Friday, December 20, 2013

Review of Ehrensperger's Paul at the Crossroads of Cultures

Ehrensperger, Kathy. Paul at the Crossroads of Cultures: Theologizing in the Space-Between. London: Bloomsbury, 2013. xiv + 224 pp. £65.00 (hardback), ISBN 978-0567046369.

Kathy Ehrensperger, Reader in New Testament Studies at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, provides a new paradigm for understanding Paul’s theologizing, one that builds on the emerging fields of bilingualism and biculturalism. She concludes that these frameworks provide a better understanding for the way Paul engages the diverse contexts evident in his mission among the nations. Thus, she calls into question key aspects of standard scholarly constructs and provides a more convincing way forward, one that sees Paul as a cultural negotiator in the space between Roman, Greek, and Jewish cultural discourses.
The introduction (chapter 1) highlights the focus of the study, which is to look at Paul’s role as an intercultural communicator, one who is a mediator between Jewish, Greek, and Roman cultural and ethnic traditions. However, Ehrensperger rejects any claim of fusion or assimilation with regard to these processes. This last point is a crucial and most convincing insight from her work as she builds on the findings of bilingualism and biculturalism to understand more clearly Paul’s approach to communication (e.g. as one embedded in Judaism but conversant in multiple universes of discourse). Chapter 2 interrogates the concepts of Hellenism and hybridity. The former is rejected as a useful way of describing the interaction between Greek and Jewish culture. The source of the problem relates to Johann Gustav Droysen’s original development of the concept and Martin Hengel’s later appropriation of Droysen’s work. The aspect of Hellenism that is most problematic for Ehrensperger is the idea of cultural fusion. Her rejection of that naturally leads her to critique the use of the postcolonial concept of hybridity. Within Pauline studies, Ehrensperger notes two tendencies: (1) a lack of clarity with regard to what is being implied and (2) an expectation of blending in the intercultural encounter. Both concepts are found to be less than useful for Pauline studies specifically. Hybridity contributes to an assumption that the Christ-movement resulted in a third race while Hellenism, with its problematic ideological roots, often posits Hellenistic Judaism as that which paved the way for the universal and higher religious ideals of Christianity.
Having questioned the continuing validity of two crucial concepts in NT studies, chapter 3 outlines Ehrensperger’s suggested way forward, namely the use of bilingualism and biculturalism in an alternative paradigm for understanding Paul’s intercultural interaction.  This chapter convincingly connects language, culture, and identity via the resources of sociolinguistics. The contribution of Pierre Bourdieu is clearly evident, especially his concept of habitus. Ehrensperger navigates the challenges associated with defining culture and ethnicity and concludes that Farzad Sharifian’s idea of cultural conceptualizations connects well with Bourdieu’s work while Floya Anthias’ distinction between ethnic and cultural groups is probative. Of particular interest with regard to Paul is the idea of relational ethnicity; this properly recontextualizes Jewish particularity within wider on-going cultural discourse during the first century CE. The chapter continues by outlining the research into bilingualism and biculturalism especially as it relates to ethnic diversity. It is evident in this section just how pervasively the monolinguistic context of NT scholars has contributed to the premature closing off of certain interpretive options. The chapter concludes with a nuanced discussion of the way a lingua franca does not necessarily lead to cultural blending; rather, localized diversity is more often evident in such a cultural context.
Chapter 4 highlights linguistic, ethnic, and cultural diversity within the Roman Empire. This wide-ranging survey further substantiates Ehrensperger’s claim that blending and fusion of collective identities was not the norm. The preponderance of literary and inscriptional artifacts in Greek and the comparative lack of vernacular languages for these is a challenge to the thesis put forth in this monograph. Thus, this chapter seeks to deconstruct the standard view for the significance of this evidence. Particularly problematic for the standard view are the elite fallacy and the power dynamics associated with provincial collaborators and Rome. Here Ehrensperger’s feminist hermeneutic proves quite useful in discerning problematic interpretive trajectories. A few highlights from this chapter include: (1) a reminder that the use of Greek language does not necessarily imply the acceptance of Greek culture; (2) Jewish literature of the period, identified as barbaric literature, provides an important interpretive lens for understanding ways to respond to Roman and Greek hegemony; (3) since there was no blended ‘Graeco-Roman’ cultural construct during the Early Principate this term should only be use cautiously and with ‘definitional clarity’ (p. 77 n. 72); and (4) bicultural mediators (e.g. Manetho, Lucian, Josephus, and Philo) perform vital functions in any situation of cultural contact and the Early Principate was no exception. These combine to support Ehrensperger’s developing thesis, that ‘Paul and his co-workers…embarked on a mission which included the mediation/translation of an alternative to the dominating imperial discourse rooted in the Jewish alternative tradition that had developed over centuries of interaction with others’ (p. 101).
