Dr IAN ELMER…
Today's lead commentator, Dr Ian Elmer, is celebrating another small milestone in his own academic career, and emerging international prominence as a Pauline specialist, with the publication in the last week of his doctoral dissertation, Paul, Jerusalem and the Judaisers by the German publishing house, Mohr Siebeck. Congratulations from all of us Ian. Today's commentary — which takes a big picture overview of Paul's battles with Peter and his followers — is largely taken from one chapter in his new book and examines how, despite the constant criticism that Paul was subjected to ultimately it was his ecclesial vision which seems to have won and been the basis on which the world was eventually evangelised.
The Primacy of Peter…
In an earlier commentary back in 2007, we observed that there was very little evidence to support the traditional claim that Peter was the first bishop of Rome (Elmer, 2007). We did find, however, that the doctrine of the Primacy of Peter did not depend on the later legend of Peter's journey to Rome. This legend derived from the second-century Pseudo-Clementines, which was the product of an anti-Pauline group of Christian Jews who promoted Peter's primacy over Paul's apostolic ministry.
In today's commentary we discover that a century and a half earlier, when Paul was evangelizing the urban centres of the Aegean Basin during the early 50s, there were already Christian Jews who claimed to be of Peter's Party, and who advocated the primacy of Peter's authority over that of Paul's communities in Corinth. Accordingly, they criticized Paul for his failure to adhere to Petrine authority. The story of how Paul dealt with these people provides an interesting parallel to more recent disputes involving Rome and local Catholic communities.
Factional Conflict at Corinth…
First Corinthians presupposes some period of time between Paul's initial missionary activity in Corinth (c. 50-51 C.E.) and its composition (c. 53/54 C.E.) (Dunn, 1994: 14; Elmer, 2009: 168). As we observed last week, 1 Corinthians deals for the most part with local and internal problems that arose as a result of some misunderstanding of Paul's teachings. Buried amidst this catalogue of pastoral concerns, however, we can find several important passages (1:12-13; 3:5-6; 9:1-27; 15:7-9) that imply the presence in Corinth of a significant body of opposition to Paul (Lüdemann, 1989: 65-66; Elmer, 2009: 168-188).
The origin of this conflict is probably found in the report brought by Chloe's people to Paul, which suggests that since Paul's departure the whole church had become divided into factions, with various people aligning themselves under four different slogans. F. C. Baur (1831) saw the enumeration of factional groups in 1 Corinthians as indicative of two rival missions at Corinth, one of which declared its allegiance to Cephas (Peter) and Christ against the partisans of Paul and Apollos (1:12-13; 3:5-6).
The Christ Party and the Cephas party formed one faction that stood in opposition to the Pauline Party represented by a similar conflation of the dual allegiances to Paul and his co-worker Apollos (Baur, 1831: 76-78). On this understanding, Baur argued that the Christ Party represented the interests of Christian Jewish missionaries who claimed their relationship to Christ and their apostolic authority derived from Peter, who enjoyed primacy among the first Jewish Apostles of Jesus (cf. Goulder, 2001: 16-32).
Most recent Pauline commentators, myself included (Elmer, 2009), have been reluctant to see these factions as representative of an actual fourfold schism within the Corinthian communities. Indeed, Elizabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza (1987: 396) is probably quite correct in her argument that neither Paul nor the Corinthians saw the "debates, discussions, or competing claims" as representative of actual parties. There is no doubt that the so-called parties of Christ and Apollos were not explicitly representative, but rather attempts by Paul to parody and diminish his Petrine opponents.
C. K. Barrett (1971: 42-43) points out that Paul addresses the Corinthian community as a whole and, as such, demonstrates that no formal schism has occurred; Paul is dealing with discord, rather than outright division (cf. Sumney, 1999: 36-37).
