I just got back home from the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies conference at the University of Calgary. I was too tired to stay the final day, so unfortunately I was not able to catch the session on Marcion’s Gospel though I got the chance to chat with Daniel Smith about his paper on it. I thought my paper on how the epilogue of John’s Gospel was added as an authenticating device was well received and I really enjoyed the other papers in my Gospels’ section (i.e. child actors in Jesus movies, whether Mark represents Jesus as having scribal competence, a comparison of Matthew and Luke’s hypothetical use of Q with how other ancient writers used a source, the term “companion” and the bridal chamber imagery in the Gospel of Philip, and the translation of Coptic in the Gospel of Thomas). I caught another session on “plan b”, an honest session about the fact that most of us will not get full-time, tenure-track positions in the field and what other employment options there are for PhDs. I listened to Adele Reinhartz critique biblical scholar’s (mis)use of terms like “identity” and “hybridity”, William Arnal’s redescription of magicians as contested and mobile ritual specialists, and Colleen Shantz discuss how Religious Studies scholars can study the category of “religious experience.” Finally, I jumped over to the AAR side of things and listened to Jim Linville discuss the concerns over theodicy and secularism that undergird the worldview presented at one creationist museum. Here is the full 2016 program if you are interested further.
Here is another article I published on the Apostle Paul (and Mark). It is entitled “Does Mark Narrate the Pauline Kerygma of ‘Christ Crucified’? Challenging an Emerging Consensus on Mark as a Pauline Gospel” JSNT 37.2 (2014): 139-160. The abstract is as follows:
An increasing number of scholars situate the Gospel of Mark within the Pauline sphere of inﬂuence. The centrality of Mark’s Passion story may lend itself to this interpretation, and Mark’s Gospel is frequently read as a narrativization of the Pauline kerygma [proclamation] on the vicarious death of Jesus. I intend to challenge this academic paradigm, drawing attention to the areas where the similarities have been exaggerated or the major differences overlooked in comparisons between Paul and Mark on this theme. Against the supposition that Mark’s emphasis on the soteriological signiﬁcance of the cruciﬁxion of Jesus can only be explained with reference to Paul, I will argue that the evangelist’s social location on the margins may account for the preoccupation with the redemptive value of Jesus’ suffering.
The majority view seems to be that Mark has been influenced by Paul’s theology, but I think that a detailed comparison between the two reveals some significant differences that cannot be easily swept aside. I accept that there is some terminological and conceptual overlap between the two authors and that they participated in the wider Jesus movement, but I would prefer to treat them as distinctive theologians addressing different social contexts. I hope there will be more interaction with my article. I was delighted to see it footnoted in a recent article by Jan Lambrecht entitled “Paul and the Last Supper in Mark – A New Hypothesis” (available here), even though the author disagrees with me in arguing that Mark edited the tradition that is found in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 rather than seeing Mark and Paul as passing on two independent traditions about Jesus’ last supper or the Eucharist.
On the subject of Paul, here is a review I wrote for H-Net Reviews (H-Judaic) of John G. Gager, Who Made Early Christianity?: The Jewish Lives of the Apostle Paul (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015). I find the idea that Paul remained a Torah-observant Jew and that his belief that the eschatological pilgrimage of the nations had begun could account for why he is adamant that non-Jewish followers of the Messiah do not have to become proselytes to Judaism to be an attractive option. However, several texts in the Pauline Epistles still seem to me to resist a Sonderweg (special path) reading that Paul thought that only non-Jews were in need of Jesus’ vicarious death and resurrection. I recognize that not all of the representatives of the “Paul within Judaism” paradigm embrace the particular Sonderweg approach and scholars such as Mark Nanos have offered alternative readings of the verses I highlight in the review as possibly implying that Paul no longer felt obligated to practice the Torah. The chief value of Gager’s study is its demonstration that there was a lengthy history of Jewish interpreters who did not view Paul as an apostate from the Torah and its extensive review of the varied interactions of Jews and Christians with each other and the wider society in the antique and Medieval periods.
