Luke Timothy Johnson. Interpretation. Richmond: Apr 2004.Vol.58, Iss. 2; pg. 158, 14 pgs Copyright Interpretation Apr 2004
From Luke to James, the writers of the New Testament transformed the Greco-Roman ideal of friendship into a communal ethos. This koinonia was characterized above all by the sharing of material possessions.
Regarding friendship in the New Testament, this essay makes three kinds of connections. The first is the connection between the explicit and the implicit, between denotation and connotation. Although rarely discussed explicitly, friendship (philia) is actually a prominent theme in the canonical compositions. But to recognize its prominence, readers need to grasp the connections that ancient readers would automatically make when they heard certain words and phrases by placing the New Testament's language within the context of the ancient Greco-Roman topos on friendship.
The second connection is between what is said and what is done, between discourse and practice. Here, body language comes into play. The ancient ideal of friendship was not simply about sharing ideas or feelings. It involved the real sharing of life through specific practices. The New Testament shows us a range of such practices and how such koinonia was an ideal expression of friendship.
The third connection is the one that the first Christians formed among themselves on the basis of the material expression of friendship. They formed a web of associations involving shared beliefs, commitments, and practices critical to their survival as an intentional community in a hostile environment. Such associations enabled the early Christian communities to be recognized as remarkable realizations of the ancient ideal of a polis of persons that had an inner spirit of philia.
COMMON CONCEPTIONS OF FRIENDSHIP
Greco-Roman moral discourse frequently made use of rhetorical topoi when addressing a particular subject. The topos (literally, "place") is not a literary genre but a loose collection of associated thoughts clustered around a specific theme or "topic" that expressed, often in proverbs and maxims, the shared wisdom of the culture. These topoi could be gathered into anthologies to serve as repositories for the rhetorician, whether as speaker or as writer. We frequently find them woven into moral treatises. The same points are made concerning a vice like envy, for example, in moral discourses ranging from Plato through the Testament of Simeon through Plutarch to the sermons of Basil the Great. The whole point was the commonalty: they occasioned from the hearer or reader instant recognition and authority because of the shared cultural values they conveyed.
As clusters of associated thoughts, moreover, such topoi engendered associative thinking in the hearer or reader. The maxims and proverbs were so well-known that hearing half of one would trigger a memory of the remainder, just as in English, hearing "a stitch in time" immediately summons "saves nine." And likewise the reverse: reading an author's aside to "saving nine," we would catch an allusion to the proverb concerning "a stitch in time" and recognize, further, that the topic was prudence.
This associative character of Greco-Roman moral discourse through the use of topoi is critical to our ability to recognize the theme of friendship in the New Testament, for if we look only at the explicit occurrence of the term, we find little evidence of its presence. The noun philia ("friendship") occurs only in James 4:4. The verb philein ("to be friends with") tends to be used in rough equivalence with agapan.1 Should we then conclude that friendship was not an important aspect of early Christian self-understanding, or that Christians rejected the Greco-Roman ideal in favor of a different understanding of love? Such conclusions based on the incidence of explicit terms would be premature for two reasons. The first is the intriguing evidence that at least some Christians referred to each other as "friends."2 The second is that the presence of common conceptions about friendship shows that friendship is a pervasive theme in the New Testament even when the term itself is not used. The themes commonly associated with friendship occur so frequently that ancient readers or hearers would have understood them within that context.
It would have been odd, in fact, if the language of friendship had not been part of the earliest Christian lexicon. The topos on friendship (peri philias) contained Greco-Roman culture's best thought concerning humans in intentional relationships. The ideals of friendship came into play at all societal levels: within the bond of the family in the natural kinship system, within an association of like-minded individuals, within the internal life of the polis, and within the harmonious relations between city-states. From Plato and Aristotle through Cicero and Seneca to Dio Chrysostom and Plutarch, we find the same conceptions and connections. Friends are one soul (miapsyche). The friend is another self (hophilos allas autos). Friends are in harmony (homonoia) and have the same opinion (gnome). Friendship is fellowship (philia koinonia) and "life together" (symbios). Therefore, friends are "partners" (koinonoi), hold all things in common (tois philois panta koina), and "being of one accord" (epi to auto). Like brothers in a family, friends are in a relationship of equality and reciprocity (philotes isotes); a model for friendship is therefore found in the mutuality of brothers (Philadelphia). Cicero's definition is classic: "Friendship is nothing else than an accord in all things, human and divine, conjoined with mutual goodwill and affection" (de amicitia 6.20).
