Bruce Leslie Smith – a Funeral Sermon (2001)

 

Bruce Leslie Smith

To the one honoured to preach at his funeral Bruce said, ‘Point people to Christ, not me.’

‘Is there a scripture ?’  ‘Many.  Colossians 3 is special to me.’

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at  the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Yes:        Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah, the King, the SoG.

Yes:        Christ died – not ‘died’ as we die and Bruce has died.
Christ died for us – ‘in our place’ and ‘for our sake.’

The preposition for has a double meaning.

Yes:       Christ was raised – by God.
He died for us but God raised him.

In vindication of his task completed.

Yes:       Christ is seated, at God’s right hand.
The risen and ascended man-king.
A man who is Lord of all
ruling for us men and women who belong to him.

But we who believe to him are with him.
We are attached to him by faith
as iron filings cluster to the magnet.
He has drawn us to himself.

When he died, we died – to sin’s penalty.
When he was raised, we were too – to a new life.
When he sat at God’s RH, we were seated with him.

Our lives are now hidden with Christ in God
We are there now.
Bruce is there now.
Hidden with Christ in God.

When Christ appears – reappears -
All believers, Bruce included, will appear with him in glory.

Bruce genuinely did set his heart on things above, where Christ is, seated at the RH of God.

Bruce genuinely did set his mind on things above, not on earthly things.

His piety was utterly authentic and genuine and natural.

And humble.   Bruce was always humble before his God.

There are at least two parts to faith.
One part is believing the truth of the Gospel – like Col 3
• Christ died for us
• Christ has been raised
• Christ is seated as King at God’s RH
• Christ will return.

Part of this ‘faith’ is believing that Bruce is ‘with’ him now
- saved and secure.
‘Safe in the arms of Jesus in life and death.’

That is one part of faith.
Perhaps it is the easier part.

The harder part – dare I say – is trust in the Saviour
in the face of the pain and disappointments of life.
Often these come from fellow-Christians.
Which makes it that much harder.
Holding the faith in the face of unfolding providence.
Put another way: The life of perseverance, of pilgrimage.

Bunyan’s words were to be painfully true for Bruce.
None knew that more than he.
But he took comfort in them, including at the end.

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

 

 

So the believer’s life ‘is hid with Christ is God.’
Bruce’s life was hid with Christ in God from conversion.
But decades lay ahead.
Hard years many of them.

Few people face the heartbreak and the heartache
that Bruce faced during his life.
The challenges to his ‘pilgrim’s progress.’

But Bruce has made it home.
He would have me say
entirely by the faithfulness of Christin whose life Bruce’s life is hid.

He said, exalt the Saviour not Bruce.
But I see Bruce’s perseverance in his pilgrimage
as attributable only to Christ.

I am sure many of us face daunting problems.
Bruce’s Lord brought him through.

For he is faithful.
Let us look to him.

 

For twenty years Bruce served God in Sydney Diocese (apart from 1963-6 in the UK).
From 1956-75 he was teacher at MTC.
He was Sunday Curate at no less than 8 parishes.

I met him first in the second of these.
I was a raw convert.
He introduced me to the Bible and to theology.
And to lovely hymns like ‘My Song is Love Unknown’
and Bunyan’s ‘He who would valiant be.’

He was the star in a comedy The Monkey’s Paw.
The ABC came along and said he should become an actor.
That matchless voice.
The incomparable fluency of speech.

In the sixties he was my teacher at MTC.
Hebrew verbs.
Exegesis of the Psalms.
Early Genesis and God the Creator.
(He probably saved his generation from Creationism.)

Plato’s Republic for the London  BD.
He was at home in the Greek philosophers.

He was an accomplished scholar of 3000 years history of human thought.

At that time the University of Sydney was weighing up MTC academically.
A philosophy professor expressed astonishment at the breadth of Bruce’s scholarship.
He said he knew of no one who taught across such a vast historical span.

Broughton Knox once said that Bruce was the finest theological mind in Ausralia.

But Bruce didn’t publish.
He loved the spoken word.
He was constantly speaking on university campuses and church house parties and church pulpits.

During the 60’ a new spirit hit Australia.
The Christianity of the 50’s was over.
God was dead.  Unbelief was alive.
Existentialism.  Feminism.  The New Morality.
Hare Krishna in the streets in place of open air preacher.
O Calcutta. The Last Tango in Paris.  The Female Eunuch.

Suddenly Australia was post-Christian and hostile.

Who would rise to the challenge ?
Our Bishops ?                No.
Faculty at MTC ?         No.
Except one.                Bruce Smith.

Who appeared on TV arguing the case for Christ and Christianity ?                Bruce Smith.
Who debated the philosophers at the Great Hall of SU ?
Who did the media turn to for the ‘Christian’ PoV on anything from abortion to the resurrection ?
Just one person.         Bruce Smith.

That lightning fast mind.
Those brilliant words.

Many times I heard him debate and argue  and win.

The ABC televised a programme at St Barnabas called ‘Alternatives.’

The best voices for Marxism, Existentialism, Hare Krishna, Feminism – seven ‘alternatives,’ including Christianity.
Bruce was the voice of Christianity.
It finished up that the other six united against Bruce the Christian.
But he won that debate against them all
as he won every debate I ever heard.

In 1975 Bruce was overtaken by tragic circumstances.
He was sidelined and silenced in the public arena.
Our best advocate.  Our only advocate.
Who has never been replaced.

I can’t begin to imagine what 1975 and the next 18 years meant for Bruce.
We were in Adelaide for the first five of those years.

But a few phone conversations were enough.

Was he finished as a preacher and teacher ?

He wasn’t.        Far from it.

He continued during those years – but out of the public eye.

Few of us could imagine the pain and darkness of those years.

And yet it is here that the God-given calibre
of Bruce the pilgrim of Jesus is seen.

Perseverance through pain.

He came back.  Different.  But better than ever. No bitterness.

Graciousness and that wonderful sense of fun.
The mind now filled out with the classical world, but with no loss of the biblical.

An incredible breadth of reading and interest. Repeated visits to the lands of the Bible and of the Greeks and Romans.

Poetry written and music played.”
Private pastoral ministry in place of the public platform and the media.

A new generation of MTC and SMBC students blessed for nearly a decade.

Bruce used to say that often the devil appeared to win
but in fact overreached himself.

He was speaking about Jesus.

He was killed by man.  But God raised him up.
But the words were unknowingly prophetic about Bruce.

 

The devil appeared to win in silencing Bruce.
But the devil overreached himself.

If I may express an opinion the latter years were Bruce’s finest.

So dear Bruce. You gave yourself to God who blessed us through you
for half a century.

You were young when you died. But you were young when you started.
We were not the losers.
How kind of God to give him to us.

You served your generation and now you have fallen on sleep.

So many people inspired and built up. So many people helped.

Golden mouthed preacher of the Word.
Persuasive apologist.
Wise counselor.
Kind friend.
Unsung hero.

 

He had utter trust in his Saviour who died for him.
Jesus his friend who walked with him in the sunlight and the shade.

Jesus who led him in his pilgrim’s path.

 

Bruce loved life and he lived it to the full.
But he loved God more.

So he is gone and we feel the loss more than words can say.

 

To David + Angela, Robert + Claire, Andrew + Annette,
To Veronica. Imogen, Nathaniel, Christian and Marcus.
To his brother Stuart – we give you our heartfelt sympathies.

Bruce’s life is hidden with Christ in God.

Safe in the arms of Jesus.

Safe because of Jesus’ faithfulness.

 

To the end the mind had lost nothing
the sense of humour
the hearty laughter
undimmed
but the death sentence had been handed down
the time had come.

 

He stayed with us as long as possible for his boys and their loved ones
and for his friends.
But then he was ready to go.

 

A few days ago the pilgrim told me,
‘I am in the Jordan.  The water is cold.
But I feel the ground under my feet.  I am nearly there.’

On Friday night he said to a friend, ‘Tell Paul: “Smith is on his way.”’

The next morning he was gone.

In 1969 he was curate at St Barnabas, Broadway.
My curate.       That’s a laugh !

At Easter he preached on the Penitent Thief.
This is 32 years ago
I can still hear the voice of God in his voice
ringing down the years.

‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’

‘Truly I say to you,

TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE.’

He went to the same concert series as Anita and me.
He sat on the opposite side of the Opera House.
We saw him there concert by concert for 20 years.

When we go next we and look across he wont be there.
But I will say to Anita
‘I know where he is.’

The pilgrim has made it home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections of a Writer

 

 

I can’t account for my interest in writing.

In fact, I did not publish my first book until I was over 50 (Is the New Testament History?).

I was asked to write it – by Helen Harrison (who trained at Deaconess House) and who worked as an editor with Hodder and Stoughton.

I had, though, attempted to write a commentary on Second Corinthians for the Bible Speaks Today series, but my several drafts had been so heavily criticised I had virtually given up.  Then a new editor was appointed who took pity on me and it finally appeared.

Once again, though, I did not write the BST Second Corinthians commentary because I wanted to write per se, but because I had a mission to explain the message of that epistle, which I thought was rather obscure to many people, apart from the purple passages.

These chance events revealed a latent passion that has indeed become a passion.  Not always a healthy passion.

I am reminded of helping at my son David’s Garage Sale.
If you have never been involved in a Garage Sale, my advice to you is don’t.

When we left our Chatswood home we had a Garage Sale.  This was no mere Saturday Morning event.  Oh no.  It was a four-day saga, that began when the ad appeared on the previous Wednesday.  People hammering on the door at all hours of the day and night.  One man actually pushed past Anita into the house and had to be semi-forcefully ejected.  I have never met such a concentration of strange and weird people in such a short time.  My crowning folly was that I sold two china roosters an uncle had give Anita, for three dollars.  No wonder the dealer took off like a jumbo jet.  They were worth $1000.

At any rate, when I was helping my son at his Garage Sale, an early arrival was a  lady of Eastern European appearance.  She said to my son in heavy Russian accent, ‘I don’t know why I am here, I think it must be a sickness’.

I sometimes think that writing is a kind of a sickness.  I don’t exactly know why I do it.   It must be a sickness.

It isn’t exactly easy to know why you do it.  Books don’t stay in print for long and you certainly wouldn’t do it for the money.  Even books by great ones are superseded fairly soon.  When I studied theology the big names were people like C.H. Dodd and Rudolph Bultmann.  It is sobering to find that scholars who were huge figures in their day scarcely appear in footnotes today. To say nothing of Lightfoot and Westcott from an earlier generation.

One interesting exception is someone you may not have heard of.  He is Percy Gardner-Smith who, to my knowledge, only wrote one book.  It was a little book with a simple theme.  Gardner-Smith wrote near the outbreak of WW2.  It was a book about the Gospel of John.  His thesis was that John wrote independently of the other Gospels.  He simply compared the dozen or so incidents common to John and the Synoptics and demonstrated Johannine literary independence.

This was an achievement that has had huge implications for the historical authenticity of John and therefore of its significance for theology.  Gardner-Smith’s little book sat ticking away like a time bomb for many years before exploding in the 1960’s and became the basis of the so-called ‘New Look’ on the Fourth Gospel.

Of course, many – possibly a majority – continue to reject the independence thesis.  Some years ago a high level conference attended largely by doubters was devoted entirely to Garner-Smith and his thesis.  A huge volume of papers was published with article after article attacking Percy Gardner-Smith.  The irony is that his was just a little book, with few references or footnotes.  And he was himself a minor figure.  Yet his one little book is a kind of a classic.

I am a minor figure, infinitely more so than Gardner-Smith.  I would love to write just one book, one little book that would make its mark.  I would even change my name to Percy if that would help.

That is a pipedream.  So one writes in the sober realisation that your book into which you have poured so much of yourself will be in print for just a few years and then finish up – maybe – in a dusty second hand outlet for 50 cents.

Another equally impractical pipedream is to write a  fictionalised biography of Herod Antipas, the one Jesus called ‘that fox’.  I wrote a draft chapter to show my brilliantly educated daughter, Sarah to read.  She had one unforgettable word, ‘clunky.’  So I will probably stick to commentaries and NT histories.

So do books help people?  They do, indeed.  It is very gratifying to get feedback along that line.  Books – even books like mine – do help people.  And it is this more than anything else that keeps you at it.

