Thursday, October 19, 2006

Why Paul Took Up the Collection (Rom 15:25-32)

Mark Goodacre is putting together pieces of the Galatian puzzle: from dating the letter after I Corinthians (I, II, III), to Paul's uncharacteristic lack of travel plans, to recognizing that Gal 2:1-10 refers to the event reported in Acts 15:1-29 rather than Acts 11:27-20 (I, II). When the pieces come together, it really does look like Paul's missionary work in Galatia was unsuccessful (I, II), confirming what I've thought since reading Philip Esler's work. One of Esler's key points is that Paul learned from his failure in Galatia, hitting on a more successful way of resolving ethnic conflict in Rome. But Esler assumes the Galatian failure more than argues it. Mark is now providing the argument.

I want to address something which came out in one of Mark's posts, where Michael Pahl objects to using Paul's lack of travel plans as an indicator of failure in Galatia. Because Michael thinks Paul was on his way to the Jerusalem council as he wrote the letter, uncertain of his future, he would have had no travel plans at this point:
"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.'"
Of course, this scenario depends on an early dating of Galatians, even though a time after I Corinthians seems more likely. But for the sake of argument, Mark countered:
"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."
To which Michael made a rejoinder in comments:
"I'm not sure that Romans provides a good analogy... In Romans, Paul is 'on top of the world' -- he has evangelized the entire northeast quadrant of the Roman Empire, 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."
I then suggested, again in comments, that Paul was anything but "on top of the world" by the time of writing Romans, and I would like to spell this out a bit more now.

Not only had Paul acquired a nasty reputation by the time of writing Romans (on which see especially Thomas Tobin's Paul's Rhetoric in Its Contexts), his remarks in Rom 15:25-32 speak volumes when we read between the lines to all the bitterness and anxiety. As I argued in "Treachery at Antioch", the pillars had back-stabbed Paul by breaking the Jerusalem agreement (Gal 2:1-14). Yet Paul continued taking up the collection despite this. He was not doing this so much to fulfill his end of the bargain, because that bargain was null and void. He was taking up the collection as an aggressive ploy.

Understanding the hostile nature of gift-giving in honor-shame cultures becomes crucial here:
"The delivery of a gift represented a challenge to the recipient requiring an appropriate response if shame was to be avoided and honor maintained. To make a gift was not an innocuous and friendly social gesture (as in most Northern European and North Atlantic cultures today), but the opening gambit in an exchange that could soon take a nasty turn... For every coin that dropped into Paul's collection bags was a physical reminder that the Jerusalem leaders had breached the Jerusalem agreement. Paul's delivery of the money had the deliberate intention, or the anticipated effect, of pushing them back toward honoring that agreement." (Esler, Conflict and Identity in Romans, p 130)
The collection, in fact, was a slap in the face to the pillars, perhaps even a way of putting into practice Paul's dictum in Rom 12:20: "If your enemy is hungry feed him, because in doing so you will heap burning coals on his head" (Esler, ibid). And when we further realize that the collection was never exactly for the poor anyway -- more a "franchise fee" for the apostles themselves, as Donald Akenson anachronistically puts it -- that really puts the pillars on the spot: Paul is now giving them "their" money out of spite, and as a way of turning the tables in his favor.


Blogger Michael Pahl said...

Loren, thanks for this. Since you've invoked my name in this discussion, I'm compelled to comment. :-)

I don't disagree with you about the continuing tensions reflected in Romans between Paul and the Jerusalem apostles. Rom 15:30-32 certainly reflects anxiety that Paul has about his upcoming trip with the collection to Jerusalem and Judea.

I think the problem is you've taken my "Paul on top of the world" comment in an absolute sense in which I did not intend it. Rather, in the context of Mark's post, I was reflecting on the relative comparison of Galatians and Romans. In Galatians, Paul has very little social support in his "personal mission"--even Barnabas was led astray--even though all these people, the Jerusalem "pillars" included, had previously expressed support for Paul, his mission, and his gospel. Furthermore, Paul has heard news that even the Galatian churches--a significant missionary "field" if not even the only major Gentile missionary endeavour Paul has done to this point--are in the process of rejecting his gospel and nullifying his missionary work among them. In that context, especially if the Jerusalem council is still pending, it is not surprising that Paul mentions no travel plans, to Galatia or anywhere. All hinges on the outcome of the Jerusalem council.

By contrast, in Romans Paul is in a far better social situation with well-established churches in support of him. He is no longer dependent on the good will of the Jerusalem apostles, since he has his own social network of supportive co-workers and supportive churches (especially in Asia and Macedonia). His gospel and his mission have been vindicated through the reception of these churches, let alone through the now-past stamp of approval at the Jerusalem council (however imperfect or uneasy that approval was in Paul's eyes). Thus, Paul is in a position to make missionary travel plans with some measure of confidence.

In these senses, then, the comparison holds true: Galatians reflects Paul at a very low point early on in his ministry with much uncertainty about many things related to his mission, while Romans reflects Paul at a relatively high point later in his ministry with much confidence related to his mission.

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Fair enough, Michael. Of course, you still need the early dating of Galatians for this to be relevant, and I've become convinced that putting Galatians before I Corinthians doesn't work. But that's another matter.

Thanks for clarifying.


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