Sunday, April 18, 2010

Judging and Identity Formation in 1 Corinthians 6:1–11, Part 2

The rhetoric of Paul in 1 Cor 6:1–11 is based on the concepts of honor and shame and their attendant symbolic resources to affect the establishment of new boundaries and of a negotiation of the identity between those listening to Paul and Paul, himself (Malina and Neyrey 1991: 25–65). Paul’s rhetoric functions symbolically to include and exclude those whom he feels are behaving outside of the communal boundaries and are endanger of becoming other. Paul uses language of the outsider quite often in these verses (i.e., v. 1 “unrighteous”; v. 2 “world”; v. 4 “those who have no standing within the church”; v. 6 “unbelievers”; v. 9 “wrongdoers”; and the vice list in vv. 9–10). While at the same time, he uses terms to signal those who are on the inside and not other (vv. 1–2 “saints”; vv. 5–6 “believer”; v. 11 “washed”, “sanctified”, and “justified”).

Paul clearly identities the Corinthians as “judges” and this aspect of their identity appears to be one in which there is confusion and division among their community members (Blumenfeld 2001: 206). Before we investigate this aspect of Paul’s argument the concept of identity shall be illuminated. We proceed within the Lieu’s conceptual framework of identity being that which “involves ideas of boundedness, of sameness and difference, of continuity, perhaps of a degree of homogeneity, and of recognition by self and by others” (2004: 12). The concept of “boundedness” is vital to understanding the current text. The establishment of boundaries would have been done, primarily by the social elites who had the power in the ancient world; however, Paul feels that the establishment of proper boundaries is necessary to further his mission. Thus, one should expect to find Paul struggling with establishing boundaries “from the middle.” Attempting to affect boundaries in this way creates the potential for rejection of his authority by those in socially higher positions within the community. These boundaries are drawn in order to establish the concepts of “sameness and difference.” The previous paragraph listed Paul’s use of terminology that was designed to establish “sameness and difference.” These concepts will prove vital to Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 6:1–11. Identity requires “continuity.” Paul reinforces continuity primarily through connecting the experiences of the Corinthians with those of ancient Israel or in the experiences of Jesus. The “degree of homogeneity” will be important because of the Corinthians’ lack of congruence with their profession and the observation of their behavior by those in the community (i.e., those observing in the courts, for example). The final aspect of Lieu’s definition reflects on the importance of the “recognition by self and by others.” This appears to be the reason for Paul’s commitment to identity formation in the Corinthian correspondence: he desires the Corinthians to see who they are “in Christ” and this realization may produce a concomitant recognition by those in the broader Corinthian civic community.

The concept of “boundedness” is inherent in many of the issues that Paul addresses in the Corinthian correspondence. Boundaries are central to the construction and maintenance of identity and serve as a nexus of transformation and negotiation, as well as exclusion; we are investigating the way boundaries function in 1 Cor 6:1–11. The primary way in which boundaries were reinforced was through the use of honor and shame. Paul uses the categories of honor and shame to bring about change in the Corinthians. In verse 5 he writes, “I say this to your shame,” writing to shame the Corinthians was an attempt to establish boundaries in the community (see 1 Cor 15:34), these boundaries are primarily internal within the Christ-following community. Paul, at this point, is not concerned with establishing the boundaries with those outside the Christ-movement (Aasgaard 2004: 236).

Aasgaard, Reidar. “My Beloved Brothers and Sisters!” Christian Siblingship in Paul (Journal for the Study of the New Testament. Supplement Series 265), (London / New York: T & T Clark, 2004).

Blumenfeld, Bruno. The Political Paul: Justice, Democracy and Kingship in a Hellenistic Framework, JSNT Supplement Series 210 (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001).

Judith M. Lieu, Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Malina, Bruce J., and Jerome H. Neyrey, “Honor and Shame in Luke-Acts: Pivotal Values of the Mediterranean World,” in The Social World of Luke-Acts: Models for Interpretation, ed. Jerome H. Neyrey (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991), 25–65.

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