Friday, 27 June 2014

Paul’s [and Timothy's] Letter to the Colossians (Part 2)

Provenance and Date of Writing1
     Colossians was written while Paul was incarcerated (Col. 4:3-18), probably during the two years he was confined to house arrest in Rome between 60 and 62 (Acts 28:16-31). An earthquake reportedly destroyed the tri-cities of the Lycus River valley (including Colosse) in the year 60,2 and it has been suggested that the apostle may have been unaware of this tragedy when he sent the letter, or that the letter was drafted before the earthquake. However, considering the close affinity among the prison epistles (see Paul's "Prison Epistles"), it seems more likely that the letter was written near the end of Paul’s two-year Roman imprisonment (early 62), allowing the Colosse residents time to have recovered. Since Onesimus was to accompany both letters to the Colossians and Philemon (Col. 4:9; Philm. 12), and Tychichus was to accompany both letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians (Col. 4:7-8; Eph. 6:21-22), a comparable timeframe is assumed.
The Colossian Heresy
     Besides the question of authorship, probably the main issue concerning Colossians is the nature of the false teaching it addresses. The heresy appears to have been a combination of Jewish and Greek philosophical elements. Jewish components included tradition (2:8), circumcision (2:11; 3:11), observance of the Sabbath and religious festivals (2:16), and food restrictions (2:16, 21). Greek components were empty and deceptive philosophy (2:8), basic elements [stoicheia] of the world (2:8, 20), wisdom and knowledge (2:3), cosmic powers (2:15), and asceticism (2:23). The worship of angels (2:18) was a unique factor.
     Paul’s special focus on the supremacy of Christ (1:15-19) suggests that the false teaching may have been undermining the essential view of the Lord’s exalted essence and role. Although scholars have debated the precise nature of this heresy for many years,3 it is probably best to regard it as a special blend of various religious elements that particularly affected the unique situation at Colosse.
     The purpose of Colossians appears have been to counter heretical teaching and reaffirm the proper view of Christ (1:15-19; 2:4-23), as well as to provide ethical instruction for those living the new life in Christ in a pagan world (2:6-7; 3:1–4:6). “If therefore you were co-raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is sitting to the right of God; mind the things above, not the things on the earth. For you died, and your life has been hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3).4
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 While it has been suggested that Colossians could have been written from Ephesus as early as 55-56, those who deny Pauline authorship place the letter in the 70s or as late as the 80s or 90s (see R. E. Brown, An Introduction to the NT 615-16; L. M. White, From Jesus to Christianity 261-65).
     2 Although various dates for this earthquake have been proposed by commentators, the year 60 appears to be the most probable. The Armenian city of Tigranocerta surrendered to the Romans in 59, and the following year a Parthian army, under the command of Tiridates, was defeated by Roman forces led by General Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo. General Corbulo was then appointed governor of Syria. The previous governor, Gaius Ummidius Durmius Quadratus, had governed Syria until his death in 60 (see W. Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology 3:630-31). The same year, according to Tacitus, Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake (Annals 14.26-27), and apparently the other cities of the Lycus River valley (Hierapolis and Colosse) were also devastated (Eusebius, Chronicle 2; cf. Jerome, Chronicle 265.20; also Pliny, Natural History 5).
     3 Jewish mysticism, Essene Judaism, Christian Judaizers, Hellenistic philosophies, mystery religions, Jewish-Christian syncretism, proto-gnosticism, full-blown Gnosticism???
     4 Scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.

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Friday, 20 June 2014

Paul’s [and Timothy's] Letter to the Colossians (Part 1)

