On the date of 3 Corinthians: early or late 2nd century?

December 13, 2015

A Bodmer Papyrus (not 3 Cor)

3 Corinthians, which is an apocryphal correspondence between the Corinthians and Paul, is a text that many scholars date to the end of the second century (e.g., Benjamin White, Steven Johnston, Richard Pervo, Gerard Luttikhizen). The argument hinges upon an apparent lack of specificity with regards to the heretics mentioned: i.e., its aim is all gnostics.

On the other hand, several other scholars, myself, Rordorf, MacKay, D’Anna, believe that the heresy appears to agree with great specifity with Saturninus (early 2nd century), as described by Irenaeus, haer. 1.24.
While there has really been no extended arguments with regard to the date of 3 Corinthians, it would seem that much of what goes among late daters is either a case begging the question or a violation of Ockham’s razor. So for example, these scholars also date the Pastoral Epistles late, early second century, and therefore, 3 Cor must be even later. This is a tendency I am starting to resist. I think that  Acts of Paul is dependent on 3 Cor. But I would still wish to propose a date for 3 Cor independently of considerations about the date of the AP lest I fall into circular reasoning or into building a hypothesis on a hypothesis.
The late date of the 3 Cor also depends on viewing Irenaeus’ information of about individual gnostics with great suspicion. Still, they often admit the specific agreement with Saturninus as proposed by Rordorf–but that doesn’t matter. As Johnston writes (MA Thesis, Laval, 2004),

Il semble donc que l’on doive résister à la tentation d’identifier à tout prix et de manière précise l’hérésie combattue par la Correspondance. Par l’identification d’un groupe particulier ou d’un système particulier à partir des notices d’Irénée, le chercheur d’aujourd’hui risque d’être victime de la classification hérésiologique que construit ce dernier. Irénée s’applique en effect à présenter le gnosticisme comme un phénomène systématique, dont les nombreuxes ramifications peuvent se ramener à un ancêtre commun qui est Simon le Magicien, qu’il considère comme le “père de toutes les hérésie”.

[It seems therefore that one must resist the temptation to identify at all cost and in precise manner the heresy combatted by the Correspondence. By identifying a particular group or particular system based on the information of Irenaeus, the contemporary scholar risks becoming a victim of the classification of heresies which Irenaeus has constructed. Irenaeus makes an effort to present gnosticism as a systematic phenomenon, whose numerous ramifications can be assigned to a common ancestor, i.e., Simon the Magicien whom he consider to be the “Father of all heresy”.]
On the other hand, 3 Cor could be an early example of a text which tries to demonstrate the later heresies go back to arch-enemies of the first century; Justin lists Simon and Menander together (1 apol 56); Hegisippus lists  gnostics of the second century as deriving from Simon, Cleobius, Dositheus, and Gorthaeus (in Eusebius, h.e. 4.22.5). There is no reason to think that Irenaeus was the first to do this. The important thing is not so much whether Irenaeus accurately depicts the views of individual gnostics, but whether he accurately depicts the orthodox view of what these gnostics each taught. In that case, we have a very good match of 3 Cor’s opponents and haer. 1.24.
Late daters tend to neglect certain other criteria for dating 3 Cor.  3 Cor exhibits no specific signs of polemicizing against Marcion, no advanced form of gnosticism (like Valentinus or Basilides), and a very primitive church structure (the lead presbyter is a primes inter pares). Its orthodoxy is very similar to Ignatius of Antioch. There is thus no reasons to suggest that it doesn’t belong to the first quarter of the 2nd century, and other reasons why it doesn’t belong to the late 2nd century.

Androclus and the Lion

May 9, 2012

D. R. MacDonald writes that the story of the baptized lion in the Acts of Paul is a case of a Christian revision of the well-known tale of Androcles and the Lion (The Legend and the Apostle, 21-22):

The Ephesus story is a Christian version of “Androcles [or, more corrrectly, Androclus] and the Lion.”  …The story appears in the Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius (5.14; ca. 160 C. E.). Gellius borrowed it from Apion’s Aegyptiaca (first century C. E.), but no doubt the story originated in oral tradition.  At the theater in Corinth, archeologists have discovered at the bottom of a wall enclosing the orchestra a series of painting sof human figures fighting with wild animals, under one of which is an inscription reading:  “The lion recognizes the man under the bull as his savior and licks him.”  Since the orchestra wall dates from early in the first century C. E., the tale apparently was popular lore by that time.

