From: Jeffrey Gibson (
Date: Wed Apr 23 1997 - 13:35:40 EDT

On Wed, 23 Apr 1997, Carl W. Conrad wrote:

> Yesterday I posted with regard to the discussion of this phrase the
> following:
> >> (2) With regard to the phrase PAQHMATA TWN hAMARTIWN I think that it
> might
> >> be worth taking into account the possibility that the word PATHHMA
> is being
> >> used, as was the word PAQOS/PAQH, in a sense akin to or even
> identical with
> >> the Stoic usage for "irrational emotions"--uncontrollable impulses.
> The
> >> objective of Stoic ethics was achievement of a condition of APAQIA,
> which
> >> doesn't mean quite what our word "apathy" does, but which
> definitely
> >> involves liberation from subjectivity to impulses that upset one's
> psychic
> >> equilibrium, among which PAQH the Stoics counted joy and grief, love
> and
> >> hatred, which emotions they deemed powerful enough to overwhelm the
> self's
> >> freedom to respond rationally. Now it seems to me that Paul's
> conception of
> >> SIN is very much like the Stoic conception of the PAQH: it is an
> enslaving
> >> power that compels human beings to do what is self-destructive and
> >> mutually-destructive. I think that such an understanding of the
> meaning of
> >> PAQHMATA may in fact underly the traditional phrasing of our
> translations
> >> of this passage: "sinful passions." And of course, there's also the
> >> principle that genitive nouns can very often be readily converted
> into
> >> adjectives qualifying the nouns to which they refer.
> To which Jeffrey Gibson responded:
> >Why go so far afield? Granted Paul may have been familiar with Stoic
> >philosphy and psychology (though how familiar he was, let
> [alone] whether he could assume his readers were sufficiently familar
   with it for an
> >argument cast within it to be comprehensible, is, however,
> >a matter of debate). But why not set Paul's explanation of how the
> >devotion to the Law enslaves within the context that we have evidence
> that
> With all due respect I think this is a somewhat naive view of the the
> impact of Greek philosophy on Hellenistic culture and especially the
> milieu in which Paul carried out his mission work both teaching and
> arguing for what he believed to be the truth. This is not a matter of
> those who heard Paul's letters read aloud to their congregations being
> well-versed in the tenets of the different philosophic schools; rather
> it is a matter of a syncretistic mixture of Platonic, Stoic and even
> Epicurean notions having an impact on the common language and, in some
> respects, patterns of thought. That Paul knew at least some of the
> basic tenets of Stoicism is clear from chapter 2 of Romans itself,
> where he argues a Stoic concept of conscience to explain why Gentiles
> know the will of God even though they don't have the Mosaic Law. Would
> his listeners have understood what he was talking about? Probably
> better than some modern readers.
> Still more important, however, is the rivalry between Paul and other
> proselytizers for the Christian gospel and the itinerant Cynic teachers
> who went among the same classes of the population looking for converts
> and operating in much the same fashion as did Paul. Abraham Malherbe
> has a fascinating study of this in his little work on 1 Thessalonians,
> _Paul and the Thessalonians: The Philosophic Tradition of Pastoral
> Care_, Fortress Press, 1987.
> This is why I don't think that understanding PAQHMATA TWN hAMARTIWN in
> terms of the irrational psychic factors overwhelming the self is going
> far afield in a letter that Paul writes to a congregation in Rome. I
> still would not insist on its being the only conceivable way to
> interpret the phrase, but I hardly think it can be deemed far-fetched.
I by no means meant to suggest that these considerations are "far
fetched". All I was saying when I asked "why go so far afield" was to
raise the issue of which of the two proposals for interpreting
the terminology of Rom 7 - Stoic psychological views or the tradition
of Zeal for the Law and Paul's firsthand knowledge of what Zeal can do
in misdirecting one's obedience to God - seemed *the more likely* especially
given (1) that Paul in Rom 7 is (in my reading of the text) arguing about
the corrupting influenece of Sin to turn obedience into disobedience and
(2) that Paul's explicit testimony elsewhere - and
in letters which have similar themes as Romans - is that his own
experience of Sin was bound up not with internal
struggles or an "introspective conscience", but with his certainty
that obedience meant following the path of Zeal, a path that he now
realizes caused him to be an enemy of God and to frustrate the very
purposes that with all of his heart, mind, and soul he had dedicated
himself to advancing.

There is the question, too, (though it is a side issue to the point I am
trying to elucidate here) about whether the earlier chapers of Romans
show direct borrowing from Stoicism or from the Wisdom of Solomon. If the
latter, then Paul is still working from within a Jewish (albeit admittedly a
Hellenized Jewish) context for his arguments in Romans.

How familiar Paul was with the tenents of Stoicism or how much impact the
Greek philosophical tradition had upon Paul and his circle,
let alone whether I am naive about how pervasive Stoicim (or Cynicism)
was in 1 CE, isn't really the question here, is it?

Jeffrey Gibson

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:13 EDT