Friday, April 30, 2010

Social Identity and Self-Categorization Theories and 1 Corinthians

Often I mention social identity in my posts; so I thought I'd offer a brief overview of my theoretical framework with regard to Paul's discourse of identity formation in 1 Corinthians. The social identity theory of Tajfel and Turner (1979: 33-47) provides a theoretical framework from which to understand the ingroup/outgroup relations evident in a text (de Fina, Schiffrin, and Bamberg 2006: 9). Individuals form identity within the nexus of discourse, relationships, and various group memberships. The ensuing contrast in values between the discourse and the identity provides the impetus for negotiation (Cerulo 1997: 385-409). Individuals look to groups for behavioral norms and identity salience (Hogg and Mullin 1999: 249-79). Social identity theory seeks to explain how this interaction occurs. Self-categorization theory, developed by Turner (Turner, et. al 1987), argues that identity salience is contextually determined based, primarily on the available social comparison groups. When an individual attains salient identity then self-stereotyping occurs and the sense of homogeneity with the ingroup increases (Hewstone Rubin, and Willis 2002: 578-9). This self-stereotyping is discursive and may change its level of salience based on the change of outgroups. Texts and other forms of discourse are influential in this social evaluation and the ensuing distancing between one ingroup and another outgroup which may occur. Thus discursive forms of communication may contextualize similarity and difference and thus provide a new conceptual framework from which to evaluate oneself and an outgroup (Hogg 2001: 63-66; Marques, et. al 2001: 402). These two theories intersect when it comes to explaining the perceived characteristics of the outgroup. Ingroup identity is made more salient through a critique of the outgroup, especially if the outgroup is a super-ordinate group and one by which the ingroup feels threatened (Hogg and Mullin 1999: xx; Sherif 2001: 64-70). This external threat increases the likelihood of self-stereotyping and thus distancing from the super-ordinate group. The various outgroups may but do not need to exist in an overtly threatening relationship.

To understand better the nature of Paul’s mission rhetorics it is important to reflect on the nature of group formation and its impact on identity (Brown 2000; Hinkle and Brown 1990: 48-70; Horrell 2000; Esler 2000; Campbell 1991). Paul was ultimately involved in forming groups of individuals and providing them direction on how to re-orient their lives under the new realization of who they were “in Christ.” This identity was one in which a number of nested-identities existed within the population of Roman Corinth in the mid-first century C.E. The category of “in Christ” is ultimately a category which derives its meaning from a Jewish context, even though there is evidence for a Greco-Roman provenance of the concept (Garland 2003: 29; Son 2001: 27). Identity is no longer understood as a stable concept – it is one in which individuals are constantly shifting their self-understanding based on both written and spoken discourse (Hall 1997: 24; Lieu 2004: 12). Negotiated identity occurs within the nexus of written and spoken discourse and ingroup and outgroup interaction and definition. Paul’s rhetoric in the Corinthian correspondence was intended to address the transitional nature of the Corinthians’ identity in Roman Corinth which, if left uncontested, would ultimately hinder his gentile mission in that important colony.

Brown, Rupert, Group Processes, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000).

Campbell, William S., Paul’s Gospel in an Intercultural Context: Jew and Gentile in the Letter to the Romans (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1991)

Cerulo, Karen A., “Identity Construction: New Issues, New Directions,” Ann. Rev. Sociol. 23 (1997): 385-409.

de Fina, Anna, Deborah Schiffrin, and Michael Bamberg, ed., Discourse and Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Esler, Philip F., “Models in New Testament Interpretation: A Reply to David Horrell,” JSNT 78 (2000): 107-113.

Garland, David E., 1 Corinthians (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003).

Hall, Jonathan, Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)

Hewstone, M., M. Rubin and H. Willis, “Intergroup Bias,” Annual Review of Psychology 53 (2002): 578-79.

