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The Pauline Epistles in Tertullian's Bible1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 October 2015

Matthew V. Novenson*
University of Edinburgh, New College, Mound Place, Edinburgh EH1 2LX,


The question of the fate of Paulinism in late antiquity, a point of controversy in early Christian studies especially since Adolf von Harnack, has benefited from fresh attention in recent research, even as, simultaneously, there is ever less agreement among New Testament scholars on the question of what Paulinism actually is. This state of affairs comes sharply into focus in Todd Still and David Wilhite's edited volume Tertullian and Paul, the first in a new series from T&T Clark on the reception of Paul in the church fathers. Reading and assessing Tertullian and Paul is a sometimes dizzying experience of intertextuality. The reader encounters, for example, Margaret MacDonald reading Elizabeth Clark reading Tertullian reading Paul. What is more, Paul himself is reading, for example, Second Isaiah, who is reading First Isaiah, who is reading parts of the Pentateuch, and so on. One thinks of Derrida's notion of différance, in which any given text refers to other texts, which refer to still other texts, which refer to still other texts, and so on, ad infinitum.

Article Review
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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Todd D. Still and David E. Wilhite (eds), Tertullian and Paul (PPSD 1; London: T&T Clark, 2013).


2 The present article has been revised in light of valuable comments from Markus Bockmuehl, David Eastman, Mark Elliott, Todd Still, Benjamin White and David Wilhite. Any remaining deficiencies are my own responsibility.

3 See Derrida, Jacques, ‘Différance’, in Margins of Philosophy, tr. Bass, Alan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), pp. 128Google Scholar.

4 Holl, Karl, ‘Tertullian als Schriftsteller’, in Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kirchengeschichte, vol. 3 (Tübingen: Mohr, 1928 [orig. 1897]), pp. 112Google Scholar; Lortz, Joseph, Tertullian als Apologet, 2 vols (Münster: Aschendorff, 1927–8)Google Scholar; O’Malley, T. P., Tertullian and the Bible: Language, Imagery, Exegesis (Nijmegen: Dekker & Van De Vegt, 1967)Google Scholar; Osborn, Eric, Tertullian: First Theologian of the West(Cambridge: CUP, 1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dunn, Geoffrey D., Tertullian(London: Routledge, 2004)Google Scholar.

5 Aleith, Eva, Paulusverständnis in der alten Kirche (Berlin: Töpelmann, 1937)Google Scholar; Wiles, Maurice F., The Divine Apostle: The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles in the Early Church(Cambridge: CUP, 1967)Google Scholar; Lindemann, Andreas, Paulus im ältesten Christentum (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1979)Google Scholar; David K. Rensberger, ‘As the Apostle Teaches: The Development of the Use of Paul's Letters in Second-Century Christianity’ (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1981); Pervo, Richard I., The Making of Paul: Constructions of the Apostle in Early Christianity(Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2010)Google Scholar; Eastman, David L., Paul the Martyr: The Cult of the Apostle in the Latin West (Atlanta, GA: SBL, 2011)Google Scholar; Benjamin L. White, ‘Imago Pauli: Memory, Tradition, and Discourses on the “Real” Paul in the Second Century’ (Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina, 2011).

6 Barth, Fritz, ‘Tertullians Auffassung des Apostels Paulus und seines Verhältnisses zu den Uraposteln’, JPTh 8 (1882), pp. 706–56Google Scholar; Rambaux, Claude, ‘La composition et l’exégèse dans les deux lettres Ad uxorem, le De exhortations castitatis, et le De monogamia, ou la construction de la pensée dans les traités de Tertullien sur la remarriage’, REA 22 (1976), pp. 328Google Scholar, 201–17; and REA 23 (1977), pp. 18–55; Sider, Robert D., ‘Literary Artifice and the Figure of Paul in the Writings of Tertullian’, in Babcock, William S. (ed.), Paul and the Legacies of Paul(Dallas, TX: Southern Methodist University Press, 1986), pp. 99120Google Scholar; Lieu, Judith M., ‘‘As much my apostle as Christ is mine’: The Dispute over Paul between Tertullian and Marcion’, EC 1 (2010), pp. 4159Google Scholar; Bain, Andrew M., ‘Tertullian: Paul as Teacher of the Gentiles’, in Bird, Michael F. and Dodson, Joseph R. (eds), Paul and the Second Century(London: T&T Clark, 2011)Google Scholar.

7 David E. Wilhite, ‘Introduction: Reading Tertullian Reading Paul’, in Tertullian and Paul, p. xxi.

8 Wilhite, ‘Introduction’; Todd D. Still, ‘Afterword: Tertullian and Pauline Studies’, in Tertullian and Paul, pp. 282–4.

9 Still, ‘Afterword’, p. 283.

10 Perhaps he should be counted among the North African seniores laici, ‘lay elders’, but this is neither clear nor agreed upon.

11 Text and trans. Evans, Ernest, Tertullian: Adversus Marcionem, 2 vols, OECT (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972)Google Scholar.

