Dr IAN ELMER…
Dr Elmer introduces his commentary today: "Last week we began an examination of Paul's ecclesiology by noting how Paul responded to his opponents at Galatia by stressing the eschatological character of the Christian family. The image of the Pauline churches that emerges from Galatians and elsewhere in the Pauline corpus is that of small house churches — groups of ordinary people meeting in ordinary homes and sharing a common identity as brothers and sisters 'in Christ' (Gal 2:19-20; cf. Rom 6:3-11; 1 Cor 15:22; 2 Cor 5:14-16). But this was not a form of early congregationalism. Paul and his converts were very much aware that they were part of a larger, universal Church with an inherited tradition of beliefs and an established hierarchy of leadership."
Paul's Fidelity to Apostolic Traditions
As we have observed in earlier commentaries, in Galatians we find Paul vehemently defending his gospel and his right as an apostle to preach this gospel among the Gentiles (1:16; 2:8) against accusations to the contrary advanced by opponents who were advocating "a different gospel" (1:6-10). A significant aspect of their message must have been the record of the events surrounding Paul's early association with the Jerusalem Apostles, Peter, James and John, including the Council at Jerusalem (2:1-10) and possibly also the so-called "Incident at Antioch" (2:11-14).
Many commentators on Galatians argue that there would seem to be in Galatians 1-2 a clear reflection of additional allegations by the Judaisers that Paul, like they, had similarly received the "gospel" by way of Jerusalem (Martyn, 1997: 117; Dunn, 1993: 72-78; Longenecker, 1990: 36, 42, 44-45, 64-66; Bruce, 1982: 26). There may also be here, as F. F. Bruce (1982: 101-102) points out, a further implied charge that Paul had failed to preach that gospel correctly, abridging and adulterating the import of the message that he had received at Jerusalem.
Against such accusations, Paul insists that his gospel is neither the product of human tradition nor does he preach it in order to win the approval of mere humans; if this were not the case he would not be the servant of Christ (1:10). On the contrary, Paul's gospel is the product of a "revelation from Jesus Christ", which he did not receive via any human agency (1:11-12).
Paul asserts under oath that his contact with the apostolic circle at Jerusalem was limited only to his brief stay with Cephas (1:18-20), which occurred three years after his conversion. Moreover, he wants to stress that this visit was not an official one. He did not meet with the whole assembly of the Jerusalem church, let alone the full college of apostles. The meeting was a private affair between himself and Cephas, during which he met with none of the other apostles except James. Accordingly, Paul asserts that he went to Jerusalem in order to get "acquainted" with Cephas (1:18), not to be "taught" or "receive" the gospel he preached (1:12) or the "call" to preach it (1:15-16) (Martyn, 1997: 171-172).
Despite his protestations to the contrary, Paul is certainly indebted to the original tradents of the Christian message. There are numerous places in his letters where Paul demonstrates an awareness of traditional material about Jesus' life and teachings, death, resurrection and post-resurrection appearances (e.g. 1 Thess 4:15; Gal 1:19; 4:4; 1 Cor 7:10; 9:14; 11:2, 23-25; 15:3-7; Rom 1:3).
Even here in Galatians, as H. D. Betz (1979: 26-28) observes, Paul makes extensive use of early confessional and liturgical traditions (1:3-4; 2:16, 20; 3:13-14, 27-28; 4:4-5). It does not stretch the bounds of reason to assume that he would have received some of this material during his fifteen-day stay with Peter.
Of particular interest here is Paul's directions concerning the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians (11:17-34), where he stresses that he is "handing on" traditions that he had received in his turn (1 Cor 11:23). Similarly, in chapter 15 Paul "hands on" traditions about the first witnesses of the resurrection that he had previously "received" (cf. 2 Thess 3:6). Moreover, in both cases Paul is reminding the Corinthians of these traditions precisely because aberrations and innovations have been introduced into the faith and practice of the community that places them out of communion with the Apostolic community.
It may be true that Paul has suffered as a result of negative comparisons between himself and "those who were apostles before [him]" (Gal 1:17; cf. 1 Cor 15:19; Rom 16:7). But he steadfastly and consistently claims that "whether it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe" (1 Cor 11:5). For Pauline Christianity, the foundation of its faith practice rests squarely on apostolic tradition and authority (1 Cor 12:28; Eph 2:20; 3:5; 4:11). This is also implicit in one of Paul's most significant images of the Church – the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-31; Rom 7:4; 12:4-5; Phil 3:21; Eph 1:22-23; 3:6; 4:4, 11-16; Col 1:18, 24; 3:15) — where the first place is allotted to the Apostles (1 Cor 12:28).
At this point it may be valuable to consider the significance of Paul's collection for Jerusalem initiated at the Jerusalem Council (Gal 2:1-10), and, specifically, his reasons for pursuing it despite the obvious problems he continued to suffer with regard to his ambivalent relationship with the Jerusalem church. The collection was a major emphasis in the ministry of Paul, occupying much time and energy in the closing years of his ministry. Why was the collection so important to Paul?
The most obvious answer to that question is that the collection held symbolic significance. Paul saw it as symbolic of the Gentiles' spiritual indebtedness to the apostolic community in Jerusalem.
Galatians (2:10) suggests that the instigation of the collection was at the request of the Pillars Apostles of Jerusalem "to remember the poor". This is not just the materially poor within the Jerusalem church, but a designation of the whole church (Hengel, 1979: 118-120). The purpose of the collection was not simply charitable.