Hinkle, S. and R. Brown, “Intergroup comparisons and social identity: Some links and lacunae.” in Social identity theory: Constructive and critical advances, ed. D. Abrams and M. A. Hogg, (New York: Springer Verlag, 1990), 48-70.

Hogg, “Social Categorization, Depersonalization and Group Behaviour,” in Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology: Group Processes, ed. M. A. Hogg and R. S. Tindale (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 56-85.

Hogg, M. A. and B. A. Mullin, “Joining Groups to Reduce Uncertainty: Subjective Uncertainty Reduction and Group Identification,” in Social Identity and Social Cognition, ed. D. Abrams and M.A. Hogg (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 249-79.

Horrell, David G., “Models and Methods in Social-Scientific Interpretation: A Response to Philip Esler,” JSNT 78 (2000): 83-105.

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

Marques, J. M., D. Abrams, D. Paez, and M. A. Hogg, “Social Categorization, Social Identification and Rejection of Deviant Group Members,” in Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology: Group Process, ed. M. A. Hogg and R. S. Tindale (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 402.

Sherif, M., “Superordinate Goals in the Reduction of Intergroup Conflict,” in Intergroup Relations: Essential Readings ed. D. Abrams and M.A. Hogg (Hove: Psychology Press, 2001), 64-70.

Son, Sang-Won (Aaron), Corporate Elements in Pauline Anthropology: A Study of Selected Terms, Idioms, and Concepts in the Light of Paul's Usage and Background (AnBib 148; Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 2001).

Tajfel, H. and J. C. Turner, “An Integrative Theory of Intergroup Conflict,” in The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations, ed. W. G. Austin and S. Worchel (Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1979), 33-47.

Turner, J. C., M. A. Hogg, J. Oakes, S. D. Reicher and R. L. Webb, Re-Discovering the Social Group: A Self-Categorization Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987).

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Contested Ritual Space in Corinth

Paul contests the Corinthian Christ-followers' conception of oikos/oikia ritual space and argues instead, for ecclesia ritual space (Gehring 2004: 8 n. 45; Theissen 1982: 87). Paul corrects the Corinthians’ fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of sacred space (Flanagan 1999: 26-30; Newsom 2004: 7). The dominate script in Corinth was oikos space as the location of social-sacred space. Paul, however, understood there to be inherent weaknesses with this understanding and argues for ecclesia space as the controlling spatial metaphor for the community. The social identity that emerges relies on two other metaphors, the group as the temple of God and the body of Christ. These two metaphors provide the spatial bridge necessary to resocialize the Corinthians into an alternative community with a distinct ethos.

The two passages that bring to fore the conflict in spatial understanding are 1 Cor 11:22, 34 and 1 Cor 14:35. In 1 Cor 11:22, Paul asks the Corinthian Christ-followers, “Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” The conflict, from Paul’s perspective was over the confusion of oikos and ecclesia space. The Corinthians were treating the ritual space as domestic space. The confusion was a natural outcome of the Corinthians' Roman social identity and its correlation of domestic space with political power. Paul further instructs the Corinthians in 1 Cor 11:34, “If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.” The dominate script in Corinth combined oikos and ecclesia space but Paul establishes a thirdspace relationship between the two ritual spaces. The next passage in which there was spatial confusion is 1 Cor 14:35, in which Paul argues “If they [women] want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (Wire 1990: 149-52, 229-32; Horrell 1996: 195). Paul here argues for a hierarchical understanding of ritual space and seeks to silence women in the ecclesia space.

Paul’s rhetorical constructs are designed to form this community in a way that conforms to his rhetorical vision. The conflict between Paul’s rhetorical vision and the Corinthians' becomes a “contact zone” resulting in a thirdspace negotiation of identity (Pratt 2008: 8; Marchal 2008: 92). Using critical spatial theory (Lefebvre 1991: 95) knowledge can be expanded through the introduction of other possibilities to existing cultural binaries (e.g., oikos/ecclesia). This act does not simply combine or go in-between established binaries, but transforms them (Soja 1996: 61). Thirdspace is an ever-open space that allows contradictory and seemingly incompatible ideas to coexist and be creatively restructured in new ways to produce new meaning. Thirdspace identities provide a spatial reading of the negotiation that occurred between Paul and his audience in Corinth.

