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Bill McLellan Dr. Williams Covenant Theology Term Paper 27 April 2005 2 Corinthians 8:15 Exodus 16:18
2 During the time of the New Testament, the Jewish Christians living in Jerusalem became terribly impoverished. In the early chapters of Acts, we read about how wealthy Christians in Jerusalem were led by the Holy Spirit to share their land and money with their poor brothers and sisters. Years later, after famine and persecution, they had all become poor. In the midst of this poverty, sometime around AD 50, the Apostles gathered for a conference in Jerusalem. There they firmly established that by God’s grace and through faith in Jesus, Jewish and Gentile Christians are equal in God’s sight. Based on this spiritual equality, the Apostle Paul immediately began collecting money for the Jerusalem Church everywhere he traveled.1 The church that Paul founded in the Greek city Corinth promised to give to this collection, but a year later, they had not yet made good on their pledge. They were probably delayed by a feud that developed between them and Paul, provoked by itinerate preachers who claimed to have apostolic authority superior to Paul’s authority. The epistle of 2 Corinthians is Paul’s successful attempt to mend his relationship with the church in Corinth, and in chapters 8-9, Paul seeks to persuade the Corinthians to finish quickly raising the money they committed to raise.2 He appeals in 8:13-15 to the ideal of equality, which he hopes will exist between the Christian churches, whether predominately Jew or Gentile. In order to support and explain what he means by equality, Paul quotes from the Old Testament story of the manna Israel received in the desert. “As it is written,” Paul writes, “’Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.’” (2 Corinthians 8:15). It is my contention that with this quote, Paul is using what Christopher Wright calls a paradigmatic interpretation of the Old Testament.3 Paul is appealing to the
3 economic equality that existed among the liberated Israelites in the desert as a paradigm for the economic equality he wants exhibited in and among the New Testament churches. Exodus 16 is about God’s provision and the responsibility of his people to trust him and obey his instructions. Moses wrote the book of Exodus to give the Israelites the story of how God came to their rescue in Egypt and liberated them to serve him and be his people. Goran Larson, in his commentary on Exodus, Bound for Freedom, argues that the dual theme of the whole book is an intertwining of freedom and responsibility.4 As chapter 16 opens, Israel has just celebrated Yahweh’s victory over the Egyptian army by drowning them in Red Sea. Now they are leaving those shores and heading out into the wilderness toward the land God promised their ancestors to give them. It is not long before the thrill of liberation and victory wares off and rebellious grumbling sets in. “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (3). Larson comments, “The people react as though they have never faced the greatness of God’s power to deliver.”5 Their grumbling went far beyond simple doubt or worry; they accused God of wickedness, of actually intending the opposite of their freedom, their destruction. Yahweh responded with material provision and a moral test. He told Moses that he would feed Israel directly and miraculously with quail and bread from heaven and then see if they would respond by following his instructions in how to gather and distribute the bread. Cornelis Houtman argues that God responded so graciouly in order to overcome Israel’s rebellion and impress on them that he would provide for them just as powerfully
4 as he had led them out of Egypt. “Through the deliverance he sent he aimed to compel Israel to acknowledge his power and make them aware of their dependence on him.”6 Israel had to depend on Yahweh’s provision of bread every day. If they neglected to collect it early in the morning, it would melt away like due, but if they gathered too much and left it till the next morning, it spoiled and became full of worms. The only exception came on the sixth day. Houtman points out that this story is the first place in the Old Testament where God explicitly commands Israel not to work on the Sabbath day. He would provide for them extra on the sixth day, and if the Israelites trusted in him, they would have no need to go out on the seventh.7 It is true that the people did not at first obey God’s instructions through Moses very well, but I believe Houtman goes too far in summarizing the theme of this passage as rebellion.8 The narrative certainly opens with an appauling example of rebellion in the bitter grumbling that begins so soon after the exodus. Nevertheless, the drama progresses through complications to a point where Israel learns how to cooperate obediently with God’s provision. Verse 21 says that after angering Moses and waking up to worms, Israel learned better: “Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat.” And verse 30 records that after being rebuked for breaking the Sabbath by looking for food that morning, “the people rested on the seventh day.” In concert with the rest of Exodus, this narrative of bread from heaven reinforced to Israel both that God’s grace seeks a response and that obedience flows out of trust in the gracious provision of God. Within the context of God’s provision and Israel’s response, we read this description of the way the bread was distributed: “They gathered, some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over,
