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“A Polite Bribe”: The Screening and Discussion

March 11, 2014

After considerable technical difficulty arising from the lack of fit between our projection equipment and Orlando’s movie as formatted, we managed to find a way to screen “A Polite Bribe” last Friday afternoon here in New College.  (It appears that our projection equipment is a bit too old for the type of formats he uses.)  Thanks to one of our PhD students with a spiffy, up-to-date laptop, however, we were able to get it going.

As mentioned in previous postings, the film (ca. 85 minutes length) narrates the life of Paul as apostle, with lots of “talking heads” comments by a galaxy of scholars (some of them obviously enjoying a lot the chance to perform before a camera!).  The focus, however, is on the tensions between Paul and Jerusalem believers over the terms on which gentile believers in Jesus were to be treated as full co-religionists by Jewish believers.

Some in the Jerusalem church insisted that gentiles should effectively complete their profession of faith by adopting Jewishness also, involving a commitment to Jewish Torah-observance in addition to their faith in Jesus.  Paul, however, insisted equally firmly that this was wrong-headed, and that, instead, God was now welcoming gentiles into Abraham’s family as gentiles, without them having to become Jewish.

Paul could be quite pointed in his view of those Jewish believers who demanded that gentile believers “Judaize”:  e.g., calling them “false brothers” (Gal. 2:4), and (mockingly) “super apostles” (2 Cor. 11:5) and (quite bitterly) “false apostles, deceitful workers” and even ministers of Satan (2 Cor. 11:13-15).  We should, thus, suppose that these people likely referred to him in negative terms too, which must have helped to generate Paul’s own ire toward them.

But Paul was also obviously concerned to maintain a genuine mutual recognition and acceptance between him and his churches on the one hand and the Jerusalem leaders and Judean churches on the other hand.  The largest indication of this was his prolonged project to take up a financial collection from his churches that would be presented to the Jerusalem church, as an expression of religious solidarity.  Paul refers to this project in several letters (1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1–9:15; Rom. 15:22-33; and, as I hold, also in Gal. 2:10), indicating how much it meant to him.  He likely spent several years on the project.  It is intriguing that in his final reference to it, in Romans 15:22-33, he expresses some anxiety over what may happen when he goes with the offering to Jerusalem.

The “unbelievers in Judea” (or “disobedient ones,” ἀπειθούντων) were likely Jewish religious zealots who rejected the gospel (similarly to his own zealous opposition to Judean churches prior to the “revelation” that turned him around).  But Paul’s anxiety included also worry that his “service for Jerusalem” might not be accepted by the church there.  The reason for this is that acceptance of the offering would mean the Jerusalem church accepting fully Paul’s churches, and Paul’s gentile mission.  Given the tensions in the Jerusalem church at that time, Paul didn’t know what the outcome would be.

I won’t spoil the film for you by giving out too much more about the line taken in it.  But it does serve to underscore the tensions in earliest Christian circles over the terms of gentile inclusion into the early Jesus-movement, and over Paul in particular.  The film takes a particular line on some matters, expressing (in my view) more confidence in some things than may be warranted.  But it certainly makes vivid the figure of Paul and the issues that he faced.

The film will likely provoke some good questions, and is best shown with an opportunity for discussion after the screening (preferably with one or more competent to offer informed comment).  One question that emerged in our screening illustrated how the film can be used to teach:  One person in our audience expressed puzzlement that the film portrayed Paul in conflict with, and in danger from, some who were effectively fellow “Christians,” whereas the questioner thought that Paul’s conflict was with “Jews”.

This afforded the opportunity to clarify some important things.  Among them, Paul was, and remained, a Jew in his ethnic identity, and the Jerusalem believers likewise were Jews, who continued to identify themselves as members of their nation.  Of course, Paul and Jerusalem believers were absolutely convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, and that confessing him as God’s Messiah and unique “Son” is requisite of all, including fellow Jews.  But their Jesus-devotion didn’t erase their self-identity as Jews as well.  As for Paul, his repeated willingness to submit to synagogue floggings (2 Cor. 11:24) powerfully demonstrated his determination to remain a member of his nation, and makes his professions of concern about the rejection of the gospel by fellow Jews in Romans 9–11 entirely genuine.

As I’ve indicated, among fellow Jewish believers-in-Jesus were some who regarded Paul’s gentile mission as wrong-headed and against what they saw as scriptural teaching and God’s purposes.  Indeed, they may also have feared that Paul’s gentile mission would exacerbate (for them) tensions with the larger Jewish community in a period when religious-zealot attitudes seem to have been hardening.

