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Monthly Archives: February 2020

Second Colloquium for Gospels and Acts Research

If you are interested in the question of the genre of the Gospels and the book of Acts and you can get to the Sydney College of Divinity, you may want to attend the Second Colloquium for Gospels and Acts Research entitled “Reading As… What? Reckoning with Genre in Gospels & Acts Research.” Click on the link if you want more information about the date, times, speakers, and how to register.


Jesus the Pacifist

Matthew Curtis Fleischer contacted me by email to note his book Jesus the Pacifist: A Concise Guide to His Radical Nonviolence. This is how the book is described on the back cover:

Have you ever struggled to reconcile Jesus’s commands to not resist evil, turn the other cheek, and love your enemies with his use of a whip to clear the temple, his praise for the Roman centurion, his command to the disciples to buy swords, and his frequent warnings of violent judgment, not to mention Revelation’s prophecy that he will eventually return to kill God’s enemies with a sword?

In this tightly packed volume, Fleischer provides a systematic, biblically based, and comprehensive overview of Jesus’s relationship with violence, one that may forever change how you view his ministry and your calling.

Make sure to check it out if you are interested in non-violent theological interpretations of the teachings of Jesus and of the New Testament portraits about him.

Paul’s Suffering and Hardship Catalogues

We have been looking at Paul’s extensive argument in response to the factionalism in the Corinthian congregations in 1 Corinthians 1:10-4:21, responding that all of the ministers that worked in Corinth were united in Christ and defending his own apostolic authority in the region. Paul was a messenger of the paradoxical wisdom of the cross, which challenged the Corinthians who exalted the “wisdom of this age” and eloquent speech taught in rhetorical schools (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:10) and caused some of them to admire Apollos so much (cf. Acts 18:24), and part of his case for his apostolic ministry revolved around his own sufferings. The apostles are metaphorically like prisoners paraded around in a victory procession or enslaved gladiators who are turned into a spectacle for the audience in the arena (2:14; 4:9). While the Corinthians were regarded as wise, strong, and honourable, the apostles were deemed fools, weak, and disreputable and faced poverty and homelessness. Nevertheless, even though the apostles were reviled as the dregs of society, they followed Jesus’s social ethic to bless those who cursed them (4:10-13). Paul greatly expands on his many trials in 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10, which may be part of a distinct and difficult letter (2 Corinthians 10-13) that Paul sent the Corinthians at a low point in their relationship. Although it is incredible to think about all of the trials that Paul underwent, he was also adapting a particular genre referred to as peristalsis catalogues. In Hellenistic philosophical literature, a hardship catalogue emphasizes how the sage was self-sufficient in spite of the outside afflictions that he or she had to endure, while Paul stresses his dependency on God and his conformity to the image of Christ. For more information on hardship catalogues, check out John T. Fitzgerald, Cracks in an Earthen Vessel: An Examination of Catalogues of Hardships in the Corinthian Correspondence (SBL Dissertation Series 99; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988) and Karl A. Plank, Paul and the Irony of Affliction (Atlanta: Scholar’s Press, 1987), as well as the summary of research in the commentary on The First Epistle to the Corinthians by Anthony Thiselton (pp. 365-68).

Christian Factions and God’s One Temple: Part II

Undoubtedly, Paul was referring to the entire assembly of Christ believers in Corinth as the temple in 1 Corinthians 3:16. Yet the second reference about how “the body [singular] of you [plural] is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you [plural]” in 1 Corinthians 6:19 is more debatable. The larger literary context in 6:12-20 seems to be speaking about the wrong actions that individuals commit with their own bodies, which goes against how they now belong to the God who paid a ransom price for each one of them. The text could be plausibly rendered as “the body of each of you” and Paul may have transferred what he said about the community in 3:16 to the individual in 6:19 as persuasively argued by Nijay Gupta’s article “Which ‘body’ is a Temple (1 Corinthians 6:19)? Paul beyond the Individual/Communal DivideCBQ 72.3 (2010): 518-536. On the other hand, Paul may be speaking about the church “body” that he metaphorically described as the “body of Christ” later in the letter; God purchased the church through the death of Christ to be a holy people and individuals may bring shame to the larger church through their personal choices. What do you think: is Paul referring to individual Christ followers or the collective community in 1 Corinthians 6:19?

Christian Factions and God’s One Temple: Part 1

On a few Sundays last month, I was preaching about how the term ekklesia (assembly, congregation), usually translated as “church”, was used in Paul’s letters. I also focused on a few of the metaphors that Paul applied to the Christ congregations and one of those metaphors was a temple in 1 Corinthians 3:16. I noted that this is one of the most misinterpreted verses in the Bible when it is read in an individualistic way and turned into a warning about the dangers of junk food or tattoos to one’s physical health! But we have been reviewing the larger literary context of this verse in the last few posts. Basically, there were factions forming among the Christ assemblies in Corinth that professed loyalty to different figureheads, whether Paul, Peter, Apollos, and perhaps Chloe. It is in this context that Paul urges the Corinthian Christ assemblies to be united and proclaims to them that “you [plural] are God’s temple” in 3:16. I explained how it is easier to see in Greek when the “you” is singular or plural and that a better translation might be y’all. In comparison to the one temple in Jerusalem that represented how Yahweh dwelled among the people, the collective group of believers is the holy site where God’s Spirit is present. Therefore, Paul warns his audience to not destroy God’s temple (2:17), just as he cautioned them to be careful about what they were building on the foundation that Paul already laid down in Corinth (3:10-15). I have also written on this verse in a blog post for my Seminary.

