Paul APB 5

Paul APB 5 October 24, 2019

In today’s video clip from Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe, Rob Orlando suggests that Paul went to Jerusalem for the last time much as Jesus did, knowing that this could and likely would lead to his death. I think that this kind of vocation of martyr is so rare in our time that it can be hard for historians and scholars to know what to do with it. Does a filmmaker’s storytelling help you make sense of it, and get inside Paul’s head just a little bit more?

Recently elsewhere in the blogosphere about Paul:

Tripp Fuller is giving away a bunch of books about Paul’s letter to the Romans

Galatians 3 – The Law and The Curse

Galatians 3:28: Neither Jew nor Gentile

Galatians 4:21-5:1 – Sarah and Hagar

Galatians 6:11 – What Big Letters!

Paul and the Church in Antioch

Sex and Wealth in 1 Corinthians 5

The Collection – 2 Corinthians 8:1-24

A Captive in Christ’s Triumphal Procession – 2 Corinthians 2:12-17

Paul’s Opposition in Corinth in 2 Corinthians

Our Letter of Recommendation – 2 Corinthians 3:1-6

What is the Restrainer in 2 Thessalonians 2?

Predicting the Rapture? (2 Thessalonians 2:1)

Galatians: Freedom through God’s Grace

Recent Commentaries on Romans

Paul and Barnabas on Cyprus

The State of New Testament Studies: Mike Bird on Paul in His World

Paul and the Giants of Philosophy: An Interview with Co-Editor Joseph R. Dodson

Word & World 9/2019 issue on ROMANS

How is disagreement resolved in the Council of Acts 15?

Was Paul an Egalitarian?

Participation-in-Christ: The Major Themes

Did Paul Convert From Judaism to Christianity?

Paul and the delay of the parousia

There’s a new book, Paul the Progressive, that I’ll definitely want to read.

Electronic Resources for the Textual Tradition of the Epistles of Paul

The Principal Pauline Epistles: A Collation of Old Latin Witnesses

Paul and the Panhellenion

Cruciformity and Resurrecti-formity? Or…

Best Commentaries on Paul, with Nijay Gupta: 1-2 Thessalonians

Best Commentaries on Paul with Nijay Gupta: Pastoral Epistles (1-2 Timothy, Titus)

Tweeting Romans

A book about ancient epistles in Bryn Mawr Classical Review

What does Paul teach us about resolving conflict?

Scot McKnight’s Reading Romans Backwards– The Dialogue Part Ten

Scot McKnight’s Reading Romans Backwards– The Dialogue Part Nine

Scot McKnight’s Reading Romans Backwards– The Dialogue Part Eight

Scot McKnight’s Reading Romans Backwards– The Dialogue Part Seven

Scot McKnight’s Reading Romans Backwards, The Dialogue Part Six

Scot McKnight’s Reading Romans Backwards, The Dialogue Part Five

Scot McKnight’s Reading Romans Backwards, The Dialogue, Part Four

Scot McKnight’s Reading Romans Backwards, the Dialogue Part Three

Scot McKnight’s Reading Romans Backward, the Dialogue– Part Two

Scot McKnight’s Reading Romans Backwards– Dialogue Part One

Theology Curator also has a podcast about Scot McKnight’s book.

Re-imagining Paul

Pastoring with Paul

Voices and Views on Paul— Appearing Soon!

Israel’s vocation in Romans 2-3

Chris Tilling drew attention to Pauline Dogmatics.

 

 

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  • John MacDonald

    One thing I have been wondering about lately is whether the Damascus conversion story may be fudged a little to lend credence to the power of the faith converting a known persecutor. The account by Luke in Acts may be patterned after 2 Maccabees 3’s story of Heliodorus, and the reference in Romans to τοὺς συγγενεῖς who were not only apostles but “of note” among the apostles makes it seem a little “off” that Paul would have been persecuting them before he came to Christ. A lot depends on whether you translate τοὺς συγγενεῖς as “relatives” or “compatriots.” The NRSV goes with relatives, but offers compatriots as an alternative reading. It seems odd that the pre-conversion Paul would have been persecuting his relatives.

    • I have been thinking a lot about this, in connection with a current research project. I think that Saul might well have been adamantly opposed to the Christian movement because he felt it was deceiving members of his family, and may thus have attacked and persecuted the leadership thereof. Surely you’re aware that sometimes family members fight with one another more intensely over religion than they ever would with strangers!

      • John MacDonald

        James said:

        Surely you’re aware that sometimes family members fight with one another more intensely over religion than they ever would with strangers!

        Of course, and that would be a straightforward interpretation.

        Another option (maybe I’m just nitpicking) is that Paul says in Romans his relatives were “of note among the apostles,” which suggests not only were they high level Christians, but in fact notable even when compared to the other apostles (οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις).

        So, this may mean, as you read it, that the “really high ups” deceived them and Paul was angry about it, but it could also mean the relatives were themselves among the leaders of the Christian movement early on, and so Paul wouldn’t have thought they would have been indoctrinated.

        Just a bit of background for the blog reader here regarding my speculation: Maybe Paul became impressed that the Christians were willing to suffer and die rather than renounce their beliefs, and so this would be useful in creating a better world, the foundation of which would be loving God with all your heart, and neighbor and enemy like yourself = Agape: “The world is ending soon, so you better get right with God and start loving one another!” I have 2 (purely speculative) blog posts on this topic:

        1. The Noble Lie Model of Christian Origins: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2018/03/examining-easter-peering-behind-veil-of.html

        2. The possible relationship between the crucified Jesus and the impaled just man of book 2 of the most famous book in the ancient world, Plato’s Πολιτεία, not completely precisely, but usually, rendered into English as “The Republic:” http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2019/04/jesus-and-just-executed-criminal.html

        Anyway, that’s my empty guesswork, lol.