Books have had a special place in God’s revelation of himself to the world.  Our Bible is a collection of sixty-six ‘books’ from dozens of writers.  The teachers and prophets under the Old Covenant felt impelled to write their words down for people to have them read to them.  Likewise, the disciples of the Lord quickly put his words and deeds into written form.  The opening lines of Luke’s Gospel make that clear.  That Gospel, like the other three, sees Jesus to be the God-given fulfilment of the promises of the Law and the Prophets.  Thus the writings of the apostles are connected with those of the prophets to become one volume, the Sacred Writings or Holy Scriptures.  About one thing, at least, the Qur’an is correct, Christians are ‘the people of the book’.

For Isaiah, then, as much as for St Paul, there was the challenge of the empty page staring them in the face.  Rather, I should say, the empty scroll.  In time the scroll gave way to the codex, individual pages, bound at one side.  The codex was in fact the book.  The early Christians needed texts for reading in the rapidly multiplying churches.  The scroll was cumbersome and must give way to the codex.  The codex was one of the great innovations of history and most likely arose or was popularised by the early Christians.  The codex was a great leap forward, enhanced hugely by the printing press.  It is to be doubted that the computer will ever eclipse the book.

The codex or ‘book’ became important for apologists and theologians, in those early post apostolic centuries, and it remains important today.  Dan Brown writes his subversive Da Vinci Code and Ben Witherington makes a reply.  Books will continue to be important in the propagation and defence of the Gospel.

But writing is hard work, even with word processors.  You write, re-write, re-write again, and again.  So many drafts and changes.  Struggling to get the right word and the right way of expressing your idea.  Mozart just wrote his music.  That was it, straight from heaven.  No re-drafts.  The Barchester Chronicles author Trollope had a day-time job (in the post office or something like that).  He had a large family to support and got up early to write to a fixed schedule of so many thousand words each morning.  Like Mozart he didn’t do any re-drafts.  But that is not me and it is not most authors.  This sickness is also hard work.

This author is self-taught.  His secondary schooling post WW2 was poor with returned soldiers with half finished degrees teaching him.  His matric results were mediocre, but this was no fault of theirs.  No BA for him on matriculation, with it exposure to fine literature and the critical study of history.  His one and only secular job was as a Quantity Surveyor in the Building Industry, a universe away from literature, writing and historiography.

In fact, it was the study of theology that opened up these areas.  Theology truly is the ‘queen of the sciences’.  What other discipline includes languages so diverse as Greek and Hebrew, the historical worlds of the ancient near east and of the Greeks and the Romans as well as the history of the world from the time of Jesus until today?  Is there another course of study that involves such diverse worlds of ideas and of close exegesis of texts of so many different literary forms as in this ‘queen of the sciences’?

One of the people of most help to me was my MA thesis supervisor Dr Dick Baumann (who was one of my teachers in ancient history at the University of Sydney).  I took these history studies after theology.  He told me that my writing was too technical.  ‘Put your technical stuff in footnotes’, he said.  Is your wife a historian?  ‘No’, I said, ‘very clever, but not a historian’.  ‘Then’, he said, ‘write your text for her’.

That has been my guiding rule ever since.  Even when I am writing something technical I do not write it technically with esoteric specialist language.  I always write as simply as I can.  That helps me to know what I am talking about, something that writing in technicalities can easily obscure.  Also, I see no point in writing to impress the academy.  I sense that many journalists write for fellow journalists just as many academics just write ‘in house’, as it were.  If I am to write it must be accessible to ordinary people.  So my simple rules are to use good words but known words and to write in short sentences, avoiding the passive voice where possible.

It has not been easy to sustain this passion.  It has always had to be fitted in, usually by very early rises in the morning.  Becoming an assistant bishop in this diocese would probably mean the end of the writing I had been able to do at Robert Menzies College.  Or so I thought.

No book was in prospect then either from publisher or within my head.  That was a matter of concern since I knew what is said of scholars who become academic deans in seminaries.  In the first year you stop writing.  In the second you stop reading.  In the third you stop thinking.  I knew that the Bishop’s job could do that to you too, though it hadn’t done that to Augustine, Westcott or Lightfoot.  But I was resigned to a future with no more books from my pen.

Then out of the blue Dr Gordon Fee the new editor of the New International NT commentary series asked me to do Second Corinthians.  This was a huge honour, which I politely and gratefully declined.  Then I told Anita I had said no.  She said, ‘Do it.  You will become dead boring if you don’t have some research to do’.  So I did it.  It took six years, mostly between 5 and 8 in the mornings still in pjamas.  One morning while it was still dark as I crept from bed, Anita opened one eye and said, ‘You are going to be with that Corinthian woman’.  I have often told people about that so forgive me if you have heard it before.  It was such a brilliant line.

At a personal level I have mixed feelings about writing.  Hopefully books I write are of some help.  Writing keeps your mind fresh and forces you to know what is happening in your field.  I have to say, though, that I don’t think writing always makes you better person.  Because it is so focused it tends to exclude other things, in particular it may shrink you as a relating being.  I suspect there is a particular form of suffering for spouses of writers.  The book of the moment becomes your world, as it must.  You suffer from the glazed eye syndrome; the mind is elsewhere.  Anita encourages me as a writer, but it is not easy for her.  ‘It’s like living with someone who has been doing a PhD for twenty years’, she said.

The answer I have sought (with mixed success) is to limit writing to particular times of the day and to days of the week, even to months of the year.  Self-discipline is critical.  You have to turn off the computer and switch your mind off from that book.  Dig the garden.  Read something else.  Get out and see the big game.  Go fishing.  Play with grandchildren.  Go to the movies.  But then switch on the computer and write a few more pages.  Above all, don’t just be thinking of finishing the book and the intermediate deadlines.  Enjoy the journey and don’t just be thinking about arriving.

 

 

Paul Barnett

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Crucifixion of Christ and the Conversion of Paul

 

Conversion

 

Arthur and Paul

Australia’s most famous convert is the Eternity Man, Arthur Stace and the Bible’s most famous convert is Paul of Tarsus.  “Damascus Road” is international code for conversion of any kind, a radical change of world-view.

A musical and now an opera have been written about Stace, and many documentaries as well.  ETERNITY is the brand name for Sydney and even for various products – even a brand of facial tissues.

I was an office junior in the city when the identity of the nocturnal ETERNITY chalk writer was still unknown and a matter of daily newspaper speculation.  Who was this phantom chalk writer?  The Sydney Morning Herald  ultimately revealed the mystery: it was Arthur Stace, a tiny man who wore a suit and tie and who rose before dawn in all weathers for his daily campaign.  So the enigmatic ETERNITY word kept appearing, though it was now matched by an equally elegant piece of yellow copperplate writing by a local wit – MATERNITY.

ETERNITY has become a kind of symbol for Sydney, but few understand that it was  “eternity” in hell from which Stace had been delivered that was the inspiration for his conversion and his relentless passion to bring this message to a hell-bound city.

Stace was converted from alcoholism and petty crime through local preachers including John Ridley and R.B.S. Hammond and was barely literate.  Paul of Tarsus, was from a wealthy family, was highly intelligent and an accomplished biblical scholar and was converted from Pharisaism and murderous religious zealotry.  A striking contrast: Arthur Stace and Paul the Pharisee.

A new creation

In this short paper I want to concentrate on Paul and his conversion and its implication for those who study here.

Paul summed it all up in one short statement (2 Cor 5:17):

If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.

There are only six words here:             ei tis             en Christo             kaine ktisis

if any            in Christ            new creation

Here is a splendid text for the Bible teacher.  It invites him or her to explain in turn,

“if any” and “in Christ” and “new creation”.  “If any” highlights the mercy of God, rich and free for even the lowest of the low, as the grievously deceived persecutor Paul had been.  “In Christ” is shorthand for belonging by commitment of faith and repentance to the crucified but risen Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  “New creation” picks up Isaiah’s prophecy of the new heavens and the new earth and indicates that the person “in Christ” now has the Spirit of the living God and is being transformed from what he or she had been into what he or she will be when God’s ultimate new creation is finally revealed.  In a word: redemption.

The Christ was Jesus

In every city Paul came to he went first to the synagogue and was given opportunity to expound the Scriptures, due no doubt to his eminence as a Pharisee and disciple of the famous Gamaliel.  Luke in Acts indicates that Paul’s method was to “argue” and “reason” from the Law and the Prophets that the expected Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth.  According to Luke Paul’s message to Jews was both scriptural and eschatological, that he summarised many times as the Christ was Jesus.

It was no different in Paul’s own letters where scriptural fulfilment was fundamental.  Paul himself said his Christ message was “according to the Scriptures” and that in Christ “all the promises of God find their emphatic ‘YES’”.

But a BIG problem: this Christ was crucified

There was just one problem that we modern Gentiles and probably also modern Jews can scarcely understand, something unspeakably shocking about Paul’s message.  Since the glory days of David and Solomon a millennium earlier God’s people in God’s land had lived under the heel of foreign powers – Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman.  From the days of King David the prophets had kept the hopes of the people alive by repeated promises of a “second David”, the Lord’s Anointed One, his Messiah who would defeat the Gentile world-powers and establish Jerusalem as the world-centre of God’s earthly kingdom.  Those hopes were alive and well during the disappointing years of local Hasmonean and Herodian rulers who were mere paganising puppets of foreign Gentile powers.  The inter-testamental work called the Psalms of Solomon focus on this David-Messiah, as do the prayers of the synagogue liturgy from that era.

It was one thing for Paul to assert that in Jesus the promises of God for the Messiah were at last fulfilled.  It was another to proclaim that Jesus was Christ crucified.  For us those words glow with evangelical fervour, evoking our forgiveness of sins and justification full and free from the hand of the merciful God.  And rightly so.

But put yourself in the shoes of, say, a Jew in Corinth hearing Paul preach “Christ crucified”.  What we don’t pick up is the grammar implied by the passive voice, “Christ crucified”.  “Crucified – by whom”?  Who crucified this Christ?  The Gentiles, that’s who.  Paul was saying – can it be true? – the Christ was crucified by the very Gentiles the promised “new David” was to defeat.

So Paul’s un-winning message to Jews was that the Messiah had been humiliatingly defeated by the Gentiles and in the most intentional and public way.

The defeat of God

Do we see what else this implied?  If the Messiah was defeated, then Israel had been defeated.  If Israel had been defeated then the God of Israel had been defeated.  If God had been defeated then all hope had gone – forever.  Jews must now understand that they were a permanently defeated nation, and that the Gentiles will forever hold the power and authority, and that their understanding of a thousand years of prophecy was wrong.  So Paul’s message, if true, demanded the most profound change in Jewish identity and hope imaginable.

True, Paul could easily point to Scriptures that spoke of the sufferings and sacrifice of the One who was to come.  “Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures” could be seen to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecies of a vicariously suffering Servant.  But that took some believing.  I repeat.  If the Messiah was defeated by the Gentiles, then so too was the nation Israel defeated by the Gentiles, and God was defeated by the Gentiles with all hope gone – forever.  Forever.  They must now understand that they were God’s permanently defeated nation, and that the Gentiles and Caesar will forever hold the power and authority.

As history has shown this indeed has been true.  No other Messiah has come, no new David.  Since the days of David and Solomon Israel has never again been a world power.

It happened yesterday

Of course this Messiah had been resurrected, or so this Paul of Tarsus claimed. But so shocked were they by his insistence on the Christ’s crucifixion by the Romans that they were deaf to Paul’s words about resurrection.  In any case, everybody knew that resurrection was to be cosmic, universal, apocalyptic – at the end of history to inaugurate the New Age.  Resurrection was not something they associated with an individual within history.  As Paul commented later back to the Corinthians, the message of Christ crucified “is a skandalon to Jews”.  Our translation “stumbling block” hardly captures the intensity of – skandalon.

To drive home the point may I remind us that when Paul came to the synagogue in Corinth and spoke about the Messiah crucified, it was in the very recent past.  It was  less than 20 years since the Romans crucified Jesus outside the city walls of Jerusalem.  Over the centuries since, “Christ crucified” has been used as a tag for theologians’ various theories of the atonement.  But the original Jewish hearers would not have thought about “Christ crucified” theologically but historically.  Corinth was a Roman city where people had doubtless seen slaves and others crucified.  Paul, too, had probably seen people crucified, possibly even Jesus himself.  Crucifixions were by no means uncommon and the crucifixion of Jesus was a recent historical event, as recent to Jews in Corinth as the fall of the Berlin Wall is recent to us.  These events are so recent that we can reach out and touch them.  So too was the crucifixion of Jesus just yesterday to the Jews in the synagogue in Corinth to whom Paul came and preached his astonishing message.

Why would any Jew believe this?

