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Jonathan Moo Reflects on His Father & Pauline Parent Metaphors — An Excerpt from "Studies in the Pauline Epistles"

Categories New Testament

9780310494805At the 66th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, we were pleased to present (and surprise) Doug Moo with a festschrift honoring his scholarly contributions.

Through a blend of sixteen former students, colleagues, and prominent Pauline scholars, Studies in the Pauline Epistles honors the contributions of a man by contributing to the ongoing scholarship in the two areas that most define Moo's work: Bible translation and Pauline studies. Sections include: Exegeting Paul; Paul's Use of Scripture and the Jesus Tradition; Pauline Scholarship and His Contemporary Significance.

Below we've excerpted a special essay by Moo's son Jonathan. In it he reflects on Paul’s use of parent metaphors to describe his relationship with the churches he "fathered," while reflecting on his own father's relationship with his family.

Enjoy these reflections by a son on the work of his father, which not only give insight into Moo's character, but 1 Corinthians 4:15–16, too. Then add to your reading list this outstanding collection of scholars writing “as a tribute to Doug’s valuable contributions to New Testament studies.” (18)

"Of Parents and Children: 1 Corinthians 4:15–16 and Life in the Family of God"

By Jonathan A. Moo

Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. (1 Cor 4:15 – 16)

As a child, I loved traveling with my father on his frequent preaching visits to churches around northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. It was a chance to spend time with my dad, to see the countryside along the way, and — if I was lucky — to get doughnuts before or after the service. But I was not necessarily excited about sitting through the service itself. During one visit to a large, formal church when I was around five, I got the idea, sitting by myself in the front pew, to pass the time by copying every hand gesture my father made while preaching. I began cautiously, but soon I was waving my arms and gesturing dramatically in exaggerated imitation of what I saw my father doing. I was not aware of the entertainment this provided to the congregation sitting behind me . . . or of the challenge it presented to my father, who tried with only limited success to keep his arms firmly by his side for the duration of his message.

It is natural for young children to imitate their parents. And the expectation that older children will follow in the steps of their parents, though stronger and more widespread in the Greco-Roman culture of Paul’s day, still endures. Growing up, I occasionally encountered those who assumed I would study Greek and the New Testament (and haven’t I shown them!), and in seminary I was more than once asked to defend my father’s views on “Paul and the Law” as if they were my own.

Such expectations may have grated on me as a teenager and a graduate student, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve found myself again hoping to imitate my father. I could do no better than to emulate his careful, insightful, and humble attention to Scripture, the respect with which he treats those who hold views different from his own, his ability to articulate clearly and fairly opposing arguments, and above all his commitment not only to apply himself wholly to the text but always to apply the text wholly to himself (as an engraving that my mother made for his office, echoing the words of Bengel, has reminded him and visitors for as long as I can remember).

Above all, his love and care for my brothers and sisters and me has always made it clear that we were far more important to him than his work, his scholarship, or his status in the academy. I am immensely thankful that he never sacrificed family for ambition or relationships for recognition. This essay is therefore offered in appreciation for my dad, who has represented to me and my siblings — and, I trust, to many others to whom he is a spiritual father in the gospel — the sort of loving father whom Paul considers to mark life in the family of God.

Parents: Power, Authority, and Love

Paul’s use of parent metaphors to describe his relationship with the churches he founded has received a fair amount of scholarly attention in recent decades, although much of this has been focused on the interesting mix of images — mother, child, and father — that he employs to describe his relationship with the Thessalonians in 1 Thess 2:7 – 12. Trevor J. Burke’s monograph Family Matters: A Socio-Historical Study of Kinship Metaphors in 1 Thessalonians helpfully surveys much of this research up until 2003 and provides an extensive analysis of how parent, children, and sibling relationships were understood in the ancient world.1 What stands out in his examination is the unquestioned and nearly limitless authority that parents — fathers in particular — were expected to have over their children. Moreover, this expectation was as prevalent in Jewish contexts as it was in non-Jewish ones (as in the famous patria potestas enshrined in Roman law).

On the basis of such contextual evidence and his exegesis of 1 Thessalonians, Burke proposes that Paul’s use of parental metaphors serves preeminently, if not exclusively, to call attention to his unique authority over his churches.3 In a later essay, Burke argues that in 1 Cor 4:15, Paul understands himself as uniquely “father” to the Corinthians. The apostle not only “situates himself above his converts” but also “relativizes the position of all others (i.e., Apollos, Cephas) and asserts his own vital role.” Thus, Burke discovers a Paul who, from his earliest letter, assumes a hierarchal structure of authority within his churches, a structure modeled on traditional expectations of household and family relations.

In his assessment, “some form of hierarchy was there from the inception” of the Pauline communities, and so there is no obvious contrast between an original egalitarianism and a later patriarchal or hierarchical structure of the sort that seems to be reflected in the disputed Pauline epistles. To be clear, Burke’s portrait is not of an authoritarian Paul masquerading as a “loving father” and merely employing the parental metaphor and the corresponding call to imitate him as a power play against his opponents. This is how Elizabeth A. Castelli has interpreted Paul’s call to mimesis in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere.

The role of the parent metaphor, Burke stresses, is not limited to Paul’s assertion of authority over his converts; Paul’s fatherly relationship with the Corinthians includes his genuine affection for them. Yet Burke’s portrayal of Paul’s understanding of family life and its application to the household of God nevertheless emphasizes hierarchical authority structures and stands in some tension with what seems to be Jesus’ subversion of traditional hierarchal family structures (e.g., Matt 10:37 – 38; 23:8 – 12; Mark 3:31 – 34; Luke 14:26 – 27).

Studies in the Pauline Epistles

Edited By Matthew S. Harmon & Jay E. Smith

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