In this paper I will show how “honour” and “shame”, from a first century Greco-Roman cultural context, works to counteract and control schisms arising in the early Christian church. Furthermore, I will argue that in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (the qualifications of the bishop), the author establishes a stereotypical set of moral virtues which symbolically defines the true Christians leaders as honourable while characterizing false teachers as dishonourable, thereby bringing any schisms under control and stabilizing relations of the community with outsiders.
Before addressing the issue of how the author of 1 Timothy plans to control and counteract the schisms that are arising in the church, it is important to establish the nature and context of these divisions. The author, who claims to be the apostle Paul, writes to the historical Timothy, his representative in Ephesus, urging Timothy to address: 1) an explicit concern of false teachers spreading a different doctrine, causing some members of the church to deviate from the divine training known by faith (1 Tim 1:3-7); and 2) an implied concern about unworthy church officers who are unfaithful in their duties (1 Tim 3:1-13).
As to the nature of these false teachers, the author is somewhat ambiguous. According to Karris (1973) the opponents are Jewish Christians, who engage in verbal disputes-teaching Jewish “myths and endless genealogies that promote speculation” (1 Tim.1:4) and meaningless talk without understanding (1 Tim. 1:6-7). The opponents also renounce their faith by attending to deceitful spirits, the teachings of demons and forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods (1 Tim. 4:1-3). There is also evidence that suggests these false teachers have successfully encouraged liberation amongst some women within to the church-“Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man, she is to keep silent” (1 Tim. 2:11-12).
It is evident that the author’s purpose for this letter is to instruct Timothy on how to correct these matters-to fight the good fight with faith and good conscience (1 Tim.1:18). The author outlines measures for resolving the situation. First, to distinguish Paul’s teaching from the heretical teachings-to “have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives tales” (1 Tim. 4:7) and remain faithful to the “sound teaching that you (Timothy) have followed” (1Tim. 4:6). Secondly, the author reiterates that he (as Paul) has been appointed to Christ Jesus’ service (1 Tim. 1:12) and implying that he and Timothy are the only ones with the proper authority to teach correctly . Third, the author constructs a schema to facilitate abhorrence towards the false teachers in the thoughts of his audience while reinforcing Christian honour in the household of God. This tactic is clearly presented in the qualifications of the bishop-instructions for the proper attitudes and behaviours in the office of the bishop. (Karris 1973:563-564).
To illustrate how the dynamics of honour and shame operate to control and eliminate divisions within the Christian community it is important to define some terms. In the first century, individualism was not a pivotal value in Greco-Roman society-collective honour was the main focus, which was possessed by the social group, such as, ones family, village or citizenship (Malina 2001:43). A person’s identity was shaped and determined by the social group by which they were accepted by and belonged -meaning “family” was everything. Furthermore, membership in a social group required adherence to traditional rules of order for organization and maintenance. These traditional rules of order stem from complementary codes of authority, gender status and respect which are based on basic values of honour and shame (Malina 2001:29).
The term “authority” has a symbolic reality that can control the behaviour of others. For example, the author of 1 Timothy claims he is, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and Christ Jesus our hope (1 Tim.1:1), and has been endowed with this honour by Christ Jesus. From a symbolic standpoint, the author is claiming the highest position in social standing within the Christian community–his honour is unquestionable (Malina 2001:52). Furthermore, in an effort to reinforce his authority and gain acceptance for his solution to the arising schisms, the author ascribes authority to Timothy, as his representative–“Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you (1 Tim.6:20). In this respect, Timothy’s honour has been symbolically raised because his authority has been ascribed by Paul, whose authority was ascribed by Christ Jesus, whose honour and authority is above reproach. This gives Timothy pastoral authority over all members of the church irrespective of their social standing.
The term “gender status” means roles-male and female “oughts” of social behaviour recognized by the group. For example, “Women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes” (1 Tim. 2:9). In this passage the author is admonishing these women for their vanity and shames them towards modesty.
The term “respect” is comprised of attitude and behaviour one owes to the other who controls one’s existence. In the first century Mediterranean world this attitude and behaviour was called “religion” (Malina 2001:30). Everyone was expected to demonstrate the proper attitudes and behaviour towards those who controlled one’s life.