Chapter 5 places Paul on the first century map with regard to cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. Ehrensperger cleverly weaves in and out of existing debates within Pauline studies as they impinge on Paul’s identity and practices as an intercultural meditator. She begins by discussing the way Paul would have been viewed from the perspective of Roman imperial discourse. She then moves into an important review of ethnē from a Roman perspective and provides an overview of the important work done on this topic from the research of Davina Lopez and Brigitte Kahl. Ehrensperger concludes that Paul would have been viewed as a member of a subjugated ethnē; however, he does not describe himself or his own people with the same term –for that he uses the term genos. Thus, Paul’s ‘us and them’ categorization is different than that practiced by the Romans. In the discussion of genos, Ehrensperger see Paul as one who continues to identify with his ‘descent group’, values his Jewishness, and maintains full Torah observance (p. 130). Next Ehrensperger discusses the Jewish perspective on ta ethnē and rejects the idea that such universalizing discourse suggests that Paul thought existing identities were obliterated. The collective identity of members of the nations is not problematic for Paul in the main but only when it results in idolatrous practices. One of the fascinating interpretive moves that Ehrensperger makes is that Paul’s view of Jews and the people from the nations may have not developed in a significant way. Thus for Paul, there was no ‘third kind’ within the Christ-movement; there were ‘those of the peritomē and those of the akrobustia in Christ, but no mixture between them’ (p. 131). This chapter concludes with a profile of Paul’s Jewish identity: he was at least bilingual, received a Greek Jewish education, and would have continued to be identified as one of the peritomē, one embedded ‘in the alternative Greek discourse of his people (genos)’ (p. 137).
Chapter 6 focuses on the role of Israel’s scriptural tradition and its interpretation as it moves between cultural contexts. The development of the LXX serves as an exemplar of the way ideas written within the Hebrew symbolic universe are transformed when translated into Greek. This model serves as a helpful comparison for the challenges Paul, as part of the polyglot Jewish interpretive tradition, dealt with when communicating his gospel since it is sourced in a similar symbolic universe. The influence of Israel’s apocalyptic tradition is also seen in Paul’s writings, especially as it interacts with Roman threats of violence and totalitarianism. Thus, Ehrensperger rightly places the Christ-movement as part of an ‘existing Jewish resistance tradition’ (p. 151). However, this resistance did not lead Paul to conclude that all aspects of one’s former life had been obliterated in Christ. One of the important contributions of Ehrensperger’s work is the recognition of aspects of life among the nations that continue in Christ. The chapter concludes with two examples of the way paying attention to various cultural scripts results in interpretive clarity; these include the unity of Israel and the nations, and the understanding of the social implications of pist- related words. The former reveals Paul as one seeking to achieve unity among the nations in ways that challenged the approach of the Romans, while the latter, emphasizing faithfulness, trust, and loyalty, reveals a stark difference between pist- discourse and Roman fides discourse. Taken together, these two examples show the interpretive value of Ehrensperger’s new paradigm.
Chapter 7 provides an analysis of the challenges associated with everyday ritual life within the Roman Empire. Ehrensperger offers a convincing reading of 1 Corinthians 8-10, one that reveals the difficulty of negotiating the existing ritual experiences of those from the nations. This chapter brings to the fore the significance of the bicultural paradigm and shows Paul to be open to aspects of the cultural life of the nations, as long as these align with God’s glory (1 Cor. 10.31). Also, in her discussion of the table of the Lord, she makes a compelling argument that Paul was not critiquing the Jerusalem Temple but still viewed it as the centre of the cult for the God of Israel, with differing implications for Christ-followers from the nations and from Israel both of whom Christ links in ‘peace’ and ‘mutual empowerment’ (pp. 211, 213). 
Chapter 8 highlights the key components of bilingualism and biculturalism that were relevant to Ehrensperger’s study and synthesizes many of the arguments developed in the preceding chapters. She reminds her readers that, in light of her new paradigm, ‘any attempt to emphasize one dimension involved in this translation process, Jewish, “Greek or barbarian”, at the expense of the other, is inadequate’. Ehrensperger is calling for clear attention to all the narratives of belonging and cultural encyclopedias in existence in the first century CE as a way to better understand the ‘loss and gain’ evident in Paul’s mission as an intercultural mediator (p. 219). For Paul, his gospel discourse remains ‘to the Jew first and also to the Greek’ (Rom. 1.16b) and this paradigmatic statement takes on seminal significance in Ehrensperger’s approach. This is not merely a salvation historical statement but one of embeddedness and belonging. Paul’s message required cross-cultural communication which necessitated some familiarity with non-Jewish cult practices, though there is also a distinct lack of integration of existing philosophical or mythic traditions because his ‘narrative framework is entirely Jewish’ (p. 221). The book concludes with an important call to contemporary Jewish-Christian dialogue as a direct implication of Paul’s theologizing at the crossroads of cultures.
I found very little to disagree with in this monograph, though one wonders if we can discern with any level of specificity the presence of former God-fearers within Paul’s addressees or the extent to which non-Christ-following Jews are part of Paul’s theologizing. These each deserve further investigation, especially since the latter is crucial for this approach to Paul. What Ehrensperger has presented in Paul at the Crossroads of Cultures is nothing short of a paradigm shift. Her approach, which I see as completely on target, will – in due time – change the way Pauline scholars engage Paul and his diverse contexts. The lenses of bilingualism and biculturalism genuinely move the interpretive discussion forward – a rare achievement in an era of ever-increasing monographs dealing with the apostle Paul. This work is highly recommended and one that Pauline scholars will have to respond to since the implications of her work touch almost every current debate within the field. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Identity Formation in the Pauline Letters

