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Paul's Sense of Place: an Anthropological Approach to Community Formation in Corinth*

  • Stephen C. Barton


Recent scholarly study of the early Christian gatherings (or ‘churches’) has rightly emphasized their indebtedness to the household model of association. One only has to think of the use of the house as a place of meeting, the terminology of paternalism and brotherhood, the conversion of whole households, the praise accorded to the practice of hospitality and the endorsement given to contemporary marital and household ethics in the New Testament writings.



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[1] Judge, E. A., The Social Pattern of the Christian Groups in the First Century (London: Tyndale Press, 1960) 30–9; Malherbe, A. J., Social Aspects of Early Christianity (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State U.P. 1977) 6091; Banks, R. J., Paul's Idea of Community (Sydney: Anzea Publishers, 1979) passim; and, most recently, Elliott, J. H., A Home for the Homeless (London: SCM, 1982). ]Judge, E. A., The Social Pattern of the Christian Groups in the First Century (London: Tyndale Press, 1960) 30–9; Malherbe, A. J., Social Aspects of Early Christianity (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State U.P. 1977) 6091; Banks, R. J., Paul's Idea of Community (Sydney: Anzea Publishers, 1979) passim; and, most recently, Elliott, J. H., A Home for the Homeless (London: SCM, 1982).

[2] Meeks, W. A., ‘“Since then you would need to go out of the world”: Group boundaries in Pauline Christianity’ in Critical History and Biblical Faith: New Testament Perspectives, ed. Ryan, T. (Villanova, Pa.: College Theology Society, 1979) 429; idem, The First Urban Christians (New Haven and London: Yale U.P., 1983) esp. chs. 35.

[3] Theissen, G., ‘Soziale Integration und sakramentales Handeln: Eine Analyse von 1 Cor XI 17–34’, Nov T 16 (1974) 179206; idem., Soziale Schichtung in der Korinthischen Gemeinde: Ein Beitrag zur Soziologie des hellenistischen Christentums’, ZNW 65 (1974) 232–72. Both essays have appeared in translation recently in Theissen, G., The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity, edited and translated by Schütz, J. H. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1982).

[4] Fiorenza, E. S., In Memory of Her (London: SCM, 1983). The present essay was completed before the publication of Fiorenza's book but concurs with it on many points.

[5] Douglas, M., Purity and Danger (London: RKP, 1966); idem., ed., Rules and Meanings (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973); idem, Natural Symbols (London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1973 2); idem, Implicit Meanings (London: RKP, 1975).

[6] Geertz, C., ‘Centers, Kings and Charisma’ in Culture and Its Creations, ed. Ben-David, J. and Clark, T. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977) 150–71.

[7] Leach, E., Culture and Communication (Cambridge: CUP, 1976); idem, Social Anthropology (Glasgow: Fontana, 1982).

[8] Turner, V. W., The Ritual Process (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1969); idem, Dramas, Fields and Metaphors (Ithaca and London: Cornell U.P., 1974).

[9] See the account of Berger, P. and Luckmann, T., The Social Construction of Reality (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967).

[10] Leach, E., Culture, 33.

[11] See ibid., 25–7, 51–2.

[12] The classic exposition is Gennep, A. van, The Rites of Passage (ET, London: RKP, 1960).

[13] M. Douglas, Purity and Danger, passim.

[14] See Turner, V. W., Ritual Process, esp. chs. 35.

[15] Leach, E., Culture, 62.

[16] ibid., 61.

[17] Douglas, M., Natural Symbols, esp. ch. 4.

[18] See Leach, E., Culture, 5564, for an analysis of these physical media as ‘examples of binary coding’.

[19] In addition to Douglas, M., Natural Symbols, we her ‘Social Preconditions of Enthusiasm and Heterodoxy’ in Forms of Symbolic Action, ed. Spencer, R. F. (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1969) 6980; and Isenberg, S. R. and Owen, D. R., ‘Bodies, Natural and Contrived: the Work of Mary Douglas’, RSR 3 (1977) 117.

[20] Cf. Meeks, W. A., ‘The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity’, HR 13 (19731974) 165208.

[21] Cf. Meeks, W. A., ‘The Man from Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism’, SBL 1972 Proceedings, Vol. 1 (1972) 285313.

[22] The list could be extended to include, for example, spirit-/demon-possessed bodies. Further, an interesting example of the significance placed on bodily orifices occurs in Paul's writings, at 2 Cor 6. 11: ‘Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide…’.

[23] See further, Firth, R., Symbols Public and Private (London: Allen and Unwin, 1973) esp. chs. 7–9.

[24] For a recent attempt to apply anthropological insights to other ancient societies, we Humphreys, S. C., Anthropology and the Greeks (London: RKP, 1978). In biblical studies, Malina, Bruce J. has made a significant contribution in The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology (London: SCM, 1983), with a discussion of body symbolism on pp. 34–6, 42–4. For the Old Testament, we Cohn, R. L., The Shape of Sacred Space: Four Biblical Studies (AAR Studies in Religion 23: Scholars Press, 1981).

