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Paul and the Corinthian Correspondence: Part II

In the previous post, we saw that Paul likely wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus around 53-55 CE to the Christ assemblies in Corinth. In this post, I want to turn to the reception of 1 Corinthians among its intended recipients, the subsequent interactions between Paul and the Corinthians, and the data from 2 Corinthians. What complicates matters is that most scholars judge 2 Corinthians to be a composite text that combines more than one letter of Paul. There are different partition theories and reconstructions of Paul’s travels and letter-writing activity (e.g., see Daniel Wallace’s introductory post for one possible reconstruction or Bart Ehrman’s blog posts for another), but I would favour the following reconstruction:

  1. Paul’s co-worker Timothy had been dispatched to Corinth to re-enforce Paul’s doctrinal and ethical teachings (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:10; Acts 19:22). It is doubtful that Paul’s intervention in the area was well received.
  2. * Paul may have briefly visited Corinth a second time here or at any time before point #6.
  3. Paul changed his plans about visiting the Corinthians on his way to Macedonia (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:5-6; 2 Corinthians 1:15-2:2) and wrote a “tearful letter” to them instead due to the grief that they had caused him (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:3-4; 7:8). Either this letter has been lost or the remnants of it are preserved in 2 Corinthians 10-13.
  4. Paul initially hoped to meet his co-worker Titus in Troas before he arrived in Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:12-13), but he actually met him in Macedonia. Titus arrived with a positive report about how the Corinthians repented in response to the “tearful letter” (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:5-16).
  5. Paul sent another letter, which was perhaps delivered by Titus (8:17-18; 12:18), and this letter consisted of 2 Corinthians 1-9. There is debate about whether this letter continued with chapters 10-13, despite the abrupt shift to a more severe tone, or whether chapters 10-13 preserve parts of another letter (i.e. the earlier “tearful letter” or an even later and final letter to the Corinthians) that was appended to chapters 1-9.
  6. Paul mentions his plans to visit Corinth a third time (2 Corinthians 12:14; 13:1), which is likely documented in Acts 20:1-3, and he wrote the epistle to the Romans from Corinth around 57 CE.

*Many commentators argue that Paul referenced this second visit in 2 Corinthians 2:1: he characterized this as a sorrowful experience as he had to confront the Christ believers in Corinth in general and a dissident member in one of their congregations in particular (2:5-11; 7:12) and, after leaving Corinth, he cancelled his plans to re-visit Corinth on route to Macedonia and wrote the “tearful letter” instead. In contrast, Stephen C. Carlson’s “On Paul’s Second Visit to Corinth: Πάλιν, Parsing, and Presupposition in 2 Corinthians 2:1″ JBL 135.3 (2016): 597-615 renders this verse as arguing that Paul did not wish to visit the Corinthians again as he did not want to cause them grief by reprimanding them and, thus, 2:1 has nothing to do with Paul’s second visit that may have occurred anytime before the writing of the letter preserved in 2 Corinthians 10-13.

Paul and the Corinthian Correspondence: Part I

1 and 2 Corinthians are included among the seven undisputed Pauline epistles, along with Romans, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, and Philemon. This means that, generally speaking, virtually all scholars acknowledge Paul’s authorship of these texts. The texts were written to various Christ assemblies located in Corinth and David G. Horrell offers an overview of what we know about the city during Paul’s lifetime at the Bible Odyssey website. According to Acts 18:2, Paul had stayed 18 months in Corinth during his second major missionary journey and he was put on trial before Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia around 51-52 CE (cf. Acts 18:12). On his third major missionary journey, Paul spent two to three years in Ephesus (Acts 19:10; 20:31) between 53-55 CE, where he both wrote a lost letter to the Corinthians (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13) and also received some written and verbal correspondence from the Corinthians (cf. 1:11; 7:1; 16:18). Paul had heard some troublesome news about the domestic congregations in Corinth from Chloe, including their factionalism and their problematic doctrinal, ritual and ethical positions, and wrote the letter of 1 Corinthians from Ephesus (cf. 16:8) to address these matters.

