|A Discourse Analysis of First Corinthians||Ralph Bruce Terry|
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The Structure of the Letter
The body of the letter of I Corinthians is composed of ten discourses, whose main topics are division (1-4), fornication (5-6), marriage (7), food offered to idols (8-10), head coverings (11), the Lord's Supper (11), spiritual gifts (12-14), the resurrection from the dead (15), the contribution for the saints (16), and the coming of Apollos (16). The discourses on marriage, meat offered to idols, spiritual gifts, and the contribution seem to be written in answer to the Corinthians' letter. The discourses on division, fornication, head coverings, the Lord's Supper, and the resurrection seem to have arisen from reports brought by some members of Chloe's household (1:11) and by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (16:17). There are indications of oral reports also in 5:1, 11:18, and 15:12, although there is no indication of the source of this information.
The discourse on marriage actually seems to be in answer to two questions (7:1, 25). However, the responses to both are similar, and it seems best to treat this as one discourse.
The motivation for the order in which the subjects are addressed is not entirely evident. Presumably the subjects that are introduced by Περὶ δέ 'Now concerning' are in the same order as in the Corinthians' letter, although even this is not certain. The sections on fornication and marriage are found together, probably because both have to do with sexual issues. In the same way, the worship concerns of head coverings, the Lord's Supper, and use of spiritual gifts are grouped together, even though the first two interrupt what would have been a continuous reply to the Corinthians' letter. Perhaps the lengthy treatment given the subject of division, the back reference to that subject in 11:18, and the primary place accorded it indicate that it was foremost in Paul's mind. In the same way, the ordering of the discourse on the resurrection as the last major discussion may indicate its importance, although it is possible that the contribution received only four verses of attention due to constraints imposed by the size of the scroll on which the letter was written (note that the subject merits two chapters in II Corinthians). But Paul may have seen the end of the scroll coming and decided to address the question of the resurrection before he ran out of room.
Now this study takes the position that only those sections that are introduced by Περὶ δέ 'Now concerning' are in fact Paul's answers to the Corinthians' letter. All other sections are in response to oral reports which Paul received from various sources. However, this position is not universally accepted. In perhaps the most significant study dealing with this question, Hurd (1983) has argued that some of the sections which do not begin with "Now concerning" are also answers to questions in the Corinthians' letter. These sections include 5:9-13a, 6:12-20, 11:2-16, and 15:1-58 (cf. Hurd 1983, 93). Let us examine each of these in more detail.
First, Hurd (1983, 83) argues that 5:9-13a (on not associating with fornicators) can perhaps be considered as material dealing with the written questions in the letter from the Corinthians. Hurd admits that these verses occur within "the context of Paul's discussion of oral information" (1983, 83). But he argues that "this item was not based on an item of information connected with the news concerning the incestuous man and is thus free of its present context" (1983, 83); thus, since it contains information about Paul's previous letter, it can be considered to be a part of the material in the epistolary dialogue between Paul and the Corinthians. Now, it is not the purpose of this study to deny that these verses shed light on that dialogue. But there is a great deal of difference between verses shedding light on a previous stage of a dialogue and being in response to the latest stage of that dialogue. Even though Paul refers to his previous letter (5:9-11), he does not suggest that the Corinthians had written back disputing his instructions. Rather, he is here pointing out that the instructions that he has just given regarding the incestuous man are nothing newin a general statement he said the same thing in his previous letter. The incestuous man belonged to the class "fornicator" discussed in 5:9-11 and the class "those inside the church" in 5:12 and thus is still under discussion in verses 5:9-12a. These verses are thus properly included with the material written in response to oral reports.
