Murphy-O’Connor-Spirit-people and an intruder

After Paul wrote his 1 Corinthians we don’t know exactly what happened.  In Paul: A Critical Life, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor helpfully tabulated the clues we have to go on from passages in 2 Corinthians:

(1) A single Christian (2:6, 7:12) made a serious attack (2:1, 3, 4) on Paul personally (2:5, 10); (2) the members of the church did not manifest the personal loyalty and enthusiasm Paul had expected (7:12).  They were sufficiently at fault to experience the need for repentance (7:9).  Yet they managed to convince Titus of their innocence in the matter (7:11). (p. 293)

I am not going to go into the array of issues with interpreting 2 Corinthians.  I will just give you an idea of what Murphy-O’Connor thought about the opponents Paul faced in Corinth.

Many interpreters see the man who offended Paul as a member of the community at Corinth.  But it may make more sense to see him as an intruder.  The objection that the community would not have had the authority to discipline and outsider goes away if we think in terms of withholding hospitality, perhaps the reverse of the situation in 3 John 10.

For Murphy-O’Connor he must have been sent by the church at Antioch.  Remember that Murphy-O’Connor thought the church there had sent Judaizing missionaries to undermine Paul’s communities at Galatia and Philippi.  The church at Antioch had originally commissioned Paul, but he had declared his independence.  The church did not just let him go.  It considered his congregations under their authority still.  So the church sent people to warn Paul’s churches that he had gone rogue.

Remember also that Murphy-O’Connor thought there was already opposition to Paul among a group of “spirit-people” at Corinth.  These were converts of Apollos who had gotten from him a world view similar to that of Philo of Alexandria, the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher.  Paul had been very sarcastic in his critique of the spirit-people in 1 Corinthians.  Murphy-O’Connor thought this had further alienated them from Paul.

Timothy had delivered 1 Corinthians and had a mission to Philippi as well (Philippians 2:19)  At some point, when Timothy was representing Paul at Corinth, they treated him badly.   Paul made a surprise visit, a very unpleasant visit to Corinth.  It was then he was insulted by the intruder.

Paul soon wrote the lost letter described in 2 Corinthians 2:4.  It called for shunning the intruder from Antioch.

He sent it by Titus.  Murphy-O’Connor thought Titus, having been at the Jerusalem conference, was chosen by Paul to set the Antioch Judaizer straight.

Paul gives the impression that he moved to Troas to anxiously await word of the Titus mission.  However, Murphy-O’Connor sees in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 and the indications from Acts 18:23 ff. that Paul left Ephesus under duress.

He opened a new mission at Troas, but because he had not heard from Titus, he traveled on to Philippi and beyond. Perhaps he finally met Titus at Thessalonca.

Paul got good news from Titus. The Corinthians as dealt with the intruder.  Murphy-O’Connor thought that this meant that Paul had misunderstood the situation at Corinth in the first place.  The intruder had been disciplined.  His Judaizing message had never had much appeal in Corinth.

So Paul wrote 2 Corinthians 1-9.  It had two objectives.  First, Paul meant to drive a wedge between the Judaizers and the spirit-people.  Second, he meant to undo the alienation of the spirit-people and bring them back to his side.

But the Antioch party did not give up.  Having failed to bring Corinth over to their side, Antioch sent “super apostles” (Paul’s sarcasm in 2 Corinthians 11:5) to just  go negative on Paul.  They appealed to the spirit-people’s valuation of spiritual gifts to attack Paul as someone who did not have those gifts. Also they seem to have accused Paul of misappropriating the money he was raising for the Jerusalem collection.  2 Corinthians 10-12 is Paul’s letter of response.

With this point of view Murphy-O’Connor was able to give a vivid portrayal of Paul’s relations with the Corinthians.  I appreciate that.  I don’t agree with his reconstruction of who Paul’s opponents were.  But for now, I will just point out that a shortage of information leaves us with several possible scenarios.  Murphy-O’Connor has made educated (very educated!) guesses about this and given us a valuable point of view.

But it is all very tenuous.

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Murphy-O’Connor-back-and-forth with Corinth

I wrote extensively about 1 Corinthians in 2013 when I read through John Hurd’s now-out-of-print The Origins of 1 Corinthians.  See here.

Now  I have come to  the portion of Jerome Murphy-O’Connor’s Paul: a Critical Life where he dealt with the letters to the Corinthians.  There are so many facets to this that I am sure I will only be able to cover the gist of it.

There were two letters to the Corinthians that we do not have.  One was the Previous Letter (1 Corinthians 5:9) and the other was the Painful Letter (2 Corinthians 2:4). Obviously the Previous Letter came before 1 Corinthians and the Painful Letter before the part of 2 Corinthians that mentions it.

The complicating factor is that most scholars find that 2 Corinthians is a composite of more than one letter.  But Murphy-O’Connor dealt with all this in a simple manner. Chapters 10-13 constitute a separate letter within 2 Corinthians.  He saw no reason to further divide the letter.

So that means that we have access to three letters from Paul to the Corinthians.

The background of 1 Corinthians was that Paul had founded the church and worked there for about 18 months before leaving for Ephesus, Antioch, and Jerusalem (for the conference). Then he went back to Antioch where he had the dust-up with Peter.  He divorced the Antioch church and returned through Galatia to Ephesus, where he had a long ministry.

Meanwhile Apollos had a long ministry with the church Paul had founded at Corinth.

Murphy-O’Connor picked up on Apollos being from Alexandria to speculate that what he taught caused some of the Corinthians to make a Platonic separation between the body and the spirit.  These were the people who saw themselves as spirit-people and spoke in tongues.  But the separation of body and spirit could have resulted in thinking that what you did with the body in sexual matters was small potatoes.

This unintended interpretation of Apollos may have caused him to come to Paul in Ephesus to take counsel, at which point Paul sent off the Previous Letter calling for the shunning of the sexually immoral.

Paul then received further word from Chloe’s people about factionalism in Corinth as well as an incident of incest and drinking parties at the Lord’s Table. Also a delegation from Corinth came with a letter asking Paul a number of questions.

So Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to respond to this multifaceted mess.

Here is an alternative scenario partly based on Hurd’s work:

At the Jerusalem conference Paul made a comity agreement with the Jerusalem Church and Peter, dividing their mission.  Also, he obtained agreement that Gentile converts did not need to be circumcised.

Then, at Antioch, Peter’s behavior came into conflict with Paul’s ideal of the eucharistic unity of the Church as one body.  Paul departed on his journey to Ephesus.  But Peter (and Barnabas?) returned to Jerusalem for further guidance about food issues.  They forged the apostolic decree of Acts 15:28.  Although Acts 15 is a literary construct, the decree is historical.  It just doesn’t fit with the Jerusalem conference, where the issue was circumcision, not sex or food.

Sometime after he wrote Galatians, Paul became aware of the apostolic decree calling for Greek converts to pay attention to “righteous Gentile” requirements in regard to sex and food.  Paul could not enforce the decree by appeal to the authority of Jerusalem, but he tried to implement it in practice.  Thus he wrote the Previous Letter. (Hurd had elaborate, but questionable, reconstructions of Paul’s original preaching at Corinth, the Previous Letter, and the Corinthian’s letter to Paul.)

However, Hurd dealt with some things in a way that I appreciate.

One disagreement with Murphy-O’Connor was about how innovative the teaching of Apollos was.  Hurd pointed out that Apollos was with Paul (16:12) when he wrote 1 Corinthians, and that Paul’s metaphors about Apollos watering what Paul planted and building on Paul’s foundation point to continuity.

Another was about Peter.  Murphy-O’Connor identified Judaizers with the Peter party at Corinth.  However, Paul has not broken with Peter’s authority.  When he says he “received” the tradition about the Lord’s Supper (11:23) and the resurrection (15:1), he is indirectly appealing to Peter as his source.

