If you’ve read one of my previous posts, you’ll know I definitely rate the choice.
Is this your most influential read?
Only recently alerted to its existence by Jon Taylor, I’ve recently been dipping into Seyoon Kim’s Christ and Caesar.
Kim’s central purpose is to debunk the idea that Paul included coded political messages in his letters in order to subvert the Roman Empire. I have expressed my views on the debate, particularly as it related to Philippians, in a previous post, but I must say that Kim does raise some excellent critical doubts regarding the counter-imperial readings offered by N.T. Wright et al that are worthy of serious consideration. After a brief introduction, the book is divided into two main sections: (1) The Epistles of Paul (pp. 1-71), and (2) The Writings of Luke (pp. 73-190). The book concludes with a Summary and Conclusion (pp. 191-99), an Epilogue titled, “Some Implications for Today” (pp. 200-3), and finally a select bibliography and two indices.
In part 1, Kim examines five epistles of Paul exegetically and shows how the dominant anti-imperial interpretation is actually difficult to sustain. Lee Irons has posted a very helpful review of the book and draws attention to chapter 4, titled “Factors that make an anti-imperial interpretation difficult.” Of the 9 factors given, a number particularly stand out and are picked up on by Lee in his second post that fleshes out the following headings:
Using these factors as a launching pad for his argument, Kim seeks to undercut the notion of there being “coded” messages in Paul’s letters (a device that N. T. Wright is particularly fond of):
This is a rather desperate attempt to obtain anti-imperial messages where there are none. Inevitably this method involves self-contradiction… Thus, the anti-imperial interpreters’ appeal to the device of coding amounts to an inadvertent admission of the failure of their whole interpretive scheme (pp. 36-37).
… It simply makes sense to me that some of Paul’s important language would have naturally struck cords in people’s minds concerning the empire, and that this was no accident on Paul’s part…
Kim’s analysis of how Paul uses terms like kyrios, euangelion, dikaiosyne, katallage, etc within the context of his writings and mission seeks to demonstrate that he used them to convey his own message about the gospel of Christ, not to critique the Roman Empire or the imperial cult. He argues that a counter-imperial reading must be imposed on the texts in question by assuming deductively that since the Roman order and the imperial cult were so pervasive, that Paul had to have had this political reality in view when using these terms and therefore could only have been using the terms subversively:
Really they impose anti-imperial meanings onto these terms and string those passages up, sometimes extrapolating the meaning of one passage to another, in order to claim that Paul preached the gospel in deliberate antithesis to the imperial ideology and cult. This looks like a new application of the old-fashioned proof-text method that dogmatists employed to construct doctrines, and dispensationalists used to construct elaborate eschatological scenarios (p. 32).
It’s this part of Kim’s analysis that leaves me feeling a bit cold. The historian in me is never fully comfortable with readings of scripture that don’t seem willing to recognise both the ‘theological’ with the ‘historical’ trajectories of texts. As Adolf Deissmann wrote early in the 20th century: “It must not be supposed that St. Paul and his fellow believers went through the world blindfolded, unaffected by what was then moving the minds of men in great cities,” namely, the imperial cult (quoted by Kim, p. xv). Or as Chris Tilling says “It simply makes sense to me that some of Paul’s important language would have naturally struck cords in people’s minds concerning the empire, and that this was no accident on Paul’s part.”
The strength of part 2 is, in many ways, undercut by his brief and last section on the implications of his research for today’s audience. Part 2 examines the Lukan writings (Luke-Acts) to see how Luke talks about the encounters of Paul and other preachers of the gospel with Roman imperialism. Central to this section is why Luke appears to make no effort to present Christ’s redemption as materialized in terms of political liberation. Fair enough. Yet after around 198 or so pages devoted to Paul and Luke, it’s such a shame that Kim can only muster 3 pages on exploring the implications of what he has been saying!
We have pointed out that both in Paul and Luke an imminent eschatology and political realism played their parts, along with other factors, in discouraging them from thinking about the present materialization of God’s reign or Christ’s Lordship in the political sphere … But most Christians today no longer feel the pressure of an imminent eschatology so greatly, and they therefore naturally are concerned about the present materialization of God’s reign or Christ’s Lordship
Kim seems here to be inferrnig that because both Luke and Paul viewed the eschaton as imminent, they simply rejected any notion that there was a political dimension to the gospel. Our circumstance are, he argues, different becuase we “no longer feel the pressure of an imminent eschatology so greatly” and so are therefore free to develop a stronger political emphasis to the gospel in bringing about, what he describes as “the present materialisation of God’s reign.” This, for me, falls far short of a decent answer and lets the book down IMO.