So, however did Paul manage to convince any Jews about his message?  It’s true that the Synagogue-Leader Crispus was one Jew who accepted Paul’s message.  But, nonetheless, the Synagogue as a whole “opposed and reviled him” and drove him out and then arraigned him before the Proconsul with the intention of banishing him from the city.  Their charge was that Paul’s message of a crucified Messiah could not be Jewish at all, and that his new group was not an alternative synagogue but therefore was an illegal association.  Gallio, however, saw Paul’s group as a breakaway synagogue.  Was not the eminent Jew Crispus a member?  “Sort it out amongst yourselves, you Jews” said the Proconsul.

So how did Paul manage to persuade Crispus and other Jews about his contrarian message of a Messiah who had been crucified by the people the Messiah was expected to defeat?

The something else

I think Paul then did something else in his synagogue preaching to Jews besides point to mere scriptural fulfilment, something to convince them that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus was not the defeat of God, not the defeat of Israel but the powerful demonstration the end time victory of God.

So what did Paul do?

As best as I can understand it (and this a new thought to me), Paul introduced his own story of conversion as the living demonstration that in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ that God had not been defeated but had actually triumphed.

How can I sustain this?  What is my evidence?  Simply this: the frequency with which Paul alludes to his Damascus Road conversion in his letters – about thirty times (not counting the Pastorals).  In the book of Acts Luke tells Paul’s Damascus Road story no less than three times, twice from speeches from Paul’s own lips.  We must assume that Paul routinely told his original hearers about himself and his amazing, personal conversion story.  His re-echoing of that story in his letters so many times implies that his readers know about Paul and his conversion.

Paul divides his life-story into two parts, before and after.   Before Damascus Road was his “former life in Judaism” (Gal 1:13), first in Tarsus as the son of a deeply conservative Diaspora family (Phil 3:5a) and then in Jerusalem as an eminent younger Pharisaic scholar and hate filled persecuting zealot (Phil 3:5b-6).  At Damascus Road, as he said, he was “seized by Christ” (Phil 3:12) whereupon subsequently he became a love-controlled (2 Cor 5:14) preacher to others of the Jesus he had previously “persecuted” (Acts 9:4-5; Gal 1:13, 23), proclaiming him to all people – to the Jews first but also to the Greeks (Rom 1:16; 2:9).

What point was Paul making?  In telling of his persecution of the disciples of the Messiah he was identifying himself with his fellow Jews who had rejected the Messiah and who had handed him over to the Gentiles to crucify him.  In now proclaiming that the Messiah is the rejected Jesus Paul was saying that he had been amongst those Jews who had rejected him, at the very least retrospectively, by persecuting and attempting to destroy his followers and their “faith” (Gal 1:13, 23). Understood in this way we can see why Paul was so explicit in proclaiming the crucifixion if the Christ.  Confronting and painful to Jews as this message was it was at the same time their means of escape from the holy wrath of God.

It was Paul who reported Stephen to the temple authorities; and it was Paul who participated in his stoning; and it was Paul who launched a ferocious attack on the disciples in Jerusalem; and it was Paul who went with the high priest’s warrant to extradite fugitive disciples from Damascus.

And it was Paul near Damascus who was thrown to the ground by a bright light and addressed by a Speaker from heaven who identified himself as Jesus whom you, Saul, are persecuting.  Hence, as Paul told the Corinthians in his First Letter, the risen Lord “appeared also to me” and “have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Cor 9:1; 15:8).  The crucified Jesus, now resurrected, appeared to Paul, spoke to him and commissioned him.  And, converted him – converted him from a hate filled zealot and persecutor to a love-filled preacher of Jesus the Christ.

The converted Paul who stood before Jews as the preacher of Christ crucified and risen as the fulfilment of the Scriptures was himself the living proof of the resurrection of the crucified Christ; and that God had not been defeated but had powerfully triumphed.  The living evidence was the conversion of the Pharisee and persecutor who stood before them.

New Creation and New Covenant

Here we must recall that Paul never denied his Jewishness.  True, his opponents called that into question to undercut his insistence upon his ridiculous message of Christ crucified.  But, no, to the end he was a Hebrew, an Israelite, a son of Abraham (2 Cor 11:22; Rom 9:1-5; 11:1).  We think of conversion as from (say) Hinduism to Islam, out of one religion into another.  Paul, however, lived and died as a Jew.  Paul’s conversion was not religious or denominational but rather deeply personal, changing his very heart and his behaviour from the inside out.  He lived no longer to and for himself but for the one who died for him and was raised alive for him (2 Cor 5:15).  Love not hate now lay at the centre; Christ not the law; the Spirit not ritual.

However, Paul’s conversion was by no means merely private, personal or idiosyncratic.  Paul’s life was divided into two halves, before he was “in Christ” and after he was “in Christ”.  But so too, he said, is salvation history divided into two halves, the old covenant before Christ and new covenant since and because of Christ.  We recall that old covenant prophets Jeremiah (31) and Ezekiel (11, 36) prophesied a new covenant to abrogate the existing covenant, when God would put his law “within the hearts” of the people so that each person “knew the Lord”.  The coming of Christ, his death and resurrection and his gift of the Spirit spelt the end of the old covenant and the beginning of the new covenant, what we may call the conversion of history – the macro conversion of Israel “in the Christ”.  Paul’s personal, micro-conversion corresponded with the potential macro-conversion of Israel “in Christ”.

In other words, that Paul himself – Hebrew, Israelite, son of Abraham – was a new creation, a convert from persecutor to preacher, was the living demonstration that the long-prophesied new covenant had come.  Paul was both a minister of the new covenant and the evidence of its arrival.  Paul’s message to Jews, based both on prophecy and his own conversion, was that the old covenant was now ended and that the new covenant was now a reality in and through Christ crucified and risen and in the power of the Spirit of God.  His simple message was “turn to this Christ”.

But there is more.

Paul’s message: autobiographical and representational

Paul also told his story in his letters representationally.  The new creation that God had wrought in Paul could also be true of anyone who turned to this Lord and was certainly true of everybody who had turned to this Lord, people like Paul who, he said, were “in Christ”.  Paul’s conversion depicted every believer’s conversion.  His story was also their story.

It is in his Second Corinthians letter in particular that Paul speaks in a way that is at the same time both autobiographical and representational.

Before Damascus “Moses” (= the Old Testament) was a closed book to Paul, though he heard it read week by week in the synagogue.  But when he “turned to the Lord [Jesus]” the scales fell off his eyes and the veil over his heart fell away and he saw that the old covenant from beginning to end was prophetic, pointing to its “goal” and “end”, Christ (2 Cor 3:12-16).

If by turning to the Lord Paul now understood that Christ was the goal and end-point of the Scriptures, then so too had others who had turned to the Lord come to that radical understanding.  What was now gloriously true for him was true for all Jews who had likewise turned to the Lord.  The Old Testament is a Christian book.

Paul was a minister of the new covenant (2 Cor 3:6) prophesied by Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 11 and 36 where those prophets foretold the days when God was to give his people a new heart, cleansed from sins, so that they would freely walk in his ways.  Paul the converted man was a man with a God-given new heart who taught that turning to the Christ who was made sin unleashed the life-changing power of the Spirit of God.

If Paul who turned to the Lord was being transformed by the Spirit, so too were other disciples.  “We all with unveiled face…are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory, by the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).  Stay as you are, said Paul, and you remain blind and comatose.  Turn to the Lord, he said, and the Spirit of God will begin to transform you into the new creation that will one day be yours in full.

At Damascus Paul says he had “received mercy”, that is, from God (2 Cor 4:1).  If Paul had received mercy, then so too had other believers.  What was true of Paul is true of all who come to believe the gospel: mercy from God.

At Damascus, God shone his light outwardly blinding Paul for the moment.  But God also shone his light inwardly into the dark recesses of the persecutor’s heart, to give that light of Christ to others (2 Cor 4:4).  If God shone in Paul’s heart to give light to others, then so too did God shine in the hearts of other believers that they might give the Christ-light to others.

God reconciled Paul to himself through Christ and gave him peace within, but also the word and ministry of reconciliation, to reconcile others to God (2 Cor 5:18-19).  If God made Paul a reconciler of those alienated from God, then so too did God make peacemakers of all who have been reconciled to God.

So deep were the changes of heart and mind that Paul speaks of himself as a new creation (2 Cor 5:17).   No longer does he judge people and things “according to the flesh” (shallowly); no longer does he live to and for himself, but for Christ.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.  But if Paul was a new creation, then so too are all who have turned to the Lord a new creation.

So, Paul writes autobiographically and representationally.  His story is and is to be his readers’ story.

Paul’s “Christ crucified” message in itself was a skandalon to Jews.  Paul’s converted life story must have been remarkably convincing to have converted very many Jews at all.  Indeed, God must have used Paul’s own conversion to great effect.  True, most Jews rejected the very idea of Christ crucified and drove Paul out; but not all.  And they became the foundation members of the churches that Paul established.

Conversion also of Gentiles

But not only Jews.  Paul must also have applied his conversion story to gentiles, including former wrong-doers in Corinth.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?

Do not be deceived:
neither the sexually immoral,
nor idolaters,
nor adulterers,
nor male prostitutes,
nor thieves,
nor the greedy,
nor drunkards,
nor revilers,nor swindlers                                     will             inherit the kingdom of God.

And such were some of you.
But you were washed,
you were sanctified,
you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ
and by the Spirit of our God

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

The Arthur Staces of Corinth.  These now reformed wrongdoers were amongst those in Corinth that Paul said were his “letter of recommendation from Christ” to the watching world in the Achaian capital (2 Cor 3:2).  Such radical moral reform was striking indeed.

 

My observation, then, is that Paul saw his conversion as an act of God that made him the living demonstration that in Christ crucified God had not been defeated nor had failed, but had in fact had triumphed brilliantly.  Furthermore, Paul so wrote about his own conversion as a reflection of the fact that it was as true for other believers as it was for Paul himself.

If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.

I think, therefore, that God’s conversion of Paul and of others lay close the heart of Paul’s understanding that this conversion was the evidence that the new covenant had now come.

Reflections

Let me now make some concluding reflections, which I offer for those who are engaged in Biblical study, whether in the School of Christian Studies or elsewhere.

The power of conversion

It is that all Christian scholarship and ministry should be based on the reality and power of conversion.  We study the scriptures through converted eyes.  Through converted eyes we understand that only Christ unlocks the meaning of the Old Testament.  Through converted eyes we plumb the depths of the New Testament.  Unless God has opened or is opening the eyes of those who read the Bible its true message will remain elusive, a mystery and indeed sometimes foolish.

In my visits to the Middle East I have come to know and appreciate the friendship and scholarship of various guides; some are Jews, others Muslim.  The thing really surprising to me is that these non-Christians know their way around the Bible so well, better I suspect than many church people and perhaps better even than some ministers.  I conclude that having the Bible and knowing the Bible does not of itself create Christian faith or personal conversion.  Similarly, there are eminent biblical scholars who do not read the Bible through converted eyes and whose scholarship alone has not led them to personal trust in Christ and repentance from sins.  I am reminded of Jesus’ words to learned Jews, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40).  The Scriptures are the only witness from God to his Son, yet those Scriptures remain opaque unless those who read them do so through Christ-enlightened eyes.

Likewise we teach the Bible in such way as to convert the unconverted and to confirm the converted in their conversion.  This is not a shallow decision-izing approach with endless altar calls that inevitably harden the heart.  I am thinking about the presuppositions of the reality of conversion that teachers of the word should have.  The converted approach is not interested in communicating information for its own sake.  The Bible teacher should always be intentional, addressing the heart and the will.

A pure and sincere devotion to Christ

We need to resist the temptation towards scholasticism.  Scholarship is not the same thing.  Scholasticism is information centred, for its own sake, and speculation centred, preoccupied with identifying dots and joining them up into tight systems.  We never see Paul doing that in his letters.  Paul is ever the pastor, who writes simply and directly to the heart, seeking to bring his readers back to the centre of all things, Christ.  Throughout history, however, Christians have tended to make the simple complex and the straightforward obscure.  How many seminaries began well, with clear Christological and biblical intent but within a generation became intellectualised and remote and liberal?  Paul spoke of the possibility of being led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ (2 Cor 11:4).  “A sincere and pure devotion to Christ” says it all.