The ancient ideal of friendship was not simply a matter of acquaintance or even casual affection. It involved a serious and mutual commitment of mind and resources. Three aspects in particular were stressed. The first is that friendship involves unity and equality, which is often expressed in terms of reciprocity. The second is that friendship is inclusive. It is not simply a matter of sharing the same vision. It extends to the full sharing of all things, spiritual and material. Here is where body language is significant: true friendship means active participation, sharing, and help between partners. The third is that friendship involves genuine obligation. This is wonderfully expressed in Jesus' brief example:
Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and the children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything'? I tell you. Though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs (Luke 11:5-8).3
Friendship implies a claim: it means providing hospitality as well as sharing one's possessions. Luke's example demonstrates his familiarity with the commonplace understandings of friendship in Hellenistic culture. Luke is likewise aware of the political aspects of friendship when he remarks in his passion account (Luke 23:12) that, after the reciprocal sending of Jesus back and forth between the rulers, Pilate and Herod "became friends" (egenonto philoi), whereas before they had been at enmity (en ecthrd). Herod and Pilate did not become affectionate; instead, they entered into a political collaboration.
Once we appreciate the network of associations contained in the ancient topos on friendship, we have a new sensitivity to the presence of this theme in New Testament passages that never explicitly mention friendship. It would be astonishing, indeed, if a first century Mediterranean community that spoke of itself as an ekklesia ("public assembly") or synagoge ("gathering") and that used fictive kinship language of "brother" (adelphos) and "sister" (adelphe) for members of that community would have managed altogether to avoid friendship language in its moral discourse. When we know the connections that ancient readers would instinctively and automatically make, we gain a keener sense of how to connect language about "brothers and sisters" (adelphoi/adelphai), "being one spirit" (hen pneuma), "having the same mind" (he haute gnome), "being of one accord" (epi to auto), "having fellowship" (koinonia), "having all things in common" (panta koina), and "reciprocity" (isotes) to the theme of friendship (philia).
The following discussion surveys the main places in the New Testament where friendship themes are critical to the full interpretation of the passage. More importantly, each passage demonstrates that friendship is more than merely verbal; it expresses itself in body language through various forms of sharing.
THE JERUSALEM CHURCH IN ACTS
The Book of Acts presents the best example in its description of the first Jerusalem community. Luke observes in Acts 2:42 that the community gathered by Peter's preaching "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." Already an ancient reader would be alerted to the theme of friendship, but Luke's expanded description makes that association unavoidable: "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need" (2:44-45). In his second description of the community (4:32-37), Luke further underscores the friendship theme: "Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common" (4:32).
Interpreters have long observed that Luke's description of the first community is thoroughly Greek in character and echoes the language not of scripture but of the Greco-Roman philosophers. By saying that the believers were "one soul," held "all things in common" and called nothing "their own," Luke described them as friends. In particular, Luke's depiction resembles the Utopian portrayals of the ideal philosophical community, such as that imagined by Plato in his Laws and that ascribed to the earliest followers of Pythagoras at Crotona in the Lives of Pythagoras by Iamblichus and Porphyry. The first believers were not simply "friendly"; they realized the ideal sharing that philosophers considered the essence of true friendship. Remarkably, they accomplished this, according to Luke, neither through a mechanical dividing up of their possessions nor through a casual accessibility to what each one owned, but through a form of sharing that was at once radical ("no one called anything he possessed as his own") and prudential ("distribution was made to each as any had need").