      Unlike Paul’s other writings, Colossians was addressed to a Christian community with whom he had no direct connection for the primary purpose of combating a deviant form of teaching. He had learned of their faith by report (1:4) and was unknown to them by face (2:1). Epaphras appears to have been responsible for starting this church (1:7; cf. 4:12-13), perhaps having learned the gospel through Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:10). Colossians is the least personal letter in the Pauline corpus, with 46% more second person terms than first person (151/55), underscoring its uniqueness and comparative lack of intimacy. Colosse is considered to have been the least important city to which any Pauline document was sent.
     Colossians shares an affinity with Paul’s correspondence to Philemon. In both letters Timothy is named as co-sender, reference is made to Epaphras, Archippus and Onesimus (Col. 1:7; 4:9, 17; Philm. 2, 10, 23), and included as Paul’s immediate companions are Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke (Col. 4:10, 14; Philm. 24).1 Since Onesimus was a resident of Colosse (Col. 4:9) and was Philemon’s slave (Philm. 15-16), the obvious conclusion is that both letters were sent to the same city to perhaps two separate congregations, one of which met in the home of Philemon (Philm. 2).2 Onesimus was to accompany Tychicus to Colosse (Col. 4:7-9) and return to Philemon (Philm. 12).
     Colossians also shares a close relationship with Ephesians. The commendation of Tychichus is very similar in both letters (Col. 4:7-8; Eph. 6:21-22). There are also a number of mutual themes and some common vocabulary between the two. It has been estimated that of the 155 verses in Ephesians, 75 are paralleled in Colossians. Ephesians appears to be a further development of Colossians, with Colossians having been written with a specific situation in mind and shortly thereafter Ephesians was composed with broader purposes to a different audience.3
Questions of Authorship
     While the self-acknowledged author of Colossians is Paul (1:1a, 23; 4:18), Timothy’s collaborative role is more apparent in this epistle than in most other Paulines. The letter opens with the typical address from ‘Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus,’ with the added phrase, ‘and Timothy the brother’ (1:1b).4 After naming Timothy as co-sender, the introductory thanksgiving (1:3) is plural: eucharistoumen (‘we give thanks’), in relation to peri humōn (‘concerning you’). Since Paul’s introductory thanksgiving is typically singular, it is only natural to conclude that Timothy plays a more substantial role in the drafting of this letter. In fact, of all the “we” references in Colossians, nearly 77% are employed in the exclusionary sense (i.e., distinct from the readership), evidently inclusive of Timothy and Paul.  
     Despite the self claims of the text, however, Colossians has been counted among the “disputed” Pauline letters for the following reasons: (a) the language and writing style differ somewhat from that found in Paul’s genuine letters; (b) the christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology are more developed than in the undisputed letters, suggestive of a later time period; and (c) the heresy described in Colossians seems much later than Paul, indicative of a 2nd-century situation.6
     In response to these objections, consider the following. (a) With respect to the hypothetical “Pauline style,” suffice it to say that Timothy’s collaborative involvement is adequate to explain any apparent differences in presentation. Further, the special circumstances being addressed and the particular error being refuted easily account for any peculiarities of language, especially if some of the language was borrowed from the false teachers to make a case against them. Colossians actually exhibits a great deal of distinctively Pauline vocabulary, style, and theology, and R. E. Brown concedes, “were the name ‘Paul’ missing from 1:1, 23; 4:18, surely the letter would still be placed in the Pauline ambiance” (An Introduction to the NT 610).
     (b) Any alleged differences in theology tend to be overstated and/or based on biased assessments. Even in the “undisputed” letters Paul shows an exalted view of Christ (1 Cor. 8:6), an appreciation of the universal church (Gal. 1:13; 1 Cor. 12:28; 15:9), and a sense of a realized eschatology (Rom. 6:4-5; 2 Cor. 5:14-17; Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:21). The concept of a slow and gradual development of New Testament theology rests on subjective evolutionary presuppositions, often discounting the role of divine revelation (see Biblical Authorship Part 2).
     (c) There is so much guesswork involved in trying to determine the precise nature of the false teaching described in Colossians (see next post), any argument based on it is pure speculation. The case against Pauline authorship can readily be answered, and it is unreasonable to so casually dismiss the self-claims of authorship (1:1, 23; 4:18; cf. 1:24-25; 2:1-5; 4:3-14), not to mention the abundant manuscript evidence and the consistent testimony of the early church.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 The only persons named in the letter to Philemon who are not mentioned in Colossians are Philemon himself and Apphia (his wife?) – those to whom the former letter is sent to deal with a situation concerning their household.
     2 Note that Colossians is not addressed to the ekklēsia (‘church’) but to the hagiois (‘saints’ or ‘sanctified ones’) in Colosse. The church meeting in the home of Nympha/s (Col. 4:15) may have been a third congregation? The tri-cities of the Lycus River valley were Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colosse (the smallest), the latter of which was about 110 miles (177 km) from Ephesus (cf. Col. 4:13). The letter to the Colosse saints was to be shared with the church of the Laodiceans and vice versa (Col. 4:16).
     3 See E. Best, “Who Used Whom?” 72-96; also D. A. Carson and D. J. Moo, Introduction to the NT 481, 485, 520-21. That Ephesians was written after Colossians is also suggested by the fact that Timothy is named as co-sender in all of Paul’s prison epistles except Ephesians, which may indicate that Ephesians was penned after Timothy had been sent away to Philippi (Phil. 2:19-23).
     4 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are the author’s own translation. The opening of Colossians is identical to that in 2 Corinthians, and except for the mention of a co-sender it is also the same as in Ephesians and 2 Timothy. Besides here, Timothy is named as co-sender in 2 Corinthians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon.
     5 The only other Pauline letters in which the introductory thanksgiving is plural are the co-authored Thessalonian epistles. The introductory thanksgivings in Col. 1:3 and 1 Thess. 1:2 are identical. In Colossians the “we-you” contrast is maintained through verse 12, whereas in the Thessalonian correspondence it runs throughout.
     6 Pauline authorship of Colossians was first disputed by E. T. Mayerhoff in 1838 (Der Brief an die Kolosser), and today there is a fairly even split among critical commentators concerning its authenticity. R. E.  Brown estimates that about 60% of today’s critical scholarship holds that Paul did not write the epistle (An Introduction to the NT 610), although Brown’s assessments tend to be somewhat exaggerated. For good discussions on the arguments for and against Pauline authorship, see E. D. Freed, Critical Introduction 312-14; D. Guthrie, NT Introduction 551-55; P. T. O’Brien, “Colossians,” in DPL 150-52.

