005a: 259). Paul then is understood to be correcting approaches to communal life that might have ‘undermined the identity of these Gentiles as equals while remaining Gentiles’ (2002c: 284). This commitment to the ongoing significance of Jewish identity in the context of the gentile mission does not mean that Paul expected gentile Christ-followers to observe Torah but to ‘obey the halakhot incumbent upon gentiles who turn to God and associate with his people’ (1996: 237).

Questions: Do you view the early Christ-movement as part of the synangogue community? When did an identity distinct from Judaism emerge within the Christ-movement? Were the gentiles supposed to follow the so-called Noachide Commandments? See Nanos (1996: 50-56, 226-38).


Nanos, M.D. 1996 The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letter (Minneapolis: Fortress Press).

2002a The Irony of Galatians Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context (Minneapolis: Fortress Press).

2002b ‘The Inter- and Intra-Jewish Political Context of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians’, in M. Nanos (ed.) 2002: 396-407.

2002c ‘What Was at Stake in Peter’s “Eating with Gentiles” at Antioch”’, in M. Nanos (ed.) 2002: 282-318.

2005a ‘How Inter-Christian Approaches to Paul's Rhetoric Can Perpetuate Negative Valuations of Jewishness-Although Proposing to Avoid That Outcome’, BibInt 13.3: 255-269.

2005b ‘Intruding ‘Spies’ and ‘Pseudo-Brethren’, in S.E. Porter (ed.) 2005: 59-97.

Nanos, M. (ed.) 2002 The Galatians Debate (Peabody: Hendrickson).

Monday, August 3, 2009

N. T. Wright: Empire and the Faithfulness of Jesus in Identity

N.T. Wright provides creative insight with regard to Paul’s approach to the Roman empire while arguing for a view of ‘Christian’ identity that understands no continued relevance for Jewish identity. In this way, he is both a help and a hindrance for my research. Wright argues that ‘ethnic identity’ is now ‘irrelevant in defining the people of the covenant god’ (2003: 220). For Wright, the work of Christ has transcended ethnic differentiation and now Jews and gentiles both belong together ‘and their sole badge of identity’ has become ‘pistis Iesou Christou, the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah’ (220).

The two issues of empire and the continuing relevance of Jewish identity are combined in his chapter entitled ‘Paul’s Gospel and Caesar’s Empire’ (2000: 160-83). First, he declares ‘God has redefined Israel through certain climactic and revelatory…events, and all forms of Judaism that do not recognize this and conform are at best out of date’ (178). Second, he argues that those who reject this understanding and ‘who refuse to join this remodelled people were missing out on God’s eschatological purpose’ (182). Third, with regard to the Roman empire, he understands ‘the cult of Caesar’ to be ‘the dominant cult in a large part of the empire’ which served as ‘the means whereby the Romans managed to control and govern’ their empire (161). Fourth, his rejection of Caesar is based on the fact that he ‘was claiming divine status and honors which belonged only to the one God’ (164). This last statement reveals Wright’s approach to interpretation; his use of empire studies is limited to theological contexts. In other words, Paul was not concerned about empire in general but the pretentious nature of the empire, especially with regard to claims of sovereignty. Also, his recognition of the pervasiveness of Roman imperial ideology throughout the empire may be the reason why Paul does not often address Caesar directly – it was the all-encompassing context of his mission. Next, Wright’s approach to Israel reveals an interpretive shift in which ethnic and kinship language with regard to the Roman empire is replaced with theological discourse that does not give full consideration for the particularistic nature of Paul’s rhetoric. Also, Wright tends to allow Romans and Galatians to control his understanding of Jewish identity, when a slightly different picture may emerge in 1 Cor 7:17-24; 9:20-21 and Phil 3:5-8 (Campbell 2006: 149-55).

So, am I mis-reading Wright? Is his only concern with the empire theological? Is Wright on target with regard to Jewish identity?


Campbell, W.S. 2006 Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity (LNTS, 322; London; T&T Clark).

Horsley, R.A. (ed.) 2000 Paul and Politics: Ekklesia, Israel, Imperium, Interpretation: Essays in Honor of Krister Stendahl (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International).

Wright, N.T. 2000 ‘Paul’s Gospel and Caesar’s Empire’, in R.A. Horsley (ed.) 2000: 160-183.

Wright, N.T. 2003 The Resurrection and the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press).