The four main papers for our 2013 IBR research group Identity Formation in the Pauline Letters are now available online.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Review of Atkinson's Baptism in the Spirit

Atkinson, William P. Baptism in the Spirit: Luke-Acts and the Dunn Debate. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2011. Pp. x + 154. ISBN 978-1-60899-971-2. $19.00 paper.

William P.Atkinson, Vice-Principal Academic, Director of Research, and Senior Lecturer in Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies at the London School of Theology, reviews critiques of James D. G. Dunn’s Baptismin the Holy Spirit by various Pentecostal scholars and concludes that the Pentecostal understanding of the doctrine is correct. The reception of the Spirit is not related to the inception of new covenant life; rather, it is an empowerment for service in the life of the church.
Chapter one surveys Dunn’s work and outlines the six key scholars who have engaged his arguments. Here Atkinson defines baptism in the Holy Spirit as “a charismatic empowering for Christian service distinct from and thus, potentially, chronologically subsequent to initial regenerating faith in Christ” (p. 3). Dunn clearly rejects this definition, following instead a conversion-initiation understanding of Spirit baptism. Thus, Pentecostal scholars (or ex-Pentecostal in the case of Max Turner) have responded, since they see the doctrine of subsequence as central to Pentecostal identity. Their critiques are outlined in chapter two: Dunn reads Luke-Acts through the lens of Paul and assumes an identical pneumatology. Furthermore, the terminology was much more fluid at this early stage than Dunn is willing to admit. Dunn brings together what Luke kept separate, i.e., salvation and the gift of the Spirit. Finally, it is clear that different understandings of salvation history, especially the three pneumatological epoch distinction, result in diverse readings between Dunn and his debaters. Taken cumulatively, Atkinson concludes that Dunn’s debaters have cast doubt on his claim that to become a Christian is to receive the Spirit (p. 65).
Chapter three then provides an assessment of the various intra-Pentecostal alternatives. Atkinson’s most significant disagreement is with Max Turner’s view, one closely aligned with Dunn. He thinks Turner has missed the subtlety of Luke’s idea that “the Spirit may be directly at work in the process of people’s coming to faith; that these new converts, despite such prior ‘soteriological’ work of the Spirit, still need to receive the Pentecostal gift of the Spirit” (90). At this point, Atkinson’s approach may neither be convincing among Pentecostals (his primary audience) nor non-Pentecostals (though he is not trying to convince this group).
Chapter four addresses the canonical context of the debate by looking specifically at the writings of Paul and John (1 Cor 12:13; John 20:22). While Atkinson’s reason for choosing these two verses based on his engagement with Turner is clear, it seems that a test case from Romans 8:9, the putative “‘killer blow’ to Pentecostal doctrine” would have been in order and that more than a restating of various Pentecostal interpreters would have strengthened Atkinson’s argument. However, his claim that Dunn has misread Pentecostal doctrine is well placed since the majority of Pentecostal Pauline interpreters maintain some sort of soteriological pneumatology. Atkinson contends that John 20:22 provides the strongest evidence for “two distinct experiences” of receiving the Spirit (p. 118).
Chapter five summarizes and offers several practical suggestions for contemporary expressions of the present-day work of the Holy Spirit. Atkinson suggests using the term “Baptism in the Spirit” to describe an equipping for service that is experienced by modern-day Pentecostals. This book is quite useful for those seeking to understand this distinctly Pentecostal doctrine. It is not designed to convince non-Pentecostals; rather, it is a fine survey of intra-Pentecostal discussions using Dunn’s work as a dialogue partner. In this way it meets its stated goal (p. 1).

