Category Archives: Paul

Paul’s Use of the Word “Grace”

This text is chapter five of Relational Grace: The Reciprocal and Binding Covenant of Charis, by Brent J. Schmidt. The book is available free as a PDF, or for $21.95 as a print on demand book from BYU Studies. 

About the book:

In ancient Greece and Rome, charis was a system in which one person gave something of value to another, and the receiver gave service, thanks, and lesser value back to the giver. It was the word used to describe familial gifts, gifts between friends, gifts between kings and servants, and gifts to and from the gods. In Rome, these reciprocal transactions became the patron-client system.

Charis (grace) is the word New Testament authors, especially Paul, sometimes used to explain Christ’s gift to people. But what is the nature of the gift? Since the fifth century, a number of Christian scholars have taught that grace is something bestowed by God freely, with little or nothing required in return. This book sets out to show that “free grace” is not what Paul and others intended. Continue reading

How Paul Came to Corinth: Acts 18

This text is excerpted from Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes, Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, pages 18, 22-25.

How Paul Came to Corinth

During the year AD 50, Paul and his companion Silas (Σιλουανός, Silouanos) revisited the cities where he had proselyted during his first mission. He then decided to push further into Asia Minor. The Spirit prompted him not to head north, so he headed west instead. At Troas, the Lord opened a vision to Paul. In it, “there stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us” (Acts 16:9). Paul immediately made arrangements to pass over to Greece and began his work there. Within a year, he had established branches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. He then headed south to Athens.

If he thought the old capital of Achaia would produce a rich harvest, he was wrong. Athens had become a counterculture to Corinth. The once-vibrant community had stagnated. Indeed, it had become an old, decrepit, even sick city, no longer sustaining a productive and creative citizenry. Though once a bustling university town, its academic acumen had fallen, and such places as Paul’s home town of Tarsus and the up-and-coming Corinth had eclipsed it. Too staid and conservative to open its doors to new ideas, it was not a place where the Church could get any root. Little wonder Paul looked to Corinth as a more strategic center for the preaching of the gospel and as a European base for the new Church.[1] An added value was that success in this city could give the Church a good deal of cachet. As one scholar has noted, “The bustling emporium was no place for the gullible or timid; only the tough survived. What better advertisement for the power of the gospel could there be than to make converts of the pre-occupied and skeptical inhabitants of such a materialistic environment.”[2]

Here he was joined by his two companions, Silas and Timothy, and began his work.

Paul’s Social and Economic Status

Paul’s eighteen-month stay in Corinth began about March AD 50 and lasted until late September or early October AD 51.[3] The length of his stay suggests that the work went very well. Of great assistance was the hospitality of Aquila and Priscilla, two Jews already converted to Christianity. They had been forced from their home in Rome by the edict of Claudius Caesar in AD 49 that banished all Jews from the city due to contentions between them and the Christians.[4] It makes sense that these two would find their way to the Roman colony of Corinth where they once more set up shop. Though the KJV calls them “tentmakers,” the Greek word (σκηνοποιός, skēnopoios, Acts 18:3) denotes much more than tent making. It included labors dealing with animal hides and weaving hair and wool, but more particularly making leather products. Their goods could also include items for theaters and temples.[5] Thus, there was an ever-ready market for products that people with such skills could produce, and these two Jews seem to have had no trouble setting up shop and hiring laborers. Being good at the trade and a fellow Christian, Paul was readily hired.

The job helped Paul promote missionary work. As people came into the shop to purchase items or have odd jobs done, the Apostle could readily engage them in conversation and turn the topic to religion. But there was a downside to his employment. Many of the prestige-conscious Corinthians would not have been drawn to one engaged in such a menial trade. Indeed, Paul condemned some Christians for feeling smugly superior to him. He complained that they felt honorable while despising Paul and others who “labour, working with our own hands.” He was quick to note the true Christian’s proper if humble response: “being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: Being defamed, we entreat: we are made as filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day” (4:12–13).[6]

Some among the Christians would likely have preferred that Paul use his considerable skills as an orator to join the ranks of the ever-popular and highly respected sophists who generated a good deal of money and acclaim due to their speaking skills.[7] Instead, he chose to be a day laborer and for good reason. He could not afford to cheapen the word of God for self- aggrandizement even if it meant that he would not draw as many hearers from the pagans or find more acceptance from the socially conscious Christians. He adopted instead “a communicative strategy entirely at odds with the confident self-promotion of the sophist or pragmatic rhetoricism who played to the gallery.”[8] This may have forced him to spend more time making a living than he would have liked,[9] but it served to foster the correct attitude about the gospel and its message. His hope in Christ, and, ideally, that of all other Christians, should not be in gaining status in the world but pleasing God. The gospel was not about fame or power but self-sacrifice and service. It was not about finding place in this transitory, capricious, and short-lived world but finding place with God in the eternal world to come. It was not about competition leading to self-accrued glory but assisting others to a higher quality of life both in this world and the next. Pride, or as Paul calls it, being “puffed up” (4:18–19), had no place in Christ’s kingdom. Rather, the Saint needed to generate that humility that looked after and cared for others as much as self.

