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Sociology of  Pauline Epistles

Annotated  Bibliography & My response

written on   12/19/94 11:19:53 AM                                       

Prepared by Philip Yim Kwok Hung

Annotated  Bibliography:

Achtemeier, Paul J.                   The Quest for Unity in the New Testament Church: A study in Paul and Acts.                    Philadelphia: Fortress. 1987. [270.1 Ac47q 1987]

                                                         The author holds that the church, from its beginning, faced problems of division and diversity. He analyses the relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christians, with a narrow perspective on Paul's relationship with the religious authorities in the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem. He contends that the dispute (see Gal. 2:11-14) occurred after the Apostolic Council described in Acts 15, not before and resolved by it (p.2). Starting from this, he proposes a different picture of correlations between events described in Acts and Galatians.                            

Barclay, John M. G.                 ¡§Thessalonica and Corinth: Social Contrasts in Pauline Christianity,¡¨                                                         JSNT. 47 (1992) pp. 49-74.

                                                          The Christians in Thessalonica experienced hostility from non-believers, hence they  warmly received Paul's dualistic apocalyptic message that corresponding to their daily experience. On the contrary, Corinthian Christians enjoyed the dominant ethos that emphasized knowledge and imparted by the Spirit. The Corinthian Christians tended to show superiority, rather than hostility towards the non-Christians. Sociological study of Paul's churches should also pay attention to social interaction, not just social status.

Countryman, L. Wm.               The Rich Christians in the Church of the early empire: Contradictions and                                       Accommodations. NY and Toronto: Edwin Mellen, 1980. (270.1 C832r)

                                                          The early Christians have both negative and positive views on wealth. In negative sense, wealth is against the spiritual detachment and physical simplicity of life. The acquisition of further riches is sinful, since it shows an unhealthy attachment to the world. In positive side, they are against radicalism that advocates total abandonment of property (p.109).          

Dudley, Carl S. and                  New Testament Tensions and the Contemporary Church. Hilgert, Earle.                              Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987.

                                                          This study tries to analyse the NT by means of some sociological theories, then compare the findings with Contemporary Church. It investigates 5 areas: Community Formation, Christianity as a Counterculture sect, Cognitive Dissonance and Christian Witness, The Constructive use of Conflict, Rituals of Structure and Mystery. N.B. ¡§The Further reading: major social science sources¡¨ in pp. 187-8 is extremely helpful.  

Gager, John G.                           Kingdom and Community: The Social World  of  early Christianity.                                                   New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1975.

                                                          He uses modern millenarian movement as a model to analyse the earliest Christianity. Besides, he argues that the Christian missions are reactions  to the prolonged waiting of the parousia that causes a cognitive dissonance among the believers. His point of departure is that ¡§early Christianity as a social world in the making.¡¨

Hengel, Martin                            Property and Riches in the early Church. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974. [261.81 H387p c.2]

                                                          His view: New Testament has no well-defined Christian doctrine of property. Its radical criticism of riches can¡¦t be used today (pp. 84-85.)

Hill, Craig C.                               Hellenists and Hebrews: Re-appraising Division within the earliest Christianity.  Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992. [270.1 H55h 1992 ]                  

                                                          The interpretation of Acts 6:1-8:4 as prosecution of  Hellenists by Hebrews is challenged by Hill as unsound stereotype. The diversity of first Century Judaism is widely accepted among scholars. It is highly possible that  Jewish Christianity has the same feature.

Hock, Ronald F.                        The Social Context of  Paul's Ministry: Tentmaking and Apostleship. Philadelphia: Fortress,  1980. [225.924 P281ho                       ] 

                                                          His view: Paul made tents from leather. Paul's tentmaking was not a rabbinic ideal, but an occupation meeting his needs. It was central to his life; it was also slavish and humiliated job that provided him a lot of chances to meet slaves and artisans. It led him into poverty occasionally. His plying a trade made him contact with a tradition of philosophy - in large part Cynic (p.68).

