This week there were several bits and pieces in the material that contributed to a more vivid picture of the setting and circumstances of Paul and his work. So much of my mental picture built up over years of study has been built around what Paul exhorts his subjects to do in the actual text, especially in small passages linked together by a particular argument. The identification of an overall theme in a book has also been part of that picture. Both the study of the Corinthian letters and Fredriksen’s chapter 3 have added texture and nuance to my approach to this material.

For one, I had never considered if Paul was overall successful in Corinth. The story told of Christianity is largely of its rapid growth and acceptance, and subsequent influence on the world. Paul must have been successful wherever he went because Christianity was successful, right? The possibility that he was not had never really been on the table for me.

Furthermore, this is the Apostle Paul, hand picked by Christ to be his emissary to the “Nations.” Who could question his credentials or otherwise consider him to be less persuasive than these so-called “super-apostles?” I’ve been told by an evangelist before that the Word of God is all the power that is needed to persuade men, yet here is Paul struggling to hold on to an ecclesia with whom he spent at least 18 months. The hearts of men, as it turns out, were just as fickle and easily persuaded as they are today. What’s more, the Word is not a magical formula which by being spoken adjusts the priorities and perceptions of the hearers.

The first significant observation from reading Fredriksen this week was the realization that we know so much of Paul from Acts. This is, of course, highlighted because she is approaching her topic from the academic vector, wherein sources have different values baked into people and circumstances from which they were produced. If you erased what we know of Paul because of Acts, you might certainly arrive at a different picture.

And finally, yet again we’re weaving a context together of how Jews and pagans were interacting in the Greco-Roman world of the NT. Most interesting to me, Fredriksen suggests that we put to bed the idea that Jews viewed a crucified Messiah as a scandal because of a perception that crucifixion was a curse from God. Pair that with a Jewish community that had at least two categories for pagans in-mixing (proselyte and god-fearer) and the idea that Jews were distinctly separated from their contemporaries very quickly starts to fade away. It turns out it’s the pagan and Christian culture that is at such odds.

The question of unity in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians has reached a stalemate. The predominate camps support either a singular, unified Pauline work or a collection of 2-3 Pauline works later edited together to form a single document. I am convinced that the epistle is a single Pauline work.

The two most persuasive arguments for fragmentation were 1) the abrupt shift in tone in chapter 3 and 2) the seemingly out of order nature of some of its pieces. While the tonal issue in 3:2 has not been accounted for by any psychological or circumstantial insight into Paul (Garland, 147), I am persuaded it can be accounted for by interpretational issues. As for the epistles adherence to standard Greco-Roman conventions and formats, I feel this can be attributed to problems we create when a generalized perspective is applied to a specific circumstance. I’m unconvinced that the epistle breaks from expected Greco-Roman format in such a way as to become evidence against a single letter.

Instead, we find that the epistolary thanksgiving in Ph 1:3-11 is connected with themes found in the parts of the letter in question. To this end, Jewett says

When one adds to his analysis the aberration that the themes of suffering (1:7), joy (1:4), and mental attitude (1:7) which so dominate the last three chapters of the letter are all announced in the epistolary thanksgiving, the letter takes on an impressive unity. (Jewett, 53)

Furthermore, the vocabulary found in the epistle helps to unify the text. Garland notes that the uncommon greek phrases found in Ph 1:27 (translated “standing firm” and “side by side,” ESV) are found again in the same uncommon Greek in 4:1 and 4:3. (Garland, 160). These rare Pauline words act to bind the letter across the most common divisions.

Outside of the actual textual criticism, we should also consider that there exists no extant MS evidence that would support the theory of a compilation of multiple individual letters. (Carter and Levine, 199).

Finally, I thought that Garland made a compelling case for interpretational issues in Ph 3:1-11. He begins by establishing that the translation “Look out for” (Ph 3:2) is misleading, and agrees with Caird that Paul wants the Jews perceived as a cautionary tale instead of strictly avoided (Garland, 166). Garland then furthers the position that Paul uses the term “dogs” in 3:2 as an inverted slur against Jews, who themselves used the term to describe non-Jews. Paul follows with “evil workers” (KJV), which Garland posits is less about evil and more about works-righteousness, which again points to Jewish belief. Paul continues this derision of Jewish culture by claiming that “we are the circumcision” (Ph 3:3). This connects well with the rest of the chapter, as Paul the former persecutor and works-righteousness Pharisee recounts that Christ is his gain.

I fully admit to approaching the topic of the Apocrypha with a skeptical eye to its value for contemporary Christians. My definition of value, in retrospect, was very narrow and preconceived, which I imagine is common in layperson circles. The readings this week expanded my definition of value to surpass what the text itself might say, outwards towards what role the text might have played for Jews and Christians who found their faith at a moment when nearly all aspects of the literary world were substantially different than ours. The collection of works contained in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha serve to give us insight into a world quite foreign to our own.

If we want to understand the New Testament, we must understand the human writers who contributed, and furthermore the world in which they are living. DeSilva encourages the study of these books to provide a “fuller, more reliable picture” of the Judaism that immediately predates Christianity, and which goes on to eventually become or influence contemporary Judaism (DeSilva, 20). They serve to help us understand certain shades of the friction Paul might have encountered as he enters the synagogues to proclaim Christ. The literature being read in those spaces, how regularly, and the degree of acceptance (if it defiles the hands) would positively shape comparisons and critical thoughts of those coming into contact with the Apostles and teachers during the times described in our New Testament. These primary texts, then, have value in helping us rebuild the world of Early Christianity.

