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.