Bruce Longenecker’s REMEMBER THE POOR (A Review)

The first two times I heard Bruce Longenecker give a paper were when I was studying at Durham, Longenecker was lecturing at St. Andrews, and he was working on this book, Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World. One paper he gave I completely did not understand (on reconfiguring poverty scales in the GR world) and the other one I didn’t find convincing at the time (on his interpretation of Gal 2:10). And, yet, I found this book, having now read the “final product” absolutely fascinating. (All things considered, though, while I am “on board” with the overall argument of the book, I don’t think he has an airtight case for his reading of Gal 2:10; see below.)

At bottom, what Longenecker is interested in doing in this book is exposing the central interest Paul had in caring for the poor – not as a ministry initiative, but as a fundamental distinctive at the core of his mission. A primary gateway for the conversation, from which he derives his title even, is Gal 2:10: “They [the pillars] asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.” When it comes to this verse, most interpreters view this as a reference to the poor in Jerusalem – a particular, temporary need. Essentially, most commentators take it as a reference to the “collection.” Alternatively, Longenecker argues that this apostolic charge “replicated an essential feature of Judeo-Christian identity — that of caring for the needy, without geographic restriction” and “something that would characterize the emergent Jesus-movement in both its mission to the circumcised and to the uncircumcised” (198).

Is Longenecker just a hippie trying to make Paul a social crusader? I don’t think so (but I live in Seattle, so I could be biased!). He wisely notes that we who read Paul today don’t really understand the context he lived in. Longenecker argues (on very good research) that “the economically poor would have comprised at least half of the urban environment of Paul’s mission” (35).

It is important to understand that in the GR world, “care for the poor was virtually absent..prior to the rise of Christianity” (60). Pagan religions did not take an interest in “charitable initiative.” He argues that Jewish traditions and practices did support the needs of strangers and the needy, but this was precisely behind the importance of Paul ensuring such an attitude in his Gentile churches – it matters to YHWH!

Sociologically speaking, Longenecker reflects on historical proposals that “social practice best explains the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman empire” (64) and, in particular, the distinctive disposition of charity, hospitality, and care in this religion.

I found that his work in the realm of social history was very impressive and well-articulated. His work on Galatians, while not questionable, is not clearly an over-turning of consensus. It certainly stands as the best case against a reading of 2:10 that views “the poor” as a particular poor rather than a general poor.

I found this a very good read, though very detailed and “academic”  – no “light-reading before bed!” Yet, Longenecker, known for theologically-engaging readings of Paul, ties his perspective down to the very heart of Pauline (apocalyptic) thought.

I leave you with this quote:

Paul imagined care for the poor among gentile communities of Jesus-followers to be an expression and embodiment of the invading triumph of the deity of Israel who had made himself known in the scriptures of Israel, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and now through the Spirit/spirit that enlivened small groups of Jesus-followers (299)

Ciampa and Rosner on 1 Corinthians (Pillar): A Review

If Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner’s new 1 Corinthians commentary (Pillar, Eerdmans, 2010) fell off of my bookshelf and landed on me, I would be in the hospital. It is HUGE (900+ pages). It is not only physically “weighty,” it also has exegetical and theological gravitas. Simply put, it makes a series of important contributions to the study of 1 Corinthians, both at a broad level (big picture thinking on 1 Corinthians) and in a number of smaller exegetical arguments.

If you don’t know, the evangelical “Pillar” series (edited by D.A. Carson) aims to

“blend…rigorous exegesis and exposition, with an eye alert both to biblical theology and the contemporary relevance of the Bible, without confusing the commentary and the sermon” (xiv).

 

Several volumes already published in this series have become eminent, including ones on John (Carson) and Ephesians (P.T. O’Brien).

Ciampa, who taught me at Gordon-Conwell, is a master-interpreter – careful, competent, and an expert in Pauline theology. Rosner, once at Aberdeen (and Ciampa’s former doctoral supervisor), now at Moore, is well-trained in 1 Corinthians and Pauline ethics. Together, they make an outstanding team.

Let’s talk about the introduction. Compared to most, this 50+ page intro offers much. They have a knack for boiling heavy issues down to simple language. What is wrong with the Corinthians? They have bought into secular social values that conflict with the values of Christ and his kingdom. They are worldly: “[The Corinthians] were Hellenists through and through, and this eschatological, cross-centered, body-affirming, Jewish sect called Christianity demanded that they enter another theological and ethical world” (5).

Ciampa and Rosner propose that Paul takes a “Jewish” approach to dealing with this in the letter, working with four main topics: wisdom, sexuality, worship, and resurrection. The “Jewish” part is an overarching concern against impurity and in favor of the glory of God. (While I think they are on to something, they downgrade “Greco-Roman” approaches too far.)

At the end of the intro, they summarize Paul’s letter in this way: 1 Corinthians is…

Paul’s attempt to tell the church of God in Corinth that they are part of the fulfillment of the OT expectation of worldwide worship of the God of Israel, and as God’s eschatological temple they must act in a manner appropriate to their pure and holy status by becoming unified, shunning pagan vices, and glorifying God in obedience to the lordship of Jesus Christ (52).

I am not going to take the time to go through the whole commentary, but I will say that I appreciate that they are careful with things like verbal aspect (taking a Porter-ian approach). Also, they shy away from trying to settle perennially thorny issues. They present the options, and then promote the strongest view, sometimes their own original take, but not always. they do not rehearse only what is said in other commentaries, but dig into primary resources and also engage in scores of non-commentary secondary research.

Notes:

On the issue of 4:8, they disagree with Fee/Thiselton that Paul is dealing with over-realized eschatology. They side with Hays in thinking that Paul was countering Stoic/Cynic philosophy.

11:2-16: While they feel that “head” should be understood as carrying a sense of authority, and that this passage overall establishes and even celebrates gender distinctions, it still underscores “a commitment to fully integrating women and their gifts into the experience of the worshiping community” (503). This passage is about attire, respect, and order. As far as they are concerned, women today should not feel a sense of restriction in ministry based on this passage or others in 1 Corinthians. (I know Ciampa supports women in ministry; I don’t know anything about Rosner’s views.)

Why the head-coverings, though? Ciampa and Rosner survey the many views, but seek out a simple explanation: “…since men and women would share the same space in the worship setting, it would be necessary to maintain a clear gender distinction through the use/avoidance of head coverings” (514). If some Christian women wanted to express their freedom in Christ (as they thought Paul preached), he still wanted to safeguard them from being identified with the “new Roman women” who supported sexual looseness (520).

14:34-35: On the matter of silencing women, they see this as not an interpolation. The silence is not a universal command or concern, but contextual: “…what was being prohibited was for women to approach and ask men in the congregation questions about things they were not understanding” (727). The silence Paul was requiring was “non-liturgical.” They could pray and prophesy in public. If they had questions, it was best left to inquiring at home to maintain order.

Alongside Thiselton, Fee, Hays, and Barrett, this commentary will be one of my “go-to” works on 1 Corinthians (and not just because I am mentioned in the acknowledgments!)