Holmberg,  Bengt   Paul and power: the structure of authority in the primitive church as reflected 262.012 H732p                          in the Pauline epistles. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978.

                                                          Holmberg analyses the distribution of power at 3 levels: a)Between the church in Jerusalem and Paul the apostle; b)at regional level where Paul worked in local churches, personally, through co-workers, and by letters; c)at the local intrachurch level. He examines the evidences in NT and interprets them in light of modern theoretical sociology, especially Max Weber's sociology of authority. He describes the nature of authority in the early church and concludes that a charismatic authority was continuously reinstitutionalized through interaction of persons, institutions, and social forces within the church.

                                                          N.B. The latter picture is too idealistic. In real life, an institution is occasionally  ¡§re-charismaticized¡¨ by a charismatic leader.                                                              

Holmberg,  Bengt   Sociology and the New Testament: An appraisal. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990. [225.67 H732s 1990 ]        

                                                          His view: The church-sect typology is strongly limited to the Christian culture. The analyses are also too artificial and diversified among scholars (pp. 109-111.)

Kyrtatas, Dimitris J.                 The Social Structure of Early Christian Communities.                                                          London: Verso, 1987.

                                                          Contra to Gibbon's concept that Christians are of  inferior ranks of human, He contends that Christians are from landowning and Hellenized peasants in the country side, and  prosperous freedmen, artisans and bankers in cities. The early Christianity has ignored the mass of agricultural and other urban slaves. The so-called millenarian and prophetic currents are marginal phenomena. Mainstream Christianity advocated strict observance of the existing social order.

Luedemann, Gerd. Opposition to Paul in Jewish Christianity. tr. by M. Eugene Boring. Philadelphia: Fortress,  1989. [225.924 P281L 1989]          

                                                          He adopts M. Simon's definition on ¡§Jewish Christianity¡¨:                                                          It is used to describe those Christian groups which practice a (ritual) observance of the law. (contra to Paul's position). It includes the Gentile and the Jewish  Christians who observe the law (p.30).

Malina, Bruce  J.                        The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. revised ed.Louisville: Westminster and John Knox Press, 1993. [225.95 M295n 1993 ]          

                                                          Malina describes the anthropological theories normally used. He discusses  the following areas: honour and shame, dyadic personality, limited good (related to social status), defensive marriage, and purity rules. These areas are significant for the people of NT times in Middle East, but no longer operate in the same in our contemporary Western societies. Awareness of this features can affect our interpretations on the Bible. 

Malherbe, Abraham J.             Social Aspects of  Early Christianity. Second ed.Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983. [261.81 M294s ]                      

                                                          The author concentrated on the social level and literary culture of early Christians, social function of certain types of Christian literature, and the composition of ea       rly Christian communities. Malherbe suggests that the leaderships of early Christian Churches are in the hand of some well-to-do merchants and scholars, while most Christians are of lower social status. The social functions of certain types of literature are of importance. The house churches are under the social influence. The societies are of high mobility of people and of diversified social status (which may have caused the problem in Corinth).

Malherbe, Abraham J.             Paul and the Thessalonians.                       Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987. [227.8107 M294s]

                                                         His view: Paul had strived avoiding the Thess. to adopt Cynic way of life that was morally and socially irresponsible. In contract, Paul formed and nurtured a community that supported one another, rejected idleness (2 Thess. 3:6-15), and responded to the larger society. (p.107).

Malherbe, Abraham J.             Paul and the Popular Philosophers. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989. [227.067 M294p 1989]       

                                                          His view: Paul was familiar with the contemporary philosophies that aimed at moral reformation; especially Cynics and Epicureans (pp. 5-7.)

Meeks, Wayne A. The first urban Christians.                               New Haven: Yale, 1983. [270.1 M471f]

                                                          It describes Pauline Christianity: its urban environment, social level (mixed and ambiguous strata), formation, governance, and ritual of  churches, patterns of belief and patterns of life in the church.

Mitchell, Alan C.                     ¡§Rich and Poor in the Courts of Corinth: Litigiousness and Status in 1 Corinthians 6, 1-11,¡¨ NTS. 39/4 (1993) pp. 562-586.

