Gary Hoag’s Wealth in Ancient Ephesus and 1 Timothy— Part Ten

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Q7.BEN: The discussion of 1 Tim. 3.1-14 is equally interesting. I’m not convinced however that these character descriptions are all that counter-cultural here. Some of them perhaps are, but not all of them, and in particular the one about not being a money-grubber was also a known negative criteria for pursuing the offices of the priesthood in pagan temples including the temple of Artemis. In one sense it is irrelevant that one can find examples of greedy priests, whether pagan or Jewish. These are not examples of the criteria, but violators of the criteria. The NT warns against greedy Christian prophets and teachers as well. Furthermore, the univira epitaph inscriptions about women, and about men being a ‘one woman man’ or vice versa show that Gentiles did highly regard this aspect of faithfulness to one’s spouse, even if many didn’t achieve it. So on the whole, I would say that the ethic of the NT, including in the Pastorals is what Paul says in Phil. 4.8— the culture’s values must be sifted, but some of them can be affirmed, and some will certainly need to be rejected. In short, the ethic is not purely counter-cultural anywhere in the NT. I agree that we don’t have a capitulation to the culture as Dibelius thought was happening, but it also doesn’t involve a complete rejection of it either. How do you respond?

GARY: Where people stumble in reading 1 Tim 3:1-14 is that they wrongly assume just because other posts in antiquity required character traits as qualifications, that it was true with religious posts too. The evidence demonstrates otherwise. The pathway to priestly service in the Ephesian context was not based on character but on noble birth. Let me say it again, because you can’t miss this. All the evidence points to noble birth as the cultural rule, which is why greedy people could ascend to and keep such posts in perpetuity.

Consequently, we would expect to find corrupt money-grubbers in the temple of Artemis. In fact, we do! Additionally, in Ephesiaca, Xenophon of Ephesus offers a fresh testimony of the pious pretenders officiating religious rituals. Further evidence such as the curetes lists (cf. chart on page 112 of my BBRS 11 volume) reveals that wealthy, powerful families held a grip on priestly roles, and various inscriptions attest that they maintained these posts through dedicated service to the temple cult (despite their greed and poor stewardship as their behavior put the fiscal stability of the temple at risk in at least one first century instance).

Just because faithful stewardship and the absence of greed were celebrated in other roles does not mean they were celebrated in qualifications lists linked to religious service. That’s the point of this chapter in my BBRS volume. Again, the evidence associated with this cultural setting points to noble birth as the criteria for appointments to spiritual service, not upright character. In that light, the character-based criteria that come into view in 1 Tim 3:1-14 must be read as counter-cultural when compared to the social and religious norms in the Ephesian setting.