This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology. You can visit my web pages here, but note that they are not kept up-to-date.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Paul's churches consisted of households, not house-church cells

1 Cor 14:23 refers to occasions when the "whole church comes together" and Gaius was "host to me and to the whole church" (Rom 16:23). In addition to these meetings of the entire church, many assume that there were also smaller house-church cells. This view depends on:
The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house (οἶκον αὐτῶν ἐκκλησίᾳ), greet you warmly in the Lord. (1 Cor 16:19)
Greet Prisca and Aquila .... Greet also the church in their house. (Rom 16:3-5)
See also Col 4:15 and Philemon 2.

Now, it was common for whole households to follow the faith of the head of the house (Acts 10:2: 16:15; 16:29-34; 18:8; 1 Cor 16:15). In light of this, E.A. Judge has suggested that the phrase "the church in their house" may simply refer to the assembly of believers who were members of that particular household (Social Distinctives of the Christians in the First Century p25). The assembly in the house of Aquila and Prisca may have comprised only their family members and servants. I offer the following observations which support this view.

1.  Aquila and Prisca and, presumably, the members of their household had previously been part of the  Corinthian church,  so they would naturally want to send greetings to Corinth after moving to Ephesus (1 Cor 16:19). It is hard to explain why Paul mentions "the church in their house" as senders of warm greetings if it consisted mainly of Ephesians who had not been part of the Corinthian church. Paul would then have been making an invidious distinction between them and the other Ephesian believers.

2.  Similarly, Paul greets the assembly that meets in the house of Prisca and Aquila in Rome (Rom 16:3-5). This is explicable if the members of that assembly were dependents of Prisca and Aquila who had known Paul from their time in Corinth and Ephesus.

3.  We have no evidence that Prisca and Aquila formed churches around themselves. In Corinth this role was taken by Titius Justus (Acts 18:7), =Stephanas (1 Cor 16:15), and Crispus (Acts 18:8). In Asia the role was taken by Epaenetus (Rom 16:5) and Paul preached there in the hall of Tyrannus, not from the house of Aquila and Prisca.

4.  Prisca and Aquila were with Paul in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:19) shortly before Pentecost (1 Cor 16:8). Paul planned to send the collection to Judea the following spring at the latest (1 Cor 16:3-6). Acts 20:2-6) confirms that the collection was sent in the spring, at the very beginning of the travel season, and there is no reason to suppose that it was a later spring than the one envisaged in 1 Corinthians. Romans was written before this time. Now, if the assembly of believers in the house of Prisca and Aquila in Rom 16:3-5 consisted of people other than the dependents of the couple, then we have a rather compressed chronology. We would have to suppose that Prisca and Aquila travelled to Rome soon after 1 Corinthians was written and that within about 4 months of arrival they established a house church and that someone then traveled from Rome to Corinth before the end of the same travel season and told Paul about this house church. This does not seem likely. Why would believers in Rome so quickly join the house church of Prisca and Aquila in preference to their own house churches? If Prisca and Aquila were successful evangelists, why is there no evidence of this from their time in Corinth or Ephesus? The problems are solved if we suppose that the assembly consisted of dependents of Prisca and Aquila. Paul knew that they had travelled with the couple to Rome and would continue to be part of their household. There is then no need to supposed that Paul had received recent news from Rome.

5. The (putative) author of Colossians had not visited Colossae, yet he appears to have known Nympha and the assembly in her house (Col 4:15). It is possible to imagine Nympha and many believing members of her household visiting Paul (in Ephesus for example). It is hard to imagine that "Paul" would have come to know the members of this assembly if it consisted of members of many households.

For these reasons I think that the assembly of believers in the house of Prisca and Aquila consisted of members of their household.

If this hypothesis is correct we can abandon the romantic notion that Prisca and Aquila travelled to Ephesus and to Rome to plant churches. They were the target of persecution (Rom 16:4) and had left Italy because of persecution (Acts 18:2), so it is most likely that they left Corinth because of persecution, just as Sosthenes did following his beating (Acts 18:17; 1 Cor 1:1). Presumably they returned home to Rome as soon as they could following the death of Claudius.

Some conjecture that Stephanas was the head of a house church cell and that his household placed themselves at the service of the other members of that cell (1 Cor 16:15). This now looks less likely. Rather, as I have argued before, Stephanas was Gaius, the host of the whole church.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The sexist hand behind P46 on Julia, and Junia

Here I discuss why Papyrus 46, our oldest copy of Romans, corrupts "Julia, Nereus" in Rom 16:15 and also why this same manuscript replaced "Junia" with "Julia" in Rom 16:7. This blog post improves on my earlier post.