But, most of all, Murphy-O’Connor ignored the apostolic decree.  Apparently he threw it out because of the other historical problems with Acts 15.  But is this justified?

The great thing about Murphy-O’Connor’s work, though, was his detailed knowledge about ancient Corinth.  He mixed a little imagination with this to make Paul’s ministry at Corinth come alive.  It is frustrating that I can’t give you a better impression of that in a short summary.

P.S.  Although I am retired, I get called on once in a while in an emergency to back up someone else’s ministry.  This is one of those weeks.  So I will probably not be able to post again until next week.

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Murphy-O’Connor-Colossians: authentic and early

In Paul: a Critical Life, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor defended the authenticity of Colossians and set its time during the Ephesian imprisonment in the summer of 53.

Paul wrote Colossians and sent it at the same time as the note to Philemon. Compare Philemon 23 to Colossians 4:10 ff.  I don’t know of any scholar who questions that Paul wrote Philemon.

However Colossians is odd compared to other authentic letters of Paul. It has a style and a doctrine that come closer to Ephesians than other letters–and there are numerous reasons to think Ephesians does not fit with Paul’s missionary letters.

Most of those who have defended the authenticity of Colossians have put it late in Paul’s ministry to allow time for his style and theology to have evolved.

Murphy-O’Connor, however, adopted an alternative defense.

First, since Paul did not personally found the Colossian church (it was 120 miles from Ephesus and Paul had never been there), his style is understandably not as personal. This explains why Paul speaks generally and uses the words “all” and “everything” a lot.  He is writing to the Colossians, but speaking universally.

But the main argument Murphy-O’Connor made was based on a comparison of Paul’s use of the hymn in Philippians 2:5 ff. and his use of another hymn in Colossians 1:15-20.

“Hymns and spiritual songs” played an important part in the liturgy at Colosse (3:16). These had a teaching function.  So Paul used one of them.  The original hymn in 1:15-20 was based on Jewish wisdom theology and spirituality and spoke of the Cosmic Christ.

Murphy-O’Connor thought that the problem at Colosse was that the church was tending toward an ethereal view of Christ that cut the connection between the earthly and cosmic Christ.  Paul’s concern was that the Christ who stood above the world also stood in it.

So Murphy-O’Connor analyzed 1:15-20 to reconstruct the original hymn and then see how Paul used it and added to it.  The following phrases, he thought, were Paul’s additions (p. 241):

“in heaven and on earth” (16b)

“visible and invisible”  (16c)

“whether thrones or dominions” (16d)

“or principalities and powers” (16e)

“and he is before all things and in him all things hold together” (17)

“and he is the head of the body, the church” (18a)

“that in everything he might become pre-eminent” (18d)

“making peace through the blood of his cross through him” (20b)

“whether those on earth or those in heaven” (20c)

The effect of these is to affirm the historical and earthly without denying the spiritual and heavenly.

The major point, however, is that they parallel additions Paul made to the hymn in Philippians 2, where he added the phrases “in heaven, on earth, and under the earth” (twice) and “even death on a cross”.

This means it is most likely that the author of Philippians 2 also wrote Colossians–and at about the same time.

One additional nuance is that the original hymn in Philippians was already close to Paul’s view, so he made fewer additions.  Another is that his additions to the Colossian hymn countered the worship of angels (2:18) as the Colossians stressed the vision of God surrounded by angels to the neglect of “the centrality of Christ in the real world” (p.243).

I am sure my summary of this argument is not as convincing as the full argument, which I found pretty convincing.

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Murphy-O’Connor-jail time in Ephesus

For readers of Acts there are three imprisonments of Paul, a brief one at Philippi before the earthquake, a two year imprisonment awaiting trial in Caesarea, and another two- year imprisonment in Rome after he appealed his case to Caesar.

But before either Caesarea or Rome, Paul “boasts” in 2 Corinthians 11:23 of “imprisonments”.  So he must have spent jail time when Acts does not mention it.  The letters to Philippi and Colosse and the personal note to Philemon mention that Paul was in prison when he wrote.  Many have tried to fit them into one of the Acts imprisonments, especially the Roman one.

