Paper prepared for the Pauline Epistles Group, SBL Annual Meeting,

Orlando, 22 November 1998.

J A Loubser, University of Zululand

Myth of modernity

Paul Johnson, in his book The Birth of the Modern, states that Ludwig von Beethoven (1770-1827) was the first to embody the ideal of the individualistic genius for the West. Before him there were Da Vinci, Galileo, Kepler and Luther, but the ideal of a rather idiosyncratic, individualistic genius who single-handedly changes the course of history only became popular with Beethoven. This corresponded to a novel conception of modernity, that of the individual as agent of history.

If this is the case, it would not be strange that the portrayal of the most prominent protagonist of the Christian mission, the apostle Paul, was influenced by this myth of the individual genius. K C Hanson, while responding to a review on Malina & Neyrey’s Portraits of Paul (1996), mentioned that from recent studies he gained the impression that the apostle was still treated like a ‘disembodied brain’.

This type of treatment has a long history in Western scholarship, exemplified by Nietzsche’s idea of Paul as ‘the inventor of Christianity’. George Bernard Shaw could say with much certainty that, ‘Though in Acts he [Paul] is only a vulgar revivalist, he comes out in his own epistles as a genuine poet … . He does nothing that Jesus would have done, and says nothing that Jesus would have said …’. For Adolph von Harnack he is ‘the founder of Christian civilisation’.

One of the direct consequences of an emphasis on the individuality of the apostle is that modern scholarship has downplayed and even repressed the voices of his co-workers. E E Ellis in his comprehensive article on Paul’s co-workers in the Dictionary of Paul and his letters found that about 100 associates are mentioned in the Biblical text. Yet, in spite of numerous recent studies on the social setting of Pauline Christianity, a number of critical scholars still deny the co-workers any creative role in the production of the Pauline letters (except when it comes to the deutero-Pauline letters).

In this paper I shall argue with the aid of a media critical analysis that a corporative authorship, inclusive of the co-workers, has a priority over individual authorship. I also propose that the voices of Paul’s co-workers are repressed because of a typical Western individualist bias, aided by modern media culture. As the analysis will show, much of the present Pauline scholarship is overdue for being recast in a new mould.


Voices refusing to be silenced

Present studies are more nuanced than those of, e.g., Karl Dick who published his thesis in 1900 and exercised a great influence on German scholarship. He employed the device of the ‘literary plural’ to explain the interchanging use of the ‘I’ and ‘we’ in the letters, thus providing scholars a method to regard the co-workers as mere rhetorical embellishments of the text. His references were proved to be insufficient by Markus Müller in an informative paper at the SBL International Meeting, 1994. As a matter of fact Pauline studies still tend to focus on the Apostle as protagonist, his arguments, his style, his personality and theology. Jürgen Becker, in a section on the infrastructure of the Pauline mission, cannot resist praising Paul’s organisational achievement.

Another example is Aída Besançon Spencer who, in a ground-breaking investigation of Pauline style and social context, ascribes the ‘we’ to a ‘ministering style’. Since all the positive references [in 2 Cor 11:16-12:13] are in the first-person singular, she argues, ‘it would appear that the perspective and language were Paul’s, but he writes with his co-workers in mind’ (1984:82). Better than most scholars she is aware that there is more to ‘Paul’ than the individual by that name, but inevitably slips into a discourse where a modern concept of personality is linked to the Pauline style, with the inevitable result that the voices of the co-workers are drowned.

However much this happens, the NT data provides a loud and clear testimony to them. In a comprehensive chart, Ellis lists the different types of co-workers, their titles and activities, and the places they appear in the writings. Though some 100 individuals were involved, his refined list shows thirty-six co-workers under nine designations. Referring to Harrington, Ellis states: ‘They are participants in his [Paul’s] preaching and teaching and in his writing, and they define the apostle’s work as a "collaborative ministry"’ (1993:183).