If you are interested in more online academic resources on Paul, you can check out the following websites:
http://www.ntgateway.com/ (check out the subheadings under Paul the Apostle)
http://www.thepaulpage.com/ (mainly focusing on the New Perspective on Paul and its critics)
http://paulcast.org/podcast/ (podcasts by Kurt Willems)
Paul: A Brief Biography
- See Paul’s firsthand accounts in Galatians 1:11-24 and Philippians 3:4-7. He was a bilingual, educated, Jewish Pharisee who was zealous for his ancestral traditions.
- The book of Acts adds that he had the Semitic name Saul (7:58), was raised in Tarsus (21:39; 22:3), trained under the Pharisee Gamaliel (22:3; cf. 5:33-40), held Roman citizenship (16:37; 22:25-29), and worked as a tent-maker (18:3).
- Paul’s appearance (?): “And he saw Paul coming, a man little of stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows joining and nose somewhat hooked, full of grace . . .” (Acts of Paul and Thecla 2:3)
- Marital status: see 1 Corinthians 7:1-16 (cf. 9:5)
- Work ethic: see 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 and 1 Corinthians 9:6-18
- Paul went on three major missionary journeys according to the book of Acts.
- Martyrdom: see 1 Clement 5:5-6; Ignatius, Ephesians 12:2; Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics 36; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.25.5-8
Paul’s “Conversion” or “Prophetic Call”
- Should the radical transformation of Paul’s life be described as a “religious conversion” or does this assume an anachronistic separation between two religious traditions, “Judaism” and “Christianity,” at a later period? Or does Paul describe his experience as a prophetic calling in which he is commissioned to preach to the nations what the God of Israel accomplished in the Messiah Jesus.
“You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism [Ioudaismos]. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, ‘The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me.” (Galatians 1:13-24; see also Acts 9:1-9; 22:6-11; 26:12-26)
- Should Ioudaismos be translated as a “religion” (“Judaism”) or rather be understood as a specific way of defending Jewish customs in opposition to cultural assimilation (Hellenismos or Hellenistic customs). See the examples in 2 and 4 Maccabees.
- The story of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers, and the purification of the great temple, and the dedication of the altar, and further the wars against Antiochus Epiphanes and his son Eupator, and the appearances which came from heaven to those who strove zealously on behalf of Judaism, so that though few in number they seized the whole land and pursued the barbarian hordes, and recovered the temple famous throughout the world and freed the city and restored the laws that were about to be abolished… (2 Macc 2:19-22)
- But Judas, who was also called Maccabeus, and his companions secretly entered the villages and summoned their kinsmen and enlisted those who had continued in the Jewish faith, and so they gathered about six thousand men (2 Macc 8:1)
- For in former times, when there was no mingling with the Gentiles, he had been accused of Judaism, and for Judaism he had with all zeal risked body and life. (2 Macc 14:38)
- … when, then, his [Antiochus’] decrees were despised by the people, he himself, through torture, tried to compel everyone in the nation to eat defiling foods and to renounce Judaism (4 Macc 4:26)
“Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in [of] Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith[fulness].” (Philippians 3:7-8)
Different Perspectives on Paul
*Note: these are general summaries and there are many different variations under each approach. I have also not discussed other debates such as the “salvation-history” or “apocalyptic” approaches to Pauline theology.
The Old Perspective on Paul (OPP):
- Pauline theology is interpreted in light of Martin Luther’s protest against Catholicism and the Reformation battle cry “sola fide” (by faith alone).
- In Paul’s former life, he practiced Torah to merit divine favour and as a way to boast of his self-righteousness.
- After his “conversion,” Paul became convicted of universal human sinfulness, regardless of whether one is under the Torah (Jews) or apart from it (Gentiles), and the solution is the atoning death of Christ which took on the “curse of the Law” on behalf of the rest of humankind.
- Humans are made righteous or justified by “faith in Christ” and given the “righteousness of God” in exchange for their sinful nature. The Spirit transforms one into a “new creation” and guarantees future salvation.
- Scholars who advocate the OPP have softened the depiction of “Second Temple Judaism” as a legalistic system of works-righteousness, allowing that it may be a system of variegated nomism in which grace and deeds factor in, but most see the plight as divine wrath against sin and solution in the justifying faith in Christ.
