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Duff, Paul B. Jesus Followers in the Roman Empire. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2017. xii+263 pp. Pb; $30.   Link to Eerdmans

It is common for a modern reader of the New Testament to read their spiritual experience into the earliest Jesus followers. But words like conversion, baptism, and church have modern nuances of meaning which are sometimes quite different than the first century. For example, as the early Jesus movement moved away from Jerusalem and into the Roman world, evangelists reached out to Gentiles; Roman pagans who worshiped both local gods and imperial deities. Duff compares the ancient context of the New Testament to an alien, foreign environment (241).

Paul Duff Jesus followersin the Roman EmpireWhat would the Roman culture think when someone joined a Christian community? Since Christians worshiped Jesus exclusively, they rejected family and local gods. As Duff explains, what we call “conversion” would be seen by the Romans as a “deserting ancestral traditions as a defection from ancestral customs for foreign laws” (115-6). By accepting the gospel of Jesus Christ these “converted pagans” were challenging accepted cultural values and they put themselves in mortal danger.

Paul Duff’s Jesus Followers in the Roman Empire attempts to set the Jesus movement into the context of the ancient world. This book sets some of his previous more technical work on the churches in Revelation, Who Rides the Beast? Prophetic Rivalry and the Rhetoric of Crisis in the Churches of the Apocalypse (Oxford 2001) and his recent Moses in Corinth: The Apologetic Context of 2 Corinthians 3 (NovTSup 159; Brill 2015) into a more popular form.

In the first section of the book, Duff begins with a survey of the three competing worldviews in which the Jesus movement developed. Chapter 1 sets the stage by tracing the Hellenization of Judea and the rise of Roman power after 63 B.C. In some ways Jews were open to Greek culture, but reacted strongly against the attempt to force Jews to Hellenize by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Having set this context, Duff then gives a short account of the Jesus movement and the “quest for the historical Jesus.” He correctly observes “that all of Jesus’s teaching and actions were performed in a Jewish context” (63) and that the claim Jesus was the Messiah can be traced to Jesus’s own teaching (67). Duff then moves to the development of the movement after the resurrection (although what the disciples of Jesus actually experienced is unclear to Duff (70). He is suspicious of using Acts as a historical source since he dates the book late, written A.D. 80-120 (68) and contains “novelistic interpretations” (74).  Duff observes that Paul did not focus on the Kingdom of God as the other Jesus followers did, preferring to call Jesus Lord or Son of God (75).

Chapter 3 traces the movement from idols to the true God. Although Duff is doubtful about the historicity of the book of Acts (101), Acts 14 as a model for understanding paganism and the gods. (Duff defends his use of the term pagan in his introduction.) In the Roman world, there were many gods and those gods were like humans and occasionally interacted with people (90). Sometimes this interaction was good, and humans might cajole a god into acting on their behalf through worship and sacrifice. That Paul and Barnabas could be gods was a real possibility for the people of Lystra in Acts 14. Paul’s sermon in Acts 14 is significant since he declares he worships the “living and true” God (as opposed to the not-living and false gods of the pagan world). Thus God’s wrath is coming on all people and he will judge the world through his son, “whom he raised from the dead.” By accepting the message of Jesus even the pagans can escape this coming wrath.

This preaching was attractive to some pagans and they not only listened to the message Paul preached, but accepted it and turned from false idols to the living God (1 Thess 1:9-10). What was it in Paul’s preaching that was compelling to the Greco-Roman world? There were people throughout the empire who were already attracted to Judaism (the God Fearers like Cornelius in Acts 10) and perhaps others who were attracted to Judaism without making a commitment. For Duff, Paul was an “itinerant Judean religious expert” (136) who used the Hebrew Scripture and worked miracles in order to reach people who were already interested in religions from the “mysterious east.”

Duff uses Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28 to describe the earliest churches in the pagan world. Paul’s ideal church was “neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free.” The earliest Jesus movement was a family in which women played a significant role. Similarly, Paul’s churches had a place for women as well. He surveys the list of women who Paul specifically mentions in this letters (Phoebe, Chloe, Priscilla, etc.) Duff dismisses 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as an interpolation, although he does not argue this point (162) and does not think Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles, so 1 Timothy 2:11-12 does not represent Paul’s churches (166-7). Although there were a few wealthy members, the earliest Christians were from fairly low economic and social status (192).

The third section of the book is a pair of chapters treating the accommodations the Jesus movement made as well as the resistance to the Empire. By committing themselves to the exclusive worship of Jesus, new Christians severed ties with the culture in which they lived. Duff compares early churches with voluntary associations in the Roman world. Like a local house church, these associates met regularly and often had sacred rituals and moral expectations. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have parallels with these associations, but the worship of Jesus as Lord sets the early church apart from any pagan counterpart (207).

