Paul’s Letters and Rhetoric
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The first missionary journey started in Antioch. Paul, Barnabas and John Mark worked together. Paul shames his detractors by boasting about things that most people thought were shameful. Paul’s letters were written as conversations in context, not as theological tracts.
Paul’s Letters and Rhetoric
I. Context of Paul the apostle
A. First missionary journey
C. Paul's unidentified illness
D. Return to Antioch
E. Paul's reasons to boast
F. Paul concerned that his work would not be accepted by the church in Jerusalem
G. Paul's letters are conversations in context
H. Paul's support
Course: New Testament Introduction
Lecture: Paul's Letters and Rhetoric
We need to move on to another kind of literature. We could spend a lot more time on some of the 37 Parables, but we’re not going to do that. What we’re going to do now is move on to Paul’s letters and rhetoric. But, in order to get there, we need a little tune-up on the context of Paul.
Here’s Paul, early images, later images of Paul. A little bit about the iconography: when you’re looking at icons, blue is the color of purity. This is why you always see the Virgin Mary in this color blue. This is the symbol of purity, and what you notice about this, is that the purity is on the inside garment, not the outside garment. So, what kind of purity are we talking about? Internal purity.
Now, the second thing you notice is this big, frontal lobe here. Now we, today, might think of that as, “Oh, that means he was a brainiac. He was really intelligent.” No. In the ancient world, this was a symbol of someone who was wise, a person who’s follically challenged, wise.
Then, normally, in the images of Paul, he’s holding something. Here’s a papyrus scroll. Here’s another one over here. This is a sign that he’s in the ten percent of the population that’s literate, can read and write. These are some of the images we have of Paul, both ancient and modern.
Who is Paul? What’s his story? Well, Paul was a teacher. He was a pharisee. He was also a prophet. He was also an apostle. During the course of his life, he went through a whole pile of different religious roles. He even played Clint Eastwood, dragging Christians off to what he thought was justice in Jerusalem, as well. He was a missionary. He was many things.
Let’s talk about the case of characters of the first missionary journey. The first missionary journey is a church-sponsored mission, by the church in Antioch. You will remember what happened. Paul was too hot to handle and too cold to hold, so the Jerusalem church sent him home to Cilicia, after his conversion, right? He was a hot potato.
So, he was sent home to Cilicia, Tarsus, his home town. And who came and got him? It was Barnabas. Barnabas reclaimed him, and brought him to Antioch, where they had a teaching and preaching mission. So, the sending church was the church in Antioch, for the first missionary journey.
Let’s talk about Barnabas for a minute. His real name was Josef. His name was changed to a nickname. Barnabas, Abas. What does Aba mean? Well, if you’re Barabas, you are the son of the father. Only this is Barnabas. It means, Son of Encouragement, or possibly, Son of Prayer, or maybe just Son of the Father. He’s a Levite. He’s a of a Levitical tribe. He’s a convert from Cyprus, and he belonged to the team of 70 selected disciples of Jesus, according to one tradition. I’m not so sure about that.
What we know about him, however, is that he sold his land to help the poor. Go back and read Acts 5 and 6. By tradition, we are told that he was stoned to death by Jews in Salamis, on his native island of Cyprus, in about A.D. 600. So, that’s kind of the full arc of his story, and we hear more in Acts about their journey.
The third person on the first missionary journey is John Paul. A lot of different images, my personal favorite is, kind of, this one. The young man, nicely coiffed. Here’s the interesting thing. Now, look at his robe. Where is the blue robe? Inside or outside? Outside. Does he have a large frontal lobe, or does he have more hair than Paul? He’s got more hair than Paul, in this drawing. So, what are we to think? Not as wise, nor as pure, as some of the other saints, according to this image.
Mark’s a Roman name. It’s not a Jewish name. His Jewish name is John, hence, John and Mark. Take your pick, or both. His mother, of the house in Jerusalem, where Christians met, Acts 12. You will remember the famous story about Peter knocking on the door, and road of the servant, and all of that sort of thing. Now, what you need to know about Mark is, he is a kinsman, a cousin of some kind, of Barnabas. And, of course, he later develops an important relationship with Peter. Peter in First Peter 15:13 calls Mark, “my son.” My son. I think it’s probably the case, that that man who runs away naked in the garden of Gethsemane was Mark.
It’s kind of an Alfred Hitchcock motif. Remember how Alfred Hitchcock would put himself into his movies? It would be about a five-second cameo, while he was walking across the street, holding a bass fiddle, or something. This was actually a common motif in ancient documents, that you would put yourself into the story, if you were in the story, in some small way. And I think that young man who ran away, half-naked, was probably Mark.
Peter, however, not Paul, is his mentor, and Barnabas is his cousin. So, by tradition, Mark is the person, of course, who wrote the first Gospel, under the guidance, tutelage and testimony of Timothy. Something else we know about Mark, is according to Second Commithy 4:11, he’s with Timothy in Ephesus. Now, why is that important? It appears that after the blowup, before the second missionary journey, there was a rapprochement, or reconciliation between Mark and the Pauline Circle. So, it ended happily. It didn’t end like Desperate Housewives, okay?
According to Colossians 4:10 and Philemon verse 24, he was in, it was Paul in Rome, during the first imprisonment, as well. According to tradition, Mark was martyred in A.D. 68 in Alexandria. One of the things that there is a constant refrain about, is that almost all the major apostles were killed off, during the 60’s, if they had not already been dead. Peter, Paul, Barnabas, Mark, Luke, et cetera. According to tradition, most of them were killed in the 60’s.
So, here’s the first missionary journey. We’re leaving Antioch. We’re going this way, on the outbound journey. We’re going to Barnabas’ island of Cyprus. We’re going to Salamis, we’re taking the Roman Road around to Paphos, the capital. Then we’re sailing from there up to Penfilia, and we are briefly in Pamphylia, near Perga. Then we’re going for a really long walk through some very mountainous territory, all the way up to Pisidian Antioch. I will explain why in a minute.
Now, Acts 13, 1 through 3 says, “Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria, were Barnabas, Simeon, called Niger, the black man, Lucius from Syreny, Manine, the childhood companion of King Herod Antipas, and Saul.
One day as these men were worshipping the Lord and fasting the Holy Spirit, said, “Dedicate Barnabas and Saul, for the special work I have for them.” So, after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them, and sent them on their way.