So, all in all, for “lay” viewers, “A Polite Bribe” can be an informative and provocative film.  It will certainly help today’s Christians to realize that sharply different views of God’s purposes, different theological perspectives among Christians, are nothing new!

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34 Comments
  1. Michael Brugge permalink

    I can think of a relevant difference between AD 49 and AD 56. In AD 49, the Christians were still covered by the Jewish exemption to Roman Religious law. By AD 56 this coverage had been revoked by Nero.

    • Michael: I’m afraid that you claim more than we know. Nero persecuted Christians in Rome, but that was after 56 CE, and there is no evidence of the blanket edict such as you posit.

  2. Donald Jacobs permalink

    I particularly enjoyed Matthew Novenson’s brief comments about the difficulty of constructing a narrative for Paul given that the Pauline epistles are earlier, and presumed more reliable, yet offer scant narrative; whereas the book of Acts presents a narrative but is judged less trustworthy. That’s a bright young scolar you have got there. I looked up his publications and was tempted to buy “Christ among the Messiah’s” were it not for the price tag. On the feasibility of using Acts as a historical source at all I recently read an interesting book called “The Mystery of Acts” by Richard Pervo. If his views are accepted then the book of Acts was not even intended to be read as ‘history’, and is virtually useless as a source for the period which it purports to narrate, including the life of Paul. So what is a historian to do? My wife and I enjoyed the video and presentation after. Thanks for putting it on, in particular in view of the difficulties.

    • Donald,

      Thanks for the follow up.

      1) Your point raises an essential question about critical scholarship under any guise and established history or understanding: is it rightful to challenge or update the more conventional understanding of history when one might have some brute facts largely unknown (collection)? But in order for those accepted new facts to form a new narrative, or a tweak the older ideas, some of the lesser known facts need to be filled in? 2) I think the answer is yes, because there would be no progression to history or New testament study unless these incomplete steps were taken with leaps and all. Could Luther make his claims about Reformed thinking on absolutely known grounds in the face of conventional (Catholic) understanding? 3) Whether a letter or a tract was meant to be read as formal history in the modern sense is somewhat irrelevant, if the content records actual events or “parts of history.” In Acts 21 Luke writes that Agabus the prophet tries to warn Paul NOT to go to Jerusalem or he will be killed. Whether formal or not, Luke is obviously making a strong point… Paul’s death (near) in Jerusalem was foretold!

      In my book, I delve much more deeply into the logic behind these arguments and the sources they are found in that help establish the new Pauline narrative.

      Thanks again.

      RobO

  3. I might add to your reply that in our post screening discussion in Edinburgh Larry was making some points that do NOT exist in the book or film, but would have made an even stronger case for A Polite Bribe’s perspective. I hope he will continue to explore these themes in his own work!

  4. Caio Peres permalink

    Thanks for sharing that. I wonder if you’ve read Bruce Longenecker’s position on Galatians 2.10 and if so, why do you still see it as relating to Paul’s collection to Jerusalem.

    • I know that there are some who don’t see Gal 2:10 as referring to Paul’s collection mentioned in his other letters. I’m not persuaded. I’ve given reasons for my view in this journal article: Larry W. Hurtado, “The Jerusalem Collection and the Book of Galatians,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, no. 5 (1979): 46-62.

      • fellowsrichard permalink

        Larry, in your 1979 paper you give a very perceptive interpretation of Gal 2:10: Paul was challenging the Galatians’ view that his collection for Jerusalem shows that he was subservient to the Jerusalem church leaders. I think others have recognized that your observations here have merit. Your view requires, of course, that the start of the collection was before the writing of Galatians. The problem is that no-where in the letter does Paul encourage the Galatians to contribute to the collection or express disappointment at their refusal to contribute, or anything like that. You attempt to solve this problem by suggesting that Gal 6:6-10 IS an exhortation to participate in the collection, but commentators have (rightly, I think) found your interpretation of this passage unpersuasive. I fear that they have then thrown out your 2:10 baby with your 6:6-10 bath water, which is a pity. I put it to you that the conundrum has another solution: Galatians contains no encouragement to donate because the collection from Galatia was already history when Paul wrote his letter. This also explains why there is no mention of the Galatians in Rom 15:26. Paul collected money from Galatia immediately after his Jerusalem visit of Gal 2:1-10 (=Acts 15), which was some 7 years before he collected money from Macedonia and Achaia. Each province was only once urged to give.

        Incidentally, Larry, I do not see your take on 2:10 as being necessarily so far from Bruce Longenecker’s. Paul and the pillars independently decided that new churches should give (e.g. to the poor in Judea), just as Antioch had already done, because, while they were exempt from the requirement of circumcision, they were not exempt from the Jewish requirement of charitable giving.

