Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why Does Paul Use "I, Paul" And Similar Phrases In His Letters?

(For more about the background to this post, see here and here.)

Paul sometimes uses the phrase "I, Paul" in his letters or repeats his name in some similar manner (1 Corinthians 16:21, 2 Corinthians 10:1, Galatians 5:2, Ephesians 3:1, Colossians 1:23, 4:18, 1 Thessalonians 2:18, 2 Thessalonians 3:17, Philemon 9, 19). There are several potential reasons why Paul or another author might use such language.

One reason why an author might use a phrase like "I, [author's name]" would be to identify himself. Even if a document's author is known by an oral report, a title, a tag, or some other means, including an additional identifier within the main body of the text can be useful as a safeguard. And sometimes an author needs to be identified more than once. A phrase like "I, Paul" can distinguish among authors in a document written in the name of more than one person. Most of the letters in which Paul uses such a phrase are written in the name of more than one individual (1 Corinthians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 1:1, etc.).

Paul might use a phrase like "I, Paul" for emphasis. Passages like 2 Corinthians 10:1 and Ephesians 3:1 include further qualifiers ("myself", etc.) to add even more force. We commonly use that sort of emphasis by repetition in our language today. It occurs in Paul's letters without a name as well ("I myself" in Romans 15:14). There can be many reasons for putting emphasis on the identity of the author: to emphasize the author's authority, to emphasize his affection, to emphasize his experience, etc. The identity of the author can warrant emphasis in some contexts.

Language like "I, [author's name]" was often used in legal contexts as well, such as in oaths and certificates of debt. Signatures are used for purposes of authentication and to prevent forgery. The same occurs today.

Literary customs often involve the use of a name, even when the name is already assumed or already present somewhere else. We sign a birthday card we send to somebody, even if the recipient will already have our name in the return address portion of the envelope, even if we intend to hand him the card, etc. A son who sends his mother a letter may sign his name at the end, even though the author's name is already known by the content of the letter and other indications. Similarly, some ancient writers would sign letters, sometimes with a note accompanying the signature, even if the author's name was already known.

There can be a combination of reasons for including "I, Paul", a signature, or a repetition of Paul's name in some other way. Sometimes there are multiple potential explanations, and Paul may have had more than one reason.

We should keep in mind that the letters of Paul were written around two thousand years ago. We often communicate differently today than people did in the past. Even in our day, people sometimes communicate in ways most wouldn't (Bob Dole referring to himself in the third person, for example). It helps to consult scholars who have studied the contexts in which Paul's letters were written and to read other ancient literature that's of a similar nature or relevant in some other way.

People don't always communicate with maximum efficiency, and they often say more than they need to say. We don't have to sign our name on a card or at the end of a letter. We do so anyway. The issue isn't whether a phrase like "I, Paul" seems awkward to us or whether Paul would have to communicate that way.

Below are some New Testament scholars' comments on each of the passages in question.

1 Corinthians 16:21

"Hence although Paul may have added his signature in part to assure his readers of the authenticity of the letter, more probably the personal handwritten signature or note should be understood as a sign of affection and indication of his desire and longing for personal presence in Corinth (see above on parousia). It is generally agreed that 1:1 through to 16:20 would have been penned by Sosthenes, while 16:21-24 would be in the different handwriting (probable 'large letters,' Gal 6:11) of Paul." (Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle To The Corinthians [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2000], p. 1347)

"Paul often used an amanuensis (Rom 16:22; the poor often used scribes because they could not write; the wealthy dictated to scribes because they could afford to). Thus he often closed letters by adding his signature (Gal 6:11; Col 4:18; 2 Thess 3:17; cf. Phlm 19), as here (16:21). Writing a letter (or in this case a part of it) in one's own hand conveyed affection (e.g., Fronto Ad M. Caes. 3.3)." (Craig Keener, 1-2 Corinthians [New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005], p. 141)

2 Corinthians 10:1

"Paul reserves the expression 'I, Paul' (10:1) for emphatic remarks (Gal 5:2; 1 Thess 2:18; 2 Thess 3:17; Phlm 19; Col 1:23; Eph 3:1); the reflexive pronoun 'myself' underlines it all the more." (Craig Keener, 1-2 Corinthians [New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005], p. 216)

"As well as anticipating v. 1b ('The very Paul who....this same Paul appeals to you'; cf. Plummer 271-72), this expression stresses the intensely personal nature of his appeal, reflects his recognition of the great significance of the issues to be discussed, and alludes to his apostolic authority. Perhaps Paul is also now distinguishing himself from his co-author or co-sender Timothy (1:1) (Julicher 102; Black 133) or from the three delegates who, like Paul, will soon be visiting Corinth (9:3-5)." (Murray Harris, The Second Epistle To The Corinthians [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2005], p. 666)