5 and whoever gathered little had no lack” (17-18). Everyone was supposed to gather one omer of bread per person, and although some gathered more than others, it was all measured to make sure that everyone got exactly the same amount. “Total equality prevailed,” writes Larsson.9 People shared what they collected so that no one had too much and no one had too little. There may have been a supernatural consequence to inequality: the bread spoiled overnight; but as Houtman argues, equality resulted primarily through obedient sharing, not through direct miracle.10 “Now the house of Israel called its name manna” (31). Moses goes on to record for us that God commanded him to keep exactly one days serving, an omer, in a jar (later placed in the ark of the covenant). It would be there for generations to come as a testimony to God’s provision. For the rest of Israel’s time in the desert—forty years as it later turned out—“They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan.” Thus, the manna served as a foretaste of the land flowing with milk and honey. Larsson says, “The manna became the quintessential symbol of God’s providence over the people,”11 both materially and spiritually. In 2 Corinthians 8:15, Paul quotes directly from the Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation of Exodus 16:18, with only slight variation in word order and the change of one word, elatton to oligon, both meaning “a small amount.” 2 Corinthians 8:15 (Nestle-Aland) Exodus 16:18 (LXX)
o to polu ouk epleonasen( kai o to oligon ouk hlattonhsen)
ouk epleonasen o to polu, kai o to elatton ouk hlattonhsen
“The one [who had] much did not have an over-abundance, and the one [who had] a small amount did not have too little.”
6 Because the manna story became such an essential element of Israel’s identity and hope for the future, various approaches to its interpretation developed and were being used in Paul’s day, both within and outside of the New Testament. To summarize his options, Paul could have used either midrash, allegory, or direct ethical application. Moses himself gave the manna a spiritual interpretation similar to later midrash interpretations. Speaking to the next generation of Israelites, Moses said, “[The Lord] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna…that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:9). From the very beginning, God’s gift of manna taught Israel that they were just as dependent upon God’s instructions as they were on his material provision, and so they had every motivation toward obedience.12 Bruce Malina, in his book The Palestinian Manna Tradition, argues that Deuteronomy 8:9 and other references to the manna in the Old Testament, Talmudic, and New Testament are examples of haggadic midrash. 13 This method of interpretation draws a spiritual truth out of a historical event . On the use of manna in Psalm 78, Malina comments, “Obviously the psalmist is not interested in the manna in itself. Rather he seizes upon the traditional data of the desert wanderings to point up God’s mercy and Israel’s continual rebellion. Thus the manna (and quail) is here presented as an item of haggadic midrash.” 14 The Psalmist’s interpretation is certainly spiritual, but it is completely in step with the structure and purpose of the first manna narrative in Exodus 16, which contrasted God’s grace and his people’s disobedience. As Malina elsewhere suggests, there are elements of midrash even in that first record of the manna event.15 Similarly, in Psalm 105, God’s provision of manna is grouped together with the exodus as
7 proof to the psalmists’ readers that God has always kept the covenant he made with Israel’s patriarchs.16 An even greater degree of spiritualization of the manna story comes with Jesus in John 6. After miraculously feeding thousands of people with material food, Jesus gives a sermon proclaiming himself as the spiritual, eternal fulfillment of Israel’s manna story. Those who ate manna later died, but those who feed on him, Jesus said, would never die.17 Likewise, Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:3-4 sees Christ spiritually present with Israel in the wilderness through “spiritual food” (manna) and “spiritual drink” (water from the rock). Spiritual here probably means that the food and drink came directly from God or from heaven, not that they were immaterial, but in line with midrash, Paul is using them to point to a truth outside the original narrative, that is, to Christ.18 In making the case for his collection for the Jerusalem church, Paul appeals to spiritual motivations that parallel in some ways the perspective of the entire Exodus 16 narrative and its later midrash interpretations. By appealing in 2 Corinthians 8:1-9 to the grace of God given to the Macedonians and demonstrated through the incarnation of Jesus, Paul is making the point that the spiritual benefits of salvation that we have received from God should lead us to material generosity with other Christians. There is certainly no division in Paul’s mind between the spiritual and material sides of the Christian life. However, the immediate context of his Old Testament quote does not identify the material manna with the spiritual riches we receive in Christ. Instead, Paul makes a more literal connection between the distribution of manna in the wilderness and the distribution of wealth among the Christian churches. Thus, while Paul’s overall