The citation of the inscription at Corinth is of doubtful relevance.  The bull is an element that does not appear in the Acts of Paul.  But more to the point, Apion never presented this story as “oral tradition” but rather as an event he saw with his own eyes.  And why not?  Is it so incredible that Apion, who visited Rome at the time of Gaius Caesar, could have attended a few of the circuses that were the mainstay of entertainment in Rome?  The Romans were accustomed to watching the feeding frenzies of animals trained to devour human flesh.  This was a part of the live entertainment that a visitor could also attend on a circus day in the world’s premier city.  People did retell the story, to be sure.  Apion says so (LCL, 1.427):

“Afterwards,” said he [i.e., Apion], “we used to see Androclus with the lion, attached to a slender leash, making the rounds of the shops throughout the city ; Androclus was given money, the lion was sprinkled with flowers, and everyone who met them anywhere exclaimed : ‘This is the lion that was a man’s friend, this is the man who was physician to a lion.'”

I personally doubt that Apion lied, by taking an oral story and pretended it was something that he himself had seen.  It seems more likely to me that the back story which Androclus told was part of the show.  I.e., there’s a sucker born every minute.  Androclus claimed to have been a runaway slave who healed a lion of a thorn in his paw while hiding in Africa and to have lived three years in the cave on the food that the lion provided him.  Afterwards, he grew weary of the food that the lion brought him, and he returned to civilization only to be arrested for being a runaway and condemned to die in the games.  Then, the lion whom he had succored in the cave was the very same that they released against him. So he claimed.

The whole story was probably just a concoction and that Gaius Caesar was likely privy to the actual facts.  Androclus was more likely a lion tamer and never a runaway slave.  His leading the lion around the streets of Rome on a leash afterwards basically gives it away.  Spectacles often have an element of deception in them, for people want to be shown a good time.

“Others” or “Other Apostles”: Steve Johnston’s objections to Rordorf

April 5, 2012

In his 2003 master’s thesis at Laval University, under the direction of Paul-Hubert Poirier, Steve Johnston discusses the text of 3 Cor provided by Willy Rordorf, at the end of his article, “Héresie et orthodoxie selon la Correspondance apocryphe entre les Corinthiens et l’apôtre Paul”, in Orthodoxie et hérésie dans l’Eglise ancienne, Cahiers de la Revue de Théologie et de Philosophie 17:60-63.

Johnston writes as follows (p. 161, n. 45):

The explanation, if I’m not mistaken, is that the text that Rordorf provides in his 1993 article is a preview of his forthcoming  edition of the Acts of Paul which will appear in the CChrSA (Brepols).  Thus, Rordorf will provide an edition of the 3 Cor only as it was integrated into the Acts of Paul.  Bodmer X provides what is believed to be the independent Greek text of the 3 Cor which evidently predated the Acts of Paul.  Every text which stems from the Acts of Paul, starting with the Heidelberg Coptic Papyrus, has the words “other apostles”.

By the way, if Steve Johnston himself happens upon this blog post, it would be great for him to contact me.

Thematic parallels between Acts of Paul IX, 13 and 1 Corinthians 8.1-6

March 14, 2012

One of the strongest affirmations of the divinity of Christ occurs in Greek Hamburg Papyrus (IX, 13): εἷς Χριστὸς Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἄλλος οὐκ ὑπάρχει· This sentence resembles 1 Cor 8.6: ἀλλ’ ἡμῖν εἷς θεὸς ὁ πατὴρ ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς αὐτόν, καὶ εἷς κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς δι’ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς δι’ αὐτοῦ. AP IX, 13 shares three common themes with 1 Cor 8.1-6: These are: (1) A polemic against idolatry: both argue that idols represent false gods: The Acts of Paul says they are empty; 1 Cor argues that they have no real existence. (2) Both raise the language of the Shema, in order to affirm what R. Bauckham calls Christological monotheism. The Lord Jesus Christ is the one Lord of the Shema and affirmed thus as the one eternal Creator. (3) Both texts affirm creation theology–that God created the heavens and the earth and humanity.

