Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Paul's loss of Galatia I

In previous posts, I have suggested that Paul lost the battle in Galatia (see Does Galatians post-date 1 Corinthians; cf. also Does Galatians post-date 1 Corinthians II and Does Galatians post-date 1 Corinthians III; and most recently Paul's lack of travel plans in Galatians). In comments to that most recent post, Simon (no surname given) and Michael Pahl both suggest that Galatians was written shortly before the Jerusalem council and that this explains Paul's "lack of hope or plans". I have laid out why I think that this kind of approach does not work in that, it seems to me, Galatians 2.1-10 is describing the Jerusalem council also narrated by Luke in Acts 15 (The Jerusalem Council: Gal. 2.1-10 = Acts 15 and The Jerusalem Council: Gal. 2.1-10 = Acts 15: Response to Critics). It may be worth underlining, though, that the Gal. 2.1-10 = Acts 11.27-30 view requires Paul to have two splits with Barnabas, in Antioch, both straight after they have visited Jerusalem. Among other difficulties, I can't help thinking that that solution is not parsimonious. But Simon writes:
If Galatians was written as Paul packed for this meeting (metaphorically - I realise he didn't have much to pack!), it could explain the almost complete lack of personal information in the letter.
And Michael Pahl echoes:
Paul is uncertain how the council will go, uncertain how the "pillars" will respond given Peter's and James' apparent reneging on their prior affirmation of Paul's gospel. He is uncertain how the Galatians will respond, uncertain about this whole region he has just recently poured his life and energies into. Paul is certain about his call and his gospel revelation, but he's uncertain about almost everything else related to his personal "mission."
Other than the things already mentioned, I find this suggested scenario implausible given the direct analogy that Romans provides. In that epistle, Paul is about to set off for Jerusalem (15.25-26), and he is anxious about how he will be received (15.30-2), and he has plenty of time to make advanced travel plans. On balance, an alleged Pauline journey to Jerusalem to take place just after the writing of Galatians is not fully persuasive as an explanation for the lack of travel plans in the epistle.

Richard Fellows, also in comments, makes the following suggestion concerning Paul's success in Galatia:
I don't think we can know for sure whether Galatians was successful. The survival of the letter may suggest that it was. It seems that the readers respected the letter sufficiently to preserve it.
For Jimmy Dunn, this is a decisive point in favour of the success of the epistle – it was saved by the Galatians and so it achieved its purpose of persuading them of the proper course of action. Even J. Louis Martyn, who is somewhat less positive about the letter’s success overall, still feels that the existence of the letter provides us with decisive evidence that at least some of the members of the community must have been won over. However, the fact of the existence of the letter tells us nothing about its success or otherwise. It takes only one person to save an epistle, and one person in several churches is some way from success. (And there is only one recipient of Philemon, and that one survived, a letter somewhat less important or impressive than Galatians). But more importantly, both Harry Gamble and David Trobisch have made persuasive cases that Paul himself would have kept copies of his own letters, that he was, effectively, the owner of the first Pauline corpus. A moment's consideration confirms the plausibility of this scenario. You do not go to the trouble of writing letters wrenched from your heart only to trust them to the vagaries of travel, loss, fire, theft, the elements.

The question is, in fact, not why any recipients troubled themselves to save the epistle, but rather whether Paul or his associates would have had any reason to destroy the epistle. Here we enter the realm of the imagination, but I can think of several good reasons why Paul and his companions would have wanted to save this letter for posterity. (a) For Paul himself it provided a useful rough draft for his epistle to the Romans. Of course he does not know that at the time of writing, but perhaps he came to think that there were arguments in Galatians that he could (even should) revise, refine, rework at a later point. The loss of Galatia causes him to think again about key elements in the argument of the epistle, and in the issue his opponents there had spotlighted. (b) For his followers and the earliest collectors and keepers of his letters, the only important thing would have been that Paul himself had written this letter. (c) Though he had lost, Paul no doubt felt that he was still right – he had a basic pride in his argument – and for this reason he and his followers save the letter. It is rather poignant that the letter itself survives long after the communities that rejected it and its writer, so that ultimately it did find its own kind of success, canonised and remembered and in the end able to persuade later generations who had no access to the other side of the argument.

13 comments:

simon said...

I'm not at all sure why dating Galatians before the Jerusalem Council leads you to suggest that Paul and Barnabas had two splits rather the one reported in Acts 15. We only know of the falling out from Acts 15:39. What happened in Gal 2:11-14 was a row between Paul and Peter that Barnabas got caught up in. But if we believe the evidence of Acts 15:12, it was Barnabas as much as Paul who reported on the duo's message to Gentiles (including those in Galatia). It's possible that Barnabas found Paul harder to work with after the incident reported in Gal 2:11-14 which led to the Jerusalem meeting, so that the first disagreement they had afterwards led to a bigger bust-up than otherwise - as a church minister (as well as a post-grad student in London) I know how that happens.

John Lyons said...

I wonder, Mark, how you relate this to the survival (and non-survival) of the Corinthian Correspondence. We know that at least one letter is lost (cf. 1 Cor 5.9), but it also seems likely--to me at least--that his second letter--what we call 1 Corinthians--was not the success that Paul would have wanted it to be. I guess since Paul does not give up on them, there may well have been people there who would have saved his second letter, but then why not save the first one.

Loren Rosson III said...
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Loren Rosson III said...