Even more critical of any direct identification of the party slogans with actual factions is Margaret Mitchell (1991), who contends that no such slogans were in use at Corinth. Paul merely wants to caricature and ridicule the behaviour of the Corinthians as childish and slavish. Paul's use of these slogans, Mitchell argues, is intended to draw tacit comparisons between the squabbling at Corinth and political discord; thereby, casting the behaviour of the Corinthians in an unfavourable light.
While we might be inclined to accept this more conservative reading of Paul's description of factionalism at Corinth, we should not be tempted to dismiss the inherent divisiveness of the situation. As Jerry Sumney (1999: 39) admits, the one thing that is clear from the slogans in 1 Corinthians 1:11-12 is that there is an opposition to Paul, albeit unorganised and ad hoc.
To return to Baur's analysis, we could argue that a connection between the anti-Pauline opposition at Corinth and the name of Cephas suggests some link between Paul's opponents and Peter, even if, again, it is only indirect. As we shall see presently, we have no reason to assume that Peter himself led the opposition at Corinth.
To pursue these suspicions further, we must first note that the presence of a Paul party in the roster of supposed factions must indicate some competition or opposition to Paul, since it is necessary for others to declare their allegiance to Paul. Secondly, the same must equally be said of Cephas. Unlike Christ or Apollos, it seems difficult to maintain that Paul would have chosen Peter as the focus of an anti-Pauline party slogan unless Peter was already a figure of some contention.
It is logical, therefore, to assume any opposition against Paul would not have centred on an allegiance to Peter unless it derived from outside influence. How else would the Corinthians have learnt anything of significance about Peter, aside from his role in the earliest Jesus movement?
The Peter Party…
I have argued elsewhere in my recent publication, Paul, Jerusalem and the Judaisers (Elmer, 2009: 168-175), that it seems highly unlikely that Peter would have figured either prominently or positively in the preaching of Paul, especially if we are correct in arguing that Corinth was evangelised immediately after Paul's bitter split with Peter at Antioch. It is even more incredible to argue that any opposition to Paul would have aligned itself with Peter unless it knew something of Paul's past problems with Peter – a subject that Paul is unlikely to have brought to their attention.
Surely, the Corinthians could have only learned of Peter's role in denigrating the authority of Paul from others outside the Pauline camp. It is difficult to argue why Paul would have brought up the issue in the context of a party aligned to Peter unless someone else who knew of his past difficulties with Peter had brought the record of Paul's past to the attention of the Corinthians.
So, while it seems unlikely that Corinth was divided into four distinct factions, there does appear to be a circumstantial case for assuming that there was anti-Pauline opposition that was inclined to compare Paul unfavourably with Peter and possibly others amongst the original apostolic circle. Moreover, this opposition must have derived, in part from outside influence. There is a good deal of evidence in 1 Corinthians to support this proposition.
The first, significant piece of evidence we have occurs in 1 Corinthians 9:1-27. In this passage, we find Paul vehemently defending his status as an apostle against the contrary judgement (9:3) of certain unnamed people at Corinth. There is little doubt that these people came from outside the Corinthian community.
Paul draws a clear distinction between his Corinthian converts and these "others" who did not consider him an apostle (9:2), who were openly critical of his apostolic practice (9:3-18), and who were responsible for inciting divisions within the ranks of the community. They apparently even questioned the authenticity of Paul's vision of the risen Jesus (9:1) which, for Paul, constituted the basis of his apostolic call (cf. Gal 1:1, 11-12, 15-16).
The conflict turned nasty very quickly. When we turn to 2 Corinthians, which was written a year later, we find Paul's opponents presenting themselves as superior to Paul; attacking Paul personally. In particular, they apparently charged Paul with a number of improprieties: unseemly conduct (1:12); unworthy leadership (1:14; 5:12); erratic behaviour (1:17); possibly harshness or restrictiveness (2:1-4; 6:3, 12; 7:3; 7:8); insincerity and underhandedness (2:17; 4:2; 7:2); and self-commendation (3:1-6; 4:5; 5:12; 6:4). But in the end, it was all about the money.