Flanagan, James W. “Ancient Perceptions of Space/Perceptions of Ancient Space,” Semeia 87 (1999), 15-43.

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

Horrell, David G. The Social Ethos of the Corinthian Correspondence: Interests and Ideology from 1 Corinthians to 1 Clement (London: T&T Clark, 1996).

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space (trans. D. Nicholoson-Smith; Oxford: Blackwell, 1991).

Marchal, Joseph A. The Politics of Heaven: Women, Gender, and Empire in the Study of Paul. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008.

Newsom, Carol A. The Self as Symbolic Space: Constructing Identity and Community at Qumran (Leiden: Brill, 2004).

Pratt, Mary L. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 2008).

Soja, Edward W. Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1996).

Theissen, Gerd, and John Howard Schütz. The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity Essays on Corinth (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1982).

Wire, Antoinette Clark. The Corinthian Women Prophets: A Reconstruction through Paul’s Rhetoric (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1990).

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).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Corinthian 'Church' and Internal Conflicts

Why did the Corinthian assembly suffer significant internal conflict?

1. Socio-Economic Diversity (1 Cor 1:26)

Wealth was the vital indicator of status in the pre-industrial, agrarian society of the Roman empire. Theissen (1982: 94-96) and Meeks (1983: 72-73) provide unconvincing descriptions of the Pauline community at Corinth as a cross-section of rich and poor through the un-measurable grid of social status. Wealth, however, serves as a more effective measurement of social status. Steven Friesen (2005: 352-370) argues for an economic model based on seven graduated categories of wealth and poverty in the imperial economy and concludes, that the majority, if not all of the Pauline community lived around the poverty line more clearly defined as subsistence living. None of the individuals mentioned in connection to Corinth were from the imperial elite; however, there were individuals of moderate surplus wealth: Chloe (1 Cor 1:11), Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2), and Erastus (Rom 16:23). The Pauline community at Corinth closely mirrored the economic structure within the broader civic community within the mid-first century Roman empire.

The majority of the Pauline community was poor and Paul while at Corinth required financial support from the Macedonians (2 Cor 11:8-10; Friesen 2005: 365). It is interesting to note these people are never mentioned as individuals, only as a group, a further indicator of their economic status (1 Cor 16:1-2, 2 Cor 8:12-15). This group, argues Friesen (2005: 365) contained “small farm families, laborers (skilled and unskilled), artisans (especially those employed by others), wage earners, most merchants and traders, [and] small shop/tavern owners.” This economic reality, based on 1 Cor 1:26, would serve as a difficulty for Paul, who was attempting to lead a group from a position of economic status below some within the community.

2. Relationship with Civic Authorities

There was little interaction between the ruling elites and those living at the poverty level and this rigid hierarchy of status was reinforced by law. The divisions were, for example, between freeborn and slaves (1 Cor 7:21-22; 1 Cor 12:23), citizen (limited to adult males) and non-citizen, the former having the ability to take someone to court (1 Cor 6:1-11). Within the citizens, however, there were various ordos. The senatorial class was the most elite and wealthy, while the equestrians were similar to the senators economically but beneath them in status. In colonies like Corinth the local elites would have been the decurions, each of these classes had significant property qualifications for membership, while the rest classified as plebs. Among the freeborn, privileged (honestiores) and non-privileged (humiliores) were defined by law and had certain rights within the judicial system (i.e., those taking others to court in 1 Cor 6 may have been from this class).