Of the many designations, the word ‘co-worker’ (synergos) is used most frequently (17 times). Other important designations are adelphos, apostolos, doulos, diakonos and koinonos. The activities and individuals differ from place to place, but certain co-workers are singled out for their long-term relationship with the mission to the Gentiles. Among these are Barnabas, Mark and Titus from the Antiochene ministry. Timothy, Luke, Silvanus (Silas), Priscilla and perhaps Erastus who participated in the mission to Greece. During the first Aegean ministry Apollos, Trophimus and Tychicus were involved.

The global picture is that of a dynamic, fluid group of participants, responding to the need of the missionary enterprise. The point of view from which these will be examined is not so much their presence in the text, but their contribution to the text. A profile of the role of the co-workers in the production of Pauline texts begins with a brief review of the media culture in which they operated.

Communities of voices

The media culture of the Pauline communities

The social world the Pauline communities was that of the Hellenistic city where mainstream life carried on at a distance from the literate elite. Literacy is estimated at 3% of population of the 40 million in the Roman empire. Most of the women, slaves and rural people counted among the non-literate groups. Jews were probably not more, nor less literate than the other ethnic groups.

Soon after its invention writing was associated with authority and power. Without writing neither the power of the Roman state nor Greek culture would have been so significant. In the Jewish world it re-enforced the authority of its religious tradition and created a type of society in which high priests (great landowners) and Pharisees (bureaucrats) made use of scribal skills to control information vital to maintain systems of political and religious power. Against the Jewish social system the apostle could polemicise: the letter (the writings of the Law as understood by the bureaucrats) kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor 3:6). In Gal 6:11 Paul can say: ‘See with what [impressive] letters I wrote in my own hand.’ He thus compares boasting in the Law, with boastful writing, exploiting the anti-literate bias of his audience. Non-literates would revere and even fear writing as a symbol of status or power, but they relied on street-preachers, storytellers, criers, and bards for communication. Although their world was being ruled by means of writings, all their activities could be conducted in the oral medium. The occasional writing of letters was therefore a serious and authoritative activity.

The beginning of the Christian church falls in a phase towards the end of an intermediate manuscript culture (from 300 BC to 100 AD) with five modes of orality-literacy complementing one another:

  2. Oral communications were far removed from a culture of ‘pure’ orality, reflecting a reconstituted orality as it developed in the wake of newer communication technologies.
  4. Scribal practices had adapted to manuscript culture, with ordinary people also making use of professional scribes.
  6. Primary manuscript culture was signified by the reading-performance of authoritative documents.
  8. Intermediate manuscript culture involved a high level of interaction between written manuscripts and their oral interpretations. Memory increasingly became the memory of a manuscripted tradition.
  10. There were some indications of transition to a high manuscript culture where codices and libraries become universal and manuscripts are increasingly produced by means of other manuscripts.

One of the challenges of biblical studies is to identify these modes as reflected in the texts, a difficult task since it goes against the grain of our deep-seated literate inclinations.

Because of the lack of comprehensive information on the ancient world, there is a danger of generalisation. As a measure of caution, we should consider some important points:


Orality and literacy in Paul

Christian missionaries undoubtedly drew people by means of their oral performances. The apostles are reported in Acts to have frequented the places in the cites of antiquity where oral performances were in demand (e.g., the schools and theatre in Ephesus, the Areopagus in Athens). In these spaces they had to compete with Cynic street preachers and other proponents of philosophical and religious trends. The Christian meetings were also spaces of oral performance. This was not much different from the Jewish practice that developed around the synagogues. According to Epiphanius the synagogue in Sichem was "built like a theatre in the open air." Also in the closed synagogues a space in front of the audience was reserved for oral performances that encouraged oral presentation of the Word of Yahweh. "Oral performance provided immediate access to the spirit of God. ... which was achieved by the oral interpretation of sacred texts."

One can imagine that the oral performances were emotionally and graphically expressive, with engaged responses from the audiences. In the Christian congregations, the gatherings where the stories of Jesus were told — accompanied by all available oral modes of expression (narratives, prayers, glossolalia, prophecy, hymns) — were the real drawing cards of the Christian message.

