Campbell-Socratic method in Romans

Instead of writing anything yesterday, I watched this:

I am sorry it does not embed in WordPress like YouTube videos do.

This comes from a 2011 conference at King’s College in England that gave rise to the papers in Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul.  It is good to get to see Douglas Campbell in person and hear his arguments.

The simplest way to state Campbell’s proposal for Romans is to go back to his proposal for Galatians.  “Works of the law” in Galatians represents a way of speaking used by the opponents of Paul who want Paul to require circumcision for male converts and universal adherence to some semblance of kosher food laws.

His proposal for Romans is that the key is also in opponents who advocate a kind of message that requires Gentiles to fear the wrath of God if they do not adhere to a version of Jewish law revealed through creation.

The problem is that pretty much everybody agrees that Galatians addresses a particular conflict in the Galatian churches.  It is harder to claim this for Romans.  In fact, a widely held view of Romans is that it is a somewhat systematic statement of Paul’s gospel aimed at the human situation, not the situation in a particular church.

One of my seminary New Testament professors, M. Jack Suggs, argued that Romans was addressed to “others and the Romans.”  In other words, it was a circular letter sent to more than one church.  Our version has the detachable chapter 16, which  most think is addressed to Rome.  This was a carrying further of T. W. Manson’s 1948 article suggesting Romans was a circular letter addressed the “Romans–and others”.  Manson thought chapter 16 was addressed to Ephesus.

The problem is that it is hard to nail down a particular false teaching that Romans addresses.  Romans, according to Suggs, was actually indirectly addressed to the Jerusalem church.  Paul was about to go the Jerusalem with his collection (Romans 15:25).  He was rehearsing his defense of his mission and hoping his collection would help unite the church (15:31).

However, there is a more recent tendency to see Paul as addressing a particular situation in the house churches of Rome.   Although Paul had not yet visited Rome, he does seem to know about problematic people there (16:17-18).

Who is the “you” in 2:17?  Campbell thinks it is a teacher at Rome whose viewpoint is presented in a block quote that starts in 1:18.  In chapter 2, Paul reduces this position to absurdity.

Campbell claims that this is a use of the Socratic method by Paul.  It is like the dialogues of Plato.  It is like indirect communication in Soren Kierkegaard.  It is like the personas assumed by comedian Stephen Colbert today.

Several critics of Campbell think this is implausable.  Campbell replies in the opening chapter of Part 2 of the book.  He says first that ancient people like Paul’s readers at Rome were used to this kind of argument and would have recognized it.

Second, it was an esteemed rhetorical technique.  He quotes Pseuso-Libanius who describes a kind of letter “in which at the beginning we praise someone by means of acting, but in the end reveal our goal–that what was spoken was acted.”

Third, he says that children in Paul’s day learned to recognize this kind of argument.  Teaching manuels called this “speech-in-character”.

Fourth, ancient books about rhetoric taught refutation.  One of the most useful forms of refutations was called “inconsistency” , where you showed how an opponent spoke in opposition to himself.

Fifth, many scholars accept that Paul uses a voice not his own in Romans 7:7-25.  So why not elsewhere?

Sixth, we have today our own culturally distinctive way of making arguments.  We should not allow those to deter us from reading ancient text within their own cultural framework.

Seventh, letters in Paul’s day were likely performances and cues to speech-in-character were probably oral or part of the drama.  Campbell says,

“. . .Phoebe and her entourage (e.g. 16:1-2) would have heard the performance of this letter in Paul’s presence at Corinth, and then been instructed by him in various ways, it seems positively absurd then to suggest that a Socratic opening could not have been communicated to the original Roman auditors utilizing such cues by the original letters (sic) bearers.”

Eighth, Roman culture was more attuned to drama and satire than ours is.  We look for cues in writing.  They probable were more open to non-verbal and other subtle signals than we are.

Campbell’s critics tend to ask where Paul ever tells us that he is speaking in a different voice or using satire.  Campbell is trying to make us see that this question may come from cultural bias.

But, since we have no access to Phoebe’s performance or even Tertius’ original manuscript (16:22), we have  reason to sharply question a proposal such as that of Campbell


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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3 Responses to Campbell-Socratic method in Romans

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Hi David! You may find this interesting. This post reviews a book that applies Campbell’s insight to gender in I Corinthians.

  2. Douglas Campbell says:

    What do you do with the turn in the argument from 2:1 David – a typical Socratic move of course? Who is the explicit target of Paul’s broader argument? Why is that group of typical figures explicitly named as endorsing the agenda of Romans 1?

    As far as I can tell, when all is said and done, you either have to read this as Paul’s turn on his own Jewish past and hence as a comprehensive – and highly stereotyped – critique of Judaism (the way the church has usually read it), or another, more limited group is in view (opponents). I’m not aware of a third alternative, only obfuscation. And clearly the stakes here are fairly high. If you endorse the standard reading you’re heading straight for the teaching of contempt.

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