        As you say, difference of religious belief often divides families, and there is much in what the early Christians were preaching that could have been wildly offensive to Paul’s Judaism. Ehrman comments that:

        This reconfirmation of a hope that had been forcefully disconfirmed compelled these earliest followers of Jesus to make sense of it all through their ultimate source of all religious truth, the sacred scriptural traditions. They found passages that spoke of someone (a righteous person or the nation of Israel as a whole) suffering, but then being vindicated by God. These included passages such as Isaiah 53 quoted above. These followers of Jesus claimed these passages actually referred to the future messiah. They were predictions of Jesus.

        This was for them “good news.” Jesus was the messiah, but not one anyone expected. By raising him from the dead, God showed that Jesus’ death had brought about a much greater salvation than anyone had anticipated. Jesus came to save God’s people not from their oppression by a foreign power, but to save them for eternal life. This is what the earliest Christians must have proclaimed.

        And for the zealous Pharisee Paul, it was utter nonsense. It was worse than nonsense. It was a horrific and dangerous blasphemy against God, his scriptures, and the law itself. This scandalous preaching had to be stopped. And Paul did his best to stop it. See: https://ehrmanblog.org/why-paul-persecuted-the-christians/

        So, I do think there is a lot going for your interpretation! Also, what I do think is of note is that Paul had relatives who were high level apostles in the Jesus movement, which I think would be a rich area of research that is not often mentioned!

        • I am hoping to blog about this, since I have been increasingly persuaded that information from Romans 16 and the Gospels actually fits nicely together on this point, with potential implications for historical Jesus and other subjects that are of mutual interest. For now, I’ll just say that relatives can get very involved even in leadership of a movement, and one can be adamantly hostile. Whether Saul would have happily seen a relative go to prison, I can easily see him hoping that if other leaders end up in prison, it would make his own relatives reconsider their association with the movement. What do you think?

          • John MacDonald

            A key passage I would point to is Galatians 1:14 which says:

            I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

            So, that would certainly fit your model. One thing that gives me pause is that Paul is sometimes represented as violently persecuting/killing Christians, so if your model is right it would seem to speak against the violent Paul killing Christians, since killing his own relatives would be at odds with Paul’s purpose of bringing his relatives back to traditional Judaism.

          • John MacDonald

            Of course, Paul may have thought that killing/making an example of some Christians and bringing out the whip would be excellent motivation for his Christian relatives to rejoin the traditional Jewish fold! Maybe Paul’s relatives abandoning tradition for “the blasphemous Jesus cult” was the main reason Paul started persecuting Christians in the first place!

          • The only act of killing Saul is even associated with is one instance in Acts, where he is depicted as present and consenting to the killing of Stephen. To be honest, I think that him having a dream/crisis and sudden shift of allegiance would make sense, psychologically speaking, if he had witnessed a member of a group he opposed being killed, perhaps taking things beyond anything he ever envisaged, and now meaning that he himself had played a small role in putting the lives of his own relatives at risk.

          • John MacDonald

            Maybe Paul, out of zealousness for the law and traditions of his fathers, joined the persecutors to help stamp out the Jesus movement (an issue that hit really close to home for Paul because his relatives were apostles in the movement), but when he realized the persecutors were actually committing atrocities against those Jesus movement people the danger to his relatives he was contributing to caused a crisis of conscience and resulted in the psychological event he experienced near Damascus (phew, that was a long sentence!).

          • John MacDonald

            It’s interesting too that Paul had high level Jesus movement relatives who were apostles, because this naturally lends itself to the idea that Paul would have understood from them what the first Christians believed about the sacrifice of Jesus, contrary to Doherty and Godfrey who argue Paul only learned about Jesus through revelation and scripture. See Godfrey’s/Doherty’s arguments here: https://vridar.org/2017/04/10/did-paul-learn-the-gospel-from-others-bart-ehrmans-and-earl-dohertys-arguments/

          • John MacDonald

            ONE LAST POINT: Against Dr. McGrath, Godfrey cites commenter Vinny as saying:

            Our earliest Christian source claimed to have learned nothing from the Christians who came before him. He claimed to know what he knew by divine revelation. He didn’t tell us why he persecuted the Christians who preceded him. See https://vridar.org/2019/06/14/mythicism-and-pauls-claims-to-supernatural-revelation-engaging-with-mcgrath-2/

            This claim by Vinny seems problematic if Paul had Jesus movement “apostles of note” as relatives prior to his conversion.

          • Indeed!

        • John MacDonald

          ONE LAST THING: This is me shamelessly plugging my Noble Lie speculation with a tweet blurb from Carrier:

          This is a well researched case for the Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins. I mentioned the theory in On the Historicity of Jesus (in my section on the hallucination theory of origins), but only in passing as a possibility & not anything we could prove or assume. Now see [John’s Post] … https://twitter.com/richardccarrier/status/966713694167228416

          I know, shameless right? lol

      • John MacDonald

        I’m very talented! Usually I get comments trapped in the offensive language filter even though I don’t uses offensive language. This time I managed to get a comment stuck in the spam filter. I have no idea what counts as offensive language or spam, lol.