[Galatians] provided a useful rough draft for his epistle to the Romans. Of course he does not know that at the time of writing, but perhaps he came to think that there were arguments in Galatians that he could (even should) revise, refine, rework at a later point. The loss of Galatia causes him to think again about key elements in the argument of the epistle, and in the issue his opponents there had spotlighted.

Indeed, in light of all the carefully nuanced differences between Galatians and Romans, I'd be surprised if Paul had not had his own copy of the former before him when he wrote the latter.

Eric Rowe said...

JL: "I wonder, Mark, how you relate this to the survival (and non-survival) of the Corinthian Correspondence. We know that at least one letter is lost (cf. 1 Cor 5.9)"

The exclusion of this letter from the Pauline collection is not inconsistent with the model proposed that Paul kept copies of his own letters. Trobisch identified Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians as the original Pauline letter collection (this does not say anything about the authenticity of the remaining epistles, only that they weren't part of the initial collection). This identification is based on the arrangement of the epistles in our extant mss. After identifying this as the core Pauline letter collection, Trobisch checked to see if there was anything that united these letters in a way that would prompt their being grouped together by Paul. What he suggests is that they are so grouped because of their common theme of a collection for the poor of Jerusalem. This basis for making his collection has parallels in other roughly contemporary letter collections.
See Trobisch, Paul's Letter Collection, pp. 68-70.

Michael Pahl said...

Mark, thanks for this. I'm not sure that Romans provides a good analogy with what I've suggested for Galatians. In Romans, Paul is "on top of the world"--he has evangelized the entire northeast quadrant of the Roman Empire ("from Jerusalem to Illyricum"), he's a well-established apostle in that region with his own solid base of churches, and he's quite confident in his gospel and its application among the Gentiles. That's very different than the scenario suggested by Galatians, certainly if it is written before the Jerusalem council. In Romans, Paul is in a position to hope and plan whatever he wants for his ministry; in Galatians he's not.

Stephen C. Carlson said...

I'm hoping from the title that a part II is intended. Good stuff, Mark.

Loren Rosson III said...

Michael Pahl wrote:

In Romans, Paul is "on top of the world"--he has evangelized the entire northeast quadrant of the Roman Empire ("from Jerusalem to Illyricum"), he's a well-established apostle in that region with his own solid base of churches, and he's quite confident in his gospel and its application among the Gentiles. That's very different than the scenario suggested by Galatians..."

I disagree entirely. Paul is well-established by this time but has acquired a nasty reputation (on which see Thomas Tobin's Romans commentary especially). That reputation is why he treads so carefully in Romans, backpedals against earlier claims, etc. I think Paul is anything but "on top of the world" at the time of writing Romans.

Michael Pahl said...

Okay, Loren, so my rhetoric was a little "over the top." :-) But still, you have acknowledged that Paul was "well-established" by the time he writes Romans: Paul's perceived social situation and support base from prior ministry is entirely different between Galatians and Romans, which would inevitably have influenced his perspective on future travel/mission plans.

Loren Rosson III said...

"Well-established", but not in a positive way. I think we also need to read between the lines carefully with Paul's remarks about the collection (Rom 15:28). Paul appears to be still on unfriendly terms with the pillars. Esler points out that boasting of the success of the collection was Paul's brilliant way of putting into practice Rom 12:20 -- "feeding the hungry in order to heap burning coals upon the heads of others", namely, the pillars.

Mark Goodacre said...

John and Eric -- thanks for your comments on 1 Cor. 5.9. I'd add that my fondness for lost documents prevents me from making the suggestion that 1 Cor. 5.9 is an epistolary aorist in which Paul is talking about 1 Corinthians, exhorting them now not to consort with the sexually immoral, and not a previous letter.

Stephen: thanks and yes there is more to come.

Michael and Loren: many thanks and I'd add that Rom. 15.30-32 makes Paul's anxiety about the forthcoming trip to Jerusalem explicit -- he exhorting them to contend in prayer with him, συναγωνίσασθαί . He thinks that it is entirely possible that his service to the saints will not prove acceptable, that his pride and joy, the offering from Macedonia and Achaia, will be rejected. And Acts' silence on the issue (notwithstanding 24.17) makes us wonder whether Paul had every reason to be anxious.

Michael Pahl said...

Mark, I've just posted a fuller explanation of my earlier comments over on Loren's blog here.

Jeff Peterson said...

Mark, welcome grist for the exegetical mill, as usual, but it seems to me that your interpretation of Rom 15:30–32 may be hasty. First mentioned after the appeal to SYNAGWNISASQAI is Paul's deliverance from the peril posed by unbelievers in Judea; it seems entirely possible that it's with this first concern in mind that Paul uses the strong verb, and he simply proceeds to his second concern (the reception of his offering by the church) without pausing to change horses in the middle of the stream. This is supported by the diction in the second appeal: Paul has earlier stated the purpose of his apostolate as presenting to God an offering of Gentiles that will be EUPROSDEKTOS (v. 16), and this surely implies no concern that God will reject Paul's converts or the Roman Gentiles (1:5–6, 13), whom he's just described as fully adequate to order their Christian life (v. 14). The second petition for which Paul enlists the Romans, then, is not that the collection won't be rejected by the Judean Messianists, but that it will greatly delight them, and perhaps bring home to them the significance Paul attributes to the collection in v. 27, overwhelming them with a sense of the unity of Jew and Gentile believers. I'd need some convincing that a stronger reading of the language is demanded.