These relationships were defined by tradition and clientele (patronage) which was supported by notions of respect and deference within Roman society. The hierarchical nature of the society was necessary for patronage to work. Not everyone was involved in a patron-client relationship, however, deference and precedence still marked those relationships. It could be, in the context of Corinth that some of the issues Paul addressed related to individuals resisting this hierarchical structure (1 Cor 5-7). It also should be noted that they may have seen this example in Paul, himself, who appears to be resisting offers to become the client (1 Cor 9:1-18; Lampe 2003: 488-523).

3. The Result: Struggle for Prestige and Prominence within the Community of Faith

The Corinthian Christ-followers found themselves in a social system that, despite sharp class divisions, provided much needed social cohesion. The Pauline community was populated by a large number living at the subsistence level and a smaller number having moderate to surplus financial resources (1 Cor 1:26). This situation led to a struggle for spiritual-prestige and influence and vying for positions of prominence within the community of faith, similar to what was done within the broader Corinthian community; in which dependents of the person of prestige jostled for positions close to the person in the center. The ensuing interaction may have produced relationships within the community in which factions could emerge (1 Cor 1:12), as those individuals near the person of influence, they, themselves become more influential and a circle of family and dependents of varying status adhere to those individuals who now are the center of their own circle of influence.


Steven J. Friesen, “Prospects for a Demography of the Pauline Mission: Corinth among the Churches,” in Urban Religion in Roman Corinth: Interdisciplinary Approaches, ed. Daniel Schowalter and Steve Friesen (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005), 352-370.

Peter Lampe, “Paul, Patron, and Clients,” in Paul in the Greco-Roman World: A Handbook, ed. J. Paul Sampley (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003), 488-523.

Wayne A. Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983)

Gerd Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982).

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Identity Formation and the Lord’s Supper as Ritualized Mission

The Lord’s Supper serves as the constant reminder of the Corinthian’s part in the continuing Pauline mission and has tremendous identity forming implications. Identity formation is often enacted, performed, and embodied in ritual. Paul’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor 11:23-32 serves as an example of this type of performative utterance. After passing along the tradition in vv. 23-25, Paul offers an interpretation of the tradition in v. 26 that argues for the centrality of ritualized mission, in that participation in the Lord’s Supper ‘is proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes’. Paul uses (kataggellete) ‘proclaiming’ which is normally associated with verbal proclamation, however, Paul associates it with ritual. In Paul’s thinking, the enacting of the Lord’s Supper forms the community into one ‘body’ which will further his mission to the nations. Paul normally, in the Corinthian correspondence limits the proclamation verbs to himself or his co-workers, however, in this passage the mission of the community is indexed within that same lexical and conceptual field of proclamation. (Plummer 2006: 122; Eriksson 1998: 196).

The performance of the Lord’s Supper, based on the final phrase ‘until he comes’ also reinforces the apocalyptic eschatological character of their identity in that it allows the community access to the events associated with the death, resurrection, and return of Jesus. This forms an ethos of reversal that is vital to the ethical instructions from Paul in the letter and assists the Corinthians in embodying their transformed identity ‘in Christ’. So, the apocalyptic identity formation that is occurring in this step in Paul’s rhetoric in one that reminds the Corinthians that while they have been transformed and are part of the kingdom of God, there is a future fulfillment of this promise that is yet to be realized. A promise that will be fulfilled to them – Judeans as Judeans, and Greeks as Greeks (1 Cor 12:13); however, these particularized identities are transformed by being ‘in Christ’ and as members of the ecclesia of God (1 Cor 10:32, cf. 1 Cor 10:22).

The emphasis on social practice and relationships that contribute to the existence of nested-identities comes into relief in v. 29 where Paul speaks of the need for the Corinthian Christ-followers to ‘discern the body’. Paul was forming an alternative community with a distinct ethos and the phrase ‘discern the body’ is primarily a reference to this community that Paul was forming, symbolically referred to as ‘the body of Christ’ (1 Cor 12:12-14). The failure to discern the corporate identity of the community of Christ-followers had dire consequences (v. 30). This corporate understanding of v. 29 is echoed by Koester, ‘in 1 Cor 11, the bread as the symbol of the “body of Christ” designates the community, not the corpse of Jesus: “For all those who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves,” The “body” that must be recognized is the community’ (1998: 346; Horsley 1998: 162).