      • robrecht

        What are the specific reason you think Paul is speaking of actual relatives of his as opposed to simply speaking of fellow Jews? Earlier in the letter, in Romans 9,3, he is merely speaking of fellow Jews, not necessarily closer relatives.

        • John MacDonald

          Regarding the Personal Greetings section of Romans, In Romans 16:3 Paul does not call the Jews Prisca and Aquila (identified as Jews in Acts 18:2), suggenes, which one would think he would have done for consistency if suggenes = fellow Jew in 16:7. The NRSV chooses “relatives,” with “compatriots” as a possible alternative reading.

          • robrecht

            I’m certainly not denying that a closer sense of ‘relative’ is a possible translation. But nor do I think that a broader sense of ‘fellow Jew’ would need to used consistently every single time Paul refers to a fellow Jew.

          • John MacDonald

            “Relatives” does seem to be the primary sense, such as in Mark 6:4, etc

          • robrecht

            We’re not talking about that Markan passage. And, again, I’m certainly not denying that a closer sense of ‘relative’ is a possible translation.

          • John MacDonald

            And too, in the passage you refer to in Romans 9:3, Paul seems to need to qualify συγγενῶν with κατὰ σάρκα, suggesting the usage in of συγγενῶν in Romans 9:3 isn’t standard and so Paul thinks he needs to explain it in a way he doesn’t in 16:7.

          • robrecht

            Either sense would be ‘according to the flesh’ so this cannot be taken as way of differentiating these two senses of relative vs fellow Jew.

          • John MacDonald

            I think what Paul is doing in Romans 9:3 with kata sarka is highlighting Jewish lineage in a way he isn’t in Romans 16:7. Usually, In Romans, Paul uses kata sarka to highlight Jewishness and Jewish descent. So, in Romans 4:1 he says Abraham is our ancestor kata sarka, from the Jewish human lineage point of view. Similarly, in Romans 1:3 he says Jesus is the son of David “kata sarka,” highlighting Jesus’s human Jewish lineage/Jewishness. Similarly, as I said, he speaks of the Jews in 9:3 as being his kindred “kata sarka,” from the point of view of Jewish human lineage. So I think, as I said, Paul seems to want to qualify συγγενῶν with κατὰ σάρκα in Romans 9:3, suggesting the usage in of συγγενῶν in Romans 9:3 is highlighting Jewishness/Jewish lineage and so Paul thinks he needs to qualify it it in a way he doesn’t in Romans 16:7, where the straightforward meaning is relatives/family.

            As I said, “Relative” is the normal, straightforward meaning of συγγενῶν in the New Testament (eg Mark 6:4, etc), so it would make sense Paul would feel the need to qualify it if he meant Jewishness/Jewish lineage – which he does with kata sarka (Romans 9:3; 4:1; 1:3). And, I maintain my point that regarding the Personal Greetings section of Romans, In Romans 16:3 Paul does not call the Jews Prisca and Aquila (identified as Jews in Acts 18:2), suggenes, which one would think he would have done for consistency if suggenes = fellow Jew in 16:7. The NRSV chooses “relatives,” with “compatriots” as a possible alternative reading.

          • robrecht

            I won’t be able to respond in detail until tonight or tomorrow perhaps, but if you look at how Paul uses κατα σάρκα in all of his letters, I think you will find that it’s absence here simply cannot carry the weight you would like it to have.

            At any rate, my question was posed to James.

          • John MacDonald

            Well, no, I think that is quite wrong. While it is interesting to see how Paul uses κατα σάρκα in all his letters, it is very important to question how he uses it in Romans. Analogously, as I said, the fact that Paul uses does not use suggenes in Romans 16:3 is telling. Anyway, sorry I interrupted your question to James, so I’ll bow out of the conversation.

          • Romans 9:3 is at best ambiguous, since the parallelism might or might not be purely synonymous. Paul would quite plausibly have had a desire to see not just his people as in Jews but his kin as in family come to believe. That said, context is paramount and the same word or phrase can have different connotations in different contexts. When Paul lists greetings to many people that are fellow Jews and singles out only some as relatives, that suggests that he is using the term in its narrower sense in that context.

          • John MacDonald

            Yes, that makes excellent sense. I’m still learning this “historical reasoning” method! I’m progressing!

          • John MacDonald

            Hi James,

            I’m trying to think of a summary I can take away.

            The Corinthian Creed/Poetry says:

            That Christ died for our sins
            in accordance with the scriptures.
            and that he was buried;

            That he was raised on the third day
            in accordance with the scriptures,
            and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

            If we were looking for a secular explanation of this, and then Paul’s vision, could we say that

            1) The disciples, distraught at the arrest/death of Jesus (The disciples wouldn’t have thought Jesus would be killed since he was to restore the Davidic throne; Simon Peter wouldn’t have attacked and cut off the ear of Malchus if he thought Jesus was supposed to be aressted/die, etc.), experienced grief based hallucinations of the risen Jesus (such grief hallucinations are commonplace – my Godmother experienced such visual/auditory events after my Godfather died), and, as was said above,

            2) Maybe Paul, out of zealousness for the law and traditions of his fathers, joined the persecutors to help stamp out the Jesus movement (an issue that hit really close to home for Paul because his close relatives were “apostles of note”in the movement), but when he realized the persecutors were actually committing atrocities against those Jesus movement people, the danger to his close relatives he was contributing to caused a crisis of conscience and resulted in the completely natural psychological event he experienced near Damascus

            Does that sound plausible, from a secular point of view?