This practice is reflected in Eusebius’ account of the origin of the Marcan gospel.

  • A great light of religion shone on the minds of the hearers of Peter , so that they were not satisfied with a single hearing of the unwritten teaching of the divine proclamation, but with every kind of exhortation besought Mark, whose gospel is extant, seeing that he was Peter's follower, to leave them a written statement of the teaching given them verbally, nor did they cease until they had persuaded him, and so became the cause of the Scripture called the Gospel according to Mark (49).
  • While we do not know whether this is really how Mark's gospel originated, it certainly provides us with a view on how the oral gospel functioned in the primitive church. It is clear how pervasive the conventions of oral communication were in the world of Paul and his co-workers. This not only influenced the practices of letter production but also involved the memories and voices of the co-workers.


    Voice and memory

  • Voices from scripture.
  • A significant aspect of the Pauline letter is its rich intertextuality. Though eventually written down by individuals, the intertexual references reflect a spectrum of scriptural and other perspectives — those of the co-workers, local congregations and even opponents. Comparison with written scripture suggests that most of these references were developed in live oral performances from memory. Since neither the act of memorisation nor the replay of memory was ever a solitary enterprise, one can assume that they reflect the voices of a communal event. Vernon Robbins, in an illuminating article in Semeia lists the types of oral-scribal textures in the NT as follows:

    This manner of dealing with scripture is indicative of a predominant oral process of interpretation. In spite of the fact that scripture in the Jewish world was available in its written form, there was a ‘total oral mastery of the written text.’ We can assume that not only scripture, but also the gospel materials were memorised by ordinary members. Voices from memorised traditions mingled with the voices of Paul, the co-workers and the local congregations. Their ‘theology’ consisted of an application of the authoritative tradition to live contexts. This procedure has consequences for understanding the ethos of the Pauline communities.

  • A different idea of individuality and originality
  • A first implication is that continuous applications from memorised tradition operate with a different idea of individuality and originality. As in oral cultures, originality does not manifest in radically new inventions, but in developments due to the live interaction between speaker and audience. In oral societies, the group and its tradition come before the individual. Although every performance of an oral text is unique, performers would contend that they have truthfully rendered their texts. The norm is therefore not new invention, but maintaining a living tradition. The same would apply to the preaching and interpretation of the gospel.

  • Coherence located in the tradition
  • Because the Pauline texts presuppose repetitive contextual applications it would be anachronistic to expect a homogenised system developed by individual genius. The coherence does not lie in the logic of a system, but in the collective and communal tradition which is maintained by a stream of live performances. Each performance exhibits the character of a synecdoche, presenting only part of the whole. The Pauline letters arose out of such a living oral tradition and derive their coherence from that tradition and from the communities involved. In such a situation with an infinity series of variants, it becomes futile to search for an ‘original’ text.

  • The efficacy of the living word.
  • In Pauline Christianity, as in oral cultures, words are experienced as dynamic, powerful and effective. It differs from ‘pure’ oral culture in the fact that there is a conscious reflection on this phenomenon, which is indicative of intermediate manuscript culture. From Galatians 3 we can gather that the oral performance of the crucifixion was instrumental to the experience of the Holy Spirit. The oral performance of the gospel is likened to the words spoken by the Creator, calling ‘things that are not as though they were’ (Rom 4:17). Such indications suggest that the maintenance of the oral tradition was a conscious decision. A survey of the gifts of the Spirit shows how integral oral performance was to the communities: the Spirit enabled memory and performance.


    The production of manuscripts.

    The general picture we get from the preceding is that missionaries and congregations were involved in the practices of oral culture. They did not need to be literate. Even for Paul and his co-workers scrolls were not necessary apparatus on missionary journeys, being expensive and cumbersome to take along. Where they were used, they served as mnemonic aids to the viva vox and to convey a sense of authority.

