(This post is a follow-on to Who Wrote That? Verbal Affinities Between the Lukan Prologue and Acts.)
In the comments section of the previous post, Squirrelloid asked, “I’m curious, have you also compared to the Pauline corpus as reconstructed for Marcion to see if the affinities you find are not present using his presumably less redacted versions?”
With respect to the Lukan Prologue, one difficulty in finding statistically meaningful affinities outside of Luke/Acts is the rarity of many of the words. The author used a good many (NT) hapax legomena, no doubt because he was trying to sound more like Polybius than the LXX. And those words that aren’t unique are often found only in Acts (or perhaps Luke). We’re going to have to go farther afield than the prologue to find anything convincing regarding the Pauline epistles.
Servants of God
At least one curious exception to the above disclaimer is the word for “servant” in Luke 1:2.
ὑπηρέται (hypēretai) – “servants, officers, attendants” — As we pointed out before, the author of the prologue uses this term when speaking about “eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” The gospels generally use this word to denote an officer under the charge of a hostile group. Hence, we have “officers of the Jews” seizing Jesus and binding him in John 18:12. I think many times you could translate it as “henchmen.”
Paul, of course, when he talks about servants of Christ, prefers the word for slave — δοῦλος (doulos). The one exception to the rule is in 1 Corinthians 4:1.
First the Greek (SBLGNT):
Οὕτως ἡμᾶς λογιζέσθω ἄνθρωπος ὡς ὑπηρέτας Χριστοῦ καὶ οἰκονόμους μυστηρίων θεοῦ.
And then the English (NASB):
Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Here Paul (or whoever wrote the passage) is using officer/servant instead of slave/servant for the first and only time in the entire corpus. Interestingly, he’s using it in a sentence with a formulaic designation for the followers of Jesus. They are servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Yet, if it is a formula, it is the only time we find it in the NT; nor do we find its constituent parts. In other words, the exact phrases “ὑπηρέτας Χριστοῦ (servants of Christ) and “οἰκονόμους μυστηρίων θεοῦ (stewards of the mysteries of God)” never occur anywhere in the Bible except for 1 Corinthians 4:1.
Stewards of the Mysteries of God
Let us consider the word for steward.
οἰκονόμος (oikonomos) — “steward, manager” — This word appears in the Pauline corpus (including the pastorals, namely Titus) and in the first epistle of Peter. However, among the evangelists only the author (or redactor) of Luke uses this word. In fact, Luke likes the word so much, he sometimes changes slave (δοῦλος) to steward. For example, when Matthew recounts the parable of the faithful and wise servant, he calls him a slave, while Luke calls him a steward. This change clearly reflects an editorial preference by the later author who is almost certainly Luke (unless one wants to argue that Matthew edited Q, while Luke left it intact).
The verses start out almost exactly the same.
Τίς ἄρα ἐστὶν ὁ πιστὸς δοῦλος καὶ φρόνιμος ὃν κατέστησεν ὁ κύριος . . .?
Who then is the faithful and wise slave whom the lord has set . . .?
. . . Τίς ἄρα ἐστὶν ὁ πιστὸς οἰκονόμος, ὁ φρόνιμος, ὃν καταστήσει ὁ κύριος . . .?
. . . Who then is the faithful and wise steward whom the lord will set . . .?
It would appear that Paul and Luke approve of the term steward, and differentiate between servants who merely perform work and those who are entrusted to act as caretakers.
Stewards of the Mysteries of Serapis?
Finally, some of you may own the “other” Did Jesus Exist? book — the one by G. A. Wells. You may recall that he wrote this provocative line without a clear citation: “Witt observes that the importance of Hellenistic mystery religions for Christianity appears from such passages, and from Paul’s designation of himself and his fellows as ‘stewards of the mysteries of God’ (1 Cor 4:1) — the technical name for the stewards of the temples of Serapis.” (p. 41, emphasis mine)
I had a great deal of trouble finding a reference that corroborates this quote. In fact, I thought it may have been a mistake, a confusion of terms. In a paper published in the Dec. 1958 Journal of Biblical Literature, John Reumann writes, “Texts from the Eleusis and Delphi do talk about ‘chosen stewards of the mysteries,’ but the term is always ἐπιλεμηταί, not oikonomoi. Although many titles are vouched for in Greek temple administration, okonomos does not seem to be among them, let alone the specific phrase, ‘steward of the mysteries of God.’” (“Stewards of God”: Pre-Christian Religious Oikonomos in Greek” –JBL, Vol. 77, No. 4, pp. 340)
So the actual source of the term “stewards of the mysteries of God” remains somewhat unclear, although Reumann points out that Oscar Cullmann’s approach was to define oikonomia as a “plan” of salvation based on Christ. The author then cites an interesting decree from Magnesia dated to the early second century CE, in which sacrificial chores of okonomoi of the Sarapis [sic] cult are enumerated (see p. 343). So it’s possible that this is where Wells got the idea.
What’s confusing is that Wells appears to be specifically linking the mystery cult of Serapis to Paul’s conception of Christianity by focusing on the term “steward.” However, the stewards of Serapis appear to be no different from the other stewards of pagan cults — protecting and tending the place of worship, overseeing sacrifices, performing other duties as needed, etc. Further, an oikonomos could be either a governmental or a religious official. It just referred to “a guy who takes care of stuff.”
If somebody out there reading this knows the actual quote from Dr. R. E. Witt to which Wells is referring, please let us know.
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