Vincent Branick – The house church in the writings of Paul (Wilmington, USA : Michael Glazier, 1989)

While Paul affirms the existence of the private or single family house church, and while for Paul that house church remains the basic cell of the local church, he clearly wants those house churches to form a body with each other within the city-wide church. Instead of a group of house churches closed to each other or even hostile to each other, Paul envisions apparently a kind of federation of several house churches forming a local church. The Pauline local church existed thus on two levels, both connected with households, 1) a household assembly of an individual family and those associated with that family, and 2) a city-wide level meeting in a private home but consisting of several families. (p. 26)

This quote sums up Branick’s account of Paul’s understanding of church.

· The household churches might start with the head of a house converting to Christianity, and with him – or sometimes her – many others in the house. (Branick makes the excellent point that not all of the household were converted in each case – and this is why Paul has to address the issue of unbelieving spouses; this is why the runaway slave Onesimus was not a Christian when he ran away from Philemon.) Singles or poor people or even other couples would then attach themselves to this household and form a worshipping house church.

· On special occasions, all of these households came together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and worship with their spiritual gifts. It is to these events that Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 – where he warns about the greedy rich shaming the poor and thus making it no longer a true Lord’s Supper – and 1 Corinthians 14 – where he sets out the way to have an orderly meeting in the Spirit. (Maddeningly, he never answers his own problem – he notes that these meetings couldn’t have happened too often; there were too many people to fit into a normal house. But how did they ever fit into one house for these meetings?)

· But this didn’t happen in all cities. He points out that Paul never addresses the Romans as a city-wide church, believing that the different Christian households had not yet formed a federation (p. 70). Similarly, Branick believes that there were multiple house churches in Anitoch which did not have a city-wide gathering. Instead, Peter vacillates between the Greek faction and the Jewish faction (p. 25, referring to Gal. 2:11-13). (Were there perhaps two alliances of Christian households, then?)

One fascinating part of the book is the way he traces the role of Priscalla and Aquilla. These Roman Jews were banished from Rome by imperial edict, and went to settle at Corinth. However, later they were in Rome again, and still later in Ephesus. They owned a house which was the basis of a household church in Corinth. As a tentmaker, Aquilla would not have had enough money to allow them to come to Corinth and buy a house straight away. And why is Priscalla mentioned first many times? Partly because she clearly had a leadership role in the church; but maybe had a high social standing and wealth which Aquilla married into.

The great thing about scholarly criticism of the NT is that it allows us to see developments in the church and significant differences between different writers representing different communities.

· For Branick, Paul sits between Jesus’ openness to outsiders and the Johannine community’s closed attitude to outsiders.

· He sees the deutero-Pauline letters as moving away from house churches with the rise of (paid) bishops and the move ‘toward a city-wide organisation where teaching can be carefully monitored.’ (128)

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