    The first instance of regular scripture reading during Christian services dates from about the middle of the second century. The theory that Paul's oral message was soon forgotten in the early church because it was not intended as guarded tradition, and was also more difficult to memorise than the gospels, seems plausible. Only much later, when preaching became manuscript-orientated, did the interest in the letters revive, giving rise to a new communication mode, consisting of mutual interpenetration of the written and oral traditions. This coincided with the entry of the church into high manuscript culture and the introduction of a more hierarchic organisational structure.

    This information makes the introduction of letter writing as an aid in the Pauline mission quite remarkable. We now turn to the possible dynamic involved in producing the letters. In this regard we are fortunate to have a description of how a letter was written.

    Letter-writing according to Acts 15

    Acts 15 gives a remarkable report of the ‘Jerusalem Council’s’ letter to Antioch. At Jerusalem the apostles and elders, together with the whole church met under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (verses 22, 28). After deliberation they commissioned Judas and Silas to write letters conveying their decision on the issue of the Gentiles (verse 23). The understanding was that they should also verbally convey the message (verse 27). Arriving in Antioch, they gathered the congregation and delivered the letter by reading it (verse 30). When the people heard the reading, they rejoiced (verse 31). Judas and Silas then, being prophets, encouraged the brothers with many words and confirmed them (32). Apparently reading and preaching went together (verse 21 mentions the reading and preaching of Moses almost synonymously).

    This unique NT insight into how letters were produced and delivered gives an idea of the media culture involved.

    Can this procedure shed some light on the dynamic of the Pauline letters? The fact that both Luke and Silas were co-workers of Paul — the former as author of Acts, and the latter as one who wrote and delivered the letter, makes this more than just a conjecture. The involvement of the co-workers in this process, becomes apparent on investigation of the different roles and role-players in the production.

    Roles and role-players

    Sending communities

    Scholarship has almost unanimously moved away from Deissmann’s categorisation of some of the Pauline letters as ‘personal’. From the addresses and salutations it is evident that they were intended to be circulated to congregations. The letters are understood as communications between sending and receiving communities in the first place. In this regard the sending community consisted of the missionary team and the local congregation, both including co-workers.

  • The apostolic team.
  • The Pauline missionary team, even with its varying local composition, derived its structure from the apostolic pattern prescribed by Jesus of travelling two-by-two. This practice derives from the rule that testimony can only be accepted as valid when presented by two or three witnesses. This was adhered to by the Pauline mission, though Paul obviously was the senior partner in the team.

    It is significant that the co-workers are never described as disciples, but occasionally as co-apostles. One can, however, assume that the model of an oral teacher and his students influenced the relationship between the senior and the junior partners. As described by Marcel Jousse, discipleship meant that the disciple had to ‘digest’ the master by memorising his words and deeds and performing them. Within the context of the missionary team, Jesus was the master, and the members of the team, his disciples. Insofar as Paul, as senior partner performed the words and deeds of the master, he was also a model for his partners and the congregation.

    Almost every Pauline letter implies an apostolic team, sometimes even their names are given. Of special interest in the missionary team is Silas, a co-apostle (1 Thess 2:7), who is reported to have preached in Corinth. Originally a prophet from the Jerusalem church, he co-authored the decree of the Council and participated in its distribution to Antioch, from where he joined the mission to Greece. He is also named as co-author of the Thessalonian letters and served as scribe for 1 Peter.

  • The household church.
  • The household church from which the missionary team operated included a variety of local co-workers who participated in formulating the messages. The many greetings in the letter-ends in the present tense, point to their presence. It is difficult to establish the degree to which they actively participated in the articulation, but whether in a passive of active sense, their voices are included in the message.

