In 2005 the first of the Pauline Studies series was published. This series has now grown to six volumes with ten volumes being planned. Each volume is edited by well-known NT scholar Stanley Porter and is composed of scholarly essays devoted to key issues concerning the apostle Paul. Books within this series are devoted to the Pauline canon, his opponents, his theology, his background, and forms of his letter writing.
This fourth volume is devoted to the world in which Paul lives. It contains twelve articles written by a mixture of senior and junior scholars from Canada, the United States of America, Mexico, Australia, and Germany.
Stanley Porter provides an introductory article to orient the reader to this diverse collection of essays. In his essay entitled “Defining the Parameters of Paul’s World: An Introduction,” he helps to define what is meant by Paul’s world. It is a broad concept and includes “the culture, history and tradition that moved across the face of the ancient world of the first century” (p. 2). Religious, social, cultural, literary, rhetorical, and linguistic factors shaped the first century world in which Paul lived and ministered. These defined who Paul was and who he became. These aspects are often overlooked or assumed in the study of Paul but they are worthy of attention.
Several of the articles within Paul’s World are written in response to other scholars. For example, Ronald Hock’s article “The Problem of Paul’s Social Class: Further Reflections” draws conclusions on Paul’s social class in relation to the trade of tentmaking. This trade helped to support Paul’s apostolic ministry (1 Thess 2:9; 1 Cor 4:12; cf. Acts 18:3) and has been considered to be a key for Paul’s upbringing. A large part of Hock’s article involves interacting with scholars such as Todd Still, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, and Calvin Roetzel. After considering the conclusion of these scholars, Hock concludes that while tentmakers came from a lower social class, Paul appears to have learned this trade after his conversion. Other aspects of Paul’s writing, such as his dual citizenship, education, and use of athletic images, exhibit that he emerged from a higher class. Hock, thus, concludes that Paul had an aristocratic origin and upbringing. He learned his tentmaking trade after his conversion, and thus this occupation does not provide a key to his social class.
Sean Adams’s article “Crucifixion in the Ancient World: A Response to L. L. Welborn” is also a specific response to previous scholarship. In his volume, Paul, the Fool of Christ: A Study of 1 Corinthians 1–4 in the Comic Philosophic Tradition, Welborn argues that Paul should be seen in relation to the mime in the Greco-Roman world. According to Welborn, this makes the best sense of Paul’s statements of being a fool of Christ in a passage like 1 Cor 4:9–13. Welborn’s conclusion is contrary to the church fathers and the early church’s viewpoint that despised the Greco-Roman mime. Sean Adams rightly addresses problems in Welborn’s thesis from the nature of crucifixion in the Roman world. He illustrates that the cross was not merely a means of capital punishment, but it was also a means to disgrace the victim. Worshipping a crucified God was inconceivably backwards, rather than being a Greco-Roman comical idea.
Other articles raise completely new areas in the exploration of Paul’s world rather than addressing other scholars primarily. For example, Ron Fay addresses “Greco-Roman concepts of Deity.” He surveys the Greco-Roman understanding of deity as expressed in Jupiter, the mystery cults of Isis and Mithras, and the Imperial emperor cult. He concludes that the Greco-Roman concept of god had a broad semantic domain in first-century Rome. There was no theological barrier between divinity and humanity as most heroes or emperors could aspire to be gods. Most pagan worship of gods in Rome would have been focused on benefits in this world rather than in eternity.
In an article entitled “The Languages that Paul did not speak,” Stanley Porter examines Acts 14 to explore languages that Paul may also have spoken. While Aramaic would have been used in his preaching in the synagogue and Greek was the lingua franca of the day, his confrontation with those in Lycaonia, Lystra, and Derbe illustrated that he knew many other languages. Such a conclusion opens up new perspectives for considering how Paul related to the world in which he traveled.
Panayotis Coutsompis writes also about religious and imperial cults in “Paul, the Cults in Corinth, and the Corinthian Correspondence.” Idolatry and food offered to idols was a large issue in Corinth. The author presents the large number of deities in Corinth, the frequent sacrifices made at the Asklepion Foundation, and the growing evidence of the influence of the Roman imperial cult in Corinth. As a result, idolatry was a great problem that the Corinthians needed to confront. This information adds emphasis to Paul’s command to “flee idolatry” in 1 Cor 10:14 since idolatry was a great reality for the Corinthian Christian. It also reveals how great the Christian challenge is to a culture like that of first century Corinth when he claims Jesus is Lord alone (cf. 1 Cor 8:5–6).
Other articles that complete this volume are the following. In “Hellenistic Schools in Jerusalem and Paul’s Rhetorical Education,” Andrew Pitts develops further the discussion on Hellenistic schools in Jerusalem. He concludes that Paul would have had access to basic Greek literacy and possibly even study with a grammaticus even in Jerusalem. In “Paul and the Athletic Ideal in Antiquity: A Case Study in Wrestling with Word and Image,” James Harrison concludes that Paul transformed the athletic image from that of the great man who elevated his city or state to the Christian training for eternal benefits. Michael Thate examines the only reference to Satan in Paul’s letter to the Romans in “Paul at the Ball: Ecclesia Victor and the Cosmic Defeat of Personified Evil in Romans 16:20.” In his article “Ephesians 5:18–19 and Religious Intoxication in the World of Paul,” Craig Evans finds the well-known cult of Dionysius, which linked religious experience with intoxication, behind the wording of Eph 5:18–19. In “The Letter to Philemon: A Discussion with J. Albert Harrill,” Tobias Nicklas rebuts J. A. Harrill’s claim that Paul was a participating member in the slave system. Finally, Craig Keener’s “Some Rhetorical Techniques in Acts 24:2–21” compares rhetorical technique with Paul’s defense before Felix and concludes that Paul was rhetorically skilled.
Porter rightly concludes that the essays found in this collection exhibit three points. First, while Paul’s world is often neglected in secondary literature, the field offers a broad and fertile field for research. Second, Paul’s world was intricately intertwined with the political arena in which he lived. Several of the articles explore the close relationship between religion and politics, particularly in the exploration of the emperor cult. Third, larger social, cultural, and religious patterns influence particular passages in Paul’s writing and the book of Acts.
There is a great amount of diversity in this volume from perspectives, topics, and contributors. This will stimulate anyone looking for pursuing further research in the Greco-Roman world of the NT as well as the world that Paul encountered. The diversity could frustrate someone looking for an overview of the world that Paul encountered. All those interested in Pauline studies will also benefit from these essays.