Apollos in Corinth

While there may have been a faction of Christ followers who were loyal to Peter and to the Jerusalem Pillars in Corinth, there may have been an even greater rivalry between the followers of Paul and Apollos (cf. 1 Cor 1:12). However, Paul reminds his audience that he was on the same team as Apollos and, using a gardening metaphor, points out that Paul planted the seed in Corinth and Apollos watered it but God was responsible for making it grow (3:5-9). Indeed, it is as ridiculous to form a Paul-party, an Apollos-party, or a  Cephas (i.e. Peter)-party than it is to form a Christ-party, for these are all Christ’s messengers and the Christ congregation should not be divided (1:12-13). Later in the epistle, Paul informs the Corinthians that he urged Apollos to visit them, but that Apollos was waiting for a more opportune time to visit them (16:12). There is also instructions to show Apollos hospitality in Titus 3:13.

But who was Apollos? Here is how he is described in Acts 18:24-28 (NRSV):

“Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.”

Acts 19:1 documents that Apollos was in Corinth while Paul was travelling through Asia Minor to Ephesus. In Ephesus, Paul met some other individuals who were followers of John the Baptizer, but Paul announced to them how a baptism in the Spirit was available through Jesus (19:1-7). It is during the two to three years that Paul spent in Ephesus (Acts 19:10; 20:31) that Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Commentators might debate to what extent Apollos was behind the problems that Paul perceived in Corinth. For example, was Apollos in the background when Paul proclaims the paradoxical wisdom that God’s anointed was put to death in a humiliating and brutal manner through crucifixion, in contrast to conventional wisdom and understandings of power (1 Cor 1:18-2:16; 3:18-23), or that Paul was seen as unimpressive and ineloquent in person (1:17; cf. 2 Cor 10:10)? Is there some polemic against Apollos in the book of Acts, since it was Paul’s co-workers Priscilla and Aquila who had to correct his theology? Besides commentaries on 1 and 2 Corinthians, here are a few studies I have quickly found on the subject:


Peter in Rome: A Cephas Party in Corinth?

Note: I am reposting this post from my past series “Peter in Rome” since I am currently going through the first epistle to the Corinthians. Since I wrote this post, I have come across Stephan Witetschek’s article “Peter in Corinth? A Review of the Evidence from 1 Corinthians” JTS 69.1 (2018): 66-82. Witetschek weighs the arguments for and against Peter’s stay in Corinth and concludes that it is probable that Peter did travel there.

Right in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul responded to the troubling news that was sent to him from Chloe about how factions were developing among the Corinthian Christ believers. That is, in 1 Corinthians 1:12 we hear that different groups were claiming to be followers of either Paul, Apollos, or Cephas (i.e. Peter), with one group claiming to be morally superior to all the rest by professing their sole allegiance to Christ. Acts 18:24-19:1 describes Apollos as an Alexandrian Jew who was a learned exegete of Scripture and an enthusiastic preacher of Jesus, though apparently he only knew some preliminary details (e.g. “the baptism of John”) and had to be instructed more thoroughly by Paul’s co-workers Priscilla and Aquila,  and that he ministered in Ephesus and Corinth. Was Apollos the real source of the division in Corinth? Perhaps Paul’s polemical remarks about mere human wisdom and rhetorically eloquent speech were partially directed at Apollos. In this case, Peter’s name could have been added to make the rhetorical point about the foolishness of aligning with one leader over another, when they were mere servants of the gospel (see 1 Cor 3:4-8, 22-23). On the other hand, perhaps Peter did make a trip to Corinth and a faction had formed there that claimed to be loyal to the mother church in Jerusalem. According to the bishop Dionysius of Corinth, Peter and Paul had planted the gospel in Corinth and Rome (Letter to Pope Soter, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.25.8). If the latter is the case, that means that Peter was also a travelling missionary along with his wife (cf. 1 Cor 9:5) and strengthens the possibility that he moved from Corinth to Rome.

1 Corinthians: Topics

In the next few months, I will be posting on various topics that appear in 1 Corinthians. I may not go through the epistle in chronological order, but just highlight those topics that fit my research interests. Thankfully, there is a lot of material to discuss in this epistle, such as ecclesiology, atonement, theology, Christology, interreligious dialogue, gender, rituals, charismatic experiences, and eschatology.