The term “honour” is one’s claim to worth, which is confirmed by others within the family group. Honour emerges when three defining boundary markers intersect–authority, gender status and respect. Everyone was subject to a “honour rating”, which determined one’s status and position in the community (Malina 2001:32). There are two types of honour–ascribed and acquired. Ascribed honour can be bestowed upon another by a notable person–forcing acknowledgement of that honour on others because of rank (Malina 2001:32). Furthermore, in a Greco-Roman society, two types of groups hold ascribed honour: natural groupings, such as birth, residence, nationality, social standing, where a person is born physically and symbolically into a group; and optional groupings–voluntarily joining a group, such as a trade guild, or in the case of this paper, the Christian Church. Acquired honour is when one surpasses another in a social interaction of challenge and response. The honourable outcome depends on public recognition for demonstrating the socially expected attitudes and behaviours in the areas of authority, gender role and respect. Collective honour is symbolized by one’s good name and reputation, which is defined and determined by membership in a particular social group–thus, “I am who I am and with who I associate” (Malina 2001:44). Therefore, if a member acts honourably, all members of the group are honoured. Likewise, if a member acts dishonourably, all members are dishonoured. For example, the Pauline community was criticized by both insiders and outsiders for the contrary behaviour of other members of the community, such as the Jewish Christians and Gnostic Christians. The Christian community at large suffered dishonour for the conduct of the false teachers because all Christian groups were perceived as one grouping by the Romans (Blasi 1995: 253).
The term “shame”, a positive attribute in Greco-Roman society, means one is sensitive to the opinions of others and accepts and respects the appropriate rules of conduct within a social group. A shameless person has no respect for the rules and opinions of others within a social group. One is shamed when honour is denied the challenger in the court of public opinion. (Malina 2001:49).
In natural groupings it is the people, such as the male head of a family household, who hold the sacred qualities, but in optional groupings it is the post or position, such as the office of the bishop, that collectively hold the sacred values of the group. Thus, the amount of honour one is ascribed in an optional group depends upon the post or position one holds. Furthermore, these elected post holders exercise authority over all aspects of honour in their group–setting the rules for what members ought to do and what members must not. The post holder of a group thus symbolizes both social honour-having precedence relative to others and ethical honour–which makes them implicitly noble–above criticism (Malina 2001:46).
By listing the qualifications of the bishop, the author marks off boundaries as a means of social control (MacDonald 1988:210)–defining authority, gender status, and respect within the church community and, thereby, limiting eligibility for church offices. The duties of the bishop are stereotypical of Greco-Roman biographies of heroes (MacDonald 1988:162). This schematic doctrine of virtue not only ascribes the bishop with the highest rating of honour, it also establishes clear boundaries for defining Pauline authority, and who has access to it. Thus, the author of 1 Timothy effectively lays the ground work for the formation of church structures that will not only combat the schism, but also reinforce and define, through the authority of the bishop’s office, the honour of the Christian community (Verner 1983:234).
An analysis of author’s the first exhortation, “If anyone sets his heart on being a bishop, he desires good works” (1 Timothy 3:1)–helping those in need (1 Tim. 6:18); seeking the position of bishop requires one to undertake such good works. This passage is analogous to that of the secular municipal office–reflecting that the office of the bishop is a public service with similar duties of holding office in the secular world. In the Greco-Roman world, aristocratic social values were associated with leadership positions that were usually reserved for the well-to-do. Position holders would spend their own resources to demonstrate their prosperity and charity in order to enhance their social standing. The author restricts access to the office of the bishop to those male members who are well-to-do, reputable and are capable household managers who can utilize their prosperity and kindness to do good works for the benefit of the Christian community and thus increase which would increase their social standing and respect within the community (Verner 2001:183).