They’re off from Antioch. Barnabas, Saul, John Mark planned the voyage from Antioch. The eldest member of this group is Barnabas, so he plans the first stop. Again, notice it’s not the church in Jerusalem that does this. Who is it? It’s the church at Antioch that sends this mission off.
Now, the Antioch we’re talking about is Syrian Antioch. There are, in fact, eight Antiochs in ancient Turkey. This is Antioch on the Orontes, the far eastern one, on the border of Syria. This was the capital of the ancient Syrian empire. It’s three hundred miles north, northwest of Jerusalem. And here it is, today. Sparing no expense, you get to see it today. And let me tell you right now, it is a much tinier city than it was in Paul’s day.
In Paul’s day, the estimation is, this was a town of three hundred to four hundred thousand people. Today, maybe 30,000 or 40,000.
Participant: Where would the size have ranked with other cities at that point?
It’s a big city. But it would not be one of the big five. The big five would be Rome, Pergamon, Ephesus, Alexandra, and, okay what’s the other one? Oh, Damascus. Big, but not megalopolis. The reason it was so big is because it was crucial to controlling that whole region. So, it was the capital area for the Romans.
What do we have there today? We have remains of ancient Syrian Antioch. Really, there’s not a lot to see. This is the name of the town today, in Turkey, Antiocha. It’s been excavated since the 1930’s. There only thing there, really, to see are two things. There’s the Church of Peter and Paul, carved out of a cliff, it’s a cliff church. It’s a cave church. And there’s some Roman ruins, Aqueduct, Hippodrome. There’s also the Monastery of Simon Stylites, the man who sat up on a pole to demonstrate his piety. Here’s a coin of Antiochus Number 13, the last king of Syria, deposed in 64 B.C., before this part of Syria became part of the Roman Empire.
Here’s the church I’m talking about. You can see it’s carved right out of the rock. This church goes back to, probably the Fourth, or early Fifth Century. It was a cave church, where the Christians met. And then, when Christianity became a licit religion, they built this facing. You know, they had been meeting in a cave, now they’re public, so they have this facing here.
This city was important in Paul’s day, because it was a huge city, in terms of the Jewish colony there. There was a very large population of Jews in Antioch. And, this is one of the reasons why the Judaizers come to Antioch and say to Peter and Paul, “Stop eating with Gentiles. You’re offending all the Jews in town.” You see? So, they were concerned about the witness to the Jews.
Now, we’re going to look at the road, what’s left of it. This is the road from Antioch down to the port, that Paul and Barnabas would have taken. They went down to the seaport of Cilicia, which was the port city for Antioch, and here’s Cilicia today. Only thing left is a little bit of the pier, or the jetty there. But you can get a sense of the coastline, where they would have taken off to go to Cyprus.
And then, they would have gotten in a boat much like this. Not the most stable craft to sail in. Let me put it that way. If you look in the upper left-hand quadrant, that’s actually a First Century mosaic of the kind of boats that we’re talking about. We’re not talking about the giant grain freighters. We’re not talking about a little rowboat, we’re talking about a sailing boat. So, it would have had one, or possibly two sails. Only three oars on each side. That means that you can’t have more than, possibly, six slaves rowing, or maybe even just three, depending on how wide the boat is. It couldn’t have carried more than five or six passengers, max. So, this is a tiny boat in a very big body of water.
Now, here’s some models of First Century boats that Paul would have sailed in. Here’s a single-sail boat, here. You can see the kind of structure it would be. It’s so of a crescent moon shape. And there’s another one, with the prow that’s notably large. This is the way the Greek boats were, with a big prow like that. To give you an image, a mental image of what we’re talking about here.
They went to Cyprus. Cyprus was a Roman province, just like Judea was. It had it’s own government, it had it’s own proonsul, like PIlate was the proconsul of Judea. The most important cities were on the south coast, not the north. So, they would sail around this way, from Antioch. And they’d land here, and then come around by the road, all the way to here, Paphos, from which they were going to go to Turkey, in due course.
Now, when they get to Salamis, they go to the Jewish synagogue, they preach the Word of God, John Mark is with them, kind of, as an assistant. He’s not doing the preaching. Here’s Salamis today. This is what it looks like now. There is still a Roman forum, there was a very large Jewish population there, by the end of the First Century A.D. However, the Jews were expelled by Hadrian, because of a rumor that they had killed 240,000 Gentiles. I don’t think they killed 240,000 Gentiles on the Island of Cyprus. I’m thinking there weren’t 240,000 Gentiles on the Island of Cyprus. But, you see, I mean, these are the typical hyperbolic reports you have about murder and killing in antiquity, when we’re talking about these kinds of things.
Now, this is what you can see, now. You’ve got a proper Odion, Roman theatre, the half-moon there. You can see the seats here. One of the interesting things about these seats is, that you actually have people’s names carved in, and so they have their own private box seats. You know, the Junea family here, God-fearers sitting here. And yes, it was segregated. The Jews had to sit on one side of the theatre, and you, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
This was the hypocaust. In other words, this was the Roman baths. There are three parts to the Roman baths. There is the frigidarium, the tepidarium, and the caldarium; the cooler waters, the lukewarm waters, from which we get the word tepid, and the caldarium. You can imagine that that’s the hot springs waters.
The way that the Romans did this, with these baths, is really quite fascinating. These are bricks, and what they would do is, these are tiles on the top of the floor. You’re sitting around the rim of the room, here. They would boil water and heat it up, and then the bricks would heat up, and the steam would come up through the tiles, into the room. And you would just sit there and sweat. That’s the caldarium. This is the way you purified yourself in a place like Salamis. But any Roman city would have been like this, Corinth, Philippi, you name it.
This is a mile marker. It’s amazing to me they found a First Century Roman mile marker, but there you have it, telling you, “Okay, Paphos this way, umpteen miles to go. We hear that they preached, and then they headed to the other end of the southern part of the island. They went to Paphos.
Let’s do the reckoning. It’s a 115-mile walk, best case scenario. You skip that little peninsula, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, 115 miles in six days. How’s your walking shoes? It’s kind of tough, isn’t it?