As a result, the gospel did not attract many of the upper class. It would be wrong, however, to view the early Corinthian Church as entirely made up of peasants and slaves.[10] Indeed, there seem to have been a number of men and women of means who were attracted to the gospel. Among these would have been Aquila, Priscilla, Erastus, Phoebe, Gaius, Stephanas, Crispus, and Quartus, all friends of Paul. Thus, the socioeconomic station of the Saints seems to have been rather mixed and produced some stratification between the “haves” and “have nots.”[11] The wealthy and well-born would have had a disproportionate influence. Paul had to fight against this by reminding the Saints that “the body is not one member but many,” and, therefore, the foot is as valuable as the hand and the ear as valuable as the eye. Indeed, “by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, . . . and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (12:13–16). He further admonished them to remember that they “are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you” (3:16).

Paul left Corinth having had much success. Indeed, the branches there were thriving and vibrant at the time, and the work was moving apace among all socioeconomic classes. The Apostle’s choice of Corinth as the strategic center of his missionary efforts to the west had proved well founded. Even so, the Church was young and still trying to find its way as it moved into pagan lands. Its primary task was to determine what it could accept and what it had to reject among the various societies in which it was growing. As a result, Paul continually kept track of happenings there and gave the Saints instructions through a series of letters. The one covered in this volume is the earlier of the two that have been preserved.

[1] Murphy-O’Connor, Paul, 108–9.

[2] Murphy-O’Connor, Paul, 109.

[3] The dating of Paul’s mission was greatly assisted by the discoveries of the Delphic letter of Claudius in relation to Lucius Junius Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia during Paul’s time at Corinth (see herein 18:12–17). The letter puts Gallio in Corinth not earlier than AD 51 or later than AD 53 with the earlier date being the better. See Murphy-O’Connor, Paul, 16–21.

[4] Suetonius, Life of Claudius 25.4, notes that the edict led to the expulsion of the Jews impulsore chresto, “on account of Chresto,” likely contentions between Jews and Christians over a person Suetonius identified as Chresto. Most scholars believe the word refers to Jesus since due to iotacism, Χρηστός (Chrēstos) and Χριστός (Christos) would have been pronounced the same, Christos. Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, 37. See also F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit (Exeter: Paternoster, 1977), 250–51, 381.

[5] BDAG, 928–29. Tents were made of cilicium (woven goat hair), the name coming from the province in which Tarsus, Paul’s home town, was found. Patristic writers used the word interchangeably with σκυτοτόμοι (scytotomoi), “leather workers.” See Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, 40.

[6] See Ronald F. Hock, The Social Context of Paul’s Ministry: Tentmaking and Apostleship (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980); and especially Ronald F. Hock, “The Workshop as a Social Setting for Paul’s Missionary Preaching,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 41 (1979): 438–50.

[7] See Michael A. Bullmore, St. Paul’s Theology of Rhetorical Style: An Examination of 1 Cor. 2:1–5 in Light of First-Century Greco-Roman Rhetorical Culture (San Francisco: International Scholars Publication, 1995), 212–13.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle, 22.

[9] Paul speaks of his hard work as a laborer (4:11–12; 9:6; 1 Thes. 2:9; 2 Thes. 3:7–8; 2 Cor. 11:27). There is little doubt that he did not live high but the idea put forth by Justin J. Meggitt, Paul, Poverty and Survival (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1998), 75–97, that Paul frequently labored under extreme and harsh conditions, destitute perhaps to near starvation, seems too strong. His life was not easy, but he had good skills and many friends who supported him in his work. See Murphy-O’Connor, Paul, 117–18, 261–67, for counterbalance.

[10] This is the picture developed by Adolf Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, trans. Lionel Strachan, rev. ed. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1927), 144.

[11] Gerd Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth, trans. John H. Schütz (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), 69–75.

Understanding What Paul Is Really Teaching about Grace

By Brent J. Schmidt

This post is excerpted from the new book Relational Grace: The Reciprocal and Binding Covenant of Charis (BYU Studies, 2015), available here.

For the ancient Greeks and Romans, the word charis, grace, described gifts or favors offered, accepted, and returned or repaid (although full repayment was not expected). The receiver was expected to give thanks and be dutiful to the giver. To accept a charis gift was to enter a socially binding agreement.

The New Testament’s many passages about charis stress the obligations Christians have. These have often been overlooked as later theologians placed emphasis on the “free” aspects of grace. It is important to try to understand Paul’s teaching as his gentile audience in first century AD would have understood it. I believe Paul’s message has been misinterpreted and distorted by Augustine, Martin Luther, and others.

The oft-cited Romans 3:24 might be used to contradict my thesis that grace is not “free” but obligatory. The King James Version reads, “Being justified freely [dorean] by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” However, dorean means “as a gift,” not freely. Gifts were not given “freely” in the ancient Mediterranean world because every gift had nuances of reciprocity. In his translation, Joseph Smith rightly changes the word freely to only (“Therefore being justified only by his grace . . .”), reflecting the absolute power of the Atonement.[1] In addition to Romans 3:24, the KJV translators rendered the word charis in Romans 5:15–16, 18, as “the free gift.” In his epistle to the Romans, Paul needed to argue for a reciprocal gift of physical and spiritual salvation from the Savior because both Greeks and Romans did not generally understand or accept life after death, resurrection, and eternal life. The first-century philosophies of the day—cynicism, Epicureanism, stoicism, and neo- Platonism—taught divergent and very abstract views on death and the afterlife (or lack of one). Gentiles did not usually accept the doctrine of a physical resurrection or spiritual salvation, necessitating Paul’s frequent treatment of this subject in his epistles, especially to the Romans.[2]

In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul sometimes discusses salvation ambiguously but at times refers specifically to salvation from physical and spiritual death. Romans chapter 6 is an example of Paul’s teaching regarding the doctrine of being saved from both physical and spiritual death through the Atonement. Paul alternates his teaching in this passage by switching back and forth between two related but distinct concepts of salvation: overcoming physical death and overcoming spiritual death. Romans 6:1–4 discusses not continuing in sin (overcoming spiritual death through obedience). Verse 5 explains that all will be resurrected (overcoming physical death). In verses 6–8 Paul teaches that disciples are freed from sin through Christ (with Christ, a person can overcome spiritual death). Verse 9 deals with the permanence of Christ’s resurrection (overcoming physical death). Verses 10–23 explain the theme of avoiding sin through being empowered by Christ’s grace (overcoming spiritual death). All will eventually be physically resurrected, but Paul further discusses the doctrines of the gospel which become the means by which his converts may avoid spiritual death.

Because some Christians today do not make the theological distinction between physical and spiritual death, some assume that all will be saved.[3] Many Christians consider a literal, physical resurrection problematic because of anti-materialistic, philosophical notions first taught by Greek philosophers and then adopted by Church fathers who argued for a mystical and only spiritual resurrection.[4] Many traditions follow the fourth-century theologian Athanasius, who argued for some kind of mysterious, nonphysical but spiritual unification with God.[5] Therefore, this form of grace is now associated with deliverance from spiritual death without a literal, physical resurrection. Finally, the ancient convention of reciprocal charis and its obligations is compatible with a material, object-oriented universe.[6]

Perhaps one might argue that Paul overturned reciprocal ideals of grace in his writings. If one looks at the ideas of grace in Romans specifically, which was almost certainly written by Paul, one might find it therefore necessary to reinterpret how he uses grace in writings that were only attributed to him. This theory that Paul taught a new meaning for the word charis is problematic for many reasons. Some Protestant theologians have commonly employed a few select Pauline passages to interpret others. After interpreting Paul’s meaning of charis as a free, permanent, no-obligation gift from God, they reinterpret the entire Bible to argue that Paul, in fact, invented a new version of Christianity that his Gentile converts understood and accepted.

Through the Atonement of the Savior, all people are able to make covenants that imply reciprocity, coupled with love for Heavenly Father and others. Like the ancient convention of asymmetrical reciprocity, the covenants that people make today through ordinances are contracted with God alone.

[1] JST Romans 3:24.

[2] Another example of typical gentile unbelief in the resurrection may be found in Acts 17. Other references are scattered throughout the writings of epicurean Roman poets from the first century BC such as Lucretius, Catullus, and Horace.

[3] See the discussions in Robin A. Parry and Christopher H. Partridge, Universal Salvation? The Current Debate (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004); and Wayne Morris, Salvation as Praxis: A Practical Theology of Salvation for a Multi-Faith World (New York: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2014), 96–98.

[4] See a detailed treatment of this subject in Stephen H. Webb, Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn from the Latter-day Saints (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

[5] See a good discussion in Keith E. Norman, Deification: The Content of Athanasian Soteriology (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000). Also see an interpretation of Iamblichus in Hugh Nibley, Temple and Cosmos: Beyond This Ignorant Present, ed. Don E. Norton, vol. 12 of The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt

Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient research and Mormon Studies, 1992), 270.

[6] I would extend the point to include that reciprocal charis is incompatible with the classical theism in traditional Christendom of an immaterial God without parts or passions, but that is a subject for another time. Webb, Mormon Christianity, brilliantly points out many metaphysical advantages of Mormon theology. Adam S. Miller, Speculative Grace (Bronx, N.Y.: Fordham University Press, 2013), demonstrates how grace operates in an object oriented universe.