Gentiles in Paul’s churches would have been under enormous pressure to participate in civic life, including festivals dedicated to various gods. In chapter 8 Duff describes some of these civic festivals or sacred meals at temples. Could a Christian attend a birthday celebration for a family member if the meal was hosted at a local temple? Modern readers are often confused by the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols in the New Testament, including Acts, Paul’s letters and the book of Revelation. Marriage to a non-believer was also a complicated issue, as 1 Corinthians 7 makes clear. Both controversies continue well into the second century; Duff cites Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho and Tertullian as an examples.

Conclusion. Duff succeeds in his goal of immersing the reader in the ancient world, teasing out the implications living in the Greco-Roman world for the early Jesus movement. In a study such as this I would have expected more on the Imperial Cult (only a few pages, 86-88). In addition, there is little on Paul’s view of the Empire (was Paul anti-imperial?) Since Duff is skeptical of the book of Acts, he does not make much used of Paul’s activity in Ephesus in Acts 19 or the challenge of the Gospel to the cult of Artemis. Nevertheless, Jesus Followers in the Roman Empire is a valuable introduction to the study of early Christianity.

 

 

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

While I have always thought of Jude as rather late (post 70 at least, if not in the 90’s), there are good reasons to date the book earlier. In his WBC volume on Jude and 2 Peter, Richard Bauckham argues that the letter is very early, perhaps as early as A.D. 50.  This reading is based on the use of Jewish apocalyptic style found in the letter.  He finds three elements of the book which lean toward the earlier date:  There is a lively hope for the return of Jesus (14-15).  Secondly, the style of the letter is a Jewish midrash which draws together texts from the Hebrew Bible to argue that the false teachers will face judgment at the Coming of the Messiah.  Finally, there is no hint of church offices in the letter – elders, deacons or bishops, nor is there any appeal to human authority.  The institution of the church is limited when the letter was written.

jude01One serious challenge to this early date is the nature of the opponent.  They seem to be libertine, or even antinomian, which has always made me think that the letter must therefore be written later, after Paul’s death at the very least.  But if the letter is written at the time of Paul’s first missionary journey and the controversy of which led to the Jerusalem council, the issue is quite a bit different from Galatians or James.  In Galatians, Gentiles are discouraged from keeping Law (Paul says “gentiles, your are not converting to Judaism”) and in James Jews are encouraged to continue keeping the Law (James says, “Jews, you are not converting away from Judaism.”)

Jude might give witness to some people who took Paul’s gospel of freedom from law to an extreme and lived a life that was not bound by law at all.  These libertines are not really an issue in Acts 15, but they are in Philippians, perhaps in 1 Thess 4, and certainly a problem in Corinth and Romans 6.  That Paul has to answer the objection, “should we sin that grace may abound” implies that someone was in fact sinning so grace might abound!

What made me wonder is the fact that Jude seems clearly Jewish – it is a midrash constructed from various texts from the Hebrew Bible. If Jude is writing to Jewish Christians who have antinomians in their midst, it seems like these might very well be Jewish Libertines not Gentiles. If that is the case, then Paul’s gospel of freedom from the Law for Gentiles might have had some traction among Hellenistic Jews which led to a rejection of the Law. Perhaps this is the source of James’ concern in Acts 21, that some think that Paul has rejected the Law.

Another common element in descriptions of Jewish Christian is “anti-Paulinism.” To what extent does a given document disagree with Paul and Pauline theology? There is a wide range of opinion on what Paul’s theology really was, especially in the wake of the New Perspective on Paul. For some writers, James clearly disagrees with Paul, but for others there is no real disagreement between the two on the relationship of faith and works.

Paul and James hug it out

Is there evidence of “differences” in theology between the Jewish-Christian writers and Paul in the New Testament? Acts 21 seems to indicate that at least some in the Jerusalem church were suspicious of Paul’s theology and his understanding of the Law. Whether Acts 21:21 implies that James believed Paul to have “turned away from the customs of Moses” is an open question, but at the very least some in the Jerusalem community were not supporters of Paul! Paul’s conflict with Peter and Barnabas in Galatians 2 may be another example of resistance to Paul’s view of the Law. I personally think that John Mark’s “defection” in Acts 13:13 is a reaction to Paul’s condemnation of Elymas and his contact with the Roman proconsul on Cyprus. It might even be possible to find some evidence of division in Ephesus in the background of 1 Timothy that is “anti-Paul.”