      • Well, I grant that my proposal that Gal 6:6-10 hasn’t persuaded many other scholars. But I would counter that the alternative proposals lack probative force: One tends to find commentators saying that these verses were simply Paul adding some general exhortations with no specific purpose or point. I find that to be more indicative of exegetical failure! In this highly disputatious letter, fiery in energy and purpose, why would Paul then wind up with some general exhortations (e.g., support your local minister)?
        Paul does refer to the Galatians taking part in the collection in 1 Cor 16:1, the same collection he was raising in Greece, the same collection that went to Jerusalem (Rom 15).

      • fellowsrichard permalink

        Larry, you wrote “Paul does refer to the Galatians taking part in the collection in 1 Cor 16:1, the same collection he was raising in Greece, the same collection that went to Jerusalem (Rom 15).” Please provide some evidence that the collection from Galatia, which Paul mentions in 1 Cor 16:1, had not been completed years before Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Paul is trying to persuade the Corinthians to set money aside on a weekly basis at home. 1 Cor 16:1 may well serve Paul’s purpose of reassuring the Corinthians that this collection procedure has been tried and tested in Galatia. This works best if the collection from Galatia was known to be a past event. I raised this point on your blog here, and I raise it again because you again make the same assumption that the Galatians’ collection was simultaneous with the collection from Macedonia and Achaia.

        The issue is an important one, not least because the speculation of a causal link between Gal 2:10 and the collection from Macedonia and Achaia is weakened if Gal 2:10 refers to a much earlier collection.

        I admit that I find Gal 6:6-10 ambiguous.

      • Richard: I try not to make idle assumptions. I make judgements, which often means inferences based on data. You may disagree, and prefer different inferences. So, can we leave off accusations of “assumptions”? Regarding 1 Cor 16:1, my inference is based on the Greek: Paul refers to “THE collection for the saints” (περι δε της λογειας), and I take the Greek definite article to suggest one collection, instructions about which Paul says he has given already to the Galatian churches.
        Gal 6:6-10 is open to argument, to be sure. A superior hypothesis is one that makes the best use of the data. Mine is specific. The others tend to be weak proposals that at the end of the letter Paul drifted into some general exhortations unrelated to the rest of the letter.

      • In response to Richard Fellows, it is also important to keep in mind that your proposal about Galatians is made stronger by the context of the overall Pauline corpus, the time line, and the Apostle’s main themes. When we move past the “single book theory” of Galatians and see the messaging in the network of Paul’s mission to collect funds and spread the gospel, your reasoning is not only sound, but provides a missing piece to the Pauline puzzle.

      • Caio Peres permalink

        Bruce Longenecker in Engaging Economics and more importantly in Remember the Poor deals more with the question of “the poor”, “ebionites” and the impossibility of these terms being used to refer to the Jerusalem christians. But he also raise some important questions, like what would be Paul’s purpose to describe that meeting and that agreement (Gl 2.1-10), if financial help to the Jerusalem church would be the case? Longenecker believes that would not make sense at all. But if “the poor” would really be the poor, then it makes sense to the overall purpose of the letter, as questions of almsgivins and greed were real matters between jews and gentiles. Longenecker also relates Gl 2.10 to 6.6-10. He quotes you on p. 215-216 of Remember the Poor and argues that a christian morality demonstrated in the provision of support for those in economic hardship makes more sense than a Jerusalem-centric interpretation. Again, thank you very much for your attention and engagement in discussing this.

      • Thanks. In my 1979 article I laid out a proposal for why the reference to the reference to the offering in Gal 2:10 was there, even necessary. I haven’t persuaded Bruce L., but we’re friends anyway!

      • fellowsrichard permalink

        Thanks, Larry. I agree that “τῆς λογείας” suggests that only one collection is in view in 1 Cor 16:1a. Paul begins with the phrase “Περὶ δὲ”, indicating that he is responding to a question that the Corinthians had posed in their letter to him: “Now, concerning the collection (that you asked about)”. The fact that “τῆς λογείας” is singular therefore indicates only that the Corinthians had enquired about only their collection. Unsurprisingly, they had not enquired about any earlier collection. But this tells us nothing about whether Paul is referring to the same collection or a different collection in 16:1b, does it?

        The president of the International Olympic Committee might write to the mayor of Rio “Now, concerning the opening ceremony, do as I instructed London…”. This does not imply that the opening ceremony of the London 2012 olympics was simultaneous with the opening ceremony of Rio 2016. So I am still puzzled why you infer that the Galatian collection was contemporary with the Corinthian collection.