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Review of Rudolph's and Willitts' Introduction to Messianic Judaism

Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Contextand Biblical Foundations. Edited by David J. Rudolph and Joel Willitts. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, 335 pp., $26.99. 

David Rudolph and Joel Willitts have put together an important collection of essays addressing a contemporary religious movement (Messianic Judaism) that many are unaware of and a contemporary hermeneutical shift (post-supersessionism) that is beginning to take hold in some quarters of the biblical studies world. The book begins, after an important introduction by Rudolph, with 13 essays written by self-identified Messianic Jews and then 14 essays written by several leading NT scholars and theologians. It concludes with an extensive summary of each essay written by Willitts and an integrative conclusion pointing out the contemporary significance with regard to the book’s topic. This volume brings together authors who share a general outlook with regard to the continuing covenantal identity for Jews and represents an excellent model of cross-communal dialogue. The highly recommended book would be useful as a supplemental text in New Testament and theology courses, especially graduate seminars focused on ecclesiology and hermeneutics. It is written at a scholarly but accessible level and the short chapters keep the arguments moving forward while directing the reader to locations for more extensive coverage of the topic being discussed.  

It would be unwise to cover all 28 chapters in this brief review and Willitts’ chapter already does this. So, I will focus my comments on four chapters from each part, those that highlight several issues I found particularly probative, especially since I write and research from a similar post-supersessionist perspective. In chapter 1, Rudolph defines what he means by Messianic Judaism, “we are referring to a religious tradition in which Jews have claimed to follow Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah of Israel while continuing to live within the orbit of Judaism” (p. 21). This distinguishes the approach put forth in Part 1 from those who align more closely with Messianic Judaism as a sub-group identity within Protestant Evangelicalism. Rudolph notes that Jewish followers of Jesus continued for the first four centuries of our era and only disappeared under the threat of Constantine's sword and canon law (p. 25). It emerged again during the 18th century and continues today in rather diverse expressions. The diversity evident among Messianic Jews is expressed in several important ways, e.g., Stuart Dauermann’s essay on “Messianic Jewish Outreach” is indicative of a critical debate over evangelism or, as Dauermann prefers, the not-synonymous-term “outreach” (p. 94). Outreach does proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah but the social implications of this message go beyond the individualistic discourse often associated with evangelism. It finds itself more closely aligned with the wider Jewish community in the way discipleship is expressed. The most intriguing aspect of Dauermann’s essay is the idea that gentile and Jewish repentance differs (p. 95). This insight is very important and sets a framework for a Torah-informed repentance that is oftentimes overlooked (see Rom 2:12; p. 96).  

Another area in which diversity is expressed is found in Mark Kinzer’s essay, one whose influence is found throughout the first part of this book. Kinzer’s concern is the liminal state Messianic Jews find themselves with regard to Evangelical Protestantism on the one hand and the wider Jewish community on the other. His essay describes the way Hashivenu and the UMJC have sought to carve out a place for Messianic Judaism within the contemporary expressions of Judaism. This is clearly a hotly debated but intriguing development. Most of the debates relate to “the evangelical theological tenets of biblical and soteriological exclusivism” (p. 128). Kinzer’s broader influence has been felt in the publication of Postmissionary Messianic Judaism, the term “postmissionary” was chosen to make an ecclesial point: “Messianic Jews are not called to be representatives of the Christian community operating within another religious community (i.e., the Jewish people) but to be fully part of the Jewish world in both religious and national terms. In fact, they are to represent the Jewish community in relation to the Church, rather than the reverse” (p. 132). What Kinzer’s work does is to allow the church to think through the social implications of what it means to be part of the commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:12). While the debates over a more inclusivist soteriology will undoubtedly continue, Kinzer’s “bilateral ecclesiology” should not be lost in the discussion for the way the church could relate to the Jewish people (p. 137). One final area of diversity should be noted, Daniel Juster’s essay brings to the fore the debates over the way Messianic Jews relate to the broader gentile Christian world. Here the debates over supersessionism and the sordid history of anti-Judaism create significant communal tensions. The idea of one body of Messiah that is expressed in two different ways is crucial for the continuation of “unity with distinction? (pp. 137, 142). This is seen as Jews are encouraged to continue to relate to God as Jews and, with the exception of the “One Law” movement, gentiles are encouraged to relate to God as gentiles, all in a relationship of “interdependence” and “mutual blessing” (p. 142; see further on this Tucker, Remain in Your Calling, pp. 115-35).  

