September 2011


I’m very excited to share that I’ve just been emailed the final draft of the blurb for my forthcoming book, Paul as an Administrator of God in 1 Corinthians. Here it is:

This book looks in detail at Paul’s description of apostles in 1 Corinthians 4 and 9 as divinely appointed administrators (oikonomoi) and considers what this tells us about the nature of his own apostolic authority. John Goodrich investigates the origin of this metaphor in light of ancient regal, municipal, and private administration, initially examining the numerous domains in which oikonomoi were appointed in the Graeco-Roman world, before situating the image in the private commercial context of Roman Corinth. Examining the social and structural connotations attached to private commercial administration, Goodrich contemplates what Paul’s metaphor indicates about apostleship in general terms as well as how he uses the image to defend his apostolic rights. He also analyses the purpose and limits of Paul’s authority – how it is constructed, asserted, and contested – by examining when and how Paul uses and refuses to exercise the rights inherent in his position. 

The book is a slight revision of my Durham thesis written under John Barclay and, as the blurb indicates, attempts narrowly to engage the debate over Paul’s oikonomos metaphor (1 Cor 4.1-5; 9.16-23), offering (what I believe to be) a corrective to the competing approaches by Dale Martin, John Byron, and others. For those unaware, there is some debate concerning what the metaphor implies and thus how it functions in context: Is it a slavery metaphor? Does it connote honor or shame, and to whom? And what implications does it have regarding Paul’s apostolic authority? A lot of the disagreement, however, has been born as a result of the lack of attention given to the origin and source domain of Paul’s metaphor. That is to say, not enough scholars have asked the basic question, to what kind of administrator was Paul comparing himself? The title oikonomos was used in a variety of social contexts in the Graeco-Roman world, and a number of studies have reached questionable conclusions about the interpretation of Paul’s analogy because they have either advanced evidence without distinguishing between these various contexts (and thus are guilty of parallelomania) or have incorrectly identified the source domain of Paul’s metaphor (so I argue). I myself definitely land closest to Martin’s view, that Paul envisioned apostles as private commercial slaves, an image that would have resonated deeply in “Wealthy Corinth,” though I propose several significant nuances to Martin’s exegesis. More broadly, though, the books offers some insights on Paul’s apostolic authority, generally agreeing with Kathy Ehrensperger that Paul envisioned his authority as having a constructive (“transformative”) purpose, which not only directed but limited the exercise of his rights.

The book is still in the early stages of production and will appear next year (probably in summer or fall) in the Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series (volume 152). It certainly was a pleasure to write, and John definitely was a wonderful supervisor, but I cannot say emphatically enough how relieved I am to be moving on! I’m sure all you other recent PhDs will concur.

I am currently rewriting my module/class Jesus and the Gospels. It is a first year/freshman module that introduces students to the basic critical issues of the Gospels and provides an overview of Jesus’ life and teaching. The class textbook has been Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey. 2nd ed. Downers Grove: IVP, 2009. I’m thinking about trying something different, and I just wondered what others use. So, any suggestions?

I was quickly glancing through the receptions in the hardcopy SBL session guide and saw a number of university receptions listed, but none for Durham. I then emailed John Barclay to inquire about this, and he has assured me there is one scheduled, which was neither printed in the hardcopy guide nor listed (as far as I can tell) on the SBL website; it is, however, included on the AAR website as session M20-436. For those interested in attending Durham’s SBL reception, here are the details: 8:00-10:30pm, November 20th, at the InterContinental Hotel. Do pass the word along.

I don’t know the room assignment yet, since John did not specify in his email and that information on the AAR website is restricted to academy members. But I’ve emailed John again to find out and will add that information to this post once I hear back.

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, the review committee of the 2011 edition of the ESV can be seen discussing how they translate terms to do with slavery (see here [edit - it is also available on YouTube]). Given their openness to the TV cameras, it would be interesting to know if they intend to publish their reasons for changes made. This is because the change on which they vote and agree at the end seems most surprising.