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Saturday, 14 June 2014

Paul’s Letter to Philemon

     The letter to Philemon is the shortest of Paul’s extant documents, consisting of merely 334 words (comparable in size to an average Greco-Roman letter). It is the most personal of the Pauline writings, addressed to “Philemon the beloved and our fellow worker” (v. 1).1 While the address also includes, “to Apphia the sister, and to Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the assembly in your house” (v. 2), it is written almost entirely in the second person singular (“you”) form of address and thus directed to Philemon alone. It is commonly believed that Apphia was Philemon’s wife and that Archippus may have been their adult son. Philemon appears to have been a relatively affluent Christian, as he owned a house large enough to accommodate congregational meetings and was also a slave owner.
     Except among the most liberal scholars, Pauline authorship is not seriously questioned and the letter is counted among his undisputed writings. Even though Timothy is also named in the prescript (v. 1), the forty-two first person singulars with which the document is written distinguishes Paul as the sole author (note v. 19), leaving no room for Timothy in the letter’s composition, unless, of course, he served as amanuensis.2
     The Philemon epistle was composed while Paul was incarcerated (vv. 1, 9, 10, 13, 23), likely during the two years he was confined to house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:16-31). A comparable timeframe with Colossians is presupposed by the close relationship between the two documents. In both letters Timothy is named as co-sender, while reference is also made to Epaphras, Archippus and Onesimus (Col. 1:7; 4:9, 17; Philm. 2, 10, 23). In both letters Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke are included as the apostle’s immediate companions (Col. 4:10, 14; Philm. 24).
     Since Paul was expecting potential release in Philm. 22, with no indication of such in Colossians, the Philemon epistle was probably drafted in early 62 after Colossians. In Colossians, Paul's appeal for prayers involved a petition for evangelistic opportunities in view of his "chains" (Col. 3:3), whereas in Philemon the prayer request included his anticipated release. Paul’s letter to Philemon would have been sent to the city of Colosse, seeing that Epaphras was associated with the Colosse church (Col. 1:7; 4:12) and acquainted with Philemon (Philm. 23), and Onesimus was Philemon’s slave (Philm. 15-16) and a resident of Colosse (Col. 4:9).
     The traditional view is that Onesimus was a runaway slave who encountered Paul in Rome (cf. W. Barclay, Letters to Timothy, Titus, Philemon 269-76). But it has also been suggested that Onesimus may have already known Paul and sought him out for help after having gotten into trouble with his master (cf. J. D. G. Dunn, Colossians and Philemon 301-304). An alternative proposal is that Onesimus was the messenger of Philemon’s house church who delivered financial aid to the imprisoned apostle and overstayed his visit (cf. S. C. Winter, “Paul’s Letter to Philemon” NTSup 33 [1987]: 1-15).
     According to recent studies of ancient Roman slavery law, it “was a legally recognized practice for a slave who had incurred his or her master’s wrath to flee to one of the master’s trusted associates to plea for his intervention and protection. The associate then served as a kind of official mediator, who would try to smooth out differences that had arisen through misunderstanding or even malfeasance” (B. D. Ehrman, The NT: Historical Introduction 353-54). It is interesting that in the opening of this epistle Paul does not describe himself as a doulos (“slave”) of Christ (as in Philippians 1:1), perhaps because of the sensitive issue he is addressing.
     Slavery in the Greco-Roman world was practically viewed as an economic necessity, incomparable to the harsher forms in other times and societies. Different kinds of slavery co-existed, and one must be careful not to make presumptuous generalizations. The domestic house slaves were much better off than those working in the fields or mines. A slave middle class consisted of skilled craftsmen, secretaries, educators, and medical practitioners.3
     The apostle urges a new relationship between Philemon and Onesimus, but he stops short of demanding emancipation. Elsewhere Paul encourages Christian slaves who could legally obtain freedom to take advantage of this opportunity, but otherwise their situation in life was to be accepted and used to the glory of God (1 Cor. 7:17-24). A Christian slave was still free in Christ (cf. Gal. 5:1), just as a free Christian was Christ’s slave (1 Cor. 7:22). Paul taught obedience for slaves and fairness for masters (Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22–4:1). Nevertheless, the principles of Christianity (cf. Gal. 3:28) were to mitigate the harshness of slavery and would eventually lead to its demise.
     Within this brief epistle to Philemon the providential working of God is clearly evident, even though the details cannot be identified specifically (v. 15). We are thus reminded that God’s will is going to be accomplished despite our human shortsightedness and our clumsy, ignorant, fallible ways. The gospel molded an unprofitable slave into a useful, trustworthy servant (vv. 11-13), and the divine message and its transforming power remain unchanged. If brotherhood can be fostered between an irresponsible slave and his frustrated master (vv. 15-16), imagine how Christ can impact any of our less-than-ideal relationships.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 All scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 Perhaps Timothy was brought into the picture to add support to what Paul was about to say, while Apphia and Archippus may have been included in the address as a subtle way of pressuring Philemon to comply with Paul’s request (J. Murphy-O’Connor, Paul the Letter-Writer 53). Timothy was from that general vicinity and could have been acquainted with Philemon.
     3 Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke observe: “The dividing line between slaves and free persons was not always sharply drawn or easily recognized …. Often a reasonably rich man’s slave was better off than a poor citizen in possession of all civil rights …. Among ancient slaves there were highly intelligent and well-trained people who did qualified work and had – especially in Paul’s day – a fair chance of being eventually manumitted and/or of marrying into the owner’s or another free person’s family …. in many respects an ancient slave’s treatment was better and his life conditions more secure than those of a nineteenth-century factory worker” (The Letter to Philemon 3-4).