In Part 2 the essays focus on the church and Messianic Judaism. I will highlight four of these essays, all of which are crucial for the development of a post-supersessionist approach to the NT. William S.Campbell’s essay “The Relationship between Israel and the Church” provides a post-supersessionist reading of Romans 9-11. This programmatic essay provides several interpretive trajectories for future scholars thinking about issues of supersessionism. For example, Campbell in reflecting on the purpose of Romans and the interdependence between gentiles and Jews in Christ concludes that “Israel is not merely a historical antecedent to the church, and the church has not replaced, and cannot displace, her in the divine purpose. Israel belongs to the present and future of the church and not merely to her inception” (p. 204). Anders Runesson’s essay “Paul’s Rule in All the Ekklēsiai” discusses 1 Cor 7:17-24 and argues that this passage provides scholars with a potential center for Paul’s theologizing. Runesson understands Paul’s rule to include the view that “socioethnic differences between the two groups [Jews and gentiles] ‘in Christ’” was expected by Paul and that the way each obeyed God’s commandments will look different based on this pattern of thought (p. 218). Also, Runesson is undoubtedly correct in noting that the use of ekklēsia by Paul should be understand as pointing to the idea that the Pauline movement was still within the broader synagogue community at this point (rather than disconnected from it) (p. 220). 

Justin Hardin’s essay addresses whether Gal 3:28 and Ephesians 2:14-18 should be understood to indicate that Paul sought to collapse ethnicity. He concludes, with regard to Gal 3:28 that Paul does not seek to obliterate ethnic identities: “On the contrary in this verse Paul announced the glorious universal reality that through faith in the Messiah, there is equality as children of Abraham across ethnic (as well as gender and social) boundaries” (pp. 228-29). In a similar way, Eph 2:14-18 does not erase ethnicity in the creation of the “one new humanity”; rather, it is a metaphor of “oneness” used by Paul to address the nature of the peace given in Christ (p. 231). Thus, those who claim that Paul develops a “race-less people” have overstated their position (p. 232). The idea that existing identities continue in Christ is a theme that is developed in Campbell, Runesson, and Hardin; however, Joel Willitts’ essay develops this further and in a way that provides an eschatological rationale for the continuation of ethnicity in Christ. Willitts researches Revelation 19-22 from a Jewish context (e.g., the bride imagery and Isaiah) and concludes that the New Heavens and New Earth are patterned on a Davidic city. Thus, Israel’s identity is never superseded and that “John teaches that Israel’s distinctive role in God’s administration of creation continues eternally” (p. 253). This interpretive approach provides a challenge to aspects of both amillennialism and premillenialism. Israel’s distinctive purposes are never supplanted (p. 246). 

Rudolph and Willitts are to be commended for putting together such a substantial volume. This book deserves wide attention from scholars, pastors, seminary students, and obviously those within the Messianic Jewish movement. It provides insights into the religious diversity evident in our contemporary context as well as alerting the reader to the emergence of a new paradigm for New Testament interpretation, i.e., post-supersessionism.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Review of R. Alan Streett's Heaven on Earth

R. Alan Streett, the Senior Research Professor of Biblical Exegesis and the W.A. Criswell Endowed Chair of Expositor Preaching at CriswellCollege, contends in Heaven on Earth: Experiencing the Kingdom of God in the Here and Now that pastors have missed the core content of the gospel when they focus solely on believing in Jesus and then when you die you’ll go to heaven. Streett contends, rather, that the content of today’s preaching should be focused on the kingdom of God and its relevance for contemporary life. Heaven on Earth challenges several notions evident nowadays in America’s pulpits by introducing the findings of several streams of contemporary New Testament scholarship, especially historic empire studies. This book, written at a popular level and designed to introduce the meta-narrative of scripture with regard to God’s kingdom, surveys the canonical material while highlighting the social implications of several of these key texts. In discussing the social implications of the gospel with regard to kingdom discourse, Streett enters an ongoing debate evident in Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel and Tim Keller’s King’s Cross. Streett builds on the already and not yet approach to the kingdom of God but focuses the majority of his argument on the already aspect of God’s kingdom. This allows him to address several current issues related to church life including the centrality of the miraculous ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, an over-identification with political involvements, and the nature of a kingdom-focused approach to ministry. He concludes with an insightful discussion on the earth as the ultimate destination of the kingdom, a discussion that addresses some of the eschatological themes anticipated in the earlier canonical materials. For those interested in the hermeneutical debates concerning covenantal and dispensational approaches to scripture’s meta-narrative, they will find in Streett one who emphasizes the continuity of the canonical context and one in which the influence of Gregory Beale is felt. While the nature of the book does not allow for extended critical engagement, a reader could turn to Streett’s forthcoming Subversive Meals for that, it does offer a survey for those interested in living out the social implications of scripture’s focus on God’s kingdom. For those individuals, Streett’s book offers a window into the subversive nature of the canonical material with regard to its original empire context and what it means for Christ-followers today to leave in alternative ways in the context of various contemporary empires.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Review of Dean Deppe's All Roads Lead to the Text: Eight Methods of Inquiry into the Bible