Once I’ve had the chance to further digest Kim’s work, I will hopefully take the chance to post some further thoughts on this blog, but my overwhelming impression having just put it down, is that it lets itself down in its “implications for today”.
I was fascinated to stumble across this project today by
. The basic idea seems to be to invert the process of learning such that instead of introducing graded reading of texts once a given corpus of grammar and vocabulary has been learnt, the student is introduced to texts first, which are then used as the primary way of learning vocabulary and grammar.
James has started a mailing list at http://groups.google.com/group/graded-reader and is making his code available at http://code.google.com/p/graded-reader/. Whilst it looks like these resources have not been updated for a couple of months, I very much hope his fascinating work continues.
Has anyone had any experience of this kind of inductive study method for language learning?
In the past I’ve wondered if the fact that we have words in Scripture which are not now in common useage might be a big hinderance to cultural relevance. I’m starting to think that, used well, they might also be a great strength. Take the word ‘holy’, for example – a word that conveys the notion of one who is set apart. The very fact we only ever use it in the context of God and His church is a pretty appropriate thing. Now obviously there’s a balance to be found – too many uncommon words and we start presenting a barrier to the uninitiated. But, accompanied by teaching on their meanings, these distinctive names and descriptions of God might actually be a powerful tool. Our culture is making up new words all the time. How fantastic if the worshipping church were to recapture a few old ones as yet another way of conveying the uniqueness of God.
Matt Redman, ‘Facedown’
I remember having a chat to a guy who was leading a church in Birmingham a while back about the language Christian’s use. So often, it’s so esoteric it’s gibberish. Recognising this, what this guy did was he paid his unchurched neighbour to turn up to their Sunday services for two weeks running and to write down on a notepad everything he did not understand and that was not adequately explained. Apparently, more than one notepad was required!
I often think of this when I’m preaching or leading the service in our gathered meetings. In my experience, in the language we use we often exclude those not in the ‘inner circle’. This ‘inner circle’ doesn’t have to be just excluding ‘not-yet Christians’ or the ‘unchurched’. This inner circle might be excluding those with no theological training / those who don’t actually like debating / or are not in the ‘in crowd’ familiar with all the latest jargon and speak colloquial ‘Christian-ese’ (like a few of the phrases quoted above!)
I think that there’s a place for, and spaces should be created for, there to be opportunities for those who want to ‘vent’ their thinking (for me, this blog can be that place very often – so that my preaching can be focussed on serving and not venting). But ‘gathered’ church is not that place (by gathered, in this context, I’m referring to our main [often Sunday] gatherings). Jesus said ‘feed my sheep’; he did not say feed my giraffes – those with their head so high in the clouds that they’re of no earthly use…
Notwithstanding the last three paragraphs, my question is this:
Is there a place for language – properly explained – that expresses the ‘otherness’ of God? Words we wouldn’t use in everyday parlance with our colleagues at work: words like ‘holy’, ‘justified’, ‘worship’ etc… Finding ways of responding to God which we’ve reserved for Him only?
What do you think?
Four other women are worthy of especial mention. Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Mary and Persis (vv. 6, 12) are described by Paul with the verb Kopiao (κοπιάω). This is a technical term describing the labours of a missionary, which implies strong exertion by those who ‘toil’. Paul is known to use this term for his own evangelistic and pastoral ministry,1 but here uses it four times to describe these women. It seems Paul intends for these women to be characterised as members of the community who “deserve respect and recognition for their tireless evangelising and community-building ministry.”2 It is significant that no such descriptions are found in this passage for men.