Eriksson, A. 1998. Traditions as Rhetorical Proof: Pauline Argumentation in 1 Corinthians (CB, 29; Stockhom: Almqvist & Wiksell International).

Horsley, R.A. 1998. 1 Corinthians (Nashville: Abingdon Press)

Koester, H. 1998. ‘The Memory of Jesus’ Death and the Worship of the Risen Lord’, HTR 9.1: 335-50.

Plummer, P.L. 2006. Paul’s Understanding of the Church’s Mission: Did the Apostle Paul Expect the Early Christian Communities to Evangelize? (Paternoster Biblical Monographs; Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Controlling language and intergroup comparison in 1 Corinthians 5:1

Paul writes in 1 Cor 5:1, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife.” Paul is letting the Corinthians know that (1) he’s received an oral report; (2) they failed to mention this in their letter to him; (3) those on the outside appear to be aware of this. May (2004: 60) asserts, “their public reputation (positive social identity) is at stake.” I would add, how did these outsiders become aware of this? The Corinthians were involved in their civic community, (see mission as social integration), and it appears their behavior wasn’t lining up with their speech.

Paul receives three oral reports in 1 Corinthians: (1) 1:11 “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you.” Here the communication is private, less confrontational, and more detailed indicating insider concern for the community. I am not arguing those from Chloe were Christ-followers (Barrett 1971: 42 is ambivalent; Fee 1987: 54 suggests they weren’t). Either way, Paul trusts their information. (2) 11:18 “…when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it.” Here is uses a simple 1 person singular, ‘I hear’) rather than the passive 3rd person singular in 5:1. In 11:18, Paul is informed about the Corinthians' behavior during the Lord’s supper, but he doesn’t bring out the larger community’s awareness of the issue. I think the issue in the Lord’s supper was “status differentials in dining” and these would not have been issues because their eating arrangements would look like those in rest of the culture. (3) 5:1 “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you…” The 3rd person singular indicates that this report has reached the ears of others besides him. The presence of “nations/gentiles/pagans” may indicate an outgroup awareness of this. Paul’s use of the adverb “actually” describes his “horror” at this news (Fee 1987: 199). Paul’s concern could also be that outsiders are aware of this (see Conzelmann 1975: 95).

Paul is using shame language to form the identity of the ecclesia, (see honor-shame discourse as an ordering-principle of identity). Cicero in Part. Or. 26.91 notes that shame is an effective tool in changing behavior. Paul is concerned that these things should not be, but notice he draws on their social identity as he describes issues regarding the existence of the immoral man in their group (and also noting that they have not expelled him from their group). The group is in focus with the use of “among you,” in effect Paul places “sexual immorality” among the entire group. So, the actions of this one individual, affects the social identity of the whole group. Paul feels collective action is required.

“…and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans…” – Paul engages in an intergroup comparison (see Social Identity Theory), by noting that this specific “sexual immorality” does not even occur among the nations (another indicator that they are socially identifying with their Roman social identity, otherwise this outgroup comparison would be ineffective). Paul uses the nations as a negative foil for the Corinthians’ behavior. Rosner (1994: 84) notes this occurs in the Hebrew Bible (Amos 1, 2; 2 Kgs 21:9, 11; Deut 12:29–31; 1 Kgs 14:24).

Social Identity Theory argues that groups require positive self-evaluation over and against and outgroup (I have argued that the outgroup is those aligned with the wisdom and power of Rome in 1 Corinthians). The outgroup evaluation results in a positive ingroup identity (think of MSU versus U of M football fans). Look what Paul has done: the immoral man (is an ingroup member), but the behavior is “worse than” what occurs in the outgroup (the nations, this is the term the Romans used to describe everyone else but themselves, see Lopez 2008). Paul undermines the Corinthians’ confidence in their ability to assess the ingroup correctly (see 4:3), while connecting this sin with their ingroup.