Dean B. Deppe. AllRoads Lead to the Text: Eight Methods of Inquiry into the Bible. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011. Pp. xvi + 411. ISBN 978-0-8028-6594-6. $25.00 paper. 
Dean Deppe, professor of NT at Calvin Theological Seminary, contends that the eight different routes proposed in this book will lead to the same place, “a clearer and more profitable understanding of the meaning of the biblical text” (p xii). While he provides the reader with a full complement of examples for the way this might happen (especially with the use of Logos Bible Software), one is sometimes left wanting further justification for some of his conclusions, which follow a “conservative Reformed perspective” (p. 247).

Chapter one wrestles with issues associated with passage delimitations, genre, and literary techniques that influence textual meaning (e.g., chiasm and inclusio). Chapter two provides guidelines and instructions for using tools from Logos that allow the interpreter to analyze words, phrases, and clauses.  Deppe also looks into the importance of sentence structure and word order when recognizing emphasis. He concludes by pointing out the importance of comparing translations of the biblical text. Chapter three offers a discussion of structural analysis. He begins by focusing on entire biblical books and then moves to their constituent paragraphs, and then finally to the clausal level. The centrality of discourse analysis, as practiced by Steven Runge, is evident here.

Chapter four focuses on the literary context. Deppe argues that the material that comes before and after the passage under study is crucial. The force of this claim is supported with examples in which biblical writers put similar content in different literary contexts. He concludes that redaction criticism may be a more helpful interpretive strategy than simple harmonization. Chapter five surveys the field of historical and cultural background. Deppe suggests that interpreters should draw on the findings from the material culture. He recognizes the centrality of the OT for understanding the NT, and he provides a discussion of intertextuality. Finally, he discusses the need to come to reasoned conclusions concerning issues of authorship, date, provenance, and addressees.

Chapter six argues for reading current commentators as well as listening to interpreters from Church history. The primary reason for studying the history of interpretation is to become aware of interpretative options that were not considered in the original engagement with the text. Chapter seven discusses theological exegesis, an approach that brings to the fore theological themes and concepts. Deppe begins with examples of the way theological presuppositions may overly influence one’s interpretation. Because of this, he argues for the interrogation of one’s presuppositions in order to reduce the likelihood of textual prejudgment. He suggests that readers make their theological assumptions explicit and reflect on their cultural and psychological profile. This chapter concludes with a discussion of biblical theology and a call to organize the canonical meaning along the lines of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.

Chapter eight introduces spiritual exegesis and opens with a survey of precritical, critical, and postmodern exegetical assumptions. This gives rise to an argument for the insufficiency of the historical-critical approach. Before offering several skills needed when doing spiritual exegesis, Deppe addresses several dangers likely to occur when practicing it. He concludes the chapter with the way his eight routes work when interpreting Mark 6:45-51. Deppe has written a useful guide to biblical exegesis and those looking for ways to integrate Logos Bible Software into their biblical language research will benefit from the step-by-step instructions he provides, while others will find his numerous biblical examples thought-provoking.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Review of Larry L. Welborn's An End to Enmity: Paul and the 'Wrongdoer' of Second Corinthians

Welborn, L. L. An End to Enmity: Paul and the‘Wrongdoer’ of Second Corinthians. (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche Band 185) Berlin: De Gruyter, 2011. xxviii + 570 pp. £129.95 (hardback), ISBN 978-3-11-026327-5.

Larry L. Welborn, Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at Fordham University in New York, explores Paul’s Corinthian correspondence in its Greco-Roman context and uncovers the identity of the shadowy figure known as the wrongdoer. This fascinating monograph brings together key aspects of Welborn’s approach to Paul that draws on ancient politics, friendship discourse, and the material remains of Roman Corinth. With these, he provides a social and rhetorical analysis of the Corinthian correspondence that brings to the fore the relational dynamics between Paul and the Corinthians in a densely argued tour de force.