But Jerome Murphy-O’Connor in Paul: a Critical Life was among those who argue that Paul’s two-year-and-some-months ministry at Ephesus included an imprisonment and that from that imprisonment he wrote Colossians and Philemon and part of Philippians.

Specifically, he believed that Paul spent the summer of 53 in prison.   This was after he had written Galatians and the note in Philippians  4:10-20 thanking them for personal financial support.  This note was Philippians A.

While in prison Paul wrote Philippians B.  We find this letter in Phllippians 1:1-3:1 and  4:2-9.  Paul wrote this at a time when he was not sure that they wouldn’t condemn him to death (1:20-25).

After his imprisonment the church at Ephesus fell into three factions.  One was frightened into silence.  The majority tried to take up the slack and proclaim Paul’s message even more actively.  But there were others who preached Christ from “envy and rivalry” (1:15).  There is no hint of doctrinal differences.  It was just that some people in Ephesus did not like Paul.  And Paul was kind of bitter about it.

Murphy-O’Connor saw hypocrisy in Paul telling the Philippians to avoid rivalry and be at peace with one another when he harbored this peevishness toward his rivals in Ephesus.  All in all, Murphy-O’Connor thought Paul was self absorbed when he wrote this letter.

A similar kind of tension had arisen in the church at Philippi.  There was envy and rivalry between two of the women who had helped Paul found the church (4:2).

Nevertheless, this drew out of Paul his adaptation of the liturgical hymn upon which he elaborated in 2:5 ff.  Some charismatic in one of Paul’s churches had written this. Now Paul used it and built upon it to develop his view of Christ.  Paul used more such material in Colossians.  But the hymn in Philippians 2 shows us the beginnings of Paul’s idea of Christ as the second Adam or Adam in reverse.  As Adam had sought to exalt himself, Christ humbled himself to undo the curse that had fallen upon humanity.

Paul was released from prison.  Then he heard, probably from visitors from Galatia, that the people from Antioch who had preached a Judaizing message in Galatia had targeted the Philippian church.  So Paul dashed off Philippians C (3:2-4:1).  This was an urgent warning not to be swayed from Paul’s gospel.

Actually, I agree with Murphy-O’Connor about most of this.

The composite nature of Philippians is widely supported, although I still think it could be that the editing deleted material from a single, original letter.

I also still think we should consider the possibility that Paul wrote letters from his Caesarean imprisonment.

However, the author is probably right.  I am just not as certain as he was.

As I said, Murphy-O’Connor also thought that Paul composed Colossians and Philemon during his Ephesian imprisonment.  That will call for a little more discussion.  So I’ll write about that tomorrow.

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Murphy-O’Connor-the Galatian conflict and response

I am going slow because i do not want to mischaracterize Murphy-O’Connor. I am in awe of the amount of material he covered in Paul: a Critical Life. He included long, fascinating discussions about the places where Paul founded churches. He uncovered possible backgrounds for Paul’s thought and that of his opponents in Jewish and Greek/Roman culture.

But the order in which he proceeded is difficult for me to follow. He wanted to make the letters of Paul his main source. But, because he treated them critically and because they often offer little clear direction, he ended up using Acts–very critically–and his own inferences.

The result is that the reader needs to read vast swaths of material to grasp the main points. It is hard to know when Murphy-O’Connor has finished a topic. I often want to summarize his position only to discover that there is more to it further on.

The letter to the Galatians was key to chronology, the situation of the churches, and to Paul’s developing theology. So Murphy-O’Connor dealt with that letter in several chapters on several topics. Here is a list of some of his conclusions about Galatians.

First, after thoroughly discussing other possibilities, he concluded that the Galatian churches were in north Galatia and only in the vicinity of Pessinus. Pessinus was the capital of the legendary King Midas and the cult center for the goddess Cybele, the forerunner of the earth-mother, Gaia.