                                                          This study argued that the problem in 1 Cor. 6,1-11 is the Christians of upper social status taking the Christians of lower social status to courts. Paul used sophos, topos and shame that are concerned to the upper class. Legal anthropology and historical data shed light this possibility. The way Paul learnt about this problem and Paul's suggesting private arbitration seemed to imply the opposed side is of lower social status. 

Petersen, Norman R.               Rediscovering Paul: Philemon and the Sociology of Paul's Narrative World. Philadelphia: Fortress,  1985. [227.86067 P4425 1985]     

                                                         Norman Pertersen brings insights from interpretive anthropology, the sociology of knowledge, and literary criticism to bear on Paul's letter to Philemon. Petersen had noticed that both narrative worlds and social worlds consist of ¡§symbolic forms¡¨ and ¡§social relationships.¡¨ In Ch. 1, he argues that the term ¡§narrative world¡¨ is appropriate for analysing ¡§narrative¡¨: like stories, they are characterised by plot, point of view, and closure. Letters imply a narrative which can be teased out and restated. In Ch. 2, he examines Philemon, seeking to ¡§view the actions of the actors in the story as the sociological structures underlying them¡¨. In Ch. 3, he studies ¡§the overarching symbolic universe that provides meaning to and motivation for the actors¡¦ behaviour.¡¨

Pogoloff, Stephen M.               Logos and Sophia: The Rhetorical Situation of  First Corinthians. SBL Dissertation Series 134. Atlanta: Scholars, 1992. [227.2066 P753L 1992 ]           

                                                          The work examines the rhetorical situation of 1 Cor. 1-4 including its implied reader, author, historical situation, and genre. Pogoloff argues that the controversies of 1 Cor. displays a popular use of rhetoric to define social status and reflect the establishment of an ethos of servanthood. Paul's use of Rhetoric as a tool of persuasion and implies a  division of status among the Christians. Paul and Appollos are both taken by them as wise rhetors. The division is caused by a contest in verbal wisdom which becomes a way of boasting and shows one's social status (p.235). It is a contest between a)the wise (cultured), well-born and rich or powerful (p. 273) and b) the poor. It may due to Corinthian status inconsistency: It is a rich city but subjected to Roman's rules.                                                    

Sandmel, Samuel.   The First Christian Century in Judaism and Christianity: Certainties and Uncertainties. NY: OUP, 1969. [270.1 Sa56f                                 ]

                                                          He provides a review of divergent material and summarises his own stand. He stresses the importance of first Christian Century, and reminded us of several versions of Palestinian Judaism and of which only Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism have survived. He asserts that a scholar can  be separated from his own subjectivity, if he admits his own hidden assumptions and bewares of them. He advocates an open-minded approach to Christianity, even thought he himself is a rabbi.

Segal, Alan F.                             Rebecca's Children: judaism and Christianity in the Roman World.                                                          Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press, 1986.

                                                          He suggests that the birth of rabbinic Judaism and Christianity is both from 200 B.C.E. to 200 C.E. It was characterized by a degree of cosmopolitanism, individualism, and change in technology (p.2). Both sects are of the same roots from Judaism: the root metaphors from ancient Biblical traditions. The traditions has been reinterpreted by the prophets and the Maccbean times has started a anti-Hellenistic mood. In times of Jesus, ¡§the interpretation of specific biblical verses by means of exegetical priciples was as important as the institutions and parties themselves, for these exegetical methods became the focal points of conflict about the legitimacy of various positions and instituions within Judea.¡¨ (quoted  from p.38). There are diverse branches of Judaism. Christianity is an apocalyptic Judaism, political reform for the disadvantaged, and a Messianic Movement. Paul's thinkgin was radical fro the later church, He left open the possiblity of a gnostic interpretation. (p.115). On the other hand, as Pharisaism became rabbinism, the reules proliferated. The strife between the Judaism and Christianity is originally a fight between two sects of the same religion, but results in two separate religions.

