One of Abraham Malherbe’s many enduring contributions to Pauline scholarship is his constant insistence on contextualization: that Paul must be seen as sharing a discourse of, broadly speaking, paraenesis with the Hellenistic “popular philosophers.” Malherbe has adopted a two-pronged strategy in this insistence. First, he has emphasized the extent to which Paul made use of just those paraenetic motifs and practices that one also finds in the other participants in the shared context. Here the emphasis is on similarity and on seeing Paul as one among the others. But the focus remains on Paul: to use the non-Pauline contextual material to elucidate ideas or practices in the Pauline letters themselves. Second, he has constantly insisted that there are also dissimilarities, features where Paul distinguishes himself from his contextual partners. These too must be noticed—but as part of the strategy of contextualization. For the two prongs in the overall strategy are, of course, perfectly consistent. Paul was not the only one to distinguish himself from the others. All the co-partners did the same, in their own ways. Therefore, to bring out differences is an intrinsic part of seeing Paul as one among the others.
In this study, I shall adopt and try to extend his strategy of employing contextual material to elucidate Paul’s meaning in a few select passages in some of the letters (Philippians, 1 Corinthians, Galatians and Romans) that speak about how the individual should relate to himself and to others. The starting-point is a philological one, of how to translate a Pauline verse that is most often mistranslated: Phil 2:4 (section 1). But some other passages (Phil 2:21, 1Cor 10:24, 33; 13:5, Gal 5:14 and select verses from Rom 12:11–15:6) will also be discussed (section 2). The contextual material is Stoic, deriving from two sources for orthodox Stoicism: book III of Cicero’s De Finibus and ch. IX §8 (fragments 625–636) of von Arnim’s Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta III, which deals with the relationship of wise people with themselves and others. I shall employ this material to bring out a certain kind of “radical altruism” that I argue is to be found in the Pauline passages too, including