Wednesday, February 11, 2009

1 Corinthians as Novel...

We're finally in 1 Corinthians in my Thessalonians and Corinthians class. Yesterday we finished up chaps. 1-4. I often call what we do when we interpret a text like this one as "writing our novels" in class. We have to fill in the gaps left by the text. It is inevitable. And when we are interpreting a text like 1 Corinthians in historical context, a lot of those gaps prove to be of a narrative nature.

Since I wrote a popular commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (meaning I didn't engage most of the scholarly literature directly and focused almost as much on application as on the original meaning)--and since I was in the Durham Postgraduate Seminar the semester James Dunn was working on his 1 Corinthians guide--I have a lot of "novel" thoughts on the situation of 1 Corinthians. :-) A lot of them came out today.

I would love to write a Paul novel! The great thing about novels is no footnotes, you don't have to justify wild hypotheses, and it doesn't matter if you're right. It's just like giving a paper at SBL!

So if yesterday's class were part of a Paul novel, it might look something like the following--although I've had to make up even more stuff to put it in this form.

Here's chapter 8 1/2, in medias res...

Paul had been working for a couple weeks with Sosthenes on the letter when yet another delegation from the Corinthian church arrived. It was Stephanas with two of his sons, Fortunatus and Achaicus. Apparently, Gaius and some others had not been happy at all for Sosthenes to represent the whole community to Paul. Indeed, several of them were far more interested that Apollos weigh in on some of their conflicts than Paul himself.

So Stephanas volunteered to take a letter from the "opposition" to both Paul and Apollos, presenting the points of greatest disagreement. The letter was largely written by Gaius and Erastus, who had much preferred Apollos' take on things to Paul's. Stephanas himself mostly took Paul's side in the debates. After all, he had been Paul's first convert in Achaia. But he was trying to help both sides find some way to work out their differences.

Paul immediately asked Sosthenes to polish and copy what they had already written based on Chloe's letter. He set to work for the rest of the day on new papyrus and had it ready the next day. It opened with several blocks of material addressing the conflicts between the two principal groups in the church, then it addressed the situation with Quartus and his step-mother. Paul lambasted Erastus for taking Chloe to Roman court and gave them advice on head coverings and the Lord's Supper in worship. The letter ended with Paul's defense of resurrection.

He could see the letter would almost double in size when he addressed their questions--absurdly long for a letter, but these things were important. At first Paul thought they might just continue on the same roll. But Stephanas' clarifications and comments made it clear that it would be best to rewrite the whole thing, and Sosthenes wanted to integrate the new material with the old in some way.

As for Apollos, Paul had no desire for him to become a cowriter now. The letter from Gaius solicited Apollos' opinion on the questions too, but Paul viewed himself as the apostle to Corinth. To answer the letter together would give the impression that the two were of equal authority in the matter. Paul hoped instead to convince Apollos of his positions and perhaps send him back to Corinth later.

One of the things that Stephanas immediately noticed was Paul's comment on those he had baptized at Corinth. Paul had only mentioned Crispus and Gaius, primarily to bring out the irony that he had actually been the one who had baptized some of his opposition. But Stephanas was almost hurt to see that Paul had not mentioned him. After all, he had been the very first person Paul had baptized at Corinth! Sosthenes immediately took dictation from Paul and added a couple sentences in the margin to be copied in later...


Richard Fellows said...


thanks for the novel. There are a few difficulties:

It is unlikely that the letter from Corinth was written by opponents. Firstly, opponents would be unlikely to choose Stephanas to represent them. Secondly, the letter asked Paul for advice and does not seem to have been confrontational in any way. Indeed, the news from Stephanas refreshed Paul's spirit.

It is also unlikely that Erastus was an opponent of Paul. Firstly, Erastus was chosen by Paul to travel with Timothy (Acts 19:22). Secondly, Timothy was on his way to Corinth via Macedonia when 1 Corinthians was written. He traveled, at least as far as Macedonia with Erastus (Acts 19:22 again), so Erastus was not in Corinth when 1 Corinthians was written.