If the sole purpose of the collection was charitable, a humanitarian exercise to relieve genuine want, then Paul seems to have been rather tardy in bringing that relief to those in need. By our reckoning it would have been near on a decade between the Jerusalem Council (49 C.E.), when the collection was first instigated, and the composition of Romans (58 C.E.), when Paul speaks of its completion and his intention to deliver the offering to Jerusalem (Rom 15:25-26, 28; cf. Acts 20:1-4, 16; 24:17).
It is, therefore, more likely that Paul's pursuit of the collection should be seen as a fulfilment of a promise he made a decade earlier. B. Holmberg (1978: 55-56) has suggested that the Pillars had imposed the offering as a symbol of their power and authority.
Given the direct historical ties with the historical Jesus, and the role the Jerusalem community had played in the first two decades of the Church's life, it would be surprising if disputes on authority did not play some role in the offering. But there must have been for Paul additional reasons that went beyond the symbolic recognition of the pre-eminence of the Jerusalem Apostles.
From the perspective of the Pillar Apostles at the Jerusalem Council, the offering would have amounted to the admission of indebtedness on the part of Paul and his Gentile converts to the Jerusalem community. Paul was willing to admit that the Gentile church certainly owed Jerusalem an unpayable debt for their spiritual heritage (Rom 15:27). To respond to the material need of the Jerusalem church was thus a means of maintaining unity and fostering fellowship. For Paul, the collection could also function as a means of demonstrating his fundamental goodwill and desire to keep the peace (Barrett, 1998: 27-28).
By the time Paul came to compose Romans his relationship to the apostles of Jerusalem was, to say the least, strained. Agents of the Jerusalem church appear to have dogged his steps throughout the Aegean basin, and Paul apparently had lost significant sections of his former missionary communities. The possibility of schism loomed large, and threatened to undermine his future plans to expand his mission into Spain (Rom 1:13; 15:23-24, 26-29).
Paul most likely hoped that, despite the reservations the Christian Jews at Jerusalem had concerning the Gentiles, the collection would serve as tangible evidence of Christian solidarity. The collection would serve as irrefutable proof of the genuineness of the Gentile faith (2 Cor 8:11-12). Paul relied upon it to testify to the Jerusalem Christians of the real and full inclusion of Gentile believers into the body of Christ and avoid at all costs the possibility of schism and the dismemberment f the body of Christ.
Hence, he hoped that the collection might relieve the continuing tensions that existed between himself and Jerusalem and, therefore, circumvent the Judaisers' continuing efforts to undermine his mission. Only these motivations can adequately explain why Paul would continue to engage in the collection long after he had severed his ties to either the Jerusalem community, who first instigated it, or the Antiochene congregation, upon whom it was first enjoined.
Leadership in the Pauline Church…
As we have mentioned numerous times before, Pauline Christianity was a collaborative effort; it was a movement not simply the sole work of a single individual. Paul probably spent very little time in any one place – except Corinth and Ephesus where he seems to have spent about 18 months and 2 or 3 years respectively. For the most part, his communities were run and administered by fellow workers. Many of his communities were even originally proselytised by others in the Pauline camp. Hierarchical structures were an important aspect to the administration of this network of communities.
Paul's communities looked more like the extended Roman household rather than the synagogue. This was especially the case in Corinth and Rome, where Paul's extensive greetings and discussion of disputes suggests a domestic model of small house-churches. However, there were clearly defined roles. Romans mentions Phoebe a "deacon" from Cenchreae (Rom 16:1) who acts as Paul's delegate; and Paul greets Andronicus and Junia (Rom 16:7) who were "in Christ" and who were "apostles" prior to him. More significantly in Galatians (2:9), Paul readily accepts that James, Peter and John were the "acknowledged pillars" of the Church.
Philippians (1:1) testifies to a clear hierarchy of overseer and deacon — a structure that reappears later in the Deutero-Pauline Pastorals: 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (e.g., 1 Tim 3:1-16; Titus 1:7). With the addition of Paul's understanding of the role of the Apostle as guardian of tradition, one can see how this early two-tiered structure rapidly developed into the now familiar three-tiered hierarchy (bishop, priest and deacon).
Paul understood the importance of line management. He established an effective network of communications using letters and envoys to unite it's communities into a single "Church". Ministry in the local churches was exercised charismatically according to gifts, but also according to office since these local leaders derived their authority from Paul, their apostle (Gal 1:1; 2:7-8; cf. 1 Cor 9:2; 2 Cor 12:12; Rom 11:13). It was precisely this issue that lay at the heart of Paul's conflict with the Judaisers. They denied Paul's apostolic status and, therefore, his authority to establish and administer Christian communities. In Galatians (2:9, 10), he attempts to drive a wedge between the "acknowledged pillars" at Jerusalem and his opponents at Galatia by claiming to be in "fellowship" or "communion" with the Jerusalem authorities. Even at this early stage in the development of the Church, Paul demonstrated that one could safely claim to stand within the tradition by aligning oneself with one's bishop.
Of course, Paul did not blindly or uncritically accept the authority of "those who were apostles before [him]". On the contrary, he was more than willing to challenge the preeminent apostle, Peter, when he felt that he was not being faithful to the Gospel (Gal 2:11-14). But he would never push the dispute to the point of an irrevocable schism. There is an important lesson in this for all of us at the present moment.
Bibliography and Further Reading:
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©2009 Ian Elmer