So, it’s Salamis to Tremithousa, is 18, the city, another 24; 24, 16, 22, 11. The last day’s a piece of cake, only 11 miles to walk. These people were tough. Not a lot of flab on these people, okay? These people were tough. This is Paphos, near the Roman capital of Cyprus, and here’s some of the archeological work that’s being done there. They reached Paphos, they met a Jewish sorcerer, named Bar-Jesus, son of Jesus. What are the chances?
This sorcerer had attached himself to a governor named Sergius Paulus. Now, here’s what’s interesting about this story. There’s two interesting things about this. Point Number One: this is where in the story in Acts that Saul’s name changes. I think it’s changed for missionary purposes. You see, the Roman Latin equivalent of Paul’s name would be Paulos. Greek equivalent, too.
Okay, time for a little laugh here. Here’s the Hebrew named Saul. He’s named after the king, right? The Greek literal way to go would be to make his Greek name Saulos, but you know what’s wrong with that? That Greek word means to walk like a prostitute. You don’t want that name.
So, better to go to another Greek name, which is Paulos. But you know what that means? That means “shorty.” So, you know, I like to say that some of these stories and acts are about “Get Shorty,” you know? Paulos, it means “short.” That’s the Greek name.
So, when he meets the governor of Cyprus Sergius Paulus, when he meets him he says, “Well, doggone, we’ve got the same name. How about that? Hail fellow, well met, Paulus. Paulus, this is great.” And he’s well-received. He’s so well-received that he must have gotten a letter of recommendation from this governor. And do you know why I say that? If you go to Pisidian Antioch today, what you discover is that the family of Sergius Paulus owned about half the town.
You want to know why he went all the way to Pisidian Antioch? Two reasons: Paul’s a Roman citizen. He has a letter of recommendation from a Roman governor to go Pisidian Antioch and preach. This is good. Pisidian Antioch, also a Roman colony city. So, there’s this connection. And this is the point in the story where we hear Saul was also called Paul. His name change does not come at the conversion story. It doesn’t come in Acts 9. It comes in Acts 13. It has nothing to do with his conversion. It has to do with his calling and his mission to Gentiles.
Then Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked the sorcerer Bar-Jesus in the eye, and said, “You son of the devil.” You notice what he’s doing here. The guy’s name is Bar-Jesus, but he calls him Bar-devil. Right? “You son of the devil, full of every sort of trickery and villainy, in the name of all that is good, will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord?”
“And now the Lord has laid his hands in punishment, and you have just been struck blind.” Instantly, he fogs up. And when the governor saw what had happened, he believed, and was astonished at what he’d learned about the Lord.
Sergius Paulus, the Roman Proconsul, began to believe, after Saul rebuked the evil sorcerer, Elemus, a.k.a. Bar-Jesus. From now on in the narrative in Act, he’s going to be called Paul. It’s my suggestion that it is Sergius Paulus himself, who encourages them to go to Antioch in the Province of Pisidia, where he had access to some property, and would have had a letter of recommendation to do so.
Now, most of the area Paul visited was referred to by the Romans as the southern province of Galatia. This is the important part. We don’t have any letters from Paul to Cyprus. In fact, we don’t have any letters of Paul, from during the first missionary journey, which was somewhere around 49, 50. The very earliest letters we have from Paul are probably Galatians, and possibly First and Second Thessalonians. These were written between the first and second missionary journeys. So, no letters before or during the first missionary journey.
Acts 13:13 says, “Now Paul and those with him left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landed at the port town of Perga, up the coast, heading inland. Here’s the map, give you a little picture here. Here again is Antioch, here is Cyprus, this is where they’re going to land, and look where they’re going to go. They’re going to go all the way up into here. The central mountain region of Turkey. Over here, is Paul’s hometown, near the coast, Tarsus, a good ways from Antioch. You have to go through the Cilician Gates to get there. So, that gives you a little bit of a picture of where they are going.
Here’s a better map, actually, of the ancient and modern cities. Now, this central region, from here down is called Galatia. The problem that you have in dealing with commentaries on Galatians is, that later, the Province of Galatia, the region was what we would call redistricted. And the word Galatia was used to refer to the area up here.
So you will, if you read commentaries on Galatians, some of the scholars are saying, uh, he must have written Galatians after his second missionary journey, when he went further north in Turkey. I’m saying no, it’s just these cities down here that he went to, on his first missionary journey, and they were a part of Galatia.
Pisidian Antioch was in a border region. It was on the border between Phrygia and Galatia. So, the region, that border region, had a particularly spatial name, Galactic Frigea. It sounds very cold. Galactic Frigea. Pisidian Antioch and Galactic Frigea.
Here’s yet another way of looking at what we’re talking about here. A map that shows you Phrygia, and Lycaonia, as well as Galatia.
Alright. Now, the first place he goes is Perga, on the coast. Yet another Roman city, with a stadium and a theatre, a monumental arch, a huge agora. Paul’s missionary strategy is urban. It’s not rural. The only time he’s rural is when he’s either running away, to the next city, or between towns. He’s not interested in being in rural areas. He wants to fish with a large net. He wants to reach urban people.
Here’s what Perga looks like today. You can still see the ruins of the theatre, in the background, and the stadium here, the long hippodrome is right there, in front of you. So, there’s still plenty to see in Perga. This is the agora, this is the marketplace where Paul would have talked. The first place he would go is to the public place, where people would be debating philosophy, or talking about important issues of the day.
An even better picture. Now, this is interesting. If you look here, you see these troughs here, that look like troughs down the middle here? This, at first blush, people thought, “Well, this must be where you tie up your horse, to drink from.” No, you see, the problem is, they didn’t have enough cisterns. So, these are small cisterns, so that you could wash the tiles, wash the house, keep your property clean, keep your business shiney on the front and inside. These are places where you have water. And, it’s also where you’d go to wash. People would go wash publicly in such places.
Eighty thousand people lived in Perga, when Paul got there. So, a good-sized city. Here’s some of the other ruins in Perga that you can see. Now, over here on the right, you can see they had a water problem. How do you know? That’s an aqueduct. So where were they getting their water? From the mountains. They were carting that water all the way down off the mountains, in order to have a city closer to the sea coast that was on flat land. This is a constant problem. You’re going to see it in Pisidian Antioch. They needed water.