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Friday, 6 June 2014

Paul's "Prison Epistles"

     Paul’s correspondence to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon has traditionally been labeled “Prison Epistles” because of the allusions to the apostle being incarcerated at the time (Eph. 3:1, 13; 4:1; 6:20; Phil. 1:7-16; Col. 4:3-18; Philm. 9, 10, 13, 23).1 While he was also a prisoner when 2 Timothy was drafted (2 Tim. 1:8, 12, 16-17; 2:9; 4:6, 16), this letter is not included among the others because it appears to have been written during a later imprisonment and because of its close connection with 1 Timothy and Titus. 
     The question is, during which confinement(s) were these documents penned? Clement of Rome reports that Paul was in bonds a total of seven times (I Clement 5:6). In the latter part of 56 Paul alludes to having been imprisoned on more than one occasion (2 Cor. 11:23; cf. 6:5), but at this stage in the Pauline chronology the only incarceration on record was at Philippi (Acts 16:23-25). Later the apostle spent two years as a prisoner in Caesarea (Acts 24:27) and then another two years in Rome (Acts 28:30), and after apparent release he was incarcerated a second time at Rome (2 Tim. 1:16-17; 4:16-17). Some have suggested Ephesus as another possibility,2 but there is no definitive record of an Ephesian internment, although Paul did suffer many afflictions there (Acts 19:23-41; 1 Cor. 15:32; 2 Cor. 1:8-10).
     The first Roman detention of 60-62 is the more likely setting for the composition of these letters, though technically Paul was not in “prison” at this time but was confined to house arrest (Acts 28:16, 23, 30). Aristarchus, who accompanied Paul to Rome (Acts 27:2), is specifically named (Philm. 24), even as Paul’s “fellow-prisoner” (Col. 4:10). Luke, who accompanied Paul to Rome (Acts 28:16), is also specifically named (Col. 4:14; Philm. 24). Others who are mentioned link these epistles together: Tychicus (Col. 4:7; Eph. 6:21), Epaphras (Col. 4:12; Philm. 23), Mark (Col. 4:10; Philm. 24), Demas (Col. 4:14; Philm. 24), and Timothy (Phil. 1:1; 2:19; Col. 1:1; Philm. 1).
     Reference is made to the praetorian guard and to Caesar’s household (Phil. 1:13; 4:22). The question is whether the expression tō praitōriō (‘the praetorium’) in Phil. 1:13 refers to a place or to persons. This is its only occurrence in Paul’s writings, though elsewhere in the New Testament it is used of the Roman procurator’s residence in Jerusalem (Matt. 27:27; Mark 15:16; John 18:28, 33; 19:9) and of the palace-fortress built by Herod the Great in Caesarea (Acts 23:35). If the apostle is using the term in a similar sense, it could be an allusion to the emperor’s palace in Rome, or the praetorian barracks attached to the palace, or the camp of the praetorian guards outside the city, although there is no external confirmation of such usage. There is, however, abundant evidence from Tacitus, Pliny, Suetonius, Josephus, and various inscriptions of the employment of this word for the praetorian guards (cf. ESV, N/ASV, NIV, NKJV, N/RSV). While this is not conclusive proof that the letter’s provenance was Rome (cf. BDAG 859), mention of “the household of Caesar” (Phil. 4:22) strengthens this conclusion.3