In 3:1–4, Paul equates the Corinthians with outsiders, however, here (5:1) he unfavorably compares them with outsiders: they are more immoral than those who are normally described as immoral. Paul doesn’t use a verb here so we have to supply either not heard/condoned/found. Commentators are split, as are English versions (see Garland 2003: 157).

What was not found? porneia, which Garland notes, “is a flexible term that covers all prohibited sexual intercourse and here applies to a case of unnatural sexual vice, “incest.” (see Reuben’s incest with his father’s concubine in T. Reub. 1:6; 4:8). The translation “sexual immorality” seems to tame and sanitized to convey Paul’s revulsion…”whoredom” may” be better (2003: 156–7). Incest of this nature was strongly discouraged by Roman writers: Cicero, Pro Cluentio; Martial, Epigrams 4.16; Tacitus, Annales 6.19; and Dio Cassius, Roman History 58.22.

“…for a man has his father's wife” – What are we dealing with here? May (2004: 640) contends that “a case of a marriage or concubinage between a believer and his stepmother.” This would be a violation of Roman law (Gaius Inst. 1.63 “It is illegal to marry a father’s or mother’s sister…nor can I marry her who was at one time my mother-in-law or stepmother”; Cicero, Pro Cluento 5.12—6.14 [Cicero was disgusted when “mother-in-law marries son-in-law”; it is “unbelievable” [Pro Cluento 5.27 (Thiselton 2006: 84)]; Clarke 1993: 77–80; Apuleius Metamorphoses 10.2–12; Augustan’s lex Julia de adulteriis [18–16 BCE]). May (2004: 65) continues, “the high instance of remarriage, and the fact that women often married at an early age, would suggest a good number of step-relationships in antiquity, where stepmothers were of similar ages to stepsons. Granted this, it is perhaps naïve to search far for a motive for such unions.”

What do you think about Paul's use of intergroup comparison in 1 Cor 5:1?

Barrett, C. K. A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Black's New Testament commentaries. London: A. & C. Black, 1971.

Clarke, Andrew D. Secular and Christian Leadership in Corinth: A Socio-Historical and Exegetical Study of 1 Corinthians 1-6. Leiden: Brill, 1993.

Conzelmann, Hans. 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975.

Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. NICNT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987.

Garland, David E. 1 Corinthians. BECNT. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

Lopez, Davina C. Apostle to the Conquered: Reimagining Paul's Mission. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008.

May, Alistair Scott. The Body for the Lord: Sex and Identity in 1 Corinthians 5-7. JSNT, 278. London: T&T Clark, 2004.

Rosner, Brian S. Paul, Scripture and Ethics: A Study of I Corinthians 5-7. Leiden: Brill, 1994.

Thiselton, Anthony C. First Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical and Pastoral Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Methodoloigcal Reflections on the Recent 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 Study

In his recent study of the lawsuits among believers at Corinth, Richard Horsley (2000: 74, 91, 100) argues that Paul is engaged in rhetorical subversion against the Roman Empire, which, in Paul’s mind was fleeting and soon to be replaced by God’s new order. Therefore, the Corinthians should not take their brothers or sisters to these courts but these disputes should be adjudicated between the members of the community of believers at Corinth. Horsley’s reading of the text, with its focus on the nature of the Roman court system and the civic context at Corinth, is to be situated with others who have sought to understand Paul’s admonition within its political or public context (Witherington 1995: 162; Thiselton 2000: 419–21). This approach is congruent with the program of historical criticism and its desire to understand the cultural and social background of a text in order to ascertain what an author intended to communicate. Whether one focuses on the rhetoric of Paul (Mitchell 1991: 116–8), understanding the court system during the Roman period, or seeks to situate the passage in the social setting of Paul and those living in Roman Corinth in the mid-first century CE, these approaches have in common a commitment to understanding 1 Corinthians 6:1–11 from a historical perspective.

