The precise nature of the litigious practices in the Corinthian community—such as could individuals of low status even attempt to go before the local magistrate or was this issue limited to the land owners—has often formed a major area of research for commentators (Thiselton 2000: 419–21). It is, however, equally important to ask how discussion of these lawsuits among Christ-followers furthers Paul’s broader rhetorical aims and what they reveal about Paul’s understanding of the Corinthians’ identity as reflected in his statements. This refocusing of the question moves Paul away from his traditional pastoral role, though not completely, to one where he may be described as attempting to apply an identity that is strongly boundaried.
The focus of Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 6:1–11 is found in 6:8: “But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers.” Here he lays the groundwork for a new understanding of the Corinthians’ identity. He has used the language of the insider and the outsider throughout his argument; however, in 6:8 he argues that they are wrongdoers, then in 6:9 he goes on to question the Corinthians’ membership in the kingdom of God, if they are one of the individuals who is engaging in such litigious practices. While it is true that Paul continues his argument in verses 9–11, his conclusion in 6:8 and his engagement in deliberative rhetoric hopes to convince his auditors that if one properly understands their identity, as shaped by Paul, they will discontinue their current practice of taking those within the community of Christ-followers before the local magistrates (Mitchell 1991: 116-18).
The end of the textual unit is central to an identity-critical analysis of this passage. In 6:11 he addresses the Corinthians with a reminder of their former identity: “And this is what some of you used to be.” This reminder of their former state is in line of the rhetorical approach in which ethnic identity is seen primarily as a discursive product (Hall 1997; Hall 2002). So, in this text Paul is concerned with establishing the boundaries of civic identity and activity within the Corinthian community’s context. Paul’s argument has larger concerns than simply proper procedure for resolving disputes within the community. He has a desire to establish a particular ethos of identity which requires boundaries that he negotiates through his rhetoric, an identity that will allow for a more stable internal situation and mission in Roman Corinth. One notices, however, that Paul is not afraid to resort to the use of shame when his arguments may not be winning a hearing from his auditors (Winter 2001: 72–73).
Jonathan M. Hall, Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Jonathan M. Hall, Hellenicity: Between Ethnicity and Culture. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002).
Margaret M. Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation. An Exegetical Investigation of the Language and Composition of 1 Corinthians, (Westminster, John Knox Press, 1991.
Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians. A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000.
Bruce W. Winter, After Paul left Corinth. The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change, (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans, 2001).