At Rom 16:15 most of the manuscripts read,

ΑΣΠΑΣΑΣΘΕ ΦΙΛΟΛΟΓΟΝ ΚΑΙ ΙΟΥΛΙΑΝ ΝΗΡΕΑ ΚΑΙ ΤΗΝ ΑΔΕΛΦΗΝ ΑΥΤΟΥ
Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and the sister of him

However, in place of ΙΟΥΛΙΑΝ ΝΗΡΕΑ, P46 reads: ΒΗΡΕΑ ΚΑΙ ΑΟΥΛΙΑΝ. This emendation seems inexplicable, especially since ΒΗΡΕΑ and ΑΟΥΛΙΑΝ do not appear to be attested names.

Royse's explanation
James Royse ("Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri" 2008 p333-4) gives a very promising explanation. He suggests that P46 was copied from a manuscript that had the names Julia and Nereus reversed, and that an "Α" and a "Β" had been written above the names to indicate the original order. This method of indicating a transposition is known from other manuscripts, we are told. Thus, Royse suggests that P46 was copied from a text which read like this:

Β------Α
ΝΗΡΕΑΙΟΥΛΙΑΝ

The scribe of P46 then mistakenly assumed that the "Β" and the "Α" were intended to replace the "Ν" and the "Ι", respectively, rather than to correct the order of the two names. However, Royse has difficulty accounting for the ΚΑΙ (and) between the two names in P46, and he offers no explanation for why the names Julia and Nereus were reversed in the first place.

My explanation, building on Royse's idea
Name order was very important in the ancient world, the most important person being named first. Therefore sexism was the likely motive for someone to want to place Nereus, a man, before Julia, a woman.

It would make no sense to write "Greet Philologus and Nereus, Julia and the sister of him". This sentence divides the four people into two groups and there is no male in the second group so the "of him" is left with no-one to refer to. The corrector, I suggested, wanted the extra ΚΑΙ (and), intending the text to read "Greet Philologus and Nereus and Julia and the sister of him".  For the corrector, who was conscious of the importance of name order, Philologus was the most important person, so for him the "of him" naturally refers back to Philologus.

Contrary to Royse, I suggest that the exemplar used by the scribe of P46 had the original text, albeit with corrections added above the line and perhaps also in the margin. The sexist corrector added the  "Β" and the "Α" thus:

Β-----    Α
ΙΟΥΛΙΑΝΝΗΡΕΑ

He also indicated that the ΚΑΙ should be added. Then, uncertain whether the scribe would understand the "Β" and the "Α", he gave a second indication that the names Julia and Nereus should be reversed. He then passed the manuscript to the scribe and asked the scribe to copy it. His fears that the scribe would not understand the "Β" and the "Α" were well founded. The scribe understood the second indication, so he swapped the two names, but he replaced the first two letters of the swapped names by "Β" and "Α" respectively. Thus, he wrote ΒΗΡΕΑ ΚΑΙ ΑΟΥΛΙΑΝ.  Royse writes that his explanation comes at the expense of hypothesizing a textual variant for which there is no surviving example. My modification of Royse's hypothesis avoids that problem. Only two people need have been involved: someone marked up a manuscript and gave it to a scribe to copy.

Why did the scribe write "Julia" instead of "Junia" at Rom 16:7?
Before copying out Rom 16:7 the scribe's eye may have been caught by all the stuff added at 16:15 in his exemplar. Having read the name "Julia" there his mind would have been primed to misread or miswrite "Junia" as "Julia" when he came to copy 16:7. That is to say, he had "Julia" on his mind because of the fuss around 16:15 and this made him write "Julia" in 16:7. Thus, I think the presence of Julia in P46 at 16:7 provides further confirmation that his exemplar had corrections at 16:15.


I am grateful for Carlson's discussion here.

Update 9th March:
There has been some useful discussion of these variants on the Evangelical Textual Criticism Blog, here. Tommy Wasserman accepts my explanation for the addition of the ΚΑΙ but prefers to return to Royse's two-step process in which the two names were already reversed in manuscript that was corrected by the addition of the interlinear "B" and "A". In the comments Edgar Ebojo points to quite a few errors in this part of P46, making it perfectly possible that the original reversal of the two names was made by accident without sexist motives.