Friday, October 18, 2013

Where was Romans written?

Where did Paul write the letter to the Romans? After visiting the Isthmus of Corinth last spring, the normal answer--Corinth, of course!--is not completely satisfying because some of the evidence that is taken as evidence for a Corinthian provenance points instead to Cenchreae. While commentators routinely note that Cenchreae was one of the ports of Corinth, the two cities were actually about 8 miles apart--a fair distance for someone walking on foot:

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Acts 20:3 says only that Paul and company spent three months in Greece before travelling on to Jerusalem. The main evidence in support of Corinth as opposed to Cenchreae or some other place in Greece is found in Romans 16:23 where Paul passes along greetings from "Gaius, the host of me and of the whole church" and "Erastus the steward (oiknomos) of the city."

  • In 1 Cor 1:14 Paul mentions baptizing a Gaius who belonged to the Corinthian church. Gaius was a common name, but it is reasonable to infer that the Gaius of Rom 16:23 and 1 Cor 1:14 are the same.
  • The Erastus of Rom 16:23 may be the same Erastus who is mentioned in a Latin inscription near the theatre in Corinth:
  • Photo by David M. Miller

For those who don't read Latin, the inscription states: "Erastus, commissioner for public works, laid this pavement at his own expense" (Cranfield 2.807). Here is a close up:
Erastus Inscription, Corinth (Photo by David M. Miller) 
Paul refers to Erastus as the steward or "treasurer" of "the city." If the city in question is Corinth, it points to Corinth as the place of writing because "the city" most naturally refers to the city where Paul is living.

However, Paul begins his chapter full of greetings with a mini-letter of commendation for "our sister, Phoebe, a deacon of the church that is in Cenchreae" (Rom 16:1). Since Paul describes Phoebe as his benefactor (16:2), we might imagine Paul receiving support from Phoebe while residing in Cenchreae, the east-facing port from which Paul would depart on his trip to Jerusalem. This, at least, is what Leander Keck assumes in his commentary on Romans (27, 30, 369, 380). (Keck also concludes that although Paul's host, Gaius, was baptized in Corinth, he lived in Cenchreae and hosted the church of Cenchreae in his house there.) Paul may have needed to be at some remove from the rowdy church in Corinth to hammer out the argument of Romans.

Since Paul instructs the churches at Rome to receive Phoebe and provide for her needs (16:2), it appears that Phoebe and Paul's epistle to Rome were going to travel together--Phoebe was responsible to take the letter to the church at Rome. Evidence from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri apparently indicates that the letter-bearer would also be the designated letter-reader and letter-explainer. According to Arland Hultgren, this makes Phoebe "the first exegete of the Letter to the Romans" (Hultgren 3; cf. Jewett 90; Keck 27). To do this well, Phoebe would most likely have interacted with Paul about the contents of the letter. What better location to do this than in Phoebe's house in Cenchreae?

So which is it--Corinth...
Corinth Bema (photo by David M. Miller)
...or Cenchreae?
Cenchreae (photo by David M. Miller)
In favour of Cenchreae is the nice pastoral setting and the fact that Paul is about to embark on a trip east to Jerusalem. If it was up to aesthetic preference, I would choose Cenchreae*, but the description of Erastus as the steward of "the city" tips the balance slightly in favour of Corinth (in my view). (Corinth has the added advantage of being easier for modern English-speakers to pronounce.)

*Update: Here's an additional argument from silence: Assuming that Luke knew where Paul stayed in Greece, the fact that he doesn't specify a precise location may indicate that Paul was in the less well-known Cenchreae instead of Corinth.

Cranfield, C. E. B. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. 2 vols. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1975, 1979.

Hultgren, Arland J. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011.

Jewett, Robert. Romans: A Commentary. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007. 

Keck, Leander E. Romans. Nashville: Abingdon, 2005.

All photographs .

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

John Barclay on Paul, grace and ancient patterns of gift-giving

In a talk that apparently previews the argument of a much larger book(s) on the subject, John Barclay draws on ancient practices of gift-giving to argue that God's χάρις ("grace" or "gift"), according to Paul, is unobligated (so Luther) but not without obligation (contrast Luther). Just as in the ancient world gift-giving always set up a complex system of reciprocity--much like a covenant--so too with God's "grace": God's gift of grace is given to unworthy sinners who have no claim on God's mercy, but those who receive the gift are obligated to respond appropriately.

This is not sunergism, it is not completing grace with works, or making subjectively true what is objectively true--because the gift changes everything. The gifts that is grace is life--a transfer of realms from the rule of sin and death to the realm of life--and anything we do is made possible in and through the resurrected Messiah. (Another way of saying this is that it is the Spirit that gives life.)

The Christian, then, is not simul iustus et peccator ("simultaneously righteous and a sinner")--to use Luther's language--but simul dead and alive. The body--dead because of sin but alive because of righteousness--is the site of a battle. Those who are made alive must experience mind-renewal, which is always exhibited in a transformation, a change in habitus, from one set of bodily practices to another. This is no individual struggle because the body, for Paul, is corporate, and the disciplines of the Christian life are lived out in community.

Note: I jotted down these notes on paper within a week or so of listening to Barclay's talk on a drive to Regina last summer. Since I can't vouch for their accuracy, I recommend listening to the lecture (online here), reading the conference proceedings (just released by Baylor University Press), or, if you are a visual learner, watching this video on a related topic.