The Reception of Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians

Here are some select examples of the reception of Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians during the Patristic period. For more possible references or allusions to these texts, check out the following books:

“Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. What did he write to you at the time when the Gospel first began to be preached? Truly, under the inspiration of the Spirit, he wrote to you concerning himself, and Cephas, and Apollos, because even then parties had been formed among you. But that inclination for one above another entailed less guilt upon you, inasmuch as your partialities were then shown towards apostles, already of high reputation, and towards a man whom they had approved.” (1 Clement 47:1-4)

“Let my spirit be counted as nothing for the sake of the cross, which is a stumbling-block to those that do not believe, but to us salvation and life eternal. “Where is the wise man? where the disputer?” Where is the boasting of those who are styled prudent?” (Ignatius of Antioch, To the Ephesians 18:1)

“Paul declared most plainly in the Epistle to the Corinthians… For the apostle does also say in the Second [Epistle] to the Corinthians… Thus he says in the second [Epistle] to the Corinthians” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.27.3; 4.28.3; 5.3.1)

“First of all, to the Corinthians, prohibiting their heretical schisms; next, to the Galatians, against circumcision; then to the Romans he wrote at length, explaining the order (or, plan) of the Scriptures, and also that Christ is their principle (or, main theme). It is necessary for us to discuss these one by one, since the blessed apostle Paul himself, following the example of his predecessor John, writes by name to only seven churches in the following sequence: To the Corinthians first, to the Ephesians second, to the Philippians third, to the Colossians fourth, to the Galatians fifth, to the Thessalonians sixth, to the Romans seventh. It is true that he writes once more to the Corinthians and to the Thessalonians for the sake of admonition, yet it is clearly recognizable that there is one Church spread throughout the whole extent of the earth.” (Muratorian Canon, Lines 42-57)

“Paul’s fourteen epistles are well known and undisputed” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.3.5)

“Here are what he [Marcion] calls Epistles: 1. Galatians. 2. Corinthians. 3. Second Corinthians. 4. Romans. 5. Thessalonians. 6. Second Thessalonians. 7. Ephesians. 8. Colossians. 9. Philemon. 10. Philippians. He also has parts of the so-called Epistle to the Laodiceans.” (Epiphanius, Panarion 42.9.4; cf. Tertullian, Against Marcion 5.2-21)

“He [Paul] wrote nine epistles to seven churches: To the Romans one, To the Corinthians two, To the Galatians one, To the Ephesians one, To the Philippians one, To the Colossians one, To the Thessalonians two; and besides these to his disciples, To Timothy two, To Titus one, To Philemon one.” (Jerome, On Illustrious Men 5)

Evelyn Ashley’s Research on 2 Corinthians

My colleague Dr. Evelyn Ashley, who is on the adjunct faculty at Vose Seminary, is a specialist on the Corinthian epistles and I have greatly benefited from her class materials for the unit “Paul and Corinthian Christianity.” Her PhD dissertation entitled “Paul’s Paradigm for Ministry in 2 Corinthians: Christ’s Death and Resurrection” is available through Murdoch University’s Research Repository. This was published under the title Paul’s Defense of his Ministerial Style: A Study of his Second Letter to the Corinthians.

Online Resources about the Corinthian Epistles

Here are some resources that are available online for studying 1 and 2 Corinthians:

New Series on the Corinthian Epistles

During this semester, I will be teaching the unit “Paul and Corinthian Christianity.” Here is a description of the English and Greek versions of the unit for undergraduates at the Australian College of Theology. I have not yet had the opportunity to research 1 and 2 Corinthians, so I plan to blog some thoughts on these epistles as I prepare this unit. I hope that you enjoy the series.

