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Archive for the ‘Thessalonians’ Category

March 9th, 2016 by Joel Watts

(drafting) Paul’s Use of Spectacle and Sports Metaphors

Gladiators in the Spectacle from the Zliten mosaic.

Gladiators from the Zliten mosaic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know the drill. This is scratch work. The gist of this is to show that the use of spectacle, cultic sacrifice, etc… imagery would not be foreign either to Paul or the audience(s) which is why such an analogy that I will propose in Galatians can be allowed. 

Paul’s Use of Spectacle and Sports Metaphors

Given that this present study is largely dependent upon Paul’s ability to use emplotments relevant to his audience, and thus an acceptable and provable transference of semiotic cues, we must first determine if Paul (and his spectators) used metaphors related to the spectacle. It is my assertion he did and as such, I will briefly examine such symbols in the Pauline corpus, first to identity Paul’s use as well as an expectation that his audience (as well as the general Pauline corpus audience) would have understood them, given the frequency of use. While I do not consider the Pastorals or Ephesians and Colossians as authentic to Paul, given that their authors expected to appeal not only to the authority of Paul, but so to the audience of Paul’s authority, I will assess their uses of spectacle and sports metaphors as a secondary support to the overall hypothesis that Paul not only used the images, but the understanding of what the phrases meant was accessible to a wide audience.

As Peter O’Brien has noted, the verb τρέχω is a favorite image in the Pauline corpus.[1] Rather than the nominal meaning of a swift walk, it has connotations of the stadium where prizes were awarded for an athletic feat of endurance. In Philippians 2.16, it is directly connected to the sacrifice (σπένδω) Paul is making to bring the faith to the church there. Further, the prize (βραβεῖον) alluded to in 2.16 is more forcefully spoken of in 3.12–14 and 4.1.[2] Paul’s allusions to the stadium games are more than nuanced in 2 Corinthians 9.24–26. There, he drew upon the games in Corinth to better illustrate to the believers in the city the life of the follower of Jesus.[3] Indeed, Anthony Thiselton suggests ἐν σταδίῳ could be translated as stadium, a choice that would transform the passage, moving it past the idea that Paul is merely speaking of a foot race, but quite possible the entirety of the arena games.[4] Hans Conzelmann adds to our understanding of Paul’s metaphor by suggesting his self-designation (κηρύσσειν) is likely tied to the stadium as well.[5]

Several more times in the Pauline corpus do the sports metaphors emerge. In Galatians particular it emerges twice, in 2.2 and 5.7. This is followed by secondary Pauline literature such as Hebrews 12.1, where the race is seen as surrounded by a cosmic arena. The metaphor makes an appearance several times in the pastorals. In 1 Timothy 1.18 and 4.7–8, the training (for the race) prevents bad religion. In 2 Timothy 2.5 and 4.7, once again a prize emerges as the victor’s crown, something the author of those letters would have us believe Paul is concerned with and demands the reader to focus on. Even with the earthly race in mind, each instance does have a cosmic focus, either with a heavenly audience (as in Hebrews 12.1) or with a heavenly grown (with the other references). However, these metaphors are usually limited to games, perhaps only requiring a symbolical sacrifice. The sacrifice, however, of the arena is a real one in several other references.

In 1 Corinthians 4.9, Paul is not necessary bemoaning the spectacle, but rather places God as the one who has placed the apostles on ἀπέδειξεν.[6] In his mind, God has determined that the apostles are the gladiatorial show, the dénouement where one side will lose, suffer death, and be sacrificed. According to Conzelmann, Paul is adopting a Stoic stance in placing himself as the hero in a cosmic struggle. “The Stoic picture of the philosopher’s struggle as a spectacle for the world is taken over by Paul into his world-picture (cosmos and angels) and reshaped in terms of his eschatology; ‘spectacle’ has for him a derogatory sense. He is thinking not of the warrior who is admired by God for his heroism, but of the scenes in the Roman theatre with those condemned to death.”[7] It should not be surprising, then, to discover another such reference, perhaps even one causing more dread to the reader’s mind, in Paul — and there is one in the same letter.

In 1 Corinthians 15.32, what began as an arena of games and moved to an gladiatorial combat, now emerges as a stadium of sacrifice — and it may be that Paul experienced the arena first hand.[8] As Keener notes, the victim of such sacrificial acts was not expected to survive, which is why the connection to the resurrection is important.[9] Likewise, this connection between the sacrifice in the arena and the resurrection provided by Christ is unambiguously found in 2 Corinthians 2.14–15. This idea that the spectacle is on a trajectory from a mere analogy of self-discipline in the life of the Christian to the emplotment of Paul’s message is demonstrated in Colossians 2.14–15, where the author uses Pauline imagery to suggest that those who would usually be displayed at the games were the ones Jesus had freed from sacrifice by his sacrifice. But more than that, those who had imprisoned the formerly bound were now led through the arena, ready to be sacrificed. The foes are better identified in Ephesians 6.12.