- Some key scholars: Rudolf Bultmann, Ernst Kaseman, Donald Carson, Mark A. Seifrid, Peter Stuhlmacher, Donald Hagner, Robert Gundry, Seyoon Kim, Douglas J. Moo, Thomas Schreiner, Stephen Westerholm, Simon Gathercole, Francis Watson
The New Perspective (NPP)
- Unlike Luther’s worries over how to be accepted by a holy God, Paul did not struggle with an introspective conscience and describes his life under Torah as “blameless” (cf. Stendahl).
- E. P. Sanders described the “pattern of religion” in Second Temple Judaism as “covenantal nomism.” Torah observance was the appropriate response to God’s gracious election of Israel; it was not a means of “getting in” but “staying in” as a member of the covenant. Those who flagrantly disobey Torah show themselves to have rejected the covenant, but repentance or cultic atonement was an available means of restoration. A criticism is whether there was a monolithic “pattern of religion” and whether these categories are Protestant influenced, leading to nuanced discussion about election, covenant, and nomism among Second Temple groups.
- Paul’s criticism was not against works-righteousness apart from grace. “Works of the Law” represent a particular Jewish mode of life, but Paul aims his critique at the areas that exclude Gentiles from the covenant and focuses on “boundary markers” that separated Jews from the nations (e.g., circumcision, dietary laws, Sabbath). Paul attacks “ethnocentrism” and defends a universalistic vision in which the “righteousness of God” or God’s faithfulness to his plan for blessing to go out from Israel to the world.
- In reasoning why the nations can be adopted into Abraham’s family apart from practicing Torah as the sign of covenant membership, Paul argues that both Jews and Gentiles are under sin and in need of the saving effects of Christ’s death and resurrection. All Christ followers are justified – either made righteous or declared to be in the right in the divine court (cf. Wright) – by “faith in Christ” or through “Christ’s faithfulness.”
- The universal family “in Christ” is no longer obligated to obey Torah, though Paul has a similar pattern of election followed by faithfulness to the law of Christ or fruits of the Spirit that fulfill the commandments, and Paul allows for diversity of social practice among Jewish and non-Jewish Christ followers.
- Some key scholars: Krister Stendahl, E. P. Sanders, James Dunn, N. T. Wright, Heikki Räisänen, Richard Hays, Frank Thielman, Don Garlington, Daniel Boyarin, Terence L. Donaldson
The Radical New Perspective (RNP) or “Paul within Judaism”
- Assumes the NPP view of covenantal nomism as a basic framework and Paul’s overriding concern with how the nations can become co-heirs of salvation with the covenant people (Israel) as the starting point.
- Paul remained a faithful Torah-observant Jew and never encouraged his fellow Jews to abandon Torah.
- His letters are addressed exclusively to non-Jewish readers and his polemic against “works of the Law” is solely against those who force non-Jews to become proselytes to “Judaism.” Paul believes that the new eschatological age has arrived and that the Scriptures speak of nations streaming into Zion in the last days without the requirement to become Jews (“to Judaize”).
- For some scholars, the only major difference in this approach is that Paul continued to value Torah observance for Jews, even though he expected Jews and Gentiles to embrace Jesus as Messiah. Other scholars insist on a “two covenant” approach in which faith in the atoning effects of Christ’s death is only necessary for Gentiles as Jews are already “in” the Sinai covenant and inherit salvation through it (i.e. election, Torah, and the cultic means of atonement).
- Some key scholars: John Gager, Lloyd Gaston, Stanley Stowers, Mark Nanos, Paula Fredriksen, Pamela Eisenbaum, Caroline Hodge, Neil Elliott, Magnus Zetterholm, Kathy Ehrensperger, Matthew Theissen
Paul as a Writer of Letters:
- Format: Salutation/Opening, Thanksgiving/Prayer Report, Body (scriptural interpretation and paraenesis), and Closing/Benediction.
- The Epistles were written for a specific purpose. For example:
- 1 and 2 Thessalonians tempers eschatological enthusiasm.
- Galatians confronts Gentile “Judaizers” in the congregation of Galatia.
- 1 and 2 Corinthians span multiple letters dealing with the conduct of the Corinthian congregation.