    Active participation is suggested by three features of life in household churches: (a) Privacy was then, as in present Mediterranean culture and oral culture in general, unusual. Whatever happens, happens in front of other people, who feel entitled to participate. Since the average household could accommodate up to 50 persons (‘a realistic figure we can actually identify with the church in Corinth’ Ellis, 1993:885) it is difficult to envisage a situation where letters could be composed by only one or two individuals in solitary confinement. There were not only eyes and ears everywhere, but also voices. (b) The internal relations between members in household churches were less structured than that of the synagogue and can be described as ‘communitas’. This ‘refers to patterns of relationship which are marked by a high degree of participation on the part of its members and a strong sense of belonging’ (1993:885-886). This is affirmed by the egalitarian ethic of the early church. (c) The leadership style in the churches, often described as love-patriarchalism, also suggests an inclusive approach to activities, which was done before everyone and with everyone participating. Only in the final stage of deliberation the patriarchal leader(s) would articulate the consensus that was reached.

    Authorial community

    In the light of what we know of the media conventions and social structure in the background of the Pauline letter, it poins to an authorial community rather than to individual authors. As already pointed out, this authorial community consisted of the Lord, present through the Spirit, and the apostolic team together with the local house church. The authorial community that we have the most information on, appears in Romans 16:21-23 (NIV). The ‘whole church’ is included, while including Phoebe (16:1) the names of no less than eight other possible co-workers are specified:

  • Timothy, my fellow-worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives. I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.
  • The authorial voice that acts as primary focaliser in the letter, that of the love-patriarch, has to be understood as a corporative voice rather than a representative one. Though African oral culture is far removed from first century culture, the leadership style of a traditional Zulu chief (induna), might provide Westerners with an idea of the dynamic involved in patriarchal leadership. During a meeting (indaba) with the tribe’s elders, a chief is not supposed to press his personal opinions. His role is that of the articulator of the general consensus after exhaustive debate where everyone is free to express themselves fully. When the chief finally speaks, he does so with supra-individual authority and can only be contradicted at pain of punishment. His voice is understood to express the corporative voice of the tribe.

    This kind of practice is explained by Walter Ong in the light of an oral media culture. According to him the dynamism of the word requires conventions which deal differently with the concepts of solidarity and individuality than modern cultures. Expressions in oral culture are empathetic and participatory rather than expressions of individuality. This leads to a communal ethic in which society is not rule-driven, but relationship-driven. This awareness of ‘wholeness’ goes further than the communal experience. It also influences the global manner in which history and reality is constructed.

    Though there is a distance between ‘pure’ oral cultures and the media culture of first century, the norm remains not individual ingenuity but the corporative consensus of the authorial community. Seen from this perspective the explicit and implicit mention of the different degrees of co-workers and co-authors come into focus. It is not the ‘we’ in the Pauline letters that are in need of explanation, but rather the ‘I’ of the authorial voice that surfaces regularly. Whenever the authorial voice in the text deviates from the corporative norm, it is appropriate to state, ‘I, not the Lord, say …’ (1 Cor 7:12). This also explains the distance at which the authorial voice of ‘Paul’ sometimes relates personal detail (e.g., ‘I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago … 2 Cor 12:2).


    Writers as co-workers?

    Insight into first century media conventions advises us to separate the roles of author and writer. It is well-documented that many more people could read than write. To learn the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet was no problem. Reading and writing however implies much more than knowing the alphabet. Even people who could read and write, made use of scribes. Explicit evidence of a scribe, Tertius, appears in Romans 16:22. In 1 Cor 16:21, Galatians 6:11, Col 4:18, 2 Thess 3:17 and Philemon 1:19 the apostle Paul added the phrase ‘in my own hand’ indicating the authenticity of his letter. In probably all these references the implication is that he did not write down the letter. Perhaps this is also the intention of the personal emphasis in 2 Cor 10:1 (Now I, Paul, myself …). The fact that this appears even in a short letter such as Philemon makes it probable that Paul did not ‘write down’ any of the other letters associated with him.

