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Creativity at the Boundary: Features of the Linguistic and Conceptual Construction of Outsiders in the Pauline Corpus*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 March 2014

Paul Trebilco*
Department of Theology and Religion, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. email:


One facet of group identity is the construction and description of ‘the outsider’. A key dimension of this is the way outsiders are labelled. οἱ ἄπιστοι and τὰ ἔθνη, two outsider-designations used in Pauline texts, are examined here to determine what their use and function indicate about group identity. In these cases, we see the creation of a new designation and linguistic innovation in the way a designation is used, which includes the alteration of the referent of an established term. Defining and understanding ‘the outsider’, grappling with how to represent outsiders to ‘ourselves’ and negotiating across group boundaries were key undertakings that led to linguistic creativity, change and transformation. That such linguistic creativity can be seen as going on ‘at the boundary’, to create and define the boundaries of the movement, shows how important such boundaries were.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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A Main Paper read at the 68th General Meeting of the Society for New Testament Studies held in Perth, 23?6 July 2013. My thanks to Professor John Barclay for his very helpful comments on a draft of this paper.


1 Hogg, M. A. and Abrams, D., Social Identifications: A Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations and Group Processes (London: Routledge, 1988)Google Scholar 14.

2 Hogg, M. A., ‘Social Categorization, Depersonalization, and Group Behavior’, Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology: Group Processes (ed. Hogg, M. A. and Tindale, R. S.; Oxford: Blackwell, 2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar 56.

3 See Halliday, M. A. K., Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning (London: Edward Arnold, 1978)Google Scholar 66; see also 154-92.

4 Wenger, E., Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) 82–3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 Wenger, Communities of Practice, 125–6.

6 See the discussion of this work in Trebilco, P., Self-Designations and Group Identity in the New Testament (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012) 1113.Google Scholar

7 BDAG 103.

8 See 1 Cor 6.6; 7.12, 13, 14 (2x), 15; 10.27; 14.22 (2x), 23, 24; 2 Cor 4.4; 6.14, 15.

9 In Luke 12.46 and Rev 21.8 it has the meaning of ‘the unfaithful’. It is also used as an adjective in Matt 17.17; Mark 9.19; Luke 9.41; John 20.27; Acts 26.8.

10 2 Cor 4.4 is also a very clear example. Given the contrast between πιστός and ἄπιστος, the terms here clearly have the technical sense of ‘believer’ and ‘unbeliever’. See for example, Thrall, M. E., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (2 vols; ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994) i.475.Google Scholar

11 LSJ s.v.

12 Herodotus 3.80; see also 8.22.3; Thucydides 1.120.4.

13 Plato, Resp. 596d; see also Resp. 450d; 576a; Herodotus 3.80.1; 1.8.2; Demosthenes 19.27.

14 See LiDonnici, L. R., The Epidaurian Miracle Inscriptions: Text, Translation and Commentary (SBLTT Graeco-Roman Religion Series 11; Atlanta: Scholars, 1995) 86–7Google Scholar for the text (which is SIG 1168, see lines 31–3) and translation; for dating, see p. 17.

15 See J. W. Taylor, ‘Paul's Understanding of Faith’ (PhD Thesis, University of Cambridge, 2004) 123.

16 See e.g. Sib. Or. Prologue.81; 2.143; 3.388; 11.182, 225; Let. Aris. 296; Ps.-Phoc. 119; Josephus, AJ 2.169; 6.198; 14.31; 18.76; BJ 1.255; 5.536; Philo, Opif. 114; Abr. 111; Ebr. 205.

17 It also occurs twice in Isa 17.10 with the sense of ‘not inspiring trust’; see Muraoka, T., A Greek–English Lexicon of the Septuagint (Leuven: Peeters, 2009) 69.Google Scholar

18 Verse 6a is an addition to the Hebrew, only found in the LXXA; see further D'Hamonville, D.-M., La Bible d'Alexandrie: les proverbes (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2000) 259–60Google Scholar, who comments on the Stoic character of this addition. ἄπιστος is a variant in Prov 28.25, but is almost certainly not original there.

