Bourgeois Christianity?

This is my first post and I am honoured to be involved in this blog with Rick and Perry.  I echo the comments made by Perry in his first post.  I would like to offer some thoughts that I hope will generate some discussion.  As a first post I will restrict my comments to very general ones.  I am sure the discussion will lead us to more specific deliberations.

The (previous) scholarly consensus on the Pastoral Epistles (PE) is that they are late documents reflecting Pauline communities which had become institutionalised and had come to terms with the delay of the Parousia by settling down into a form of accommodation with the wider society.  My work disputes a number of aspects of this consensus and remains in dialogue with the Hermeneia commentary on the PE by Martin Dibelius and Hans Conzelmann in which Dibelius famously argued that the PE promote the ideal of good christian citizenship (christliche B├╝rgerlichkeit) – a form of bourgeois christianity.

In my book, The Polemic of the Pastorals, I argued that the letters do not reflect communities in which Paul’s vision of the church as a charismatic community has faded through the process of institutionalisation.  My current work focuses on the communities’ wider relationship with society.  I am intrigued by the rhetorical function of 2 Tim 3:12.  This verse receives scant attention in the Hermeneia commentary.  Although sympathetic to the current emphasis on treating each letter separately and not taking the PE as a literary corpus, I personally remain convinced by the results of older scholarship that for reasons of style, vocabulary, etc. they should, with due sensitivity, be treated together.  If so, the presence of a text like 2 Tim 3:12 in this corpus means that it is problematic to read 1 Tim 2:1-2 as a straightforward indication that the communities have accommodated themselves to society.  For example, 16th century Anabaptists, who were persecuted by both Protestants and Catholics, regularly quoted 2 Tim 3:12 (it is one of the most cited texts in Martyrs Mirror, the Anabaptist martyrology first published in 1660), yet they also freely made use of 1 Tim 2:1-2.  For example, Article XXVII of the Mennonite Confession of Faith (dated around 1600) begins: “we confess: [t]hat the office of magistracy is an ordinance and institution of God who Himself willed and ordained that such a power should be over every country in order that thereby countries and cities might, through good policy and laws, for the punishment of the evil and the protection of the pious, be governed and maintained in quiet and peace, in a good civil life …” (my emphasis).  In this case persecuted Christians could echo the prayer expressed in 1 Tim 2:1-2 precisely because they were persecuted and marginalised in society.  It seems to me that the PE can be read as instructions to communities who recognise only too well that the subversive claims of the gospel (e.g. God, not Caesar, as saviour) could lead to persecution at any time.  If we take seriously Ephesus as the destination of 1 and 2 Timothy then is it illegitimate to view some of the vocabulary of at least these two letters in the PE as in conscious dialogue with the imperial cult?

I look forward to your comments!

Comments

  1. Peter Kirby says:

    This blog was featured in the inaugural (and experimental) <a href="http://podcast.earlywritings.com/">This Week in Early Writings</a>.

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