This just completed study, while being concerned with historical reconstruction, was primarily interested in broadening this research to include an identity-critical analysis. In some ways, this approach is similar to what a feminist hermeneutic seeks to accomplish (cf. Schüssler Fiorenza 1999: 89; Ehrensperger 2004: 197; Barton 1997: 286). As one attempts an historical reconstruction, which may serve as an acceptable heuristic device, it becomes clear that this reconstruction will remain tenuous and as a result, at least somewhat, an academic endeavor. This may also be said for Paul’s theological agenda; however, the trajectory of this study was on the issue of identity formation and how it impacted Paul’s rhetorical choices in attempting to negotiate boundaries within this nascent community of believers in Jesus Christ.

This study sought to understand the function of this text in meditating group boundaries and understanding how texts, similar to 1 Corinthian 6:1–11, form identity within these communities. This approach has much in common with the work of Judith Lieu (2004) and Denise Kimball Buell (2005). The reason one studies Paul’s argument is because this is the closest one can come to understanding the pattern of power that is leveled against the readers. These patterns are inherent in these texts and serve as a shaper and molder of behaviors, or at least, attempt to do this. When attempting to understand the identity forming power of a text one shifts this analysis from the meaning of the text to the function of the text within the community. That does not mean that the more traditional lines of research are ignored (i.e., syntactical, historical, or theological analysis), it means the rhetorical and functional aspects of meaning making become the object of focus to produce a clearer understanding of what Paul was attempting to affect in his auditors of his Corinthian correspondence.

Barton, Stephen C., “Social-Scientific Criticism”, in Stanley E. Porter, (ed.), Handbook to Exegesis of the New Testament. (Leiden, Brill, 1997), 277–289.
Buell, Denise K., “Why this New Race:” Ethnic Reasoning in Early Christianity. (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2005).
Ehrensperger, Kathy, That We May Be Mutually Encouraged: Feminism and the New Perspective in Pauline Studies. (New York, London: T & T Clark International, 2004).
Horsley, Richard, “Rhetoric and Empire – And 1 Corinthians,” in Paul and Politics: Ekklesia, Israel, Imperium, Interpretation: Essays in Honor of Krister Stendahl, ed. Richard A. Horsley, (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2000).
Lieu, Judith M., Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
Mitchell, Margaret M., Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation. An Exegetical Investigation of the Language and Composition of 1 Corinthians, (Westminster, John Knox Press, 1991).
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elizabeth, Rhetoric and Ethic. The Politics of Biblical Studies, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1999).
Thiselton, Anthony C., The First Epistle to the Corinthians. A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary), (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000).
Witherington III, Ben, Conflict and Community in Corinth. A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995).

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).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Judging and Identity Formation in 1 Corinthians 6:1–11, Part 3

Why would Paul be so concerned about the Corinthians taking their disputes to the local magistrates? Why was Paul so negative concerning the Roman law system? Was his view common or idiosyncratic in the mid-first century CE? How did Paul view the civic judges when compared to those believers within the community of faith?

The local-civil courts in ancient Rome were not to be trusted for the unbiased application of justice. The law system in Rome with its hierarchical structure may have provided a modicum of justice; however, even Roman citizens had no real expectation of justice being served in their civil courts. The social status of the individual oftentimes served more of a determiner of the legal proceedings than did the actual facts of the case. On the other hand, Paul may have developed his negative view concerning the Roman courts from his Jewish background. The Jews sought to avoid the Roman courts whether for reasons of exclusivism or pragmatism, Diaspora Jews choose not to, if at all possible, engage in local legal proceedings with the civil magistrates.

