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


Q11. BEN: I wonder if you have had occasion to read John Barclay’s masterful study Paul and the Gift, as he has quite a lot to say about Paul’s views on grace and benefaction, not always agreeing with you. You push hard for the view that the author of the Pastorals is rejecting the notion of human benefactors and wants to insist that only God is a true benefactor. I take it that this is part of your equally hard push for the notion that the Pastorals are adopting a counter-cultural approach to things, and to heck with Dibelius’ approach. Why is this? Is it just because you want to see the Pastorals as consistent with other NT witnesses? Barclay makes a big point of the fact that God ‘giving with no thought of return’ or grace which expects nothing of the recipient or even anonymous giving, is not what Paul is teaching, those are largely modern notions.

GARY: I have not read Barclay’s 2015 work, Paul and the Gift. Thanks for alerting me to it. I ordered a copy. As for my views on benefaction, they were formed not from trying to prove Dibelius wrong or trying to argue that 1 Tim was consistent with other NT witnesses. My perspective surfaced in exploring examples in Benefactor by Frederick Danker, from mining the language of the semantic domain of a host of benefaction inscriptions in the ten volumes of Die Inschriften von Ephesos, and then through comparing my findings alongside 1 Tim and other biblical texts.

In the process I discovered the motivation behind participation in the benefactor model is love of glory and honor. The participants exhibit the high-minded thinking Christ followers are instructed to avoid. It also explains why Jesus would exhort followers to abandon the benefactor model and exchange it for a service model (cf. Luke 22:24-27). When I looked at the function of benefaction language in 1 Tim it focused on preserving God’s honor and glory (not that of humans), consequently, God came into view as the One who provides all things for us to enjoy and share. Basically if I take what you say in your question at face value (because I have not read Barclay’s book) I agree completely that God is the Benefactor, and the only One to whom we are expected to extend the return of our entire lives in service.

The key point I am making is that neither Ben nor Gary (or anyone else for that matter) should dare even think of giving themselves the “benefactor” title. It’s haughty, high-minded, and arrogant thinking that is toxic to God’s church. What I urge you to see, that I located in my research, was that individuals are never the benefactor per se in 1 Tim or in the pages of Scripture because in our love of glory we are stealing that glory from God. We are to behave a certain way toward others not because of what they give us, but because of what God has given us. I think Barclay would concur that once God is viewed as sole Benefactor, our service, becomes the expected response. See why no human can play that role?

The interesting part is that I found numismatic, epigraphic, and literary evidence in the ancient context pointed to the divine as sources of beneficence and people tried to get a slice of that glory. In the Scriptures, conversely, we find that God is Benefactor and any greatness on our part is not acting like benefactors but following Christ’s example and emptying ourselves and taking the form of humble servants.

What solidified all this in my mind, was taking my findings back to Scripture and seeing that while individual Christians are generous in the pages of the New Testament (because of all they received from God by grace) they never take on the “benefactor” title, because to do so, would be arrogant! They exhibit a new, countercultural way of giving, living, serving and loving.

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