Paul, like Jesus, was friend of sinners

It is observable that evangelicalism flourishes among the middle and upper social and economic classes, but not among the poor.  Bible Belt churches are usually in “successful” or aspirational suburbs and seldom in deprived areas.  One reason is that more gifted preachers who are recruited to these areas feel they can concentrate on their preaching and not have to devote too much time to the practical and pastoral needs of the less well off.  Bible Belt churches tend to have strong youth programmes because busy and successful parents are keen to keep their kids off drugs and away from sexual problems.  Thankfully most such churches deliver wholesome and helpful programmes and attract large congregations.  This is encouraging.  But it’s worth remembering that Jesus was the friend of sinners, and who ate with sinners and that the apostle to the Gentiles was a manual labourer who identified with the exploited “have nots” and insisted in working through the night to able to preach by day, offering the gospel at no charge to all, including the rich.  Paul’s catalogue of sins from which some of the Corinthians had been delivered (noted earlier) tell us that he, like his Master, was the friend of the poor and of sinners.

A passion for conversions will not be limited to the relatively easy ministry to the middle and upper classes.  Where today are the John Ridleys and the R.B.S. Hammonds and where today are the Arthur Staces?

Perseverance and progress

Paul’s words that we are “new creation” teach many things.  “New creation” is what we will be but what we not yet are.  For we are still in this life “in Adam”, all too easily prone to doing the things of the flesh that belong to our former lives.  That we are a “new creation” encourages perseverance and progress in the godliness and Christ-likeness that will be ours at the end.  That we are “a new creation” engenders hope and a genuine optimism.  That we are a “new creation” challenges us to have “new creation” attitudes and to live out truly ethically converted behaviour.

Therefore, Bible teachers need to enjoin perseverance “in Christ” and the daily expression of what it means to be “in Christ”, that is, in spiritual, ethical, “new creation” attitudes and actions.  That we are a “new creation” teaches us to seek within ourselves and within others the transformation from the Spirit that is from one degree of glory to another.

ei tis             en Christo             kaine| ktisis

if any            in Christ            new creation.

Paul could never forget his conversion, nor should we forget his conversion, or our own.

 

Paul Barnett

2 March 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Symposium on Romans in the Presence of Distinguished Scholar, Robert Jewett

 

Jewett Symposium: Purpose of Romans

 

What can one say about an author who has devoted 26 years to writing a commentary on one short text, even if it is – as he says – the most studied document of western civilization?  Robert Jewett’s Romans, A Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2007) is the largest single commentary that I have handled on any biblical text and to my knowledge the most voluminous yet written on Romans.  I say, to my knowledge, since to my knowledge more than 500 commentaries on Romans have been written since the 1600s; and that is just in English.

 

So what is different in Jewett’s commentary?

 

To begin, the Hermeneia series, by policy avoids any ‘application’ of the text to the contemporary pastoral situation.  The series requires its commentators to adopt a strictly academic, non-hortatory approach.   So this is not a commentary written for easy access to preachers or Bible Study leaders.  Consistently, then, Jewett’s Romans in this series provides exhaustive referencing both to secondary and primary sources.  We might have expected, then, that reading this text would be heavy going through a veritable forest of technicalities.  These do occur in particular where Jewett identifies various rhetorical categories in Romans, yet at most other points the author writes with elegant and accessible simplicity.  How he managed to maintain focus and seamless style throughout over twenty-six years is quite beyond my imagination and wins my very considerable admiration.

 

You will not expect that I will merely applaud and approve of this work.  I do, indeed, have some points of disagreement since I am, like everyone here, an expert on Romans.  Or think we are.  I speak ironically since I doubt that very many are expert in Paul’s Magnum Opus and I for one am definitely not.

 

Our problem is familiarity.  We who are Protestants all know it like no other text and we know what the Lord did through it to Augustine, Luther, Wesley and Barth, launching new streams of thought that changed the courses of history.  But do we know it?  The reality I suspect is that few know it, and – I repeat  – I don’t claim to be one of them.

 

But I do have some points where I see things differently from Robert Jewett which, when I get to them I will make with great respect for one who has devoted so many years and whose work is the achievement of a lifetime.

 

Points of appreciation

 

So let me register some points of appreciation.  First there is the magnificent scope of the book with a truly comprehensive introduction and massive bibliography.  Between its covers there is a library of significant proportions.  The information on manuscripts and texts of the epistle is exhaustive and, as it were, a book within a book.  After all, any commentary on an ancient text needs to address the most likely reconstructed original.

 

Furthermore, Jewett’s known mastery of NT chronology undergirds his commentary throughout.  These and other related items, which typify the Hermeneia series, adorn Robert Jewett’s commentary on Romans.

 

Points of agreement

 

Let me now go on to mention some points of agreement.  Jewett is most likely correct in taking a traditional view of Claudius’ expulsion of Jews from Rome in ca. 49 and that this action was due to disturbances in the synagogues created by the preaching of Christ, that is, of Jesus as Messiah.  Jewett is surely right against the opposing views of, for example, Murphy-O’Connor and Slingersland.  I am curious, though, that Robert Jewett thinks that only Jewish leaders were expelled when the book of Acts says that ‘Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Italy’ (Acts 18:2).

 

Related is Jewett’s observation that the young Nero’s early years (i.e., after 54) were relatively calm and that displaced Jews were now able to return to the eternal city.  His uncontroversial dating of Romans to ca. 57, then, means that Paul’s letter was addressed to a situation where Gentile believers were in a stronger position in the Christian community in Rome than the Jewish believers struggling to relocate and to re-establish themselves.  Accordingly, Paul’s letter to the Romans is addressed to a specific and imaginable situation.

 

So I agree entirely with Jewett’s reconstruction of the Roman situation for Gentile and Jewish believers and likewise with his identification of the much debated ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’ in chapters 14 and 15.  The ‘strong’ are Gentile believers and ‘liberal’ Jews like Paul and his supporters and the ‘weak’ are Jewish believers who remain scrupulous about ‘days’ and ‘meat’.

 

So far so good.  But now come some divergences, two in particular: The form of the Letter and the scenario of the Letter.

 

The Form of Romans

 

This relates to the possibility of classifying Romans rhetorically.  Edwin Judge in 1967 lamented the absence of systematic understanding of rhetorical patterns contemporary with the NT as the means by which we can classify various NT texts like Romans rhetorically.  Well, thank you Professor Judge.  Robert Jewett’s Romans is profuse in its discovery and application of rhetorical patterns in this epistle.  In brief, Jewett classifies Romans as an ambassadorial letter, which seems to be helpful.

 

But I have problems here.  First, there is the question of Paul’s own education and cultural environment.  By my figuring Paul was born ca. AD 5 and came or was brought by his family from Tarsus to Jerusalem when he was a pre-teen, that is, ca. AD 17.  Soon afterwards, and for the next sixteen or seventeen years, he was enrolled in the academy of the foremost rabbi of the era, Gamaliel son or grandson of the great Hillel.  He was, he says, an eminent scholar in the traditions of the fathers, something he then publicly demonstrated in his deadly assault on the Sect of the Nazarenes.

 

I am aware that classicists point to a Talmudic reference to Gamaliel’s academy having 500 students in the Torah and 500 students in ‘the wisdom of the Greeks’ and on that basis argue that Paul was at home in ‘the wisdom of the Greeks’ including mastery in Aristotle’s principles of rhetoric.  Therefore, we can expect to find Paul at home in writing letter-speeches that can be classified according to Hellenistic categories.  But can we?  There is a contrary body of opinion that is not quite so sure.  It acknowledges strands of rhetorical influence that are, as it were, informal and popular rather than academically purist.  To force a Pauline letter into a rhetorical mould may not prove helpful in the end, though I am not saying that Robert Jewett goes quite that far.

 

Frankly we have no idea what Gamaliel’s alleged ‘500 students in the wisdom of the Greeks’ means and it is in any case a very late reference with – to my knowledge – no antecedent reference in the Jewish literature.  Further, when we peruse Paul’s letters looking for his cultural background we find him to be a writer steeped in the Septuagint and other Greek versions of the Tanakh, as Hengel has demonstrated.  What we do not find in Paul’s letters are quotations, echoes or allusions from the cultural world of classical Greek, except one or two.

 

So would his years as an apostle of Christ have provided Paul with the opportunities to become a master of Greek speech-rhetoric?  We are able to divide Paul’s years between the Damascus Event and the Letter to the Romans into unequal parts.  The period from Damascus to the second Jerusalem visit (Galatians 2:1-10) was (by my reckoning) fourteen years, a span sometimes known as ‘the unknown years’.  These he spent in Damascus, Arabia (= Nabataea), Damascus, Judea, Syria-Cilicia.  During these years in the Levant he appears to have interpreted the Damascus call to preach to Gentiles in terms of ministry to Jews and God-fearers in the synagogues, with the creation of churches in Syria-Cilicia limited to those latter ‘unknown’ years.  When might Paul have taken the time or had the time to familiarise himself with the rhetorical skills that some scholars now attribute to this ex-Pharisee and persecutor?  Perhaps in Gadara in the Decapolis (during his stint in ‘Arabia’), or when he returned to Tarsus.  But both of these seem unlikely.

 

The second and briefer period is approximately a mere decade long, from that second Jerusalem meeting in ca. 47 (Galatians 2:1-10) and the Paul we see in the villa of Gaius in Corinth dictating Romans to Tertius.  If it is difficult to envisage Paul having the opportunity to familiarise himself with speech-rhetoric in the earlier fourteen year phase it is even more difficult to do so in the second, frenetic, decade long period.  Apart from the punishing travel itinerary he was based in settled situations for relatively brief periods, Corinth for a year and a half and Ephesus for 2-3 years.  Since he worked by night as leather goods artisan and by day as a catechist there appears to have been little time for Paul to learn the skills that some modern scholars attribute to him.

 

Besides, what does his self-description as i?diw¿thß twˆ? lo/gwˆ (2 Cor 11:6) mean except just that, he was a ‘layman in speechifying’ an observation confirmed by his rhetorically savvy critics in the Achaian capital that his lo/goß was e?xouqenhme÷noß – his ‘speech is beneath contempt’.  Even before he arrived first in Corinth he had decided not to come kaq? uJperoch\n lo/gou h· sofi÷aß, ‘not with lofty speech or wisdom’.  It follows that if he was a layman in speech-rhetoric who consciously eschewed the attempt to be one that must also have been rhetorically true of his letters.  That they were ‘weighty and strong’ in the eyes of the Corinthians does not at all mean that they were rhetorically accomplished, but rather that the Corinthians felt bullied and bamboozled by his arguments.  They simply could not understand him (2 Cor 1:13).  In any case, the Corinthian comments Paul echoes in 2 Cor 10:10 relate to his recent inconclusive visit to Corinth (where his bodily presence was weak) followed by his harsh ‘tearful’ letter.  2 Cor 10:10 has a precise historical context into which we should not read too much about Paul’s rhetorical letter-writing skills.

 

If Paul’s letters, including Romans are susceptible to classification rhetorically we would expect a level of unanimity if not consensus among modern scholars in rhetoric.  But in my understanding modern authorities are anything but agreed as to how to classify Paul’s various epistles, Romans included.

 

Is it not more likely that, so far from being an accomplished rhetorician trained in a classical tradition, that Paul picked up some of the conventions along the way?  By analogy one doesn’t have to do Media Studies 101 to pick up some of the ways journalists write newspaper pieces or TV news editors put together their stories.  In the cut and thrust of debate in the marketplace a shrewd intellect like Paul likely learned a few verbal tricks along the way.  But that hardly made him a rhetorician.

 

I have another problem with speech-rhetoric as a way of reading Paul’s letters.  It is that once a particular species has been identified and a firm classification made one must force Paul’s text into that template.  Is there not the danger here of a pre-identified hypothetical pattern becoming an exegetical straightjacket?

 

Scenario

 

The other issue I see is the interplay between the text, the historical setting of the readers and the perceived purpose of the Letter to the Romans.  A feature of Jewett’s Romans is that he is convinced of a quite specific scenario in Paul’s mind, namely that he is coming to Rome as a base from which to launch the Spanish mission.

 

Now it is clear that Paul wants the Romans to ‘speed him on his way’ (15:24, 28 – where propempein is a technical word for short term hospitality followed by the dispatch of a missionary onwards to his next port of call, furnished no doubt with some drachmas in his pocket and a supply of food).  With customary thoroughness Robert discusses what Paul might expect to find in the Iberian peninsular and the huge logistic and linguistic difficulties Paul will face there and the extensive help he will need from believers in Rome.

 

My difficulty is that the commentary from first to last sees this scenario as the sole purpose Paul had in writing the letter and for coming to Rome.  Is there not a danger here of using a single factor like this to direct and determine the exegetical understanding of other passages in the letter, especially those that seem remote from the Spanish mission.

 

Here Robert Jewett understands the itinerary of Paul’s missionary travels to have been determined by the prophecies in Isaiah 66:19.

 

And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud,             who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands afar off, that have not             heard my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the             nations.

 

In 1979 Roger Aus wrote an article in which he identified Tarshish as Spain and that Paul’s intended Spanish mission was based on fulfilling Isaiah’s oracle.  Robert Jewett depends to a degree on the Aus theory.

 

In an article published this year in NTS Andrew Das reviews the Aus identification Tarshish = Spain and Robert Jewett’s dependence upon it.  After extensive review of evidence in the Hebrew Bible Das concludes ‘the evidence for a Spanish Tarshish is actually surprisingly tenuous’ (63).  He reaches a similar negative conclusion from the NT era and observes that Rainer Riesner, for example, argues that Tarshish in Isaiah 66 was another place, namely Tarsus.  Das observes:  ‘No one would have identified Tarshish with southern Spain in Isaiah’s or Paul’s day’ (73).

 

The problem is that Robert’s commentary is interpreted through the two verses in Rom 15 about the Spanish mission.  Das, however, concludes, ‘Paul refers to his plans for Spain very briefly in two verses within a single paragraph in Romans, and he does not in any way link the content of the letter with his future missionary endeavours.  Whatever Paul’s reason for writing, the Spanish mission does not appear to be the primary rationale for writing.  These two verses cannot bear the weight that has been placed on them’ (72).

 

Of course it is indisputable that Paul is planning to go on to Spain and that he directs the Roman believers to ‘send’ him there after he has ‘enjoyed their company for a little’ (15:24).  But he is only planning a Spanish mission because (a) he ‘has fulfilled the gospel in an arc from Jerusalem to Illyricum’ where he has now run out of room to work, and (b) because he cannot engage in an extensive mission in Rome despite fervent past hopes to do so.  Another has beaten him to it, establishing his own foundation, upon which Paul will not build (15:20).

 

In other words, the Spanish mission is a Plan B.  This is clear enough from the letter.  So should there not be more weight given to (a) the importance of this major letter itself, and (b) to Paul’s projected brief stopover in which he will further explain the purpose and contents of the letter?  After all, if Paul’s only concern was to establish Rome as a base from which to a launch a westward mission why does he need to write so lengthy and so densely argued a letter?  A one-page note, such as to Philemon, would have been sufficient.  I think there is a lot to be said for the view that Paul wrote the letter as a substitute for himself and the extended teaching mission he had long hoped for and which he knows he cannot now fulfil.  He will not build on another’s foundation but is honour bound to work in virgin territory.

 

An alternative scenario and an alternative purpose

 

As an alternative proposal may I suggest that when in ca. 47 Paul decided in principle for an all out mission to the Gentiles launched from Antioch-on-the-Orontes that he planned soon to proceed towards and to the gentile-world capital, Rome.  By this hypothesis once Paul reached Macedonia in ca. 49 he could have and would have pressed on then and there to Rome.  He could have travelled across Macedonia via the Egnatian Road and arrived in Rome within two weeks of leaving Philippi.  But in that very year Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome making it impossible for Paul to come to Rome.  So meantime Paul must fill in time, which he did in Achaia and Asia.  Once Claudius was dead (in 54), however, Paul will make plans at last to press on to Rome.  But first he must complete the Collection and bring it to Jerusalem.  But along the way news has come of ‘another’ foundation layer in Rome (Peter?) and this meant that despite all hopes he cannot bring his mission in person to the world capital of the Gentiles.  Instead he formulated a plan to go to Spain but now only via Rome.  The letter must do what Paul in his absence cannot now do in person.

 

But – in my opinion – other things have been going on in Paul’s circumstances that better explains the purpose of the letter than the Spanish hypothesis.  This perspective has the advantage of accommodation to Melanchton’s view of Romans as a ‘compendium’ of Paul’s theology.  That is not a view of the letter that I share; the letter is occasional.  Yet it is compendious and measured in ways unique within the Pauline corpus.  And why is it so?  Because Paul by the letter seeks to authenticate himself as the apostle to the Gentiles and thereby establish himself by what he writes as worthy of their obedience (15:16) and a source of their ‘strengthening’ (16:25).

 

So while I agree that the historical setting insofar as we know it is helpful in determining Paul’s purpose, including the proposed Spanish mission, some caution is needed.  Likewise we must look carefully at the actual content and argument of the letter.  Let me suggest three noteworthy elements in the letter.

 

First, I think it is important to highlight explicit verbs of command or exhortation as providing vital clues to the purpose of the letter.  Imperatival verbs often tell us more in this regard than indicative verbs.  It is striking that only a few such verbs appear in the first part of the letter (e.g., 5:1; 6:11, 12, 13, 19; [7:25; 8:12]) and these are general whereas, in chapters 11-15 the commands are more prominent and more specific (11:13-28; 12:1-13:14; 14:1-15:7, 30-33).

 

These latter imperatives call for unity and service within the body of believers in Rome, which is not yet a body, including unity of heart and mind between the ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’.   Furthermore, Paul’s instruction to the readers to ‘greet’ his mission supporters in Rome (chapter 16) is another hint that the securing of Pauline apostolic unity in Rome is his major concern.

 

The earlier chapters speak of the same power of sin ruling both Jews and Gentiles that is overcome by the one means, the propitiatory death of Christ.  This is matched in chapters 12-15 by the need for the one body of Gentiles and Jews together worshipping and serving the one God and Father.  In other words, the material in Romans is so detailed and dense and substantial that the concern for the Spanish mission, though real, is secondary to other concerns.

 

Connected, second, are the interleaved alternating addresses to Gentile and Jewish readers in the letter.  Broadly:

 

1:18-32            Gentiles

2:1-3:20            Jews

3:21-31            Jews and Gentiles

4                        Jews

5:1-11                        Jews and Gentiles

5:12-21            Jews and Gentiles

6                        Gentiles

8-9                        Jews and Gentiles

9-10                        Jews

11                        Gentiles

12-14                        Jews and Gentiles

15                        Gentiles

 

In light of this interleaving of Jews and Gentiles I see 3:28-30 as critical:

 

For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.

Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also?

Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith.

 

To this text in chapter 3 we note a matching text in chapter 15:5-6

 

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement

grant you to live in such harmony with one another,

in accord with Christ Jesus,

that together you may with one voice

glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul is concerned that unity in redemption be expressed concretely in unity at table and unity at worship.  I think we hear Paul’s heartbeat most clearly in these verses from chapters 3 and 15.

 

The God who is One will justify sinners among Jews and Gentiles – the descendants of the common father Adam – in one and the same way, hence the need for both to find unity of worship and service in the one body, as in chapters 12-16.

 

Likely significant is the frequency of reference to ‘God’ in Romans, where the divine name appears per page more densely than in any other NT book.  Along with ‘God’ are the numerous references to ‘all’:

 

All are under sin

The gospel is the power of God for all who believe

The righteousness of God through faith for all who believe

One man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal for all who believe

The same Lord is Lord of all

All shall stand before the judgement seat of God

 

The Spanish mission seems secondary alongside these points of theology that Paul makes with such intensity again and again.

 

Important within the letter, third, is the role of the interlocutor.  He appears first in chapter 2 and reappears throughout until chapter 11.  The thing is: his questions, which are really objections to Paul’s argument, come from just one quarter and it is a Jewish quarter.  For much of the letter Paul is answering Jewish objections to Paul’s ‘gospel’.  Are they Jewish Christian objections or outright Jewish objections?  This may be a false dichotomy since conservative Jewish Christians remained Jews and likely retained strong links of fellowship with Jews in the synagogues.  My point is that the interlocutor articulates Jewish objections to Paul’s circumcision free, grace-based, Christ-centred, Spirit empowered gospel.

 

Am I stretching too long a bow to connect the interlocutor with those Paul condemns near the end.  He has bidden the Roman believers to greet several dozen named persons, many of whom were approved members in the Pauline mission.  Then, as if by contrast, he warns the readers

 

Take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties,

in opposition to the teaching you have learned

(para» th\n didach\n h§n uJmei?ß ejma/qete -16:17)

 

Here the language exactly matches the earlier reference to the teaching the readers ‘learned’ at their baptisms (6:1-4, 17).  The opponents are hostile to Paul’s doctrines and the interlocutor represent those who are opposed to Paul’s doctrines.  So are they from the same group?  I think so.

 

Now I don’t want to do what I think Robert Jewett may have done, that is, tie the exegesis of the whole letter too closely to one possible scenario (i.e., the Spanish mission).  I really want to take a looser approach.  In that spirit let me propose a scenario that in broad terms makes sense of Roman and the purpose Paul had in writing.

 

My scenario

 

It all goes back to his request to the Jerusalem pillars in ca. 47 to ‘go’ to the Gentiles.

That ‘going’ proved not to be what the Jerusalem leaders had expected.  Paul’s ‘full on’ mission to Gentiles included not only God-fearers but also outright idolaters and in disturbingly great numbers.  Soon enough it became clear that Paul was establishing an elaborate alternative network of messianic assemblies in the Diaspora that were increasingly marked by Gentile membership.

 

Almost from the beginning of his westward, Rome-wards mission opposition to Paul arose from those Christian Jews who were more conservatively to the ‘right’ than the pillars, James, Peter and John.  These Christian Jews were Pharisee-connected, who sought to judaise Paul’s Gentiles, in particular by circumcising male Gentiles as well as imposing dietary and calendrical practices upon them.  Either directly or indirectly this Jewish-Christian counter-mission had already reached Antioch in Syria, Colonia Antiocheia in Pisidia and Achaia seeking to judaise Paul’s Gentile converts.  Paul made his reply to this in passionate terms in Second Corinthians in the mid-50s and, I propose, also in Romans a year or so later (which was written from Corinth) but in more systematic, measured terms.

 

I do not suggest necessarily that the counter-mission apostles had yet reached Rome, as they had already reached nearby Corinth.  But Paul knew that sooner or later their anti-Paul polemic would become potent in Rome (as indeed proved to be the case soon afterwards, as is evident in Philippians).  I propose, then, that Romans is best understood as written out of Paul’s experiences of the counter-mission during the past decade and his desire to insulate Roman believers in his mission and others from its influence.

 

At the same time, however, despite the Jewish polemic against him Paul was not anti-Semitic and indeed saw a great future for his fellow Jews.  Indeed, his mission to the Gentiles was conducted for the very purpose of ingathering the fullness of Israel, on account of the irrevocable promises of God to the patriarchs.  Having ‘fulfilled the gospel’ in the east, and having no long-term legitimacy in Rome because of the other foundation-layer, Paul will continue that divine programme in the extreme west, in Spain.  But as much as anything else, this was to demonstrate that God had not finished with his historic people Israel but would continue to gather them in as Paul was continuing to gather in the fullness of the Gentiles as he moved to the western extremity of the known world.

 

So the Spanish mission was important to Paul and he wants it to be also to the Romans, but it was a secondary concern. His prime concern was to authenticate himself as apostle to the Gentiles and to secure the unity of the ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’ in Rome in their united fellowship with one another and in their common worship of the Father.

 

 

Paul Barnett

3rd June, 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Triumph of the Light A Bible Study based on 2 Corinthians 4


‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overwhelmed it’
(John 1:5).
 

The darkness is deep, cosmic and evil due to the ‘prince of this world’ blinding people. But it did not obliterate the light of Christ and it will not obliterate the light of the gospel.

1. The Gift of the Light

For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’
made his light shine in our hearts
pros / that [we might] give out the light of the knowledge of the glory of God
in the face of Christ
(vs. 6)

In the Creation God’s word brought light.
In the New Creation God’s gospel word brings light into our inner darkness.

Paul’s use of pros shows that God shines in our hearts for a purpose,that we might give that light to others who are in the darkness, blinded by the ‘god of this world.’

We cannot give out the light unless we have received the light.

2. The Challenge of the Light

God’s light is moral.

Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways;
we do not use deception,
nor do we distort the word of God.
On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly
we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God
(vs 2).

Once and for all we have renounced evil ways.
Now, as a way of life, we reject
‘deception’ (guile),
adding to the gospel message or superimposing our ideas.

Rather, we ‘make visible’ the truth of the gospel in our own lives as a challenge to the consciences of others before God.