“Now the bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:2-3). We can infer from the phrase, “the bishop must be above reproach” means that the leadership of Pauline community was being criticized and threatened by the conduct of the false teachers. Who were these false teachers? The opponents must have been insiders–prominent insiders in a position to teach (Pietersen 1997:349). The author must have considered these false teachers as equivalents because in Greco-Roman society social contests of challenge and response for honour would have only occurred between social equals (Malina 2001:52). Furthermore, by listing the qualities of the bishop, the author infers that the stereotypical counterparts to those qualities belong to the deeds of the opponents and defines them as reproachable, agitated, foolish, disrespectable, inhospitable, drunken, violent, quarrelsome and lovers of money. The strategy of name-calling as a weapon against the opponents serves to minimize their qualities and exaggerate dishonourable deeds, thus evoking disdain for the false teachers among the members of the community. (Karris 1973:549). This approach labeled the false teachers as shameless and dishonourable (Pietersen 1997:348). Moreover, this tactic effectively transforms the false teachers who were once insiders into shameless outsiders, thus any dishonour the Christian community was enduring would be removed, and even though the false teachers were once members, it would not count because they are now considered outsiders–deviants who never had standing in the group (Pietersen 1997:349).
It was also important that the bishop be “an apt teacher” (1 Tim. 3:2). The bishop’s ability to handle schisms arising within the community–to effectively challenge “false doctrine” with correct and sound teaching was necessary to maintain order and honour within the Christian community. Also, the author of 1 Timothy in 3:2 wants to limit eligibility to the position of bishop exclusively to males. The phrase, “husband of one wife”, suggests that the author desires women to be under the patronage of an individual household. Moreover, if the Pauline community was being criticized by outsiders or by other Christian circles because these false teachers were encouraging the emancipated behaviour of women (1 Tim. 2:11), this edict would help reduce tensions not only in the Christian community, but also increase social respectability in the society at large (MacDonald 1988:211). This was an important tactic because in Greco-Roman society a woman’s authority and gender status was subordinate to the males of the household. Shaming women to their appropriate roles within the household of God, restored respectable behaviour, thus restoring honour to the community.
In Hellenistic times, the concept of the “household” was associated with prestige and privilege. The phrase “the bishop must be hospitable” (1 Tim. 3:2) requires the candidate for bishop have the means to be hospitable on behalf of the church–that he be prosperous enough to possess a home with facilities capable of accommodating travelers. This requirement would restrict access to the office of the bishop to those candidates who were prominent householders with a relatively high social standing within the community (Verner 1983:152). The Roman-Greco household was a patriarchal institution whose male head held ultimate authority (Verner 1983:79). “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:4-5). This passage supposes threats of insubordination and lack of respect for the Christian householder’s religion. Therefore, the author stresses a patriarchal household model for organizing the church, where the bishop must have the status and prestige of a householder and demonstrate that he is capable of handling his position upholding the household of God’s honour (Verner 1983:152). Employing a traditional Hellenistic-Roman world view, the author draws an analogy between governing a household and governing the Christian community (Verner 1983:152). By embracing household structures, the office of the bishop, like the male head of the family household, has wide ranging authority not limited to just worship, discipline and teaching, but he can also organize the community at large, thus protecting the community from false teachers and stabilizing communal relations, inside and outside the church (MacDonald 1988:212). Furthermore, the phrase, “his children obey him with proper respect” signifies the head of the household is capable of maintaining his honour and emphasizes the author’s concern in believing children make for a stable household of God. This scenario fits with Greco-Roman societal belief that the religion of the head of the household determines the religion of the whole family, asserting that the church leadership be accountable to the religious training of their children (MacDonald 1988:212). Furthermore, if the false teachers were women as inferred by the phrase, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man, she is to keep silent” (1 Tim. 2:11-12), then the honourable behaviour of the householder/leader would placate the criticisms directed at the Christian community by outsiders (MacDonald 1988:212). Moreover, the analogy of the male householder being the absolute authority over his family may have established an early precedent for the office of the bishop as a position of pre-eminence eventually leading to the concept of the monarchical bishop as the supreme protector of the church and community (Verner 1988:153).