Galatians 5:2

"As Paul moves toward the conclusion of his tour de force argument, he is well aware that the adept rhetorician will stress the strong emotions, in order sufficiently to warn his converts against the perils of doing what the agitators were urging them to do....It must be understood that the rhetorical handbooks are quite clear that there is a place for vehemence and threatening language if the situation is grave and it is imperative that a certain action be taken (cf. Quintilian Inst. Or., 11.1.3ff.). The intent of this sort of arguing is to force the audience to make a choice - either to follow Paul's guidance or that of the agitators....Quintilian reminds us that while arguments should take precedence, that nonetheless the testimony of witnesses can be important when trying to convince or persuade someone about something. Paul here in his climactic argument resorts to personal testimony. This testimony in a formal forensic setting would be given under oath, and a witness would be called because they claimed to know the facts about the matter under dispute (see Inst. Or. 5.7.26-37). So why has Paul put himself on the witness stand at this crucial moment? Precisely because, as he will intimate indirectly at 5.11, he himself had once 'preached circumcision'....The Galatians would not be able to dispute that Paul was something of an expert on this subject. From the outset in vs. 2, the apostle makes evident that this is Paul speaking personally to his converts....At the crucial point in the discourse, Paul throws the full weight of his personal authority and experience behind what he says....Notice the other places where Paul uses the 'I Paul' formula to add weight to the testimony that follows (cf. 1 Thess. 2.18; 2 Cor. 10:1; Ephes. 3.1; Col. 1.23). Notice that Paul does not here in Galatians invoke his apostolic office. His apostolic status is not at issue or in question in this letter. The issue here is the weight of his personal testimony behind which stands his personal experience in this matter of circumcision." (Ben Witherington, Grace In Galatia [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998], pp. 363, 365, n. 17 on p. 365)

Ephesians 3:1

"Beginning with the emphatic 'I, Paul,' this section includes a repeated emphasis on Paul's authority. Such terms as 'I,' 'me,' and 'my' are employed throughout (cf. 3:2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 13)....There may be some irony inherent in the fact that Paul's triumph is announced in the context of bondage, but it has less to do with the nature of the gospel message itself than with bolstering the confidence of the community. Paul's afflictions are the community's glory: they represent an assertion of the community's honor in a hostile world" (Margaret MacDonald, Colossians And Ephesians [Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2000], pp. 260, 270)

Colossians 1:23

"Paul reminds his audience that he (not some false teacher) is the minister of this true and sufficient gospel about Christ which has been preached throughout the known world." (Ben Witherington, The Letters To Philemon, The Colossians, And The Ephesians [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2007], p. 141)

"The first-person singular voice ('I, Paul') is in contrast to the 'we' of the thanksgiving (Col 1:3-14) and emphasizes Paul's apostolic authority." (Margaret MacDonald, Colossians And Ephesians [Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2000], p. 74)

Colossians 4:18

"But it was not uncommon, if the letter as a whole was dictated to an amanuensis, for the sender to write the last few sentences himself for the sake of authentication. Paul appends his signature here, as in 1 Cor. 16:21 and 2 Thess. 3:17. Where a colleague played some part in the composition of the letter, like Silvanus in 2 Thessalonians and Timothy in Colossians, Paul's signature would stamp the whole with his apostolic authority." (F.F. Bruce, The Epistles To The Colossians, To Philemon, And To The Ephesians [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1999], p. 186)

1 Thessalonians 2:18

"The 'even I Paul' is emphatically personal. Regardless whether Paul's plural 'we' has been merely editorial or has consciously included Silas and Timothy (1:1), he wants to make sure that his readers realize that he personally had this strong desire and made these specific plans." (Robert Picirilli, et al., 1 Thessalonians Through Philemon [Nashville, Tennessee: Randall House Publications, 1990], pp. 40-41)

2 Thessalonians 3:17

"Paul frequently included a note about the change in his hand because his letters were read publicly in the assembly of the Christians. Not everyone could see the greeting in his handwriting, but everyone could hear it. Ancient authors included subscriptions in their own hands for a number of reasons. At times it served as a means to insure that the agreements and content of the letter were legally binding, but in other cases the author included a note in his own hand to give the writing a personal touch. In other instances authors included it either to deal with a personal subject they did not want to dictate or to guarantee the authenticity of the correspondence. In each case, the context indicates the author's purpose. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul included this subscription as his distinguishing mark (semeion), which means that it served as a sign that 'authenticates the letter.'" (Gene Green, The Letters To The Thessalonians [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Erdmans, 2002], p. 359)

Philemon 9

"He will try to generate as much pathos as he can before mentioning Onesimus....Paul has not only delayed mentioning Onesimus until v. 10, he also delays making his full request until v. 17. Such is the delicacy of the matter. V. 9 begins with a reference to love, then to Paul being an old man, then to him being a prisoner, then to his child who was 'begotten in chains.' If Philemon was not moved by the initial prayer, he would have been a really hard-hearted person not to be moved by the stirring of the deeper emotions including both love and sympathy. What could be more pathetic than a beloved apostle who was old and a prisoner, or a child born in chains?...This letter is not an ambassadorial letter but an emotive appeal using Asiatic rhetoric. Paul calls himself an old man to provoke sympathy in Philemon and the rest of the audience....He wants to be sure to excite as much sympathetic feeling as he can before he mentions Onesimus and then makes his request. Such tugging on the heartstrings in long sentences is typical of Asiatic rhetoric." (Ben Witherington, The Letters To Philemon, The Colossians, And The Ephesians [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2007], pp. 66-67)

Philemon 19

As Peter O'Brien notes, the construction in Philemon 19 "gives the statement the character of a formal and binding signature" (Colossians And Philemon [Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982], p. 300).

