As one who is interested in placing Paul in his historical context, I am especially interested in letter writing. One important aspect of letter writing that is often overlooked is the role of the individuals who delivered Paul’s letters. This series of posts will examine these individuals and the role they played in Paul’s communication.
In this post I will examine an important article by Margaret Mitchell, “New Testament Envoys in the Context of Greco-Roman Diplomatic and Epistolary Conventions: The Example of Timothy and Titus.” In this work Mitchell examines the role of Timothy and Titus as envoys who would have carried with them the authority of Paul. She is especially interested in refuting Funk’s claim that Paul considered letters and envoys poor substitutes for his own physical presence. Mitchell rightfully claims that in Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians, Paul is aware that at certain points a letter (2 Cor 2:4) or envoy (2 Cor 7:5-16) would be more effective than his personal presence. Thus, Mitchell seemingly refutes Funk’s claim that Paul thought his presence was always the best solution and that a letter or envoy were only used when he was not able to personally visit a community.
Mitchell continues by examining the role of envoys in the ancient world and applying this information to Paul’s co-workers, Timothy and Titus. Mitchell provides extensive evidence which demonstrates that an envoy served a dual purpose of both transmitting information from sender to receiver and then carrying information from the receiver back to the sender. There are many passages in which Paul states that he either sent or will be sending Timothy or Titus to a community. However, there are also two noteworthy passages which state that Timothy (1 Thess 3:6-10) and Titus (2 Cor 7:5-16) have returned to Paul with information from the community. In addition to bringing Paul messages from communities, his envoys would also bring back information which they gleaned from their own experiences with the community. Mitchell highlights the importance of this role with a thought provoking statement, “… Timothy and Titus … decided just what to tell Paul upon their return with messages from the church!” (654) This is certainly an intriguing and correct statement, Paul’s knowledge about many of his communities was filtered through his envoys.
In addition to simply bringing messages, Mitchell demonstrates that it was expected that envoys would represent the one who sent them and be treated as such. As a representative of the sender it would also be expected that the envoy would transmit information not contained in the letter. This concept is especially interesting and important for my work. The implication seems to be that as Paul’s envoys, they could answer any follow up questions a community might have concerning the letter they received from Paul. Additionally, the envoys would have probably brought extra information not contained in the letters. I will address in my next posting what some of this information might have been. Mitchell’s work certainly opens many interesting avenues for studying Paul’s letters.
My next post will focus on letter carriers and additional roles they may have had in Paul’s communication process.
Mitchell, Margaret M. “New Testament Envoys in the Context of Greco-Roman Diplomatic and Epistolary Conventions: The Example of Timothy and Titus.” JBL 111 (1992): 641-662.