Preaching Christ not ourselves (cf. 11:19)

For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord,
and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake
(vs 5).

Since people are blinded to God
only the preaching of Christ will bring light.
We minister as ‘slaves’ not as ‘lords.’

We can fail to give the light where we fail morally (vs 2)
and or where we fail to preach Christ (vs 5).

3. The Triumph of the Light and the Life

The perseverance and hope of the minister

Twice in 2 Cor 4 Paul says he ‘does not lose heart.’ Both times are preceded by ‘Therefore…’

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart (vs 1).

…we know that…[God] will also raise us….Therefore we do not lose heart (vs. 14,16)

God’s merciful salvation and his gift of ministry and resurrection hope are the basis (‘therefore’) for perseverance in the work.

IT IS BY OUR PERSEVERANCE THAT THE GOSPEL LIGHT SHINES ON DESPITE THE ATTEMPTS OF THE DARKNESS TO EXTINGUISH IT.

The triumph of the Light (cf. John 1:5)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay
to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed
(vs 7-9).

Paul does not play down the personal cost of bearing the light of the gospel. We are cheap clay lamps who carry the light of the gospel. Frail and vulnerable. The fourfold ‘but not’ is God’s surpassing power in us overcoming the pressures and the pain.

The triumph of Resurrection Life

Now there is a change of imagery.

We preach Christ crucified and risen
and we experience Christ crucified and risen.
Our gospel sufferings replicate Christ crucified;
but God’s deliverances from those sufferings replicate Christ’s resurrection in us.

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake,
so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.
So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you
(vs 10-12).

Vs 10-11 speaks of our experience. Note the change in vs 12.

Death works in us but life works in you who have the gospel from us.
Our sacrifices – like Christ’s – is the means of life for others.
No death no life.

The world is in darkness.
The darkness is cosmic and profound and aggressive.
The darkness attempted to blanket Christ and extinguish his light. But it failed. The darkness in every generation attempts to extinguish the gospel light.
Two things prevent this: our perseverance and God’s power.

God’s light will triumph. It will not fail.

This Bible Study was presented at a conference for missionaries and ministers at the Nowra Missionary Convention May 15, 1999.

July 1999


On Not Corrupting the Lord’s Supper


1 Corinthians 11:17-34
The Corinthians’ Problem with the Lord’s Supper

Paul was provoked to write because of scandalous behaviour at what he calls ‘The Supper (or Dinner) belonging to the Lord’ (kyriakon deipnon) when the wider community of faith ‘came together’ in the city (which may not have been weekly).  This probably occurred at night since the only ‘days off’ were pagan feast days in honour of the gods.  This may be the reason the ‘meal’ is called a deipnon, an evening dinner or supper.  ’Supper’ is a rather old-fashioned word, though it’s not easy to find something more suitable.

The problem was that the wealthier members who arrived first gorged themselves at a communal meal, some to the point of being drunk, while the (literally) ‘have nots’ – poorer members and slaves – were hungry when finally they arrived (11:17-22, 33-34).  In effect, the wealthier members created their own ‘private dinner party’ from what should have been a meal for all alike, rich and poor, slaves and free.  By their actions the wealthier members created ‘schisms’ or ‘heresies’ (11:18,19) in a community that should have been united in Christ in love and care for one another.  In other words, by expressing the sharp and unjust socio-economic divisions of the wider community they ‘despised the church of God’ and they ‘humiliated’ the (literal) ‘have nots’ (11:22).

With verse 21 Paul gets to the point of his argument, as explained by the introductory ‘For.’

For
each goes before before [others]
in eating his own dinner.

Some scholars suggest that Paul is critical because a small number of wealthy members ate and drank fine food within the triclinium or dining room (that would accommodate only about ten persons) whereas the rest of the members ate inferior food separated from them in the atrium or courtyard.  Attention is drawn to a description of a meal given by a wealthy host found in Letter 2.6 of Pliny the Younger.

The best dishes were set in front of himself and a select few,
and cheap scraps of food before the rest of the company.
He had even put the wine into little flasks,
divided into three categories…
One lot was intended for himself and us,another for his  lesser friends …and a third lot for his and our freedmen.

Does Pliny’s account point the way to understanding Paul’s displeasure with the Corinthians, especially when understood in terms of a small triclinium for the wealthy separated from an atrium for the poor?  To be sure, there were ‘have nots’ among them (verse 22) which implies that there were also rich members. The ‘have nots’ were ‘hungry’ and, presumably, (some of) the wealthy were ‘drunk,’ so well furnished were they with wine.

This reconstruction of the situation, however, depends too much on our limited grasp of the size of houses in Corinth.  After all, there are only a few houses in the Achaian capital which have been unearthed by archaeologists.  The few excavated villas in Ephesus, however, are significantly larger than those investigated in Corinth.  In any case it is pure speculation to say that the wealthy ate in the triclinium and the poor in the atrium.  It is equally possible that all ate in an atrium (if it was, in fact, a private home; it may have been a hired hall).

A better understanding is based on critical words which appear later: ‘When you come together to eat, wait for one another’ (verse 33).  So understood the ‘sin’ of the Corinthians was that some began eating the meal ‘before’ others.  It follows that those who began before others appear to have been the wealthier members who had time not only to eat but also to drink enough to be intoxicated and those who came later were the ‘have nots’ who were hungry.  Possibly these latter were slaves as well as poorer members whose only ‘food’ on their eventual arrival was the bread and wine of the Holy Communion.  In Paul’s mind the better endowed members should have waited till others arrived and, moreover, shared their food and drink with them.  That some were ‘drunk’ while others were hungry points in this direction.

Here we see something of Paul’s passion for the poor (cf. Gal 2:10), a passion he shared with James (Jas 1:9; 2:1-7; cf. 1:10-11; 5:1; 1:27) and which he expressed elsewhere for the ‘weak’ (2 Cor 11:29).  In this both apostles were following the example of the Lord (e.g., Matt 11:28; Luke 6:20; Mark 9:42; cf. Is 11:4), and the prophets before him (e.g., Is 2:17; Jer 22:16; Amos 4:1).

The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper

Like Jesus and the prophets Paul was deeply offended at this injustice by powerful and wealthy members of the covenant community towards the poor and the weak among them.  Paul’s point is unaffected whether or not the Remembrance Meal is part of a wider communal meal.  It was scandalous to him that while all were ‘equal at the foot of the cross’ they were unequal at the Meal at which the Lord and his cross was to be the focus of the members’ attention.

Thus Paul must tell them what it means to belong to the ‘new covenant’ by reminding them of the ‘tradition’ he ‘delivered’ to them five years earlier when he established the church (11:23-26).  He ends by issuing a dire warning that they will be ‘condemned with the world’ if they fail to recognise that the ‘coming together’ of the church is a sacred occasion (11:27-32).  Many are ill and not a few have died recently, which Paul takes to have been the displeasure of the Lord in his judgement of them (11:30-32).

Accordingly he tells them that the Dinner of the Lord is only metaphorically a ‘dinner.’  It is a sparse ‘meal’ consisting of some broken bread and wine from a cup.  By the rich creating a ‘private dinner party’ of food and drink it is no longer the ‘meal’ Jesus intended that they eat.  So what did the Lord intend when he instituted the Remembrance Meal at the Last Supper on the night he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot?

We find three elements in Paul’s words (11:23-26).  There is the action of Jesus repeated by the leader taking the loaf, giving thanks to God and breaking it and then taking the cup with wine and offering thanks.  There are the words of the Lord which the leader repeats over the loaf and the cup, ‘This is my body [broken] for you’; ‘this cup is the new covenant in my blood.’  Then, finally, those present together eat the broken bread and drink the wine from the cup.

The Corinthians’ failure to discern that all the congregation – rich and poor – is the ‘body of Christ’ is historically the first known instance of the corruption of ‘Table of the Lord’ (1 Cor 10:21).  Other departures were to follow.  Christians need to return often to the New Testament to ensure that their beliefs and practices at the ‘Table’ are in line with those teachings.  Otherwise distortion and corruption of the Lord’s command will occur and we risk his severe censure, even his condemnation.

Jesus’ ‘Meal’ is Semitic in idiom recalling the dramatic acts of prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel which gave power to their words.  The increasingly Gentile church after apostolic times, however, misunderstood this symbolism and spoke instead in ‘realistic’ language like Ignatius’ reference to the bread and wine as the ‘medicine of immortality and the antidote to death.’  Doctrines of re-offered sacrifice by episcopally ordained priests, transubstantiation and ‘real presence’ evolved over time.  The Reformers recaptured a truer grasp of Jesus’ intention, though many Protestants – perhaps in reaction to pre-Reformation errors – tend not to have the ‘high’ view of the Remembrance Meal we find in Paul.

Our Problem with the Lord’s Supper

One current problem is that we tend to focus too much, relatively speaking, on the consuming and not enough on the watching and listening. When Jesus said, ‘Do this’ he meant all three.  Yahweh told Moses and Aaron to institute an annual Passover Meal as ‘a day of remembrance for you…throughout your generations’ recalling the redemption from Egypt (Exod 12:14).  At the Dinner of the Lord the ‘doing this,’ that is the watching, the listening and the consuming by those present call to ‘remembrance’ Jesus himself. Furthermore, by ‘doing’ all three things those present at the Dinner of the Lord ‘declare the death of the Lord until he comes’ to one another.

Many Anglicans, myself included, feel that Cranmer in his BCP service showed deep insight into the biblical teaching.  To recapture Jesus’ intention that we watch and listen as well as consume I think that the act of breaking the bread and offering thanks for the cup should be clearly visible to all and that his words now repeated should be clearly audible to all.  Otherwise all the focus is on just one aspect, the eating/drinking, which seems to me not what Jesus intended as his way for us to ‘remember’ him.  Furthermore, Paul’s teaching that the ‘doing this’ proclaims the death of the Lord till he comes remains rather lopsided without due attention to the watching and the listening.

Who presided at the Table of the Lord (in the house of Gaius? – Rom 16:23) when the whole Corinthian community of faith gathered  (1 Cor 11:18; 14:23)?  Paul gives no clue as to the identity of the leader.  It is a reasonable conjecture, however, that the most senior presbyter present repeated Jesus’ actions and spoke his words as a remembrance of him.  At the Passover Meal the father of the household took the place of leadership.  In the synagogue the place of honour was given to the most senior elder.  It is probable that the early churches followed the same general principle of ‘experience’ and moral and spiritual ‘respectability’ to secure the dignity and significance of the Dinner of the Lord.

Cranmer’s linking of administering the Lord’s Supper to those who were ‘tried and tested’ for preaching in the churches is sound and should be followed should Lay Administration  become legal.  The idea that the Remembrance Meal is only valid and effective if an episcopally ordained priest presides at the table has no basis in the teaching of the apostles.  The related priestly and sacerdotal view of the Remembrance Meal as a re-offering of the sacrifice of Christ is clearly contrary to the biblical teaching (see Hebrews 9:23-10:10).

In short, the lesson of history is that the teaching of the Apostle Paul and other New Testament writings must be closely adhered to if Dinner of the Lord is to retain the meaning and significance intended by Jesus.  Not least, we should establish our theology and practice from the Bible and not by reaction to what others do or have done.

July 1999


Remember to Survive


The churches and their people must continually seek those lost from God through giving them the word of life. At the same time, however, God’s people must think about keeping the Gospel flame alight for the coming generations. We must remember to survive.

In this short essay please don’t hear me diminishing the Lord’s mandate to make disciples. A moment’s thought will tell us that ‘missioning’ and ‘surviving’ are not hostile to each other but friends. Let us learn this from the New Testament.

Remembering and the Synagogue

The first Christians were Jews, members of synagogues. Synagogues had a fixed liturgy with a number of repeating parts, for example, the reading and exposition of the Law and the Prophets, the Shema (‘Hear, O Israel…’), doxologies , prayers and benedictions.

The Synagogue its liturgy arose during the Hellenistic age from about 300 BC when the faith and hope of the covenant people was being swamped by the insidious beliefs in the gods and heroes of the Greeks and their free-wheeling sexual practices. In much the same way our churches are being swamped by secularism, neo-gnostic new age philosophies and post-modernist individualism. The synagogue liturgy served the Jewish people well, both within Palestine (using Aramaic) but also in the far flung congregations of the Diaspora (using Greek).

Repetition and memory were critical. And so the light of Israel was kept alight among the nations.

We can learn from the tenacity of the synagogue how to survive those testing times. Our times are scarcely less testing.