1 Cor 8.1-6 (RSV); Acts of Paul IX, 13, my translation (italics are restored from Coptic Bodmer XLI.

A verbal comparison of Galatians 1.11-17, Philippians 1.27, and Acts of Paul IX, 5-6 (Paul’s conversion)

March 6, 2012

The Acts of Paul seems to base the story of Paul’s conversion upon Galatians 1.11-17. A verbal comparison of the English helps us to see clearly possible influence.

The translation of the AP from Coptic is mine. Biblical passages are from the RSV.

On Unanswerable Theories

November 17, 2011

The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed specially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. Or if a man says that he is the rightful King of England, it is no complete answer to say that the existing authorities call him mad; for if he were King of England that might be the wisest thing for the existing authorities to do. Or if a man says that he is Jesus Christ, it is no answer to tell him that the world denies his divinity; for the world denied Christ’s. ~ GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy.

Martin Rist, in his article “Pseudepigraphic Refutations of Marcionism,” (Journal of Religion 22, 1942) argues that the Pastoral Epistles are directed against Marcionite heresy. He says that “[i]t is largely from… affirmations of faith that the nature of the heresy attacked in I and II Timothy can be ascertained.” (58)

Rist details one such affirmation:

Again, in these epistles, it is asserted, quite contrary to Marcionism, that Jesus Christ is intimately associated with the creator. Indeed, in the affirmation of faith in I Tim. 2:5… he is the “one mediator” between the “one God” and men. Further, unlike the Marcionite teaching, he was incarnate, for in this same verse it is stated that he was “himself man.” Similarly, in what appears to be another liturgical fragment his resurrection as well as his incarnation are affirmed: “Remember Christ Jesus, risen from the dead, of the seed of David” (II Tim. 2:8). Likewise, the hymn in I Tim. 3:16 declares the incarnation and ascension of Jesus, assuming his resurrection: “He was manifest in the flesh….. He was taken up into glory.” Also, in the first line of the martyrological hymn the resurrection of his faithful followers is assured: “If we have died with him, we shall alos live with him” (II Tim. 2:11). It may be objected that references such as these are too casual, too indefinite, to have been intended to form part of a refutation of Marcionism. But it should be noted that in a pseudepigraphic refutation such as the Pastorals appear to be the less obvious the confutations are, the greater their effectiveness. (59-60)

There are two major problems with this argument. The first is a lack of consideration of other contexts in which these affirmations would be pertinent. For example, Judaism. It strains credulity to suggest that something as general as Jesus’ “intimate association” with the Creator was only an important matter in the debate with Marcion. The same goes for the resurrection of Jesus, his Davidic lineage (i.e., his legitimacy as a claimant of the title “Messiah”), and the resurrection of believers.

The other major problem is Rist’s anticipation of this reply. Instead of admitting that other possible contexts for these statements undermine their usefulness for his argument, he instead uses that weakness as a strength. Now, the obscurity of the opponent in the PE becomes evidence for the skillfulness of the pseudepigrapher in concealing his true intentions.

Regardless of one’s position on the authenticity of the PE, I think all reasonable critics should be able to see the problem with this. It is a hallmark of conspiratorial thinking to suggest the absence of evidence is evidence of absence, a pattern of thought that permits controversial opinions to become unfalsifiable.

The best way to cite the Acts of Paul

November 11, 2011

Some have experienced the situation when reading the Bible that someone asks where to find a particular passage, and someone else will volunteer, “That’s on page 1123.”  This is an absurdity, and often just a little joke, because most experienced Bible readers know that many versions, editions, and prints of the same editions differ in their pagination, and that it is proper when citing the Bible to use the primary sources reference, i.e., a convention of chapter and verse which is mostly the same in every modern edition and translation.

Violations of this principle of properly citing primary sources can cause confusion and consternation.   If for example a scholar cites an English edition by page number instead of the primary source reference. It implies two unfortunate failures: (1) that the writer does not know the correct manner to cite primary sources; (2) that the scholar is unacquainted with the original text but depends wholly on a translation.