8 thought may reflect familiarity with midrash, his quote of Exodus 16:18 is not itself a midrash interpretation of the manna narrative. Dieter Geogi argues that in verses 13-15, Paul is drawing on the Hellenistic Jewish tradition, also present in Philo, which viewed equality as a divine force that shaped the universe along with Logos. For Philo, the distribution of manna was an allegory that revealed the mystical workings of this force in the world of human society. In verse 13, Paul assures the Corinthians that he does not expect their generosity to lead to poverty; instead, he argues “ex isothtos,” or “out from equality.” Most translators render this awkward prepositional phrase, “as a matter of equality,” but Georgi notes that the preposition ek is never used this way elsewhere. It would be more natural to see equality here the way it was used in the tradition common to both Philo and Paul. From equality, then, would mean something like from God or from grace, and serve as the spiritual or cosmological ground or source for the more material equality that Paul goes on to call for in verse 14, where he uses a more common purpose clause, “so that there may be equality.”19 It is clear that Paul is using the manna story in order to illustrate what he means by equality. And it seems to me that Georgi is right to argue that Paul is using Hellenistic language his readers will understand, moving from equality as a source to equality as a material, social manifestation. However, C. K. Barret argues against “from equality” being equivalent to “from God,” because however familiar Paul may have been with Hellenistic personifications of cosmic forces, he never writes that way anywhere else in his letters.20 It seems more likely, as Georgi himself argues elsewhere, that the source of Christian equality comes from Paul’s doctrine of justification: Jews and Gentiles are alike
9 made righteous and equal before God through God’s grace and faith in Jesus. Furthermore, Georgi would also concede to Barret that principally, Paul’s concept of equality is more social and material than it is cosmological, and is thus more in line with Greek and Roman understandings of equality among citizens as the foundation for a just society.21 Therefore, while Paul quotes the same verse to illustrate the same concept as Philo, he is not allegorizing the distribution of manna the way his contemporary does. Paul’s point in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 is actually closer to Philo’s interpretation of the gleaning laws, in which God acts as a father to even out the abundance and poverty that arise among his children. 22 There is a connection between the koinonia (translated as fellowship and collection) Paul calls for in 2 Corinthians 8 and the Old Testament laws concerning the distribution of land and resources in ancient Israel.23 The concept, if not the language, of equality present in Exodus 16:18 is applied throughout the rest of the Old Testament to call for distributive justice. There were supposed to be no poor among the Israelites, and if anyone became poor, he and his family were to be taken care of by the community and his property restored to later generations in the year of Jubilee. Those whom God blessed with much were expected to share with those who did not have enough, as a matter of justice.24 As Thomas Rhyne argues, Paul wanted the collection to be a “tangible sign of the spiritual unity of the church.”25 By God’s grace in justification, Gentiles were now part of God’s community, which had in the past and would continue in the future be characterized by economic equality. Just as the Israelites could afford to share with one another because they received bountifully from God every day, so Christians could afford to share with one another because they had also received from God’s grace, in the form of