The preface starts out with a survey of the textual features that led New Testament scholars to hold to some form of partition theory for 2 Corinthians (and to a lesser degree 1 Corinthians). It then goes on to cover the compositional history of Paul’s Corinthian correspondence. After a brief chapter that introduces the key aspects of the book, chapter 2 provides a history of scholarship with regard to the identity of the wrongdoer mentioned in 2 Cor 2:5 and 7:12. Welborn rejects the hypothesis that it is the same person as the immoral brother mentioned in 1 Cor 5. He does, however, provide a profile of this individual that also summarizes the findings of scholars who have likewise argued against the connection with 1 Cor 5: ‘The wrongdoer was a member of the Corinthian church; he was influenced by Jewish-Christian opponents of Paul; his offence took place on the occasion of Paul’s second visit to Corinth; the wrong was an injury in which money was somehow involved; the context of the injurious action was the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem; the Corinthians were somehow complicit in the wrong done to Paul’ (22). This profile is still not sufficiently determined, so Welborn proceeds. Recognizing that a control is needed to provide parameters for determining more closely and concretely the wrongdoers’ identity, Welborn suggests that the following have been missing in previous attempts to answer this question: first, ‘the social and rhetorical conventions in which Paul and the Corinthians participated, and by which their relationships were governed’; and second, key textual data possibly overlooked from 2 Corinthians (22).

Chapter 3 provides an exegetical basis for Welborn’s understanding. He demonstrates the nature of the offence, i.e. Paul has been publically accused of embezzlement in relation to the collection for the saints in Jerusalem. He elucidates the identity of the wrongdoer: He was an individual of high status and significant social distance from Paul, though possibly a former friend, dignified, committed to reason, appreciative of aristocratic values and of cultured tastes. Third, in regard to the wrongdoer’s relationship to Paul and others within the Corinthian congregation, he was a Christ-follower who had a deep sense of belonging to Christ. He was one whose Christological understanding differed from Paul’s but aligned closely with expressions of Hellenistic Judaism (Psalms of Solomon 17-18; 2 Cor 10:7). He had strong theological convictions and was likely responsible for the comparison of Paul with his rivals. He made these comparisons, however, not for invidious reasons but out of a sincere desire to understand the differences in theological orientation. He likely functioned as a/the patron for the Corinthian congregation and had an overbearing influence within the broader group. He was able to articulate his theological convictions clearly, and his powers of persuasion likely contributed to the Corinthians’ complicity in the communal problems described in these letters.

In chapter 4, Welborn builds on Marshall’s (1987) work recognizing that, in the undisputed Paulines, Paul never names his enemies. The example of Augustus’ Res Gestae is mentioned as an instance of the social convention in which enemies remained unnamed. Welborn extends this by drawing on literary parallels that are closer in terms of genre to Paul’s letters (Cicero and Dio Chrysostom). He furthers Marshall’s work by addressing the convention, especially in conciliatory letters, of not naming one’s friends. The reason? Today’s friends may be tomorrow’s enemies (219). At this point, Welborn foreshadows what is to come—the wrongdoer was previously Paul’s friend. In a search for this person’s identity, Welborn limits his focus to nine individuals who are named in 1 Corinthians and Romans. Several are quickly set aside, with four receiving significant attention: Crispus, Gaius, Stephanas, and Erastus. Stephanas is precluded based on his secondary social status, and Erastus is dismissed since he is likely a recent convert. Crispus and Gaius are both possible candidates, but one emerges as slightly more plausible based on the social convention of hospitality that governed the successful conclusion of reconciliation. Welborn sees Paul following this social ritual in Rom 16:23, where he sends greetings from ‘Gaius, my host, and the host of the whole church’. Thus, Gaius is to be identified as the wrongdoer in 2 Corinthians.

