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.