          • John MacDonald

            We also know Jesus’s death was catastrophic for the disciples because they were desperately searching scripture to make sense of it.

          • I explore one possible scenario in The Burial of Jesus. Take a look at p.114.

          • John MacDonald

            I’m not sure where page 114 is because I have it on Kindle, but in re-reading your chapter on the resurrection in your book, you comment that:

            Paul does mention elsewhere, however, visionary experiences involving ascent into the heavens, which are very much characteristic of the mystical traditions and literature of that time (see 2 Cor. 12:1-7). McGrath, James F. . The Burial of Jesus: What Does History Have to Do with Faith? . Patheos Press. Kindle Edition.

            I think this immensely important because Carrier, with a lay-psychological framework, wants to reduce the appearance claims to the first Christians being schizotypal. That’s silly. To the contrary, actual psychological theory understands that schizophrenia-type-experiences are not of a different kind from “normal” experience, but there is a spectrum, and it is perfectly reasonable to be normal and yet have, for instance, stress induced hallucinations = like my Godmother did in the example I gave above.

            Going on, you say

            Our experience of beauty, of wonder, of transcendence is firmly rooted in aspects of human psychology, but it is not necessary to conclude that it therefore tells us nothing significant, and perhaps even true, about the way the world is, about the nature of reality. McGrath, James F. . The Burial of Jesus: What Does History Have to Do with Faith? . Patheos Press. Kindle Edition.

            This is certainly true, as, for instance, Dr. Harry Hunt has argued: meditative practices cross-culturally have been shown to cultivate experience of the numinous, which has consistent traits across place and time (perhaps because brains and environments are similar over places and times) . But, while this experience of the numinous might point to something extraordinary, it might not, and may simply be a “perceived extra-mundane experience” which is in fact trivial, like trying to argue from an LSD trip experience to the existence of the extra-mundane.

            I think the core key question is what should we think given normal probabilistic reasoning about the evidence? Ehrman, in his debate with William Lane Craig on the resurrection said:

            What are miracles? Miracles are not impossible. I won’t say they’re impossible. You might think they are impossible and, if you do think so, then you’re going to agree with my argument even more than I’m going to agree with my argument. I’m just going to say that miracles are so highly improbable that they’re the least possible occurrence in any given instance. They violate the way nature naturally works. They are so highly improbable, their probability is infinitesimally remote, that we call them miracles. No one on the face of this Earth can walk on lukewarm water. What are the chances that one of us could do it? Well, none of us can, so let’s say the chances are one in ten billion. Well, suppose somebody can. Well, given the chances are one in ten billion, but, in fact, none of us can.

            What about the resurrection of Jesus? I’m not saying it didn’t happen; but if it did happen, it would be a miracle. The resurrection claims are claims that not only that Jesus’ body came back alive; it came back alive never to die again. That’s a violation of what naturally happens, every day, time after time, millions of times a year. What are the chances of that happening? Well, it’d be a miracle. In other words, it’d be so highly improbable that we can’t account for it by natural means. A theologian may claim that it’s true, and to argue with the theologian we’d have to argue on theological grounds because there are no historical grounds to argue on. Historians can only establish what probably happened in the past, and by definition a miracle is the least probable occurrence. And so, by the very nature of the canons of historical research, we can’t claim historically that a miracle probably happened. By definition, it probably didn’t. And history can only establish what probably did.

            I wish we could establish miracles, but we can’t. It’s no one’s fault. It’s simply that the canons of historical research do not allow for the possibility of establishing as probable the least probable of all occurrences. For that reason, Bill’s four pieces of evidence are completely irrelevant. There cannot be historical probability for an event that defies probability, even if the event did happen. The resurrection has to be taken on faith, not on the basis of proof. see https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/debates/is-there-historical-evidence-for-the-resurrection-of-jesus-the-craig-ehrman/

            There seems to be special pleading going on among Conservatives like Craig. If I went to my grandfather’s grave and found an empty tomb, the reasonable thing to conclude is not that my grandfather had been resurrected by God, even if I started having visions of my grandfather. A natural explanation usually seems to be preferable to a miraculous one – someone dug up the body and the psychological stress is causing hallucinations. Analogously, before the discovery of atoms, it would not have been reasonable to assume matter was made up of invisible, micro-magical leprechauns.

            However, I think your point is that another way to conceive of God is as the ground of Being, so we needn’t conceive God as something magical. I personally have found attempts to refute the Cosmological argument as unimpressive:

            “If that’s your best, your best won’t do ”

          • John MacDonald

            The Twisted Sister line is aimed at Conservatives, not Liberals

          • John MacDonald

            JUST ONE LAST POINT: (sorry for the edits above).