        Concerning Gal 6:6-10, we should not be surprised to find Paul urging his readers to support the local church leaders whom he had appointed (Acts 14:23). The churches that Paul had founded, for which we have letters, are Corinth, Thessalonica, Philippi, and Galatia. In each case Paul discusses relations with local church leaders (1 Cor 16:15-18; 1 Thess 5:12-13; Phil 4:2-3; Gal 6:6-10?). And in each case the discussion comes near the end of the letter (I don’t know why). So maybe the commentators are right to suppose that the local church leaders are in view in Gal 6:6-10.

      • If you insist on reading 1 Cor 16 in this manner, you’re free to do so. But just understand that it’s your need to read it that way that makes it so.
        And, yes, anything is possible. Paul could suddenly have fell into some general exhortations at the end of Galatians. I suspect otherwise. I think we’ve discussed this enough here.

      • fellowsrichard permalink

        Larry,

        You say, that there was tension between Paul and the Judean churches and that the collection was designed to ease that tension as well as aid the poor. Fair enough. Why, then, would Paul have delayed the collection from Galatia until ~8 years after he and the pillars had the idea? Paul was already “eager” to “remember the poor” in ~48 A.D., and the Aegean collection was made in ~56 A.D.. Why would Paul not have organized a collection from Galatia in 49 A.D.? It seems to me that the reasons for the collection would have pertained in 49 just as much as in 56. How is the data to be explained on your view that the Galatian collection was requested for ~56? The poor could not wait 8 years, and neither could the need to reconcile the Judaizing faction with the Gentile churches.

      • A reasonable question. If, as I think (and I’m not alone), the Jerusalem collection was (for Paul) an/the important project to cement mutual acceptance/recognition of the Jerusalem church and his gentile-mission, it was important that his churches all participate and do so collectively. I.e., this was not (in my view) some ad hoc gesture, or simply a charity/benevolence action. Joachim Jeremias (I believe) proposed that the project occupied about 7 yrs, and may have been timed to be delivered during a “Sabbath year” (when fields were to be left fallow and so prices of grain would have been higher, and the offering most useful, and more difficult to turn down).

      • fellowsrichard permalink

        Wacholder’s Sabbatical year chronology seems to have the support of the majority of specialists nowadays. It places a Sabbatical year in 55/56. Yes, Larry, this coincides with Paul’s last collection. He would have needed to deliver it before the harvest of 57. Now, there was also a Sabbatical year 7 years earlier in 48/49. The need at this time was probably particularly acute because the recent famine would have prevented the Judeans from storing grain in preparation for the harvest-free year. So if the Sabbatical year explains the timing of Paul’s last collection, we should strongly suspect that he organized a collection in 49 too. It is very hard to place the request of Gal 2:10 after the Sabbatical year of 48/49. All the hypothesized motivations for the 55/56 collection from Achaia and Macedonia apply equally to Galatia in 49.

        Yes, whenever Paul organized a collection for Judea he may well have wanted all the Gentile churches that existed at the time to make a contribution, if only a symbolic contribution in some cases. Thus Galatia and Asia may have been represented symbolically by Gaius of Derbe, Tychicus, and Trophimus, while Achaia and Macedonia were the main donors. But this does not explain why he would have missed the opportunity to make a collection in 49. He did not delay the collection from Achaia and Macedonia until after he had evangelized Spain, so why would he delay his collection from Galatia for 7 years?

        If Gal 2:10 refers (indirectly) to Paul’s last collection, then Galatians must have been written during the “3rd missionary journey”. To my mind this is unlikely because the Galatians’ misinformation that Paul was preaching circumcision (Gal 5:11) would have been cleared up by then. 5:11 is best explained if Paul was writing during the “2nd missionary journey” and was correcting confusion that arose in Galatia as a result of his recent circumcision of Timothy.

      • Richard: Your views are noted and raise reasonable observations (reflecting those often cited in commentaries, etc.). There are, as often the case, several points to align in posing a configuration of things from which to draw a conclusion. One is the dating of Galatians (which may be early or mid-mission). But another point is how you understand the collection(s). Acts 11:27-30 mentions a collection from the Antioch church as famine relief for the Jerusalem church. If taken as a valid report, we must date it. But Paul’s collection mentioned in his letters seems much broader in scope (participation of churches in various provinces), much longer in preparation, and much more anxiety-ridden (see esp. Rom 15). Anyway, your position is noted. I think we’ve exhausted the matter here.

    • Friends,

      I briefly mentioned these verses in our post screening discussion in Edinburgh, but I think they do support some of the basic themes of film (and book), namely that Paul had access to money, that the money could be a source of influence, and that Luke was aware of Paul’s influence, which makes it even more curious as to why he does not mention the money (bribe?) in his trip to Jerusalem (Acts 21).

