Richard S. Ascough uses Greco-Roman associations as a comparative model for understanding early Christian community organization, with specific attention to Paul's Macedonian Christian communities. He provides a comprehensive description of the range of voluntary associations, defined as groups of men and/or women organized on the basis of freely chosen membership for a common purpose. The community language and practices reflected in 1 Thessalonians and Philippians are compared to that of the voluntary associations. Doing so helps to explain both Paul's language and the language and structure of the communities to which he writes. The author argues that many of the features of the two Macedonian Christian communities reflected in Paul's letters find ready analogies in voluntary associations. Thus, both of the Macedonian Christian groups would have appeared to outsiders as associations and would have functioned internally as associations, too.
Although voluntary associations are mentioned in a number of recent books on early Christianity there are very few books dedicated to a thorough comparative study. Those scholars who pursue the voluntary associations analogy in detail often draw upon a corpus of less than a dozen voluntary association inscriptions for their information and usually end up rejecting the model. The broad range of data in this book provides substantial comparative material that challenges the hasty rejection of the association model.