            Carrier’s claim that the first Christians were schizotypal is so baffling and ignoring of the commonplace nature of the mind creating events (we have visual and auditory dreams most nights, for instance), that by Carrier’s logic he would be schizotypal himself, since he had mystical experiences of what to him at the time was connecting with the TAO, before converting to atheism. Carrier relates:

            The most fantastic experience I had was like that times ten. It happened at sea, well past midnight on the flight deck of a cutter, in international waters two hundred miles from the nearest land. I had not slept for over 36 hours, thanks to a common misfortune of overlapping duty schedules and emergency rescue operations. For hours we had been practicing helicopter landing and refuelling drills and at long last the chopper was away and everything was calm. The ship was rocking slowly in a gentle, dark sea, and I was alone beneath the starriest of skies that most people have never seen. I fell so deeply into the clear, total immersion in the real that I left my body and my soul expanded to the size of the universe, so that I could at one thought perceive, almost ‘feel’, everything that existed in perfect and total clarity. It was like undergoing a Vulcan Mind Meld with God. Naturally, words cannot do justice to something like this. It cannot really be described, only experienced, or hinted at. What did I see? A beautiful, vast, harmonious and wonderful universe all at peace with the Tao. There was plenty of life scattered like tiny seeds everywhere, but no supernatural beings, no gods or demons or souls floating about, no heaven or hell. Just a perfect, complete universe, with no need for anything more. The experience was absolutely real to me. There was nothing about it that would suggest it was a dream or a mere flight of imagination. And it was magnificent. See Carrier’s account: https://infidels.org/library/modern/testimonials/carrier.html

            So, there you go. Experiences of the numinous are so commonplace that the arch-atheist himself has had them!

          • robrecht

            I certainly agree the word itself is ambiguous, and very much determined by context, but I don’t know what you are referring to with respect to synonymous parallelism. How many other Jews do you think Paul is referring to here that he does not refer to as ‘related’? Certainly Aquilla. Priscilla? Robert Jewett argues that Priscilla was not Jewish. Mary perhaps. Others? I don’t think Paul, if he mentions that some people are related as fellow Israelites, would therefore be obligated or expected to to consistently identify every person he mention as either Jewish or not Jewish. He has quite a bit to say about Prisca & Aquila, more important things than their ethnic relation to him.

          • robrecht

            Paul does not really use κατὰ σάρκα differently in Romans than in the rest of his letters. It typically merely means ‘according to the flesh’ in a relatively neutral human sense or sometimes in a more negative sense, when used with a direct contrast between κατὰ σάρκα and κατὰ πνεῦμα or some other broad spiritual sense. It does not relate to whether or not συγγενη is to be understood as a close relative vs a more distant relative.

            Rom 1,3 descended from the seed of David κατὰ σάρκα vs designated Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness from the resurrection of the dead (plural).

            Rom 4,1 Abraham our forefather according to the flesh for the Jews, but he is also the father of all who have faith in the promise and grace, even those of the nations (4,16-17).

            In Rom. 8,4-5 he speaks twice of those who walk or live according to the flesh vs those who walk or live according to the spirit, the latter being those who set their minds on the things of the spirit. In this passage the spirit is aligned with life, freedom, peace, whereas the flesh is aligned with sin, death, condemnation, and an inability to please God or submit to his law, even hostility to God. In this larger context, Paul speaks twice more of living according to the flesh (8,12-13)

            Rom. 9,1-5 Paul again speaks twice of his own people, literally his brothers, those related to him according to the flesh (ὑπὲρ τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου τῶν συγγενῶν μου κατὰ σάρκα), the Israelites, from whom according to the flesh comes the Messiah. But it is not merely this brotherly relationship of the flesh that makes one a child of God (9,7-8).

            In Gal. 4,23 he speaks of the child of the slave, born according to the flesh vs the child of the free woman, born through the promise and subsequently of the child born according to the flesh persecuting the child born according to the Spirit (4,29).

            In 1 Cor 1,26 Paul speaks of audience, most of whom were wise, powerful, or of noble birth according to the flesh, ie, by human standards. In 1 Cor 10,18 he speaks of Israel according to the flesh and their temple sacrifices.

            In 2 Corinthians he speaks of human decision making, saying yes and no at the same time (1,17) or in having in the past having thought of the Christ in a human sense (5,16 bis) or living according to human standards (10,2 bis) or boasting according to human standards (11,18).

            There is absolutely no basis here for differentiating between being related to fellow Israelites according to the flesh and being more closely related to normal human, family relations when the phrase κατὰ σάρκα is not used.

          • robrecht

            There isn’t really a “normal’, straightforward” vs an abnormal or otherwise secondary or more complicated meaning of συγγενης. It literally just means ‘with (by) birth’ or ‘related’. It can also be used to mean ‘natural’ or even ‘similar’ in a less literal sense, but the specific meaning in a given context is determined in and by that context. In a story about Jesus visiting his family and hometown, where everyone was Jewish, it would not be needed to mean merely Jewish since everyone there was Jewish, but there were there those who were more closely related than others to Jesus in his hometown. On the other hand, when Paul is writing primarily gentile Christians in a large cosmopolitan city, the multi-national capital of the empire, any of the Jewish or fellow Israelite Christians among his Roman addressees would also be ‘related’ to him in this very same sense, not a less normal or less straightforward sense. Jewish-gentile relations among ‘Christians’ in Rome is obviously a major theme in Paul’s letter to the Romans and his own status as an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin (Rom 11,1) is important rhetorically for his message and it is quite natural to brings this up again at the end of this letter. Paul’s relationship with Prisca and Aquila was obviously very close and important and not merely a matter of their relationship as fellow Jews, and Paul enumerates the importance of this relationship. That he does not mention that at least one of them was also a fellow Jew does not mean that συγγενης does not mean this in the places where he does mention it.

          • John MacDonald

            You do seem pretty adamant about arguing against the NRSV, which seems to be pretty reliable (although I can’t for the life of me guess why they would translate “fishers of men” as “fish for men” lol). Is there something about Paul having family members who were “apostles of note” in the Jesus movement prior to his conversion that bothers you from the point of view of your faith beliefs? Anyway,

            Rob said:

            There isn’t really a “normal’, straightforward” vs an abnormal or otherwise secondary or more complicated meaning of συγγενης.