The question remains as to how to go about citing the Acts of Paul, since so many MS discoveries have increased our knowledge of the whole, adding new chapters as our knowledge increases.  The answer, for now, is to consult Willy Rordorf (Greek), Pierre Cherix (Coptic) and Rudolphe Kasser (Coptic of Bodmer XLIX)“Actes de Paul”, in François Bovon and Pierre Geoltrain, eds., Écrits apocryphes chrétiens (Bibliothèque de la Pléiade,  Saint Herblain: Gallimard, 1997).  Rordorf divides the Acts of Paul into 14 acts.  These are indicated by Roman numeral followed by a comma, and then the paragraph (e.g., III, 3 = Acts of Paul and Thecla 3; Acts of Paul IX, 10 = Ephesian episode, 10 paragraph).  Now this may seem arbitrary.  Why not use the numeration in Schneemelcher or Elliot?  The answer is that Rordorf et al. are preparing a text of the Acts of Paul for CChrSA (Corpus Christianorum Series Apocryphorum, Brepols) and it will be the most complete and up-to-date text of all the available evidence.  This edition has been long in coming but should imminently see the light of day.  It is thus better to use this system, to which translations will eventually conform, than to use older translations like Schneemelcher, which are already out of date the moment “Actes de Paul” (in E.A.C. vol 1) was published in 1997.

Here is a complete list of episodes and their chief witnesses:

  • I. Damascus: John Rylands Vellum
  • II.Antioch (of Syria?) – Coptic Heidelberg Papyrus (PHeid)
  • III. Iconium – PHeid, Greek miniscules
  • IV. Antioch (of Pisidia?) – PHeid, Greek miniscules
  • V. Myra – PHeid
  • VI. Sidon – PHeid
  • VII. Tyre – PHeid
  • VIII. Jerusalem (?) – PHeid (Smyrna is also probable, cf. Life of Polycarp, in Lightfoot part 2, vol. 3
  • IX. Ephesus – Hamburg Papyrus bil. 1 (PHamb); Coptic Bodmer Papyrus XLI
  • X. Philippi (3 Corinthians) PHeid
  • XI. Philippi – PHeid
  • XII. Corinth – PHamb, PHeid
  • XIII. Voyage to Italy – PHamb, other papyri, PHeid
  • XIV. Martyrdom of Paul – PHamb, PHeid, miniscules, Coptic

Office or function? The search for church leaders in the nascent Pauline communities

September 14, 2011

In our study of 3 Cor 2.1, where Stephanas and the presbyters who are with him address Paul, the question of how the author portrays Stephanas, whether as a presbyter or a bishop, comes up.  This has us searching into the primary and secondary literature to find clues about how we should understand this text.

In Philippians 1.1, Paul addresses the bishops and deacons at Philippi.  So lo and behold, the office of bishop already existed in the time of Paul–so is it so hard to believe that Stephanas was actually a bishop?  Well, not so fast, says my professor Gordon D. Fee, in his magnificent commentary on Philippians (NICNT, ad loc):

The origin of the word episkopos as a title for one form of leadership in the NT church is shrouded in mystery, and therefore an object of scholarly debate; but there can be little question that in Pauline usage, as with all his designations of church leaders, it first of all denotes a “function,” rather than an “office.”

Fee stands in a long line of Protestant scholars who are essentially anti-clerical in their orientation and who are uncomfortable with the New Testament’s apparent sanction of church offices like bishops and priests, whose abuses have been so frequent throughout the history.  Emphasis on function instead of office means that such people designated bishops or deacons were supposed to care for rather than lord it over the Christians in their charge.  But then one wonders what an “office” is in the first place, and if, by such standard definitions of the term, the bishops and deacons in Paul’s day fit the definition.

Therefore in brainstorming, we decided that there were some essential and some optional characteristics of an office.  The essential elements of an office would be:  (1) Election: a method of selection of officeholders; (2) Duration of term:  a fixed term or  lifetime appointment; (3) Function:  the duties of the officeholder; (4) Authority:  the ability to carry out the functions; (5) Title:  without an official title, it is arguable that no office exists.  Some other features may be optional:  (6) the possibility of remuneration; (7) an impeachment procedure; (8) a written policy which may include qualifications for the officeholder, duties, scope of authority, a setting of the salary and election and impeachment procedure (in the absence of a written text, customs or even ad hoc rules would exist); (9) a ceremony of induction.

As early as the Pastoral Epistles, it is clear that the offices of bishop/elder and deacons (and also possibly an office of widows) existed, and they feature most if not all of the elements listed above.  Fee considers the Pastoral Epistles to be authentically Pauline and writes in his NIBC commentary (ad loc. 1 Timothy 3:8–9; italics his):

However, as with “prophet” and “teacher,” the word seems to fluctuate between an emphasis on a function and a description of a position; by the time of Philippians it [“deacon”] describes an “office” (Phil. 1:1), whereas in the relatively contemporary Ephesians and Colossians diakonos still describes a function. Here, as in Philippians 1:1, it refers to a position of some kind.