Second, Hurd (1983, 86-89) argues that 6:12-20 (the last major paragraph on fornication) is transitional between the responses to oral material and those to the Corinthians' letter. He well points out that these verses prefigure several sections which come later in this letter: the Old Testament quotation "the two shall become one flesh" (6:16; from Gen. 2:24) foreshadows the discussion on marriage in chapter 7; the maxim "all things are lawful for me" and the reference to food (6:12-13) foreshadow the discussion of food offered to idols in chapters 8-10; the terminology "members of Christ" (6:15) anticipates that used in chapter 12; and in these verses is the first reference to the resurrection (6:14), a theme given fuller expression in chapter 15 (Hurd 1983, 87-88). In addition, Fee (1987, 252) notes that the verb form (εξουσιάζω) of the word for 'rights' or 'authority' (εξουσία) is found in this section. The concept of 'rights' is found again in chapter 9 and mentioned as 'authority' in 11:10. That these verses contain transitional elements is not here denied; however, it may be the case that Paul is using many different persuasive techniques here that he later repeats on other topics. The sexual overtones of the one flesh quote can fit the topic of fornication as well as marriage. The resurrection is a common theme that occurs often in many parts of Paul's letters, not just in foreshadowing a major chapter on the subject. The expression "members of Christ" is similar to the concept of members of the body of Christ in chapter 12, but there the emphasis is on the body as being the church, while that concept is absent here. Certainly the semantic domains covered by εξουσία 'authority, rights' in chapters 9 and 11 are different from that covered by the verb form here, where it means something like overpowered or mastered (Arndt and Gingrich 1957, 278).
In addition, there is little or no evidence that these verses in chapter 6 were written in response to a question about fornication in the Corinthians' letter. To be sure, the two maxims "all things are lawful for me" (6:12) and "food for the stomach and the stomach for food" (6:13) are thought by many scholars to be sayings of the Corinthians that could have been in their letter (Hurd 1983, 67-68 and 86-87). The first is repeated in 10:23 in a section that is definitely written in response to the Corinthians' question about food offered to idols. Since the second also talks about food, it is possible that both maxims were in the Corinthians' letter, but in the section on food offered to idols rather than part of a question about fornication.
Actually, these verses function as a section providing justification for the command to deliver the incestuous man to Satan that Paul has given in 5:3-5. They are showing that fornication is wrong for a Christian. On this, Fee comments: "This is the standard view, found in most of the older commentaries. After an aside over the matter of lawsuits, Paul returns to the issue of sexual immorality from 5:1-13, for which he is now giving a general theological argument" (1987, 250). While there seem to be elements that reflect statements in the Corinthians' letter in 6:12-20, the section itself is better viewed as being written in response to an oral report that Paul had received.
Third, Hurd (1983, 90-91) argues that 11:2-16 are written in response to a question in the Corinthians' letter about head coverings, and with this Fee agrees (1987, 492). Now many commentators have seen 11:2 as a reflection of a statement of the Corinthians' letter (cf. Hurd 1983, 68), and this same position is adopted in the reconstructed letter found in chapter II of this study. Most likely their letter contained a sentence that said something like, "Now we remember you in everything and maintain the traditions even as you have delivered them to us." As Fee (1987, 491) notes, "how does he know that they have 'kept the traditions' (v. 2) unless they have so expressed themselves, most likely in their letter?" In saying that this section is in response to the Corinthians' letter, Hurd (1983, 90) appeals to Faw's (1952, 221) notion that δέ can introduce a response to a letter just like περὶ δέ can. The problem with Faw's position is that not only do the sections in response to the letter begin with the postpositive conjunction δέ, so do sections like 1:10 and 11:17, which are stated to be a reaction of a report received by Paul. In fact, with the possible exception of the second discourse, all the discourses in I Corinthians begin with δέ, whether in response to oral reports or to the Corinthians' letter. And if, as suggested below, the transitional paragraph in 4:18-21 about Paul's travel plans should be taken with the second discourse rather than the first, all discourses begin with δέ. But whether it is all sections or just all but one, the fact that 11:2 contains a δέ is hardly an argument in favor of the section being in response to the Corinthians' letter.
Certainly it is possible that after mentioning that they keep the traditions, the Corinthians went on to say something like, "But we want to know why our women cannot keep our Greek custom of uncovering their heads when they pray?" At least three factors make this unlikely, however. First, he seems to pair 11:2-16 and 11:17-34 with "I praise you" (v. 2) and "I do not praise" (v. 17). The second of these two sections is stated as being in response to a report that Paul had heard (11:18). Without any indication of a question by the Corinthians in 11:2-16, it seems better to take this paired section as also a response to an oral report. Also, the particle δέ seems to have an adversative sense 'but' in 11:17 (so Fee 1987, 500-501). Even though Paul can praise them as a group for keeping the traditions, he has some teaching to give on a subject that 'someone' (τις) is being contentious about (v. 16). Unlike the situation with the Lord's supper, the problem is not extensive, and so the indefinite singular τις is used. How could Paul have known that there was only 'someone' advocating the abandonment of the Christian tradition unless he had been told? Finally, to foreshadow the research presented in chapter V of this study, the grammatical variables studied as a part of style are more like those in chapters 1-6 than like those in chapters 7-10. Thus it is more likely that the specific issue of head coverings was something that Paul had heard about due to an oral report.
