Monday, April 21, 2008

CSFF Blog Tour: The Begotten Day One

CSSF Blog Tour

This month, we're looking at The Begotten by Lisa T. Bergen. It's an interesting speculative historical piece centered around one of the lost books to the Corinthians.

What's that you say? You didn't know that there were lost books to the Corinthians? Why yes, it's true.

It's actually interesting that we're doing this book this month because I'm in the midst of a marathon Bible study series with my congregation on 1 & 2 Corinthians, so this subject is fresh in my mind. Since I always aim to have unique material in this blog tour, let's talk about the chronology of the Corinthian letters. How do the books we call 1 & 2 Corinthians fit into the scheme of things?

Before I begin, I should mention that a lot of this is built on speculation. To put it bluntly, this is educated guesswork. With that final caveat, let's begin:

1) Paul writes "true" 1 Corinthians - We know from 1 Corinthians 5:9 that Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthian Christians before the one we call 1 Corinthians. Apparently in "true" 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote about associating with sexually immoral people. Sadly, this letter is lost to the ages.

Or is it? Some Biblical scholars believe that a fragment of it survives, in all places, within 2 Corinthians. Some Biblical scholars believe that 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 is a piece of the lost first letter. It certainly matches the theme that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 5:9, focusing on not being unequally yoked with unbelievers. Not only that, but this portion of 2 Corinthians sticks out like a sore thumb. Try reading 2 Corinthians 6:11-13, skip over 6:14-7:1, and pick up again at 7:2-4. It flows together, doesn't it?

Is it possible? Sure. The first collection of Paul's letters isn't mentioned until the 90s (obviously not the 1990s, the just-plain 90s). A lot could happen in the forty years between the time the letters were written and when they were collected. A bit of the lost letter could have been tucked into the text of 2 Corinthians and some dutiful copiest wound up merging it all together.

Does this change whether or not 2 Corinthians is the inspired Word of God? Of course not. But it certainly is interesting.

2) The Corinthians send Paul a return letter. From the way Paul lays out the early chapters of 1 Corinthians that the Corinthians sent him some questions that they wanted answered. Along with this letter came reports that the Corinthians were a fractured, fighting church, one in need of some correction.

3) Paul writes our 1 Corinthians. In response to these questions, Paul writes the letter we call 1 Corinthians. In it, he deals with such diverse topics as factionalism within the church, lawsuits among believers, sexual relationships and marriage, food sacrificed to idols, spiritual gifts, and the resurrection of the dead.

4) The arrival of the pseudo-Judaizers. This is my name for this bunch and it may not have even happened. But based on the tone of 2 Corinthians and some of its content, it's possible that a group of people showed up in Corinth who denigrated Paul's ministry and questioned his identity, calling, and integrity as an apostle. I call them the "pseudo-Judaizers" because they sound similar to the group Paul describes in Galatians but apparently without the circumcision obsession.

5) Paul's bad visit. Based on what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, it sounds as though Paul took a swing through the region of Achaia. He may have originally planned on visiting Corinth twice, but the first visit did not go well. We don't know exactly what happened; Acts doesn't mention this trip and Paul doesn't go into great detail (which makes sense; he was there, the Corinthians were there, why tell them what they already know?). We do know that things did not go well, so badly that Paul canceled his second visit, leading his opponents to question whether or not Paul's word could be trusted. See 2 Corinthians 1:15-2:2.

6) Paul writes the "Letter of Tears." Like "true" 1 Corinthians, we don't have a copy of this letter. Probably. But I'll get to that in a little bit. At any rate, Paul writes a third letter to the Corinthians, a painful letter that Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 2:3-4.

But is the "Letter of Tears" really lost? Some Biblical scholars don't think so. Again, they believe that a good chunk of it is preserved in 2 Corinthians, namely chapters 10-13.

That makes sense, if you think about it. If Paul's credibility was attacked by his opponents during his "bad visit," he'd want to defend himself. And since 2 Corinthians 10-13 is a defense of his apostolic ministry, it fits. Again, the letter could have been misplaced and copied into what we call 2 Corinthians and again, this doesn't change whether or not it's God's Word.

At any rate, Paul apparently sent this letter off with his partner, Titus, and then settled in to wait.

7) Paul goes looking for Titus. But apparently Paul couldn't just wait. Even though he was in the fertile mission field of Troas, he couldn't focus on the task at hand. He went out to find Titus and find out what happened in Corinth. (2 Corinthians 2:12-13)

Much to his joy, he found Titus with an excellent report. The "Letter of Tears" cut the Corinthians to the quick. They wanted to be reconciled with Paul.

8) Paul writes 2 Corinthians. In response to this good news, Paul sends them a fourth letter, the one we call 2 Corinthians. In it, he thanks God for the Corinthians new attitude and gives them instructions about the collection he's taking for the mother church in Jerusalem.

There you go. The book we call 1 Corinthians is really 2 Corinthians. What we call 2 Corinthians should really be called 4 Corinthians. The missing books might be contained in 2 Corinthians (or might not be).

So what does this have to do with The Begotten?

Bergen's story centers around "true" 1 Corinthians, the missing first letter. She posits that in this letter, Paul prophesies about a group called "the Gifted," people with phenomenal spiritual gifts that will come forth at a certain time to do God's will. Apparently only one copy of the letter survived and it was nearly destroyed during the work of the iconoclasts.

An interesting concept, one that we'll look at further tomorrow. Kind of. With a minor digression.

In the meantime, go check out what other people are saying:

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Jackie Castle
Karri Compton
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Beth Goddard
Marcus Goodyear
Todd Michael Greene
Michael Heald
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Terri Main
Melissa Meeks
Pamela Morrisson
Steve Rice
Ashley Rutherford
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachelle Sperling
Stuart Stockton
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Robert Treskillard
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise


Christopher Hopper said...


Now that was original content! Awesome job! I love it!!! Hopefully Lisa sees this; I bet she'd have a lot of cool comments from her own studies. Your research is really thorough and definitely thought provoking! Whether the lost letters were simply that, or never "worthy" of being canonized, this all makes for wonderful speculation. Loved her book and how she handled the premise.


Kait said...

Wow. That's a lot more thorough than I would have thought! This is one reason I love coming to your blog on the tours - you always have something besides "this book was great" to say! :o)

CherryBlossomMJ said...

This the most interesting of the stops I have seen thus far. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. See, there is a reason you're studying that at this point in time!


Jason said...

Heh, looks like we were both on the same idea of "lets give something original and informative to start off the tour!" Well, I'm honored to be in good company, because as the others have said, you always have good posts for the tour. Interested to see what is next!