In 1 Timothy 3:6, “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil”, the author appears to have two concerns. First, that a new convert may become “puffed up” with false pride. The author refers to a false teacher in 6:4 as “conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words”. Secondly, the author does not want the a new convert in a leadership role, who is inexperienced and may be vulnerable to false teachings. This attitude was typical within the secular municipal councils of the same period (Verner 2003: 153). Once again, the author wants to restrict access to leadership positions and control schisms arising within the church by ensuring those individuals who occupy the top position act with honour (and not be open to slander); hold firm to the true teachings, instruct others in correct doctrine and be able to refute false teachings, thus reducing arising schisms and maintaining the honour of the Christian community (MacDonald 1988:213).
Based on the text, “He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap” (1 Tim. 3:7), we can conclude that the Christian community is under criticism and possibly slander by outsiders (MacDonald 1988:167). Who are these outsiders is not clear, but the author is plainly demanding conduct that is honourable in the Greco-Roman household–the kind of conduct a bishop would demonstrate, that would not give outsiders any reason to condemn the church (MacDonald 1988:168). It seems obvious that the community has suffered dishonour due to the conduct of these false teachers and the author clearly links the bishop’s good name and standing in the community with his ability improve or further damage the church’s reputation.
In sum, 1 Timothy reveals that the early Christian church of Ephesus is undergoing internal strife and division because of non-Pauline doctrine propagated by false teachers who occupy prominent positions in the community. Analysis shows that these false teachers are possibly Jewish Christians, Gnostic Christians or ascetic Christians whose attitude and behaviour have not only created schisms within the community but have also put the church’s reputation at risk with outside criticism.
The author, who writes in the name of the Apostle Paul to signify the necessary authority and to advance his own opposition to the false doctrine and those teaching it, establishes a schema on how the church should be organized. Using the Greco-Roman patriarchal householder model, the author combats the opponents by establishing a similar structural hierarchy for the church. Analogous to the male head of the family household whose has authority is absolute, the office of the bishop, likewise, has over-arching pastoral responsibility, including disciplinary authority for the membership, as well as representing the church to society at large.
By listing the qualities of the bishop, the author creates a stereotypical set of moral virtues, comparable to the biographies of heroes of the period; and because the position of the bishop, like all positions or elected posts in voluntary groupings, holds the collective honour of the Christian community–an honour that they seek to have beyond reproach–the virtues of the bishop symbolically define the true Christian leadership. This tactic is both descriptive and prescriptive, in that it separates the true Christian leaders by their virtues and implies a corollary stereotypical list of negative attributes that are ascribed to the false teachers, dishonouring them as deviants–outsiders without standing in the community. Furthermore, this approach shames insiders who wish to remain part of the community to adhere to the true doctrine or face being banished to the status of outsider.
In conclusion, by listing the qualities of the bishop and restricting access to this preeminent head office of the church, the Pauline author achieves the following: 1) dishonours the false teachers as deviants, thereby reducing further schisms from arising; 2) shame insiders into compliance with the teaching of what the author considers the true doctrine and, 3) ensures appropriate attitudes and behaviours that are congruent with Greco-Roman family household ethics are demonstrated thereby eliminatng further slander of the Christian community and restoring honour to the group, thus stabilizing relations with the non-Christian outsiders.
Blasi, Anthony J.
1995 “Office Charisma in Early Christian Ephesus”. Sociology of Religion, Vol. 56, No. 3. Oxford University Press. pp. 245-255.
Karris, Robert J.
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MacDonald, Margaret Y.
1988 The Pauline Churches: A Socio-Historical Study of Institutionalization in the Pauline and Deutero-Pauline Writings. Cambridge UK, University Press.
Malina, Bruce J.
2001 The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. Revised and expanded. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox.
1997 “Despicable Deviants: Labelling Theory and the Polemic of the Pastorals”. Sociology of Religion. Vol. 58 No.4 Oxford University Press. pp. 343-352.
Verner, David C.
1983 The Household of God: The Social World of the Pastoral Epistles. Chico, Calif. : Scholars Press.
Cameron Freeman, Student of Social-Cultural Anthropology and ReligionsCameron is currently enrolled at the University of Toronto where he studies Social-Cultural Anthropology and Religions.