The final passage that does not start with Περὶ δέ that Hurd (1983, 91-92) argues is in response to the Corinthians' letter is 15:1-58. Hurd notes that Paul "explicitly refers to at least one question that the Corinthians were asking: 'How can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?' (15.12)" (1987, 91). But this is not a question from the Corinthians; rather, it is a statement which 'some' (τινες) among them were making. Just as in the discussion of 11:2-16, how could Paul have known that this was the statement of some of the Corinthians without an oral report to that effect? Rather than 15:12 indicating a question in the Corinthians' letter, it provides evidence that Paul had information about the situation of a kind that does not come in letters but is transmitted in oral reports. As for Hurd's (1987, 91) contention that the text is logical and persuasive like his answers to the Corinthians' letter, suffice it to say that this is entirely due to the fact that the chapter is trying to effect a change of belief, not a change of behavior. The material is presented using persuasive texttype rather than hortatory, and this is sufficient to account for the perceived differences.
With these points in mind, it seems fair to say that it is best to treat only those sections which are introduced by Περὶ δέ 'Now concerning' as replies to questions in the Corinthians' letter and the other sections as responses to oral information which Paul had received. When this is done, the letter divides nicely into a cyclical structure of ABA'B'A"B", where A is a response to oral reports and B is a response to the Corinthians' letter. This is shown clearly in Table 4. First, two subjects are covered in response to oral reports; then there are two subjects in response to their letter. This is followed by a two-one-one-two pattern of two responses to oral reports, one to the letter, one to an oral report, and two to the letter. The motivation for this pattern is not clear, although it may provide groupings of related topics (discourses 2 and 3 on sex; 4, 5, and 6 on pagan worship forms; and 6 and 7 on the Christian assembly). In addition, Paul's travel plans are found both between the first two discourses and the last two discourses. If the division defended below and indicated in Table 4 is correct, these travel plans are found at the beginning of the second discourse and the end of the next to last discourse, showing an even greater balance in the overall structure of the book.
DISCOURSE STRUCTURE OF I CORINTHIANS
Chapter Response to Oral Report Response to Letter
1 Introduction (1:1-9) 1. Church Division (1:10-4:17) A Division (1:10-17) 2 B Wisdom (1:18-2:16) 3 A' Division (3:1-4) C Servanthood (3:5-15) D Wisdom and Division (3:16-23) 4 C' Servanthood (4:1-17) 2. Fornication (4:18-6:20) Travel Plans (4:18-21) 5 A Fornication (5) 6 B Lawsuits (6:1-8) A' Fornication (6:9-20) 7 3. Marriage (7) A Marriage (7:1-16) B Circumcision & Slavery (7:17-24) A' Marriage (7:25-40) 4. Idol Food (8:1-11:1) 8 A Idol Food (8:1-13) 9 B Rights (9:1-27) 10 A' Idol Food (10:1-11:1) 11 5. Head Coverings (11:2-16) 6. The Lord's Supper (11:17-34) 7. Spiritual Gifts* (12-14) 12 A Spiritual Gifts (12) 13 B Love (13) 14 A' Spiritual Gifts (14) 8. The Resurrection* (15) 15 A The Resurrection (15:1-32) B Quit Sinning (15:33-34) A' The Resurrection (15:35-58) 16 9. Contribution (16:1-4) Travel Plans (16:5-11) 10. Apollos (16:12) Conclusion (16:13-24)
* Discourses 7 and 8 are peak sections foreshadowed by the thanksgiving in 1:4-9.