19 See Taylor, ‘Paul's Understanding’, 123; G. Barth in EDNT i.123.

20 A participle of πιστεύω is used as a designation in Rom 1.16; 3.22; 4.5, 11, 24; 9.33; 10.4, 11; 1 Cor 1.21; 14.22 (twice); Gal 3.22; 1 Thess 1.7; 2.10, 13; 2 Thess 1.10; 2.12. πιστός is used as a self-designation in 2 Cor 6.15 and Gal 3.9; cf. Col 1.2. See further Trebilco, Self-Designations, 72–90.

21 Taylor, ‘Paul's Understanding’, 124; see also Thrall, Second Epistle to the Corinthians, i.475.

22 See Malherbe, A. J., The Letters to the Thessalonians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB; New York: Doubleday, 2000) 71–4Google Scholar; Dunn, J. D. G., Beginning From Jerusalem: Christianity in the Making, vol. ii (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009) 509Google Scholar, 703–5.

23 See 1 Thess 1.7; 2.10, 13.

24 Note also 1 Thess 5.3.

25 See Thiselton, A. C., The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000) 2932.Google Scholar

26 See Schnelle, U., Apostle Paul: His Life and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005)Google Scholar, 6, 269–71. If Galatians was written between 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians (see Dunn, Beginning From Jerusalem, 509, who dates Galatians to 51 ce), then we note that οἱ πιστεύοντες is only used in Gal 3.22 and οἱ ἄπιστοι not at all.

27 οἱ πιστεύοντες in 1 Cor 1.21; 14.22 (2x); οἱ ἄπιστοι in 1 Cor 6.6; 7.12, 13, 14 (2x), 15; 10.27; 14.22 (2x), 23, 24. Sometimes the article is omitted.

28 Paul uses a considerable range of outsider-labels in 1 Cor; see ‘those who are perishing’ (1.18); ‘Gentiles’ (1.23; 5.1; 12.2); ‘the immoral of this world’ (5.10); ‘those outside’ (οἱ ἔξω) (5.13); ‘the unrighteous’ (6.1, 9); ‘the world’ (6.2; 7.31; 11.32); ‘Jews’ (1.23; 10.32); ‘Greeks’ (1.22; 10.32); ‘outsider’ (ἰδιώτης) (14.16, 23, 24); ‘adversaries’ (16.9).

29 See Collins, R. F., ‘The Faith of the Thessalonians’, Studies on the First Letter to the Thessalonians (BETL 66; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1984) 209–29.Google Scholar

30 Barth in EDNT i.123. Deeming, W., Paul on Marriage and Celibacy: The Hellenistic Background of 1 Corinthians 7 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004 2) 141–3Google Scholar suggests that Stoic use of πιστός and ἄπιστος in discussions relating to friendship and with the sense of ‘trustworthy’ and ‘untrustworthy’ has led to the use of these terms by Paul to distinguish insiders and outsiders. He suggests that the development was made by the Corinthians themselves and then adopted by Paul. However, it seems much more likely that the importance of πίστις and the related οἱ πιστεύοντες for Paul has led to the development of οἱ ἄπιστοι, rather than the use of πιστός and ἄπιστος in a quite different sense and context among the Stoics.

31 Becker, H. S., Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance (London: Free Press of Glencoe, 1963)Google Scholar 33.

32 Adams, E., Constructing the World: A Study in Paul's Cosmological Language (SNTW; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000)Google Scholar 93.

33 Adams, Constructing the World, 87–93, 243.

34 See Taylor, ‘Paul's Understanding’, 131–2.

35 See Sandnes, K. O., ‘Prophecy: A Sign for Believers (1 Cor 14,20–25)’, Biblica 77 (1996) 1314Google Scholar. For a discussion of the much-debated ἰδιῶται, see Clarke, A. D., ‘Church Membership and the ἰδιώτης in the Early Corinthian Community’, New Testament Theology in Light of the Church's Mission: Essays in Honor of I. Howard Marshall (ed. Laansma, J. C., Osborne, G., van Neste, R.; Eugene: Cascade, 2011) 197211.Google Scholar

36 See Adams, E., ‘Placing the Corinthian Communal Meal’, Text, Image, and Christians in the Graeco-Roman World: A Festschrift in Honor of David Lee Balch (ed. Niang, A. C. and Osiek, C.; Eugene: Pickwick, 2012) 28–9.Google Scholar

37 See Fee, G. D., The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987)Google Scholar 681 n. 33. Fee (685) also writes (on 14.23): ‘Paul may very well have in mind an unbelieving spouse accompanying the believer to his or her place of worship.’