- Romans systematically outlines Paul’s “gospel” for a congregation in Rome that he had not founded and hopes for support for his mission to Spain.
- Philippians is a joyful letter written to a congregation that has supported Paul during his imprisonment in either Ephesus or Rome (cf. the prison epistles of Philippians, Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians).
- The epistle to Philemon mediates on behalf of the run-away slave Onesimus.
Useful Online Resources:
How do we interpret the Bible?
- “Why me, Lord? Where have I gone wrong? I’ve always been nice to people! I don’t drink or dance or swear! I’ve even kept kosher, just to be on the safe side. I’ve done everything the Bible says, even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff! What more could I do?” – Ned Flanders, “Hurricane Neddy”
- Commonly Misinterpreted Verses (Psalm 14:1; Jeremiah 29:11; Matthew 24:40-41 or Luke 17:34-35; John 8:32; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Timothy 6:10; Revelation 3:20)
- Cultural Distance: Food laws (Leviticus 11; Acts 11:1-18; 15:19-21), Household Codes (Colossians 3:18-4:1; Ephesians 5:21-6:9; 1 Peter 3:1-7), Head Coverings (1 Corinthians 11:1-16)
Introducing Hermeneutics or the “Art of Interpretation”
- Hermes was the messenger for the gods of Olympus. The Greek word hermēneus meant an “interpreter” or “expounder” and hermēneuein meant “to interpret.”
- The Hermeneutical Circle: Presuppositions, Exegesis, Application, Presuppositions…
The World Behind the Text
- Textual criticism: critically examining and comparing biblical manuscript witnesses to try to determine the earliest reading of a text on the basis of external and internal evidence.
- Historical criticism: investigating the authorship, date, and provenance of a text and interpreting it in light of the reconstructed historical context. It also involves uncovering the oral or written sources underlying a text or the editorial changes made to earlier sources or traditions (e.g. source, form, redaction criticism).
- “Social–scientific criticism of the Bible is that phase of the exegetical task which analyzes the social and cultural dimensions of the text and of its environmental context through the utilization of the perspectives, theory, models, and research of the social sciences” – John H. Elliott, What is Social Scientific Criticism? (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 7.
The World of the Text
- Narrative or Literary Criticism: bracketing hypothetical questions about the world behind the text (authorship, dating, provenance, sources), this approach studies the biblical writings as narrative wholes and examines literary features such as plot, characters, narrator point of view, literary structure, genre, rhetorical devices, and so on.
The World in front of the Text
- Reader-response criticism and reception history: critically examining what readers bring to the act of interpretation and how different meanings have been drawn out of the text by changing communities of readers through the centuries.
- Ideological criticism: reading from a particular vantage point that has been historically marginalized and searching for the voices that have been hidden or suppressed by the dominant ideology of a text or its interpreters. Examples include liberation theology, feminist criticism, and post-colonial criticism.
What is the Bible?
- Biblia (βιβλία): the plural Greek term for “books”
- A variety of genres: historiography, biography, epics, law codes, prophecy, proverbs, parables, songs, poetry, letters, and apocalyptic texts!
- The Hebrew Bible was mainly written in Hebrew with parts in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Koine (“common”) Greek.
- The Vulgate was a fourth century Latin translation of the Bible mainly based on the work of Saint Jerome.
- Testament: older term for “covenant” or agreement between two parties.
- John 3:16 = “John” is the name of the book, 3 is the chapter number, and 16 is the verse number. Chapter and verses are a later addition to the biblical texts.
- See Larry Hurtado’s video on “Scrolls and the Early Codex.”
What does the term “canon” mean?
- A kanōn reed was used as a standard of measurement.
- The rule or criterion used to make a judgment (“rule of faith”) or a list of authoritative writings (canonical or non-canonical books).
Different Names and Versions of the “Old Testament”
- Old Testament: the Christian name for the Hebrew Bible, which carries the implication that it was fulfilled in the story of Jesus in the New Testament.
- Tanakh: Jewish Scriptures consisting of the Torah (Law), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings).
- Hebrew Bible: a neutral designation for the collection of texts referred to as the Tanakh or the Old Testament by Jews and Christians respectively.