Paul's Use of Chiasmus in Major Sections
Several of the discourses in I Corinthians show chiasmus of major sections in the form ABA'. The B section in these discourses has often been mistakenly identified as a digression or excursus (Guthrie 1970, 425; Feine, Behm, and Kümmel 1966, 198-199; and Morgan-Wynne 1983, 7). For the moment skipping the discourse in chapters 1 through 4, we find this feature in the discourses in 4:18-6:20 (fornication, lawsuits, fornication), 7:1-40 (marriage, circumcision and slavery, marriage), 8:1-11:1 (eating meat offered to idols, right of the teacher to receive pay, eating meat offered to idols), and 12:1-14:40 (spiritual gifts, love, spiritual gifts) (Turner 1976, 97). In the latter three, a transition is made that ties the second subject in with the first in such a way that the second subject actually becomes an argument for the first. Failure to note the unity and chiastic structure of chapters 8 through 10 have led to the misunderstanding that Paul is allowing freedom to eat meat offered to idols. Chapter 8 cannot correctly be seen as independent of chapter 10. The whole thrust of the section is to confirm the ruling of the apostolic decision at Jerusalem in Acts 15, albeit presented in a persuasive way, rather than as authoritarian dogma. The relationship between fornication and lawsuits is not so obvious, although it may have been to the first readers (Guthrie 1970, 444). Perhaps the lawsuits were over problems aggravated by fornication. Richardson (1980, 347-348) lists eight possible scenarios for this possibility, but it remains precisely that, only a possibility. More likely, the section on lawsuits is establishing the church's right to judge the offender (cf. 5:12 "those inside the church whom you are to judge"). In addition, chiasmus can also be found in some of the sub-sections of these discourses: it has been noted in 5:2-6 and 13:1-13 (Conzelmann 1975, 5; Osburn 1976, 150-152).
In the same way the first discourse shows a form of chiasmus with the topics of division and wisdom, although the form is not the simple ABA'. These topics are combined with the topic of servanthood (introduced in 3:5) to form a double chiasmus. The chiasmus may be charted in the following way:
(13) first set: division, wisdom, division (1:10-3:4) second set: servanthood, wisdom and division, servanthood (3:5-4:17).
When this is done, the structure of the first discourse shows the double chiastic form of ABA' C(A''/B')C'.
In passing, it might be well to note Kenneth Bailey's (1983, 154-156) division of I Corinthians 1:10-15:58 into five large chiastic sections, which are themselves arranged chiastically:
(14) X the cross (1:10-4:16) Y men and women relating to sex (4:17-7:40) Z idols (8:1-11:1) Y' men and women relating to worship (11:2-14:40) X' the resurrection (15:1-58).
Bailey divides each of these sections into the following chiastic scheme:
(15) K a statement of a tradition L a practical/ethical problem M a general theological statement (N an optional level) M' a general theological statement L' a practical/ethical problem K' a concluding appeal (1983, 154-156).
When this scheme is applied to one of the major chiastic elements, we get a chiasmus such as the second one, which follows as an example:
(16) K The tradition (4:17-21) L Incest and church judgment (5:1-6:11a) M Theology of human sexuality (6:11b-14) M' Theology of human sexuality (6:15-20) L' Christian patterns of sexuality (7:1-40a) K' Concluding appeal (7:40b) (Bailey 1983, 156).
But there are major problems with this view. First, Bailey's scheme ignores the obvious division at 7:1 where Paul notes that he is answering the Corinthians' letter. Second, it subordinates the section on the Lord's Supper (11:17-34) to the question of men and women so much that it does not even find a place on Bailey's outline of the book (1983, 156). Third, the second suggested chiasm covering 4:17-7:40 lumps the obvious A and B sections (see Table 4, discourse 2) of incestuous fornication and lawsuits together as one L section in Bailey's scheme and splits the A' section on fornication into two general theological statements as M and M' divisions. In the resulting structure, marriage (L') becomes parallel to incest and lawsuits (L). Fourth, in order to make the scheme work, Bailey balances the statement of a tradition with an appeal in a way that is often unrelated. Fifth, this scheme ignores the two short answers to the Corinthians' letter in chapter 16. Sixth, it makes the whole letter use only one rhetorical device, chiasm, and ignores other devices such as cycle and inclusio, for which there is evidence in the letter. Seventh, Bailey's suggested appeal in 7:40b ("I think I have the Spirit of God") can only be considered an appeal in the most mitigated sense. And finally, this scheme begins the second section with 4:17, a division which Fee labels "quite arbitrary" (1987, 188). In Bailey's scheme, the division here is needed to make the chiasmus fit. There are enough examples of chiasmus in I Corinthians without trying to force more than what are actually there.