Lampe gives a detailed analysis of the names provided in Romans 16 in the light of the inscriptions available in Rome. He concludes that four names are definitely not those of slaves or freedmen; ten definitely are; and twelve cannot be determined.3 Whilst we cannot know if this pattern pertains to the church as a whole, if it did, then the composition of the church would broadly mirror wider Rome society.4 Many freedmen were rich businessmen who held a more secure economic position than many within Rome who were freeborn.5
Of the 26 names listed in these verses, only 15% are recognisably Jewish (Andronicus, Junia, and Herodia), pointing therefore to a largely Gentile church. How then can we account for the content of Paul’s letter assuming a fairly developed level of knowledge of both Jewish customs and culture? The most likely solution is that those within the Roman church were of Gentile origin but “had lived as sympathisers on the margins of the synagogues before they became Christian.”6
While Watson may be correct in asserting “two Roman congregations”7 in the most general sense of two differing theological positions, Lampe argues from this passage that there could have been up to seven different house-churches in Rome.8 Paul’s purpose in addressing each house-church here seems to be hinted at in him asking them to greet each other with a holy kiss in v. 16. This would serve as a reminder to them that they belonged to the same family and a reminder of the unity Paul longed for, as expressed in chapters 14 and 15. Seen in this light, the verses that immediately follow, whilst seeming to be a “brief and unexplained tirade” (vv. 17–19),9 do make sense as a warning against any heresy that may put their fellowship as a collection of house-churches under threat.
Debate will continue on some aspects of this passage. Feminist commentators rightly caution that the perspectives and experiences of women in scripture have been funnelled through the perspectives of male authors and interpreters. This should heighten our awareness of our own hermeneutical presuppositions and lead us to take special care when interpretive decisions involving gender are required. In the absence of further information, it is often left to the theologian to make informed decisions on exactly how to interpret this list of names and one must be critically aware of ones own hermeneutical blind spots when making interpretative decisions which must always remain provisional.
It is important to recognise in an analysis of Romans 16:1–16 that a “group of 26 hardly allows any generalisation about the Roman church as a whole.”10 Whilst we cannot generalise these results for the Roman church, we also cannot trivialise the importance of what this data reveals. There is no evidence here that the ways in which women participated in the early church differed “in kind or in quantity”11 from the ways in which men worked. Indeed, it appears that Paul “singled out [a number of women for] their service to the Pauline mission.”12 What this data does not conclusively prove however, is that women joined the Pauline mission as an “an association of equals”;13 to make a judgement purely from this data is to go beyond what the text itself allows.
See Gal 4:11 and 1 Cor 15:10 ↩
Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 68 ↩
Moo (1996), p. 918 quoting Lampe ↩
Moo (1996), p. 918 ↩
Lampe (1991), p. 229 ↩
Lampe (1991), p. liii ↩
Watson argues that there are two separate congregations in Rome marked by “mutual hostility and suspicion over the question of the law.” Watson in Lampe (1991), p. 206 ↩
Lampe (1991), p. liii. It’s worth noting that most commentators identify between three and five separate house churches (vv. 5, 14, 15, cf. also vv. 10, 11.) See, for example, Moo (1996), p. 918 ↩
Ziesler (1989), p. 349 ↩
Lampe (1991), p. 224 ↩
Gaventa (1992), p. 320 ↩
Scholar (2003), p. 121 ↩
Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 70–71 ↩
A significant indication that there may have been equal opportunity for roles within the church is found in verse 3. One can argue that this list of greetings is structured not (as was typically the case) in terms of social status but in terms of ecclesial standing. The greetings list begins with greetings for Prisca and Aquila (a couple whom Paul most likely knew well) alongside the ekklesia (ἐκκλησία) community that meets in their house (vv. 3–4), and ends with greetings to whole groups and to ‘all saints’ belonging to them (16v15).1 In mentioning Prisca before her husband, Paul may be inferring that she was even more outstanding in her work for the church than was Aquila.2 Some commentators suggest that Prisca is mentioned before Aquila because she may have occupied a higher social rank than her husband.3 The co-text of these verses does not suggest that this is a correct interpretation however. Verses 21 – 23 lists five names before those of the socially elevated Erastus and Gaius with their “municipal office and spacious habitation” respectively (v. 23).4 It would appear that Paul is more interested in listing people’s importance for the church than for their secular credentials. For Paul to choose to over-ride social conventions in mentioning Prisca before her husband, it seems likely therefore that Paul was attributing particular importance to the role of Prisca in that house church community.
… whilst this passage does not prove apostolic leadership for women in the church, it certainly does not rule it out.
The identification of Andronicus and Junia (v. 7) as ‘outstanding among the apostles’ (ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις) may also indicate a degree of equity in gender roles within the church. Interpreters from the thirteenth century through to the mid-twentieth century generally preferred the masculine identification of ‘Junias’, with seemingly no supporting evidence, as a contraction of the name ‘Junianus’.5 Before the thirteenth century commentators largely preferred the feminine identification ‘Junia.’6
Cohick helpfully points out that the masculine name “Junias” appears on no known “Greek inscription, public monument, graffito or literary document.”7 With the debate hinging on whether the name is accented, made problematic by the fact that most MSS do not use accents, it would appear that the hypothetical masculine name “Junias” rests on “nothing more solid than conventional prejudice.”8
We must rightly ask, however, that if they are ‘outstanding’ examples of apostles, what was meant by the term ‘apostle’ as applied to them? Feminist commentators have usefully drawn attention to questionable methodology in regards to the translational decisions made over Junia’s gender. Accepting the case for ‘Junia’ over ‘Junias’, we cannot then state with apodictic certainty, however, that Paul was therefore making a statement about the role of women as apostolic leaders within the early church as some have sought to do. We still need to distinguish the sense in which the word ‘apostle’ is being used here. Wallace and Burer argue linguistically that the Greek phrase means “well-known to the apostles” and thus doesn’t indicate that Junia was an apostle. It would, though, appear that their analysis falls short of being able to explain how Andronicus and Junia could be an ‘outstanding’ example of being well-known.9 Paul often uses ‘apostle’ in a loose sense to denote ‘messenger’ or ‘emissary’10 and Moo suggests that we can therefore read this title here as “travelling missionary”11 rather than as an office or title within the early church.
Taking an approach commensurate with what Osiek identifies as a “hermeneutic of loyalty,”12 Harrison argues that in this passage Paul’s “relation to [women] and [his] appreciation for them makes suspect the verdict of those who would label him a misogynist.”13 To count Andronicus and Junia amongst the apostles, and not only this but outstanding among them, is highly significant evidence for the regard in which Paul held for women within the Christian movement. There is a danger here of over interpreting the evidence given in this text, yet it is clear that whilst this passage does not prove apostolic leadership for women in the church, it certainly does not rule it out.
Feminist theologian Schüssler-Fiorenza is quick to identify the trend to masculate Junia as an “androcentric theological assumption [which] cannot be maintained exegetically.”14 She goes further however, in suggesting that this example is only the “tip of an iceberg” in which the role of women has been “submerged… by an androcentric model of early Christian beginnings” that will refuse to recognise evidence for the leadership of women.15 In contending that our reading of this text has been held back by the unconscious bias of established scholarship and the “obfuscating functions of androcentric language of biblical sources,”16 she asserts that we have “erased”17 women’s role in the early church. Only through what she calls a “hermeneutic of suspicion”18 are we able to recover glimpses of women’s participation, leadership and experience in the beginnings of the Christian church. Whilst one must be suspicious of a conservative-traditionalist approach that grants the Bible absolute authority almost to the point of denial that the worlds of the reader and the author exist, Schüssler-Fiorenza is at risk here of using women’s experience as a hermeneutical principle which is over and above Scripture. If this is her stance, then she fails to articulate an evaluative criteria that seeks to justify this interpretive framework to safeguard against eisegesis without appropriate respect for historical context and appropriate exegesis.19
Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 66 ↩
See also Romans 16:3; Acts 18:18, 26; and 2 Tim 4:19. Only 1 Cor 16:19 (cf. Acts 18:2) presents the opposite order. “If Luke had known anything about a socially elevated status of Prisca, he would have loved to mention it, distinguished women being a preferred subject for him: e.g. Luke 8:3; Acts 17:4, 12; vf. 16:14; 17:34.” Lampe (1991), p. 223 ↩
Lampe (1991), p. 223 ↩
Lampe (1991), p. 223 ↩
Moo (1996), p. 922. (cf. NIV; RSV; NASB; TEV; NJB) ↩
Moo (1996), p. 922. (cf. KJV; NRSV; REB). John Chrysostom: “Think how great the devotion of this woman Junia must have been, that she should be worthy to be called an apostle!” Bray (1998), p. 372 ↩
Cohick (2002), p. 644. Moo rightly cautions, however, that the Greek form of the name (as opposed to the Latin form) was not a popular name. Moo (1996), p. 922 ↩
Cranfield (1985), p. 377 ↩
Burer & Wallace (2001), p. 91 ↩
See 2 Cor 8:3; Phil 2:25 ↩
Moo (1996), p. 924 ↩
Wacker (1998), p. 36 ↩
Harrison (1976), p. 166 ↩
Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 68 ↩
Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 60 ↩
Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 71. Wacker (1998) describes Schüssler-Fiorenza’s work as representing a ‘hermeneutic of liberation’ approach to feminist theology, p. 44 ↩
Schüssler-Fiorenza (1995), p. xlviii ↩
Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 71 ↩
Wacker (1998), p. 46, echoes this critique as pointing to “… different basic decisions in feminist hermeneutics that need to become subject to discussions in critical solidarity beyond the domain of feminist exegesis. ↩
Without jumping the gun (I haven’t yet read his book), I am swiftly beginning to suspect Chris has written a must read here.