10 spiritual blessings and material provision.26 It is also clear from what Paul says in Romans 9-11 and in 15:25-27 that he wanted the collection, when it was finally brought to Jerusalem, to spark a revival among the Jews because they would recognize the genuineness of the Gentile’s entrance into the community of God, they would envy their faith, and then they would turn to Christ.27 Thus, Paul applies the meaning of Exodus 16:18 more directly than either midrash or allegory would permit. D. Moody Smith calls Paul’s use of the OT in 2 Corinthians 8:15 an “ecclesiastical-parenetic” interpretation, common in Paul’s writings, in which he “uses the Old Testament as a source for the ethical instruction and edification of the church.”28 This is what Christopher Wright means by paradigm. The manna story gives us not just universal principles about economic equality, but a concrete example of how God wanted human community to function. The biggest change in the church’s situation from Israel’s situation is that now the Gentiles who have faith in Jesus are included in God’s community. The monetary collection (koinonia) those predominately Gentile churches sent to the Jewish Christians was proof of that inclusion. Paul clearly wanted the New Testament people of God to imitate very closely the paradigm of economic equality set for them by the Old Testament people of God. John Calvin used this paradigmatic interpretation and direct application when he wrote on Paul’s use of the manna story: Thus those who have riches, whether inherited or won by their own industry and labour, are to remember that what is left over is meant not for intemperance or luxury but for relieving the needs of the brethren. All that we have is manna, from whatever source it may come…And just as manna, which was horded to excess out of greed or lack of faith, immediately putrified, so we should have no doubt that riches which are heaped up at the expense of our brethren are accursed and will soon perish and their owner will be ruined with them, so that we are not
11 to imagine that the way to grow rich is to make provision for our own distant future and defraud our poor brethren of the help that is their due.”29 By better understanding how Paul interpreted and applied Old Testament Israel’s economic situation to his own contemporary situations, we learn how to properly use Israel’s laws and stories to address the drastic inequalities present in our modern world. God has not left humanity without a concrete example of the kind of equality he wants all communities to exhibit. We have such an example in the state of Israel and in the church, which is now dispersed throughout the world.30 We also know that the power for achieving this equality does not come from within sinful human beings but from the grace of God, which fills us with a sure sense of being wealthy, completely provided for, and able to afford rich generosity. There is always the danger that if we overly spiritualize the distribution of manna in Exodus 16:18 or Paul’s call for equality in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15, then some other human ideology will rise to fill the gap. People need hope in the face of deadly poverty and insatiable greed that fills our world. If this need is not answered by the good news about God acting in history to create a new people for himself, through his Son Jesus Christ, then it will be answered by some other gospel.31 Moses and Paul have both given us concrete paradigms for applying biblical equality to our churches and, progressively, to the whole world.
Dieter Georgi, Remembering the Poor: The History of Paul’s Collection for Jerusalem, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992), 43-48. 2 Ibid., 68-84 3 Christopher Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2004), 73. 4 Goran Larsson, Bound for Freedom: The Book of Exodus in Jewish and Christian Traditions, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 2-3. 5 Ibid., 114. 6 Cornelis Houtman, Exodus, (Kampen:Kok Publishing House, 1996), 318. 7 Ibid., 319-323. 8 Ibid., 320-22. 9 Larson, 116. 10 Houtman, 342-43. 11 Larson 116. 12 Larson 116-17. 13 Bruce J Malina, The Palestinian Manna Tradition, (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1968), 19-24. 14 Ibid., 35. 15 Ibid., 3-19. 16 Ibid., 36. 17 Ibid., 102-6; Larsson, 116-117. 18 Malina, 94-98 19 Georgi, 84-91. 20 C. K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1973), 226-7. 21 Georgi, 89. 22 F. Gerald Downing, “Philo on wealth and the rights of the poor.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 24 (June 1985): 117. 23 Wright, 195. 24 Ronald L. Sider “Toward a BiblicalPerspective on Equality: Steps on the Way Toward Christian Political Engagement,” Interpretation 43 (April 1989): 162. 25 C. Thomas Rhyne, “II Corinthians 8:8-15,” Interpretation 41 (October 1987): 408. 26 Ibid., 410-412. 27 Charles H Talbert, “Money management in early Mediterranean Christianity: 2 Corinthians 8-9.” Review & Expositor 86 (Summer 1989): 360. 28 D. Moody Smith, Jr, “The Use of the Old Testament in the New” in The Use of the Old Testament in the New and Other Essays: Studies in Honor of William Franklin Stinespring, ed. James M.Efird (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1972), 38. 29 John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, translated by T.A. Smail (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964): 114. 30 Wright, 74; and Sider, 158. 31 Kaus Nurnberger, “Christian Witness and Economic Discrepancies,” Journal of Theology for Souther Africa 29 (December 1979): 72-77. Nurnberger specifically argues in his late 1970s South African context that unless Christians pursue economic equality in politics, than peole will only have Marxism to turn to.
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