The Unity of the Fourth Discourse
In the preceding section it was suggested that chapters 8 and 10 cannot be correctly understood as independent of one another. Before going further, it is necessary to examine this more closely since in fact many scholars have understood them, not only as independent, but even as contradictory. Weiss and his followers have divided the text of I Corinthians into two or three letters based primarily on what they see as instances of Paul changing his mind about what he should teach on the subject of food offered to idols (cf. Hurd 1983, 44-45, 69-70). The material in I Corinthians 10:1-22 is obviously opposed to eating meat offered to idols, first comparing it to idolatry in the Old Testament and then comparing it to sharing food with demons. This would seem to be in accord with the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15 which forbade Christians from eating food offered to idols (cf. Barrett 1965, 138-144). On the other hand, the last verses of I Corinthians 10 give times when it is not wrong to eat food offered to idols (when it is bought in the meat market and when it is served by a friend at a private meal). In addition, I Corinthians 8 is often interpreted as accepting the Corinthians' argument that it is all right in itself to eat food offered to idols, but Paul argues that one must be careful in doing so not to lead a weaker brother into sin. Chapter 9 is then interpreted as a defense of Paul's apostleship because he is flying in the face of the Apostolic Decree and has to establish his right to do so (Barrett 1965, 150).
All of this is to miss the force of Paul's argument. This section deals with three different situations regarding meat offered to idols in which two principles of Christianity seem to be at odds. These two principles are that Christians are not to take part in the worship of idols and that Jesus declared all foods clean for Christians to eat. The three situations are eating idol-food in an idol's temple, at a private meal given by a non-Christian friend, and at home using food bought in the meat market. Paul argues that the latter principle takes precedence in regards to food purchased in the meat market and found on the table at a friend's house, unless of course the friend wants to make it a matter of accepting the worship of idols.
But in the situation of eating meat in an idol's temple, where the worship of an idol could be seen as being in the fore, Paul gives four arguments to support the claim that the former principle takes precedence: 1) the person eating with knowledge that an idol has no real existence may lead a weaker brother who does not know this into sin (8:1-13); 2) Paul himself has set an example of giving up his own rights for the sake of the gospel, and the Corinthians should do likewise (9:1-27); 3) the Old Testament forbids idolatry (10:1-13), and 4) one cannot eat both the Lord's Supper at the Lord's table and idol-meat at a demon's table without making God jealous (10:14-22). The latter two arguments in 10:1-22 are obviously opposed to the eating of meat in the temple of an idol. But the first two arguments are not so easily understood. Paul uses a conditional approach: he introduces the Corinthians' position in 8:1-6 and seems to accept it as valid for the moment. That is, Paul begins by taking the Corinthians' arguments and saying in effect, "Let's assume for a minute that you are right, that if you are not personally worshiping the idol, you have a right to eat food offered to that idol, even in its temple." Even so, he goes on to argue, there are two problems with eating food offered to an idol: a weaker brother may be made to sin, and a Christian should be willing to give up rights for the sake of the gospel. Having noted these problems that come with accepting the Corinthians' position, he goes on in chapter 10 to argue that it is in fact wrong to eat meat in an idol's temple. When the reader sees that Paul is only conditionally accepting the Corinthians' proposition that he later tears down, it becomes clear that all four arguments are points against the Corinthians' position and in accord with the Apostolic Degree of Acts 15.
Now Paul does not explicitly state that at first he is for the moment assuming the Corinthians' argument to be valid, which is the cause for the usual misunderstanding by many scholars. As Westerners, most Bible scholars are looking for explicit markers to lay out an argument in unambiguous terms. The Oriental approach, however, is much more subtle: the listener or reader is given the argument, but is supposed to figure out what the speaker or writer is saying and what the relationship is between the parts of the discourse. As Orientals, the Hebrews often used such an approach in the Old Testament, where the setting is missing from passages and transitions are made from one item to another without explicit conceptual markers showing the relationship. But this is not just a Jewish feature of rhetoric. In speaking of Greek style, Demetrius refers to Theophrastus as his authority "that not all possible points should be punctiliously and tediously elaborated, but some should be left to the comprehension and inference of the hearer" (On Style IV [§222]). To understand the relationship requires induction on the part of the reader.
