Rethinking the Context of Childbirth in Rom 8:19-23 in Light of its Allusion to Gen 3:16-19
In this paper, I will attempt to show that (1) the theme of childbirth in Rom 8:19-23 can be applied not only to συνωδίνειν but also to ματαιότης and φθορά; (2) this context of childbirth can be best explained in light of its allusion to Gen 3:16-19, where God pronounces his sentence on Eve, Adam, and the earth. Although ματαιότης does not occur in Gen 3:16-19 [LXX], the Apocalypse of Moses uses this word to describe God’s judgment of Eve in Gen 3:16 (Apoc. Mos. 25:1). As Dochhorn recently argued, it is probable that both the author of Apocalypse of Moses and Paul use ματαιότης as a word play on חבל (birth pangs) and הבל (the Hebrew equivalent of ματαιότης) in order to reinterpret God’s curse on Eve in Gen 3:16 more generally as futility, not merely as birth pangs. Dochhorn’s argument can be supplemented by two further points: (1) just as God’s curse on Eve contains futility and birth pangs in Apoc. Mos. 25:1-2, so in Rom 8:20-22, Paul describes the sufferings of the creation as futility and birth pangs. The Hebrew equivalent of ὠδίνειν (a cognate of συνωδίνειν) in the MT is חבל (Ps 7:15; Song 8:5); (2) φθορά in v. 21 can also mean “destruction of a fetus, abortion.”
The theme of childbirth also fits well in the overall context of Paul’s discussion of current suffering and future hope (Rom 8:18-29). It also strengthens the solidarity between creation and humanity in redemption as well as corruption. As women suffer from birth pangs due to Eve’s sin, the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains. In spite of current sufferings, both creation and humanity still have hope: for creation, the liberation from its bondage of φθορά (v. 21); for humanity, adoption, redemption of their bodies (v. 23).
The Voice of God in Rom 9.6-18: Paul, Plutarch, Pausanias (and others) on deriving a god’s character from his oracles
This paper situates Paul’s use of Scripture in the broader context of the use of oracles in the Ancient Mediterranean world through an analysis of Romans 9.6-18. This is a section that scholars typically label a “retelling of Israel’s history” which looks back on God’s past actions in the world, and his dealings with his people. This paper argues that rather than a focus on God’s deeds per se, Paul’s argument in vv. 6-18 is entirely built around God’s words. All six quotations in the first eighteen verses of chapter nine are directly quoting the words of God in the first person, and thus use God’s own past words from which to draw information about his character and promises. This observation opens up a neglected source of comparanda from the ancient world, namely the use of oracles by Greek and Roman writers. The paper reviews select examples of oracles given at the oracular shrines of Delphi and Dodona, which were quoted by Dio Chrysostom (Or. 17.16), Plutarch (Numa 4.5) and Pausanias (7.25.1). In these examples, the words of the oracle are used to demonstrate a particular character trait of the god, from which can be inferred his or her habitual action in the world and dealings with people. The paper concludes that Paul uses a similar hermeneutical logic in order to draw conclusions from God’s past utterances about the nature of God’s election, and thus the present and future condition of Israel. In doing so, this paper challenges the prevalent view that there is no legitimate source of comparison with Christian and Jewish Scripture in the Ancient Mediterranean world.
Bodies as a living sacrifice and the end of time
This presentation will consider the eschatological implications of Paul’s appeal to the Romans that they should offer their bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), which will be read in light of Romans 9-11. The essential argument will be that Paul uses sacrifice in order to further his eschatological agenda. The nature of Paul’s eschatological vision will be explored with reference to Romans 15:10. The issue of ethnicity is central to our argument on this point, given that the ethne are to worship God with his people. Paul’s vision is that of the ethne worshipping God alongside the Jews, but yet not becoming identical to them i.e. not getting circumcised and becoming Jews. The theoretical underpinnings of this analysis will also be discussed. More specifically, we will consider Nancy Jay’s analysis that sacrifice was constructed in order to achieve particular ends. We will also note the importance of sacrifice in the construction of kinship, as highlighted by Jay’s own analysis. Here we will argue that Paul uses sacrifice to create a viable alternative to circumcision for the ethne. Rather than becoming Jews, Paul instead constructs for them a relationship of brotherhood, based on kinship within the Abrahamic lineage. Paul therefore deploys sacrifice in Romans 12:1 in order to achieve eschatological goals, and - more precisely - to construct the ethnic categories upon which his apocalyptic vision is predicated. As such, Paul’s eschatological vision requires him to become a social engineer. Paul uses sacrifice as a tool to construct the ethnic categories necessary to bring about the end of the world.
Circumcision and Baptism as Metaphors in Paul’s Letters
There are many similarities between circumcision and baptism as rituals, a subject which has thoroughly been investigated by Claudia Matthes in recent years. Paul was acutely aware of their significance and his speech about both reveals how he aimed to shape his readers’ understanding of their new reality.
He mostly speaks of peritomē and related terminology when referring to the literal act of circumcision, though there are a few figurative uses. In Rom 2:29, he picks up a metaphor passed down from the Hebrew Bible: The “circumcision of the heart” is what truly makes one a Jew, and thus a part of God’s people. Later in the argument (4:11), he calls Abrahams’ circumcision the “seal of righteousness” and thereby stresses belief in Christ as opposed to the mere outward sign of circumcision. Finally, in Phil 3:3 he boldly states: “We are the circumcision” – those who serve God in the Spirit. By these metaphorical readings, he develops the common understanding of the rite further for his own purposes.
The much less frequent mention of baptizein and baptisma reveals a slightly different way of reasoning. While again employing traditional language, Paul interprets baptism in a new way as immersion in Christ (Gal 3:27; Rom 6:3), immersion in his death (Rom 6:3-4), dipping into his name (1 Cor 1:13, 15), and plunging into one body (1 Cor 12:13). In essence, his baptismal language is metaphorical and describes the believers’ new status as those participating in Christ’s fate.
This paper will investigate how Paul employs metaphors to expand his readers’ grasp of circumcision, as compared to how his inherently metaphorical speech of baptism serves to express its meaning. Ultimately, this shows how Paul crafts language to express an understanding, and thus to shape a community.
Paul’s Letter to Freed-Casual Labourers: Profiling the Thessalonian Believers in Light of the Roman Economy
Many scholars have attempted to create models suitable for the Thessalonian community, such as the enthusiastic, gnostic, divine man, millenarian and sectarian models. These attempts have been oriented towards its religious and apocalyptic backdrops, but have not fully spotlighted its socio-economic environment. Furthermore, though the issue of socio-economic stratification in Pauline churches has long been controversial, comparatively little attention has been given to the Thessalonian church. This paper, thus, intends to sketch the Thessalonian believers’ socio-economic status and backdrop.
I will construct a socio-economic profile of the Thessalonian church by examining biblical evidence in light of recent historical and archaeological research on the Roman Economy. First, a snapshot of the Thessalonians will be given: many were gentiles (1 Thess 1:9), craftsmen (2:9; 4:11), and probably the urban poor (2 Cor 8:2). Second, I will delve into plebs’, in particular manual workers’ everyday lives, such as their legal status, tabernae, occupations, un(der)employment, survival strategies and social networks. Third, biblical evidence will be re-examined in this economic context, while articulating the Thessalonians’ socio-economic status.
This paper will demonstrate that the Thessalonian Christians were mostly poor freedman casual workers who were surrounded by social networks. In Friesen’s poverty scale, they can be located mostly “at subsistence level (PS6)”.
This paper will be helpful for future studies. First, profiling the Thessalonians socially and economically enables us to reexamine some biblical passages, including inter-group conflict (1 Thess 1:6; 2:14; 3:1-5, 7), solidarity (4:9-10), sexuality or purity (4:1-8), and death (4:13-18). Second, this negotiates the traditional methodology probing into early Christians’ economic status: reconsidering previously neglected evidence, such as Christians’ attitude towards manual work and their working contracts which reflect their legal and economic status. Third, this paper can function as a case study which implies that there were many differences among Pauline communities’ socio-economic stratifications.
Sacrilege and Divine Anger: 1 Corinthians 5 and Greco-Roman Concepts of Pollution
A number of scholars have argued for the importance of the community-as-temple concept in 1 Corinthians 5, but they have missed the potential resonances between Paul’s injunctions and the Greco-Roman religious context in Corinth. I argue that three features of Greco-Roman perspectives on temple purity demonstrate that Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 5 fits beautifully in a Greco-Roman pagan context. First, pagans connected the violation of temple space with a particular kind of pollution (ἄγος) that caused divine anger and invited divine punishment. Second, pagans understood this divine anger to have a communal impact. Third, handing over a sacrilegious person to the divine powers was one possible way to avoid being engulfed in his or her punishment and to allow the gods to resolve the pollution.
This approach opens new interpretative possibilities not explored by scholarship that focuses only on Jewish background to 1 Corinthians 5. Commentators that emphasize Paul’s Jewish context generally see the expulsion of the incestuous man as a means of purifying the temple or as a means of ultimately saving the man. These interpretations raise questions, however, concerning why the man has to be handed over to Satan, and why he has to experience ὄλεθρος. My approach can answer these questions by suggesting that destruction logically follows sacrilege in paganism, and that handing over a sacrilegious person can protect the community from suffering the same fate.
Joint session with 2018 NT & Second Temple Judaism
Book review panel on J. P. Davies, 'Paul among the Apocalypses?' (T. & T. Clark, 2016)
A vibrant and growing field of discussion in contemporary New Testament studies is the question of 'apocalyptic' thought in Paul. What is often lacking in this discussion, however, is a close comparison of Paul's would-be apocalyptic theology with the Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature of his time, and the worldview that literature expresses. This book addresses that challenge. Covering four key theological themes (epistemology, eschatology, cosmology and soteriology), J. P. Davies places Paul 'among the apocalypses' in order to evaluate recent attempts at outlining an 'apocalyptic' approach to his letters. While affirming much of what those approaches have argued, and agreeing that 'apocalyptic' is a crucial category for an understanding of the apostle, Davies also raises some important questions about the dichotomies which lie at the heart of the 'apocalyptic Paul' movement.