38 See Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 681–3; Forbes, C., Prophecy and Inspired Speech in Early Christianity and Its Hellenistic Environment (WUNT ii.75; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1995) 178–81Google Scholar; Sandnes, ‘Prophecy’, 12.

39 Here Paul is citing Isa 28.11–12 but in a form that diverges substantially from the Septuagint. For discussions of 14.22, see also Sandnes, ‘Prophecy’, 10–13; Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1082, 1123–6; Schrage, W., Der erste Brief an die Korinther: 3. Teilband. 1 Kor 11,17–14,40 (EKK vii/3; Zürich: Benziger, 1999) 406–9Google Scholar.

40 Smit, J. F. M., ‘Tongues and Prophecy: Deciphering 1 Cor 14,22,’ Biblica 75 (1994)Google Scholar 183; see also Sandnes, ‘Prophecy’, 5.

41 See 1 Cor 8.7–13; Rom 14.1–15.1; for other-regard in general, see Phil 2.1–4; Rom 15.2, 7; 1 Cor 13.5. Paul states this principle in 1 Cor 14.17: ‘For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up’; in vv. 20–5 he applies this principle to the unbeliever.

42 See, for example, Rom 14.15.

43 Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1127 notes that here Paul is applying his ‘evangelistic maxim’ expressed in 1 Cor 9.20–3: ‘that he would gladly restrain whatever “rights” or “freedoms” were theoretically his, if thereby he could win for Christ the varieties of “other,” be they social elite or socially deprived, or of any specific cultural prejudice’.

44 On this passage, see Starling, D., ‘The ἄπιστοι of 2 Cor 6.14: Beyond the Impasse’, NovT 55 (2013) 4560Google Scholar, who argues convincingly that it is not an interpolation and that the ἄπιστοι are ‘outsiders’ rather than the ‘false apostles’ of 2 Cor 10–13.

45 See Webb, W. J., Returning Home: New Covenant and Second Exodus as the Context for 2 Corinthians 6.14–7.1 (JSNTSup 85; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993) 201.Google Scholar

46 A range of designations is at work in this; for example ‘those who are perishing’ (1.18), ‘those outside’ (5.12–13), ‘unrighteous’ (6.1); see Adams, Constructing the World, 98. He notes on p. 126 that Paul wishes to stress the social and ethical distinctiveness of the Corinthian believers.

47 See Adams, Constructing the World, 97.

48 See, for example, Jewett, R., Romans: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007) 332–3Google Scholar on Rom 4.17.

49 Other very clear examples of ἔθνη for non-Jewish outsiders are 2 Cor 11.26; Gal 2.9, 15; Rom 3.29; 9.24; 1 Thess 4.5. Gal 2.15 (ἐξ ἐθνῶν ἁμαρτωλοί) is also part of this Jewish–Gentile map – on which, see below.

50 See Heckel, U., ‘Das Bild der Heiden und die Identität der Christen bei Paulus’, Die Heiden: Juden, Christen und das Problem des Fremden (ed. Feldmeier, R. and Heckel, U.; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1994) 270–2Google Scholar; Scott, J. M., Paul and the Nations: The Old Testament and Jewish Background of Paul's Mission to the Nations with Special Reference to the Destination of Galatians (WUNT i.84; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1995) 121–34Google Scholar; Hodge, C. Johnson, If Sons, Then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul (Oxford: Oxfrod University Press, 2007) 4756CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Duling, D. C., ‘Ethnicity, Ethnocentrism, and the Matthean Ethnos’, BTB 35 (2005)Google Scholar 129 notes that goyim in the Hebrew Bible and ἔθνη in the Septuagint are ‘oppositional terms for outsiders’. Of course ἔθνος can on occasions be used in the Septuagint of the people (‘nation’) of Israel; e.g. Gen 18.18; Exod 19.6; Ps 105.5; 1 Macc 8.23; 2 Macc 11.27. It need not be used in an oppositional way therefore. Note also that τὰ ἔθνη can be used for both ‘nations’ and ‘foreign nationals’, that is, a multiplicity of non-Jewish individuals; see Scott, Paul and the Nations, 60–120.