            Just from a cursory scan of the internet:

            1) Ellicott’s commentary agrees with me that the narrower sense as “relatives” is the usual one in the NT, however one deals with Romans 16:7.

            Regarding “relatives” vs “fellow Jews” in Romans 16:7,

            2) Meyer’s commentary argues:

            συγγενεῖς is explained by many (including Reiche, de Wette, Hofmann) as member of the same race or people (according to Romans 9:3). But the explanation kinsmen is to be preferred, partly because the word itself, without other definition in the context, immediately points to this (Mark 6:4; Acts 10:24, et al.); partly because it is only in this sense that it has a significance of special commendation; especially as in Rome there were many Jewish-Christians, and hence one does not see how the epithet was to be something characteristic in the particular case of those named, if it signified only kindred in the sense of belonging to the same people.

            So, Meyer’s commentary emphatically endorses Dr. McGrath’s reading.

            I certainly have no background in biblical studies or historical reasoning (though it is fun to try!), and my Greek is more “experimental” than fluent, so perhaps Dr. McGrath can help here.

          • robrecht

            No, it would not bother me at all if Paul had close relatives who were messianic Jews before him. It does seem a bit odd that he would mention his six relatives here and nowhere else (three living in Rome and three with him where he was writing), but it is certainly possible that he could do so only here. On the other hand, he does frequently need to be speak of Jewish-Christian and gentile-Christian relations and it is a major theme of his letter to the Roman’s, and when he uses the term previously in the letter he is very clearly speaking of fellow Jews. As far as counting commentaries, both Joseph Fitzmyer in his Anchor Yale commentary and Robert Jewett in his Hermeneia commentary find the relation of fellow Jews to be most likely. That too seems to me to be more likely here, but my main point is that it is by no means a given that a closer sense of familial relationship should or must be preferred. Most of the uses of συγγενής in the New Testament are indeed used in contexts when the ‘national birth relationships’ can be presumed and need not be singled out. Paul’s letter to the Romans is very different from those other narrative contexts.

          • John MacDonald

            So what is your response? As I said, Meyer said:

            because it is only in this sense that it has a significance of special commendation; especially as in Rome there were many Jewish-Christians, and hence one does not see how the epithet was to be something characteristic in the particular case of those named, if it signified only kindred in the sense of belonging to the same people.

          • robrecht

            Unlike Meyer, many scholars (eg, Ehrman) are of the opinion the Christians in Rome at this time were predominantly gentile. I do not share this opinion, but the point for Paul is not that the individuals he singles out are uniquely important because of their Jewish background. He does not know that many of the Roman believers, presumably just the ones that he mentions, perhaps important because of their leadershipbroles. Paul is typically more interested in speaking of himself. He is really mentioning his own bona fides to speak on matters relating to Judaism and the role of gentile Christians.

          • John MacDonald

            Paul having family members who were apostles of note in the Jesus movement, via a little nepotism, would explain, after Paul converted, Paul going from being a despised persecutor to rise the Christian ranks to being one of the high level Christian apostles so quickly – and wasn’t merely one of the many (such as the 500 in 1 Cor 15:3-8) who experienced a vision of Jesus.

            I like the word nepotism. It comes from the OE for nephew, the idea being in medieval times if a noble fathered an illegitimate child, they would refer to them as nephew and provide them with a station of good income.

          • robrecht

            Yes, when Paul speaks of himself, he does indeed consider himself and his mission to be of very great importance. We don’t really know that other, eminent apostles thought as highly of him as he did of himself.

          • John MacDonald

            I think parsimony falls on the side of Paul being an apostle of note who rose to prominence so quickly after his conversion because of his family ties with some of the core apostles in the movement, Andronicus and Junia. What people don’t realize is that, if the traditional story of Paul is true (no familial nepotism), it would inexplicably undermine the whole point of Jesus’ mission. If all it took was a vision (And having a vision didn’t simply translate into apostlehood, eg the 500), why waste time with a 3-yr mentoring process? There must have been other circumstances, and nepotism fits in here nicely.

          • robrecht

            Paul never mentions being mentored by other Christians before him, let alone endorsed by important family members in the movement, quite the contrary. Even when mentioning his two weeks with Cephas, he is most insistent about the divine origin of his apostleship and gospel. When he is responding to those who challenge his authority, one might expect him to appeal to his human ordained authority and important relationships, but he never does.

          • John MacDonald

            That’s my whole point. Jesus instituted a three year mentoring process, a point that was conveniently skipped over in the case of the feared persecutor Paul.

            Also, we know the nepotism thing was going on, like with Jesus’s brother James, who didn’t follow Jesus during his life, but magically later appeared as one of the Pillars.

          • robrecht

            What three-year mentoring process are you referring to? Just the gospel of John’s repeated passovers in Jerusalem?

          • John MacDonald

            Would you agree Jesus emphasized the mentoring of the disciples/apostles?