- Septuagint (LXX): a translation of the Hebrew Bible in Greek beginning around 250 BCE. The legend is that Ptolemy II Philadelphus asked 72 elders to translate the Law into Greek to be included in the library of Alexandria (cf. The Letter to Aristeas)
- Masoretic text: the Masoretes were Jewish scribes working between the 6th and 10th century CE who added vowel markings, punctuation, accents, and other textual notes. See the Leningrad Codex dating around 1010 CE.
- Dead Sea Scrolls: collection of texts discovered in the caves of Qumran beginning in 1947 and dating between the 200s BCE to the late 60s CE. Just over 200 of the 800 scrolls found were copies of all the books of the Hebrew Bible except for Esther.
Different Canons of Scripture
- The content of the Protestant Old Testament and the Jewish Tanakh is identical, though it is in a different order. Both exclude Greek Jewish texts found in the LXX, classified by Protestants as part of the “Apocrypha” (hidden books).
- Catholics accept a number of books in the LXX (e.g. Tobit, Judith, 1-2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, Additions in Daniel and Esther) as “deutero-canonical.”
- The Orthodox Bible has a few extra books not in the Catholic Bible (e.g. 1 Esdras, 3-4 Maccabees).
- See Felix Just, “Jewish and Christian Bibles: A Comparative Chart“
- Formal Equivalence (Word for Word)
- Dynamic Equivalence (Thought for Thought)
- Problematically Marketing Bibles: Revolution: The Bible for Teenage Guys, True Images: the Bible for Teen Girls, The Green Bible, The American Patriot’s Bible
- Biblia (βιβλία): the plural Greek term for “books”
- kanōn (κανών) or canon: a reed used as a measuring standard; the criterion used to make a judgment (“rule of faith”); a list of authoritative or canonical writings
Quotations of the New Testament as Scripture
- References or allusions to the Gospels and Epistles in the Apostolic Fathers, but it is difficult to tell whether they cited NT texts or oral traditions.
- …as the Lord commanded in his Gospel, pray thus: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, as in Heaven so also upon earth; give us to-day our daily bread, and forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into trial, but deliver us from the Evil One, for thine is the power and the glory for ever.” (Didache 8:2)
- …as it is said in these Scriptures, “Be ye angry and sin not,” and “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath [Ephesians 4:26].” (Polycarp, Philippians 12.1)
- So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15-16)
- …on the day called Sunday… the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read…. (Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 67.3)
Competing Christian Movements
- “Gnostics”: an ignorant or evil Demiurge (craftsman) created matter rather than the highest divine being in the divine realm (pleroma). Salvation is liberation from the material world through knowledge (gnōsis) of one’s divine origins. The Gnostics composed texts or decoded New Testament texts to expound upon their pleromatic myth and interpret Jesus as a revealer of esoteric teachings. Some famous Gnostic teachers include Cerinthus, Basilides, Valentinus, Carpocrates, and so on.
- Marcion of Sinope: a rich ship owner who believed that the loving heavenly Father of Jesus was a different god from the Old Testament God of justice who created the world. He accepted only 10 letters of Paul and a single Gospel most akin to Luke’s Gospel as authoritative and composed a text entitled Antithesis that emphasized sharp dichotomies (e.g. law versus gospel). According to tradition, he was excommunicated from the Roman church in 144 CE.
- Some Jewish Christians (the “Ebionites”, from ebionim or poor ones) believed in Jesus as the Messiah, though they denied Jesus’ divinity and some rejected his Virgin birth, and remained Torah observant. They preferred the Gospel of Matthew or various texts labelled by the Church Fathers as the Gospel according to the Hebrews and despised the apostle Paul as an apostate from the Law. Epiphanius and Jerome describe another group of Torah observant Jewish Christ followers (“Nazoraeans”) whose Christology was closer to the fourth century Catholic Church.
Apocryphal (“Hidden”) Gospels
- Gospel of the Hebrews/Ebionites/Nazoraeans, The Gospel of the Egyptians, Papyrus Egerton 2 Unknown Gospel, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of the Saviour, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Infancy Gospel of James, the Epistle of the Apostles, the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, the Secret Gospel of Mark (cf. Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make it into the New Testament [Oxford University Press, 2003], v).