Squabbling Over the Collection Plate…
Paul's opponents claimed to be acting under the authority of Peter; they may have even carried letters of commendation from Jerusalem (2 Cor 3:1-10); and they denigrated Paul for being a self-appointed apostle who engaged in self-commendation for the purpose of defrauding money from the Corinthian communities (1 Cor 9:4, 15-18; 2 Cor 3:1-6; 4:5; 5:12; 6:4; 12:16-18).
In both the extant Letters to Corinth (1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8:1-9:15), Paul is anxious that the collection for Jerusalem, which was initiated at the Jerusalem Council, should go forward. This suggests that the collection was a point of contention between Paul and his opponents, and there is some evidence pointing to the possibility that the collection had actually ceased as a result of the conflict (16:1-4).
The opponents had charged Paul and his co-workers with devious behaviour, refusing direct support from the Corinthians while taking a collection for Jerusalem, which they fraudulently used to line their own pockets (2 Cor 12:16-18). Paul responds to this accusation by the counter-claim that his opponents were falsely professing apostolic rank so as to demand remuneration for their ministry (1 Cor 9:1-27; 2 Cor 2:17; 9:5) (Lüdemann, 1989: 82-83, 89-90; Elmer, 2009: 173).
In 2 Corinthians, Paul is particularly scathing in his response to his opponents, calling them "false apostles", "deceitful workers", who disguise themselves as "apostles of Christ" (11:13). He turns their own arguments back on them; accusing his opponents of "pedalling the Gospel for profit" while defending his own practice of never drawing on the support of his communities (2 Cor 2:17). Earlier, in 1 Corinthians (9:13), Paul implied that these others (unlike Paul himself) were drawing on Corinthian donations for their support, claiming for them the apostolic authority that they denied to Paul (Goulder, 2001: 30). But, here, again the spectre of Peter loomed large.
In defence of what Paul attempted to imply were dodgy financial practices, Paul's opponents seem to have alleged that their apostleship represented more closely the practice of Peter and the brothers of the Lord, who were the original, "authentic" Apostles (Barrett, 1971: 204; Lüdemann, 1989: 71).
Specifically, the Petrines claimed that Paul could not have been an apostle since, unlike Peter and the brothers of the Lord, he had not made use of all his apostolic rights — in particular, the right to his congregation's financial support (9:4, 15-18) for both himself and "a believing wife" (9:5).
This matter of Paul's apostolic standing reappears in chapter 15, where Paul describes his credentials as an apostle by a correlation with the Christophanies granted to Peter and the Twelve, James, and "all the Apostles" (15:5-7), appending his name to this traditional list of "Apostles" and witnesses to the resurrection. Paul is obviously still on the defensive here.
The peculiar tone of his self-designation as "one untimely born" and "the least of the Apostles" (15:8-9) suggests that he is taking up the jibes of his adversaries, who probably dismissed Paul's apostolic call as illegitimate and his claim to apostolic status as a usurpation of a title that belonged only to the original witnesses to Jesus' life, death and resurrection (Barrett, 1971: 344).
Against such claims of illegitimacy and impropriety, Paul admits his lowly status but augments this by protesting that by the grace of God he has worked harder than any of the official apostolic authorities so named in the foregoing list (1 Cor 15:9-10). This line of argument echoes his earlier statement in chapter 9 where he reminds the Corinthians that even if these "others" do not consider him an apostle, the Corinthian community itself is the "seal" of his apostleship (9:2).
Paul revisits this argument again in 2 Corinthians (6:3-13; 11:23-33) where he catalogues the trials and tribulations he had experienced for the sake of his "children" (6:13). While he may not have called on the Corinthians to give him his due reward (2 Cor 2:17-18) by offering the gospel free of charge, he remains an apostle to them by virtue of his work amongst them. Accordingly, Paul charges his opponents as "false apostles" (2 Cor 11:13) who have invaded his missionary territory (2 Cor 10:13-17) and who are merely, in his opinion, "peddling the word of God for profit" (2 Cor 2:17; cf. 11:7-12, 20).