Biblical and Theological Studies in Australia and New Zealand

I have been working as a New Testament lecturer in Australia for almost two years. I have had the opportunity to network with many biblical scholars in the region through professional societies such as the Australian and New Zealand Association of Theological Schools [ANZATS], Fellowship for Biblical Studies, and the Centre for Gospels and Acts Research. The international meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature [SBL] is also scheduled to come to Adelaide during July 5-9, 2020. Graham Joseph Hill and Jen Barker have compiled a list of “120+ Australian and New Zealander Women in Theology that You Should Know About” and it is great to see a few colleagues on the list. I would love to have a chat with you if you are interested in studying the Bible, theology, and ministry from the certificate to the PhD level at Vose Seminary, which is affiliated with the Australian College of Theology.

SBL 2019 Review

I had a great time catching up with a number of friends, colleagues, and bloggers at the latest Society of Biblical Literature conference in San Diego in November 2019. I enjoyed listening to the papers in my session about whether Luke’s rewriting of Matthew’s text has any parallels with how other non-canonical Gospels treat Matthew, about the history of the oral gospel hypothesis among Synoptic Problem specialists since the nineteenth century, about whether the Patristic references to the lost “Gospel according to the Hebrews” should be identified with Matthew’s and Luke’s shared non-Markan source, and about whether the author of Luke was dependent on John’s Gospel. I received some great feedback from Mark Matson, whose source-critical analysis of the story of the woman who anointed Jesus has influenced my own approach.

I also attended a few book review sessions on Joel Marcus’s John the Baptist in History and Theology and Matthew D. C. Larsen’s Gospels before the Book. For the former book, the debate among the panelists mainly focused on either bigger historical method questions or on specific historical arguments (e.g., John the Baptizer’s relationship with the Qumran community). The latter book encourages readers to reconsider the nature of the Gospels as discreet, finished, literary texts and compares them to the genre of hypomnēmata or commentarii that were more like unfinished pre-literary texts open to continuous expansion and revision. The panelists and audience members were receptive to the thesis, but they did offer some push-back about how Mark’s sophisticated literary techniques or the reception of Mark’s Gospel in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke may indicate that Mark’s text was more “bookish” than Larsen gave it credit for, but I found it striking that I had noted in my book on Mark that various Patristic authors judged Mark’s text to be like a rough draft without literary taxis or “order” (Papias) and made for private circulation among Mark’s Roman hearers (Clement of Alexandria). Finally, I caught a Paul and politics session where my friend Ralph Korner was reading a paper on his work on ekklēsia.

The last thing to note is that we were all made aware of the sad news about the passing of Larry Hurtado. There are a number of excellent online tributes to him from Helen Bond, Chris Keith, Bart Ehrman, Greg Lanier, Michael Kruger, Holly J. Carey, Tommy Wasserman, Eldon Jay Epp, and Carey Newman. I had the pleasure of briefly interacting with him online and by email about my engagement with the early high Christology paradigm (see here, here, and here) and we chatted after I presented at an SBL session on the Christology of Mark a few years ago. He was a brilliant scholar who made a lasting contribution to the study of Christology by shifting the focus to the devotional practices that the Christians directed towards the risen Jesus and he was extremely generous in providing constructive and critical feedback to my own work. He has undoubtedly had a huge impact on colleagues, students, and Christian laypeople and he will be missed.


The Synoptic Gospel Session at the Society of Biblical Literature in San Diego

Here is the online program book for the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in San Diego on November 23-26, 2019. I am greatly looking forward to my session on the Synoptic Gospels and here is all the information if you would like to attend it:

1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Cobalt 501C (Fifth Level) – Hilton Bayfront

Theme: Neglected Solutions to the Synoptic Problem

Michael Whitenton, Baylor University, Presiding

Rebecca Runesson Sanfridson, University of Toronto
Accounting for Matthean Reception in the Farrer Hypothesis (30 min)
Tag(s): Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament), Gospels – Matthew (Biblical Literature – New Testament), Gospels – Luke (Biblical Literature – New Testament)

Alan Kirk, James Madison University
Orality, the Synoptic Tradition, and the Traditionshypothese: A Critical Examination (30 min)
Tag(s): Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament), Oral Traditions (History of Interpretation / Reception History / Reception Criticism), Orality Studies (Interpretive Approaches)

