Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Me, You, and the Corinthian Correspondence

I started working on the Corinthian correspondence last week, and I am struck again and again by how familiar so many of the first century Corinthian contextual issues sound - they remind one in many ways of modern western society. Take, for example, Thiselton’s summary of what he suggests are the ‘Three fundamental points for our understanding of the epistle’

‘(1) the city community and city culture of Corinth were formed after a Roman model, not a Greek one … (2) the city community and the city culture felt themselves to be prosperous and self-sufficient, even if there were many “haven nots” who were socially vulnerable or dependent on others; (3) the core community and core tradition of the city culture were those of trade, business, and entrepreneurial pragmatism in the pursuit of success, even if some paid a heavy price for business failures or for the lack of right contacts or the right opportunities’ (Thiselton A., The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 3-4).

It is easy to see the obvious parallels between modern western society (particularly in its global relations) and points 2 and 3 of the above. But what of the first point?

While the Roman empire was in ascendancy in Corinth, empire is still among us. In Colossians Remixed, Keesmaat and Walsh argue that empires are ‘(1) built on systematic centralisations of power, (2) secured by structures of socio-economic and military control, (3) religiously legitimated by powerful myths and (4) sustained by a proliferation of imperial images that captivate the imaginations of the population’ (p. 58)

If the authors of Colossians Remixed are to be believed, the empire of today is that of cybernetic global optimism, mixed with postmodern ‘disquiet’. And Thiselton has argued that it is a ‘postmodern mood’ that gripped Corinth.

This is the challenge I find reading the Corinthian correspondence: Paul charged into Corinth with a message:

  • the message of the cross (not only as a description of the mechanism whereby God reconciles humans to himself, but primarily as the symbol that subverts the empire. It literally turns the values of the ‘world’ on its head)

  • and of the advancing and saving lordship of Christ (not simply as a theological truism, but the active outworking of God’s graciousness, bringing all things into the life of God: ‘for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ’ - 1 Cor 15:22)

You know, I think there is a sermon here somewhere!


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