"So too there are plenty of original documents on papyrus to teach us the nature of an ancient acknowledgment of debt. A large number of ancient notes of hand have been published among the Berliner Griechische Urkunden, and probably every other collection of papyri contains some specimens. A stereotyped formula in these documents is the promise to pay back the borrowed money, 'I will repay'; and they all are in the debtor's own hand, or, if he could not write, in the handwriting of another acting for him with the express remark, 'I have written for him.'...It now becomes clear that St. Paul, who had playfully given the Philippians a sort of receipt [Philippians 4:18], is in the letter to Philemon (18 f.) humorously writing him a sort of acknowledgment of debt...The parallelism between the legal formulae and the letters of St. Paul becomes still clearer when we observe that the ancient note of hand generally took the form of a letter acknowledging the debt." (Adolph Deissmann and Lionel R.M. Strachan, Light From The Ancient East [Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger Publishing, 2003], pp. 331-332)

Similar Practices Among Other Ancient Authors

"I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord." (Romans 16:22)

The author of Revelation refers to himself as "I, John" (1:9, 22:8). D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo write that modern scholars "rarely" hold that Revelation is pseudonymous. Instead "most who demur from the traditional identification" of the author maintain that the book was written by another early church leader named John (An Introduction To The New Testament [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005], p. 706). The evidence suggests that the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2-3 accepted the book as a genuine work. On what basis would one argue not only that the attribution to the apostle John is wrong, but also that we somehow know that another John didn't write it either? As Loren Stuckenbruck observes, "There is little ground, therefore, for supposing that Revelation is a pseudonymous work" (in James D.G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson, edd., Eerdmans Commentary On The Bible [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2003], p. 1535). Most likely, the "I, John" of Revelation was used by somebody named John, not by somebody writing a pseudonymous work.

In Josephus, Judea, And Christian Origins (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009), Steve Mason renders the opening of Josephus’ Jewish War with the phrase "I, Josephus" (p. 58). H. St. J. Thackeray uses "I - Josephus" (Josephus: The Jewish War, Books I-II [Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997], p. 3).

In the work of Adolph Deissmann and Lionel R.M. Strachan referenced above, an example of an ancient certificate of debt is cited. The author, Papus, refers to himself as "I Papus" (p. 331).

"Porphyry's emphasis on his own role in the story appears in the very way he refers to himself [in Life Of Plotinus]. He chooses to write of himself in the first person, but, to ensure that his readers or hearers remain fully aware of his identity, nineteen times he writes 'I Porphyry,' combining the pronoun (ego) with his name." (Richard Bauckham, Jesus And The Eyewitnesses [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006], p. 142)

Gregory Nazianzen repeatedly refers to himself as "Gregory":

"Do you not know me or yourself, you eye of the world, and great voice and trumpet and palace of learning? Your affairs trifles to Gregory? What then on earth could any one admire, if Gregory admire not you?" (Letter 46)

"Therefore let me entreat you to remember your Gregory without ceasing in all the matters in which I desire to be worthy of your remembrance." (Letter 64)

"Pray remember your friend Gregory and pray for him." (Letter 93)

Abraham Malherbe, commenting on Paul's use of "I, Paul" in 1 Thessalonians 2:18, cites some of these passages from Gregory Nazianzen:

"More important are 2 Cor 10:1 and Phlm 22 (cf. Eph 3:1), in both of which his name heightens the emotion, which appears to be the function of using his own name. The same is true in letters of friendship, in which there is a strong sense of physical separation, which is also the case in all three occurrences in Paul (cf. Gregory Nazianzen, Epistles 64.5; 93; Chariton, Chaereas and Callirhoe 8 4 5-6, in all of which, however, the name appears at the close of the letter; cf. 1 Cor 16:21; see Koskenniemi, 124)." (The Letters To The Thessalonians [New York, New York: Doubleday, 2000], p. 184)

"Changes of handwriting at, or following, a personal signature with or without a note as a postscript are attested in papyrus letters. Sometimes a short personal note is added in the margin as an afterthought." (Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle To The Corinthians [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2000], p. 1347)

"Cicero seems commonly to have written his letters himself, but where he uses an amanuensis, he indicates that the letter-closing is in his own hand (cf. Ad Att. 13.28: hac manu mea, 'this in my own hand'). In another letter he quotes a sentence from one which he himself had received from Pompey and says that it came in extremo ipsius manu, 'at the end, in his own hand' (Ad Att. 8.1)." (F.F. Bruce, 1 And 2 Thessalonians [Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982], p. 216)

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