The story of Ananias and Sapphira that follows Luke's second description (Acts 5:1-11) clarifies several aspects of the Christian practice of sharing possessions. The first is the fundamentally voluntary character of such practice. Peter makes clear that Ananias was not required to sell his possessions or to give the proceeds to the community (5:4). This community of goods is therefore not the expression of a legislator's decree but the manifestation of a genuine unanimity of spirit. The sin of the couple was their deceit, which Peter interprets as "lying to the Holy Spirit" (5:3). They had conspired to tempt the Spirit of the Lord (5:9). Here is the second distinctive feature of this Utopian community. Unity is based not in their "having the same opinion" but in their having been given the same Holy Spirit (2:38; 4:31). The third distinctive dimension is that sharing involved some in the community giving up what was their own in order that others might have something. We are told three times that individuals sold land or houses and gave the proceeds to the community (4:34,37; 5:1). Fourth, the sharing of possessions expresses not only their spiritual unity with each other (their "friendship") but also their recognition of the apostles' authority, since it is "at their feet" that the possessions are laid for subsequent distribution (4:34, 37, 5:1). Finally, Luke provides a biblical nuance to his description by suggesting that this community of friends is also the "restored people" that fulfills the expectation of Torah. Thus the note that "there was not a needy person among them" (4:34) echoes the promise of Deut 15:4 that there would be no needy in the land when God's commands were perfectly obeyed.
Luke's depiction of the first community is certainly impressive, but is it too good to be true? Is it simply a rhetorically masterful melding of Jewish and Greco-Roman motifs serving the apologetic function of stating that God fulfilled in this restored people what others longed for? Does it tell us simply what Luke and his readers saw as an ideal realized momentarily in a golden moment of founding, but without real pertinence to actual communities? Or does Luke's portrayal actually contain-in idealized fashion, to be sure-a summary of a spirit of friendship expressed through the act of sharing possessions that was widespread among the earliest Christian communities?
Before seeking an answer in other compositions, we note that Acts reports two additional instances of sharing possessions, this time between communities. In the first, the believers in Antioch gathered funds "each according to his ability" for the relief of the brethren in judea (Acts 11:29) and sent this "service" (diakonia) through the hands of Paul and Barnabas (11:30; 12:25). In the second, Paul declares before the procurator Felix that he had come to Jerusalem "to bring to my nation alms and offerings" (Acts 24:17). Luke neither uses the language of friendship in these cases nor explicitly links Paul's "alms and offerings" to the collection for the saints in Jerusalem that we know Paul raised (see below). Rather than diminishing the significance of the ideal of friendship, however, these unadorned reports enhance it, suggesting that more than a literary theme was at work. Luke's idealized portrait had a substantial and sustained practice underlying it.
PAUL AND THE PHILIPPIAN CHURCH
Paul the apostle provides two impressive examples of the ideal of friendship expressed in the act of sharing possessions: his effort to raise funds for the church in Jerusalem from his Gentile communities (see below) and the practices of friendship revealed by his letter to the Philippians. Another example of sharing possessions within a community is Paul's discussion of the care of widows in 1 Tim 5:3-16. In that case, however, the language associated with friendship is not present.
In Philippians, Paul writes from prison to a church disturbed by envy and rivalry (1:15; 2:14; 4:2-3). Like Luke's depiction of the Jerusalem church in Acts, Paul does not explicitly use the words for friendship or friends. Yet his language throughout the letter-disguised by English translations but clear in the Greek-alludes to all the aforementioned associations with Greco-Roman moral discourse.
Paul uses forms of the term "fellowship" (koinonia) in 1:5; 2:1; 3:10; and 4:15. For Greek readers, "fellowship" automatically connoted "friendship" (philia). he employs "equal" (isos) twice, once of Jesus with respect to God (2:6) and once of Timothy with respect to Paul himself (2:20). Paul also makes use of the syn-prefix more frequently here than in any other letter. The prefix means "with" or "together," and Paul attaches it to verbs such as "struggle" (1:27; 4:3), "rejoice" (2:17, 18), "be formed" (3:10), "receive" (4:3), and even "share" (synkoinonein, 4:14). Their actions are actions undertaken together. Paul also attaches the prefix to nouns such as "sharer" (synkoinonos, 1:5), "soul" (2:2), "worker" (2:25; 4:3), "soldier" (2:25), "imitator" (3:17), "form" (3:21), and "yoke" (4:3). The full effect of this constant "yoking" might be felt if each translated instance were preceded by "fellow." If friendship in the Greek world is proverbially "life together" (symbios), Paul could hardly find a more effective way to communicate to the Philippians that they were to be a community of friends.
