Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An Early Faith Community (5.4)

From chapter 5 of my second Paul book.
The list of names at the end of Romans may not at first seem inspiring, but it has lots of tantalizing nuggets, especially when we think that we are looking at a community of faith just like us.  Think about the people that you worship with each Sunday.  Close your eyes and imagine you are in a worship service right now.  Look around with your mind's eye.  You know everyone's "assigned seat."  You know the older couple that sits over on the right and then young couple that sits over on the side.

It is this sort of list we are reading in Romans 16, except of course that they met in houses rather than church buildings and we are looking at believers scattered across a city rather than a single local assembly of believers.  Romans 16 gives us a truly amazing peek into some of the social dynamics of the earliest churches, especially those associated with Paul's mission. [1]  People have often wondered how Paul could know so many people so well already at Rome when he has never visited there.  Since the last time we ran into Priscilla and Aquila (Rom. 16:3) they were in Ephesus (e.g., 1 Cor. 16:19; cf. 2 Tim. 4:19), many scholars suggest that Romans 16 was originally sent to Ephesus rather than Rome.

[insert evidence and argument: sorry, have to get my day going...]

We rightly read the Bible as God's word to us.  Indeed, I would argue that part of reading a text as Scripture is reading it as a living and direct word to the present.  However, clearly the books of the Bible say they were first written to people who lived a very long time ago, and it is a simple fact of language that the Bible must then have been written in their categories first.  We appropriately hear God's direct voice in these words but we should be aware that to that extent we are often not hearing the words for what they originally meant.

The reason I mention this fact is that we might easily mistake the current "packaging" of the biblical books for their original packaging.  Just because a book of the Bible is packaged a certain way now does not mean it was originally arranged that way.  We saw this issue in the first Paul volume in relation to 2 Corinthians, where most scholars think Paul wrote chapters 10-13 at a slightly later time than the first 9 chapters.

We tend to picture the prophet Isaiah sitting down to write the book with his name from beginning to end in one sitting, with God dictating each word as he went along.  But it is not at all likely that Isaiah came together in this way. [2] And even with a letter like Romans, we should think of a process of at least several days of writing, quite possibly weeks, with a rough draft first. [3] Writers generally kept a copy of their letters with them, as well as sending one.  If so, then we can easily imagine Paul writing the Romans and writing the Ephesians at the same time in Corinth.  The letter to Romans had the first 15 chapters of our Romans.  The letter to Ephesus had the 16th chapter, and the copy Paul kept with him had both in something like Romans' current form.

[1] One of the books our first Paul volume mentioned as key to mastering Paul's writings is Wayne Meeks' The First Urban Christians (***).  It provided a key analysis of passages such as this one.

[2] Prophets were not writers.  They were speakers.  We should picture the prophets speaking their prophecies in context, probably in a much different order than they currently appear in our Bibles.  In the case of Isaiah, the chapters from 36 on do not even claim to come from Isaiah.  Isaiah 36-39 are taken virtually word for word from 2 Kings, and the last 27 chapters assume a situation some two hundred years after Isaiah and talk about events from that time as if they are currently happening.

[3] We mentioned in the first volume also the book of E. Randolph Richards, Paul and First Century Letter Writing ***.


Richard Fellows said...

I think you might be a little out of date on a couple of point. The view that Rom 16 was originally sent to Rome has been largely abandoned. Also many scholars now argue for the unity of 2 Corinthians, and some still place 2 Cor 10-13 BEFORE 2 Cor 1-9. Those who place 2 Cor 10-13 as a separate letter AFTER 2 Cor 1-9 are less than 50%, I would guess. In any case, appeals to consensus do not count for anything.

Ken Schenck said...

I don't mean to say there is consensus on any of these points and I agree with you that even "majority" opinions are fluid, especially in this day and age where anyone can get the scholarly driver's license. I don't think I took a stab at what percentage might argue for or against the destination of Romans 16.

By the way, I acknowledge you in the preface to my now nearly published first book on Paul.

Richard Fellows said...