- These Gospels may be harmonies of the NT Gospels, expansions on the events of Jesus’ birth/childhood/death, or revelatory discourses that depict Jesus as a gnostic revealer figure.
- The Gospel of Thomas Movie
- Cartoons of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas
Irenaeus of Lyons on the Four Gospel Canon
“For the Ebionites, who use Matthew’s Gospel only, are confuted out of this very same, making false suppositions with regard to the Lord. But Marcion, mutilating that according to Luke, is proved to be a blasphemer of the only existing God, from those [passages] which he still retains. Those, again, who separate Jesus from Christ, alleging that Christ remained impassible, but that it was Jesus who suffered, preferring the Gospel by Mark, if they read it with a love of truth, may have their errors rectified. Those, moreover, who follow Valentinus, making copious use of that according to John, to illustrate their conjunctions, shall be proved to be totally in error by means of this very Gospel… It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh.” (Against Heresies 3.11.7-8)
Criteria for Canonicity
- Apostolic Origin (written by a disciple of Jesus or a close associate)
- Catholicity (i.e. widespread Christian usage of the text)
- Antiquity (i.e., long history of use by ancient authorities)
- The Rule of Faith (theological content)
Canon Lists (Athanasius’s list is equivalent to our New Testament)
|Muratorian (late 2nd cent)||Eusebius (ca. 265-340)||Athanasius (ca. 298-373)|
1 & 2 Timothy
1 & 2 John
Apocalypse of John
Apocalypse of Peter
Wisdom of Solomon
Shepherd of Hermas
|Acknowledged most of NT
2 & 3 John
Acts of Paul
The Disputed Pauline Epistles and the Pastorals
Pseudonymity: literally means “false name.”What possible motivations might an anonymous individual have to write in the name of a prophet or an apostle? Here is an example of writings in Peter’s name: 1 Peter, 2 Peter, Gospel of Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Kerygmata Petrou, and the Letter of Peter to Philip.
Do you have ethical or theological issues if some New Testament writings were written in the name of someone else or were there different standards in the ancient world? Although some scholars insist that this constitutes forgery (cf. Bart Ehrman), others have found a variety of justifications for the practice. This may include the Jewish practice of attributing works to the fount of the tradition (e.g., Law of Moses, Psalms of David, Wisdom of Solomon), the convention of ascribing apocalyptic texts to ancient authorities, the attribution of philosophical works to the founder of a philosophical school, the feeling of being under the same spiritual inspiration as a past biblical writer, or the intention to defend the legacy of a certain founding figure for a new generation.
Undisputed Epistles: Romans, Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon
Disputed Epistles: 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians.
Pastorals: 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus
The Disputed Epistles:
Scholars are divided whether Paul wrote these letters. They are similar in content, terminology, and theology with the Undisputed Epistles and the differences may be due to a development of Paul’s thought, the local situation he was responding to, and the use of a secretary. Colossians has many parallels with Philemon including Paul in prison, co-greetings from Timothy, and similar co-workers (see Colossians 1:1; 4:10-14 with Philemon 1, 22-23). However, they have the following differences:
- Differences in language, vocabulary and style. Colossians and Ephesians have long sentences in the style of a liturgical hymn that is unusual for Paul. For example, check out Ephesians 1:3-14 in a more word-for-word translation to see how it is one long sentence in Greek.
- 2 Thessalonians may imitate the style of 1 Thessalonians and Ephesians Colossians. The address “in Ephesus” may not be original in Ephesians 1:1, perhaps indicating that this was a circular letter summing up Paul’s theology and addressed “to the saints.”
- Theological Differences
- There is a developed cosmic view of Christ (Colossians 1:15-20; 2:9-10, but see Philippians 2:6-11), Christ is represented as the head of the universal church body (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 4:15-16), and there is an emphasis on realized eschatology (Colossians 2:11-12; 3:1, 3; Ephesians 2:5-10) and the experience of being presently raised with Christ in baptism (Colossians 2:12; compare Romans 6:5, 8).