This becomes even more apparent in Paul's introduction of the "Christ-Hymn" in Phil 2:1-4, which employs a variety of expressions that connote friendship in Hellenistic culture:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit (literally, "fellowship of spirit" [ koinonia pneumatos] ), any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind (literally, "that you think the same thing" [hina to auto phronete]), having the same love (ten auten agapen), being in full accord and of one mind (literally, being "souls together," [sympsychoi] and "thinking the one thing" [?? henphronountes]).
Paul articulates this request in two ways. The first is to contrast such "thinking together" and "fellowship of spirit" with the attitudes considered in antiquity to be the opposite of friendship, namely those associated with the vice of envy: "not according to a contentious attitude (eritheia) or conceit" (kenodoxia, 2:3). Competition and arrogance are the attitudes that destroy genuine friendship. The second way Paul spells out the ideal of friendship is to advocate a humility (tapeinophrosyne) that considers others more than the self (2:3) and looks to "the things of others" (ta heteron) rather than "the things of themselves" (ta heauton, 2:4). It is this way of "thinking" (phronein) that Paul says the Philippians should have "among them" as it was in Christ Jesus (toutophroneite en hymin ho kai en Christp Iesou, 2:5), and then elaborates that way of thinking or reckoning.4
No Greek reader could have missed that Paul was talking about friendship. Moreover, no alert Greek reader would have missed that Paul's way of characterizing the ideal was distinctive, even paradoxical. First, the koinonia of the Philippians was grounded in the Holy Spirit rather than in themselves.5 This fellowship gives rise to like-mindedness rather than similarity in outlook that establishes fellowship. second, the recommendation of an attitude of humility would have shocked educated Greek readers. Lowly-mindedness was fit for slaves, not for the noble. It could be understood positively only in light of the experience of the crucified and raised Messiah Jesus. Third, the Philippians have a "fellowship in the Good News" (1:5) that "bound them together from the beginning" (4:15). They have labored together in its proclamation (2:22; 4:3) and are called to live "a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ" (1:27). Fourth, again Jesus' distinctive example manifests itself in service to others even to the point of giving up one's life. Paul offers the Philippians not only the example of Jesus (2:6-11) but also of Paul himself (2:17; 3:2-16), Timothy (2:19-24), and Epaphroditus (2:25-30). Paul concludes this series of examples: "Become fellow-imitators of me, brethren, and pay attention to those who walk according to the model you have in us" (3:17). Finally, such fellowship, because it is based in the Spirit whose work is to shape them into the form of Christ (3:20), necessarily involves suffering.6
Clearly, Paul's use of friendship language in Philippians is creative. His Greek-speaking readers in the Roman colony of Philippians were being led from the familiar territory of the Hellenistic ideal of life together to a new land in which the ideal of fellowship was profoundly reshaped by the experience of Christ. Yet the ideal of koinonia itself remains powerful. It continues to call for like-mindedness. It continues to counter the self-aggrandizing attitudes of envy, rivalry, and arrogance. Most of all, Paul's readers would have recognized that friendship in Christ continued to require a genuine sharing of possessions.