Because most readers of the New Testament do not hear these echoes of division, Hagner’s second point is hardest to test in the biblical material. Perhaps we want to think that the earliest days of the church were theological pure and wholly unified and this skews our reading. But there was some tension between the Jerusalem community and Paul, even if it is only hinted at in the New Testament.

For example, James 2:14-26 is at least potentially “anti-Pauline,” although most commentators on James work hard to show Paul and James are not contradictory. To what extent is James “anti-Paul”? If James was written very early, it is possible that James had never read Paul’s theology (a copy of Galatians or Romans, for example) since Paul has not written anything yet! If so, James may be reacting to Pauline Theology as it has been reported to him, not as it actually was being taught. On the other hand, there is no reason to think that more extreme applications of Paul’s theology did not appear early on. There may very well have been Jews who rejected Law in favor of Paul’s doctrine of Grace and therefore are attacked by James. (I am not against the idea that James is actually arguing against Paul, but that is for another posting.)

It is sometimes hard for people living after the Reformation that anyone rejected Paul’s theology or that there were groups in the early church that considered Paul the heretic. For many people today, Paul’s theology is Christian theology. Imagine writing a book on Salvation without referring to Paul’s letters! Yet there were at least some sub-Christian groups that did reject Paul’s letters as authoritative sources for developing doctrine.  It is still an open question that the seeds of this anti-Pauline theology existed in the Apostolic period.

Is there anything in the Jewish-Christian literature that might help with this question? James 2:14-26 and 2 Peter 3:15-16 are two places where Paul is in the background – are there others? By way of application, to what extent is the modern church pro- or anti- Pauline in their way of doing theology?

Barclay, John M. G. Pauline Churches and Diaspora Jews. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 454 pp. Pb; $48.   Link to Eerdmans

This collection of essays published between 1992 and 2011 was originally published by Mohr Siebeck. Chapter 1 was written as an introduction to that volume and chapters 18 and 19 appeared for the first time. The remaining sixteen essays appeared in various journals and Festschrifts. The Eerdmans edition is essentially the same, only a few typographical errors have been corrected. The volume concludes with a bibliography, Indices of Sources, Authors and Selected Topics.

In his introductory essay “Pauline Churches, Jewish Communities and the Roman Empire. Introducing the Issues” Barclay begins with a survey of contemporary social-historical research into the early Christ-movement. Beginning in the 1970s with the work of Malherbe, Thiessen and Meeks, biblical scholarship has benefited greatly from new research into the social world of the Roman Empire as well as a flood of new research into Diaspora Judaism. Barclay points out the evidence is occasionally rich, too often scattered and ambiguous (11).

First, how did Pauline churches compare to Diaspora Jewish communities in the Mediterranean world? Are Gentile Pauline converts in some sense “Jewish”? Are Jewish converts in some way renouncing their ethnicity? In the first collection of essays in this volume (ch. 2-8), Barclay observes the “relative fragility of the Pauling Churches in comparison with Diaspora synagogues”(12). Gentiles in Pauline churches were resocialized “in Christ” rather than in the Jewish communities. Barclay discusses the role of the Law in his second chapter (“Do We Undermine the Law?’: A Study of Romans 14.1—15.6”). This text offers a valuable insight into the “practical effects of Paul’s stance on the law” (37) even if the word does not appear in the section. The issue is sharing food (open commensality) between Jew and Gentile converts. For Paul, mutual toleration is the basic principle but the “stronger” ought to refrain in order not to offend the “weaker” with respect to food or Sabbath traditions. The “strong” are free to eat whatever they want and to not observe Sabbath. A result of this is a protection of Law-observing Jewish Christians but also an allowance for Gentile Christians to neglect the Law (54-55). Although Barclay does not address the other side of the issue, based on Galatians, Paul would not have permitted Gentile Christians to begin keeping the Law, and perhaps he did not recommend Jewish Christians to stop keeping the Law. He does think the long-term effect of Paul’s view of the Law in Romans 14-15 undermined the social and cultural integrity of Law-observant Christians in Rome (56).

The other major boundary marker in the early Christian movement was circumcision. Barclay compares Paul and Philo on circumcision (“Romans 2.25—29 in Social and Cultural Context,” ch. 3). The article interacts with Daniel Boyarin who argued in his A Radical Jew that Pauline religion was a “relgio-cultural formation contiguous with other Hellenistic Judaisms.” Barclay argues Boyarin has made an important observation but “subtly mistaken” (61-62). Paul’s redefinition of circumcision as a “hidden phenomenon ‘in the Spirit’ in Rom 2:25-29” is not an intellectual drive for a Hellenistic “universal human essence,” but rather  a radical commitment to live out  biblical categories in a new, multi-ethnic community. This cannot be fitted into a form of contemporary Judaism (79).

