Acts 20:20

Acts 20:20 November 5, 2003

Jerome Neyrey has an interesting article on Acts 20:20 in the current issue of JSNT. He examines the cultural background to Paul’s use of the phrase “in public and from house to house” by examining various expressions in Greek and Latin writers that correspond to modern “public” and “private.” These, in turn, are gendered spaces; women are covered and inside (and their sexual organs are “private) while men engage in activities in the agora, the fields, and in public (and their sexual organs are also “outside”). The binary “shame/honor” cuts across these divisions as well: It is shameful for a woman to be uncovered or out in public and it would likewise be shameful for a man to be “indoors” when all his fellows are outside (cf. Paris at the beginning of the Iliad, whisked away from the battlefield to the bedroom with Helen). Paul’s statement that he has proclaimed the gospel in public and in houses refers to his open (“political”) proclamation before kings and in public spaces, and to his “private” ministry in synagogues (considered as private spaces) and in house churches. In Gentile public spaces, Paul is allowed to preach without restriction, while in both public (temple) and private (synagogue) spaces the Jews restrict his speech. Neyrey claims that for Luke, as for other ancient writers, certain cities and spaces were considered honorable, and thus Paul’s claim that he preached in public is a claim to honor. This is an intriguing contribution to recent efforts to recover a fully “political” Paul.

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