A Closer Look: Correction in Antiquity

Those influenced by Greek culture often appreciated bold and blunt reproof when it demonstrated independence of spirit shown to powerful people. Unbridled frankness, however, could generate anger unnecessarily. Greek moral discourse valued giving and receiving reproof appropriately. Some urged that it was best to give reproof, at least toward those of higher rank, gently or in private.

Jewish wisdom tradition emphasized the importance of giving and receiving correction. The Dead Sea Scrolls emphasize reproof and apparently include records of rebukes for offenses such as anger and pride. As in Matt. 18: 15-17, the sequence of reproof among Qumran sectarians is to first be private, then in front of witnesses, and only afterward, if still needed, before the assembly. Such reproof must be humble and without anger. Josephus adds the principle of private correction to an account in the Pentateuch that was less specific.

Later rabbis emphasized proper giving and receiving of reproof and that warning must always precede punishment. They urged that reproof be private; publicly shaming another merited even exclusion from life to come. Public admonition, such as appears in Gal. 2:11-14, was appropriate only in the most dramatic situations. Recognizing human nature, one early Christian commentator on this passage warned that it was important to correct with kindness so thee person being reproved would not pull away become harder to reach. 

This content is by Craig Keener, but edited and posted by Defenders Media.

For more on the book of Galatians, please check out Galatians: A Commentary.

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