Paul and the Gentile Churches of the Messiah, Jesus

When Paul established the churches of the Gentiles he departed from the synagogue practice at a number of points. Significantly Paul encouraged the expression of Christian beliefs in an extempore manner by members other than ‘officials,’ what we might call the ‘charismatic’ or ‘gift’ principle by ordinary people. These ministries included extempore prayer , prophecy , ecstatic speech and miracles of ‘faith’ including healing.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that Paul left behind altogether the liturgical elements of the synagogue, from which he had come.

Liturgical Elements echoed in Paul’s Letters

It is worth reflecting on the range of liturgical elements we find in Paul’s letters. These, of course, had been ‘christianised,’ dramatically adapted from Jewish monotheism to direct the people now to God as ‘Father,’ to his ‘Son’ our Lord Jesus Christ and to the Spirit of the living God.

So many of these liturgical fragments do we find in a typical letter of Paul that the letter itself is almost a liturgy, a replica Christian service of that time. To read a Pauline letter from beginning to end is almost to look through a window into the gathering of a Gentile church of the period.

Consider the following examples.

An Opening Prayer

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (2Cor 1:2).

A Thanksgiving and Intercession

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ
(1 Thess 1:2-3).

A Benediction

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2Cor 1:3-4).

The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be blessed forever, knows that I am not lying (2Cor 11:31).

A Confession of Faith (at a baptism ?)

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom 10:9)

A Kerygma-Creed

the gospel of God–
the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures
regarding his Son,
who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and
who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God
by his resurrection from the dead:
Jesus Christ our Lord (ROM 1:2-3).

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:
that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
that he was buried,
that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and
that he appeared to Peter,
and then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more than five hundred …
time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep
Then he appeared to James,
then to all the apostles…
(1 Cor 15:3-7)

A Doxology

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (ROM 11:36).

Now to him who is able to establish you…to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen (ROM 16:25, 27).

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen (1Tim 1:17).

The Lord’s Supper

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you:
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed,
took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
‘This is my body, which is for you;
do this in remembrance of me.’
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying,
‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood;
do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’

(1 Cor 11:23-25)

Prayer for Peace

Finally, brothers…live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss (2Cor 13:11-12).

A ‘Christ’ Grace

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen (Phil 4:23).

A Trinitarian Grace

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2Cor 13:14).

Missioning and Surviving

The extent of these (mostly) synagogue elements from Paul’s (but also other writers’) letters should come as a surprise. It did to me when I thought about it, especially as the above examples are just a few of a far greater number.

As I understand it, then, the churches (as opposed to the synagogues) had both fixed liturgical elements but also the extempore, gift-related (‘charismatic’) elements. The former provided for stability of belief and continuity through tough times, not least since such elements were the basis for catechising and instruction. The latter, however, provided for Spirit-inspired leadership and direction.

In a sense, both elements are desirable. Where the liturgical alone is found there is often spiritual deadness, a church being wedded to the past for tradition’s sake and nothing more. On the other hand, where the ‘charismatic’ reigns individualism also reigns with its tendency to schism and the rise of dubious beliefs and practices.

The point of this short paper is to provoke reflection into the extent and character of ‘fixed’ forms in the Letters of St Paul. Furthermore, it is to encourage the use of those forms in our churches and not least a minister’s catechetical and pastoral teaching based those confessions, doxologies, creeds etc., as noted above.

Not only will such teaching help our churches survive these difficult times into the next generations, equally they will prove to be extraordinarily edifying to the people now.

Remember to Survive

Why do edifying liturgical elements help us survive ? Quite simply, it is because they are remembered through repetition. Quite clearly, too, they were cast in a memorable form. Think only of the famous Pauline ‘Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit…’

I heard recently of an elderly minister in hospital who had a great impact on those near him, despite having lost all short term memory. The Alzheimer sufferer remembered exactly the prayers he had used over the years and continued to pray them quietly in the hearing of others. He was sustained by his memory of godly truth and others nearby were inspired to believe.

In times of need it is the ‘memory verse’ or the stanza of a Isaac Watts hymn that brings us blessing and encouragement. The Christian mind is blessed by the Christian memory. And the repetition of godly words creates its own imprint on the memory.


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Shameful Speaking: 1 Corinthians 14:35


September 1999

Paul says, ‘It is shameful for a woman to speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:35).

But how do we square this with earlier words from the same letter in which he allows a woman to ‘pray and prophesy’ (1 Corinthians 11:2-16) ? Has Paul contradicted himself?

What is the answer to this problem?

1. Various Solutions

Various solutions have been proposed by scholars and theologians:

(1) The verses in chapter 14:33b-35 have been introduced after the writing of the Letter by someone else (so Gordon Fee). They are an interpolation. But Fee himself notes that the earliest and best manuscripts have the text as we find it in our Bibles.

(2) The setting in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 was not the public and plenary meeting of the assembled congregation, but a private meeting (so John Calvin). But this is sheer conjecture. Paul is addressing both women and men in their self-presentation as with covered and uncovered heads in relationship to their public life in the church. Furthermore, it is clear that ‘prophecy’ occurred when the whole church assembled (14:23-24; 26).

(3) The women in 11:2-16 were single but the women in 14:33b-35 were married (so Schlüssler Fiorenza). Again, this is conjectural. But 11:2-16 is written against the background of Genesis 2, a passage about marriage. The whole point of the passage is that the praying and prophesying woman should acknowledge the ‘headship’ of her husband by bearing the sign of ‘authority’ on her head, namely, some kind of head or hair covering.

(4) Paul’s permission for a woman to pray or prophesy was a temporary diplomatic concession that he would overturn when he came to say what he really meant in 14:33b-35 (so Antoinette Wires). Apart from imputing questionable ethics to Paul it implies that he treated the Corinthians like fools.

Each of the above solutions is unsatisfactory.

2. Working Methodology

My working assumption based on thorough manuscript support is that both 11:2-16 and 14:33b-35 are authentic and that we must do justice to both passages. Many people, however, downplay or remove one or other of these texts so as to concentrate on the other. Feminist-inclined readers will somehow rid themselves of 14:33b-35 while anti-feminist readers will tend to ignore or explain away 11:2-16. Surely, to be true to the Scriptures and to the integrity of the apostle within this one Letter we must address both texts. Being selective on ideological grounds is not the way forward for genuine discipleship. We must allow the Bible to address us.

I have written about 11:2-16 in a short study called ‘Hair’ which is also on this web page.

In brief, let me repeat that Paul’s permission for a woman to ‘pray and prophesy’ was set against a specific problem at that time, namely, the failure of prophetesses publicly to uphold their husbands’ place in the marriage. This they were doing by discarding head covering, the contemporary cultural ‘sign’ of a husband’s ‘authority.’ Paul could have taken the easy option to forbid women prophesying outright, but he did not do this, nor should we.

But let me concentrate on 14:33b-35.

Our proper method is to stay close to the original text as we have it, and to suggest only those reconstructions of the Corinthian situation that are justifiable. As ever, we must set our text in context.

3. Order in the Assembly: 14:26-35

In 14:1-25 Paul has shown the Corinthians the relatively low worth of ‘tongues-speaking’ compared to ‘prophecy.’ Now in 14:26-35 he turns to give firm directions to bring order out of the chaos in the church meetings in Corinth.

That chaos may be inferred from
(a) his observation that ‘God is not a God of upheaval but of peace’ (verse 33),
(b) his insistence that everything be done ‘decently and in order’ (14:40), and
(c) by the specific limits he sets for (i)’tongues-speakers,’ (ii) ‘prophets,’ and (iii) women speaking.

(i) ‘Tongues-speaking’ is limited to two or three, each of whom must only speak ‘in turn’ (verse 27). Furthermore, one of the ‘tongues-speakers’ is to ‘interpret’ the meaning to the congregation (see on verses 13-16) otherwise the ‘tongues-speaker’ is to be silent.

(ii) ‘Prophesying’ is to be restricted to two or three speaking, with the remaining prophets listening in silence and ‘discerning’ what is being said (verse 29). If a ‘revelation’ comes to another prophet seated the speaker is to be silent (verse 30). This was to allow ‘only one at a time’ is to speak (verse 31).

(iii) ‘The women are to be silent in the churches’; ‘they are not permitted to speak, but they are to be in submission’ (verse 33a-35).

4. Shameful Speaking (14:33b-35)

We must note that in 11:2-16 Paul speaks of ‘a woman‘ (singular) praying or prophesying but that in 11:33b-35 he enjoins ‘women‘ (plural) to be silent and under submission. Evidently, Paul is now addressing women as a group. His direction that wives ask their ‘own’ (Greek: idious) husbands their questions at home (verse 35) suggests that women were seated separately from their husbands, as in the synagogue.

My suggested reconstruction of the situation Paul was seeking to redress is as follows:

* A prophet has spoken and a time of silence should have ensued before the next prophet arose to speak.

* Instead, various women seated together were breaking the silence by calling out questions.

* Furthermore, it seems likely that the disruptive wives were addressing the questions to their own husbands who were prophesying.

By this reconstruction the integrity of both texts 11:2-16 and 14:33b-35 is preserved. In both texts Paul was addressing differing aspects of the same problem, namely, a lack of submission by Corinthian wives to their husbands in the public life of the church. In the first, women were prophesying, but without the ‘sign’ of a husband’s authority on their heads. In the second, women were subverting their husbands’ authority by unseemly public questioning of their husbands’ prophetic utterances.

While the ‘subjection of wives to their husbands’ is uncongenial to many in modern western societies it is a clear teaching of the apostles (cf. Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Tim. 2:11; 1 Pet. 3:1). It must be noted that in each case this ‘submission’ is ‘wife-to-husband’ and not ‘woman-to-man.’ It is conjugal submission.

Did Paul establish this ‘submission’ rule for his churches of the Gentile provinces or did it apply to all the congregations of the apostles ? His injunction finds an echo in Peter’s words ‘Wives be subject to your husbands’ (1 Pet. 3:1) and suggest this wife-to-husband submission was common to the churches of the New Testament.

Paul’s appeal, ‘Even as the Law also says’ is unclear as to whether ‘Law’ means the Old Testament as a whole or just the Pentateuch. A further problem is that the verb ‘be subject’ is not found in the OT. One OT text possibly in Paul’s mind is the Septuagint version of Genesis 3:17 where God addresses Eve: ‘Thy submission (Greek: anastrophe – ‘way of life’) shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.’

Paul was deeply concerned that the gathering of believers in Corinth be orderly. Meetings had become dominated by the babble of ‘tongues-speaking’ and the oracles of many prophets. Both ‘tongues-speakers’ and ‘prophets’ failed to wait until others had finished speaking. Wives were breaking the silence by calling out questions to husbands across the assembly contributing to the din and upsetting the order of the sexes. Such chaos did not reflect the character of the ‘God of peace’ in whose name they were assembled, nor did it facilitate the purpose of their meeting together, their ‘up-building’ (verse 26).

Not least, such behaviour may have brought the Christians into disrepute locally. After all, ‘outsiders’ did visit these meetings (14:16,23,24) and doubtless reported what they had observed in the wider community.

5. So is it Shameful for a Woman to Speak?

What is the ‘bottom line’ and ‘take home’ message for us here and now? It is that women, whether or not publicly ‘prophesying’ in the church should note carefully that their self-presentation in public touches their husbands role as ‘head’ and potentially affects the stability of relationships in the home. In short, Paul is urging that care must be taken to preserve a husband’s God-given ‘authority’ in the family. Of course, Paul’s words also support the principle of courtesy by husbands to wives in public, but that is not his main point in these two passages.

But is it always and under all circumstances ‘shameful for a woman to speak in church’?

Based on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 it is permitted and assumed that women did pray and prophesy in the assembly. There is a clear mandate for this in First Corinthians. For those who think otherwise I suggest (1) a careful reading of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 in the context of the passage (verses 26-35) where it is clear that ‘speaking’ = ‘asking questions‘ in the assembly; it is not an outright ban on women ‘speaking’ per se, but ‘questioning,’ and (2) a careful reading of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Those of us who claim to be Biblical need to be, in fact, Biblical, that is, take on board all the relevant scriptures. Liberals (among others) don’t like 1 Cor 14:33b-35 and excise this text from their canon. Conservatives need to be careful they don’t remove 1 Cor 11:2-16.