There can be no doubt that the reception of the Pauline corpus, even the disputed letters, included those familiar with the metaphor of sports and spectacle. Further, it would be wrong to single out the sports metaphor, stripping it away from the spectacle semiosis employed by Paul and subsequent writers. It was not merely an analogy of self-discipline, but encompassed the whole of the arena, including sacrifice before the cosmic audience. Paul and his audience would have easily understood and accepted such analogies, allowing us to better examine the role human sacrifice and the arena may have played in Galatia and the epistle bearing its name.

[1] Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 299–300.

[2] See V. C. Pfitzner, Paul and the Agon Motif: Traditional Athletic Imagery in the Pauline Literature. Leiden: Brill, 1967, 139–41. Pfitzner demonstrates the oversaturation of athletic imagery in the Philippians passage.

[3] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 1 Co 9:24–25.

[4] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 710.

[5] Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), 163.

[6] Thiselton, First Corinthians, 359.

[7] Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, 88–89.

[8] See Thiselton, First Corinthians, 1252, for the discussion he seemingly hosts on the topic between the two opposing (literal v. hypothetical) views. For this study, it matters little, but I do side with the view that this is a metaphor.

[9] Keener, Bible Background, 1 Co 15:32.

September 24th, 2012 by Joel Watts

1 Thessalonians 2 – Paul and Fred Craddock

I’m reading Fred Craddock‘s book, Preaching, for a class on, well, preaching. In it, it notes – while avoiding the Augustine dispute with Donatus – that the preacher’s moral character is a part of the sermon.

I see the same thing in 1 Thessalonians 2. Paul is intent to give a good account of himself. He is no Sophist, he declares, using his talents to make money, to trick people, to be lazy. What he is has to give is too important to hold on too and to prevent by simply being lazy. He works to contribute to the community he is in. Sure, he says, he could sit and let people pamper him, fawning all over him, but his gospel is too powerful to recline on a sofa.

So, I was thinking… maybe Augustine is right. The efficacy of the preaching outweighs the moral character of the preacher, but if the preacher does not care about the moral character of him/herself, then this will get in the way of the message. The message will work, if given space… by a poor leader, a contemptible character will take up that space around him/herself so that nothing can work. If everyone is paying attention to the character of the speaker, the message will cease having a place to take hold.

By the way, the book thus far is awesome.

September 24th, 2012 by Joel Watts

1 Thessalonians chapters 1 through 3; What is Paul’s Gospel at this point?

This past Sunday, the Sunday School class made it through chapter three of 1 Thessalonians. Remember, we are, much to the chagrin of canonical theologians, going through the New Testament chronologically. James was first, and now 1 Thessalonians.

The thought occurred to me as to what the good news was for Paul. He did not provide us a lexicon. So, the only source for the good news was the Septuagint. We find it in Isaiah, in several places – both times pointing to the good news that God has won. In 1 Thessalonians, it is not much different. But, what has God one?

Here, I think we see the beginning of the splitting of the Shema, but God is still in charge… and Jesus is subordinate. Why? Because Paul prays to God and the gospel is God’s. God has won. Jesus is raised from the dead by God and is awaiting God’s permission to return with the army of heaven to really bring about the kingdom, a kingdom already working through the power of God’s spirit. It is not about being perfect, but about worshiping the true and living God. And, it is about the inclusion of the Gentiles – from the earliest of Paul’s letters, this is a key point.

Granted, I do not believe a Gentile mission was embraced by the entirety of the early Church until after 70, but…

So… thoughts? What is Paul’s Gospel in 1 Thessalonians?


September 17th, 2012 by Joel Watts

1 Thessalonians

evolution of the word

Click to Order because you must

Next week, our Sunday School class will begin to read 1 Thessalonians as we explore the New Testament canon chronologically. Granted, Childs and others of the canonical stripe may disagree with this method, but I find that for those who are developing their own theology, especially historical theology, beginning with the earliest writings and progressing forward helps them to understand the idea of theological progression. I am personally aided by reading the canon this way because it helps me to understand – and thus appreciate – theological progression and the very real fact that New Testament theology was not birthed whole. It needed progression even within the authors, as inspired as they were from the first to the last.

I mean, look at Paul – whom we will begin with as we explore his first letter, 1 Thessalonians. I would place it right after the book of James (although Borg disagrees with me). Like James, Paul is speaking about a community, focused on daily living rather than a theological defense of Jesus’s death. This is important because some of you still think speculative theology is far more important than practical theology. Both Paul and James are speaking about a community awaiting the return of Christ. It wasn’t a lot of rules or Church hierarchy. As a matter of fact, there was no Church as of yet. Only a bunch of Jews who believed Jesus was Lord, or something – at least Jesus was something more than they knew – he was something different about God.

I’m thinking of splitting this book up between two Sundays. First, we need to discuss current eschatological thoughts. What if Jesus has already returned? I believe he has, as a matter of fact, but others may not. Do we continue to live James and 1 Thessalonians out if Jesus has already returned? Another real discussion to have here is what is the new family Paul is clearing speaking of?

