When we consider Paul and Culture, I see that there are two primary ways to consider the issue: sociologically and theologically, though obviously the two go hand in hand. I will address the sociological first.

Regarding culture, I’m not concerned to split hairs about different socio-historical definitions. I think the worldview paradigm that Wright uses is helpful for making aspects of it more specific: praxis, stories, symbols, and questions. Also, Meek’s First Urban Christians is a good place to start since he details the aspects of society in which Paul integrates.

Culture by definition is a social concept and thus it relates specifically to the way that people think and relate to one another. So that forces the question: which culture are we talking about? Palestinian Jews or Diaspora Jews (though this is in some ways a false dichotomy), Greeks or Latins, etc.? Since Paul styled himself the ‘apostle to the gentiles’, I would say Greco-Roman gentiles would be a good place to start. Barclay’s ‘Paul Among Diaspora Jews: Anomaly or Apostate?’ (JSNT 18 [1996]: 89-119) offers a helpful paradigm since he delineates 3 ways to interact with culture: assimilation, acculturation and accommodation.

Assimilation: Social integration, or becoming similar to one’s neighbours. This would include sharing meals, attending games, participating in worship, and the like, since they are all places to rub elbows socially. Barclay gives a spectrum from a Jewish perspective: solely Jewish community — commercial employment with non-Jews — attendance at theatre/games — gymnasium education — abandonment of social distinctives (95).

Acculturation: Non-material, and especially educational, aspects of cultural exposure, experienced especially in the mastery of literary and linguistic heritage. Thus speaking Greek is the first step. He again gives a spectrum: No facility in Greek — Acquaintence with common moral values — Familiarity with Greek literature, rhetoric, philosophy, and theology — Scholarly expertise (96)

Accomodation: How one uses the acculturation one has acquired, in particular how Jews use Greek acculturation they acquired. This may be integrative (e.g., Philo using allegory) or oppositional (3 Maccabees, Joseph and Aseneth).

4 Maccabees — High Acculturation, Low Accomodation, Low Assimilation
Philo — High(est) Acculturation, Medium Accommodation, Low/Medium Assimilation
Consistent Allegorizers and Other Cultured Assimilators (as noted by Philo) — High Acculturation, High Accomodation, High Assimilation
Joseph and Aseneth — Medium Acculturation, Low Accomodation, Low Assimilation
Conclusion: high correlation between accomodation and assimilation

Paul —
Medium Assimilation as evidenced by shared meals (Gal 2; 1 Cor 8-10), though he maintained boundaries from Greco-Roman worship, and we lack evidence that he participated in the gymnasia or political sphere. However, with his close daily association with non-Jews, other Jews probably viewed him as highly assimilated.

Medium Acculturation as evidenced by fluent, but not necessarily polished Greek. He uses rhetoric but apparently not up to Corinthian standards. He uses philosophy but not at a structural level.

Low Accommodation as evidenced by his condemnation of both Jews and Gentiles as under sin. He is thus counter-cultural in his views of the church in distinction to others.

Here are a few key quotes from Barclay:

‘He shows relatively limited acculturation and minimal accommodation, yet he applies the language of the most defensive Diaspora Jews to a Gentile mission which threatens their identities! Other Jews of comparable assimilation to Paul are those who stand at the top of the accommodation scale, who use whatever Hellenistic resources they possess to relativize or downplay traditional Jewish claims. By an extraordinary transference of ideology, Paul deracinates a culturally conservative expression of the Jewish tradition and uses it in the service of his largely Gentile communities’. (110)

‘There can be no doubt that his combination of high assimilation and low accommodation is socially effective in terms of mission: Paul’s stance encourages high levels of contact with Gentiles but creates hard-edged communities with strong ideological walls of protection’. (110-11)

‘Of the three scales we have reviewed, there is strong evidence that what counted in the eyes of Diaspora Jews was not the level of acculturation or accommodation, but the degree of assimilation’. (112)

Every Jew in the Graeco-Roman world had in fact a triple identity: what he thought himself to be, what other Jews thought him to be and what non-Jews thought him to be. It is not difficult to decide which form of identity was socially determinative among Diaspora Jews. What counted here in terms of social and historical outcome was not what Paul himself thought, but how other Jews regarded him. (113)

I actually found the Accommodation category as not that helpful because it is hard to conceptualise it apart from acculturation. For instance, the only chart he gives for it just shows whether people are integrative or oppositional. Also, when describing Paul he says that Paul is low on accommodation, but isn’t Paul really medium to high but oppositional in Barclays terminology? Any ideas on what a better category would be? Or if there should be a third category?

Paul and Culture, pt 1: Miroslav Volf’s Soft Difference and Niebuhr’s Paradox
Paul and Culture, pt 2
Paul and Culture, pt 3