David B. Sloan, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
A Better Two-Document Hypothesis: Matthew’s and Luke’s Independent Use of Mark and the Gospel According to the Hebrews (30 min)
Tag(s): Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament), Gospels (Early Christian Literature – Apocrypha), Source Criticism (Interpretive Approaches)

George van Kooten, University of Cambridge
“Eyewitnesses of the Logos”: The Inclusion of John’s Gospel among the “polloi” of Luke’s Preface (30 min)
Tag(s): Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament)

Michael Kok, Vose Seminary
The Literary Relationship between Luke and John: Luke 7:36–50 and John 12:1–8 as a Test Case(30 min)
Tag(s): Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament), Source Criticism (Interpretive Approaches), Redaction Criticism (Interpretive Approaches)

This is the abstract that I submitted, when I initially saw that at least one session was on the relationship between John’s Gospel and the Synoptics. I would like to take the paper in a slightly different direction than I had in mind when submitting the abstract, so come attend the session if you would like to find out more.

We can isolate a range of sources behind the Lukan pericope of the sinful woman. First, Luke redacted the Markan pericope of the woman who anointed Jesus (Mark 14:3-9; cf. Matthew 26:6-13), relocating the scene to an earlier point in Jesus’s ministry, preserving the detail about the alabaster flask of ointment, and identifying the host Simon as a Pharisee rather than a leper. Second, Luke was probably familiar with a second pronouncement story about how Jesus refused to issue a judgment against a woman that had been brought before him by the religious elders. Papias of Hierapolis (cf. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.39.17) and the Disdascalia Apostolorum 7 attest to the most primitive form of this oral tradition. However, there is also a striking agreement between Luke 7:38 and John 12:3 concerning how the woman anointed Jesus’s feet. If this was John’s redactional change to the Markan source, a case could be made that Luke has included an element of Johannine redaction into his narrative and thus exhibits literary dependence on John’s Gospel. On the other hand, if John was relying on an oral variant to the Markan pericope, then Luke may have had contact with the same pre-Johannine tradition. In either scenario, Luke has edited the source by accounting for why the woman was wiping Jesus’s feet with her hair, namely because she had been crying and wanted to wipe the tears off Jesus’s feet.

My Colleague’s New Book “The Spirit at the Cross”

My colleague Dr. Carolyn E. L. Tan is an exceptional instructor in New Testament Greek. She has also published her revised PhD thesis entitled The Spirit at the Cross: Exploring a Cruciform Pneumatology for the Australian College of Theology Monograph Series. Her PhD advisor and my theological colleague Dr. Michael O’Neil has also noted the many strengths of this book as it engages with both New Testament exegesis and systematic theology. Here is the abstract if you are interested in checking out the book:

What was the Holy Spirit doing at the cross of Jesus Christ? Jesus’ death and resurrection are central to God’s reconciliation with humanity. Does the Holy Spirit’s work pause between Gethsemane and the resurrection? What does the phrase “through the eternal Spirit” in Hebrews 9:14 mean? In this book, Tan examines the perspectives of John Vernon Taylor, Jürgen Moltmann, and John D. Zizioulas, from whom three views of the Spirit’s role at the cross are discerned: the Spirit as the “bond of love” between the Father and the Son; the Spirit as the Son’s coworker, enabler, and power; and the Spirit as the unifier who unites humanity to the Son. In addition, Karl Barth provides the intriguing concept of the Spirit as divine Judge (along with the Father and the Son) and specifically the one who carries out God’s judgment in Jesus Christ, the Elect. Integrating these theological perspectives with an in-depth examination of the manuscript and exegetical and hermeneutical history of Hebrews 9:14, Tan offers another way of understanding the role of the Spirit at the cross: Christ as the Father’s “pneumatic crucible” in whom sinful humanity is judged, destroyed, and reborn through the power of the Holy Spirit.