Theissen, Gerd.                          The Social Setting of  Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth.                                tr. by J.H. Schuetz. Philadelphia: Fortress,  1982. [227.2 T341s]  

                                                          First part  (Ch. 1) introduces the social factors of  itinerant charismatics and community organisers. Then discuss their conflict. The second part (Ch. 2-4) takes up this understanding to analyse the problems in Corinth. The last part (Ch. 5) deals with the methodological problems of using sociological interpretation in the Bible. His models are from the itinerant Cynic philosopher (page 27) and the conflict theory in sociology.

Theissen, Gerd.                          Sociology of  Early Christianity.                                tr. by  John Bowden. Philadelphia: Fortress,  1977. [261.8 T341s]

                                                          He treats the Earliest Christianity as a renewal movement with Judaism brought into being through Jesus. ¡§The aim of sociology of the Jesus movement is to describe typical social attitudes and behaviour within the Jesus movement and to analyse its interaction with Jewish society in Palestine generally¡¨ (quoted in p.1). He used the conflict theory as a tool. Lack of data is admitted and he describes 3 kinds of conclusions will be used in analysis: Constructive, analytical, and comparative. In Part One, He analyses the typical social attitudes in the Jesus movement including the Wandering Charismatics, Sympathisers in the Local Communities and the Son of Man. Then in Part Two, he scrutinises the effects of Society on the Jesus Movement. He proposes 4 kinds of Factors: Socio-economic, Socio-ecological, Socio-political, and Socio-cultural Factors. In Part Three, He examines the Functional Effects of the Jesus Movement on Society.  [Criticism on his method is suggested by Elloit, John H. in ¡§Social-Scientific Criticism of  the NT and its Socal World: More on Method and Models¡¨  Semeia 35 (1986) pp.1-33.]

Theissen, Gerd.                          Social Reality and the early Christians: Theology, Ethics and the world of the                                New Testament.                                                          tr. by Margaret Kohl. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1993. [270.1 T341s]

                                                          It has three parts: I) Jesus tradition: discuses wandering radicals, Jesus¡¦ temple prophecy, and non-violence. II) Pauline theology: Soteriological symbolism of Pauline writings, Christology and social experience, Beginning and social history of a schism between Judaism and Christianity in Paul.

Watson, Francis.                        Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: A Sociological Approach.                         Cambridge: CUP,  1986. [225.924 P281w] 

1986                                               This study contended that Paul had tried to witness to Jews in vain and was forced to turn to Gentiles and not demanding them to observe all the rules of the law. Paul was forced to converse ¡§his reform-movement inside Judaism¡¨ to a sect. Therefore Paul's language must be understood sociologically rather than theologically. Paul sought to construct a theoretical rationale for separation. According to the analysis of sect, this rationale takes three forms: denunciation, antithesis and reinterpretation. Members of the parent religious community are denounced for moral, ritual or theological faults. Antitheses (for example between light and darkness) show the gap between the sect and the parent community. Reinterpretation of the religious traditions that is normally denied by the parent community. These features are seen in the Qumran and Johannine communities; which are also found in Galatians, Phil. 3 and  Romans.

My Response

The researches on this related subjects can be roughly divided into 4 groups:

a) Social background of  the society in Paul's times and the Early Christian Movements and Communities; 

b) Directly applying some sociological and anthropological models on the above; 

c) Study Paul's identity and his relationship with the Jewish Christian Community and other opponents;

d) Study the social characteristics of his epistles, especially the Corinthians, Thessalonians, and Philemon.

a) Social background of  the society in Paul's times and the Early Christian Movements and Communities

Countryman contends that the Early Christians have both negative and positive views on wealth. They refused to go to extreme. But Hengel claims that they don¡¦t have a well-defined doctrine of property and their views can¡¦t be used today. I think Hengel's judgement is too extreme. Hengel seems to put too many stress on their rejection of further riches. The Early Christians are against the desire to pursue more riches that make men a captive to wealth. The extreme contrast of wealth among Early Christians gives rise to a potential danger to divide the church. Besides, the pursue of riches will easily decrease one's commitment on Christ. This effect can obviously be seen in Hong Kong too.