The book mentioned in this post is new, but it takes the New Testament canon and lays it chronologically. So far, except for James, I agree with him, at least in order – if not in pinpointing the dates. Borg lists 2 Peter as last – and that I agree with. I am thinking of writing a paper on 2 Peter as a defense of… er… never mind.

So, how do you read 1 Thessalonians?

September 28th, 2011 by Joel Watts

(Very) Short Thoughts on 1 Thess 2.1-16

This is classwork. It was supposed to be only between 750 to 1000 words. Ugh.


The second chapter of 1 Thessalonians serves as Paul’s self-defense of a previous mission, perhaps against the persecution which the community was presently suffering (5.3, but more especially, 2.14-16) and is delivered in an epideictic style. This defense is able to state that both Paul and the community are worthy of praise, with this relationship being co-dependent[1], while the persecutors are worthy of blame. The author is defending against charges of motives of impure intentions (2.3), insincerity (2.5), and self-aggrandizement (2.5). It includes the common attributes suggested by Aristotle, who Olbricht[2] has suggested serves more to fulfill Paul’s cognitive environment, such as appeals to authority (2.2, 4-5), brief mentions of narrative which suggested that it was unimportant to rehearse the entire story (2.1,9), and proofs of Paul’s ministry (2.7,10). It also includes a moral purpose for Paul’s speech, which would connect himself to the community to which he was writing (2.8).  Then, there is 2.13-16 which, while it includes narrative relating to previous persecutions, as well as previous preaching, doesn’t seem to fit well with Paul’s speech if it was just about giving Paul a position of praise; however, I might suggest that this serves to remind the reader of the previous reception of Paul and serves to propel them to deliberate that the reception of the current letter may in fact do that much more. It is in this latter section, however, that we find that Paul is almost jubilant[3] of that those Jews who opposed him have now suffered God’s wrath.

If the second chapter of Paul’s letter is indeed epideictic rhetoric, then by proclaiming a joyful end in wrath to those who had long prevented him from preaching to the Gentiles may conflict with Aristotle’s basic need, that the character of the speaker be unquestionable and include moral purpose (III.16.6). Yet, this shouldn’t turn us off of using epideictic to place this speech. Instead, we may find that Paul is delivering this speech to cast blame upon those who were recently inflicted with God’s Wrath. After all, the honor of God was challenged[4] when Jewish leaders tried and found guilty the proclaimed Son of God. According to Paul, it wasn’t just the Son of God who was killed, but so too the prophets and members of the community. It was a repeated action of sin against God which prompted the Wrath, and thus not Paul’s preaching of something new. He was, after all, as he consistently proclaimed, from God, preaching God’s Gospel. The historical circumstance, then, is that Paul has to defend himself in the midst of persecution of the community. He has presented the true message, which the community accepted and received, so to say that the current persecution is God’s Wrath is wrong; it is not the community suffering God’s Wrath, but those who are doing the persecuting. The proof of this is in Paul’s message, his actions, and the coming Day of the Lord.

In the contemporary world the Christian Church must contend with the New Atheists, the Fundamentalists, and hermeneutics which threaten to tear apart our theological fabric. At our feet are laid wars, genocides, holocausts, oppression, molestations, economic collapses, crusades of anti-science, anti-women, and anti-‘x’, with ‘x’ representing whatever is needed at the moment to convict Christianity in the hearts and minds of the audience. We no longer seek the Ideal Church, but even within ourselves, we accept only the Church Presented, as if that is the real church, as if the monolithic evil presented by secularists is the only reality of the Church. In a world which believes it is similar to the one described by Paul in the New Testament, it may be that the contemporary ministry should respond in kind. To that end, the Church must be willing to present a good report of itself, using the method of Paul. We must remind the world of the good things we have done, of our charities, our missions, our educational pursuits. Our message is good because it is from God and is delivered without impurities, honoring the trust placed upon us by the One who gave the Church the message. It is not about seeking glory from others, but about having God through Christ glorified in the world. We have acted as both father and mother to countless unnamed witnessed who should be, rather, the loudest voices at the trial. And finally, the Church must be encouraged that even in the present suffering, it will remain victorious.

[1] By this, I intend to state that the community’s response to the message was proof of Paul’s character, and proof of Paul’s character could be found in the community’s imitation of Christ, because Paul had clearly imitated Christ (2.14).

[2] “Appearing in the same year as Hughes’s and Wuellner’s essays was one by Thomas Olbricht, who sought to apply an authentic Aristotelian rhetorical analysis to 1 Thessalonians. He faults H.-D. Betz for using Latin sources like Cicero and Quintillian, which he maintains Paul would very likely not have known. He argues instead that in the Hellenistic world in which Paul lived the influence of Aristotle on rhetoric was ubiquitous and therefore if Paul was influenced by rhetoric, as seems likely, it would have had Aristotelian roots.” – Donfried, Karl P., and Johannes Beulter. The Thessalonians debate: methodological discord or methodological synthesis?. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2000.

[3] “But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!” (ESV)

[4] (MP, 408)

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