One of the oldest methods of using biblical texts is ‘proof-texting’. This is when a specific text is used to legitimate or ‘prove’ a particular argument or position. The early Church fathers were fond of it and it can be frequently found in the writings of the Bible. It is therefore not surprising that most of the references to biblical texts today take this form. Particularly important texts are even referred to as ‘clobber texts’ (originally associated in relation to the homosexual debate) as they are known to deliver the knockout blow in a debate, thereby rendering the opposing side speechless. Follow any theological argument, whether that be abortion, sexual orientation, or female ministry (and countless others) and you will quickly begin to recognise each side’s favourite ‘clobber texts’.
As someone who makes a living from studying and lecturing on the Bible, I have to admit to finding proof-texting often rather irritating and unsatisfactory – whether that is Matthew’s use of them (although I do recognise they also have other functions), Justin Martyr’s or from a participant in the latest Facebook/Twitter argument. I do, however, accept that this practice has a long heritage and, like it or not, has a place within the community of faith. It is the trend towards clobber-texting that I find very concerning. Whereas proof-texting seeks to advance a scripture that neatly encapsulates a particular viewpoint (albeit in an often simplified shorthand form), clobber texts are often grabbed texts that are used to support an existing ideological view (in other words to argue that that viewpoint is ‘biblical’) and they are employed to shut down the debate. Anyone encountering an argument between two Christian positions will be familiar with this tactic.
In this final excerpt from Newman Graduand, Isabella Wray’s, dissertation on Paul’s use of the term apeleutheros, ‘freedperson’, in 1 Corinthians 7 she explores the wider context and implications of Paul’s advice. In the earlier excerpts (parts 1, 2, 3 and 4), the socio-political function of manumission and the place of the freedperson within Roman society were examined. In part 5 Isabella began to unpack why Paul might have used this term and the significance it held for him and the recipients of this letter. This section fleshes this out further asking whether Paul’s instruction subverts the Roman social structures and what its implication might be for the church in Corinth.
Once again we would like to thank Isabella for her generosity in letting us post these excerpts here. Isabella will be graduating in a couple of weeks time and this is therefore one of her final weeks as a graduand! She is currently enrolled in postgraduate studies at the University of Birmingham, taking a MA degree in Religion, Politics and Society. We wish her continued success in all her work and look forward to more fruits of her research!
Finally, we hope that you have enjoyed these posts and that you have learnt a little more about Paul, Corinth and the church that he founded there. Continue reading →
Having explored the socio-political status of former slaves (the apeleutheroi or ‘freedpersons’) and the function of manumission within the Roman world (parts 1, 2, 3 and 4), Isabella Wray begins to address Paul’s use of apeleutheros within the context of the Corinthian community. One of the things that intrigued Isabella is that, although Paul frequently refers to slavery, liberation and being free, he only uses the term apeleutheros once (1 Corinthians 7: 22) – fans of University Challenge will know that a singular instance of a word in a text or corpus is sometimes referred to as a ‘hapax legomenon’.
Isabella is a graduand ofNewman University(graduating in October 2017) and we are very grateful for her generosity in allowing us to post excerpts from her BA dissertation. Continue reading →
In his surviving writings, Paul’s preferred term for people who are not slaves appears to be ἐλεύθερος (eleutheros); ‘free’. However, in 1 Corinthians 7:22, Paul uses a more specific term ἀπελεύθερος (apeleutheros), ‘freedman/feedperson’, referring to slaves who had been emancipated through the civic and legal process of manumission. Although it was a relatively common word, Paul only uses it once. Newman University graduand Isabella Wray explored what may have prompted Paul to use it here and what his readers may have understood by its use.
This excerpt from her dissertation, introduces us to a freedperson who, like Babbius Philinus (see part 2), rose to become an influential figure in Corinthian society. What is particularly intriguing about this person, however, is that he may also have also been a member of the Corinthian church…
Paul’s Liberating Theology in 1 Corinthians 7:21-24: The Freedperson’s Journey to Liberation
BACHELOR OF ARTS (SINGLE HONOURS) DEGREE IN THEOLOGY
In parts oneand twoof Isabella Wray‘s dissertation (BA) exploring Paul’s use of the term ‘feedman’ (ἀπελεύθερος – apeleutheros) in 1 Corinthians 7:22, Isabella has drawn our attention to the importance of status within Roman society. She makes the point that how one was even treated in the law courts was dependent upon one’s status and rightly noted that this would have informed Paul’s instruction against their use for disputes among assembly members (1 Corinthians 6:1-6).