Thus, Fee acknowledges begrudgingly in his earlier commentary that Phil 1.1 refers to an office,  so that we would conclude that even for him there is continuity between the terms bishop/elder and deacon in Philippians and the Pastorals.  I would argue that the burden of proof is upon those who wish to deny that Paul had designated the offices of bishop/elder and deacon as the standard procedure of his mission, for it baffles me how the churches could have survived without clearly designated officeholders who exercised apostolic authority in the absence of Paul.  Indeed, this is what Acts 14.23 says:

And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed.

German Prostestant biblical scholarship, however, argues that both the Pastorals and Acts come from a later age and therefore cannot attest to the primitive conditions in the nascent Pauline churches (Conzelmann, Acts [Hermeneia]; Haenchen, Acts; E. Schweizer, Church Order 26e, 7i) .  Of course, among the major arguments for rejecting the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals is their too advanced ecclesiology: i.e., we are faced with major case of begging the question.

I wonder in what sense Paul could have been a successful church planter if he had not, from the earliest days of his churches, done what Luke claims, appoint elders to lead the various churches.  It seems to me that the job of church planter like Paul would be (1) to travel to a new place and proclaim the gospel; (2) to train those who are receptive; (3) to select the natural leaders, among those that he taught, to take over in his absence; (4) to repeat.  It makes no sense that the Pauline mission could have been successful if Paul didn’t see as one of his main jobs the development of leaders.

It is only natural then to believe that Paul appointed leaders (Acts 14.23; Pastoral Epistles; Phil 1.1), that they held offices and titles and did not merely exercise functions, that those office and titles probably had the same names that they did later (i.e., bishop/presbyter and deacons–1 Clem; Did.), and that these offices then developed into the threefold structure of bishop, presbyters and deacons (Ignatius, Irenaeus).

Weißt-du was “messy” bedeutet? On Coptic words of Greek Origin

September 10, 2011

A couple years ago I had the pleasure of meeting James Swanson, a lexicographer of the Greek NT, at a table he was manning at the book exhibition of the SBL conference.  We began to discuss the possibility of restoring a Greek text from a Coptic translation.  If a Greek word appears in the Coptic text, does that mean that that exact word was used in the original Greek?  Swanson responded, “Does the Coptic speaker even know that it is a Greek word?”  Coptic is a language with many loan words from Greek and it is highly possible, after hundreds of years or even a few years, that Coptic speakers were frequently unaware of the etymological origin of any given term.  Coptologists, such as my colleague on the Acta Pauli, Pierre Cherix, are acutely aware of this issue, and Cherix once took issue with me in a meeting of AELAC in Bex, Switzerland, when I suggested that a meaning of a certain Greek word in the Bodmer XLIX must have corresponded with Paul’s use of the term.

A friend of mine, Brigette, who has lived in Canada since her childhood, returned to her native Germany to visit family.  Her cousin brought her into her Schlafzimmer with an apology that her room was “sehr messy”.  Then, she turned to Brigette and said in all earnestness, “Brigette, weißt-du was “messy” bedeutet?”  Well, Brigette found this very funny since her cousin knew that she was fluent in English but somewhat rusty in German, having been in Canada so long, yet the cousin was apparently unaware that “messy” is a German word of English origin.  Of course, when and how the word “messy” entered the German language, I am unable to tell.

As a student of Coptic trying to do exegesis of Coptic texts, I find it a pity that Coptic dictionaries do not list Greek words.  For that one is forced to know the Greek language.  But this can lead to lexical errors, as a specialist like Cherix would be quick to point out.  Imagine if a grade school pupil looking up the word “preservative” in English, and it wasn’t in the dictionary.  The confused child approaches the teacher and says, “Teacher, I can’t find this word!”  The teacher then says, “Oh you have to look that one up in Le Petit Robert because it is a French word.”  So the little child goes to Robert and finds the following (s.v., “préservatif, ive”):

Capuchon en caoutchouc, en plastique très souple qui s’adapte au pénis, employé comme moyen de protection contre les maladies sexuellement transmissibles ou comme contraceptif. [i.e., a condom]

Unfortunately, we need a comprehensive dictionary of the Coptic language that also provides possible meanings for Coptic words of Greek origin.

