May 2014

I noticed over the weekend that Robert Orlando’s much discussed 89-minute documentary Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe is now available for purchase on DVD or download. I’ve now watched it and was impressed by the number and names of the scholars interviewd in the film. I also enjoyed that the documentary sought both to persuade the viewer of a particular political function for the Jerusalem collection while also providing a decent (if not one-sided) summary of Paul’s life and ministry in the process, which gave the historical survey lying at the center of the film a sense of unity from beginning to end. The film certainly has an agenda to push, and I myself was not convinced, as the film suggests, that the Jerusalem collection was a failure, in that James ultimately rejected the Gentiles’ money and Paul’s Gentile mission. Unlike the director and the interviewees given prominence toward the end of the film (where Wright, Witherington, and Hurtado seems to disappear), I find no reason to believe that James and the Jerusalem believers conspired against Paul and somehow actively or passively contributed in his beating and arrest in Acts 21. Luke explains that Paul was welcomed gladly by James and company when Paul arrived in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17-26) and I find no reason to doubt the veracity of that account. Whatever the case, Orlando’s film is worth watching and reflecting upon critically critically. This could be a good documentary to show students of early Christianity, though afterward one should given plenty of time for class interaction and for fielding questions.

I was pleased to see that the Review of Biblical Literature (RBL) recently posted three reviews of my book, Paul as an Administrator of God in 1 Corinthians (CUP, 2012). I’m not sure why my book deserved three reviews in a single publication, but I appreciate the publicity. I’m also grateful that the reviews are generally positive.

Jason Weaver writes:

Goodrich’s perspective on Paul as administrator in 1 Corinthians is both unique and intriguing. He carefully and successfully demonstrates how an understanding of the metaphor as a private commercial administrator helps the reader to understand Paul’s approach to apostolic authority. His examination of the ancient background of oikonomos is clear and well-structured. His critiques of other scholarship are both fair and balanced. Overall, Goodrich is successful in defending his thesis and providing a new and thoughtprovoking perspective on two difficult Pauline texts.

Korinna Zamfir says:

The exploration of the office of oikonomoi in the Greco-Roman world is an excellent enterprise… The description of Paul’s position in the Corinthian community is convincing in the main… The volume is an important contribution to the discussion of Paul’s apostolic authority and offers a significant insight into the social background that shaped the language and imagery used by early Christians.

Kathy Ehrensperger’s remarks, on the other hand, are less flattering. Although she doesn’t challenge any of my historical, exegetical, or theological conclusions, she heavily criticizes my introduction. To be sure, I anticipated some of the criticisms I received from her. Ehrensperger has written an excellent book on a related topic (Paul and the Dynamics of Power [T&T Clark, 2009]), which investigates a number of Pauline power motifs and builds on a good theoretical foundation. More than anything Ehrensperger criticizes my lack of theoretical reflection, while also insisting that I have both misundertood her work and been “noncourteous” in my assessment of others:

This [lack of theoretical reflection] is one of the main weaknesses of the study, and it leads to some misunderstandings of colleagues’ works (I nowhere in my work claim that “apostolic authority” or hierarchies are rendered obsolete in Pauline communities; the arguments refer to Paul’s role as a teacher, not to “ecclesial structures” per se; see 135–36 in my Paul and the Dynamics of Power) and to rather noncourteous evaluations of others’ (e.g., as “confusion”; see 13, 19). The language of scholarly debate should reflect the legitimacy and plausibility of divergent views and approaches, in my view.

A more robust discussion of modern theories of power would have certainly benefited my work. Regrettably, I hadn’t the time or space to include it. In fact, from the beginning of the project my primary aim was to focus on the historical and conceptual background/source domain of Paul’s metaphor and to allow my historical and exegetical insights to support and refine the larger constructive projects of others, not least that of Ehrensperger, whose work I explicitly endorse in my conclusion.

What I take issue with, then, are Ehrensperger’s claims that (1) I was “noncourteous” in my interaction with others, and (2) I have misunderstood her work. First, it never occurred to me that “confusion” is an offensive word; I would have thought it was quite a fair way to characterize an unresolved scholarly debate. Second, the remark was in no way directed toward her, but to the general state of scholarship on how best to illuminate Paul’s oikonomos/oikonomia metaphors in 1 Corinthians. I am happy to legitimate divergent views and approaches (esp. as they concern models and theories for studying power in the NT). What I was identifying as “confusing/confusion” was the way that respected scholars talk past each other when they draw on ancient sources from a variety of social and adminstrative domains in their competing interpretations of Pauline texts.

Secondly, while it is possible that I have misunderstood Ehrensperger, it could be that she herself was simply unclear on the issues in her book that I failed to grasp. In her review of my book, Ehrensperger claims that I have misrepresented her: “I nowhere in my work claim that ‘apostolic authority’ or hierarchies are rendered obsolete in Pauline communities; the arguments refer to Paul’s role as a teacher, not to ‘ecclesial structures’ per se.” But the way I represented her work seems to be close to, if not precisely how, others have also summarized her argument. Note the following sound bites and summaries from reviews of Ehrensperger’s book:

The power that Paul exercised over the communities that he had founded “aimed at rendering itself obsolete” as Paul labored to impart to the community members the practical and discursive tools requisite to achieving “maturity” in Christ and thus to a position of semi-equality with Paul himself (62)… In the book’s final chapter, Ehrensperger completes her portrait of the power structure inherent in the Pauline letters (and within the early Christian movement generally) as one that contrasts with the oppressive structures of Roman imperialism. The power structure inherent in the early Christian movement was temporally self-limited, aimed at rendering itself obsolete (198, citing 1 Cor 14:20). (Thomas Blanton, Review of Biblical Literature)

Paul did not do away with hierarchy, nor did he simply turn existing hierarchies upside down. Instead, Paul redefined how ‘asymmetrical’ relationships are to function and put temporal, functional, and other limits upon the hierarchies that necessarily existed in faith communities. (Wade J. Berry, The Bible & Critical Theory)

One of its greatest merits is to show that even asymetrical power relationships are not necessarily relationships of domination/subordination, nor temporally permanent… (Ian Boxall, Scripture Bulletin [this one was posted on the publisher’s website!])

Ehrensperger’s contrapuntal reading is evident as she understands Paul to be in a hierarchically-defined, asymmetrical relationship with his addressees but that this relationship was temporary and that planned obsolescence, similar to Wartenberg’s concept of “transformative power” (61) describes accurately Paul’s application of power. (J. Brian Tucker, Biblical Theology Bulletin)

None of these other reviewers appears to have interpreted Ehrensperger as saying that Paul’s planned obsolescence of hierarchies and power structures applied only to his role as teacher. Perhaps I have misunderstood her argument, and if so, I apologize. But it could be that Ehrensperger herself is to be blame for not making her argument clear.

St. John’s College, Nottingham, has a number of great You Tube videos on theological topics. I found this well-produced, 14-minute clip of Tom Wright summazing his view of Pauline Theology. I think I’ll air this in my summer school Romans course next week when I introduce my students to Wright. (I’m trying to do more of these kinds of things in class so it’s not always just me representing other scholars, but allowing scholars to speak for themselves).


The meaning of Romans 7 finally uncovered:

I was once alive apart from teaching, but when the end of the semester came, grading came alive and I died.

The very job that promised life proved to be death to me.

For grading, seizing an opportunity through the teaching, deceived me and through it killed me.

So the teaching is holy, and the classroom is holy and righteous and good.

Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was grading, producing death in me through what is good, in order that grading might be shown to be sin, and through the classroom might become sinful beyond measure.

For we know that the teaching is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under grading.

I’m not clever enough to come up with this, but Marc Cortez is. (And on a more serious note, his little volume Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed is really helpful.)

It is the last day of class today for my M/W course on Pauline Epistles II (covering only Galatians-Colossians and Philemon). I’ve structured the class to end with Ephesians (since it is probably the latest of these epistles), so today we’ve covering Eph 6:10-24. To get a handle of the passage I’ve been reading through Tim Gombis’ The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God (InterVarsity, 2010)–also because my students have a book review of it due today–and I was struck by Gombis’ insightful comments on how believers are to participate in divine/spiritual warfare. I’ve always been puzzled about how to apply Paul’s instructions about the “armor of God” in Eph 6:10-18 in the resistance of cosmic spiritual powers. Gombis’ take on the entire subject is illuminating.

First, Gombis suggests that while these powers are real and not to be demythologized, it is important that we focus not on their identities, but on their effects, i.e., “social practices, systems of injustice and oppression and relational dynamics that allow for exploitation and prevent human flourishing” (p. 50). (This looks similar to the approach of Robert Ewuisie Moses in his recent Practices of Power: Revisiting the Principalities and Powers in the Pauline Letters [Fortress, 2014], though I have not yet read it). As we strap on the armor of God, therefore, we are not to engage these spiritual beings head on in any way, if for no other reason than because they have already been defeated by Christ himself (Eph 1:20-23; Col 3:15). Instead, the church’s engagement of the powers involves redeeming and transforming their social and structural effects.

[T]he church wages its warfare in a subversive manner–it is not at all what we might expect. If Paul’s rhetorical summary appears in Ephesians 6:10-18, then his instructions for performing divine warfare are contained in the ethical section of the letter, Ephesians 4:17-6:9. Here, we will see that the church engages in warfare against the powers in ways that defy and overturn our expectations. Our warfare involves resisting the corrupting influences of the powers. The same pressures that produce practices of exploitation, injustice and oppression in the world are at work on church communities. The church’s warfare involves resisting such influences, transforming corrupted practices and replacing them with life-giving patterns of conduct that draw on and radiate the resurrection power of God. Our warfare, then, involves purposefully growing into communities that become more faithful corporate performances of Jesus on earth. Far from being a frightening prospect, this is good news for the world. (pp. 159-60)

I find Gombis’ understanding quite sensible. For one, it helpfully connects Ephesians 6 to the previous two chapters of the letter in a way that I had not previously considered; thus, rhetorically, the end of the letter hangs together quite naturally. Secondly, this reading makes sense of Paul’s largely virtue-driven system of spiritual defense: by embodying “truth,” “righteousness,” “peace,” and “faith,” believers will be transformed and thereby resist evil powers as well as influence their communities. Now, “the gospel,” “salvation,” “the word of God,” and “prayer” are not virtues to be embodied in the same way as those just mentioned, but one can easily see how these can also function as means of individual and community transformation, both inside and outside the church.

Gombis’ book is a good read. I’m looking forward to hearing how my students respond to it!