[25] Barton, S. C., ‘Paul and the Cross: A Sociological Approach’, Theology, 85 (1982) 1319; idem., Paul and the Resurrection: A Sociological Approach’, Religion 14 (1984) 6775.

[26] Ellis, E. E., ‘The Silenced Wives of Corinth (1 Cor 14. 34–5)’ in Epp, E. J. and Fee, G. D., eds., New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance For Exegesis (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981) 213220.

[27] Elsewhere in Ch. έν έκκλησίᾳ occurs only twice, at 14. 19 and 14. 28, although cf. other formulations of this location in 14. 4, 5, 12, 23, 26.

[28] This must be the meaning of τάπνενματıκά in 12. 1 and 14. 1 (cf. 14. 37). Paul deals with inspired curses and acclamations (12. 2–3), words of ‘wisdom’ and ‘knowledge’ (12. 8), ‘prophecy’ and its discrimination (12. 10), ‘tongues’ and their interpretation (12. 10); and 14. 26 lists ‘a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation‘speaking in tongues’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘prophecy’.

[28] Fora significant example of non-verbal action taken by the Corinthian wives in demonstration of their newly-established status, we Paul's reaction to their praying and prophesying with heads unveiled in 1 Cor 11. 2–16. This case closely parallels ours in a number of respects: (a) the perception of a threat to the patriarchal household order (e.g. 11. 2, 7, 11); (b) the invocation of tradition-based, male-defined notions of propriety and shame to induce social conformity (11. 4, 5, 6, 7, 13, 14–15); (c) the adoption by the women/wives of a bodily symbol of non-conformity or liberation (i.e. hair covering and/or hair length in ch. 11 and speaking in ch. 14); (d) the fear of a dissolution of traditional forms of the social dichotomy public-private (signified by the veil). For recent discussions, we Murphy-O'Connor, J., ‘Sex and Logic in 1 Corinthians 11. 2–16’, CBQ 42 (1980) 482500; and Clark, G., ‘The Women at Corinth’, Theology 85 (1982) 256–62.

[30] Έντολή in 14. 37 is textually uncertain and is completely lacking in confirmation from the tradition of Jesus' saying's. See Dungan, D. L., The Sayings of Jesus in the Churches of Paul (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1971), xxxii n. 1.

[31] Cf. also the textual variants at 1 Cor 7. 39, where ν⋯μος is cited, again in conjunction with the behaviour (here, marital) of women.

[32] These male-female boundaries are beautifully illustrated in Philo, , De Specialibus Legibus III 169 ff. It begins: ‘Market-places and council-halls and law-courts and gatherings and meetings where a large number of people are assembled, and open-air life with full scope for discussion and action - all these are suitable to men both in war and peace. The women are best suited to the indoor life which never strays from the house, within which the middle door is taken by the maidens as their boundary, and the outer door by those who have reached full womanhood.’ (Loeb Classical Library trans.). Such boundaries were centuries old: see the speech of the cuckolded Euphiletus, in Lysias 1. 6–14 (early 4th century B.C.E.), cited in Pomeroy, S. B., Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity (New York: Shocken Books, 1975) 81–2. On the position in Judaism, see Evans, M., Woman in the Bible (Exeter: Paternoster, 1983) 33–8.

[33] See also now Fiorenza, E. S., In Memory, 8690, 176–7, 251 etc.

[34] See Barton, S. C. and Horsley, G. H. R., ‘A Hellenistic Cult Group and the New Testament Churches’, Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 24 (1981) 741.

[35] See esp. Douglas, M., ‘Deciphering a Meal’, in Implicit Meanings, 249–75; and Readings 32 and 33 in idem, Rules and Meanings, 216–18 and 219–20, respectively. For a brief survey of attitudes in antiquity, we Balsdon, J. P. V. D., Romans and Aliens (London: Duckworth, 1979) 222–5.

[36] Douglas', Mary analysis in Purity and Danger, esp. 4157 (and modified in ‘Deciphering a Meal’, 261 ff.) has been taken up in recent biblical scholarship in Porter's, J. R., Leviticus (Cam-bridge: C.U.P., 1976) and in Neusner, J., The Idea of Purity in Ancient Israel (Leiden: Brill, 1973), the latter containing a rejoinder by Douglas on pp. 137–42. See also Rogerson, J. W., Anthropology and the Old Testament (Oxford: Blackwell, 1978). 112–14.

[37] M. Douglas, ‘Deciphering a Meal’, 249. Note Epistle to Diognetus VI.7 in this connection: 'They offer free hospitality, but guard their purity [τράπεξαν κοωήν παρατίθενταı, άλλ' οὑ κοίτην]’ (Loeb trans.).

[38] M. Douglas, ‘Deciphering a Meal’, 255.