Chapters 6-7 both concern deviance and apostasy in early Christianity and Judaism. Beginning with Howard Becker’s Outsiders (1963), Barclay defines deviancy and compares the case of Philo’s nephew, Tiberius Julius Alexander. Alexander was a high ranking member of the Roman administration in Egypt and was Titus’s second-in-command during the siege of Jerusalem. Neither Philo nor Josephus consider him to be an apostate. He then compares Alexander to Paul, who was denounced and expelled from synagogues and was opposed by Christian Jews. Paul was therefore viewed by some Jews as an apostate. There are some situations in Paul’s churches in which a person is judged to be a deviant (1 Cor 5, or example). For Paul, the Corinthian believers are “too comfortable in their social integration” (137), perhaps they are (in Paul’s view), not deviant enough. Barclay also examines charges of apostasy in 3 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Philo, Josephus, and 4 Maccabees.

Second and third, to what degree was the social identity practiced in Pauline assemblies compatible with social expressions in Diaspora Jewish communities in the Mediterranean world? How did Pauline churches invent and maintain durable identity? What are distinct Christian practices?  The essays in the second major section of the collection address these issues (ch. 9-13). For example, Christian non-practice of idolatry had significant social impact for Gentile converts. Breaking with family gods would cause deep social offense and the early Christian movement would look like a dangerous superstition to outsiders. In addition, Christianity lacked the trappings of normal religion in the Roman world: there were no altars, sacrifices, or priesthood.

In his “Thessalonica and Corinth. Social Contrasts in Pauline Christianity” (ch. 9), Barclay suggests these dealt with social identity and interaction with outsiders differently because one church faced conflict and the other did not. At Thessalonica, the church has an apocalyptic outlook which encouraged them to embrace social alienation as normal” (186). At Corinth, on the other hand, the members of the church were integrated in Corinthian culture and never faced social ostracism experienced by the Thessalonians (199).

The following two essays in the collection examine elements of this thesis. The emphasis on speech in the early Christian communities is the subject of “πνευματικός in the Social Dialect of Pauline Christianity” (ch. 10). The term πνευματικός had “a degree of semantic indeterminacy” which allowed the early Christians to develop insider/outsider categories. In “‘That You May Not Grieve, Like the Rest Who Have No Hope’ (1 Thess 4.13): Death and Early Christian Identity” (ch. 11), Barclay argues Paul makes the first moves towards “Christianizing death.” Compared to Roman mourning rituals, the Christian sense of hope was so remarkable that Christians were distinct even in their death (235).

Fourth, how did Diaspora Jewish and Christian communities negotiate their relationship with Roman power and Roman Religion? The third major section of the book addresses Paul Josephus, and Rome (ch. 14-19). The issue of Paul’s attitude toward Rome has been a particularly controversial issue in recent years. Barclay’s approach is to read Josephus through the lens of postcolonial theory (30). Josephus is a good candidate for postcolonial reading since he wrote under Roman patronage while attempting to tell the story of Israel.

The first four essays in this section (ch. 14-17) are close readings of Josephus’s careful navigation of Roman power. Turning to Paul, Barclay sees different themes. Paul wrote under Roman rule, but he occasionally touches on the Roman Empire, and usually only in passing. Barclay argues Paul was neither apolitical nor covertly anti-imperial (“Paul, Roman Religion and the Emperor: Mapping the Point of Conflict,” ch. 18). His critique of Rome is not based on Roman ideology but rather the focus of worship. Any worship not directed at the “living God” through Christ is not acceptable. Rome is simply “this evil age” and stands condemned “on the apocalyptic stage newly configured in the Christ-event” (33).

Barclay therefore argues the Roman Empire was more or less insignificant to Paul (ch. 19). In the final essay of the collection, Barclay interacts with N. T. Wright’s view that Paul’s theology was directly opposed to the Roman Empire. After a short review of the state of the question in scholarship, Barclay summarizes Wright’s major points (scattered throughout several publications). Wright emphasizes the pervasiveness of the imperial cult and he many echoes of imperial language in the Pauline letters (savior, Lord, salvation, gospel, etc.) From this, Wright concludes Paul’s message “could not but be construe as deeply counter imperial, as subversive to the whole edifice of the Roman Empire” (369). Barclay responds by “reframing the issues.” For example, with respect to vocabulary, Barclay wonders if Paul’s use of terms like salvation create an antithetical relationship between Christian salvation and imperial salvation. Certainly they might have been heard as anti-imperial, but for Barclay, this is different than Wright’s “must have been heard” (378). For Barclay Paul does not recognize any empire as an autonomous political system, all are doomed to destruction by the God who establishes kingdoms (385). If Paul’s Gospel is subversive, it is because he does not oppose the empire on their own terms. He does not attack Augustus as the savior because Rome “nevr was and never would be a significant actor in the drama of history;” Rome is reduced to “bit-part players in a drama scripted by the cross and resurrection of Jesus” (386-7).

Conclusion. Volumes of collected essays are always welcome since the draw together articles from often obscure journals or expensive volumes. By making this collection available in a less expensive volume, Eerdmans has provided scholars with a rich collection of stimulating essays on how early Christianity interacted with the Roman world.

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Despite his certain execution, Paul knows that he has been faithful to his calling from God. Paul describes himself as already “being poured out like a drink offering.” This is a particularly vivid image that anyone in the ancient world would understand.

The verb is a single word (σπένδω) usually translated as the phrase “poured out like a drink offering.” This refers to pouring wine (or water) onto the altar as the main sacrifice was being burned. In Num 15:24, for example, a sacrifice is a “pleasing aroma to the Lord” and is accompanied by an offering of wine and grain as well. A drink offering is never the main sacrifice, it is one that is given along with the main sacrifice.

Good FightPaul used this same word in Phil 2:17 in a similar context, he refers to his life as a kind of sacrifice that accompanies the “main sacrifice.” In Philippians 2:17, the main sacrifice is the faith of the Philippian church. Here in 2 Tim 4:6 Paul does not specify the main offering. Perhaps he is thinking of Jesus as the main sacrifice for sin, and the martyrdom of the believer as that which accompanies the main sacrifice.

He uses three metaphors to describe his faithfulness to his commission. In each of these three lines Paul emphasizes the object, “the fight, I fought, the race, I finished, the faith, I kept.”

The phrase “fought the good fight” is common in contemporary English, but usually it refers to making a very good effort. But the adjective “good” modifies the noun, so it is a “good fight.” Paul’s point is that is life was like a long boxing match, but the reason for the fight was good and anyone who takes up that fight after he departs will also be “fighting a good fight.” It is the task to which Paul was called was good, as opposed to the false teachers who also fight (about words, etc.). They are “fighting the pointless fight.”

The second metaphor is also sports-related. Paul has “finished the race.” Looking ahead at the end of this section, Paul knows that he has competed well and will have his reward when he stands before the judge.

Third, looking back on his ministry, Paul can say that he has “kept the faith.” This ought to understood of what the “faith” means in 2 Timothy. He has not qualified or compromised his doctrine in the face of persecution.

Paul was prepared to preach his gospel whenever and wherever he was called, he was ultimately committed to “discharge the duties of a minister of the gospel.” Even in his death, Paul is setting himself up for Timothy as an example. Being faithful to the Gospel is dangerous and may very well put Timothy in same sort of imprisonment Paul is facing at this moment.

In fact, Paul has already been “rescued from the lion’s mouth,” despite no one coming to his defense (vv. 16-17). The “earlier defense” could refer to the end of the book of Acts, Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome. But Paul seems to be referring to more recent events, so it is likely that he has in mind a preliminary trial after his second arrest in Rome, perhaps just after the Fire of Rome.

The reference to being saved from the “mouth of the lions” could be literal, but if it is it means that he was not thrown to the lions when he might have been. It is not the case that he was in the arena about to be killed and somehow he was rescued. Think of this as someone who is acquitted from a capital offense “escaping the hangman’s noose.” The important fact is that God rescued him despite the fact that no human came to his defense.

Finally, Paul looks forward to standing before his Lord “in that Day. ”The “day” refers to the moment when Paul stands before the judgment seat of Christ and receives a victor’s crown. That he is “in Christ” qualifies him to stand there, not the fact that he ran the race well or that he finished the race to which he was called

Paul will receive a “crown of righteousness.” This is the natural metaphor that follows from the use of a race or a boxing match a few lines before. But is this righteousness a description of the crown, or is righteousness itself the reward? Typically we focus on justification as righteousness given to the believer in Christ at the moment of salvation, in other texts Paul looks at our ultimate justification (being made righteous) at the resurrection (Gal 5:5).

Paul’s final words to Timothy and to us focus on the Gospel – we ought to continue in our calling to stand on the foundation of Scripture and clearly proclaim the gospel. This is the “good fight” to which we have all been called.

Paul knows that in the very near future there the churches he has founded will not want to “endure sound teaching.” But the word“endure” sounds as if we have sit through long and unpleasant sermons!

The verb Paul uses (ἀνέχω) can have the sense of enduring something that is onerous or difficulty, such as persecution (2 Thess 1:4; 1 Cor 4:12), and in one instance it is used for accepting a legal complaint (Acts 18:14), something like “pleading guilty.”

EndureIn the context of Timothy’s commission to preach the word and exhort everyone to godly living, perhaps the sense of “accept a legal complaint” is what Paul has in mind. Rather telling all Christians that they must endure long and boring sermons, Paul means that the opponents will refuse to accept healthy teaching because it is an indictment against them. They cannot stand to hear it because it points to their own shortcomings spiritually.

Paul once again describes good doctrine as “healthy” (1 Tim1:10; Titus 1:9, 2:1; using the participle of the verb ὑγιαίνω as an adjective). People are craving teaching that is like “junk food,” it might make you feel good in the short term, but in the long run it will make you unhealthy and perhaps even kill you!

The time is coming, Paul warns, when people will want to hear things that their “itching ears” want to hear. These people will ignore the truth, wandering off into myths. This verb (κνήθω) only appears here in the New Testament and the Greek Old Testament. “The participial phrase probably means “in order to have their ears tickled” (EDNT 301; the word appears in Plato for literal scratching of an itch (Philebus 46c, 51d).

Even in English we use the word “itch” for some desire that we need to satisfy. Applied to the preaching of the Word of God, it implies that these people will want to hear the Scripture taught, but they will want to hear things that make them feel good, things that “satisfy their itch.” In the context, this is esoteric teaching, teaching that is more interested in dark secrets of “conspiracy theories” rather than the plain (and convicting) Word of God.

This is a very convicting text, and one that is very applicable to modern church experience. There are many people (myself included) that like a particular sermon (or preacher) because the “get something out of it.” It says something that they want to hear, or maybe something that they already believe. I love it when a preacher says something that I already agree with because it confirms my thinking.

Boring

As a college teacher, I am always amazed how often students do not want to confront new ideas. They want to know that the things their Jr.High youth leader taught them were true. On the other hand, as a college teacher it is very easy for me to present strange and esoteric things in class. Saying “mimetic” and “intertextual” makes you sound smarter, right?

In every church, there is a set of vocabulary or a few key doctrines that pastors are required to trot out from time to time to keep people in the church happy and to give the appearance that they are still teaching “healthy doctrine.” This might be a good doctrine, a solid teaching; but it also might be a particular social position, or political idea.

But my guess is that Paul often taught the Scripture in a way that made people squirm. It made them uncomfortable to be told that God is their father and he expects them to be honorable children in the household of God. It is far easier if God would just give me a list of items I can achieve or rules I can keep. I am certain that Jesus’ teaching made people very uncomfortable; he confronted people directly over their hypocrisy.

Why is it that we (Christians) do not want to be made uncomfortable when the Word is preached?

MontebankThe opponents in Ephesus stand in contrast to Paul’s record of suffering (v. 13) It is Paul and Timothy’s opponents who are the imposters. The noun (γόης) Paul uses here is a common way to describe an opponent in a philosophical debate. The noun originally referred to a sorcerer (T.Sol 19:3 uses it for a witch, Hdt, Hist. 7.791.2 for magicians, sometimes it refers to a “juggler,” [Aeschines, Ctes. 137], presumably because they do some sort of distracting act while they pick the pockets of the crowd).

By the first century it was used to describe a swindler, a con-man who uses some kind of deception to gain a profit from his audience. I think of the character from old Western movies, the “snake oil salesman.” The Greek writer Demosthenes uses the word with this sense: “for fear I should mislead and deceive you, calling me an artful speaker, a mountebank, an impostor, and so forth” (Dem., 18 276).

Ironically, these deceivers succeed in deceiving themselves! This is also a common way of describing sophists and charlatans in Greco-Roman world (Dio Chrysostom, Orations, 4.33). The way to avoid these sorts of people is proper “divine” education (4.29).

Dio Chrysostom, Orations 4.33 If, however, he falls in with some ignorant and charlatan sophist, the fellow will wear him out by leading him hither and thither, dragging him now to the east and now to the west and now to the south, not knowing anything himself but merely guessing, after having been led far afield himself long before by impostors like himself.

Similarly, the way to avoid the self-deceptive teaching of the opponents in Ephesus is to devote oneself to divine teaching through the Scripture which has been given by God.

Paul encourages Timothy to “continue in what he has learned” from the Scriptures (vv. 14-15). Timothy was trained in the scripture from a young age. Jewish family, reading the Old Testament in Greek (most likely). While the opponents are progressing into more esoteric “deep” knowledge, Timothy is told to remain where he is. He has already learned the truth and has been convinced that it is the truth. There is no need for him to dabble in the “myths and genealogies” of the opponents.