Chapter 5 sets out to create a social profile of Gaius’ personality. This is based on prosopographic data and a close reading of 1 Cor 1:14; Rom 16:23; 2 Cor 10-13; 1:1-2:13; and 7:5-16. Welborn draws on the resources of onomastics, epigraphy, and the archaeology of Roman Corinth to round out the picture of Gaius, his role within the Christ-movement, and his relationship to Crispus and Erastus. After discussing Paul’s onomastics and setting aside the idea that Gaius is to be associated with Titus Justus, Welborn, while not claiming that the epigraphic and numismatic data from Roman Corinth relates directly to the Gaius who hosted the ekklesia in Corinth, draws on this material to uncover the social profile of a mid-first century person with this praenomen. He provides extensive excursuses on Corinthian persons and houses that provide key and often difficult to locate information on the archaeology of Corinth. After setting aside numerous Gaii, he surveys four that can be plausibly situated in the mid-first century: Gaius Julius Syrus, Gaius Novius Felix, Gaius Julius Polyaenus, and most importantly Gaius Julius Spartiaticus who provides an intriguing image of the kind of person Paul’s Gaius might have been. Next, Welborn sets out to uncover a domestic structure large enough to include the approximately 100 people he thinks were part of the Christ-movement in Corinth. He acknowledges that the villa at Anaploga would not have been large enough to include the group, but he does point to the Casa del Menandro in Pompeii as an example of a domus that would have been more than spacious enough for this purpose. Not content with “archaeology-hindered interpretation” (334), Welborn provides an intriguing survey of Corinthian houses: the one adjacent to Temple E, the mosaic house, the Anaploga villa, the Shear villa, and the house of the Opus Sectile Panel. This final example is the house that Welborn suggests for the type of domus, located in the kind of neighborhood, in which someone like Gaius could plausibly host ‘the whole ekklesia’ (355). This also provides a more concrete context for Welborn’s reconstruction of the problems associated with the Lord’s supper, including differing expectations of patronage. The chapter concludes with a summary of Gaius’ portrait and a brief discussion of the relationships between Gaius, Crispus, and Erastus (who was likely Gaius’ client). Gaius is described as a former God-fearer, and this accounts for his relationship with Crispus. Importantly for Welborn’s argument, these two were also likely responsible for the Apollos faction (371-72).

Gaius of Corinth was a man worthy of Paul’s friendship (in the ancient sense of the word); he was also one capable of enmity, but open to reconciliation. That is Welborn’s argument in chapter 6, which provides a retelling of the asymmetrical relationship between Paul and the wrongdoer. Paul, however, did not leave the accepted Roman practice of friendship untouched; he sought to transform it from within, and his interaction with the wrongdoer reveals the various ways he accomplished that (391). Welborn’s expansive reconstruction of the friendship between Paul and Gaius builds on the canonical narrative, supported by the archaeological, numismatic, exegetical, and literary-critical findings of the earlier parts of this monograph and summarized here in a single account. Welborn details the three ways in which Paul sought to transform the paradigm of Greco-Roman friendship: (1) He took the initiative in reconciliation, even though he was the one injured (449). (2) By writing a therapeutic letter (2 Cor 1:1-2:13; 7:5-16) he sought to rearrange the power structures and social relations (466). (3) He insisted on extending forgiveness to the wrongdoer (476). Welborn concludes his story by pointing out that in the winter of 56 Paul arrived at the house of Gaius (Rom 16:23) and publically reconciled with his formerly alienated friend. There in his residence he penned Romans: ‘Paul’s reconciliation with the wrongdoer Gaius created the psychological conditions for the last and most productive period in Paul’s life as an apostle of Christ’ (481). With that, the story of Paul and the wrongdoer comes to a close with an end to their enmity.

A few brief critiques are in order. The primary weaknesses in Welborn’s argument, ones of which he is well aware, include: (1) The identification of 2 Corinthians 10-13 as the ‘letter of tears’ mentioned in 2 Cor 2:3-4—if one rejects this identification, then much of Welborn’s exegesis is weakened. (2) The heavy reliance on the presence of singular pronouns and third-person singular verbs in 2 Corinthians 10-13 as a way to argue for an individual wrongdoer—this can also be construed as a general reference to a group of wrongdoers. Cranfield (1982) warned about basing crucial exegetical decisions on these since Paul is rather inconsistent in his use of person and number. (3) The complex partition theory developed by Welborn in support of his reconstruction and rhetorical exigency—though densely argued and quite plausible, if rejected, it casts doubts over his broader argument. However, he is right to point out that those who wish to counter his claim are obliged to put forth their own accounting of the literary history of 2 Corinthians and Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians (xxvii). This landmark monograph in 2 Corinthians scholarship deserves in-depth engagement and will not likely soon be surpassed as a resource for the social history of Corinth. It is an important contribution to Pauline scholarship and provides a thorough accounting for the identity of the wrongdoer along with the complex, difficult, and strained relationship that is evident between Paul and the Corinthians.

Cranfield, C. E. B. 1982. “Changes of Person and Number in Paul’s Epistles.” In Paul and Paulinism: Essays in Honour of C. K. Barrett, edited by M. D. Hooker and S. G. Wilson, 280-89. London: SPCK.

Marshall, P. 1987. Enmity in Corinth: Social Conventions in Paul's Relations with the Corinthians. WUNT, 23. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr.