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.