    Once the difference between the roles of author and writer is established, the question arises as to the role of the ‘author’ in the production of the letter. How much freedom did the writer as co-worker have in formulating the manuscripted text? In Revelation we have a description of the Lord himself as ‘dictating author’ (Rev 1:1, 2:1,8 etc.). According to this report the author tells the writer exactly what to write. Spencer refers to Cicero who occasionally dictated syllable for syllable to his scribe (1984:84). Was this also a model for the Pauline letter, with the patriarch verbally dictating the complete message? This possiblility is neither contradicted nor confirmed by internal evidence. It certainly would have been possible for Paul to dictate letters from memory.

    However, there are some cogent arguments that the scribe, as co-worker, could exercise some freedom, as was the case with many letters from Cicero. The documented differences in vocabulary between the main letters and Ephesians-Colossians might be ascribed to scribal variation. The marked differences in style between 2 Corinthians, Romans, and Philippians — as researched by Spencer and related to the needs of the audiences — may also reflect scribal input. In a world of sounds, cheirographic exactness does not make sense and a dynamic rendering of the meaning expressed by the authorial community, would not be regarded as untruthful. It is also a fact that in the transmission of a message from one medium to another (from oral to manuscripted text) transformations are bound to occur. These would centre on a reduction of redundant materials, inserted explanations and the use of conventional forms relating to the letter. One would expect a scribe to smooth out ‘breaks’ in the text (a feature that is absent, e.g., in 2 Corinthians).

    In view of the high sophistication of scribal activity in intermediate manuscript culture, it would be strange if scribes did not employ the forms that they were professionally schooled in and regularly used to structure authorial instructions given by word of mouth, provided that they spoke ‘with the voice of the author.’ In the average Pauline congregation there always were some literates as well as slaves who could write. Among these were Erastus, the city official (Rom 16:23), Lydia or slaves in her service (Philippi), Crispus the ruler of the synagogue (Acts 18:8) and Luke the physician (Phlm 24, Col 4:14).

    It is significant that a pioneer of biblical orality, Werner Kelber, refers to a description in Plato to provide a context for scribal activity. In Thaetetus (143a-c) Plato describes how Euclides went about to record a conversation with Socrates. The first step consisted in Euclides putting down notes at home after the conversation. Secondly he reconstructed the conversation, writing down at leisure everything he could recall. The third step was to question Socrates himself to check his memory. In the fourth step these corrections were inserted before the manuscript was finalised.

    It is clear that the interaction between speech and writing in this procedure defies a simple description. Nevertheless, we can make some useful observations: (a) in the case of Euclides the procedure reflects a deliberate ‘literary’ activity among the intellectual elite that was unlikely for the Pauline community; (b) nevertheless, the degree of orality inscribed in the text becomes evident — the message of the "author" (Socrates) was orally formulated; the scribe merely tried to record it; (c) the scribe did not record the message mechanically, but reconstructed it from memory, thus allowing for some transformation of the oral text, e.g., removing the redundancies, homogenising the style, streamlining the arguments, etc.

    In comparison to the smooth text of Thaeteus, the Pauline letters reflect greater degree of residual orality. Whatever the exact procedure for recording was, it is clear that secretarial co-workers fulfilled an important role.



    Another role of co-workers in the transmission of letters, was that of messenger. From Acts 15 we have an example of the role of the messengers. They were more than carriers, and were required to be trustworthy believers, not only conveying the manuscripted letter, but able to explain its contents in an authoritative manner. Of impersonal professional messengers there is no trace in the letters.

    Of special interest is the messengers of the letter to the Philippians. Though Timothy is mentioned in the address as a co-author, he is later described in the third person in terms that reminds of a testimony. It is obvious that he is the intended messenger of this letter, along with Epaphroditus, of whom also a testimony is given. Both are not only to carry the written letter to the Philippians, but to confirm it by word and deed. In other words: they are to establish the presence of the authorial community as voiced by the apostle Paul. The same is most probably true for Phoebe, who is mentioned in Rom 16:1 and is by implication pointed out as the messenger conveying the letter. Thus the written letter was only one element in a much richer network of oral communications that necessitated the integral involvement of the co-workers.