Paul got sick while traveling through and founded a church while recovering (Galatians 4:13-14). It may have been the cult-center aspect of Pessinus that allowed churches to spring up in the surrounding area as he converted Cybele worshiping pilgrims.

Second, Paul revisited Galatia after the Antioch incident on his way to Ephesus but did not mention his conflict with Peter. He gave them instructions about the collection (1 Corinthians 16:1).

Third, Paul wrote his letter from Ephesus in 53. Murphy-O’Connor took the “quickly” of Galatians 1:6 seriously and concluded that a date after or during the Corinthian correspondence was out of the question.

Fourth, the anti-Pauline teachers arrived in Galatia on Paul’s heels and represented the new situation at Antioch which Paul has repudiated. They were Judaizers. By “mirror reading”, Murphy-O’Connor inferred a detailed account of their doctrine and their critique of Paul. He adopted and extensively quoted a reconstruction of Paul’s opponent’s teaching by J. Louis Martyn. According the reconstruction, these teachers claimed that Paul had failed to give the Galatians God’s greatest gift, the Torah.

Fifth, Paul’s response was to send a letter which would be read in public. The anti-Pauline teachers would hear it read. Thus, although Galatians supposedly addresses Paul’s converts in Galatia, it actually addresses Paul’s opponents and the people in Antioch who are behind them.

Paul opposes a view of the Messiah as under the Torah and an interpreter of it. Rather, Jesus the Messiah, is over the law and has granted Gentile Christians freedom from it. This is what Murphy-O’Connor saw as Paul’s “antinomian” stance.

With much respect for Murphy-O’Connor’s work, I am not convinced that the parts of this interpretation about a break with Antioch and Paul’s focus on opposing Jewish law work historically.

The references to Peter in 1 Corinthians do not show Paul having broken with Peter or the church at Antioch, or even Jerusalem. Paul has argued that he received his gospel by revelation, directly from Christ. But he does not consider himself utterly unique in this. In 1 Corinthians 15 Peter and James have received tandem revelations from Christ. Their apostleships are also based on revelation.

The new work of John Barclay on the gift of God emphasizes that Paul’s opposition was not just to keeping the law as a standard of worth, but to many systems of worth in both Jewish and Greek culture. The gospel of Paul affirms the gift of God “without regard to worth”.

In Galatians this includes the valuing of freemen over slaves, the valuing of men over women, and circumcision over uncircumcision. Uncircumcision, Barclay pointed out, was not just a lack of the Jewish practice, but the Greek assigning of worth to the unblemished male body.

So Paul was not simply antinomian (against the law), he was against human systems that allowed people’s relation to God to depend upon cultural standards of worth, because the coming of Christ had inaugurated a new age where these “currencies” have been devalued.

One insight I arrived at due to the information in Murphy-O’Connor about the Cybele cult at Pessinus has to do with Galatians 5:12:

I wish those agitators would go so far as to castrate themselves! (NET Bible).

The priests of Cybele were eunuchs. Could Paul be implying that to follow the agitators was the same as going back to the pagan religion and becoming priests of Cybele?

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Murphy-O’Connor-turning point

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, in his Paul: A Critical Life, put the Jerusalem Conference and the confrontation with Peter (Galatians 1 and 2) at a turning point in Paul’s ministry.  Before this Paul had operated under the auspices of Jerusalem and Antioch.  Afterwards he introduced himself as one not sent by or through human agency (Galatians), but as an apostle by the will of God (1 and 2 Corinthians) or a servant of Jesus Christ (Philippians and Romans).  More controversially, he thought Paul turned into a radical antinomian after the Peter incident and sought to root out Torah observance as a requirement in his churches.

This came about historically as follows:

There were disturbances at Antioch in about the year 40 because of the threat by Caligula to desecrate the Temple. Christians got blamed.  That is why the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.  Christian was a derogatory name used to call followers of Christ trouble makers.  The original founders of the community fled a severe persecution.  Into this chaos, the Jerusalem community sent Barnabas to encourage and renew the church.  He chose Paul as his partner.

