“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.


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.


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).


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.


BDAG: Correction of entry on ἀναδείκνυμι (3 Cor 2:17)

August 6, 2010

I remember Prof. Gordon D. Fee saying that if he were stranded on a desert island and had only one exegetical book that he would want it to be Bauer’s Greek lexicon (BAGD).  The third English edition, BDAG, is a considerable improvement on the 2nd edition of Bauer’s lexicon in English (BAGD).  Following the lead of  the 6th edition of Bauer’s lexicon in German (eds. Barbara and Kurt Aland), Danker has added references from the papyri of the Acts of Paul and 3 Cor to its “early Christian literature”.  It has not, however, covered the Greek text of the Acts of Paul and Thecla and the Martyrdom of Paul.

I noticed an error in BDAG yesterday when working through 3 Cor (2.17; Acts of Paul X, 4.17) s.v. ἀναδείκνυμι (Logos edition):

ἱνα δικαιοσύνης ναὸν ἐν τῷ τοίῳ σώματι ἀναδείξῃ so as to display the temple of uprightness in that selfsame body AcPlCor 2:17.

The Greek text of Bodmer X of 1 Cor 2.17 is:  ΙΝΑΔΙΚΕΟΣΥΝΗΣΝΑΟΝΕΝΤΩ | ΙΔΕΙΩϹΩΜΑΤΙΑΝΑΔΕΙΞΗ (“so as to display the temple of righteousness in his own body”) — copied from a photocopy of Bodmer X.


Wikipedia follies

April 8, 2009

I’ve added links to Acta Pauli to Wikipedia’s articles s.v.,  “Acts of Paul”, “Acts of Paul and Thecla”, “Epistle of the Corinthians to Paul”, and “Third Epistle to the Corinthians”.  Today in making edits, I’ve noticed that they can be reverted very quickly back to the original.  They took out my external links in a couple of cases.

Ok Wikipedia.  If your intention is to remove edits by scholars in the field then you have your wish.  I will no longer support your platform for my scholarly endeavors.

But bear in mind that your articles on the Acts of Paul and 3 Corinthians are inaccurate and could use some serious help from people like me.  For one thing, there should not be two articles for 3 Cor:  it is a single apocryphon, not two (I suggested this in my edit I made and it was gone with minutes).  There probably should be single treatment of Acts of Paul and the Acts of Paul and Thecla since the latter is originally part of the former.


Oral tradition units and the Acts of Paul

March 24, 2009

I am currently writing an article on the New Testament in the Acts of Paul. Therefore, I’ve been thinking about the nature of the traditions that are found in the AP.  Several scholars have assumed that the author AP knew and adapted the canonical Acts (e.g., R. Pervo [JHC 2 (1995) 3-32], R. Bauckham [“The Acts of Paul as a Sequel to Acts”] , later D. R. MacDonald [Legend and Apostle argued for oral tradition], D. Marguerat; see Semeia 80; 1994 SBL Seminar Papers). I am formulating a view that oral tradition is a better way of explaining the relation between Acts and the AP. But it is also necessary to take a stance on oral tradition in coming to grips with the nature of the composition of the AP generally. That is, if it is primarily an ancient novel, oral tradition would play a secondary role to literary considerations. Thus, J. Barrier is able to doubt the historical existence of Thecla (perhaps this point is unfair and Jeremy would care to correct it).
Read the rest of this entry »