The concrete expression of friendship is expressed by Paul's willingness to send his trusted co-workers Timothy and Epaphroditus to the congregation and in their willingness to reciprocate with hospitality (2:19-30), But the Philippians have shown their friendship with Paul particularly through their financial support. Paul reminds them: "You Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving except you only" (4:15). Here, the "giving and receiving" expresses perfectly the reciprocity involved in koinonia. For the Philippians, this was not merely an exchange of affection. It meant material assistance in fulfillment of the axiom, tois philois panta koina ("friends hold all things in common"). Paul continues: "Even in Thessalonica you sent me help once and again."7 The fact that the Philippian church had thus supported Paul is attested also in Paul's aside in 2 Cor 11:9: "while I was with you [Corinthians] and was in want, I did not burden anyone, for my needs were supplied by the brethren who came from Macedonia." In effect, the Philippian church shared its possessions not only with Paul but with the Corinthian community, enabling Paul to boast to the Corinthians that he had not exercised his right to demand support for preaching the gospel (cf. Gal 6:6) but preached to them free of charge (1 Cor 9:15-18). The Philippians, moreover, continued to share their possessions with Paul as an expression of their fellowship. Paul has received from Epaphroditus the gifts they have now sent to him in prison (4:10-13), and he prays that God will likewise reward them: "My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:18-19).
The time and energy (and frustration) expended by Paul in his effort to raise funds from his Gentile churches for the saints in Jerusalem reveal that the ideal of fellowship expressed through the sharing of possessions extended beyond single communities and served to bond multiple communities together. The use of friendship language in Paul's discussions of the collection is not extensive but is significant nevertheless.
So far as we know, Paul first mentions the collection in his letter to the churches that he had founded throughout the region of Galatia. That letter also contains a telling bit of evidence concerning the ideal of friendship within the life of those churches. Among his instructions at the end of the letter is the injunction that believers are to "bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ" (6:2). In 6:6, he declares, "Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches." Here we see the notion of reciprocity (isotes) to which Paul will return when speaking of the collection: the gift of spiritual goods (teaching) should obligate those who are taught to share material goods (possessions). Paul seems to have material possessions in mind, based not only on the logic of the topos but also on the language of sowing and reaping in the subseqent verses (w. 7-9). One may read the flesh/spirit language here in terms of Paul's earlier discussion of moral attitudes (5:13-26), but it is also possible to read it as referring to the spiritual goods of teaching and the fleshly goods of possessions. Such a reading is supported by Paul's language in 2 Corinthians and Romans and by his conclusion here in Gal 6:10: "So, then, as we have the opportunity, let us do good to all, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith." Paul may even be alluding to the collection for the saints, for he refers elsewhere to the instructions he gave concerning the collection "to the churches of Galatia," and in his extant letters this is the only passage that would fit ( 1 Cor 16:1 ).
Paul mentions the collection for the saints also in the context of koinonia. he notes that the Jerusalem "pillars" (James, Cephas, and John) "recognized the grace that had been given to me," and the expression of this meeting of minds-Paul and Barnabas would go to the uncircumcised and the "pillars" to the circumcised-was that "they extended to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship" (dexias koindnias, 2:9-10). Note once more that koinonia involves being of "one mind." That the pillars should then ask that Paul "remember the poor" (by financial support) and that Paul should declare himself "already eager to do that same thing" simply extends the common understanding of koinônia. The Gentiles should share possessions with those who have given them the spiritual goods of the good news. Though not spelled out in Galatians, it will be in other passages.
In 1 Cor 16:1-4, Paul uses no explicit friendship language with regard to the collection. His double use of logeia provides the name we give to his endeavor (16:1-2). he sets up the procedure to be followed but engages in no motivational rhetoric (w. 2-4). Presumably, this is because at the time of writing he is confident of the Corinthian church's cooperation in his effort. Certainly, the number of "friendship" themes indicated in his response to the Corinthians should have provided motivation enough: the entire letter can be read as an effort to secure their koinonia with Jesus Christ (1:9) and to keep them from becoming factious (schismata) by encouraging them to "all say the same thing" and be "of the same mind" and "of the same opinion" (1:10).
Moreover, Paul had provided them the example of someone choosing to give up rightful gain for the sake of others (9:1-27). The language he uses in that connection is striking. As in Gal 6:6-10, we encounter the motifs of sowing and harvesting of flesh and spirit: "If we have sown spiritual good (ta pneumatika) among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits (hymon ta sarkika)" (1 Cor 9:11)? This reciprocity, Paul says, is a matter of obligation: "If others share this rightful claim upon you, do we not still more" (v. 12)? Paul declares that he relinquishes the right to financial support so that he may encounter no obstacle to saving others: "I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings!"8 Even in this letter, then, the assumptions concerning fellowship and the sharing of possessions are the same ones associated with ancient friendship.