    A list of messengers in the following table shows their relative importance.


  • Artemas
  • Tit 3:12
  • Brothers of the household of Chloe
  • 1 Cor 1:11
  • Corinthian church
  • 2 Cor 3:2,3
  • Epaphroditus
  • Phil 2:25 ; 4:18
  • Messengers with money collections
  • 1 Cor 16:3
  • Onesimus
  • Col 4:9; Phlm 1:12
  • Phoebe
  • Rm 16:1
  • Stephanas
  • 1 Cor 16:15-18
  • Timothy
  • 1 Cor 4:6; 16:10; 1 Th 3:6
  • Titus
  • 2 Cor 7:6,13,14; 2 Cor 8:16, 17,23; 12:18; Gl 2:1,3
  • Tychicus
  • Eph 6:21,22; Col 4:7,8; 2 Tm 4:12; Tit 3:12
  • Unnamed / once named
  • 1 Cor 5:1; 11:24; 16:17; 2 Cor 8:17,18,22; 2 Cor 12:18


    Though the messenger carrying the letter could have been the intended reader-performer as in Acts 15, it is not necessarily the case. Phoebe in Rom 16:1-2, who is implied as carrier of the letter, might also have served as performer. The same can be gathered regarding Stephanas in 1 Cor 16:15-18; Epaphroditus in Phil 2:25-30 and 4:18; and Onesimus in Phlm 10-21. The reader-performer of 2 Corinthians probably was Titus (2 Cor 8:6,16,23; 12:18) as with the previous ‘letter of tears’ (2 Cor 2:4). If so, he must have conveyed the anguish of the apostle and his team in a most effective manner.

    Performance could have included reading the letters aloud in the congregation, expanding on them where necessary. The performer had to embody the authorial voice of the sender(s). If therefore, ‘Paul’ introduces a fellow-worker, we have to assume that it has to do with the delivery and performance of the message.

    From the wider cultural setting we know that the written word was always considered to be secondary to the spoken word. The manuscripts that we have today are only secondary remnants of a much wider and richer communications event: the written letter was a ‘trace’ of the much richer orally performed message. Whereas the emotive and illocutionary power of the letters are not evident to present-day solitary and silent readers, it was presumed to be communicated by the performer to a live audience.

    Whether the messenger was indeed the reader-performer, or whether the reader-performer embellished and explained the letter while performing it, this does not alter the issue at stake: co-workers were involved in sending and receiving messages in a holistic manner.



    Another important aspect is that the whole congregation was intended as receiving audience of the apostolic letter. Evidence of this is found in the fact that when disciplined, the whole church is addressed, not individuals. In the same way, the whole church was responsible for supporting the propagation of the gospel. In receiving the message the congregation had an active duty. They had to use their spiritual gifts to discern whether it was a command from the Lord (1 Cor 14:37, 1 Thes 5:20-22).

    In some cases, co-workers from the receiving congregation were present in the authorial community during the oral production of the letter. In the case of the letter of Acts 15 Paul and Barnabas represented Antioch as receiving community during the writing of the letter in Jerusalem. Undoubtedly the same situation occurred with many of the Pauline letters. An example is the messengers from the households of Chloe and of Stephanas in Corinth who were also part of the authorial community (the latter according to 1 Cor 16:19-20 consisted of the churches of Asia, Aquila and Priscilla and the brothers). In the light of communication theory, this is a most important aspect, for the presence of their ‘voices’ supplied immediate feedback to the sending community. This enabled a formulation with much more accuracy, adding to the authority of the letter.

    The diagram below summarises the communication system of the Pauline letters. Asterisks (*) indicate possible activities by co-workers.


