Close this search box.

Review of Nathan Nzyoka Joshua, Benefaction and Patronage in Leadership

Author: Chris Flanders
Published: 2023

MD 14

Article Type: Book Review

Nathan Nzyoka Joshua. Benefaction and Patronage in Leadership: A Socio-Historical Exegesis of the Pastoral Epistles. Carlisle, UK: Langham Publishing, 2018. Paperback. 342 pp. $37.99.

Nathan Nzyoka Joshua, pastor in the Africa Inland Church, currently lectures and serves as the acting Head of the Department of Biblical Studies at Africa International University. He is one among a number of emerging scholars who are making their voices heard by challenging received scholarship with culturally sensitive interpretation. This monograph, adapted from his PhD dissertation, is one such example of a local context challenging Western readings of important biblical texts.

The book has two main parts. The first is a historical and exegetical examination of practices of patronage in the ancient Greco-Roman world with a focus on the Pastoral Epistles. In the second part, Nzyoka Joshua includes a provocative case study from leadership practices and attitudes in the African Inland Church, particularly Akamba practices of leadership. Here he draws attention to the non-material dimensions of African patronage and examines the social context of the African Inland Church and its leadership practices.

In the first part, the author argues that much New Testament scholarship has misunderstood the early household codes, focusing primarily on the relationship between the various social roles, especially those among husbands and wives, and to an extent, among slave and free. This, Nzyoka Joshua contends, occurs without paying attention to the patronage systems of the ancient world. Even when scholarship deals with patronage at some level, the author notes that modern scholars often mistakenly emphasize material forms (e.g., money, material resources) of patronage and miss the critical import of non-material (e.g., honor, prestige, privilege, access) forms of patronage, especially as it affects the leadership and administration of the churches addressed in the Pastorals. His exegetical work grows out of this major argument, that is, in the Pastorals, Paul (Nzyoka Joshua assumes the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals) deliberately embraced a form of patronage benefaction consistent with the cultural milieu of his context. Paul does not uncritically embrace patronage, however, as Nzyoka Joshua argues that the apostle interacted critically with such social dynamics.

Throughout the first section of his argument, exegetical work draws attention to many terms and themes in the Pastorals that demonstrate strong patronage resonances. So, Nzyoka Joshua argues that one should understand various Christian relationships through the lens of patronage. God the Father (the great spiritual patron), Jesus the mediator (patron and broker), and churches and Christians (the clients) operate within the generally understood framework of ancient Greco-Roman-Jewish patronage. In most ancient versions of patronage-clientelism, the goal was the noble end of the privileged parties helping the less privileged, a mutually advantageous material and non-material reciprocal relationship. This resulted in a form of relational interdependence, which assumed certain culturally determined duties for all parties. As John Barclay makes clear in his well-known work Paul and the Gift, these relationships traded fundamentally on charis (gift) and relational reciprocity. In such a system, pistis (loyalty) was of fundamental importance for clients to demonstrate.

Guarding the property (1 Tim. 6:20) of a patron was of utmost importance for a trustee (diakonos). Thus, Paul and Timothy act loyally by maintaining pure doctrine. Nzyoka Joshua also points out how humans function not only as clients but also as benefactors and patrons. Paul, Timothy, and Titus are patrons, but so too are church leaders, who are termed oikonomos (steward, manager), a clear patronage denotation. False teachers were dangerous not merely because they were wrong but, in the framework of patronage relationships, constitute people who demonstrate disloyalty (a distinctly heinous response to patron beneficence), rejecting God as the primary patron and Paul as a secondary patron. Though he acknowledges all patronage systems can contain various forms of abuse, Nzyoka Joshua paints a clear picture of how leadership and theology in the Pastorals partake of the best forms of patron-client assumptions.

The author offers reminders and insights that connect with the broader issues of honor (the primary currency clients give back to their benevolent patrons) and shame (the penalty incurred for acting as ungrateful clients). For example, in 1 Tim. 4:6–8, Paul praises Timothy as an honorable servant for pointing out the honorable teachings and labels false teachers as shamefully disloyal, rather than merely wrong. Nzyoka Joshua argues this is because such unfaithful teachers would be encouraging believers (viz., God’s clients) to disloyally abandon the true God, reminding us that the Greek term pistis is primarily about demonstrating loyalty. He also draws attention to how salvation and mercy are primary components of patron-client systems, and so too in the theology of the Pastorals. He offers an overview of Greek (euergesia [beneficence], and prostasia [patron]), Roman (patronicium [patron]), and Jewish patronage systems, including illuminating charts comparing the duties of church leaders in the Pastorals with patrons in the Greco-Roman world (164–68). The similarities are considerable. Nzyoka Joshua also provides a helpful, albeit brief, summary of the foundational biblical scholarship that engages patronage and benefaction in New Testament studies (e.g., Fredrick Danker’s Benefactor, John Barclay’s Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, David deSilva’s Honor, Patronage, Kinship, and Purity, Zeba Crook’s Reconceptualizing Conversion, and Reggie Kidd’s Wealth and Beneficence in the Pastoral Epistles).

If this were all, the book would be useful enough. His second section engages benefaction and patronage issues in his own African context, particularly studying leadership in the African Inland Church. Though there are many such studies on patronage in the African context, Nzyoka Joshua offers useful commentary on the numerous positive aspects of African patronage, something that other studies sometimes miss. He notes that a general lack of comparative studies of African leadership has often resulted in the view that modern forms of African patronage are primarily negative. His goal is for African biblical scholarship and African church leadership to engage in constructive, thoughtful engagement, creating a more robust understanding of patronage in contemporary Africa.

One could wish the author’s exegetical work and his case study of African leadership were both deeper and more engaged with critical scholarship. Yet, the overall benefit of this work is to provide a clear example of culture-specific engagement through the lens of this prominent global cultural dynamic. This is a solid example of contextual theological engagement, particularly in relation to leadership. All missionaries and church leaders would benefit from this resource as they try to understand patronage-clientelism dynamics both in the biblical text as well as their own context.

Chris Flanders

Professor of Missions

Abilene Christian University

Close this search box.