A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

Seminary assignment that may address “so-called gods” of 1 Corinthians 8:5

All citations are from Backgrounds of Early Christianity by Everett Ferguson:

I have always personally been a bit perplexed with 1 Corinthians 8:5 for a while. I mean, it seems clear that Paul in many other places felt that there was one God. Why would Paul even make such a hypothetical? My natural reaction, without any historical background, lead me to merely say he is being hypothetical. However, I always felt uneasy with this interpretation as it seemed to be based upon harmonizing my beliefs about what Paul has written than it was grounded in any historical background. With my readings in Hellenism, it confirms my interpretation by grounding Paul’s statement within a religiously inclusive culture. In a world view where religion is exclusive, it would seem pointless for Paul to make a such a statement, but he in fact made it in culture whose world view was inclusive. My previous interpretation was confirmed, but perhaps with a purpose as I will explain in a moment.

Also the whole of 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 makes much more sense to me. Previously it seemed the language about “lords” was out of place in the context of sacrifice to gods, since if the Caesar was regarded as divine it would have been sufficient to refer to them as a god also. However, the Roman ruler cult, wasn’t necessarily an expression of complete divinity. Ferguson notes that “[w]hat Augustus accepted in his lifetime in Rome involved more than human status but not divinity.” (209). While Caligula and Nero encouraged the deity worship more than the other emperors (209), the emperor cult was not primarily concerned with identifying a god, at least in an ontological sense, (although it may have reached that status in Eastern cities, such as Corinth and the rest of Paul’s missionary areas). It was about being more than a mere human, evidenced as such by the pax Romana. In turn, the emperor cult was more about “belief in the unity of the empire” (208-209). Attribution of high status, savior, peace, unity, and country were part of the expressions of the emperor cults.

There is then a natural contrast between the lords, such as the Caesar, and the Lord Jesus Christ. While not denying his divinity (kyrios would have a divine connotations because of its use as a substitute for the divine name YHWH in the Greek Septuagint), it is a call for the same attributions as made for Caesar. Jesus was above human and he was savior. But applicable to the divided Corinth church is that there is to be a peaceful, united church (or kingdom of God). So the attribution of Lordship to Jesus is more than just an affirmation of divinity, or even a contrast to the Roman empire, but it entails a necessary unity and peace of those in the church who follow the Lord. Thus, the “even if there are so-called gods” may be used as an analogue to the divisions within the Corinthian church (although this might be pressing it too far).


February 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians not a single letter?

I have been leading a Bible Study at a couple of my churches on the letters of 1 and 2 Corinthians (still in the first letter right now). A definitely difficult study to make because the letter of Corinthians, more than any other of Paul’s letters are dependent upon an unwritten context to make sense of it. But also, 1 Corinthians has always been a difficult letter because of the seemingly random shifts exhibited throughout the letter. For instance, 7:20-24, 11:2-16, and 14:34-35 all seem to interrupt the flow of the letter. If they were excluded, it would be a much smoother read. And my Study Bible (The Oxford Annotated Study Bible with the NRSV) seems to imply a bit of doubt regarding 11:2-16.

To me, 1 Corinthians can not simply just be one whole letter. Rather, I would contend it is a base letter from Paul combined with other of Paul’s instructions to Corinthians at various times. What could have happened is that the church in Corinth at later times, having frequent correspondance with Paul, would put together an anthology of different teachings from him in order to draw from. What they had was all genuinely Pauline, but it wouldn’t be merely one letter.

This would make sense of the positional descrepancy of 14:34-35, which are placed at the end of the chapter. To a group that made 1 Corinthians as we have it, the traditional position may not have been that troubling, even if it seems to be disjoined, because they knew it wasn’t the letter as it originally was from Paul. But it was placed there because of the common theme between “women (or wives) speaking in church” and the way prophesy and tongues were to be done, in a certain order. But for a later person reading 1 Corinthians who believed it to be a letter, it would have seem totally out of placed and it would have been moved a few verses later.

But 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 could potentially make a lot of sense being part of a separate letter with a common theme and/or within closer proximity of the text 11:2-16 (and maybe even 7:1-19, 25-40). But yet these sections seem out of place on where they are in 1 Corinthians.

Furthermore, the nature of the “base letter” would favor this. The odds of the letter of 1 Corinthians surviving for later times would have been unlikely on its own. 1 Corinthians was addressed to an individual church, which a lot of hostility within, and no instructions to deliver the elsewhere. Why would the Corinthian church make copies of this letter, enough that would have allowed for its survival? It is unlikely. If we look at all the other Pauline letters, they have potential characteristics that would explain copying and distributing the letter

Romans – Potentially a circular letter with the first part of chapter 1 and chapter 16 added on when it was deliver to Rome. With Rome being a center of influence, the letter would have been copied over rest of the destinations. Or maybe just by luck it was the Roman version over the others/

2 Corinthians – It was for the church in Corinthin and for people through Achaia (2 Corinthians 1:1), which would probably call for copying and distribution in order for it to be pass to all them.

Galatians – Written to the “churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:2)

Ephesians – Like Romans, potentially a circular letter, where the Ephesus was the most influential of the cities. Or maybe just by luck the Ephesian version (along with an unmarked one) survived.

Philippians – Has a polemical nature and doctrinal nature to it, making it prone to copying and dispersal.

Colossians – Colossians 4:16 urges the readers to read it to other churches, which would probably lead to copying it, and the recipients also copying it since it was a letter copied, delivered, and read to them.

1 Thessalonians – Similar to Colossians potential in 1 Thessalonians 5:27. This may have been reason to copy it.

2 Thessalonians – Delivered to the same church and not to far apart in time, probably would have been included in copying.

1 & 2 Timothy and Titus – Letters delivered to people who were (supposedly) charged with watching over many churches, so they would have delivered the letter to each church.

Philemon – Perhaps in the personal collection of Philemon and seen after his death and copied as part of a newly found letter of Philemon

Now this is all assuming all the letters are genuinely Pauline. And maybe my rationale as to why they would have been copied, and thus more likely to surive, may not be 100%. But however, my point is to contrast the nature of the other letters with 1 Corinthians. It is not a flattering letter, so why would it be dispersed unless another value of the letter was given it like turn it into a collection of Paul’s teachings (including the original base letter)?

This hypothesis is speculative (and it may have already been proposed before), so it can not offhand be affirmed fully. However, I think the evidence allows for it and it (or ideas like it) makes the best sense of the evidence we do have. Of course, this would make 1 Corinthians somewhat of an exegetical challenge if this is true (not as much context to rely upon)!

October 20, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment