Rom 12:6–8: the seven Χαρίσματα and their cultic antecedents
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date10/07/2020
McCaskill, Teresa Lee
This thesis investigates the transition gentile Christ-followers faced as they emerged as monotheistic worshipers in first-century Rome. Abandoning myriad cultic practices, this group must now find appropriate activities through which they may engage with God, their own community, and others. Paul's Roman epistle affirms their new commitment, and also re-orients their formerly polytheistic perspectives, arguably in recognition of their uniquely gentile dilemma. I contend that Paul accordingly presents the seven gifts that appear in Rom 12:6–8 as functional replacements for previous cultic practices. As examples of the "reasonable worship" that Paul advocates in Rom 12:1–2, the χαρίσματα that appear in Rom 12:6–8 are ideas that were already known to Roman gentiles. Paul thus re-purposes familiar concepts to help this burgeoning group progress in their new Christ-following belief system. I begin by situating the χαρίσματα within the purview of modern scholarship. Here I find a pronounced lack of consensus about how the χαρίσματα in Rom 12:6–8, which have sometimes been viewed under the umbrella term “spiritual gifts,” should be defined and understood. The lack of textual detail within these verses has presented scholars with real challenges in understanding Rom 12:6–8. This is because Paul offers little description as to these gifts, nor does he tell us much about how they ought to be practiced. Commentators state their opinions about Paul's purposes in writing his letter, but few attempt to show how the χαρίσματα support his agenda. Perhaps because of Paul's own Jewish heritage and debate over the ethnic make-up of his addressees, scholars have paid attention to the Jewish background of the χαρίσματα. However, the Greco-Roman context within which Paul's gentile auditors lived has largely been ignored. It is this gentile audience and context that are the focus of my thesis. After identifying gaps in the scholarship as concerns the seven χαρίσματα, I turn to the verses that precede Paul's list, especially Rom 12:1–2. I argue that these verses create a backdrop from which the χαρίσματα may emerge and ultimately be assessed. This backdrop establishes the primacy of worship for Paul's audience as a means for them to live out a life that reflects their devotion to God. The χαρίσματα serve as practical examples of how they may do this. I then look at various aspects of divine-human interaction from the standpoint of the first-century milieu within which Paul's Roman addressees lived. Here I draw upon primary literary and material evidence to sketch a portrait of the activities and viewpoints commonly associated with traditional gentile ritual and cult. I conclude this chapter by hypothesizing that all seven of the χαρίσματα Paul lists in Rom 12:6–8 have cultic antecedents that would have been familiar to his Roman audience. More specifically, I argue that in his letter, Paul is addressing a community with a polytheistic past that is transitioning into a world that he perceives to be filled with apocalyptic exigencies. This will permit me to examine, in the seven chapters that follow, the purposes and potential applications for the seven χαρίσματα in light of their arguably pagan cultic roots. Beginning with a chapter on προφητεία, and continuing on to chapters on διακονία, ὁ διδάσκων, ὁ παρακαλῶν, ὁ μεταδιδοὺς, ὁ προϊστάμενος, and ὁ ἐλεῶν, I test my hypothesis by investigating each of these words within literary and material evidence from the ancient world. I take particular aim at instances where these seven words are used in contexts that speak to divine-human relations. Each chapter is concluded with my own translation of the gift under consideration based upon my analysis of relevant Greco-Roman sources. I then compile the data that I have gathered as to the cultic antecedents of the seven χαρίσματα in Rom 12:6–8 and draw several conclusions. I note how the seven χαρίσματα each represent a portal into some of the various forms of divine-human interaction that existed in firstcentury Rome. To a gentile recipient of Paul's letter, the seven χαρίσματα in Rom 12:6–8 can be shown to relate to the traditional state cult, as well as to popular gods such as Apollo, Hermes, and Dionysus. There are also identifiable connections with household gods and the imperial cult. I argue that in presenting familiar concepts in the form of gifts from God, Paul has proposed a construct that fills the ceremonial vacuum that this audience may have felt in transitioning from their former cultic practices. In this regard, the χαρίσματα are not only practices that reflect worship, they are also activities that can further Paul's missional purpose. With an eye to a forthcoming world where time is of the essence because of Christ's imminent return, and in which the gospel must therefore be quickly spread, this urgency creates the resonant plane against which Paul’s message can project.