It is likely that Sosthenes was well respected by the Corinthian church, as this would explain why Paul includes him as co-sender.

By the way, there are good reasons to believe that there was one person called Gaius Titius Justus, and that Paul gave him the name "Stephanas". See the following web page:

Ken Schenck said...

You are as always, Richard, a keen eye! Of course none of these features were a part of my class--just the kinds of things you fill in when you go novel. I basically spun out a scenario with the names we have... "Wouldn't it be interesting if..."

I would date Acts 19:22 to at least a year or more after 1 Corinthians was written, so assuming this is the same Erastus--which of course we don't know for sure--there is enough time for him to change locations. I think Timothy is still with Paul when he writes 1 Corinthians (16:10).

Keith Drury said...

One of my two best highlights last semester was sitting under your "novel" descriptions of 1 Corinthians at our church--those Wednesday night's were unmatched until this semester sitting under Bud Bence's church history for average people-- now you're head to head with Bence and the two happy Wednesday evening church classes of my year!

Richard Fellows said...


yes I appreciate that you were writing a novel.

I (and almost all the commentators) think that Timothy was on his way to Corinth via the land route when 1 Corinthians was written. Here's why:

The EAN (if/whenever) in 16:10 indicates that there was some doubt about when or if Timothy would arrive in Corinth. This indicates that he was not the carrier of the letter. The EPEMFA in 4:17 is therefore probably not an epistolary aorist.

Timothy is not a co-sender of 1 Corinthians so was probably absent when the letter was written.

In 4:17 Timothy seems to have been sent to sort out the trouble in Corinth that had been reported to Paul by Chloe's people. This report from Chloe's people seems to have been earlier information than the more recent (and more refreshing) report from Stephanas. The sequence therefore is something like this:

1 Chloe's people arrive in Ephesus with disturbing news from Corinth.
2. Paul sends Timothy to Corinth via Macedonia (I believe with Erastus and the tearful letter).
3. Stephanas and company arrive in Ephesus with a letter and refreshing news from Corinth.
4 Paul writes 1 Corinthians and sends it with Stephanas.
5. Timothy arrives in Corinth

Now, you place Paul's departure from Ephesus more than a year after 1 Corinthians. This is a popular view, but there is no evidence for it. In 1 Corinthians Paul states that he will leave Ephesus at Pentecost (i.e. within weeks), and we have no evidence that he changed his mind. The main reason that people delay Paul's departure from Ephesus is to give time for Titus to be sent to Corinth with the tearful letter. I don't have that problem because I believe that "Titus" was Timothy's original name. By seeing Titus and Timothy as different people the commentators suffer double vision and create numerous duplications. For example, they see the following as FOUR separate journeys:
1. The journey of Timothy to Corinth via Macedonia at the time of 1 Corinthians
2. The journey of Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia (Acts 19:22)
3. The journey of Titus and the 'brother' to Corinth (2 Cor 12:18).
4. The anticipated journey of Timothy to Philippi.

By equating Titus with Timothy these come into focus as the same journey.

Another duplication concerns Paul's travel plans.

Another concerns the collection. The commentators believe it was started at the time of 1 Corinthians when Timothy was Paul's emissary to Corinth, and that it was restarted by Titus (2 Cor 8:6).

They also duplicate offenders, seeing the offender of 1 Cor 5 as different from the offender of 2 Cor 2,7.

Then they duplicate occasions when Paul was confident about the collection. They have Paul being confident when he wrote 1 Cor 16:1-3 and again when he arrived in Macedonia (2 Cor 9:2). They do not realize that these occasions of confidence were contiguous. Instead they insert an intervening crisis in the relationship between Paul and Corinth.

All this, I think, confirms that Erastus was not in Corinth when 1 Corinthians was written.