Posted by: chuckbumgardner | December 1, 2011

Eckhard Schnabel, Paul the Missionary

Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and MethodsI read the first part of a recent volume by Eckhard J. Schnabel, Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies, and Methods (InterVarsity, 2008), and continue to hold Schnabel in high regard as to his scholarly acumen and helpful contributions to the field of NT backgrounds — see especially his Early Christian Mission.  A few notes from my reading (many more could be given!).

Since high school, I’ve understood there to be at least some wealthy people in the Corinthian church based on 1 Cor 1:26, and was confirmed in that understanding as I studied 1 Cor 11:17-34 in seminary.  Schnabel suggests a number of indicators (not all equally convincing, but collectively significant):

The range of problems in the young church that Paul discusses in his first letter to the Corinthians indicates that members of the local elite had become Christians as well: people who belong to the wise and powerful (1 Cor 1:26; 3:18), who expected orators to display brilliant rhetoric (1 Cor 2:1-5), who were able to initiate official legal proceedings (1 Cor 6:1-11), who visited prostitutes (1 Cor 6:12-18), who dined in the temples of the city (1 Cor 8:10), who covered their heads during the worship services of the church as signs of their superior social status, as priests did when they officiated in the temples (1 Cor 11:4), people who had time for meals in the afternoon (1 Cor 11:21-22). (105-106)

On the term “Christian”, I’ve noted that it was an appellation given by non-Jesus-followers: “were called Christians” (Acts 11:26).  Schnabel suggests more detail:

Luke concludes his brief report about Paul’s missionary work in Antioch with the note that ‘it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians'” (Acts 11:26).  The term Christianoi (Lat. Christiani) occurs in the New Testament only here and in Acts 26:28 on the lips of Herod Agrippa II during the legal proceedings involving the apostle Paul . . . and in 1 Peter 4:16 in the context of Christians in Asia Minor who face the possibility of having to give an account of their beliefs before the magistrates in the cities in which they lived. . . . The ending -iani suggests that this appellation originated outside of the church in Latin-speaking circles (a Greek-speaking context would suggest formulations such as Christeioi or Christikō.  Jews called the followers of Jesus usually Nasrayya or Nosrim (Gr Nazōraioi), that is “Nazarenes.”  Jews who did not acknowledge Jesus as Messiah would hardly have called the believers in Jesus “Followers of the Messiah” (Christeioi or Christianoi).  It is quite possible that the term Christianoi was an official designation coined by the Roman authorities in Antioch for the new religious group. (72-73)

It is important to realize that in Acts 13, when Paul and Barnabas are set apart for missionary work, that this is by no means Paul’s inaugural work in the way of “missions”.  After summarizing the likely chronology of Paul’s early Christian ministry, Schnabel concludes, “This means that when he left Antioch in A.D. 45 for Cyprus and Galatia, Paul had nearly fifteen years of missionary experience.  Neither Barnabas nor Paul were missionary novices: they were experienced missionaries who had seen many people come to faith in Jesus Christ, both Jews and Gentiles, who had seen churches established, who had taught new believers, and who had seen churches grow” (75, original emphasis).  Schnabel suggests that the scenario in Acts 13:1-3 doesn’t necessarily point to a “surprise” selection of Paul and Barnabas to missions work — that is, the church undergoing routine prayer and fasting and the Spirit suddenly indicating that Paul and Barnabas were to pack their bags — but Luke’s record is compatible with the church seeking divine confirmation of prior planning which involved two leading preachers and teachers of the church at Antioch engaging in missionary outreach in other locales.

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