Beverly Gaventa talks about what mattered to the ancient moral philosophers – and to Paul.
I think it’s important for us to realise that Paul, or other Christians in general, were not the only people in the ancient world who cared about behaviour, about what we call ethics. The philosophers, the moral philosophers of the first century, were quite interested in cultivating ethical people.
I’m going to generalise in ways that are somewhat problematic, but the philosophers were concerned with cultivating one’s own virtues in order to be an exemplary person, in order to be a person who wasn’t in need of anyone else. If we read the writings of Epictetus, you get this notion of cultivating myself so that I am not somehow compromised by other people, I am not in need of them, I am a strong-willed person.
Paul may advocate some of the same behaviours, but I think for quite different reasons. The motivation is not to prove my strength, my inner power to improve my own self, but for the build-up of the community.