Artemilla and the New Roman Woman

September 9, 2011

In AP IX, 17, Artemilla, the wife of Jerome, the Roman ἀνθύπατος in Ephesus, goes to see the prisoner Paul, who is condemned to die in the beast fight on the following morning.  She has put on somber clothing in preparation to see him.  Then, when Paul sees her he says (my trans.):

Woman, ruler of this world, mistress of much gold, citizen of much luxury, woman who brags of her apparel, sit upon the floor and forget your riches and your beauty and your boasts in your earthly status.  For these things profit you nothing, except you beg God, who considers crap what is formidable here but who freely gives what is marvelous there.  Gold perishes, riches are consumed, clothes become tattered, beauty becomes old, great cities are replaced and the world will be destroyed in fire because of the lawlessness of humanity.  Only God remains, as well as the adoption given through him, in whom it is necessary to be saved.  And now Artemilla, hope in God and he will rescue you.  Hope in Christ and he will grant forgiveness of sins and place upon you a crown suitable for freedom, so that you serve no longer idols with the smoke of fat offerings, but the living God and Father of Christ, whose is the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I have written in previous posts about the manner in which liberal interpreters are no more careful than evangelical apologists in their treatment of Christian apocryphal literature, and the interpretation of Artemilla’s conversion is no exception.  By many liberal interpreters, most notably Stevan L. Davies, Virginia Burrus and Dennis R. MacDonald, Artemilla is an example of a married woman who embrace chastity as means to autonomy and freedom from the patriarchal system.  Thus, they apply the sentiments and world view of modern feminism to the text, and they see Artemilla as a woman who seeks woman’s liberation.

Yet Paul, in his discourse to Artemilla, does not see her as a woman who is oppressed by patriarchy and marriage, but rather, as a member of the ruling class whose wealth bestows upon her a status of privilege.  But all the wealth upon which her status rests  is temporary and will burn in the eschatological fire, according to the beast fighter.  She must repent and embrace instead freedom in God and adoption into his family.  Only then, will she be able to experience salvation.

The preaching of an encratite gospel, a decision for sexual continence, and a refusal by Artemilla to sleep with her husband are all completely lacking in this text.  It is a complete misreading to see it as a chastity story (Burrus) or as written by women who have renounced sexual relations (Davies).  Rather, the text becomes more coherent in the light of studies like The New Roman Women by Bruce W. Winter, which demonstrates how women like Artemilla already experienced a large measure of freedom and autonomy, for their privileged status made it possible to dominate their domus, their slaves, their lovers, and at times, even their own husbands, while showing too little respect for the Roman laws and the customs that dictated propriety.

God’s Righteousness in 3 Corinthians 4:12

September 9, 2011

3 Cor 4:12-18 states (my trans.):

12 But God, the almighty, because he is righteous and he did not want to annihilate his own creation, 13 caused the Spirit through fire to descend into Mary the Galilean, 15 so that, by this same pershing flesh, by which the Evil One exercised his reign, he was defeated and convinced that he was not God.  16 For Christ Jesus saved all flesh by his own body, 17 so as to consecrate a temple of righteousness in his own body, 18 by which we have been liberated.

Beginning in 4:12, 3 Cor starts to detail how God initiated his plan of salvation for humanity. At this point, the logic of the text begins to look like a significant passage in another Pauline letter: Romans 3:19-22. There, Paul says:

