Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Corinthian Christ-followers and the Civic Authorities

The Corinthian correspondence provides evidence for significant contact with outsiders; however, there is also a lack of evidence for significant conflict with those same outsiders. The Corinthian correspondence provides insight into the relations that the Christ-followers had with the broader civic community in Corinth. Their relationship with those outside the Christ-following community provided opportunities for extending the Pauline mission; however, this relationship also created a number of the problems within the assembly. Paul ultimately presents this relationship as helpful but provides, in the Corinthian correspondence, guidelines for how these relationships should proceed. Paul’s writing in the Corinthian correspondence should be seen as a continuation of his missional vocation which included initial evangelism, community formation, and ongoing nurture (1 Cor 3:1-2; 4:15; Barram 2006: 10).

In 1 Cor 4:8-13 Paul describes their experience as lacking many of the difficulties that Paul himself, had experienced. In Corinth, a person’s wealth and status were highly valued. This was similar to other cities in the Roman east, however, the demographic makeup of the colony, including the freedmen and retired military may have contributed to this community value (1 Cor 4:8, 2 Cor 8:14). The Corinthian Christ-followers were also confident in the court system. In 1 Cor 6:1-11, Paul argues that they were putting too much confidence in this human institution. The courts were not accessible to the majority of individuals in the Roman Empire so the fact that the Corinthians were engaged in litigious activity argues for individuals of some financial means. Paul chastised the Christ-followers for allowing those on the outside to adjudicate their disputes when their confidence should be in the believing community and their ability to rule on problems, or more importantly, they should be willing to be wronged because of their transformed identity in Christ (Campbell 2005: 307; May 2004: 81-91; Horrell 2000: 343).

The Corinthians' good social relations may also be seen in their willingness to participate in the cultic meals in the various temples in Corinth (1 Cor 8:7-13). The civic identity of the colony was indistinguishable from its religious identity. This fact may be the reason that many of the Corinthians did not see a problem with continuing the practices mentioned in 1 Cor 8. The difference in economic and social status among the Christ-followers in Corinth may have reinforced this practice. Paul, however, understands that this practice may have broader implications for his mission, so he takes a conciliatory stance on this issue. As an extension of the previous argument, the Corinthians also dined with outsiders in their homes and in other communal settings (1 Cor 10:27-11:1). If the Christ-followers in Corinth were not involved in the civic life of the community, one would not expect this to be a significant issue. The Corinthians did not sense the need to change their approach to their civic life once they had accepted Paul’s gospel (Schnabel 2005: 195). Paul ultimately argues they may continue their practice; however, their social ethics should seek the benefit of others and not only for themselves.

Paul also notes that outsiders were visiting the houses that were being used for community gatherings (1 Cor 14:1-25). This fact appears to be important in terms of their openness to those who do not believe in Paul’s gospel. Who would these outsiders include? They could be unbelievers, spouses, or guests, either way; Paul addresses their sense of social-standing and suggests that they present themselves in an orderly way, so that the outsiders may not think they are ‘mad’ (Gehring 2004: 157-66). Paul presents the relationships that the Corinthian Christ-followers have with outsiders, on the whole, as good and provides guidance on how to interact with those individuals. Paul sees in this relationship of social integration an opportunity for mission and encourages certain behaviors that will further Paul’s mission in Corinth. How did this type of relationship occur in Corinth? The transitional nature of the Corinthian civic identity was one reason for this openness among these Christ-followers, especially in comparison to Thessalonica where such openness did not exist (Barclay 1993: 514; Tellbe 2001: 135; Oakes 2005: 321).

So, do you buy the argument that the Corinthian Christ-followers did not experience significant external pressure from the civic authorities? If not, what kind of evidence would you want to see?

John Barclay, “Conflict in Thessalonica,” CBQ 55 (1993): 512-30.

Michael D. Barram, Mission and Moral Reflection in Paul (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2006).

William S. Campbell, “Perceptions of Compatibility between Christianity and Judaism in Pauline Interpretation,” BibInt 8.3 (2005): 298-316.

Roger W. Gehring, House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004).

David G. Horrell, “‘No Longer Jew or Greek’ Paul’s Corporate Christology and the Construction of Christian Community,” in Christology, Controversy and Community: New Testament Essays in Honour of David R. Catchpole, ed. David G. Horrell and Christopher M. Tuckett (Leiden: Brill, 2000): 321-44.

Alistar Scott May, ‘The Body for the Lord’: Sex and Identity in 1 Corinthians 5-7 (JSNTSS 278; London: T&T Clark, 2004).

Peter Oakes, “Re-mapping the Universe: Paul and the Emperor in 1 Thessalonians and Philippians,” JSNT 27.3 (March 2005): 301-22.

Eckhard J. Schnabel, “The Objectives of Change, Factors of Transformation, and the Causes of Results: The Evidence of Paul’s Corinthian Correspondence,” TRINJ 26NS (2005): 179-204.

Mikael Tellbe, Paul Between Synagogue and State: Christians, Jews and Civic Authorities in 1 Thessalonians, Romans, and Philippians (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 2001).

No comments: