Saturday, August 27, 2011

How Educated was Paul?

The introduction to my most recent paper:

At least since the third century Christians have been fighting the accusation of anti-intellectualism. Celsus described Christian doctrine as so “vulgar” that it was only able to sway the ignorant (Against Celsus, 1.27). He accuses the Christians of preying on the least educated people in the ancient world, “children” and “certain women as ignorant as themselves” (3.55). Origen admits that the apostles were not educated, but meets this accusation with an argument from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians,
It was by help of a divine power that these men taught Christianity, and succeeded in leading others to embrace the word of God. For it was not any power of speaking, or any orderly arrangement of their message, according to the arts of Grecian dialectics or rhetoric, which was in them the effective cause of converting their hearers.[1]
Origen, the Christian intellectual force of the third century, responds to anti-intellectual critiques with an argument from Paul. It is widely known that Origen was extremely well educated, but what of Paul?

The question of Paul’s education has been broached many times with varying conclusions. Adolf Deissmann was convinced Paul was “not one of the literary upper classes, but came from the unliterary lower classes and remained one of them.”[2] In comparison with Philo, Mary Andrews argued, “Paul cannot be rated among the intellectuals of his day.”[3] In contrast, E. A. Judge argued that while the degree of Paul’s education is “tantalisingly unclear [sic.]” he certainly had a good measure of it, because “he reacted powerfully against the perversion of human relations which he saw inculcated by the ideals of higher education.”[4] Most recently, Paul’s education has been evaluated fairly high in order to account for his use of the OT.[5] Despite these studies there is not much of a consensus regarding Paul’s educational background.

This state of affairs is somewhat expected in light of the fact that Paul never directly speaks of his education. Even on the rare occasion when he does mention his personal background or credentials (Gal 1.13-14; 2 Cor 11.22-23; Phil 3.4-7; cf. Rom 11.1), he is silent about schooling. If anything, Paul downplays education as a relevant factor to his work. He rejects worldly wisdom (1 Cor 2.1-4) and described himself as a “rank amateur when it came to rhetoric.”[6] Furthermore, he is adamant that his gospel is a direct revelation of God and not based on any human teaching or wisdom (1 Cor 2.6-13; cf. Gal 1.1, 11-12, 16). Thus, it would have been counterproductive for Paul to have flaunted his educational credentials. Analysis of Paul’s education thus requires careful reconstruction.

[1] The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, eds. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and Arthur C. Coxe (Oak Harbor, CA: Logos Research Systems, 1997) 424.
[2] Paul: A Study in Social and Religious History, trans. William E. Wilson (New York: Harper & Brothers, [1912] 1957) 48.
[3] Mary E. Andrews, “Paul, Philo, and the Intellectuals,” JBL 53 no. 2 (1934): 166.
[4] E. A. Judge, “The Reaction Against Classical Education in the New Testament,” ERT 9 no. 2 (1985): 170 and 174 respectively.
[5] Stanley Porter and Andrew W. Pitts, “Paul’s Bible, His Education and his Access to the Scriptures of Israel,” JGRChJ 5 (2008): 9-40.
[6] Ronald F. Hock, “Paul and Greco-Roman Education,” Paul and the Greco-Roman World: A Handbook, ed. J. Paul Sampley (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003) 198 citing 2 Cor 11.6.

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