Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Judging and Identity Formation in 1 Corinthians 6:1–11, Part 4

The reality is that the Corinthians, by going before the local magistrates, where in effect, admitting that their identity had not changed. Paul reminds them that this was shameful and, echoing an earlier argument, they were not as wise as they appear (v. 5). So Paul argues that they are transformed in Christ and that transformation should reveal itself in the way they interact with the civic authorities. Paul, it may be argued is engaging in apocalyptic identity formation.

If one is reminded of Lieu’s (2004: 12) framework that identity “involves ideas of boundedness, of sameness and difference, of continuity, perhaps of a degree of homogeneity, and of recognition by self and by others” then one is now ready to evaluate if Paul is engaged in this process. As for “boundedness” one may argue that his primary purpose is the establishment of boundaries for who may be taken to court and who may not. The concepts of “sameness and difference” are seen in the terms Paul uses to describe the Corinthians (saints, believer, washed, sanctified, justified) in contradistinction to the civic magistrates (unrighteous, world, those who have no standing within the church, unbelievers, wrongdoers, and the vice list in vv. 9-10). Concerning continuity, it appears that Paul is echoing what Jews were already practicing (i.e., avoiding local courts) and what he had instructed the other assemblies to do. One of the key structural points to Paul’s rhetoric of identity formation in Corinth is connecting what he is teaching them with the other communities he has established (1 Cor 7:17; 11:16; 14:33; 16:1); this provides a sense of homogeneity that reinforces Paul’s vision of their identity, even it if does not cohere with their local vision of their identity (Hvalvik 2005: 123-143). This tension produces the need for negotiation and Paul’s argument becomes his primary means of negotiating the Corinthians’ identity. The final aspect of Lieu’s definition, the recognition by self and others may be what is at the root of this issue. Because the Corinthians had such a good relationship with the civic authorities, they, intentionally or not, dropped some of their identifying boundary markers that distinguished them from those who did not believe in Jesus. He felt also, that the Corinthians did not recognize, truly who they were (i.e., judges of the world and angels) and had settled for a status beneath who they were in Christ. Paul engages in apocalyptic identity formation in 1 Cor 6:1-11 in order to shame the Corinthians to live in their new identity and to recognize that there are significant differences between them and those on the outside, or at least there should be.


Reidar Hvalvik, “All Those Who in Every Place Call on the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ: The Unity of the Pauline Churches,” in Jostein Ådna (ed), The Formation of the Early Church, (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), 123-143.

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

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