51 See also, for example, Lev 20.23–6; Deut 7.1, 6; 18.9; Wis 14.11; 15.15; 1 Macc 1.15; 2 Macc 10.4.

52 See, for example, Lev 18.20–7; Deut 12.1–4; 28.64; Jub. 1.8–9; 2.4–8; 22.10–24; see Lieu, J. M., Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) 116–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

53 See, for example, Rom 1.14; 1 Cor 1.22, 24; 2 Cor 6.11; Acts 17.21–2; 18.8.

54 LSJ s.v. 1; see also Dabelstein, R., Die Beurteilung der ‘Heiden’ bei Paulus (BBET 14; Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1981) 21–2Google Scholar; Jones, C. P, ‘ἔθνος and γένος in Herodotus’, CQ 46 (1996) 315–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hall, J. M., Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) 34–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

55 In this sense it can be used of the Jewish ἔθνος; see, for example, Luke 7.5; 23.2; Acts 10.22; John 11.48.

56 BDAG 276, ἔθνος, 2; see also Arzt-Grabner, P., Kritzer, R. E., Papathomas, A., Winter, F., 1. Korinther (Papyrologische Kommentare zum Neuen Testament 2; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006) 99101.Google Scholar

57 Aristotle, Pol. 1324b 10.

58 Appian, Bell. civ. 2.24.99; 2.28.107; 3.35.140; 4.57.246.

59 Appian, Bell. civ. 2.13.89.

60 See TDNT ii.371; EDNT i.382; Duling, ‘Ethnicity’, 129–130.

61 The only exception might be non-Jews who had been God-fearers, or who otherwise had spent a good deal of time with Jews, but even in their case it seems unlikely that they would have gone so far as to call themselves ‘one of the Gentiles’.

62 See Trebilco, Self-Designations, on these terms.

63 Bauckham, R. J., ‘James, Peter, and the Gentiles’, The Missions of James, Peter, and Paul: Tensions in Early Christianity (ed. Chilton, B. and Evans, C. A.; NovTSup 115; Leiden: Brill, 2005) 125Google Scholar; see also Dunn, J. D. G., A Commentary on The Epistle to the Galatians (BNTC; London: A&C Black, 1993)Google Scholar 133. In 2.17 Paul is also echoing the language of the men from James: Jews who associate with Gentile ‘sinners’ must themselves be seen as ‘sinners’.

64 There Paul emphasises that if ‘Jews by birth’ themselves came to believe in Christ in order to be justified, thereby admitting that ‘works of the law’ were inadequate for justification, then surely ‘Gentile sinners’ too must be justified by faith in Christ and not by ‘works of the law’, the latter also being irrelevant for their justification; see de Boer, M. C., Galatians: A Commentary (NTL; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2011) 142–3.Google Scholar

65 See Heckel, ‘Das Bild der Heiden’, 271.

66 Some texts include τὰ ἔθνη in 1 Cor 10.20, which would mean we could include it here. However, the reading is probably not original; see Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 773.

67 This is clear from passages like 1 Cor 6.9–11; 7.18; 8.7; 12.1–3; see Schrage, W., Der erste Brief an die Korinther: 1. Teilband. 1 Kor 1,1–6.11 (EKK vii/1; Zürich: Benziger, 1991) 31–2Google Scholar. For Ephesians, see Eph 2.11–12, 17; 3.1–6.

68 Hartog, P., ‘“Not Even among the Pagans” (1 Cor 5.1): Paul and Seneca on Incest,’ The New Testament and Early Christian Literature in Greco-Roman Context: Studies in Honor of David E. Aune (ed. Fotopoulos, J.; NovTSup 122; Leiden: Brill, 2006) 63Google Scholar, who translates ἔθνεσιν here as ‘Gentile pagans’. See also Dabelstein, Die Beurteilung der ‘Heiden’ bei Paulus, 57–8.