Beyond understanding the worldview of Jewish converts to Christianity, it’s also potentially helpful for us to consider the implications of early church choices to hold onto these texts, while Jewish communities abandoned them (DeSilva, 27). The reasons that these works disappeared from Jewish tradition may have much more to do with the language of origin or the recognition that God had stopped inspiring words of the prophets than any opposition to Christianity, per se.

Simultaneously though, what value did early Christianity see in these books? Was the inclusion of these extra-canonical works the result of the early father’s perspective (or lack thereof) concerning canon, or rather deliberate inclusion of works that displayed practical value? Perhaps the statement McDonald makes about contemporary choices of texts applies in antiquity, that “[t]he texts that speak to our immediate needs and circumstances are the ones that we tend to favor…” (McDonald, 62).

While I ultimately land in opposition to both Jerome’s suggestion to divide the Old Testament into “canonical” and “ecclesiastical” books as well as Augustine’s outright advocacy for the Septuagint text, my appreciation of the Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal literature has increased. I expect that I will find myself much more interested in the ongoing discussions about the influence these texts had on the formative years before and during the rise of Christianity and how they might have shaped the worldview of Christians and Jews alike.

The existence of the extra-canonical books is probably the first fact we learn when we begin to consider question on the canon. I know this was how it was for me, and like many my first step was learning of the existence of the Apocrypha. Of course, once you know of the existence of these mysterious books that the faith leaders around you never mentioned, you have two choices: ignore the elephant in the room or dive down the well that is what theologians know and suppose about the formation of the canon.

It’s potentially faith shaking for everyday Christians to learn about canon formation, but this is all the more reason to talk and reason about it in our churches. The internet has been the undoing of many obscure knowledge, and the church, facing the dilemma of shrinking numbers and crisis of belief in the inspiration and infallibility of the Word, should consider how to appropriately educate the membership. It’s increasingly evident that we can either choose to address these topics, or choose to let someone else educate our membership while giving up our influence on how facts are presented.

We know that the victors get to write the history, but a particularly interesting and/or frightening idea I came across in my reading was a position taken by the scholar Robert Wilken, in his book The Myth of Christian beginnings. Wilken supposed that the idea of the apostolic age was a creation of the “great church”, or orthodoxy. According to Aichele, there is extant manuscript evidence that the first century church was far more diverse than church history indicates. A fundamental tenant of the faith, and especially that of the Churches of Christ, is that first century Christianity was simple, relatively uniform due to apostolic influence and temporal proximity to Christ, unified against and because of oppression and persecution, and the foundations are laid out in the Bible itself.

A revelation to the tune of Wilken’s position would be far more faith shaking than simply learning about the human influence on the canon. However, I imagine that a theory such as Wilken’s would need a large amount of data and proof to overthrow the more mainstream teachings on the apostolic age. Then again, maybe I haven’t reached that depth of scholarship yet and the conversation is already well underway.

I feel that coming into this class I was confident that I was heavily interested in textual criticism, and seeing the text for what it is. Questioning the text’s authenticity or authority was not something I would have thought would be on the agenda, but I find myself intrigued, and if honest, a little worried. Ultimately though, I have to trust that God has entrusted me with the tools to receive his Word and effect change in my own life and sphere of influence.

Much of the contemporary Christian community knows little about the formation of the New Testament Canon and perhaps has little incentive to discover more about it. There is much more security in the idea that God has ensured His Word rests between the cover of the “good book” than in the history that suggests that the work of man was involved in its creation. The canon was heavily influenced by the early adoption of the codex as a literary technology and a way of using this technology to speak to the value of its contents.

Technologically, the invention of the codex was of great importance in the historical creation of the NT canon. While codices were used outside of Christian literary culture, the extant codices dated to the first four centuries are comprised of 70% Christian writings. (Hurtado, 56) The use of the codex by Christianity was not accidental; it served the purpose of binding together the multiple books it contained, physically and theologically. As these bound volumes were circulated, they inherently lent credit to each other, and by extension, discredited other writings of the same category. In the case of the Gospel accounts, the non-canonical Gospels of Peter or Thomas were never bound together with the canonical four. (Elliot, 107)

Writings that were left out of these collections suffered blows to their reputation and relative status, despite the fact that they were still read aloud and reference by patristic authors. It is notable that extant versions of these non-canonical writings appear more often in book roll form by percentage than their canonical siblings. It seems that early Christians had a preference to use the book roll for these types of texts. (Hurtado, 56)

Written texts hand copied and distributed afar bring their own dangers, and so a canon became necessary to legitimize a singular understanding of the faith. The canon’s creation also served to facilitate the transmission of what had largely been an oral tradition by providing an intertextual explanation to the reader. (Aichele, 51) As canon has the innate effect of legitimizing some views while delegitimizing others, it is no coincidence that the creation of the canon happened alongside the establishment of Christianity as the religion of Rome. As the formerly persecuted became powerful through Constantine, they found themselves capable of eliminating heterodox beliefs and structuring a foundation on which Christianity could stand. (Aichele, 56)

By the 4th century, the New Testament canon had been principally established, but the choices made before this time were unquestionably influential on the final product. The attributed author and the acceptance and proliferation within the broad Christian community are perceived to have been some of the most critical factors, but the use of the codex and the decisions concerning inclusions and exclusions of texts in these codices had pre-shaped that conversation.