          • robrecht

            Although it’s possible, I don’t think we should assume a 3-year mentoring process or testing period before one became a full-fledged member of the community as one finds at Qumran. Whether Jesus and the first or all of his disciples had a three-year period of ministry prior to his crucifixion is also unknown. Some scholars believe John’s chronology is more likely (eg, John P Meier), but this is a minority opinion. I also don’t think we can even assume that Jesus necessarily trained some of his disciples to take on leadership roles after he was gone. How far in advance did he realize that he was likely to be executed? If he expect the end of the age and the innaugeration of the Kingdom of God in the very near or fairly near future, which is probably most likely, how much of a transitional period would he have planned for during which time he would need to have leaders take his place. Lots of unanswered and probably unanswerable questions here. But once Jesus was gone, and there were reports of his resurrection, the anticipation of the near end of the age and the resurrection of the dead may have intensified. Paul certainly approached the evangelization of the gentiles with a rather high degree of urgency. To the extent that he may have been one of the first few to pursue this path of evangelization of the gentiles, he may not have had a lot of competition to challenge the leadership role he was assuming for himself. The more established leaders of the movement seemed to have been rather opposed to Paul’s vision of how the gentiles were to be incorporated into the Kingdom previously defined as Jewish.

          • John MacDonald

            Rob said

            The more established leaders of the movement seemed to have been rather opposed to Paul’s vision of how the gentiles were to be incorporated into the Kingdom previously defined as Jewish.

            Then why not just kick him out of the movement and replace him with someone who more readily towed the party line?

          • robrecht

            It seems some did have this attitude, but their version of what would become Christianity did not win out.

          • John MacDonald

            Yes, some apostles did have this attitude, and Paul was also of sufficient status that they didn’t have the authority to dismiss Paul from his job, which they very much would have liked to have done.

          • robrecht

            I’m not sure anyone had that authority yet. There was no Pope Boniface VIII at that time. And even when there was, not everyone would listen and obey even him either.

          • John MacDonald

            Perhaps this, perhaps that, lol. My principle issue in all this is denying Craig’s argument that there is evidence for the resurrection miracle.

          • robrecht

            What in the world does William Lane Craig have to do with the interpretation of συγγενης in Romans 16?

          • John MacDonald

            Haven’t you been following? To repeat, one explanation for Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus is it was a hallucination from a crisis of conscience based on him realizing he was supporting a movement that was not only trying to eliminate Christianity, but was committing atrocities against Christians – Paul maybe even having family members as apostles of note in the movement (συγγενης in Romans 16)

          • robrecht

            But all of that is, in my opinion, hopelessly abstracted from the linguistic issues involved in the interpretation of the text. Whether συγγενής in Roman’s 16 is best understood in context as a very close familial relationship or a more distant tribal or national birth relationship should not be freighted with such philosophical or apologetic issues. Such do not lend themselves to a scholarly or objective assessment of the underlying linguistic issues. Don’t you think the language of a text can be more intelligently discussed without turning it into a proxy battle for a the truth or falsity of miraculous claims? Do you think William Lane Craig is more likely to genuinely undersatand particle physics when he is trying to employ it in function of a proof for creatio ex nihilo and the existence of God?

          • John MacDonald

            The issue for me is: how do we address figures like William Lane Craig or N. T. Wright who persuade multitudes that we positive evidence in support of the resurrection. A beginning point is Ehrman’s whereby, if I might extrapolate, is to point out miracles are the least likely explanation, by definition, and so belong in theology, not history. The example I gave above is that if I went to my grandfather’s grave and saw the body was missing, and I started experiencing visual and audio experiences of my grandfather, the rational conclusion is clearly not that God had raised my grandfather (even if He did), but that there is some naturalistic explanation (such as someone had dug up the grave and the uncertainty and stress of me finding the empty grave was resulting in perfectly natural and common psychological hallucinations). But this is just the first step.

            The next question is: what naturalistic explanations can we come up with? Maybe Paul hallucinated? Maybe the disciples did too out of grief? Maybe this, maybe that … The point for me is that the miracle explanation eventually becomes just another possibility along with the many naturalistic ones, with no reason to choose it over a naturalistic one. And, since we have perfectly good naturalistic explanation, we should choose the naturalistic ones over the miraculous, since the miraculous is inherently improbable by definition. I go one step beyond Ehrman in that I think we need to explore and defend the naturalistic choices if they are plausible (so the defense of συγγενής in Roman’s 16), and not just say with Ehrman to the religious person “I don’t think we have a good naturalistic explanation, but your interpretation is a priori wrong so let’s just forget the whole thing.” I think naturalistic explanations are inherently preferable to miraculous ones – but all other things being equal we should have good naturalistic options!

          • John MacDonald

            So, you can analyze συγγενής in Roman’s 16 for pure linguistic interest as you do, or as part of a larger contextual issue of miracle claims like I do, or whatever. All can be fun!

          • John MacDonald

            I don’t see the problem. I can analyze the concept of deinon and parestios in the context of a reading of Sophocles Antigone just as well as from the point of view of Heidegger’s analysis of the terms regarding technology. The issue appears in both, though different, contexts. Anyway, thanks for chatting. I’ve made my points as best I could. That’s all for me. Hopefully Dr. McGrath will chime in and answer your question about the relative virtues of translating, on the one hand, as “relatives,” or “fellow Jews” on the other!

          • robrecht

            John MacDonald: “So, you can analyze συγγενής in Roman’s 16 for pure linguistic interest as you do, or as part of a larger contextual issue of miracle claims like I do, or whatever. All can be fun! I don’t see the problem. …”

            Answer my earlier question and you may see the problem: Do you think William Lane Craig is more likely to genuinely understand particle physics when he is only trying to employ it in function of a larger proof for creatio ex nihilo and the existence of God?

            I think the linguistic issues are best understood on linguistic grounds. Once you start bringing in other issues, such as the existence of miracles, then the simple linguistic issues become clouded and freighted with all sorts of other issues that do not lend themselves to the simple understanding of the text before us.

