Family Matters In Thessalonica -- By: Trevor J. Burke

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 52:2 (NA 2001)
Article: Family Matters In Thessalonica
Author: Trevor J. Burke


Family Matters In Thessalonica1

Trevor J. Burke

Recent insights of classical historians concerning the family in antiquity have generated interest in the relationship between the ancient family as a social institution and the notion of early Christian communities as ‘families’ or fictive kinship groups. This thesis combines these twin aspects—the family as social reality and metaphor—in order to explore the relations between Paul and the Thessalonians and the Thessalonians’ relations to one another. An in-depth investigation of 1 Thessalonians is justified since it is here that we find a heavy preponderance of fictive-kinship terms (e.g. father, child, nursing-mother, brother. etc.).

Chapter 1 reviews the most recent literature where attention is drawn to the brief consideration of Paul’s familial metaphors within the broader social context of Pauline Christianity. As a result, some scholars (e.g. Meeks et al.) assume that the terms ‘brother’/‘sister’ are an indication that Paul’s earliest communities are non-hierarchical in structure. Others (e.g. Castelli) argue that the apostle’s use of the expression ‘father’ is solely understood in hierarchical terms and takes little account of the composite nature of such a role. The need to situate the above family expressions in their proper socio-historical milieu and the implications this might have for Pauline usage/meaning have largely been overlooked.

The theoretical base undergirding this study, that of ‘metaphor theory’, is then set out. Drawing on the insights of linguists (e.g. Lakoff and Johnson) a basic working definition for metaphor is established. A cognitive approach to metaphor is pursued where metaphor is defined as understanding and experiencing one thing in terms of another kind of experience. On the basis of this definition, it is highly likely that Paul is drawing on a familiar source field (the family in antiquity) to describe Christian relations as a family. In order to grasp the sense of the familial metaphors that the apostle employs, the emphasis was upon how these terms would have been

heard and understood in the ancient world. Here the focus is on the presuppositions or normal social expectations of family members in antiquity.

An intensive survey of parent–child relations in the ancient world is carried out in chapters 2 and 3. A broad range of sources, literary and non-literary, are studied to ascertain the stereotypical attitudes of household members. Literary sources include Jewish (Philo, Josephus, Pseudo-Phocylides) and non-Jewish (Aristotle, Plutarch, Seneca, Musonius Rufus, Hierocles, and Epictetus) a...

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