‘Prophesying’ I take to be speaking the word of God, with special emphasis on the blessings of the Kingdom and the woes of hell (see 1 Cor. 14:3, 24-25). ‘Prophesying’ does not simply equate with today’s ‘church preaching’ (which is probably quite close to the ministry of the New Testament ‘teacher’). Prophesying is an expression of agape/’love’ (1 Corinthians 14:1) and is a ‘gift’ that ranks high among the gifts of the Spirit for the ‘up-building’ of the congregation, in fact second only to apostleship (1 Corinthians 12:29). Is it right to silence the voice of women prophets in the church when the apostle Paul sanctions their ministry ? I do not believe we have a right to do this based on 1 Cor. 14:33b-35.

‘Prophesying,’ however, is a ‘charism’ given for occasional ministry that does not carry with it the routine ministry of an ‘office’ in the way the work of a presbyter or pastor-teacher does. Based on 1 Timothy 2:11-3:7 I believe the ‘office’ of teacher to the congregation is a ministry that should be restricted to married men. The week in, week out teaching of the faith by the pastor carries with it a special ‘authority’ which is closely connected with and an expression of a man’s headship in the family. Based on 1 Timothy 2:11-3:7 it is appropriate only for such a man to exercise this ‘authority’ over the families that compose the congregation.

But that aside I do not believe that it is ‘shameful’ for a woman to prophesy or pray in the assembly.

The above reconstruction and exegesis has been influenced by E.E. Ellis, Pauline Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), pages 67-71, with some changes.




Reflections from afar, September 11, 2001


Dr Paul Barnett, who was in Athens leading a ‘Biblelands’ tour of the Middle East on September 11, travelled to the Muslim nation of Turkey soon after the terrorist attacks and has recently returned to Sydney. Here, he shares his reflections on the disaster, on what the Middle Eastern world is making of the situation, and on how September 11, 2001 may serve as “a ‘wake up call’ to our sick western, formerly Christian culture.”

September 11th 2001 will remain etched in human history, not only by the fiery cinematic images but more particularly in the pain of a nation and of those who mourn loved ones from many nations including our own.

The US Leader declared that we – the US and the freedom loving nations – are ‘at war.’ But against whom or what are we at war ? Against terrorism and a ‘prime suspect.’ True, but not precisely true. Not all terrorism was incarnated in those four suicide bomber pilots and their murderous colleagues. Neither the terrorist IRA, for example, nor the terrorist Kurds of Turkey were involved. ‘Terrorism’ as a category is too broad. Then was it Middle East terrorism, Islamic terrorism ? Again not precisely. Most leaders from the Middle East nations have united in condemning these acts. Likewise many many Muslims, whether in the US or worldwide. Then surely this terrorism was inspired by poverty in the greater part of the Middle East, as I heard left wing commentator Tony Wedgwood-Benn say. Poverty may be the recruiting ground but the perpetrators were educated, used to western ways and were flush with cash.

So who were they and why did they do it ?

As for me, I don’t think we yet know enough to say who they were or are. Biblelands Tour in the Middle East.

I was in Athens killing time waiting for our tour bus when the first horrific pictures burst on to the TV screen in the hotel room. Our friends and family in Australia were asleep as this unimaginable news awaited their early mornings. We rang, of course. They were extremely worried as the next country for our Biblelands 2001 group to visit was Muslim Turkey.

‘Probably safer than Australia,’ I reassured them. Not empty words; I meant it. From past experience of visits in Turkey I knew that these people who love Australians would not regard me or our group as enemies. And so it proved as we journeyed up the western coast from Ephesus to Istanbul.

As we stood in Shrapnel Valley on the Gallipoli peninsula reflecting on the quarter million Turks and allied invaders buried around us in those sandy hills we prayed that our world would not again be plunged into another bout of senseless killing. We read and took comfort from the Apocalyptist’s promise of a New Heaven and New Earth when there would be no more pain or tears.

What did our Turkish Muslim guide make of it all? A young, learned and sensitive man he lamented the shocking loss of life in New York and Washington. He was immediately affected, of course. Six month’s tour groups – his only livelihood – were cancelled overnight. The tourist ships moored in the Aegean would send nobody ashore to see the wonders of Ephesus, Priene, Miletus or Didyma. He would wait in vain on the docks of Kusadasi.

Did we feel unsafe in the streets of Istanbul or the Spice Market or the Grand Bazaar ? Not for a moment. Were we hissed or stared at ? Not once.

Just the same noisy vendors selling cheap postcards and transistor batteries. Pushy as ever as they battled for a few Lira to stay alive. Half a million of them in this old city where east meets west. But unfriendly or menacing ? In no way. I would happily go back tomorrow.

I asked our guide for further comment. He was reticent. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘we have lost tens of thousands of our people in Kurdish terrorism.’ He spoke of close friends and relatives. ‘No one has spared a thought for us,’ he said. ‘Don’t misunderstand me. I am appalled at what happened September 11th. But terrorism didn’t begin then.’ True enough, I thought, but this hasn’t been a one way street either.

Reflections from Afar

In our hotel rooms at night we watched CNN and BBC World televise these events around the clock. So what were my thoughts as I watched all this unfold a long way from home in the Middle East, that part of the world from which the rest of the world thinks this evil originated ?

I felt profound sympathy for those who mourned lost loved ones and immense regard for those brave passengers who attempted to re-take the aircraft destined to bomb itself into the White House. How unspeakably wicked that innocent office workers in the Pentagon or the Trade Centre and holidaying sightseers should be brutalized in this way, with no warning and no declaration of war.

I regretted that GW Bush used the word ‘Crusade’ in his televised address. I cannot believe his advisers and speech writers could have been so unwise as to foreshadow a new ‘Crusade.’ In all the years since the first crusades we Christians have been trying to ‘live down’ those quixotic follies of the middle ages. As often as not those ‘Christian’ crusaders were plunderous

murderers. I thought of the brilliant Saladin and his victories over European knights in clanking armour at the battle of Hattin just a few miles from Nazareth. No one fights so fiercely as those who defend home and hearth. And those ‘Christian’ Crusaders were invaders as the New Crusaders will be invaders of home and hearth. It’s no secret that the President is a ‘born again-er,’ a Christian crusader of the new millennium. May the Lord deliver us from a further bout of Christian-Muslim ‘crusades.’ The big losers would be the Christian minorities.

I prayed that these events would at last force all parties in the Land of Israel to come to their senses and forge a peace based on justice and equity rather than who happens to have the tanks, helicopters and F16’s. I am convinced that the perception of injustice suffered by Palestinians lies at the root of this present distress. So long as Eretz Israel remains locked

in this unequal conflict, the terrorists will feel morally justified in engaging in violent acts against those who perpetrate perceived injustice towards Arabs in West Bank and Gaza. The martyr-pilots appear to be driven by the same fury as the martyr-car bombers in Tel Aviv and for the same reasons.

One scary scenario is that moral outrage will drive them to new martyrdoms buoyed up sense of righteous justification. New martyrdoms, that is, against us. Us here in Australia.

I prayed, too, that the US Administration gets its response right, especially that it refrains from overkill and an excess of force. That must involve some kind of ‘due process’ in regard to the prime suspect. The President’s declared intention to bring him in ‘dead or alive’ was understandable in the heat of the moment but inappropriate. All that the US stands for in terms of justice, freedom and democracy must not be lost or the terrorists will have had their way.

I hoped profoundly that the military response would be clinical and effective and few casualties – like Desert Storm. But we all know that will not be possible. Rugged Afghanistan has been the graveyard for all who have attempted to conquer it, whether Alexander, the British or the Russians. For if the pending campaign fails the televised body bags will quickly force our politicians to cut losses and yet again get out with tails between legs. Such defeat would raise the stakes terrifyingly and tell wicked men that they have won and that the world is theirs for the taking. We will be at war but we will not know against whom or why. Nothing and nobody will be safe anywhere.

I sensed profound contrast between these martyrs and their (wickedly wrongheaded) seriousness and the shallow triviality of our modern entertainment culture. It was weird to flick TV channels. On CNN was the image of the jet plane boring into the high rise tower inspired by the mad martyr zeal of the hijackers On another was an utterly unserious, silly game show flanked by coiffured models. On another was grinning Bruce Willis saving the world from some terrorists. Where are you Bruce Willis ? Harrison Ford, we need you. Where are you Hollywood in our hour of need ? The celluloid world is dangerous illusion not reality. The collapse of the World Trade Centre is not illusion but all too true reality. Maybe September 11 showed up illusion for what it is and that Bruce Willis and Harrison Ford are only actors and that the world of make believe can’t ever help anybody against anything that is out there. Maybe September 11 is a ‘wake up call’ to our sick western, formerly Christian culture that is now committed to nothing much except greed and pleasure to get serious about life, just behaviour and about God the just judge ?

Paul Barnett
September 2001


Scandal in the Church in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians

December 1999

Browsers interested in careful historical exegesis of the New Testament are referred to an important research article by Dr Jim Harrison, a local scholar. Its title is ‘Paul’s House Churches and the Cultic Associations’ and may be found in Reformed Theological Review 58 (1999), pages 31-47.

Harrison has identified five pagan religious associations in Graeco-Roman society more or less contemporary with the formation of Paul’s churches. The striking thing is that these religious groups had clear expectations as to the behaviour of their members. It is obvious that such groups were concerned to have a good reputation with the wider society so as to avoid notoriety and scandal.

When we read First Corinthians against this background we can see that many things Paul wrote were to avoid the church having a reputation for scandal in the city of Corinth.

Let me briefly mention three areas of concerns of the pagan groups, as noted by Dr Harrison. His list is more extensive.

First, these cults insisted that their members should orderly in their behaviour and show reverence during their religious services. One group demanded that their proceedings be carried out ‘reverently and in a fully lawful manner.’ Another did not tolerate disruptive behaviour or abusive and insolent language. One society ruled that, ‘No one shall deliver a speech without recognition by the priest of the vice-priest.’ It is worth quoting more fully the Guild of Zeus Most High:

‘It shall not be permissible for any one of them to[...] or make factions or leave the brotherhood of the president for another, or for men to enter into one another’s pedigrees at the banquet or to abuse one another or to chatter or indict or accuse one another…’

We note that Paul accuses the Corinthians of creating ‘schisms’ (1:10; 11:18; 12:25), chattering during meetings (14:26-40) and ‘indicting and accusing’ (6:1-8)! Clearly the Corinthians were not observing even the standards of the pagan guilds!

Second, the women members should not violate conventional cultural decorum. ‘None of the women is to wear gold or rouge or white makeup or hair bands or braided hair or shoes made of anything but felt or leather…’

Paul (1 Tim. 2) and Peter (1 Pet. 3) echo these concerns. The call for wifely submission fits in with this, too.

Third, the funds of the association were to be scrupulously supervised by men of integrity.

Paul sought to avoid disrepute regarding the manner of supervising the Collection for believers in Judaea (1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 8:20-21).

These and the other matters identified by Dr Harrison cast light on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. The church in Corinth was new social grouping and Paul was concerned lest it provoke a bad impression in the city. There were a number of aspects of the life of the Corinthians that would have aroused negative comment locally.

1. The adultery of a man with his stepmother, a sin not found even among pagans (5:1) is one example.

2. A second is the practice of church members taking one another to the public courts. This told the wider community that these Christians are a disorderly lot (6:1-8)!

3. A third example is the women prophets who are casting off their ‘sign’ of their submission in marriage (11:13-14). Likewise those women who created disorder in the gathering by calling out questions to their husbands (14:33b-35). Both are examples of women kicking off the submission expected of them at that time.

4. A fourth was the factions apparent at the Lord’s supper (11:17-22), especially at a time of food shortage due to protracted famine in the eastern Mediterranean. The rich flaunting their prosperity before the poor may have been a matter of notoriety The factionalism in Corinth associated with leaders (‘Each one of you says I belong to x, y. z’ – 1:12)would not have been appreciated in the city.

5. A fifth was the chaos in the meetings with the babble of tongues-speakers, of prophets talking over the top of one another and of wives calling out questions across the meeting (14:26-40).

Such behaviour would have attracted serious criticism in a city like Corinth, where good order in household cult groups was important. Surviving rules governing mystery cults noted above reveal that disorder was unacceptable.

Paul was sensitive to a church developing a bad reputation. Many of Paul’s concerns found in First Corinthians arise from his awareness that the behaviour of the Corinthians may have fallen below the standards that applied for other groups at that time.

This is relevant. Modern societies are now deeply conscious of ethical issues. Professional associations adopt strong moral codes and discipline their members where necessary. It is a scandal where standards of behaviour in the church fall below those of the community. Believers must not allow their standards to fall below the expectations of various groups within the community.