- Different Eschatologies: 1 Thessalonians suggests Christ returns suddenly like a thief in the night (4:13-5:11), while 2 Thessalonians 2 emphasizes that an anti-christ figure or “lawless one” must come first and desecrate the temple.
- A signature of authorship or a clever forgery? “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.” (2 Thessalonians 3:17)
- Household Codes are introduced in Colossians 3:18-24 and Ephesians 5:25-33. Would Paul, who did not personally recommend marriage as the present age was drawing to a close in 1 Corinthians 7, conform to surrounding cultural norms on the proper maintenance of the household? Or does Paul subvert the standard patriarchal household by enjoining rules of conduct on the husband or father including Christ-like servanthood and encouraging mutual submission?
The Pastorals: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus
- They are absent from an early collection of Pauline letters (Papyrus 46) and from the canon of Marcion, a 2nd century follower of Paul who possessed an edited collection of Paul’s letters. However, a reason for their absence from early canonical collections may be due to the fact that they were sent to individuals rather than to whole church congregations.
- There are vocabulary and stylistic differences, including terms that are rare or absent from the other letters by Paul (e.g., piety, epiphany, sound, king of the ages, Saviour, “the faith” used as a noun, etc.). There are a number of fixed formulas (1 Timothy 4:6; 6:3; 2 Timothy 2:14; Titus 3:8).
- There are chronological discrepancies with Paul’s other letters and the book of Acts regarding Paul’s travels. Some scholars believe that Paul was initially released from his first Roman imprisonment (Acts 28) and went on the travels outlined in the Pastorals, perhaps fulfilling his goal of reaching Spain (cf. Romans 15:24-28), and was re-arrested and martyred in Rome (2 Timothy 4:7, 16). Other scholars counter that none of the letters nor Acts purports to give Paul’s entire travel itinerary.
- There is a developed, hierarchical church structure with bishops or overseers (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7), elders or presbyters (1 Timothy 4:14; 5:1f, 17, 19; Titus 1:5; 2:2f), deacons (1 Timothy 3:8, 12; 4:6), and an order of widows (1 Timothy 5:3-16). Was Paul insisting on tighter church structures near the end of his life or does this reflect a second or third generation context in which Christians got organized to live in the world for the long term?
- The view of female leadership in the congregation in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 seems to contrast with Galatians 3:28; Romans 16 (especially Junia among the apostles), and Philippians 4:2-3 (but see the textually uncertain 1 Corinthians 14:33-36). However, other scholars argue that 1 Timothy is not enshrining timeless gender norms but responding to a specific situation in which opposing teachers may have imposed their views about salvation in celibacy on female congregants; the Pastor responds by instructing these congregants to not usurp authority but quietly study or else they are in danger of being deceived like Eve.
- Some scholars react against treating the three letters under the same under the heading “Pastorals.” Since many of the objections do not apply equally to 2 Timothy, which is a more personal and emotionally invested correspondence, some scholars are prepared to defend the authenticity of this particular letter to Timothy. Other scholars see 2 Timothy as belonging to the last testament genre.
In the last post on apocalyptic literature, I discussed how the crisis under Antiochus “Epiphanies” provides a plausible context for the apocalyptic oracles in the book of Daniel. I followed a fairly standard account of the causes of the Maccabean revolt. That is, the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV to enforce Hellenistic customs on his Jewish subjects, whether in forcing Jews to abandon their native customs such as eating food prohibited by biblical law as “unclean” (cf. 2 Macc 7) or desecrating the temple (Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; 1 Macc 6:7), sparked the revolt by Judas the “hammer” (Maccabeus). However, Sylvie Honigman has an article over at the website Bible and Interpretation entitled “Religious Persecution or High Taxes? The Causes of the Maccabean Revolt against Antiochus IV.” She presents an alternative scenario that does not take the “cultural codes” of 1 and 2 Maccabees at face value, namely that the impious priests Jason and Menelaus and the foreign ruler Antiochus upset the divinely established social order which was restored by the righteous revolutionaries, and instead suggests that there were more mundane political (e.g. the proper dynastic priesthood) and economic (e.g. higher taxes) causes. Check it out for the details and see what you think.