So, there John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. This is where the falling out took place. This is where John Mark goes home, and Barnabas and Paul go on to Pisidian Antioch. Now, this is the mountains Paul and Barnabas went over to get to Pisidian Antioch. Are you with me now? And, no, they didn’t have any burka to help them up the mountains. They went up this mountain. Antioch is 80 to 100 miles north of Perga, through those mountains, situated 3,500 feet up. Pisidian Antioch is on top of a mountain. It’s an impressive spot.
So, here’s the trail, from Perga to Antioch. This is when they were at the coast, and they’re taking the trail that goes along Lake Edgerdeer. And we had a wonderful time at Lake Edgerdeer, the last time I did this tour. It was lunchtime, and we stopped to have a fish lunch. Isn’t this beautiful? This is the lake that Paul would have gone by on the way to Pisidian Antioch.
Remember what he says in Second Corinthians? “I have traveled many weary miles. I have faced danger from flooded rivers, and from robbers.” This six-day journey, up into the mountains, was very dangerous and very treacherous in various ways. But when he got to Pisidian Antioch, if he was recommended by Sergius Paulus, look at this. This is in the museum at Pisidian Antioch. This is the person who probably sent him on this wild goose chase up the mountains to Pisidian Antioch. Otherwise it’s hard to know why he didn’t stay by the coast.
We’re now in Pisidian Antioch, and there is just a lot of impressive ruins in Pisidian Antioch. There’s a lot to see. There’s a ruin of a Christian basilica, called St. Paul’s Basilica, there’s a ruin of the synagogue, there’s a ruin of the agora. These are my students standing in the agora. which is enormous. I mean, you can see that this city is way up in the mountains. It’s a huge city. It’s a city that’s got all kinds of massive buildings, and a gigantic agora, bigger than your usual Walmart and Walmart parking lot. It’s huge.
This city was blessed and turned into a Roman colony city by none other than Octavian Gaius Octavius, Ceasar Augustus himself. He blessed it to be a Roman colony city. It’s important that we understand that what that means is, is that any time you’re in a Roman colony city, the law of that city is the law of Rome. The people running the city are Romans. The official language in the court is Latin, not Greek. Okay? It’s a Roman colony city.
The people who get favored nation status in such a city are Roman citizens. Which brings me to Paul. Was Paul a Roman citizen? Indeed he was, and he was taking advantage of it by evangelizing cities that were Roman colony cities.
This is the front edge of the synagogue here, you can see this sort of round L area, there. And what happened to this is typical of medieval Christian practice is, they ran the Jews out of town, and they built the basilica on top of the synagogue. Yes, there was a lot of anti-Semitism. But you can see how mountainous this region is. We are way up in the mountains. And yet there’s this good-sized Roman city, called Pisidian Antioch, way up in the mountains.
What happened there? They preached in the synagogue. They were well-received at first. They preached again in the synagogue. They were asked to return. There were converts. This is the first city of Galatia in which Paul has converts. Galatians is written to Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and perhaps, Derbe, cities all listed on the first missionary journey by Paul.
Acts 13 says, almost the entire city turned out to hear them preach the Word of the Lord, but when the Jewish leader saw the crowds, they were jealous, so they slandered Paul and argued against whatever he said. There’s always trouble, so he heads to the next town.
Now, this picture is important, because over here is the aqueduct. Here’s the mountain, up here’s the stream. They built an aqueduct down there, down there, here, all the way into town, just to have a city. Water is always the biggest problem. How do you get the water into the city? It’s a gigantic aqueduct.
They had to go from there to Iconium. They were run out of town. Now, Iconium today is famous for other reasons. It is the Turkish city of Konium. It is the home of the whirling dervishes. Do you know what the whirling dervishes are? They are Sufi mystics, who do this mystical dance, in which they are caught up in love of God, and have a mystical experience of God by whirling, and whirling, and whirling for over an hour in a row. You know, I would have a mystical experience too, after only ten minutes of whirling like that.
This is where Konium, is the name of the Turkish town, this is an important city in the province of Galatia.
In antiquity, it was renamed during the emperor Claudius’ reign, Claudikonium, instead of Iconium, it was named Claudikonium. And here’s the most interesting bit. According to Iconium tradition, they believed that their city was the first city to emerge, after Noah’s flood. So much is this so, that this town issued coins in the First Century A.D., with a picture of Noah and his wife on them. They thought, “We were first back from the dead, after the flood. Our city goes all the way back to Noah.”
Now, you see what’s interesting about that is this is a Pagan town, right? But they had heard the story of Noah, and they claimed it for themselves. This is very interesting, Pagans interested in Jewish history.
Here’s the whirling dervishes. This is what they look like. That’s their, uh, dancing gear, and it really is incredible to watch them. They began doing this as a way of praising God, danced to praise God, and come into close relationship with God, in the 13th Century. They still do it today. You can go see them do it for a fee. You can watch the performance from the gallery.
When Paul gets to Iconium, and again they go to the synagogue. Again, there’s a problem. In this case, there’s a drastic problem that happens and, um, so he’s going to have to move on. The people are divided about the message that he preaches. There’s a mob of Jews and Gentiles, and so, once again, the apostles have to run for their lives.
Now, here’s Lystra. You want to do a good deed for biblical archaeology? How about going and digging that artificial hill called a “tell” there? That’s the city of Lystra. Now this story is fascinating. This city has never been dug. It’s still an agricultural site. Um, the story of this city is really fascinating. And if you want to understand what Acts says, you need to know the story.
Though Lystra was a Roman colony city, it was a very small one. But, the story is, goes like this: these people spoke a lichenean dialect that neither Paul nor Barnabas knew. So, there’s a problem of language. Their major temple, when Paul and Barnabas show up was a temple to Zeus. There are very few Jews in town. We don’t know of any synagogue.
Now, what Acts 14 tells us is, that while Paul and Barnabas were in Lystra, Paul healed a cripple, and he walked. He was listening while Paul preached, Paul noticed him, realized he needed to be healed, and the man jumps to his feet and starts walking. The reason that the audience reacts like it does is because they had a previous history.
It’s a story told, the story of Bacchus and Philemon. It’s told in Ovid's Metamorphosis. Here’s the story. According to the legend, really the myth, Zeus and Hermes, in human disguise, came to Lystra, in antiquity. And nobody in the town would receive them, except a very elderly couple named Bacchus and Philemon. They welcomed them into the house, entertaining gods, unawares. Right?
But, then at the end of the visit, Zeus and Hermes said, “Well, we appreciate your hospitality, and in order to show you how much we appreciate your hospitality, we’re going to bless you out the wazoo.” So, all of a sudden they go from the penthouse to the outhouse, all of a sudden they go from poverty to wealth. They get a new, palatial mansion, they get massive lands, all kinds of things happen. After that, the motto of the city was “Never again.” If gods show up at our town, unawares, we’re going to be prepared. We’re going to put on a big party. We’re going to receive them with joy.
Well, what do you think is happening here? You have Barnabas, and you have Paul. Barnabas, the older man with the beard, Paul the messenger. They’re going, “Hermes, the messenger of God. This man was proclaiming a messenger, message about God. And then there was this man healed. And over here is this man standing with a...it’s gotta be Zeus and Hermes. We’re ready this time. We’re ready! Go get the ox. It’s time to sacrifice the ox.”
And the next thing you know, these people think they have two Pagan deities visiting them out of the blue, but they’re not going to be caught short on hospitality this time. And so, of course, then Paul has to disabuse them of the notion when he figures out what they are doing. And when he does, they are not thus pleased to hear that Paul and Barnabas are not Hermes and Zeus.
And so, it goes bad. Because when you refuse hospitality in an honor and shame culture, you’ve shamed them. Not a good thing. But what happens at the end of the story is, persecutors from both Pisidian Antioch and Iconium had followed them all the way to Lystra, and they incite the crowd, saying they’re just Jewish agitators. Paul is stoned and dragged out of the city.
At that point you would think, “You know, Paul, it’s time to go home.” Wouldn’t you think? But, in fact, what do they do? They retrace their steps, back through these cities, to reconfirm the converts. Here’s Derbe, the last town they went to, which is 60 miles from Lystra. There’s really nothing to see here. It’s just a small, little Turkish town today. We’ve identified the site, but that’s all.
We are told that one of the things that happened to Paul in Galatia, is that he had an unspecified illness for a while. Listen to what Paul says. “Surely you remember that I was sick when I was first bringing you the good news. But even though my sickness was revolting to you, you did not spit,” is what the Greek literally says.
The Greek word for spit is “pitooey”, from which we get the word, “pitooey.” It’s an onomatopoetic word. “Even though I was sick, you did not reject me, and turn away from me. No, you took care of me, as though I were an angel from God or even Christ Jesus himself.” In fact, Paul says, “You would have plucked out your eyes for me, and given them to me.”
Now here is a clue as about what was wrong with Paul. Let’s think about this for a minutes, okay? Paul is able to travel, he’s able to preach, he’s able to carry on, he’s able to be stoned and bounce back. But he has some kind of problem. What happened to him on Damascus Road? He was blinded.
Now, we are told that he regained some sight. What we’re not told is that he was completely healed. And here, he says, “You would have plucked out your eyes, and given them to me.” Now, that suggests that the problem was an eye problem. And let me tell you how big a problem that was. In The Greco Roman world, the eyes were the windows on the soul. If your eyes were oozy and bad, you had a bad or dark soul.
But there is something else you need to know about this story, to make sense of it. There was a convention then, as there is now, of the casting of the evil eye. Have you ever heard of this? Giving someone the evil eye. Well, this was a widespread belief in antiquity, and even into modernity, in Muslim countries today, that the eyes are not receptors of light, they are projectors of whatever is coming out of your soul.
So, if you are an evil person, and you cast an evil glance on somebody, you can curse them. This is why, by the way, if you go to a devout Muslim country, and you try to take a picture of a Muslim woman, say, baking bread, she’ll go, “La, la, la, la…” to ward off the evil spirit, and the effect of the evil eye.
This belief was very widespread in Paul’s time. So, he’s saying you didn’t receive me as someone who is casting the evil eye on you. In fact, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. You even treated me as though I were a messenger of God. That’s got to refer to Lystra. They thought he was Hermes, the messenger of the gods.
Now, let’s think about this, about Paul having an eye problem. According to Acts, on the second and third missionary journeys, who accompanied Paul for a good part of the time? A doctor, and his name was Luke, that’s right. In fact, Luke is going to be with him right to the end. In the pastoral epistles, at one point, Paul says, “Luke alone is with me.”
And, this is important. Think about this for a minute. At the end of Paul’s letters, he says this, “I’m taking the pen in hand and see with what large letters I write my name. I always write my name this way.” What kind of person needs a large print edition? Paul did. And he used scribes whenever he could, to write down his letters. This is not because he’s not literate.
And there’s more to this story as well. In Second Corinthians, he says, “I knew a man who was caught up into the Third Heaven.” He’s talking about a visionary experience he had. Only, if you go back and read Second Corinthians 11, about his visionary experience, guess what you discover? He doesn’t mention seeing anything when he got there. He said, “I heard unutterable revelations.”
“Three times I besought God after this visionary experience, to take away from me the stake in my flesh. God responded, ‘My power is made perfect in your weakness. My grace is sufficient for you. You’re going to keep that disability.’”
I’m saying he had eye problems. And we have clues about that from his very earliest letter, Galatians. And this is why eventually he needed a doctor traveling with him. I would suggest that maybe the problems started at his conversion, and they carried on with him for the rest of his life. And he was never healed of this problem, which caused him to need help, eventually doctor’s care, as he carried on with his ministry.
Well, finally, they’re going to return. After preaching the good news in Derbe, they go back, bravely, to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. They retraced their steps. They’re appointing leaders, or elders in every church as they went. They go all the way back down to the port at Perga, and they sail off, back to Antioch, from Attalia. This is the port at Attalia, where they sailed off from.
This is what they’d done. And you notice that Derbe, it may look close to Tarsus, but you’re going through some really rugged mountains. So, they came this way, from Perga, to Antioch, to Iconium, to Lystra, to Derbe, back to Lystra, back to Iconium, back to Pisidian Antioch, down to here, Antalya, which is right next to Perga, sailed from here around this way, back to Antioch. The first missionary journey.
We have only one letter of Paul written between the first and the second missionary journeys. That would be Galatians. So, which is the earliest letter of Paul? That would be Galatians, after which, First and Second Thessalonians. On arrived there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done, through them. And how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
Why have I gone over all of this? I want you to understand that when you’re reading Paul’s letters, they’re not nice little theological tracts. They are historical documents, written to real people, in real places, that were converted by Paul. And there was no end of arduous activity required for him to get to these places. Never mind convert these people. This was ministry in the rough.
Very rough. Capital “R” rough. Stonings, thrown out of synagogues, lack of sufficient food, and Paul, like the Energizer bunny, took a licking, and kept on ticking. It’s really an incredible story, to say the least.
When we think about the role of Paul, one of the things that becomes clearer and clearer as time goes on, is that we wouldn’t be here this afternoon, if it hadn’t been for him. Humanly speaking, he was the one who broke down the door that let us in. It’s important for us to understand the context in which Paul operated, because it was tumultuous and difficult. It was full of persecution and stoning.
And Paul told us this. Listen to what he says in Second Corinthians. In an honor and shame culture, it was believed to be appropriate to, uh, boast about certain things. Paul chooses to shame his detractors in the church by doing reverse boasting. Boasting about things that people would not boast about.
When talking about his credentials, as opposed to those of the so-called super apostles, he says this, “Whatever anyone else dares to boast about, “ this is Second Corinthians 11, beginning with the 21st verse, “I am speaking as a fool. I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? Me, too. Are they Israelites? Me, too. Are they Abraham’s descendents? Me, too. Are they servants of Christ? I’m out of my mind to talk like this, but I am more so. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, been exposed to death again and again.
Five times I received from the Jews 40 lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was pelted with stones. Three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and day in the open sea. I’ve been constantly on the move. I’ve been in danger from the rivers, dangers from the bandits, dangers from my own people, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the country, dangers at sea, dangers from false believers.”
“I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep. I have known hunger and thirst, and have often gone without food. I’ve been cold and naked, and besides everything else daily, I’ve faced the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is lead into sin, and I do not enter worldly burn? If I must boast, I will boast then of the things that show my weakness.”
And then, he gives the coup de gras. “The God and Father of our Lord, Jesus, who is to be praised forever knows I’m not lying. In Damascus, the governor under King Erectus, and the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I escaped. I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall, and slipped through their hands.”
Now, what we’re talking about here is mock boasting. He is boasting in things that ancient people didn’t boast in. He’s boasting in his weaknesses, his trials, his persecutions, his stonings, his whippings, his suffering the Roman rod on various occasions. And then, the coup de gras is that last story.
Because you see, in the Roman world, there was an award called the Corona Muralis, the wall crown. When a Roman soldier was first up the wall, and into the city, he was the highest honored. It was like having the Purple Heart. It was the highest honored soldier, for breaching the wall and taking the city for Rome.
Paul says, by contrast, “I was the first down the wall in a basket.” I like to call that story “Paul the Basket Case.” What Paul is doing is shaming his detractors, and changing the whole meaning of what is honorable and what is shameful, and what should be boasted about, and what should not be boasted about.
We’ve seen, in the film, some of Paul’s trials and tribulations. But the worst of all of those, really, was having to deal with the concern that his work would not be accepted by the church in Jerusalem. He says, in Galatians, just as clearly as he can, and I take it that he wrote this before the Acts 15 Council, which is depicted there, at the end of the film. He says, “I needed to take my gospel up to Jerusalem, lest I be running in vain.”
He needed the right hand of fellowship from the pillar apostles, Peter, James, and John, and he got it, for his gospel for the Gentiles.
And why do we need all this historical background and context? Because, dear friends, his letters are conversations in context. I don’t know about you, but I get irritated listening to half of a cell phone conversation. It’s like I’ve been suddenly thrust into a phone booth with somebody that I’d rather not be in a phone booth with. You know? You know how these conversations go.
“Hi, Mom. Yeah, I’m teaching. I know. Well, okay. So, have you got it under control? Right now I’m in Columbus. Yes, I love you, Mom. No, I’m not coming home right now, but I do love you. We’ll talk later.” It’s half of a conversation. You have to use your creative imagination to figure out the other half of the conversation.
Paul’s letters are not tracts. They’re not treatises. They are conversations in context. If we’re going to understand them, we need to understand, above all else, their nature. And the nature is this. They are ad hoc documents. Now, what does ad hoc mean? If something is ad hoc, what is it? Literally, it means “to this,” but what is an “ad hoc” something?
Yes, exactly. It’s for a very specific, particular situation. I’m sure if we brought Paul back today, from the dead, and brought him here to the church, he would be very surprised to hear that 2,000 years later, we’re studying his particular remarks, to his particular churches, at those particular times. This is part of an ongoing conversation. And if you don’t know the context of the conversation, it’s easy for you to misinterpret some of the content of the conversation.
That’s the point of looking at the historical, and theological, and literary, and archaeological, and other context. To help us flesh out what he could have meant, and might have meant, in these different situations.
Paul may come across to us as a lone ranger for Christ. But, in fact, he had many co-workers. Not just Barnabas, or Titus, or Timothy, or Priscilla, or Aquila, or Ajunia, or Phoebe. We could go on. There were lots of co-workers. And the vision he had of all of this was not being a lone ranger for Jesus.
Furthermore, the image of him sort of running breathlessly around the Roman Empire is not quite correct. The reason he left one town, usually, and went to the next, is that he was driven out. What we learned from the second missionary journey is that he spent two and a half years in Ephesus. He spent a year and a half in Corinth, and so on. When it was possible to stay, he stayed longer, to make sure the church was more well-established.
So, what you should not see Paul as, is a sort of Billy Graham evangelist, going from town to town, preaching the word, and moving on. That’s not what he was. He was a church planter. And church planters don’t go for a weekend, and then move on. Unless they absolutely have to. So, when we start thinking about Paul’s ministry, let’s think about it in that kind of context.
Now, some of the things that we need to understand most about Paul’s context is, for example, why is it that in some places, he accepted support and in other places, he made tents, and supported himself. What’s up with that?
Especially when, in the very correspondence with the Corinthians, where he says to the Corinthians, “While I stayed with you, I received support from the Macedonian church,” Second Corinthians 8 and 9. In that very same correspondence, earlier in the correspondence, he says to the Corinthians, “No, I’m not accepting support from you. I worked with my hands when I was in your midst.” He says the same thing in Thessela NIke.
