Introduction: The Politics of Piety in the Pastoral Epistles
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1 INTRODUCTION The Politics of Piety in the Pastoral Epistles A ncient Christian leaders faced several challenges that threatened the sustainability of the fledgling movement during the early second century c.e. Two of the foremost problems were the perception among Greek and Roman neighbors that Christians promoted a barbaric and subversive superstition that threatened conventional social values and the internal divisions within local Christian assemblies (ekklēsia)1 over what constituted correct doctrine, practice, and institutional hierarchies. Our extant sources from non-­ Christian Greek and Roman authors during this period are practically univocal in their disdain for this new cult. The Christian movement was perceived to have maliciously infected the minds of the gullible masses, leading people astray from their customary devotion toward their ancestral gods and from their loyalties and obligations 1 Throughout this book I use the term ekklēsia rather than “Christian assembly ” or “church” in order to signal how Christian gatherings were conceived as being political spaces, not only religious spaces, as well as to distinguish ancient gatherings of early Christians from modern understandings of the “Christian church.” During the late first century and early second century C.E., what precisely constituted the organization, practices, and beliefs of the ekklēsia were under debate. The Pastoral Epistles’ own polemical presentation of what the ideal ekklēsia should look like evidences the heated disagreement around this issue. Cf. the use of ekklēsia by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in The Power of the Word: Scripture and the Rhetoric of Empire (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 10. 2 Civilized Piety toward their emperor, cities and villages, and families.2 In a word, Christians were perceived to be uncivilized, and dangerously so. As a result, early Christians experienced sporadic and localized oppression according to the fluctuating prejudicial impulses of imperial authorities , civic leaders, and subjects throughout the Roman Empire. If the refusal of Christians to participate in communal sacrifices toward and in behalf of the Roman emperor and local patron gods were not enough to raise the anger of their neighbors, then the proclivity of some Christian groups to promote women to leadership positions and encourage equality between slaves and their masters—­ and so disrupting traditional societal hierarchies—­ placed the movement within the crosshairs of imperial and civic ire. Moreover, whether such radical social practices were even appropriate within the Christian movement and who decides such matters were precisely up for debate among Christian leaders. In such debates, the letters of Paul of Tarsus were held to be authoritative by many early Christians. But precisely how these letters were to be interpreted and their implications for how the Christian ekklēsia should be organized and operate were highly contentious. The author of the epistles to Timothy and Titus, the so-­ called Pastoral Epistles, presents one of a number of early Christian attempts to navigate the dicey waters of imperial prejudices toward the Christian movement and to institutionalize a particular ecclesial structure, complete with behavioral norms that pertain to women and slaves. With so much focus on the questions about whether or not Paul authored the Pastorals and the theological significance of the Pastorals ’ statements for modern ecclesiological policies,3 it is only recently 2 See esp. Larry W. Hurtado, Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2016). Hurtado emphasizes that Christians were perceived quite negatively by informed pagans of their time because these pagans regarded the distinct and novel religious claims and practices of Christians to be antithetical to conventional conceptions of “religion.” 3 For a recent overview of scholarship on the pseudepigraphy of the Pastoral Epistles and cogent arguments in its favor, see Korinna Zamfir, Men and Women in the Household of God: A Contextual Approach to Roles and Ministries in the Pastoral Epistles (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), 2–­ 10; see also Raymond F. Collins, Letters That Paul Did Not Write: The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Pauline Pseudepigrapha (Wilmington, Del.: Glazer, 1988), 88–­ 131; and esp. Douglas A. Introduction 3 that scholars have begun to attend to how the social and political realities of the early second century c.e. shed light upon the meaning and goals of the Pastorals.4 Campbell, Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 339–­ 403. For Campbell, the “smoking gun” that 1 Timothy was written by an author in the second century c.e. is that 1 Tim 5:18 quotes a saying of Jesus from Luke 10:7...