     Since Paul spent the winter of 59-60 on the island of Malta, his arrival in Rome would have been in early spring 60 (Acts 28:11-16).4 The narrative of Acts closes with the apostle having been incarcerated in Rome for “two whole years” (v. 30), bringing the account to early spring 62. Luke’s record indicates neither what happened to Paul nor what was about to happen to him, presumably because his fate was still uncertain at this time. “Roman imprisonment was usually temporary while the accused awaited a magistrate’s hearing or a formal trial and was rarely used as a long-term punishment. Those found guilty of serious crimes or unable to pay fines were sentenced to exile or death” (L. M. White, From Jesus to Christianity 189).
     The close relationship between Colossians and Philemon suggests a comparable timeframe,5 but by the time Philemon was penned, Paul had apparently received some indication of potential release (v. 22) that is expressed even more confidently in Philippians (1:19-26; 2:24). In Colossians, Paul’s appeal for prayers involved a petition for evangelistic opportunities in view of his “chains” (Col. 3:3), whereas in Philemon and Philippians the prayer requests included his anticipated release.
     Accompanying the letters to the Colossians and Philemon was Onesimus (Col. 4:9; Philm. 12), and accompanying the letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians was Tychichus (Col. 4:7-8; Eph. 6:21-22), further suggesting a comparable timeframe. Since Ephesians appears to be a further development of Colossians and is the only prison epistle not to name Timothy in the opening address, it was probably written subsequent to the others and after Timothy had been sent away to Philippi (Phil. 2:19-23). The proposed chronological arrangement of the prison epistles is as follows: (1) Colossians written in early 62, immediately followed by (2) Philemon, then (3) Philippians, and finally (4) Ephesians.
     It is interesting to note that these prison epistles comprise the most personal writings (Philemon, Philippians) and the most impersonal writings (Colossians, Ephesians) in the Pauline corpus. Nevertheless, collectively they demonstrate that the apostle Paul, despite his circumstances, exemplified the Christlike principle: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4; cf. 1 Cor. 10:33–11:1).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Although R. Reitzenstein, in his Hellenistic Mystery Religions (1978), argues that Paul’s “imprisonment” allusions should be understood metaphorically rather than literally, this proposal is difficult to harmonize with clear statements such as Phil. 1:25-26; 2:24; and Philm. 22 (see D. G. Reid, “Prison, Prisoner,” in DPL 752-54).
     2 See L. E. Keck, Paul and His Letters 5-7; R. P. Martin, Colossians 22-32; R. E. Brown, Introduction to the NT 493-96, 507-508; L. M. White, From Jesus to Christianity 185-88. This is usually suggested for the provenance of Philippians and Philemon, while Ephesians and Colossians are regarded as “disputed” Pauline letters.
     3 See J. B. Lightfoot, Philippians 99-104, 171-78; J. H. Michael, Philippians 28-30; P. T. O’Brien, “Caesar’s Household,” in DPL 83-84; B. Reike, “Captivity Epistles,” in Apostolic History 285; contra J. F. Hall, “Caesar’s Household,” in ABD 1:798. Scripture quotations are from the NKJV.
     4 For more chronological details, see K. L. Moore, A Critical Introduction to the New Testament 44, 154-74.
     5 In both letters Timothy is named as co-sender, while reference is also made to Epaphras, Archippus and Onesimus (Col. 1:7; 4:9, 17; Philm. 2, 10, 23). In both letters Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke are included as the apostle’s immediate companions (Col. 4:10, 14; Philm. 24).

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