                   Theissen's pioneer work on the sociology of Early Christian Movements is insightful. He contends that the Jesus movement includes different roles: namely, the Wandering Charismatics, Sympathisers in the Local Communities and the Son of Man. This analysis is very helpful, but his analysis on so-called ¡§Socio-X ¡§ factors is too arbitrary.

                    Kyrtatas has argued that the Christian Communities in Paul's churches are of the ¡§middle ranks in the society ¡¨ who advocated strict observance of the existing social order. Hence the so-called millenarian and prophetic currents are marginal phenomena. I repudiates that extreme emphasis on the ¡§middle ranks¡¨. I proposed that the Early Christian Communities found by Paul is consists of a few persons of  ¡§High social position¡¨, others are of middle and lower social position. (Since the social status in Paul's times is a complex and dynamic phenomena, I prefer to use ¡§social position¡¨ to reflects a relational standing of one's social status.)  On the other hands,  Paul's churches are suffered from interferences from the Christian Judaizers in Galatians and even Corinthians. The prophetic currents are by no means marginal phenomena. The theological statement in Gal. 3:28 ¡§There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male not female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.¡¨ is clearly a social reform. It leads to the liberation of women and causes the prohibition on women's preaching in later times. For example, a woman in Timothy's church has risen to a dominant position affecting the teaching authority of Timothy. Therefore Kyrtatas's position is clearly unsound.

                   Gager has advocated that the Early Christian Movement is a millenarian movement. The delayed parousia causing cognitive dissonance has given rise to mission. The main weakness of this analysis is the relationship between the millenarian movement and the Early Christian Movement. the millenarian movement is a movement patterned after the example of the early Christians! Therefore this method is methodological unsound. The delayed  parousia is not the cause of the mission. The apostolic mission is certainly before the time of  so-called ¡§the delayed parousia¡¨. Besides, the Jews are accumtomed to the prolonged waiting of God's promises (but this may causes some problems for the Gentile Christians).

                   Marherbe concentrated on the social level and literary culture of early Christians, social function of certain types of Christian literature, and the composition of early Christian communities. Malherbe suggests that the leaderships of early Christian Churches are in the hand of some well-to-do merchants and scholars, while most Christians are of lower social status. The social functions of certain types of literature are of importance. The house churches are under the social influence. The societies are of high mobility of people and of diversified social status (which may have caused the problem in Corinth). I think the social position of the churches members are higher than Marherbe's proposal. There are three ways of  witnessing employed by Paul: a) Witness to his fellow workers in tentmaking will lead to contact the merchants and slaves;  b) Preaching the market and philosopher's gathering attract general public and some scholars;  c) Preaching in the synagogue will attract the upper and middle ranks of society. Since the men in higher and middle ranks will lead their slaves to Christ, hence slaves are of the largest group in the Early Church. The men or women in  higher and middle social positions are fewer but influential.    

                   Sandmel reminds us that the diverse versions of Palestinian Judaism and of which only Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism have survived. The diverse tendencies in Christianity are highly possible. Recent researches on the different theologies in NT writers have confirmed his insights. Segal has contended that the Rabbinic Judaism and  Christianity are twins in NT times. Both of them are struggling to find a way to re-apply  the old-fashioned Judaism in their times. They started a strife between two sects of the same religion and finished as two separate religions. This insight can lead to understand deeply the reactions from the Jews and provides some social material to reflect on.