In 2 Cor 8-9, Paul is clearly scrambling to convince the reluctant Corinthians to take part in the collection. Their resistance is connected at least in part to Paul's apparent slipperiness in matters financial (11:7-11; 12:16-18). Is he in danger of severe embarrassment if the Corinthians do not meet their pledge (9:1-5)? How can he carry out this great act of reconciliation among churches if he cannot reach reconciliation with his own community? In his fervent exhortation, we may detect several allusions to themes of friendship now familiar. he speaks of the "gift and the fellowship of service to the saints" (charts kai koinonia tes diakonias eis tous hagious, 8:4). he refers to his delegate Titus as "my partner and fellow-laborer for you" (koinônos emos kai eis hymas synergos). he again uses the language of sowing and harvesting: "He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully" (9:6).
Paul appeals most to that aspect of friendship that involves equality or reciprocity. "Friendship is equality" (philetës isotës) runs the proverb.9 But unless things are divided absolutely equally-which is virtually impossible-some imbalance always remains. The real spirit of friendship, therefore, seeks that functional equality that is found in reciprocity, a proportional balance through an exchange of different kinds of goods, or an exchange of the same goods at different times.10 This is exactly what Paul wants the Corinthians to appreciate when he says, "I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality (ex isotetos) your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality" (isotes, 2 Cor 8:14). Jesus offers the radical example of this sort of exchange: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (8:9). The same note of reciprocity is struck in 9:12-15.
Paul speaks of the collection once more at the end of his letter to the Romans, when he is on his way to Jerusalem "with a service for the saints" (Rom 15:25). he reports that believers in both Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to "make a certain fellowship with the poor among the saints in Jerusalem" (15:26). he adds that it was also "their obligation to them" (v. 27). Why were they obliged? Because of the logic of friendship in antiquity: "for if they made fellowship with the Gentiles by means of their spiritual things, they are obliged also to be of service to them with their material things" (v. 27). he did not add, but could have, that it was a matter of reciprocity. The mandate of spiritual sharing is material sharing, for friends hold all things in common.
JOHN'S COMMUNITY OF FRIENDS
There is an intriguing, if fragmentary and allusive, use of friendship language in the Johannine literature. In the Fourth Gospel's Farewell Discourse, Jesus refers to his follows as his friends:
Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (philoi). You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my father I have made known to you (John 15:13-15).
Here the dominant feature of philia is the shared outlook: the disciples do what Jesus commands, but not as servants, because they know what Jesus is about. This usage perhaps throws some light on the odd dialogue in John's final chapter, in which the verbs agapan and philein alternate in Jesus's questioning of Peter's devotion (John 21:15-17). After Peter had twice answered Jesus' question whether he "loved him" (agapeis mou) with "I love you as a friend" (philo se), Jesus casts the question in the same terms: "Do you love me as a friend?" (phileis me). Peter answers consistently, adding the key element in ancient friendship, that friends share the same outlook: "Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you as a friend" (hotiphild se, 21:17).
In the small letter known as 3 John, from the Elder to Gaius, the leader of a house church, we find evidence that some in the Johannine church had taken "friend" as a form of self-identification. The letter closes: "Peace be with you. The friends (hoi philoi) greet you. Greet the friends (tousphilous) by name" (v. 15). This group unity is expressed materially by the mutual sharing of possessions. Delegates rely for support in their travels on no one but "the brethren" (w. 4-7). This sharing of possessions expresses a spiritual reality as well: "We are obliged to accept such as these, so that we might become fellow-workers (synergoi) in the truth" (v. 8).
