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

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Q8.BEN: One last issue for this part of the discussion. It seems clear to me that Paul is trying to avoid the reciprocity spin cycle in his discussion in 1 Cor. 9. He is working to support himself in Corinth because there was a danger of his being co-opted to be an in house teacher by some wealthy Christian, and he didn’t want to take on those obligations which would not give him freedom to come and go and share the Gospel when and wherever he wanted to. At the same time, as 2 Cor. 8-9 show, Paul is perfectly happy to receive monetary support from some of his converts (he doesn’t make it a hard and fast rule that missionaries must raise their own support), and furthermore he tells us that Phoebe has been his patroness/ benefactor while in Cenchreae in Rom. 16.1-3. I think the critique of benefaction in the NT has to do with the notion that it can set off a reciprocity relationship, and turns the recipient into a client, not an equal. Paul wants to avoid entangling alliances, but as long as it is understood that there are no strings attached, Paul is perfectly happy to receive support and patronage. But that requires a specific kind of teaching about benefaction, namely that it is done as a service to others, not as a quid pro quo. How would you respond to this?

GARY: Ben, I really appreciate the “reciprocity spin cycle” expression you employed above. I’ll quote you when I recount it. As a word picture it illustrates the perpetual implications of participation in cultural fixtures such as the “benefactor” model in antiquity. Fixtures such as this one literally kept participants in the wringer! I believe Paul specifically avoids the “benefactor” cycle for at least three key reasons that I emphasize in BBRS 11 in greater detail: one is linked to the instructions of Jesus, the second surfaced in my findings linked to ancient evidence, and the third came into view when I considered my findings associated with beneficence in the larger biblical context.

First, in the Upper Room instructions that Luke records Jesus giving the disciples, Jesus redefines greatness not only by explicitly telling them to abandon the “benefactor” title that prominent people aspired to attain in antiquity (cf. numismatic and epigraphic evidence cited in BBRS 11), He turns the whole model up-side-down, or perhaps we should say He flips it right-side-up (cf. Luke 22:24-27). Jesus basically tells the disciples that if they want to be great in His kingdom, they must learn to serve everyone. Paul would later model such service and, as you rightly note, in contexts like Corinth where participation in the model would directly subvert his ministry efforts, he (in modern terms) worked “nights” to avoid the entanglements of the “benefactor” model. While he may use reciprocity as an illustration in his second letter to the Corinthians to help them realize their role as recipients and sharers of God’s divine beneficence, neither he, nor any other human, claims the title “benefactor” that belongs only to God.

Second, my research of ancient evidence revealed that the title “benefactor” in the ancient mind-set was linked to beneficence flowing the divine for all to enjoy. The gods must be honored for bestowing beneficence and, while people can mimic divine benefactors by freely receiving and sharing benefits, the only source of beneficence is the divine.

Third, these findings from antiquity led me back to the Scriptures to see if the only source of beneficence in God’s Word was, in fact, God, and that is precisely what I found. While God’s people, such as Phoebe, are generous, you and I must not call her a “benefactor” because that term sends a message that Scripture never conveys—that she is the source of the beneficence. Nothing could be further from the truth. The biblical writers led by the Spirit do not affix the title benefactor (εὐεργέτης) to her and neither should we. Phoebe is merely a “conduit” mimicking or imitating God, the one and only Benefactor. The difference is not insignificant. God calls the wealthy not to a place of destitution, but a place of distribution (cf. my exposition of the rich man in Mark 10 in BBRS 11).

We are thinking fairly closely; however, I suggest you jettison the notion that Paul was happy to receive “patronage” from people. Support with no strings, certainly, patronage comes with strings. Such terms may sound synonymous but they carry very different messages. These terms were linked in antiquity to cultural fixtures that could subvert the gospel, and I think you would agree that Paul worked diligently to avoid them for that reason. I believe you are spot on with your comment that: “the critique of benefaction in the NT has to do with the notion that it can set off a reciprocity relationship, and turns the recipient into a client, not an equal.” In other words, Phoebe is an equal to Paul, not a person with whom he is tied up in a patron / client relationship that could dictate his teaching or behavior, but an equal recipient of God’s material and spiritual blessings.


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