 

b) Directly applying some sociological and anthropological models on the above

                   Holmberg has rejected the church-sect typology on the Early Church as too artificial and diversified among scholars. This method is strongly limited to the Christian culture. He also analyses the power structure in Paul's churches by means of some modern theoretical sociology, especially Max Weber's sociology of authority. He concludes that a charismatic authority was continuously reinstitutionalized through interaction of persons, institutions, and social forces within the church. One question may be asked: Do this a natural and necessary process?  Is there any other possibilities? Firstly, we must go deeper to analyse the cause of reinstitutionalization. The conflict in the doctrines inside the Early Church (e.g. Paul against Christian Judaizers), the rise of heresy, and the death of the apostles. Secondly,  in real life, an institution is occasionally ¡§re-charismaticized¡¨ by a charismatic or powerful leader. The influence of Apollo is a clear examples of the continual and dynamic play of power in the Early Church. In long turn, the institutionalization of the Early Church is due to the expansion of the Christendom and the rise of heresy. Christian bishops are chosen to protect the Church from carrying away by the false teachings. Malina uses anthropological models to discuss  the following areas: honour and shame, dyadic personality, limited good (related to social status), defensive marriage, and purity rules.

It is very helpful and forces the Western scholars to beware of the particularity of the culture in the NT times. The scholars in Hong Kong may have a much more experience in this Eastern thinking than their Western counterpart.

c) Study Paul's identity and his relationship with the Jewish Christian Community and other opponents

                   Many discussions on Paul's Roman citizenship have been made by modern scholars, but I will put this in the response of the subject ¡§Lucan portrait of  Paul¡¨. Hock contend that Paul's tentmaking was not a rabbinic ideal, but an occupation meeting his needs. It was central to his life; it was also slavish and humiliated job that provided him a lot of chances to meet slaves and artisans. It led him into poverty occasionally. His plying a trade made him contact with a tradition of philosophy - in large part Cynic.

This forces to re-examine the question: How much is the church support provided by Antioch and other churches? What is the witnessing strategy of Paul and its consequent impact on church's components?  Hock's insight has forced to face the economical reality of Paul's life. 

                   Hill has pointed out that the conflict between the Hellenists and Hebrews is unsound. This reminds us of the diverse tendencies inside Christianity. The continual oppositions against Paul is studied by Luedemann. His work is well-done and detailed. Achtemeier has proposed a new perspective on the dispute in Gal. 2:11-14.  He suggests that the dispute occured after the Apostolic Council described in Acts 15, not before and resolved by it. I think it is clearly incompatible to the description of  Acts. I suggest that the dispute arises before the Council, but was not completely resolved by it. The Christian Judaizers who don¡¦t accept the resolution, stop to reject Paul's teachings in Jerusalem, but advance to the Pauline churches among the Roman empire. This is a continual fight.

d) Study the social characteristics of his epistles, especially the Corinthians, Thessalonians, and Philemon.

                   Mitchell argued that the problem in 1 Cor. 6,1-11 is the Christians of upper social status taking the Christians of lower social status to courts. Paul used sophos, topos and shame that are concerned to the upper class. In echo with this, Pogoloff argues that the controversies of 1 Cor. displays a popular use of rhetoric to define social status and reflect the establishment of an ethos of servanthood. Paul's use of Rhetoric as a tool of persuasion and implies a division of status among the Christians. This division is widely accepted among the scholars. Barclay's work on the contrast between Thessalonica and Corinth open a new way for further investigation. As Barclay argues the Thessalonica experinced hostility from non-believers, while the Corinthian Christians tneded to show superiority to non-Christians. He proposes the sociological study of Paul's churches should also pay attention to social interaction, not just social status. This is why I stress the ¡§social position¡¨ that reflect the dynamic relationship. Malbherbe asserts that Paul had strived to avoid the Thessalonians to adopt Cynic way of life that was morlly and socially irresponsible. Besides Paul was familiar with the contemporary philosophies that aimed at moral reformation, especially Cynics and Epicureans. Awareness of the philosophical pressures from outside can help us to see deeper the conflicts inside the Thessalonian Church. Christianity is also a religion making some moral reformation as perceived by non-Christians. But How do they see Paul's reform? I think it is a question worthy of further investigation.

                   Norman Pertersen brings insights from interpretive anthropology, the sociology of knowledge, and literary criticism to bear on Paul's letter to Philemon. This study is hard to grasp and seems to quite hard to apply deeper in the letter. Besides, the theoretical basis is still not well established.