          • John MacDonald

            I think if we are to offer responsible alternatives to the resurrection, we can’t just say “any natural explanation is better,” like Ehrman does in his debate with Craig. Ehrman says:

            Let me illustrate by giving you an alternative scenario of what happened to explain the empty tomb. I don’t believe this. I don’t think it happened this way, but it’s more probable than a miracle happening because a miracle by definition is the least probable occurrence. So let me give you a theory, just one I dreamt up. I could dream up twenty of these that are implausible but are still more plausible than the resurrection.

            Jesus gets buried by Joseph of Arimathea. Two of Jesus’ family members are upset that an unknown Jewish leader has buried the body. In the dead of night, these two family members raid the tomb, taking the body off to bury it for themselves. But Roman soldiers on the lookout see them carrying the shrouded corpse through the streets, they confront them, and they kill them on the spot. They throw all three bodies into a common burial plot, where within three days these bodies are decomposed beyond recognition. The tomb then is empty. People go to the tomb, they find it empty, they come to think that Jesus was raised from the dead, and they start thinking they’ve seen him because they know he’s been raised because his tomb is empty.

            This is a highly unlikely scenario, but you can’t object that it’s impossible to have happened because it’s not. People did raid tombs. Soldiers did kill civilians on the least pretext. People were buried in common graves, left to rot. It’s not likely, but it’s more likely than a miracle, which is so unlikely, that you have to appeal to supernatural intervention to make it work. This alternative explanation I’ve given you—which again is not one that I believe—is at least plausible, and it’s historical, as opposed to Bill’s explanation, which is not a historical explanation. Bill’s explanation is a theological explanation.

          • robrecht

            How does this relate to the interpretation of συγγενης in Romans 16?

          • John MacDonald

            I responded to that above.

          • John MacDonald

            The Christian message was the death and resurrection of Jesus brought salvation.

            Paul comes along, assimilates this and then invents his own message that no one needs to do the demands of the Jewish law (such as circumcision, Sabbath observance, kosher food) to be right with God. One needs only faith in Christ.

            This was such a problem that apostles were actually dispatched to Paul’s churches to correct the teachings.

            Wouldn’t the obvious move be to simply get rid of Paul from the movement? Unless Paul had some serious clout that was protecting him, I think.

          • robrecht

            So are you assuming that Paul perverted the message even of his own relatives who were leaders in the movement but that they nonetheless stood by him purely because they were related to this young upstart? It seems more likely to me that things were merely more chaotic and disorganized with a variety of perspectives and not a single, monolithic world-wide authority structure that could simply excommunicate a founder of far-flung communities of gentiles.

          • John MacDonald

            The gentile communities were obviously important to the movement, or else they wouldn’t be sending apostles there to correct Paul’s teachings.

          • robrecht

            And they had some success in doing so, at least for a while, but no one group yet exercised the kind of universal authority that you are presuming upon such that Paul could have been simply excommunicated. Yet there were those who bitterly opposed him for a couple of centuries at least.

          • John MacDonald

            Rob said:

            things were merely more chaotic and disorganized with a variety of perspectives and not a single, monolithic world-wide authority structure that could simply excommunicate a founder of far-flung communities of ge ntiles.

            If this is true, why did Paul deliver his bribe to who he did? This implies a somewhat systematic heirarchy and power structure.

          • robrecht

            I don’t agree that it was a ‘bribe’ pure and simple but a well meaning effort to support the original community in Jerusalem. And of course Paul would want to remain in good standing with the original community, but he also was not afraid to disagree with some of the leaders there when he felt strongly about his position. No need to assume that he was only able to remain a leader among his own communities because some relatives in Rome protected him. There are many possible scenarios that one can imagine, but this is an awful lot of speculation in defense of how to interpret one ambiguous word in greetings being shared at the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

          • John MacDonald

            Rob said:

            There are many possible scenarios that one can imagine, but this is an awful lot of speculation in defense of how to interpret one ambiguous word in greetings being shared at the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

            I find this sort of thing to be tremendous fun. Heidegger based his whole Philosophy on a novel interpretation of Heraclitus’s physis kryptesthai philei and aletheia, and he wrote a hundred book length manuscripts!

            Anyway, thanks for the lively discussion! I guess my concluding point is that it is perfectly reasonable to suppose Paul’s experience of Jesus was a perfectly natural hallucination, perhaps brought on by a crisis of conscience due to the atrocities he was committing, or else in support of a movement Paul discovered was committing atrocities that threatened his own family who were apostles of note in the movement.

            As I quoted from Ehrman, the miraculous is always highly improbable by definition, and so belongs to theology, not history, which is a search for the probable..

          • robrecht

            None of this seems to relate to the interpretation of συγγενης in Romans 16. I haven’t said anything pertaining to the miraculous.

          • John MacDonald

            As i have said numerous times to both you and above, I have said that Paul having relatives in the Jesus movement may have contributed to his Damascus experience. If you read the post from the beginning you will see that is what I’ve been talking about this entire time. Why else would I make a big deal out of how to translate συγγενης in Romans 16?

          • John MacDonald

            To quote Dr. McGrath from above:

            To be honest, I think that him having a dream/crisis and sudden shift of allegiance would make sense, psychologically speaking, if he had witnessed a member of a group he opposed being killed, perhaps taking things beyond anything he ever envisaged, and now meaning that he himself had played a small role in putting the lives of his own relatives at risk