Furthermore, the relatively recent re-establishment of Corinth created a rather unique environment which resulted in some of the legal obstructions to influential civic/political posts being lifted – even to those who were once slaves. The lure of upward mobility in Corinth was a very tangible and visible possibility; even someone who was a slave could rise up the social ladder, command respect of their peers, and acquire great wealth and power. At the best of times, the promise of freedom for slaves must have been very attractive, but in Corinth there was an added incentive. Was this, partly, behind Paul’s aside concerning whether the members of the Corinthian church who were slaves should remain enslaved or attain the status of an apeleutheros?
In this section Isabella examines the legal process by which a slave could become free (manumission). Continue reading →
InPart 1of Newman graduand Isabella Wray‘s examination of Paul’s use of ‘slave’ and ‘freedman’ in 1 Corinthians 7:20-24 she described the geopolitical setting of Corinth and emphasised how the tumultuous events of the re-establishment of this Roman colony contributed to creating a climate in which social advancement was made possible even for those who would normally have been excluded by law from it – namely freed slaves (the apeleutheroi). This excerpt develops this theme by including an example of just such a freedman, Babbius Philinus.
As Isabella remarked during one tutorial, people like Babbius must have sprung into the minds of the Corinthian readers at his mention of ἀπελεύθερος(apeleutheros), in v.22…
One of the highlights each year is working with undergraduate students on their dissertations. It is the time when they choose the topic they want to research – rather than it being imposed upon them – and apply all their learning and skills that they have gained throughout their three years with us. I have had the pleasure of supervising some excellent work this year. One of the dissertations, by graduand Isabella Wray, is particularly suited for this blog and, I think, many will find it interesting and add a new dimension to your reading of 1 Corinthians 7.
With Isabella’s generous permission, I thought that it would be fun to post excerpts from her work. It is not just a great example of the types of questions and issues that students can explore in our degree programme, but I am also sure that a number of people will appreciate learning a little more about Paul, Corinth and the church that he founded there.
Why ‘slaves’ and ‘free’?
Isabella was intrigued by this text that we had studied in class in relation to Paul’s attitude to women and his community ethics within the Corinthian assembly. Why did Paul suddenly stop halfway through his teaching about marriage (7:1-16) to address circumcision and slavery, only to then pick up the theme of marriage once more (7:25-39)? Isabella was particularly interested in the references to slavery and manumission (the process through which a slave became a freedperson) and was not entirely convinced with my, rather off-hand, remark that this was just Paul, typically, getting side-tracked and his attempt to provide further examples of the principle he was attempting to present. Moreover, Isabella noted that the text relating to slavery and manumission was extremely ambiguous. Furthermore, she was struck by Paul’s language in this section, not just his use of δοῦλος(doulos) , ‘slave’, but also his singular use of ἀπελεύθερος(apeleutheros) , ‘freedman’ in 7:22. Paul uses this term only once in his entire writings; why here and what would it have meant to his Corinthian readers? Isabella’s interest in post-colonialism suggested to her that there might be a far deeper issue behind Paul’s choice of topic and words. The question that Isabella wanted to explore was how would these words have been understood by Paul’s readers? Why would someone who had ‘fought’ for their freedom want to then end up being a slave of Christ (7:22)? Was there anything specifically about the socio-political context of Corinth that would make these terms particularly pertinent and add to their rhetorical power? Continue reading →
It was a real joy to have Lloyd Pietersen with us recently to present a paper on ‘Does the Matthean Jesus really love his enemies?’ He was participating as part of the Humanities Research Group Seminar Series for the Newman Humanities Research Centre.
(full text of paper available to download below)
Lloyd began by conceding that this was his first time presenting an academic paper on the Synoptics (or Matthew in particular) and that this was very much a work in progress. The focus was Jesus’ instruction in Matt 5:44 to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”, from the Sermon on the Mount, and argued that this idea broadly conflicted with the canonical and non-canonical Jewish understanding of ‘enemy hatred’. Continue reading →
One of the real joys about teaching at Newman is that we get to work with some highly motivated, interesting and extremely capable students who don’t simply want to learn facts and figures, but who are seriously engaged with subject. You might be interested in following one of our third year Theology undergraduate’s blog, theologianinprogress. The blog is written by Isabella Wray and reflects on her visit to the city of Corinth for her final year dissertation.
For her honours dissertation Isabella is looking at the Ancient city of Corinth with a particular interest in the place of freedmen (like Erastus; Romans 16:23) within the Pauline church. As part of her research, she visited Corinth last Summer (2016) and her blog follows her itinerary and reflections on what she discovered.