12 Latin text ed. Munier, Charles, La pudicité, 2 vols, Sources chrétiennes, pp. 394–5 (Paris: Cerf, 1993)Google Scholar. Trans. alt. from Thelwall in ANF. Our text of 1 Cor 9:6 (per NA28) reads ἢ µόνος ἐγὼ καὶ Βαρναβᾶς οὐκ ἕχοµεν ἐξουσίαν µὴ ἐργάζεσθαι; ‘Do only Barnabas and I not have the right to refrain from working?’ But Tertullian's text of the verse reads Aut ego solus et Barnabas non habemus operandi potestatem? which lacks an equivalency for the µή in the last phrase and so exactly reverses the sense of the verse.

13 Text and trans. Evans, Ernest, Tertullian's Homily on Baptism (London: SPCK, 1964)Google Scholar.

14 For the latter view see Metzger, Bruce M., ‘Literary Forgeries and Canonical Pseudepigrapha’, JBL 91 (1972), pp. 324Google Scholar; and against it see now Ehrman, Bart D., Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics(New York: OUP, 2013)Google Scholar. Note that Tertullian's objection to the Acts of Paul has to do not with pseudonymity but rather with inauthenticity. Those who favoured the Acts of Paul claimed not that Paul wrote the text but that it was a true account of his acts, and it is this latter claim that Tertullian disputes.

15 Latin text ed. Refoulé, R. F., Traité de la prescription contre les hérétiques, Sources chrétiennes, 46 (Paris: Cerf, 1957)Google Scholar. Trans. alt. from Bindley, T. H., Tertullian: On the Testimony of the Soul and On the Prescription of Heretics (London: SPCK, 1914)Google Scholar.

16 Metzger, Bruce M., The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987), 4, n. 4Google Scholar.

17 But ipsae may suggest that the former interpretation is the more defensible.

18 von Harnack, Adolf, ‘Tertullians Bibliothek christlicher Schriften’, Sitzungsberichte der königlich preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 10 (1914), pp. 303–34Google Scholar, here p. 308, n. 1. For his estimate Harnack follows the index prepared by Oehler, Franz, Q.S.F. Tertulliani opera omnia, 3 vols (Leipzig, 1851–4)Google Scholar as well as the study of Roensch, Hermann, Das neue Testament Tertullians(Leipzig, 1871)Google Scholar.

19 So rightly Sider, ‘Literary Artifice’, 119: ‘Tertullian's Paul, it would seem, emerges more from the Epistles to the Corinthians than from the Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians’.

20 Dekkers et al. suggest an allusion to Phlm 10 in the phrase onesimum aeonem at Val. 32.4, but this is unlikely. Oehler proposes, quite plausibly in my view, that onesimum may be a corruption for the numerical name of an aeon ending with the superlative –issimum: Tertulliani opera omnia (edn minor; Leipzig, 1854), p. 888.

21 Exh. cast. 4.2; 6.1; Cult. fem. 2.9.6; Marc. 1.29.4; 5.7.8; 5.8.7; Mon. 3.2; 7.4; 11.4; Ux. 1.5.4.

22 An. 3.1; Herm. 1.1; Praescr. 4.6; 30.4; 39.1; 39.7; Prax. 10.8; Res. 40.1; 63.8; Val. 5.2.

23 Carn. 13.3; Marc. 5.10.11; 5.10.15; 5.12.6; 5.14.4; Res. 48.1; 49.9; 50.3; 51.4; 51.7.

24 Marc. 5.10.14; 5.12.3; Res. 42.2; 50.5; 51.8; 54.2; 54.4; 57.9; 60.4.

25 Bapt. 2.3; Carn. Chr. 4.5; Fug. 2.1; Marc. 5.5.10; 5.19.8; Praescr. 7.1; Prax. 10.7; Res. 57.11.

26 Exh. cast. 3.6; 3.9; 3.10; Marc. 5.7.6; Mon. 3.4; Pud. 1.15; 16.15; Ux. 1.3.3.

27 Exh. cast. 4.4; Cor. 13.5; Marc. 5.7.8; Mon. 11.1; 11.3; 11.10; 11.11; Ux. 2.2.3.

28 Bapt. 9.3; Adv. Jud. 9.22; Marc. 3.5.4; 3.16.5; 4.35.15; 5.5.9; 5.7.12; Pat. 5.24.

29 Cor. 6.1; 14.1; Marc. 5.8.11; Or. 22.1; 22.4; Virg. 4.1; 8.2; 11.1.

30 Jejun. 14.2; Marc. 4.1.6; 4.11.9; 4.33.8; 5.2.1; 5.4.3; 5.12.6; 5.19.11.

31 Fug. 1.5; 12.3; Jejun. 17.8; Marc. 3.14.3; 5.18.12; 5.18.13; Praescr. 39.1; Res. 22.11.

32 von Campenhausen, Hans, The Formation of the Christian Bible, tr. Baker, J. A. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972; German original 1968), p. 275Google Scholar.