The community at Antioch eventually commissioned Barnabas and Paul to extend their type of mixed Jewish/Gentile community into areas further west.

When Paul finished about eighteen months of work in Corinth, he seems to have been called back to Antioch.Acts 15:1-2, although out of order, is essentially accurate about the situation.  Paul and Barnabas  argue with agitators from Jerusalem. Eventually the community sends them to Jerusalem as delegates from Antioch to come to an agreement on circumcision for Gentiles with James, Peter, and John.

The important point here is that the Jerusalem Conference is a negotiation between two churches, the one at Antioch and the one at Jerusalem.  The missions of Barnabas and Paul were seen as extensions of the Antioch community.

Paul’s account in Galatians distorts this because Paul doesn’t want to appear as representing the church at either Antioch or Jerusalem.  He actually did represent Antioch before.  But now he has declared his independence. He says that he went to Jerusalem in response to a revelation.  The revelation may have happened, but that does not exclude the reality that Paul and Barnabas represented Antioch.

Murphy-O’Connor asked why James and the others agreed to support Paul.  The opponents of Paul probably had the better argument based on the Law and tradition.  But the political situation in the year 51 and the policy of Claudius toward Jews, made it expedient for the Jerusalem church to take a less rigorous stance toward Gentiles.

Paul says that at Jerusalem he undertook to raise a collection from his churches for the saints at Jerusalem . However, the actual agreement for financial support probably was between the church at Antioch and the church at Jerusalem.  Paul was not personally obligated to do this.  But he did so anyway as a matter of conscience and a gesture of good will.  The need for financial help from the churches under Antioch’s umbrella was another reason the Jerusalem church took a moderating position on the circumcision issue.

However, the final agreement at Jerusalem was probably ambiguous enough for Paul’s opponents to feel justified in sending envoys to Paul’s congregations to persuade Gentiles to accept circumcision.

Sometime after Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, another controversy arose there–this one about Jewish food laws.

Peter was visiting Antioch and had no trouble eating at Gentile house churches until some “people from James” (Galatians 2:12) came.  But then Peter became conflicted and withdrew.  This threatened the mixed character of the assembly as other Jews and even Barnabas wavered.  If Peter had a special mission to Jews, he may have done what he did to avoid undoing the good he was doing with them.  It is harder to understand Barnabas.  The political situation with Jewish nationalism and the desire not to appear unpatriotic may have come into play.

For Paul, though, this was a turning point.  He saw that he couldn’t give the Law any hold at all in his congregations or else it would crowd out the gospel.  After his confrontation with Peter, he no longer saw himself as dependent upon either Jerusalem or Antioch, but as an independent envoy from God representing the gospel of Christ.  He now took a radical antinomian stance.

To call Paul a radical antinomian goes too far, I think.  His Galatian letter informs the Galatians about the incident with Peter.  So his original preaching to them was before the incident.  Yet Paul insists that he is preaching the same gospel after the incident that he did before.

On the one hand, I believe Paul’s theology developed and is not consistent throughout his ministry.  On the other hand, it seems to me Murphy-O’Connor suggested that Paul broke with Judaism and Jewish Christianity more profoundly than his later writings and practice show. So I am going to see how this gets unpacked as I continue to read the book.

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Seals with names from ancient Jerusalem

Here is a link to an article that appeared in yesterday’s Jerusalem Post.

It says that archeologists have found a collection of ancient seals in Jerusalem. Those with the names of scribes on them come from the period between the Assyrian conquest of Samaria and the Babylonian conquest of Judah–the late Judean monarchy.  Many of the names are found in the Bible. In the Bible they belong to people from Northern Israel.

Just to be clear, these are names in common with particular biblical characters, not the names of biblical people themselves. In the past, archeologists have found seals that probably name actual biblical characters, for instance, Jaazaniah from 2 Kings 25:23 and Jeremiah 40:8.  See here.   That is not what this is.

But perhaps the names common in the north confirm that many northerners fled south during the Assyrian invasion and that some of them became government or religious officials in the south.

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