In effect, Paul is saying that the only usurper of the title apostle here is not he who planted this community but these others, because they have come attempting to share in the harvest (1 Cor 9:11-12). And he does not spare Peter in this tirade.
At the outset of Paul's defence, when in 1 Corinthians he refers to the Corinthian factions aligned with Apollos and himself against those of Peter, he compares the ministry (1 Cor 3:5-23) with those who "are full of their own importance, taking sides for one against another" (1 Cor 4:6).
Following his reference to the Cephas party in 1:12, Paul again explicitly mentions Cephas a second time in 3:23-24, linking Cephas with him and Apollos as servants of Christ. Yet, unlike his earlier treatment of Apollos (3:5-23), Paul never implies mutual agreement between Cephas and himself. On the contrary, it is entirely possible that Paul had Cephas, the "rock", in mind when he speaks of the impossibility of laying any "foundation" other than Jesus Christ (3:11) (Elmer, 2009: 186).
Paul clearly wants to draw a comparison between him and Apollos as the architect and builder, respectively, of the Corinthian community (3:3-10) on the one hand, and, on the other, "this man" who would destroy the community, analogically referred to as "God's Temple" (3:12-17).
Paul obviously has a specific person in mind, and he concludes his attack on this person by expressly grouping Cephas together with him and Apollos as the men about whom the factional contenders were boasting (3:21-2). This leaves us in no doubt that Paul has Peter in mind, and that he blames Peter for the factional infighting at Corinth.
Peter in Corinth…
It is entirely possible that Peter himself led the opponents of Paul at Corinth. This proposition has been defended strongly by C. K. Barrett (1982: 1-39). However, the evidence Barrett presents is far from convincing and, as Michael Goulder (2001: 20) observes, "if Peter had been there in person, we might have expected a less kid-gloves response from Paul, as in Gal 2".
Turning now to a second theory concerning the identity of the false apostles, Hans Conzelmann (1975) has proposed that one need not presume outside influence to explain the appearance of the Cephas Party at Corinth, since Peter would have figured prominently in the essential message first promulgated by Paul himself (cf. 1 Cor 15:5).
This too appears equally improbable, as we noted at the outset of this chapter. One is hard pressed to attribute the origins of this pro-Petrine group and its Law-observant gospel solely to a wanton distortion of Paul's own teachings. A much more plausible proposition, as we have seen here, is that the Peter party arose as a result of the arrival in Corinth of rival missionaries who were agents of Peter and the Jerusalem Apostles (1 Cor 9:3-7; 15:1-11).
There is in the ancient clash between the two missions at Corinth a salutary lesson for us, caught up in the occasional stoush with self-styled "magisterial Catholics" who hang on to legalistic interpretations of the faith, and who claim to represent the authority of Rome.
The Pauline communities would ultimately survive and prosper, even after the disaster of Jerusalem's fall in 70 CE, their understanding of the faith was missionary and evangelistic. They openly sought converts from all cultures and willingly altered their faith-practice to accommodate the multi-cultural nature of their communities.
By contrast, the Petrines remained legalistic in their outlook and completely uninterested in mission or outreach (outside the narrow cultural and ethnic parameters of Christian Judaism). The only mission they ever embarked upon was a counter mission to reel in Paul's Law-free communities. With the fall of Jerusalem, their numbers dwindled to a remnant (as we find with the community that gave us the Pseudo-Clementine literature in the late second century), and eventually disappeared from the pages of history. Paul ultimately won the battle at Corinth and, indeed, the Roman Empire as a whole, almost by default.
Bibliography and Further Reading:
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©2009 Ian Elmer