69 This usage leads to the translation of ‘pagans’ in the NRSV in 1 Cor 5.1; 10.20; 12.2.

70 Hays, R. B., First Corinthians (Interpretation: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1997) 209Google Scholar; cf. Fitzmyer, J. A., First Corinthians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AYB; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008) 233.Google Scholar

71 1 Pet 2.12; 4.3; Rev 11.2, 18; 15.3–4; 20.3, 8. Note also Matt 6.32; 24.9; 28.19, although the meaning of Matthew's usage is particularly debated. ἐθνικός is found in Matt 5.47; 6.7; 18.17; 3 John 7.

72 See also 1 Cor 5.1; Eph 4.17–19; 1 Pet 2.11–12.

73 See, for example, Rom 2.24; 11.11–12, 25; 15.9–12; 1 Cor 1.23; 2 Cor 11.26; Gal 1.16; 1 Thess 2.16.

74 See also Gal 2.12: ‘he used to eat with the Gentiles’ (μετὰ τῶν ἐθνῶν συνήσθιεν); Gal 2.14: ‘how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’ (πῶς τὰ ἔθνη ἀναγκάζεις ἰουδαΐζειν); Eph 3.1: ‘for the sake of you Gentiles’ (ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν τῶν ἐθνῶν) (cf. Eph 2.11). See Dabelstein, Die Beurteilung der ‘Heiden’ bei Paulus, 35, 37. In saying in Rom 1.5–6 that he seeks ‘to bring about the obedience of faith among all Gentiles … including yourselves’, Paul is demonstrating this same usage of calling ‘non-Jewish converts’ simply ‘Gentiles’; see Johnson Hodge, If Sons, Then Heirs, 55.

75 It might be thought that ‘the churches of …’ indicates that they are Christian ‘Gentiles’. But my point is that ‘Gentile’ here changes its sense – from outsider to non-Jewish insider.

76 1 Thess 4.5 suggests Paul was aware that there could be some ambiguity: ‘not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God (τὰ ἔθνη τὰ μὴ εἰδότα τὸν θεόν)’. The addition of ‘who do not know God’ (probably a direct allusion to Jer 10.25, but see also Ps 78.6 (LXX)) to ‘the Gentiles’ shows Paul presupposes that there are two types of Gentiles – those who do not know God (whom the Thessalonians should not imitate) and groups like the Thessalonian addressees – who by implication are ‘Gentiles who do know God’. They have learned that in the LXX ideological map they were τὰ ἔθνη, and they can still be called by this – with the important addition that they do ‘know God’. But Paul normally speaks simply of ‘Gentiles’ and leaves it to his readers to determine whether he is speaking of non-Christ-following or Christ-following Gentiles. ‘Gentiles’ will normally suffice then. Note also Eph 2.11: ‘So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth (τὰ ἔθνη ἐν σαρκί), called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”’; Acts 15.19: ‘those Gentiles who are turning to God’ (τοῖς ἀπὸ τῶν ἐθνῶν ἐπιστρέφουσιν ἐπὶ τὸν θεόν) and 15.23: ‘to the brothers and sisters of Gentile origin’ (ἀδελφοῖς τοῖς ἐξ ἐθνῶν).

77 This is clearest in Rom 11.11–13; see also Heckel, ‘Das Bild der Heiden’, 272.

78 This is because in 1 Corinthians he could say that they were no longer Gentiles, and because he can still use τὰ ἔθνη of ‘Gentile outsiders’.

79 BDAG 277 illustrates the problem when it gives meaning (2b) for ἔθνος as ‘non-Israelite Christians, gentiles of Christian congregations composed of more than one nationality and not limited to people of Israel’ (emphasis original), for passages like Rom 16.4; Gal 2.12 and Eph 3.1. Since ‘non-Israelite Christians’ was not available to Paul, BDAG demonstrates well the issue that led Paul to call them simply ‘Gentiles’.

80 This could also be understood as an example of ‘linguistic defamiliarization’, as discussed by Adams, Constructing the World, 27–30, 113.

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