The vote is on how to translate doulos in 1 Cor 7:21-23. Almost all modern English Bibles, including previous editions of the ESV, translate this as slave. However, the committee decide to change this to ‘bondservant’ in the 2011 edition (see here). I find this a strange decision for a number of reasons:

  1. In 1 Cor 7:15, they have translated the cognate verb as ‘enslaved’. I think this is the right translation, but if they can stomach it here in relation to marriage (!), why not six verses later when the actual institution of slavery is in mind?
  2. In 1 Cor 12:12, they have translated douloi as ‘slaves’, probably because of the opposing eleutheroi. Yet we have this same combination of terms in 7:21.
  3. Bondservant is an archaic term which hardly makes the meaning plainer to the average reader.
  4. Although dictionaries suggest that ‘bondservant’ is synonymous with ‘slave’, as far as I know, it is not the same. The former represents so-called ‘debt slavery’ (or similar forms of bonded labour), while the latter is ‘chattel slavery’. In the former, the individual sells their labour whereas in the latter, they sell themselves (in neither case should this necessarily be taken to imply that it is the slave’s decision). This distinction can be seen in the Torah’s different approach to Hebrews and non-Hebrews who are enslaved, although the ESV there uses the term ‘slave’ for each. But by the 1st century CE, doulos had become the most common word to refer to a chattel slave. What evidence did the reviewers have that supported this different kind of slavery here?

I worry when I see translations of doulos other than ‘slave’, that we are hiding from the reader some of the hardness of the text and the reality of the ancient world. I’m not sure this is the intention here, and to be fair to the reviewers, the footnote says that doulos might refer to slaves, and refers the reader to a preface to which I do not have access. Perhaps all would become clear if I could read that. Moreover, in general, the ESV is an improvement on many versions since it regularly translates doulos as ‘slave’. This makes the review committee’s decision all the more surprising. If this is true elsewhere, why not here?

Rob Bradshaw has pointed out a clip on the BBC (apologies if it doesn’t work for viewers outside the UK [edit - it is also available on YouTube, ht John Byron]), which shows part of the discussion between the 2011 ESV review translators on how to translate terms for slave. I am particularly interested as this impinges on my current research on slavery in the Synoptic Gospels. The clip shows something of the challenge of translating a subject which carries so much historical freight, especially for those in the States, the main market for the ESV I suspect. Peter Williams suggests that ‘ebed should be translated as ‘servant’ everywhere, since the implication of translating it ‘slave’ would make Israel to be slaves to God. It seems to me possible that this is precisely the meaning of the term. Gordon Wenham picks up the idea and argues for a consistent translation as ‘slave’, but Wayne Grudem has concerns about the ‘irredeemably negative connotations’ of the word today. I presume he means that since we see slavery as a bad thing, this would colour our reading of the Bible which often uses the concept without any sense of disapproval. However, I disagree that this would be importing ‘highly inaccurate understandings of the meaning of the term.’* The discussion then moves to a vote on 1 Cor 7:21-3. I will comment on this in part 2, but I take it that their discussion was ultimately seeking to encompass slavery in the NT which is what I want to comment upon here.

I fear that this is evidence of the persistent idea in biblical scholarship that slavery in the ancient world can’t have been all that bad, because we hear of some slaves being well treated, some slaves gaining riches and positions of authority, and some (even many) being manumitted in the Roman world. This, however, is a highly selective reading of the evidence. In NT times, the majority of slaves worked in the harsh, even brutal, conditions of agriculture, and as far as we know, were rarely manumitted, perhaps because they did not live long enough. Those who were household slaves had the dubious privilege of being close to their owners. For younger women and boys, this often meant sexual attention, and all household slaves were the recipients of physical violence at the whim of their owner, as the parables indicate. The slave owner decided slaves’ relationships, and owned any children produced. Slaves experienced terrible punishments under Roman law, even when their offence was carrying out the criminal intentions of their owner. Moreover, slaves’ testimony could only be received under torture. The majority of slaves were cut off from their places of origin, their culture, language, and kin, never to return to them. And this included those lucky slaves who found freedom and fortune. On any level, such an account of slavery is bad, and attempts to see ancient slavery in any kind of rose-tinted light should be abandoned.

I rather like the ESV as a modern ‘word-for-word’ translation (as they put it), and I’m glad the reviewers paid such care and attention. But they ought not to try to protect the Bible from its readers (or is it the readers from the Bible?). Slavery is there and slavery was and is bad. We do an injustice to the biblical texts, and to the unnamed and unnumbered slaves, if we try to pretend otherwise.

* I recognise that the clip is edited, so the discussion was no doubt more nuanced than it suggests.

[21/9/2011 Edited to remove the non sequitur between paras 1 and 2]

I am entering late into this discussion (perhaps too late in blog time), but this is my first opportunity to do so. As is well known by now, Larry Hurtado has been expressing the view (here, here and here) that New Testament PhD students in Britain should have reached a certain standard of linguistic competency by the time of completion (which could include testing at the viva – no thanks, I’m scared enough as it is). For traditional NT PhDs, this seems a reasonable proposition. However, there need to be some fairly major changes to the teaching of theology in the UK if this is to be taken seriously.

At Durham, we naturally have opportunities to study both ancient and modern languages, but I wouldn’t like to have started any from scratch. I am doing this with Latin this year, but fear that I may not be able to devote the time to make it stick. Realistically, therefore, the British candidate needs a reasonable competency prior to beginning research.

In which case, there needs to be more emphasis on languages earlier in the education system. It is pretty much expected these days that applicants for PhD will have an MA in an appropriate subject. These degrees are described by the AHRC as ‘Research Preparation’ degrees since they are meant to be the preparation stage for the PhD. In my Biblical Studies MA at King’s College London, we had to take a module in a language, either ab initio or advancing previous study. This is good, but is it enough? Should there not be a larger language component if the PhD is the aim? However, one academic year is not a lot in the study of a language. This turns the spotlight on undergraduate degrees.

Which is a problem, because it is quite possible to get a degree in Theology and Religious Studies in the UK without studying any ancient languages. Then again, there are plenty of subjects within this field which do not require them. However, if we are hopeful that there will be future generations taking up the discipline, then they will need the tools to enable them to do so. This is particularly acute with ministerial training in almost all denominations (a route which many PhD students have typically taken), where courses often avoid original language study altogether.

If we enforce Hurtado’s language requirement for the PhD and do not change our earlier theological education, then I fear for those educated in the British system. I fear that this will mean in practice that the subject of traditional NT Studies will remain open to (a) those who are self-motivated enough to do the language study on their own (good for them); and (b) those who have studied Classical languages at school, which in the UK, almost entirely means public school (i.e. private school). I am not comfortable with the potential class implications of this, and indeed, it would be interesting to know how many of our current senior figures in the subject have a public school background which has contributed to their linguistic ability.

In other words, this is an important topic with implications for the structure of theological education as a whole, and not just for reasons of academic competence.

For those who like cheap books, Christianbook.com (CBD) has a decent academic bargain books page. Now and then I browse through it to see what I could buy if I actually had money to spend. Just this evening I noticed that CBD is now selling quite a few volumes from the Old Testament Library (OTL) and New Testament Library (NTL) series for at least 70% off, even some new commentaries published within the last couple of years (unfortunately, Martin de Boer on Galatians is not quite that discounted!). Many are currently in stock, though some will only become available to ship in mid October, so be aware of that. In my opinion, the volumes in this series are generally good, though rarely great. There are also a handful of classic monographs (re-)published in this series, and those are normally well worth their current CBD price. For instance, in my thesis I interacted a lot with John Schütz’s Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority (originally published in 1975 in SNTSMS, but now available in NTL), which is an excellent study on Paul’s authority concept that has yet to be surpassed. Anyway, if you have some extra book money lying around, do visit the site.

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