What’s going on with this, if we want to understand the scope and the structure of his ministry? Well, let’s talk about some aspects of it that will help us understand this conversation in context. First of all, let’s talk about patronage and clients. A little bit about that will help. Then we’re going to talk about the technical language of money. Sending me on my way. Or, the ministry of giving and receiving. Or, thank you for your support, which has a financial meaning.
What Paul wanted to do was to give the Gospel, without engaging and entangling alliances. That is, he did not want to become somebody’s paid teacher, and become the client of some rich patron. Paul’s problem in Corinth, and perhaps elsewhere, is that there were wealthy Christians who wanted Paul to be their in-house teacher.
Paul says, in First Corinthians 9, “A workman is worthy of his hire.” Paul says in Galatians 6, very clearly, that a teacher deserves to be paid for their work, so they can be freed up to do that work. Is Paul an advocate of what today we would call “tent-making ministry?” No, he’s not, but he doesn’t want to get caught up in the social networks of his day, and become beholden to a patron, and not free to move on when the spirit tells him to go.
So, how is this going to work. Well, first of all, you need to understand about patrons and clients. What happens between patrons and clients is that when you become a client of a patron, you cease to be your own master. You cease to have freedom of mobility. You cease to have freedom of where you’re going to teach, and when. You become the after-dinner speaker for the patron, in his house.
This was a problem in Corinth. Paul says, “I have the right to be paid, and I have the right to refuse to be paid.” In Corinth, it was better to refuse, lest he become entangled, and enmeshed in the social networks that existed. This did not mean that he did not receive support from his other Christians. Very clearly, in Second Corinthians 8 and 9, he tell us that while he was in Corinth, and besides his tent-making work, he also was supported by the Macedonian churches.
Now, you see, the thing about support from a distance is, it doesn’t set up a patron and client relationship, because you’re not there at the beck and call of some patron. You’re in another city.
So, he felt free to accept the support from Macedonia. Even when they gave out of their poverty, says Paul. Out of their lack, and due to a time of persecution, nonetheless they gave. And he was happy to receive it.
Now this phrase he uses several times. “I’m coming to Rome,” he says, “but don’t worry. I’m not going to set up shop there forever,” he says in Romans. “No, I’m hoping to go on to Spain, and what I need from you, is that you send me on my way.” Now, this does not mean, that as Paul is leaving on the Via Appia, they all stand on the side of the road and go, “So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen…”
What “send me on my way” means, is providing me with traveling funds, and the necessary foodstuffs to get to my next destination. It’s a technical phrase, “Sending me on my way.”
There is one church, however, in which Paul had a very unique relationship. A relationship of what he calls, giving and receiving. Which church was that, do you remember? Which letter of Paul has most use of the word “joy?”
Exactly. And it is in Philippians that we hear about this relationship of giving and receiving. He’s talking about a relationship that could become a reciprocity cycle. The Philippians, while Paul is under house arrest in Rome, have sent support to him. And he’s certainly grateful for it. However, he doesn’t want it to become a reciprocity network.
So, let’s look at this passage that helps us understand the financial context of Paul’s ministry. This is Philippians Four, 10 through 20. “I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I’m not saying this because I’m in need, for I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need. I know what it is to have plenty. I’ve learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. Whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want. I can endure all things through Him who strengthens me.”
By the way, translation: “I can do all things in Him who strengthen me,” is not a very good translation. Because what he’s talking about his ability to do with or without. Then he says this, “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the Gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, towards Athens and Corinth, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only.”
Paul had a unique financial relationship with the Philippians, and he was perfectly willing to be in that relationship, because it was not a patron-client unequal relationship, but what? A parity relationship. The Philippians got it. They understood that Paul had given them much by giving them the Gospel. And whatever they were sharing back with Paul was not setting up a reciprocity cycle, but was responding to the gift of God’s grace that they had already received.
He said, “When I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me, in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only. For even when I was in Thessela Nike, you sent me, and more than once, when I was in need.” So, you sent to me, and more than once, when I was in need. “Not that I desire your gifts. What I desire is that you be credited to your account for them. As for me, I have received full payment, and have more than enough. I’m amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts that you’ve sent.”
“They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God, and my God will meet all your needs, according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
Now, do you hear how careful this statement is? Good on you. You sent me a gift. And I’ve got more than I need. Now if you know the ancient conventions, what he’s saying is, “Don’t send any more.” He’s saying, “The buck stops here.” He’s saying, “Thank you, but let’s not go around again.”
Now, here’s the important part about understanding this. If he had literally said thank you, that always implied, in the reciprocity culture, send me some more. So, what we have is thankless thanks, here. He’s thanking them, without using the technical language for “thank you.” Because why? Because he wants it to stop where it is. He’s been in a relationship of giving and receiving with them. But now, he’s not only content to be as he is, he’s fully supplied, he says.
What I’m pointing out to you is that the whole language about money and financial support for ministry is part of a larger social context that is not like ours. Indeed, it’s very different from ours. And it’s easy for us to misunderstand these statements. The only time Paul talks about raising money for church, is when he talks about raising money for the collection for the saints in Jerusalem, who are starving. And he mentions this repeatedly.
In Galatians 2, James says, “Remember the poor in Jerusalem.” Paul says, “Which very thing I was eager to do.” In First Corinthians 16, he says, “I urged the church on the first day of the week, to set aside an allotment for the saints in Jerusalem. This is not about a regular collection, Sunday after Sunday. It’s about a special collection for the needy in the church in Jerusalem.
In Second Corinthians 8 and 9, second verse, same as the first, “We’re collecting a collection for the saints in Jerusalem, and the Macedonian churches, Berea, Thessela Nike, Philippi, have all signed up. How ‘bout you Corinthians?”, he says. He puts pressure not to give to him, but to give to the collection in Jerusalem.
Money then, as now, was a slippery subject. How do you raise it? How do you spend it? Should ministers be paid? Paul’s answer to that is, we have a right to be paid, but we have a right to refuse it. It’s the Lord Jesus who set up the principle “a workman is worthy of his hire. If even an ox should be allowed to eat some of the grain it’s threshing out, how much more a minister?” You know, I’ve never thought of ministers as oxes, but okay.