Feminist interpretations on this passage have shed useful light on these verses, raising many questions that must continue to be explored. Paul’s commendation of ‘our sister’ Phoebe as a diakonos (διάκονος) of the church in Cenchreae can be interpreted in at least two ways.
what is clear is that she served in some significant leadership role in the congregation at Cenchreae
Firstly, that ‘Deacon’ is used in this verse to denote that Phoebe is being commended for acts of service, but that this is does not suppose that she “occupied or exercised what amounted to an ecclesiastical office.”1 Evidence for this usage can be found elsewhere within the letter. For example, when talking of his collection for the church in Jerusalem, an immensely practical task, Paul describes himself as “ministering (διακονῶν / diakonon) to the saints.”2 In this context, it would not appear that a diakonos does not need to refer to an official office. Moo posits two levels of authority operating within the early church, whereby women participated within the ministry of the church but in a ‘private’ rather than ‘public’ sense. Therefore, Paul’s use of diakonos (διάκονος) here is being used in an unofficial, private and non-authoritative sense.3 Those who read the text through feminist lenses have rightly questioned this approach. Coming from quite different perspectives, both Scholar and Schüssler-Fiorenza argue that to separate out authority like this is not only anachronistic but also overlooks the fact that “in the house church the ‘private and public’ spheres of the Church overlap.”4 Furthermore, there appears to be no direct evidence for this approach to ecclesial authority within the Pauline corpus.
The second interpretation of this reference accepts some level of recognized position within the church at Cenchreae. We know that the office of diakonos already existed in some form, although how developed, and how similar to its later meaning, is unclear.5 In Romans 12 Paul includes the gift of diakonia (διακονίᾳ) alongside that of prophecy, teaching, and exhortation implying that the office of deacon has a teaching and liturgical function within church life.6 Timothy is called ‘our brother’ by Paul and as God’s diakonos.7 The author of Colossians recommends Tychicus as ‘our beloved brother’ and ‘faithful diakonos’ (4v7).8
The qualification of diakonos coupled with ‘of the church’ does seem to suggest that Phoebe held the office of deacon at Cenchreae as a co-worker of Paul as described it in 1 Tim 3:8–12 (cf. Phil 1:1).9
Phoebe is also described as the Prostatis (προστάτις) “of many” in verse 2. Cohick cites the masculine form (προστάτης) being employed by Justin Martyr to denote the person presiding at communion.10 Yet whilst the pastoral epistles do use this word to describe church officials who preside over the congregation,11 the comparison between Phoebe as the patron “of many” rather than “of the church”12 (as compared to verse 1) suggests that Cohick is overstretching the text to fit what she would like it to say. The meaning of Paul here, is more likely to reflect her role as a ‘benefactor’ of many therefore. Nonetheless, in describing Phoebe as a ‘patron’ or ‘benefactor’ does point to her having considerable wealth, independence and, evidently, freedom to travel.
There is no indication of the nature of Phoebe’s business or how long she intended to stay in Rome, but what is clear is that she served “in some significant leadership role in the congregation at Cenchreae.”13 What is unclear from this text, however, is the extent to which this leadership was equal in authority to that of men.
See for example Murray (1965), p. 226 ↩
Romans 15:25, 31. See also Acts 6:1–2; Col 1:7 ↩
Scholar (2003), p. 110 commentating on Moo ↩
Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 71 and Scholar (2003), p. 110 commentating on Moo: Interpretation p. 208 ↩
e.g. Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:8, 11 ↩
Romans 12:6–8. See also Acts 6:4; 20:24; 1 Cor 3:5; 2 Tim 4:5 ↩
1 Thess 3v2 ↩
Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 64 ↩
Moo (1996), p. 914 ↩
Cohick (2002), p. 644 ↩
e.g. 1 Tim 3:4–5; 5:17 ↩
Moo (1996), p. 916 ↩
Gaventa (1992), p. 320 ↩