Chapter 4. Honoring Piety in the Ekklesia
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127 4 HONORING PIETY IN THE EKKLĒSIA I n First Timothy 6, the themes of piety, wealth, benefaction, and patronage converge in the author’s closing admonishments against rival teachers and about the responsibilities of the rich. According to the author, there is great gain (πορισμὸς μέγας) in piety (εὐσέβεια) (1 Tim 6:6) that orients the ekklēsia away from “senseless and harmful desires” to acquire wealth and material possessions, which “plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim 6:9). Those whose teachings contrast against the “sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim 6:3) misconstrue this piety in their attempt to turn a profit (1 Tim 6:5). Rather, the rich are encouraged to reconsider their relation to their wealth and to be liberal in generosity (1 Tim 6:19), placing their trust not in their riches but in God (1 Tim 6:17). An understanding of how a rhetoric of piety was put to use in the recognition of civic benefaction and patronage can guide modern readers of the Pastorals toward an even greater recognition of the social dynamics and political stakes of the author’s claim to piety. Reading 1 Timothy in light of the competitive struggles, interests, and ideological assumptions that comprised the practice of civic benefaction illuminates the author’s negotiation of a historical-­ rhetorical situation involving relatively wealthy benefactors,1 whom the author perceives 1 When I speak about “wealthy” benefactors, I do not intend to imply that such members of the ekklēsia numbered among the elite and aristocratic groups within Greek and Roman urban centers, including local royalty, equestrians, or decurial 128 Civilized Piety to be exercising an inappropriate and unregulated amount of influence over the leadership of the ekklēsia.2 The author employs a rhetoric of piety, then, to negotiate the ideological assumptions inherent within the practice of benefaction about the “natural” fitness of the wealthy to lead, while he attempts to navigate a tenuous relationship with the community’s benefactors. families. Rather, I use “wealthy” and “high-­ status” to signal a level of wealth and status relatively higher than the majority of members within the ekklēsia who earned either just above, at, or below the subsistence level. As Korinna Zamfir notes, we should be cautious in assuming that any of these “wealthy benefactors” came from the elite or aristocratic classes (Men and Women in the Household of God: A Contextual Approach to Roles and Ministries in the Pastoral Epistles [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013], 38–­ 45, esp. 45). Rather, it is enough to posit that such Christian patrons could have belonged to a “middling group” whose moderate surplus of wealth stationed them in between the rich (honestiores) and poor (humiliores). This “middling group,” according to Bruce W. Longenecker, could have made up 17 percent of the population and consisted of merchants, traders, and veterans; see “Exposing the Economic Middle: A Revised Scale for the Study of Early Urban Christianity,” JSNT 31 (2009): 243–­ 78. Longenecker’s own study builds upon Steven J. Friesen’s foundational study that presents a heuristic model for thinking about varying scales of economic stations beyond the binary of rich and poor; see “Poverty in Pauline Studies: Beyond the So-­ Called New Consensus,” JSNT 26 (2004): 323–­ 61. 2 This study does not intend either to provide a positivist historical account of the “actual” Christian communities or to identify the opponents that “stand behind” the Pastorals. Rather, its modest aim is to elucidate some of the possible sociopolitical problems, stakes, and concerns that might account for the author of the Pastorals’ admonishments toward wealthy women, benefactors, and rival teachers. My own understanding of the historical-rhetorical situation is indebted to Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, who herself builds upon Lloyd F. Bitzer’s definition of a rhetorical situation: “A rhetorical situation is a situation in which one is motivated to a response that has the possibility for changing the situation. Such a response depends on the argumentative possibilities of the speaker as well as the possible expectations of her audience. Not only the exigence, but all these two types of constraints, which affect the audience decision or action and which are imposed on the author, constitute a rhetorical situation” (Schüssler Fiorenza, Rhetoric and Ethic: The Politics of Biblical Studies [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999], 108). See also Lloyd F. Bitzer, “The Rhetorical Situation,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 1 (1968): 1–­ 14. For both an account and demonstration of the difference and analytical movement between the...