Listen to what Paul says in First Corinthians 9. Starting with the first verse. “Am I need free?”, i.e., I’m not in a patron-client relationship. “Am I not an apostle?” Rhetorical question, implied answer, obviously, yes. “Have I not seen Jesus, my Lord?” That’s what he associates with being an apostle. It’s the requirement. “Are you not a result of my work in the Lord?” Survey says, “Yes.” “Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who sit in judgement of me.”
“Don’t we have the right to food and drink?” What’s the answer to the rhetorical question? “Yes, we have the right to it.” Absolutely. “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles, and the Lord’s brothers, and Sephus?” The first Pope was married. Don’t tell the Catholics. “Or is it only I and Barnabas who don’t have the right to not work for a living?” Again, a rhetorical question that has a clear answer.
“Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the grapes? Who tends the flock and does not drink the milk? Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the law say the same thing, for it’s written in the law of Moses? You don’t muzzle an ox while it’s threshing out the grain. Is it about oxen that God is most concerned? I’m thinking not,” says Paul. “Surely he says this for our benefit, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when farmers plow and thresh, they should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.”
“If we have thrown spiritual feed amongst you, is it too much of a burden, if we reap from you a material harvest? Hint, hint. “If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more, since you’re our converts? But, we do not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the Gospel of Christ.” So, it’s Paul’s spiritual judgement that for him to receive pay in Corinth would imply patronage, and hinder the free proclamation of the Gospel. In that situation, he’s not going to take the money.
It’s not because he has a tent-making ministry principle. It’s because he has the right to refuse. “But if I have not used any of these rights, and by the way, I’m not writing in the hope that you will do this for me, now. This is not an indirect hint, for I would rather die than allow anyone who deprives me of this boast, of offering this to you, Corinthians, free of charge. Woe to me if I don’t preach the Gospel, for if I preach voluntarily, I have a reward. If not, I’m simply discharging a trust committed to me.”
Now, he goes on along this way, but I think I’ve established the principle that he’s trying to convey here. And, it’s an important principle. I’d like to turn, now, to another aspect of it, in Galatians Six, when he is teaching some principles for his converts in Galatia.
Here’s what he said, verse six, Galatians: “Those who receive instruction in the Word should share in all good things with their instructor. To which I say, ‘Amen.’” Where’s the box of chocolates friends? He believes that a teacher should be paid for the work they do. He wants that kind of support to happen. We have this very delicate balancing act, because money is always a tricky business.
On the one hand, the teacher, preacher, apostle has the right to be paid. On the other hand, he has the right to refuse pay. But, if he refuses in the wrong way, he will have done what? He will have shamed them. So, what we have is that nice, little merry-go-round in Philippians Four 10 through 20, where he says, “You know, thank you so much. Your account is fully paid. And it’s great, and we’re glad for this. And I’ve got more than enough, and don’t send any more.”
He’s putting a stop to the possibility of yet another spin cycle called reciprocity. You see, there is this delicate balance between grace and freedom over here, and partnership. Because any time, in antiquity, you enter into a partnership, it is assumed you are entering into a binding reciprocity network.
If you want to think about this in a way that helps you to understand this about Paul, think of the Mafia. Remember “The Godfather?” Don Corleone says, “I want you to do me a favor, after which I will do you a favor, then you will do me another favor, and I will do you a favor. After which, you will do me another favor, or you will sleep with the fish.” Now, this is just good old Mediterranean reciprocity talk.
Where do you think the Mafia started? In the Mediterranean world. Paul is trying to not get trapped into that cycle of scratching the other’s back. It’s what the Turks called “Bakshish,” payback. I want us to think, just a second, Dan, I want us to think, just for a minute. Which is our culture more like, a payback culture, or a grace-based culture? Oh, I think it’s payback, baby. That’s why we keep going to those Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, et cetera, revenge movies. Clint Eastwood movies.
It has been said that if we offered salvation for $25 a person, there would be a line from Columbus to Cleveland to come get it, right here at this church. But because we give it away for free, people are suspicious of it. The mantra of our culture is, “You don’t get something for nothing.” “You get what you pay for.”This is not a grace-based culture, and if you don’t understand that, you’re going to have a hard time working in this culture, in ministry.
Well, you see, he’s also trying to avoid the snake oil salesman problem. He’s itinerate. He is freely and open about being on the move. He doesn’t want to come to a town, offer magnificent speaking, people say, “Okay, we’re paying him by the word. We’re paying him for his verbiage.” And he just moves on. No, he wants to be clear that he’s serious about planting churches in particular contexts.
And what’s interesting to me about this, is here’s, I think, his strategy. Remember what the Corinthians say. His letters and rhetorically powerful, but his personal presentation, he’s got an ethos problem. There’s some weakness. Now, I think that has to do with his eyes. But I think there’s another factor.
If you look closely at the Greek of that Second Corinthians verse, I think Paul deliberately, in his first oral presentation of the Gospel, avoids hyperbolic rhetoric. He keeps it simple. The letters are more rhetorically powerful. The first presentation is less so. Precisely to avoid the impression that he is trying to wow them with his eloquence, rather than with the substance of the message.
Because, you see, that is a great problem, in a culture that loves eloquence. The danger is, he appears to be yet another paid rhetorician, on the move, going from one town to the next, and he’ll discourse on any subject you please. He’s not committing to any of them. See, this is the danger of being disingenuous.
So, he’s got to do a very careful rhetorical tapdance. It’s not a problem when he sends a rhetorically powerful letter to them. It becomes a problem of ethos with the first presentation of the Gospel, and he’s especially concerned about this in Rhetoric Central, places like Athens and Corinth. He’s very sensitive to the oral context there, because he doesn’t want to be taken as yet another talking head, who is full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing. That’s a big mistake.
So, he waits until after he has established the relationship with the Corinthians, to let them have it with some really powerful rhetoric in First and Second Corinthians. Uh, remember what he says, “At the outset, I resolve to know nothing amongst you,” except what? Christ in him, crucified. I’m going to give you the straight poop here. I’m going to give you the straight talk.
But we need to understand that this stuff has powerful implications, and so the letters are what the Corinthians say the letters are: the letters are rhetorically powerful, first presentation, not so much, for a variety of reasons. It’s a complex matter. Because he lives in a world context, you’ve got to take into account the function of rhetorical letters in an oral context, as well as the initial oral impressions.
You know what we say, and Paul understood it. First impressions are crucial. So, he wants their hearts to be open to the substance of the Gospel, from the first.