It is entirely consistent that the power conflict between the Elder and Diotrephes-who "loves to be in first place"-should be played out materially in terms of the extension or refusal of hospitality to the respective leaders' delegates, for if "friends hold all things in common," enemies can make no claim in that sharing. Thus Diotrephes refuses hospitality to the Elder's delegates and excommunicates those who want to accept them (v. 10). We are not surprised that the Elder recommends the same practice to his loyal followers in turn: "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting" (2 John 10). The explanation added by the Elder takes us to the heart of the ancient understanding of friendship as the sharing of all things, spiritual and material: "for he who greets him shares his wicked work." just as sharing hospitality with true friends means becoming a "fellow-worker in the truth" (3 John 8), so does sharing space with the wicked mean "sharing their wicked works" (2 John 10).
The First Letter of John does not explicitly speak of friendship. Nonetheless, it is legitimate to wonder, especially in light of 2 and 3 John, whether John's language about fellowship (koinonia) might bear some trace of the commonplace understandings. Thus, if this community calls itself "the friends," as we read in 3 John, then the opening of 1 John would have considerable evocative power: "What we have seen and heard we announce also to you, so that you might have fellowship (koinonia) with us. And our fellowship (koinonia) is with the father and with his son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). But this fellowship has its conditions, namely, walking in the truth and in the light (v. 7). To act against the truth is to lose this fellowship (v. 10). From this, we can appreciate 3:16-18. Although it speaks of "Jove" (agape) rather than "friendship" (philia), we recognize that the example of Jesus given in v. 16 ("In this we have come to know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for one another") was articulated in John's Gospel precisely in terms of laying down one's life for one's friends (John 15:13). And we see as well that "loving in deed and truth" (1 John 3:18) is expressed-as it always would be in friendship discourse-in terms of the sharing of material possessions: "If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" (v. 17).
FRIENDSHIP WITH GOD IN JAMES
In the Letter of James, we find a final impressive example of the use of friendship language and, more significantly, the influence of Greco-Roman moral discourse about friendship. The actual occurrence of the terms is spare. In 2:23, Abraham is designated as "friend of God" (philos theou). In 4:4, "friendship with the world" (philia ton kosmou) is declared as "enmity with God" (echthra ton theou), so that anyone who even wishes to be a "friend of the world" is established as an "enemy of God." It is precisely the cryptic character of these notices, however, that draws us into the complex cultural associations concerning friendship in antiquity.
Thus, if being friends means being of "one mind," then the friend of the world must measure reality in the same way as the world. But in James, "world" (kosmos) is consistently portrayed as opposed to God (1:27; 2:5; 3:6). And the prophetic indictment within which James 4:4 is placed elaborates that outlook in terms of a "wisdom from below" that is "earthly, unspiritual, devilish" (3:15) in contrast to God's "wisdom from above," which is pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity" (v. 17). For James, friendship involves a deep commitment to a view of reality. One cannot, therefore, be friends with everyone because God and the world are diametrically opposed.
James goes on to expound this wisdom from below in terms of the Hellenistic topos, periphthonou ("On Envy"). Envy regards the world in terms of an equation between being and having. To be more is to have more. But if another has more than me, then I am diminished. And since the world is a place of limited resources, a closed system, all humans are in bitter competition. The logic of envy leads to battles, wars, and murder (4:1-3). Arrogance is the aggressive form of envy that seeks the assertion of the self through domination over others. What is the material expression of such "friendship with the world" in James? It is the heedless pursuit of profit (4:13-17) to be sure, but it is also the oppression of the poor through litigation (2:6) or straightforward and murderous refusal to pay the laborers in the field (5:1-6).