    *authorial community - media: the spoken word, aided participating, responding

    articulating leader- by writing in a secondary sense; audience, providing oral

    *writer - codes: apart from phonetic-linguistic code feedback through

    *messenger - also emotive-gestural-rhetorical, *reader and *messengers

    *reader-performer and literary codes

    contents: generated from collectively

  • memorised scriptural tradition;

    as applied to specific situations



    Co-workers in an oral-manuscript culture

    Information relating to the role of media culture in text production has been forthcoming since the beginning of biblical research, but with excellent studies such as those by Gamble (1995) and Niditch (1996) the larger picture is emerging only now, providing comprehensive insights into the importance of media in the systems of communication.

    An analysis of the vital role of the co-workers by means of a media-critical analysis shows how pervasive their influence was in the flow of communication that produced the Pauline letters. The point was also made that their voices have often been suppressed because of an individualist bias in modern Pauline studies. If orality-literacy theorists are correct, this bias itself is — at least partly — the result of the effect of advanced media technology in shaping modern discourse. Over many centuries the technologies of writing and information-storing have enabled a greater distanciation between human subjects and their intellectual products, which in turn enabled a greater degree of self-consciousness, the construction of individualism, and linear processes of thought.

    It is therefore the task of present scholarship to begin with a re-hearing of the texts and of the many voices they include. From a scholarly point of view, it is of course cumbersome to constantly use phrases such as ‘Paul and his co-workers’ or ‘Paul as collective author’ instead of just ‘Paul’. Scholars are therefore constantly in need of counteracting the cultural misunderstanding implicit in their descriptive apparatus.

    Re-opening some old issues

    Critical scholarship is at a point where a reduced Pauline canon of about 7-8 letters has become the norm. The conventional historical-critical paradigm is typified by questions as: ‘Did Moses write the Pentateuch? Did Paul write all the letters under his name?’ But this search for ‘Moses’ or ‘Paul’ presupposes individualist authors in the modern sense of the word. Therefore constructions built on such enquiry inevitably result in a search for the ‘true’ intentions of the creative genius, which is then contrasted to the diluted and compromised positions of his followers. One may ask whether it is scientifically feasible to move the contribution of the co-workers and their successors to the deutero-Pauline letters, while overlooking it in the ‘true’ Pauline letters. An investigation into the role of the co-workers might prove instrumental in re-opening this issue. Interpreters have to ask to what extent the myth of Paul as individualist has determined this state of affairs. If collective responsibility is the norm the proper question is rather: Why does the ‘I’ of the authorial voice occasionally surface in the text?

    In a way, our investigation leads us back to form criticism, to the ‘Urkirche’ with its ‘forms’ and ‘Sitz im Leben’ — however this time not within a historicist framework in search of the ‘original’ or ‘historical’ foundations, but within that of a systemic communications and media theory. It is in this direction that recent ‘theologies’ of Paul seem to be moving. Though J D G Dunn’s monumental work (1998) still employs an individualist discourse and lacks a clear media-critical dimension, his understanding of Pauline theology as a theology-in-dialogue (with the theologies of real people), represents a step in the right direction. The same can be said of the extensive three-volume work of Hans Hübner (1991, 1993) that takes its point of departure from the reception of the Old Testament in the New. Both these studies call out for a revaluation of the role of the co-workers, but stop short of achieving this.

    A new epistemology?

    Most of the recent disciplines such as linguistic, social scientific and literary approaches were thus far presented as an extension of the existing historical-critical paradigm. Media critical studies — involving textual criticism, source criticism and issues of literacy and orality — have also been explored within this paradigm. But media criticism introduces such radical new insights than it is on the verge of changing the epistemological paradigm altogether. Not only does it present historical enquiry with a new range of questions regarding the production, functioning and interpretation of texts, but it challenges our idea of history and consciousness itself.

    If I may venture a preliminary description of the new epistemology, it can be described as a systemic approach in which the relationship between synchronic and diachronic elements is restored, and the role of language, culture, ideology and society is articulated in a comprehensive manner. Today a number of scholars are moving in this direction. As media insights become more accepted, a new openness will develop.

    In future it is not the dominating voice of the singular apostle portrayed as ‘disembodied brain’ that has to be listened to, but also the many voices of his co-workers.



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  • Endnotes