33 Quispel, Gilles, ‘African Christianity Before Minucius Felix and Tertullian’, in den Boeft, J. and Kessels, A. H. M. (eds), Actus: Studies in Honour of H. L. W. Nelson (Utrecht: Institute of Classical Languages, 1982), pp. 257335Google Scholar, here p. 297. Quispel's initial reference is to Lortz, Tertullian als Apologet, vol. 2, pp. 20–30. This comment of Quispel's is discussed by Andrew B. McGowan, ‘God in Christ: Tertullian, Paul, and Christology’, in Tertullian and Paul, pp. 1–2.

34 Barth, ‘Tertullians Auffassung’.

35 Aleith, Paulusverständnis, pp. 49–61; similarly Quispel, ‘Christianity in Africa’.

36 Rambaux, ‘La composition et l’exégèse’. See further idem, Tertullien face aux morales des trois premiers siècles (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1979).

37 Roetzel, ‘Paul in the Second Century’, esp. pp. 235–7.

38 Wiles, Divine Apostle, pp. 132–9.

39 Lindemann, Andreas, Paulus Apostel und Lehrer der Kirche: Studien zu Paulus und zum frühen Paulusverständnis (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999), pp. 294322Google Scholar; and idem, Paulus im ältesten Christentum, pp. 378–95.

40 Sider, ‘Literary Artifice’.

41 John M. G. Barclay, ‘Tertullian, Paul, and the Nation of Israel: A Response to Geoffrey D. Dunn’, in Tertullian and Paul, pp. 98–103; Elizabeth A. Clark, ‘Status Feminae: Tertullian and the Uses of Paul’, ibid., pp. 127–55; Bruce W. Longenecker, ‘Did Tertullian Succeed? Reflections on Tertullian's Appropration of Paul in his Response to Marcion’, ibid., pp. 247–58; Todd D. Still, ‘Martyrdom as Sacrament: Tertullian's (Mis)Use of “the Apostle” (Paul)’, ibid., pp. 119–26.

42 Rorty, Richard, ‘The Historiography of Philosophy: Four Genres’, in Rorty, Richard, Schneewind, Jerome B. and Skinner, Quentin (eds), Philosophy in History: Essays on the Historiography of Philosophy (Cambridge: CUP, 1984), p. 49CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

43 Ibid., p. 51.

44 Agamben, Giorgio, The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, tr. Dailey, Patricia (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005)Google Scholar; Gregory, Eric, Politics and the Order of Love: An Augustinian Ethic of Democratic Citizenship (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010)Google Scholar.

45 Cf. Michael F. Bird, ‘Paul, Tertullian, and the God of the Christians: A Response to Andrew B. McGowan’, in Tertullian and Paul, p. 20: ‘If there is one category that best describes what Tertullian is doing with Paul it is probably “theological exegesis”’. As I see it, theological exegesis is an accurate but insufficiently specific descriptor for Tertullian's use of Paul. Closer to my notion of rational reconstruction is Sider, ‘Literary Artifice’, p. 120: ‘Tertullian's experiment in a Christian literary art whose ends the apostle was made to serve should in itself command our attention. But out of his rhetorical art a figure of the apostle emerges worthy also of our interest, a figure capable of change and growth, rendered present to the reader in the sound of his voice and the touch of his flesh, but at the same time a figure with the power and authority appropriate to a haloed saint.’

46 On which see Hanson, R. P. C., ‘Notes on Tertullian's Interpretation of Scripture’, JTS 12 (1961), pp. 273–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dunn, Geoffrey D., ‘Tertullian's Scriptural Exegesis in De praescriptione haereticorum’, JECS 14 (2006), pp. 141–55Google Scholar.

47 Wiles, Divine Apostle, p. 139.

48 Arnaldo Momigliano, review of Barnes, Timothy D., Tertullian: A Historical and Literary Study, in JRS 66 (1976), pp. 273–6Google Scholar.

49 von Harnack, Adolf, History of Dogma, tr. Buchanan, Neil, 7 vols (London: Williams & Norgate, 1894–9), vol. 1, p. 89Google Scholar. Harnack's comment is cited and discussed by McGowan, ‘God in Christ’, pp. 1–2; Stephen Cooper, ‘Communis Magister Paulus: Altercation over the Gospel in Tertullian's Against Marcion’, in Tertullian and Paul, p. 227.

50 Overbeck, Franz, Christentum und Kultur: Gedanken und Anmerkungen zur modernen Theologie(Basel: Benno Schwabe, 1919; repr. 1963), pp. 218–19Google Scholar; noted by Metzger, Canon of the New Testament, 93, n. 32; and thence McGowan, ‘God in Christ’, p. 1.

51 The fuller context of the famous saying runs as follows: ‘The dependence of the Pauline Theology on the Old Testament or on Judaism is overlooked in the traditional contrasting of Paulinism and Jewish Christianity, in which Paulinism is made equivalent to Gentile Christianity. . . . This judgment is confirmed by a glance at the fate of Pauline Theology in the 120 years that followed. Marcion was the only Gentile Christian who understood Paul, and even he misunderstood him: the rest never got beyond the appropriation of particular Pauline sayings, and exhibited no comprehension especially of the theology of the Apostle, so far as in it the universalism of Christianity as a religion is proved, even without recourse to Moralism and without putting a new construction on the Old Testament religion’ (Harnack, History of Dogma, vol. 1, pp. 89–90).