The Endings of Two Discourses
In a couple of places it is questionable whether chapter beginnings actually mark the beginnings of the major embedded discourses. It is generally agreed that 11:1 is the last statement of the discussion on meat offered to idols rather than the first on the subject of head coverings (cf. Morris 1958, 150). In the same way, there is some difficulty in knowing whether to assign the transitional verses 4:18-21 to the first or second discourse.
It is traditional among commentators to carry the discussion of the first discourse through 4:21 and begin the new discourse on fornication with 5:1. This view is not without its problems. Some commentators who take this view note that 5:1 begins abruptly (Findlay 1979, 807 and Morris 1958, 86) or medias in res (Lenski 1946, 205) or as a "sudden bursting of the storm" (Edwards 1885, 118; cf. also Robertson and Plummer 1914, 95). A few note either that the discourse should begin with 4:21 (Calvin 1948, 177), or that 4:21 ties the two discourses together (Alford 1983, 1000). Fee (1987, 194) notes that there are verbal "ties" between 4:18-20 and 5:2-6, and Hurd (1983, 89) lists 4:18-21 as a transitional passage. Several ancient manuscripts marked 4:21 as beginning kephalaion 2 (an ancient system of chapters) while manuscript Vaticanus marked the new section as beginning with 4:16. Various manuscripts also began paragraphs either at 4:16, 17, or 18 as well as at 4:14 and 5:1 (Nestle 1957, 432; Nestle 1979, 447).
If indeed the new discourse begins at 5:1 (or even at 4:21), this would be unique among the discourses of I Corinthians, for all the other discourses (1:10; 7:1; 8:1; 11:2; 11:17; 12:1; 15:1; 16:1; and 16:12) begin with a verse containing the conjunctive particle δέ 'now'. In addition, they all end with verses that contain a transitional particle, either δέ 'but' (7:40; 11:16; 11:34; 14:40; 16:12), ὡ̑στε 'so' (11:33; 14:39), οὐ̑ν 'therefore' (10:31), or γάρ . . . δέ 'for . . . but' (6:20; 16:11). But neither 5:1 nor 4:21 contain inter-colon transitional conjunctions (4:21 does contain ἤ 'or' and 5:1 contains καί 'and', but both connect clauses within a colon).
For the purposes of this analysis, it is suggested that the first discourse actually ends with 4:17 and the new discourse begins with 4:18. In favor of this are the following facts: First, the verses 4:18-21 are all on a single subjectPaul's proposed visit to Corinth. This subject is picked up again in 16:5-9. It hardly seems right to begin the new discourse in the middle of this subject. This small section can fit with either the preceding discourse or the following as far as content is concerned. But when put with the following discourse it provides a meaningful introduction to the stern words of chapter 5. Second, it also contains ideas elaborated on in chapter 5: those of being puffed up (vv. 18-19) and having power (vv. 19-20). These words are picked up in 5:2 and 5:4, respectively. Third, it contains the phrase "kingdom of God," a term which is picked up again in 6:9-10. Fourth, beginning the discourse on fornication with 4:18 would make this discourse begin with a verse containing δέ 'now' and have the discourse on division end with verses containing οὐ̑ν 'therefore' (v. 16) and διὰ του̑το 'because of this' (v. 17). Fifth, commentators have noted the difference in tone between 4:14, where Paul is admonishing the Corinthians as children, and 4:21, where Paul is threatening to come against the arrogant with a whip (cf. Bailey 1983, 162; and Barrett 1968, 117). And finally, verses 16 and 17 contain similar ideas to those found in other verses that end discourses. The idea of imitating Paul in verse 16 also brings to a close the discourse on eating meat offered to idols in 11:1 and the idea of the practice of all the churches in 4:17 closes the discourse on head coverings in 11:16. Therefore it seems best to take the first discourse as ending at 4:17 and 4:18 beginning a transition into a new section. But however one divides the text at this point, it does not affect the macrostructure, for the material in the paragraph in question is merely transitional and not central to either section.
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