1 Corinthians 1:10-17
I. Thesis of Letter
1. A number of scholars argue that 1 Corinthians 1:10 is the main point of Paul’s letter to the church of Corinth based on the insights of rhetorical analysis.
a. Commenting on 1:10, Ben Witherington writes, “In Greco-Roman rhetoric the propositio is the thesis statement of the entire discourse. In a deliberative discourse it is the main advice the rhetor recommends.” Ben Witherington. Conflict and Community, 94.
2. There is much to commend this view, even apart from a rhetorical analysis of 1 Corinthians.
a. It is clear that one of Paul’s main concerns is the importance of unity. He directly addresses the problem of divisions and urges unity in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, 3:1-23, he employs the imagery of the body in 12:1-31, and calls people to the preeminent virtue of love without which unity is not possible in 13:1-13.
b. There are also a number of passages that presuppose the importance of unity. For example, he addresses the wrongfulness of lawsuits (6:1-11), the lack of concern of the consciences of others (8:1-13, 10:23-33), and the abuse of the Lord’s Supper along the line of social status (11:17-34).
c. Therefore, Paul’s main purpose is not far from the question of how people from different social backgrounds can achieve unity.
II. Cult of Personality
1. Paul writes that Chole’s people have informed him that there were divisions (schisma), strife (eris), and even slogans of loyalty based on personalities (Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ) among the Corinthians.
2. Gordon Fee persuasively argues that we should not see a community that is totally divided.
a. That Paul is able to address the Corinthians as a single community points to a situation of inchoate divisions, rather than complete divisions. In this sense, the epistle of 1 Corinthians can be seen as Paul’s preemptive attempt to fight full out discord. Moreover, we could reasonably assume that the divisions in view are not theological in character, since there is very little in 1 Corinthians to suggest this.
3. As for the nature of the conflict, Paul’s words are sufficiently vague that we cannot reconstruct the historical situation with confidence, even if scholars have endlessly tried.
a. The simplest solution is to say that there was probably a cult of personality, something that was a part of the fabric of ancient cities.
b. Lexical and historical considerations lend support to this reading.
c. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-11, Paul’s choice of words (schisma and eris) would have been read in a way that reminded his hears of political factions that surrounded individuals, as both words were part of the stock vocabulary in political discourse. d. There is evidence of great rivalry among teachers in the ancient world. Dio Chrysostom gives a vivid story of one episode.
e. “That was the time, too, when one could hear crowds of wretched sophists around Poseidon’s temple shouting and reviling one another, and their disciples, as they were called, fighting with one another, many writers reading aloud their stupid works, many poets reciting their poems while others applauded them, many jugglers showing their tricks, many fortune-tellers interpreting fortunes, lawyers innumerable perverting judgment, and peddlers not a few peddling whatever they happened to have.” Dio 8.9
f. From this description, it is not hard to make the case that the Corinthians imported their pre-Christian ethics and practices into their new Christian context. What makes this situation sadder is that these fledging house churches are already fighting each other. However, we should not be too critical of the Corinthians, because divisions run deep in the modern church, even where theological differences are minimal.
4. Critique of Power
a. To go one step further, it appears that the ethos of seeking power is such a part of the commonsense view of the world that the church cannot distance itself from it (who would ever want to give up power?); in this sense, the church has been absorbed.
b. From this perspective, Paul’s stance in 1 Corinthians 1:14-15 is not only counter-cultural, but also a powerful challenge to the church. The last thing Paul desires is a group of disciples or a coterie of devoted followers. In fact, he is glad that he baptized only a handful of persons, so that only a few could say (wrongly, of course) that he or she was a disciple of Paul.
c. From where comes the human desire to create divisions. To be sure, there will be no one answer to such a complex question. However, there appears to be a strong correlation between divisions and issues of power and status.
d. Dale B. Martin writes, “Finally, since Paul infiltrates his rhetoric with so many status terms, much, if not all, of the conflict among the Corinthians must have centered on issues of status.” Dale B. Martin. The Corinthian Body, 61. To put it another way, those who have status and power do not want to give it up, and one of the ways to gain more status and power is by creating a base of power, namely, a faction.
e. Paul’s language, especially in this introductory section but also throughout the letter, derives much of its power precisely from its polyvalence or, as Mikhail Bakhtin would put it, “heteroglossia.” As we will see more fully below, Paul wants to place two different worlds in opposition to one another: the world of Greco-Roman rhetoric and status, with its attendant upper-class ideology, and a somewhat hidden world of apocalyptic reality proclaimed in the gospel of Christ, which has its own, alternative system of values and status attribution, which is some sense “mirrors” the values of “this world” but in another sense counters and overturns those values. Dale B. Martin. The Corinthian Body, 57.
III. One Solution
1. Paul begins to suggest a solution to the various divisions in Corinth. In 1:10, he urges the Corinthians to put aside their differences in the name of Jesus.
a. A literal translation of 1:10 is: “I exhort you, brothers, on account of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all say the same thing (to auto) and that there be no divisions among you, and that you be mended in the same mind (en to auto voi) and in the same opinion (en ta auta gnoma).” c. The emphasis on the word “same” cannot be missed.
b. In 1:13, he asks a number of rhetorical questions to show the utter foolishness of divisions. “Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?”
c. He also states that what the Corinthians need is not more worldly wisdom with its emphasis on status and power, but God’s wisdom and the logic of the cross.
d. When Christians are filled with the latter, they will seek unity, not because they necessarily agree with one another or even like each other, but for the sake of Christ.
e. Those in power should start the process by holding loosely their power and status.Tags: 1 corinthians 1:10-17 Outline, cult of Personality, Paul, Theology, Unity