Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Spirit and Covenant Renewal: A Theologoumenon of Paul's Opponents in 2 Corinthians

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Spirit and Covenant Renewal: A Theologoumenon of Paul's Opponents in 2 Corinthians

Article excerpt

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The reconstruction of the position of the missionary rivals whose legitimacy Paul attempts to undermine in 2 Corinthians has proven to be a difficult task. Since the time of Ferdinand Christian Baur, scholars have proposed various, often conflicting reconstructions. In 1990, Jerry L. Sumney proposed some salutary methodological guidelines for this project and offered his own minimalist reconstruction.1 The material that Sumney used in his reconstruction of the position of Paul's missionary rivals was gleaned solely from the text of 2 Corinthians. There remain, however, substantial comparative data from early Jewish and Christian texts that have not yet been examined in connection with this problem. These comparative data, I argue, suggest an alternative to Sumney's view of the role played by the spirit in the preaching of Paul's missionary rivals in 2 Corinthians. To contextualize this argument, let us briefly examine Jerry Sumney's methodological dicta, the reasons that he had for proposing them, and the minimalist sketch of Paul's Corinthian missionary opponents that he proposed.

Sumney's delineation of a methodology for establishing the characteristics of the preaching of Paul's missionary opponents in 2 Corinthians was formulated in response to what he perceived as an undue variety in the types of characteristics that previous scholars had imputed to those missionaries. In the interest of time, I men- tion only three of the more influential theories here.2 In the late 1800s, Baur saw Paul's missionary rivals in 2 Corinthians as representatives of a single, unified movement that opposed Paul's law-free mission: that of Petrine Christianity.3 In 1964, Dieter Georgi proposed a novel solution to the problem of Paul's opposition in Corinth.4 Georgi argued that Paul's missionary rivals presented themselves as ..., Greco-Roman divine men such as Apollonius of Tyana, who possessed superhuman traits including preternatural wisdom and the ability to work miracles. C. K. Barrett presented Paul's rivals as Christian Jews who received their authority from the Jerusalem church, although they misrepresented the principals James and Cephas there by "adopting . . . the ecstatic accompaniments of pagan religion" such as visionary experience and glossolalia.5

It was in response to this variety of reconstructions that Sumney proposed methodological principles that should be followed when approaching the subject of Paul's Corinthian rivals.6 In brief, Sumney creates a taxonomy of the kinds of statements that allow us to extract information about Paul's rivals, including explicit statements, allusions, and major themes addressed in 2 Corinthians. Against the influential thesis of Baur, Sumney is keen to point out the methodological flaw in assuming that the opponents in one letter (e.g., Galatians) must be identified with Paul's opponents in another.

Sumney recognizes the potential value of comparative sources to provide background data within which to contextualize discussions of Paul's opponents. He rejects the use of sources that postdate Paul's letters and states that contemporary sources should be used to provide comparative data.7 He does not address the issue of whether earlier sources, which might have influenced later developments, may be used. He does, however, indicate the potential value of tracing the historical trajectory of a particular theme for understanding Paul's opponents: "If we know about the beginning and some later point [of a historical or thematic trajectory], we may be able to speak of intervening developments."8 Contextualization is necessary for historical reconstruction: "We can evaluate the information that we have about a particular situation only when we know something about its historical context, that is, we must know something about the broad context to understand a particular episode."9 Sumney, however, does little in Identifying Paul's Opponents to provide such contextualizing information. …

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