Turning away from this friendship with the world, readers must refuse to follow the spirit of envy and arrogance and submit themselves to God in lowly-mindedness (4:7-10). James offers Abraham as the example of such obedient faith. Abraham was a "friend of God" (2:23) because he saw reality by God's own measure and acted accordingly. he understood that God is the giver of all good gifts (1:17), who gives to everyone without grudging (1:5) and to the lowly "gives more gift" (4:6). When called to sacrifice the gift of his son Isaac, Abraham obeyed in confidence that the God who gave that gift could give still more. The material expression of "friendship with God," therefore, is the open-handed sharing of possessions, not envious grasping of them. Abraham-famous in Jewish lore for his hospitality-is here linked with Rahab, who "received the messengers" as an expression of her faith (2:25)." The friend of God will not discriminate against the poor in the assembly but recognize that God has made them rich in faith (2:1-5). The friend will share possessions with the "brothers and sisters" who are in need: "If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' what does it profit?" (2:16). Similarly, the friend of God will form a community of solidarity with the sick (5:13-16) and will practice the mutual correction that is the mark of the true friend in contrast to the flatterer.12
FRIENDSHIP AND THE FORMATION OF EARLY CHRISTIANITY
Research of recent decades has demonstrated that the New Testament's ostensible rejection of philosophy (1 Cor 1:18-25; Col 2:8) simplifies a more complex response to the pervasive moral discourse of the Hellenistic world, and that the use of insights of Greco-Roman moralists are an important (if not always conscious) aspect of early Christianity's development. In this essay, we have seen that a grasp of the common cultural assumptions concerning friendship as they were elaborated by philosophers from Pythagoras to Plutarch enables present-day readers to make connections between ideas and practices that might otherwise seem obscure. Knowing what sort of language was proverbially associated with friendship allows us to detect that theme even when the words for friendship do not appear. And knowing that the material expression for friendship was the sharing of possessions, we are able to recognize this connection not only in Luke's idealized portrait of the Jerusalem church in Acts but also in the actual practice of first-generation Christian communities. In Acts, Philippians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, John, 1, 2, and 3 John, and James, we can detect the connection between the ideal of friendship as koinonia and the material expression of that friendship in the actual practice of sharing possessions. The koinonia of material possessions in patterns of sharing and exchange reinforced the koinonia of common belief and the koinonia of persons in different communities that we recognize in the New Testament.
Recognizing these connections, in turn, enables present-day readers to appreciate a possibly critical dimension of Christianity's development from separate congregations to a coherent and organic "church" within a remarkably short timespan. Patterns of sharing material possessions within communities, and especially patterns of exchange of possessions among communities, undoubtedly reinforced the sense that all these congregations belonged to the same "brotherhood." But since the ideals of friendship stood in a continuum with those of the political order, such practices of sharing and exchange also identified Christians to themselves and to others not only as the most successful of all ancient experiments in friendship but increasingly as a city of God, a polis theou (Heb 12:22) that could make a credible and even transforming contribution to the whole world.
[Sidebar] Turning away from this friendship with the world, readers must refuse to follow the spirit of envy and arrogance and submit themselves to God in lowly-mindedness.
[Sidebar] [T]he mandate of spiritual sharing is material sharing, for friends hold all things in common.
[Footnote] 1 "To love"; see Matt 10:37; 23:6; John 5:20; 12:25; 16:27; 1 Cor 16:22; Rev 3:19; 22:15. Philos ("friend") appears mainly in the sense of "associate" (Matt 11:19; Luke 7:6, 34; 12:4; 14:10-12; 15:6,9,29; 16:9; 23:12; Acts 10:24; 19:31). Only occasionally do the three terms occur in contexts that suggest the Greco-Roman understanding of friendship (Luke 11:5-8; John 15:13-19; James 2:23; 4:4). 2 Philoi; see Tit 3:15; Acts 27:3; John 15:14; 3 John 15. 3 All translations are the author's. 4 See how the hegeomai ("reckon") of 2:6 deliberately echoes the "reckon" of 2:3 by showing the "lowliness of spirit" shown by the obedience of Jesus (2:8). 5 Phil 1:19, 27; 2:1; 3:3; 4:23. 6 Phil 1:7; 12, 16, 29-30; 3:10. 7 Literally, "you sent once and twice for my need" (eis ten chreian moi, 4:16). 8 hina synkoinonos autou genomai (9:23; 1:9). 9 Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers 8.10; Aristotle, Eth. nie. 8.5.5. 10 Aristotle, Politics 1282B; 1301-1302A. 11 See Aboth de Rabbi Nathan 7. 12 James 5:19-20. see Plutarch, How to Tell a Friend from a Flatterer 5 [Mar. 51C].
[Author Affiliation] LUKE TIMOTHY JOHNSON Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins Candler School of Theology