      RobO

      Acts 24:24-26

      24 A few days later, Felix sent for Paul and gave him an opportunity to speak about faith in the Anointed One. Felix was accompanied by his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. 25 As Paul spoke of justice, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix became fearful.

      Felix: That’s enough for now. When I have time, I will send for you again.

      26 They had a number of conversations of this sort; “but Felix actually was hoping that, by having frequent contact with him, Paul might offer him a bribe.”

  5. Did the people in Jerusalem who differed from Paul the leaders of the church – the ones who had known Jesus personally?

    Your mention of Romans 9-11 is interesting. Romans 10 is quite clear about why Jews had not accepted the Gospel.’And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?’

    • Steven: Among those who “had known Jesus personally” were Peter/Kephas, and James (Jesus’ brother), and John (Zebedee), with whom Paul says he had an understanding (Gal. 2:1-10), and those who opposed him did so because of their very different vision of the terms of gentile inclusion. Knowing Jesus “personally” had nothing to do with it.
      Oh, and in Romans 10, you need to read the entire passage, which includes Paul’s affirmation that Israel has indeed heard (vv. 18ff.). Paul’s lament in Rom 9–11 is over the refusal of the main body of fellow Jews to accept Jesus as Messiah, an attitude that he regarded as a “hardening” and a veiled mind (2 Cor 3:12–4:6).

      • If Paul had no problem with the leaders of the Jerusalem church (Peter, James, John), then what was his problem with the Jerusalem church? Why would he worry about people who weren’t leaders? Why not just tell them to follow what Peter, James and John were saying?

        Indeed, Paul does say that Israel has indeed now heard of Jesus. After all Christians had been sent to preach about him, but many Jews refused to accept what Christians were saying about Jesus (including obviously , many Jews in Jerusalem)

      • I said that Paul had an agreement with the Jerusalem leaders, not that there weren’t any tensions or potential problems, Steven. And we aren’t talking about some military rule, or monarchical bishops either. There were strong voices referring to Paul as a “law-breaker” and opposing him, including a number inside the church of Jerusalem. He mentions a “hypocrisy” of Peter & even Barnabas as well in the Antioch incident discussed in Gal 2, when they seemed to him to cave into pressure from those who took a harder line on gentiles. So, as he prepared to go to Jerusalem he couldn’t know where things then stood.

  6. smith melvyn permalink

    Dear Larry, How can I get hold of *A Polite bribe*? I can’t find it on Amazon.

  7. I did not get a chance to watch the movie. However, I have been thinking recently about the terms of Gentiles inclusion in the gospels, especially the gospel of Matthew. I was just wondering how the gospel of Matthew portrait the inclusion of Gentiles in to his community, for the community seems holds strictly the terms of Judaism. Is Matthew tries to correct some of Paul’s mission endeavor?

    • Well, we first have to decide whether the Gospel of Matthew was written for a particular “community” (Richard Bauckham would have something to say about that). And if it was, which type of “community”? An essentially Jewish one (e.g., Saldarini) or one that was more distinguished from the larger Jewish community (e.g., Stanton)? In any case, as I read Matt 5–7, we don’t have “strictly the terms of Judaism”, at least as we know it, but instead very much a Jesus-defined form of observance of God’s will and “righteousness”. And the inclusion of gentiles, thus, along with Jews, was an inclusion into a type of faith/life at which Jesus was the lordly centre.

  8. adrift98 permalink

    Prof Hurtado, Thanks for the review on this doc. I look forward to seeing it.

    I’m not sure this is the place for it, but could you expound on the point you made about Paul and his repeated willingness to submit to synagogue floggings? Was it that he could have avoided these floggings either by running away/hiding, or circumventing them as a Roman citizen? If he were to avoid the floggings would that have been considered something like him thumbing his nose at the 2nd temple establishment? What would have been the repercussions? Does the honor-shame dynamic play into this at all, like would it have been considered shameful within the Jewish community for him NOT to have submitted himself to flogging? Anyways, thanks for piquing my curiosity on this subject. Not something I ever really though too much about before.

    • The flogging in question (“40 lashes less one”) derived from Deut. 25:2-3, 39 lashes given to avoid the penalty there of exceeding 40, became a punishment that could be applied to Jews found guilty of some serious offence, but who wished still to be part of the Jewish community. For rabbinic discussion, see Mishnah, tractate Makkoth.
      Jews had to submit to the punishment. The alternative was to forsake their Jewish community-identity and recognition.

      • adrift98 permalink

        Wow. Pretty stringent repercussions. Thank you for taking the time to answer!

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