[39] This identification would help explain Paul's concern lest the young Timothy not be accepted in Corinth as Paul's envoy (14. 17–18; 16. 10–11). Note again the status-linked terminology: ‘Some are arrogant [έϕνσıὠθησαν τωες]’ (4. 18); and ‘let no one despise [έξουθενήση] him’ (16. 11). Could this identification relate also to the dead referred to in 15. 29, whose importance is shown in the pains taken to secure ‘grace’ through being baptized on their behalf?

[40] For an illuminating discussion of the reverse correlation, cast, significantly, as ‘civil disobedience by children’, see Daube, D., Civil Disobedience in Antiquity (Edinburgh: The University Press, 1972) 4152.

[41] So, those who claimed to be ‘of Christ’ are those who were baptized in his name. This is the force of Paul's rhetorical questions, expecting a ‘No’, with respect to baptism in his (Paul's) name: μη…εις τ⋯ ὂνομα Παὑλον έβαπτίσθηε; (1. 13b). Compare the idea of baptism ‘into Moses [είςτἱν Мωüσ⋯ν]’ in 10. 2.

[42] On Apollos, we 1 Cor 1. 12; 3. 4, 5, 6, 22; 4. 6; 16. 12; cf. Acts 18. 24; 19. 1. On Cephas, see 1 Cor 1. 12; 3. 22; 9. 5;15. 5; cf. 2 Cor 11.5.

[43] Paul's remarkable reticence about his own baptizing activity and his ‘inability’ to remember precisely whom he had baptized deserves a special study in its own right. It may be the case that, in the factionalism at Corinth, Paul wants to play down (by ‘forgetting’) his own position as head of one faction (consisting of those baptized by him) so that he can establish authority over the whole church and unite them under his leadership and his ideology.

[44] See the discussion of household baptism in Jeremias, J., Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries (E.T. London: SCM, 1960) 19–24.

[45] Cf. Pliny, Epistulae 11.6 for an explicit statement of social differentiation expressed through the quality of food offered.

[46] This patronage extended even to their relations with their apostle by whom they and their oikos had been baptized. The financial support they gave may have been a means of expressing a debt-relationship which they felt existed between themselves as the baptized and their baptizer. But it was also a potential means of influencing him; and we can hardly be surprised by Paul's refusal to accept the financial support of the (presumably) rich in Corinth (see 1 Cor 9), which corresponds well with his refusal to be recognized as a baptizer. Such refusals were Paul's way of distancing himself from the pattern of expectations surrounding the patron-client bond. See E. A. Judge on this ‘deliberate downgrading of expectations by Paul’, in The Social Identity of the First Christians: A Question of Method in Religious History’, Journal of Religious History 11 (1980) 214.

[47] Άδελϕ⋯ς/άδελϕή occurs some forty times in 1 Corinthians alone; and, of course, other household terms recur as well. See Banks, R. J., Paul's Idea of Community, 6370.

[48] See Schweizer, E., ‘Traditional ethical patterns in the Pauline and post-Pauline letters and their development (lists of vices and house-tables)’ in Text and Interpretation, edd. Best, E. and Wilson, R. McL. (Cambridge, 1977) 195209; and on N.T. Haustafeln generally, Elliott, J. H., A Home for the Homeless, 208–20.

[49] See Banks, R. J., Paul's Idea of Community, 61–2.

[50] The overwhelming significance of this designation for Jesus in the Corinthian church is seen esp. in 1 Cor 12. 3. Within 11. 17–34, ⋯ κᾳρıος occurs at 11. 23 (twice), 26, 27 (twice), 32.

[51] A good analogy to this dichotomy between meals sacred and profane comes with respect to (re-)marrying and remaining single, in 1 Cor 7. 8–9, 25–38, where (re-)marrying is viewed as the response to mundane, bodily ‘passions’, and remaining single is represented as a means of attaining ‘undivided devotion to the Lord’ (7. 35).

[52] Cf. the invitations to the klinē of Sarapis, cited in Horsley, G. H. R., ed., New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity (Sydney: Macquarie University, 1981) 59, where ‘the Lord Sarapis’ is assumed to be present.

[53] The two verbs for ‘to eat’, ϕαγείν and έσθίεω occur at 11. 20, 21, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29 (twice), 33, 34; πıεῑ (‘to drink’) occurs at 11. 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 (twice) and cf. also μεθνεῑ (‘to be drunk’) in 11. 21. Έσθίεω and πıεῑ occur together at 11. 26, 27, 28, 29 (twice). Note also Pauls comparable concern with eating, especially, at 1 Cor 8. 4, 7–13; 10. 25–31; cf. Rom 14. 2–3, 6, 20–21.

* This is a revised version of a paper read to the Senior New Testament Seminar of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, King's College London, on 11th May, 1982. I would like to thank Professor G. N. Stanton, Canon J. L. Houlden, Canon Colin Hickling, Mrs. Sophie Laws and especially Dr. Nancy Tapper for their helpful comments. Unless otherwise indicated, translations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

Paul's Sense of Place: an Anthropological Approach to Community Formation in Corinth*

  • Stephen C. Barton


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