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

In 3 Cor, the problem that needs to be solved is that the creation was in danger of annihiliation by God (which God did not wish to do). Similarly, in Romans 3 the major problem is that every person is found guilty before God. The solution, on the other hand, is δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ, which is through the πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ for all who believe. These two phrases, δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ and πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, have themselves become centers of controversy in Pauline scholarship. Scholars dispute whether δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ refers to something God grants to believers or else an aspect of his character, over which scholars likewise debate. As for the phrase, πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, the dispute circles around whether it is “faith in Christ” or “the faith/faithfulness of Christ”. One scholar who represents the New Perspective on Paul, N.T. Wright, argues for an interpretation of Romans (e.g., Romans, NIB 10,  ad loc.) which seems to be confirmed by 3 Cor 4:12-18 here. His position is that the righteousness of God is God’s own faithfulness to his covenants, which included promises to save Israel and the world, and that πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ is Christ’s own faithfulness, the ministry and death resurrection by which God has kept his promises. 3 Cor 4:12-14 closely parallels Wright’s interpretation of that epistle. That is, here, it is because God is righteous that he sends the Spirit to Mary in order to bring Jesus into the world in flesh, and it is in that flesh that Christ saves all flesh. God’s righteousness mentioned in 4:12 provides a motive for him to save the world, not destroy it. If one asks how God’s righteousness could provide a motive for him to save the world, the simplest answer seems to be along the lines that Wright suggests for Romans: to be righteous, God must keep his promises, or else he would be a liar, because God promised to save the world in his covenants. Thus to be righteous, he must become the world’s saviour.

An example of the liberal use of Christian apocryphal literature

September 6, 2011

As mentioned in the last post, Tony Chartrand-Burke, Prof. at York University, has panned the treatment of Christian Apocryphal literature by the evangelical scholars, who have written with apologetic motives. While agreeing with him in part, I mentioned in passing that evangelicals who have been stung by such criticism should take heart.  I wrote: “It is not as if liberal scholars, who are not specialists, are any more accurate in their treatment of Christian apocryphal literature.”

One such example is the funny little book by Stevan L. Davies, The Revolt of the Widows: The Social World of the Apocryphal Acts (1980), Professor of Religious Studies at Misericordia University.    As a doctoral student I borrowed the book from one of my professors.  I spilt coffee on it one day, and upon returning the book I confessed my misdeed and offered to pay for a new copy; my prof responded with a wink, “Don’t worry about it.   After all, it is not a very good book, is it?”

Chief among  Davies’ faults is his assumption of a single coherent community behind the five major Apocryphal Acts (Peter, Paul, John, Andrew and Thomas).  It is widely acknowledge that this is a methodological faux pas.*

*See in this regard, Jean-Daniel Kaestli,  “Les principales orientations de la recherche sur les Actes apocryphes des Apôtres.” In Les Actes apocryphes des Apôtres.  Christianisme et monde païen, ed. François Bovon, 49-61. Publication de la faculté de théologie de l’Université de Genève. Geneva: Labor et Fides.  (56-57, “La nécessité d’étudier chaque texte pour lui-même”).

An 18 foot lion

August 25, 2011

Tony Chartrand-Burke, a professor at York University, castigates evangelicals who have an apologetic motive for their treatment and understanding of Christian apocryphal literature.  For example, he writes:

The modern apologists’ inadequate knowledge of the CA [Christian Apocrypha] is due to the fact that they are not experts on the CA nor on Gnosticism. The apologists show their shortcomings in CA studies also in their reliance on collections of apocryphal texts or commentaries rather than recent and comprehensive scholarship on the texts.

Being evangelical myself, I am sympathetic with the aims of the apologists and have myself been accused of being one.  Yet as a specialist of the Acts of Paul, I would desire that those on my side who wish to say things about Christian apocrypha do so with accuracy and sophistication.  Thus, I am in part (and only in part) in agreement with Prof. Burke’s sentiments.

So consider the following lines from Timothy Paul Jones’, Misquoting Jesus:

According to this document [Acta Pauli], being a Christian includes not only faith in Jesus Christ but also complete abstinence from sexual relations, even within marriage.  Plus, about halfway through Acts of Paul, the apostle Paul baptizes a lion that’s eighteen feet tall.  So, if Acts of Paul had ended up in the New Testament, you might get to dunk wild felines in your church’s baptistery, but you’d also have to stop having sex.

First, the Acts of Paul nowhere gives such a measure of the lion, though we found that Goodspeed’s translation of the Epistle of Pelagia, an Ethiopic text which shows evidence of dependence on the Acts of Paul.

And they set a lion in ambush for Paul in the theater, and the one whose height is 12 cubits, and his size as that of a horse …

Now a cubit is said to be usually equal to 18 inches (Webster’s) and so 12 cubits comes to 18 feet.  Hence, it is our theory that Jones mistakenly applies something that he read in the Epistle of Pelagius to the Acts of Paul.  This is a pretty amateur mistake.

While it is true that most scholars have concluded, as Jones, that the Acts of Paul is encratite, I have written a lengthy refutation of this view in chapter 4 of my doctoral dissertation.  Even the scholar I quoted yesterday, as saying that the lion himself had given up marital sex, concludes (H.-J. Klauck, The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, 75):

Despite all the exhortations, and despite Thecla’s radiant example as image of an ideal virgin, there is no clear prohibition of marriage anywhere in the text, nor is the renunciation of marriage made a precondition for the reception of baptism.  It is possible that Onesiphorus, with his wife and two sons, is intended to function as a model of Christian family life.  It seems that the author stops just short of an important boundary line, which he does not cross into a programmatic encratism.

This is a much more subtle and sophisticated reading of the Acts of Paul, and Klauck has evidently come to this position quite independently of me, since he betrays no knowledge of my unpublished or published work on the Acts of Paul.   For evangelical Protestants, it is perhaps strange to see a text extol the virtues of sexual continence, yet even the New Testament promotes Christian chastity.  The Acts of Paul likewise allows the Christian either the path of marriage and family or the path of total devotion to God through sexual continence.

How could evangelical scholars overcome this lack of sophistication and accuracy with regard to Christian apocryphal literature? My suggestion is that they and their publishers consider seeking the help of consultants, like myself and others (members of AELAC), before publishing.  No one can be an expert in every area and so there is absolutely no shame in consulting the opinion of others who have become specialists in a subject.  And finally, I would offer courage to such evangelicals who have made mistakes like Jones’s.  It is not as if liberal scholars, who are not specialists, are any more accurate in their treatment of Christian apocryphal literature.

The Married Lion

August 24, 2011

Paul baptised the lion in the wilderness according to the Ephesian episode of the Acts of Paul, as attested by the Bodmer Coptic.  And then:  “When the lion ran off to the field rejoicing … a lionness met him, and he did not direct his face towards her, but turned away and ran off towards the woods” (cited from Klauck, The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, 64).

Hans Josef Klauck comments (ibid.): “After this exquisite exemplification of the interconnection between baptism and the renunciation of marital intercourse, the narrative switches back to the house of Aquila and Prisca in Ephesus.”  So according to Klauck, this lion, who could speak with a human voice and who received baptism at the hand of Paul, was also married.

Who is Barsabas Justus Platypus and how did he not die?

June 30, 2011

According to Luke, Joseph Barsabbas called Justus was a candidate to take Judas’ place in the ranks of the twelve (Acts 1.23).  According to the Acts of Paul, Barsabas Justus Platypus is a servant in Nero’s household.  The daughters of Philip told Papias that Barsabas Justus had once taken poison and survived (apud Eusebius, h.e. 3.39).  In my Cambridge doctoral dissertation (1996), p. 52, I criticized Dennis MacDonald’s book Legend and the Apostle (1983); MacDonald wrote:

Poison was reserved for Roman officials or soldiers accused of treason.  I suggest that the story told by the daughters of Philip was not about the Barsabas Justus in Acts [Eusebius’ opinion] but about another man with the same name who according to the Acts of Paul, was in fact a Roman soldier who was saved from execution.

MacDonald offered no evidence that soldiers accused of treason would die by poisoning, or even that poison was reserved for such purposes in Antiquity.  Indeed, I’ve found that there are many texts supporting poison as a means of murdering people–the common story of putting poison secretly in a person’s food or drink.  The standard means of executing a Roman soldier was  fustuarium, death by beating or stoning by fellow soldiers.  One interesting means of Roman soldier execution was death by elephant; Alison Futrell (The Roman Games, 8) cites Valerius Maximus 2.7.13-14:

For the Younger Africanus … threw foreign deserters to wild beasts as part of spectacle [sic] he offered to the people.  And Lucius Paul [snip] … for the same fault (desertion) threw men under elephants to be trampled.

Now this is indeed interesting and perhaps you, dear reader, would permit me to suggest a solution.  Barsabas Justus was as MacDonald suggests a Roman soldier, but since poisoning was not a means a executing soliders–I’ve yet to find a single text to support such a notion–perhaps Barsabas Justus Platypus was sentenced to die by elephant trampling and yet like Thecla in Iconium, or Paul in Ephesus, he managed to escape this martyrdom. My suggestion has the advantage over MacDonald’s in that there is support from at least one text that says that Romans actually used elephants, unlike poisoning, to execute Roman soldiers!