The Jews regularly referred to their scriptures as “sacred writings,” Paul can only have in mind here the Old Testament. At this point in history it is unlikely that the Gospels were circulating as Scripture, perhaps Paul’s churches cherished his letters as authoritative. But the New Testament as we know it simply does not exist yet!

Paul says that Timothy was “raised on the Old Testament.” We know that his mother was Jewish and it is likely that he was taught the Old Testament, perhaps having some training in the Septuagint and Hebrew Bible in a synagogue. I doubt that Paul selected Timothy as a missionary companion if he was totally ignorant of the Bible prior to coming to faith in Jesus!

The remedy for self-deception, for Paul, is an absolute reliance on the Scripture for faith and practice. While the opponents in Ephesus pursue fruitless “myths and genealogies” Timothy is to remember what the Scriptures plainly teach and pursue righteousness.  I suspect if people actually read the Bible, they would not tolerate the sorts of “teaching” that passes for popular Christian preaching!

In 2 Timothy 1 Paul has told Timothy to model his life and ministry after Paul, recalling the examples of both his family (Lois and Eunice) and Paul’s co-worker Onesiphorus. He ought to avoid the example of the false teachers in Ephesus, namely Phygelus and Hermogenes (1:15) and Hymenaeus and Philetus (2:17).

In order to avoid these faithless men, Timothy is to train the elders to be “approved workmen” (2:14-19). In fact, Timothy is to be an approved workman before he trains others. Like Paul’s warning to Titus, Paul warns Timothy to avoid quarreling about words or other theological babble. On the one hand, this is a difficult command since one has to have defined the “core” of the Christian faith very well in order to decide what qualifies as “babble.”

ApprovedOn the other hand, sometimes the theological “babble” seems fairly obvious, mostly since it is the sort of thing people are passionate about! (Like the famous definition of pornography, I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it!)

“Do your best” (ESV) in v. 15 has the sense of being diligent in fulfilling an obligation (σπουδάζω), “make every effort” (BDAG). The KJV translated this word “study,” a word which has shifted considerably in modern English. The verb is used in Gal 2:10, for example, for the reminder to care for the poor. In Eph 4:3 Paul says that the believer ought to “be eager” to maintain the bond of unity. It is used twice in 2 Peter with the sense of diligence in spiritual development (1:10, 3:14). This word stands in contrast to being “diligent” in senseless theological babble. While the opponent in Ephesus is busy with their “endless myths,” Timothy is to be busy presenting himself as God’s approved workmen.

Timothy is to be an approved workmen, properly handling the word of God. 2 Tim 2:15 is classic verse for modern “noble Bereans” since it implies that the maturing person of God will become increasingly able to read the scriptures with intelligence and confidence. We sometimes talk about “learning a trade.” The more one works at being a carpenter, for example, the better one gets.

Osteen GrinningThe analogy is excellent since studying the Bible is a skill and an art. There are technical elements which can be taught and learned (parsing Greek verbs, reading background studies, finding parallel texts, etc.), but there is an art to knowing what to do with that information! An unskilled carpenter can build a bookshelf with boards and a few nails, but a master carpenter builds an excellent piece of furniture that is of great value.

The modern church has created a class of professional Bible interpreters. This gives the impression that the Bible is too difficult to fully understand without professional training. People in churches want to leave Bible reading to the professionals, the approved workmen. But this is not at all Paul’s point here. Timothy (and by analogy all believers) ought to be busy training themselves as best they can to handle the Bible correctly so that they will avoid the errors that are plaguing the churches in Ephesus.

This is the point of the phrase “rightly dividing” in the KJV. That translation is also not helpful, since the word refers to guiding the word of truth along a straight path (BDAG). Perhaps Pual has in mind a Roman Road that moves from one point to its goal, without any unnecessary deviation. So too the believer ought to read and study the Bible without being turned aside by wordy debates or impious talk.”

Paul’s point is that we ought to use the Scripture in a way that it was intended: do not twist scripture to make it say what you want it to say, or would prefer it to say. This raises several problems with contemporary church life. A growing majority of Christians are biblically illiterate and unable to read the Bible properly. They take verses out of context and claim the Bible teaches things which it does not. An additional problem is people do not think very deeply about issues, preferring to repeat what they have heard on talk radio (or worse, facebook!)

Second TimothyPaul was “appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” of the Gospel (1:11). This description of Paul’s ministry is similar to 1 Tim 2:7. The “preacher” in the ESV is better a “herald,” or “proclaimer.” This is a person who is appointed to deliver a particular message, in Paul’s case, from God. The language is a little different in 1 Tim 1:18, 6:20 and 2 Tim 2:2. In these later books, Timothy is encouraged to guard or protect the deposit given to him. Like the old “town crier,” Timothy is to take this deposit of tradition and accurately proclaim it to his community.

