Thursday, 24 November 2016

"The [Core] Pauline Epistles"

Chapter III of Redating the New Testament is a bear of a chapter. It's fifty-five pages, making it around 15% of the total monograph. It deals with approximately 50% of the New Testament texts, namely the Pauline epistles. In part due to Robinson's habit of not offering divisions within his chapters, it's not immediately obvious how to divide up discussion of this lengthy chapter. As such, I will offer my own brief rubric for thinking about the chapter, or more specifically the material covered by the material: "core," "prison," and "pastoral" epistles.

The terms "prison" and "pastoral" are not my own, of course. The "prison epistles" refer to Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon: the Pauline epistles that present themselves as written from prison. The term "pastoral epistles" refer by convention to 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, even though 2 Timothy really doesn't deal with pastoral concerns. The term "core" is my way of referencing those that remain: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. This particular term is chosen because these texts--especially Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians--are the texts that receive the greatest attention in Pauline exegesis, and with the exception of 2 Thessalonians are by consensus considered to have been written by Paul himself.

Let us in this post then consider Robinson's treatment of the "core" Pauline epistles. There is little here to which many would object, with perhaps two exceptions. One is that Robinson judges 2 Thessalonians to be an authentic Pauline production, whereas many (but certainly not all) scholars would judge it to be inauthentic. My own feeling is that in 2016 the tide is turning towards authenticity. Douglas Campbell's in many ways revisionist account of Paul's life treats it as authentic, which I think probably reflects a greater openness to Pauline authorship of the disputed epistles even among the more "radical" end of scholarship. More interesting to me is the treatment of Galatians, as it gets at a large number of core chronological concerns.

There has historically been a cleavage between "early" Galatians and "late" Galatians. As a rough definition, "early Galatians" refers to those dating schemes that place Galatians prior to 1 Thessalonians, and "late Galatians" refers to those that place it after. Robinson opts for a "late Galatians" dating, placing Galatians in 56. He is generally impressed by the appearance of shared concerns with Romans, and 1 and (especially) 2 Corinthians. I would acknowledge these, but also press Robinson's own observation that these are not decisive for dating. What strikes me as more decisive is the narrative in Galatians. If we suppose, as Robinson does, that the discussion in Gal. 2:1-10 refers to the Jerusalem council narrated in Acts 15, then we must suppose that 2:11-14 narrates the events that led up to that council. Even Campbell, who programmatically refuses to correlate Pauline and Lukan data for purposes of dating, supposes that vv. 11-14 constitute a "prequel" to 1-10. The difficulty is that I see nothing in Galatians that suggests such a chronological break between 2:10 and 2:11. Indeed, I'm not sure if anyone would think to read Galatians 2 in this fashion, were it not for Acts 15. Gal. 2:11-14 does indeed read like it could be referencing events alluded to in Acts 15:1-2a, and in fact I would argue that it does, but I see absolutely nothing in Galatians 2 to indicate to me that Paul intends us to read these events as prior to the those narrated in vv. 1-10.

If we read Galatians 2:1-10 as referring to events that occurred prior to the events of Acts 15 then we have the salutary benefit not only of more closely adhering the narrative in Galatians, but also of accounting for why Paul only mentions two visits to Jerusalem: just as Acts informs us, as of the time just before the council he had only been to Jerusalem twice since his conversion. We also find that the reason that Paul gives for his second visit is identical with that given for Paul's second visit in Acts: response to a prophecy. Galatians becomes a more coherent narrative, and the Lukan and Pauline data cohere much more fully, if we opt for an "early Galatians," around 47 or 48, written prior to the Jerusalem council of Acts 15.

It should be noted that this is my only serious dispute with Robinson's treatment of the "core" Pauline epistles. It's also one that has relatively little impact beyond Galatians itself. I cannot in fact think of any other text whose date is affected by this difference of opinion. As such, as disagreements go, it's relatively minor.


  1. "But when Peter came to Antioch..."

    That's your dynamic reference point. That's your point of temporal inflection. The first question is, how did the Galatians know when Peter came to Antioch? Paul's defensive tone suggests the learned about this from the Judaizers, who might even have witnessed their confrontation in person (2:12). So "when" Peter came to Antioch would be defined in the Galatians' minds as "some time before the Judaizers' visit.

    The second question then is whether the Galatians can relate THAT "when" to the episode represented by 2:1-10, and I can only suggest that they needed Titus to be able to do so (2:1,3). Assuming Titus was the carrier of the letter, Paul would have written these lines with the expectation that he didn't have to be fully explicit, because the churches could rely on Titus as an eyewitness to fill in the blanks.

    Point: the "time" of 2:1-10 belongs to sometime after Paul's first visit to Galatia, because it is presented as new information Paul has not delivered to them yet, and the "time" of 2:11ff belongs to sometime before the Judaizers reached Galatia.

    My point at the moment is not to argue for any particular relationship between these two time periods, but only to show that "but when Peter came to Antioch" is indeed a very clear tempered inflection with in the narrative. It may refer to a later time period or an earlier time period - as I say, that's a separate discussion - but it obviously does referred to a separate occasion, and one the audience apparently has some frame of reference to be expected to place it within a particular temporal context.

  2. Thanks for this post.

    I'm wondering about your estimation of 2 Thessalonians and current scholarly consensus. You mention that you think the tide is turning and point to Campbell and Robinson. What other reasons contribute to the possibility of the tide turning on its (in)authenticity? What other scholars are providing evidence that may point back to it being an authentic epistle?

    On a side note: much work has been done by Italian political philosophers on Paul, utilising, specifically the concept of the katechon. Of course, they are often dismissed because the concept occurs in 2 Thessalonians. It would be interesting if the place of the epistle changes for these political philosophers dabbling with Paul.