Giving And Receiving In Paul’s Epistles’ -- By: Gerald W. Peterman

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 44:1 (NA 1993)
Article: Giving And Receiving In Paul’s Epistles’
Author: Gerald W. Peterman


Giving And Receiving In Paul’s Epistles’1

Gerald W. Peterman

This thesis treats Greco-Roman social conventions regarding reciprocity and the extent to which the apostle Paul accepted or rejected these conventions. Special attention is given to Paul’s financial relationship with the Philippian church as seen in Philippians 4:10-20. Several other passages are studied which help to illustrate and expand on the conclusions drawn from the Philippian material.

It is suggested in the Introduction that for a proper understanding of Paul’s financial relationships with his churches the relevant New Testament documents must be studied in their social context. Further, in order to understand the social conventions of giving and receiving in the ancient world, one must establish a model of interaction based on the relevant ancient documents.

Chapter 2 illustrates the conventions of giving and receiving with texts from the Old Testament and selected Jewish literature, demonstrating that social reciprocity has roots in the ancient Jewish world as well as in the Greco-Roman world. From the texts surveyed in this chapter several conclusions are drawn. First, in the Old Testament the giving of material help to those in need is considered praiseworthy and deserving of reward. Didactic texts in particular make this clear (Deut. 14:29, 15:10, 24:19). These texts also assert that Yahweh is the one who will reward the giver. He plays a special role in the transaction between the giver and the receiver, making it not bipolar but triangular (Prov. 19:17).

Secondly, social reciprocity, the obligation to respond to a gift or good deed, not only with verbal gratitude, but also with material gratitude (a counter-gift or favour), can be detected in the Old Testament, especially in narrative texts (cf. 1 Sam. 25). Yet this social expectation is not taught, even in

didactic texts. There is thus a point of tension between the taught and the practised morality.

Thirdly, in later Jewish literature social reciprocity as a convention is not only described but prescribed quite explicitly. In Ben Sirach, Philo and Josephus, the expectation of a return for good is quite clear. The one who receives the goodwill of another, goodwill that is seen in a favour or gift, is obligated to return goodwill in the same form. Consequently, there is rea...

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