Paul mentions things passed down to him in his other letters. Two traditional elements were handed down to him from the apostles: 1 Cor 11:2 (the Lord’s table) and 1 Cor 15:1 (witnesses to the resurrection). In 2 Thess 2:15 Paul encourages the congregation to “stand firm” in the traditions which Paul delivered to them. Even in his earliest letter, Paul considers his gospel a tradition which cannot be modified (Gal 1:14).  It is likely that Paul alludes to the words of Jesus in 1 Thess 5, words that are eventually collected in Matthew’s Olivet Discourse.

Paul is clear, however, that much of what he preached he received directly from Jesus through a special revelation. For some doctrines, this is a direct revelation that could not be deduced from the Hebrew Bible. For example, in 1 Thess 4:13-18 Paul says that the Lord himself gave him the revelation of the rapture. That Jews and Gentiles are saved into a single body without requiring the Gentiles to keep the Law is a “mystery” which was not revealed in the Hebrew Bible. In Galatians 1:11-12 Paul claims that the Gospel he preaches is “not of human origin” but rather “received by revelation.”

For some of Paul’s teaching, he may have been led by the Holy Spirit to interpret biblical texts differently, or to combine texts from the Hebrew Bible in unique ways which supported the idea that Jesus is the Messiah or that salvation is apart from works. Romans 4 indicates that the story of Abraham could be interpreted in a way that supported Paul’s gospel – this is exegesis guided by the Spirit of God. Much of the argument of Galatians is based on applications from stories in Genesis. Paul was trained as a scholar and interpreted Scripture in his sermons and letters in a way consistent with other Jewish teachers of his day.  This “interpretation of scripture” is part of the tradition Timothy is to guard and pass along.

In some cases the tradition is handed down from the apostles through Paul, to Timothy and then to the qualified elders in Ephesus. In other cases Paul is the source. But in either case Paul commands Timothy to guard this tradition carefully and to pass it to the next generation of believers.

The problem Paul addresses in the letter of Titus is the potential for teachers to arise from within the church who teach bad doctrine and are not living an exemplary life.  In order stave off the sorts of which Timothy has in Ephesus, Titus is told to appoint men to the office of elder who are qualified for the position doctrinally, but also men who are of good reputation and will not bring shame to the churches on Crete.

Is this the right way to think about ethical and moral living?  We should behave properly because the world watches us and is either drawn towards Christ because of our consistency, or they are driven away because of hypocrisy.  One of the biggest factors in the anti-church “Spiritual” movement among younger Christians is dissatisfaction with the structure of church since it seems to harbor hypocrisy.  It is not hard to find examples of hypocrisy in every church and denomination, nor is it hard to find people who have rejected Christianity as a whole because of the actions of public Christians.

There is a great deal which is applicable to the church today since modern churches have the same sort of reputation problems as the churches in Crete.  The members of the church are urged to live exemplary lives in terms of both the Greco- Roman world and the Jewish / Christian world.  The elder qualification list in 1:5-9 begins with “above reproach” – someone who is blameless.  Various social groups are addressed in chapter 2 with the same interest in what outsiders think of the members of the church.  What runs through all five of these sets of commands is the idea of being “sensible.”  There is a derivative of the Greek –sophron– for each of the first four categories of believers. This word has the idea of common sense, which is a cornerstone of Greek virtue.  “The Hellenic model is avoidance of extremes and careful consideration for responsible action” (BDAG, citing Aristotle, EN 3.15).  Common sense was “a characteristic of persons distinguished for public service,” and is used in 1 Tim 3:2 as one of the qualifications of an elder. For a woman, the word could take on the idea of chastity or modesty, also characteristics which were important to the Greek world. In fact, these words occasionally on women’s graves, praising them for their high moral character (BDAG).

In every case, this section highlights the sorts of things which would appeal to the Greco-Roman world.  The moral life of the Christian in Titus 2 ought to be attractive to the outsider, drawing them to Christ not repelling them with hypocrisy.  I think this might cause raise some questions, since most people think that the Greco-Roman world was rather sinful and immoral, but that is just the point.  Greek and Roman writers often decried the decline of moral values, Christianity called people to reject the “passions of the world” and embrace a new kind of life.

In Titus 3:3-11, we find the reason for our living for the sake of the Gospel.  Paul develops a contrast between what the believer was (before Christ) and what the believer is now (in Christ).  The person who is “in Christ” has become new, they have been made alive though the washing of the Holy Spirit, and they are in fact now a child of God.   Paul’s call to devote ourselves to doing good (verse eight) is simply the natural response to this change from foolish suppression of the truth to our adoption as heirs of God.

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Christian Theology

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