Paul had learned that the Corinthians were taking each other to the local civil-magistrates and he concludes that this was shameful (Hurd 1983: 85). His assessment of the court system would not have been considered inconsistent with what others living under the colonial power of Rome would have felt; however, Paul’s concern is couched in the language of the other. He considers these judges to be “unbelievers” (v. 6) and defines them as individuals who should not be held in high esteem within the believing community (v. 4). This begs the question, why would the Corinthians even wish to involve themselves in the court system? It appears, that the Corinthians, because of civic circumstances exclusive to Roman Corinth, had a fairly good relationship with the civic authorities (Walters 2005: 417). In fact, the Christ-followers in Corinth do not appear to have any external conflict with the civic rulers or community. This fact, in part, may have led to the internal conflict, in that, most of the other communities Paul founded, experienced conflict with the local governing powers (e.g. Thessalonica and Philippi; see De Vos 1999). So, it could be that Paul is basing his negative assessment of this situation, as much on his experiences with the other Jesus-believing communities that he founded, as well as, the general disdain for the local courts in both the Graeco-Roman and Jewish communities.

That said, there is also ample evidence that Paul’s rationale for avoiding the local courts may be identity driven, that is, Paul understands the Corinthians to be new “in Christ” and that has an ontological impact on the boundedness of the community (Keener 2005: 53). He engages in apocalyptic (Ramsaran 2004: 89–101) boundary formation in vv. 2–3 by arguing that the Corinthians do not realize that they, themselves are capable of judging, because, for example, they will, in the future, judge the world and angels (Belleville 2003: 226). So, the function of Paul’s argument is to redefine who should be a judge and he uses the terminology of honor and shame to communicate that to them. He honors the Corinthians, by informing them that they will one day judge the world and angels and then challenges them in v. 5 by shaming them because their practice is not congruent with this reality.

Paul negotiates identity not from a position of the social status of the elites but from a position of a contested equal seeking to affect mission within this nascent community of Christ-followers. His main argument in this section seeks to connect their local engagement with the civic authorities with their apocalyptic identity “in Christ” (Sampley 1980: 4). He concludes this section by reminding the Corinthians, after a digression into a vice list and an ironic statement of what happens to those who “do wrong,” and reminds them that the primary reason for not going to those on the outside to justice is that they had been “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11), which appears to be a part of a baptismal formula (Schnelle 2003: 208). This is important because, often identity formation is embedded in rituals and early Christ-movement rituals serve as boundaries for the new community.

Belleville, Linda L. “KEFALH and the Issue of Head Covering in 1 Cor. 11:2-16,” in Trevor J. Burke and J. Keith Elliott (eds.), Paul and the Corinthians: Studies on a Community in Conflict. Essays in Honour of Margaret Thrall, (Leiden: Brill, 2003).
De Vos, Craig Steven. Church and Community Conflicts: The Relationships of the Thessalonian, Corinthian, and Philippian Churches with Their Wider Civic Communities. Atlanta, Ga: Scholars Press, 1999.
Hurd, John C. The Origin of 1 Corinthians, (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1983).
Craig S. Keener, 1-2 Corinthians (The New Cambridge Bible Commentary), (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
Ramsaran, Rollin A. “Resisting Imperial Domination and Influence: Paul’s Apocalyptic Rhetoric in 1 Corinthians,” in Richard A. Horsley (ed.), Paul and the Roman Imperial Order, (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2004), 89-101.
Sampley, J. Paul. Pauline Partnership in Christ. Christian Community and Commitment in Light of Roman Law, (Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1980).
Schnelle, Udo. “Apostle Paul: His Life and Theology,” M. Eugene Boring, (trans.), (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003).
Walters, James. “Civic Identity in Roman Corinth and Its Impact on Early Christians,” in Daniel N. Schowalter and Steven J. Friesen (eds.) Urban Religion in Roman Corinth: Interdisciplinary Approaches, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005).

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.

Friday, April 16, 2010

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

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).