Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Structural Fit

I stated in my stage one essay that I feel that this pericope is not a random addition but contains the entire thematic structure of the letter in miniature. The vice list revolve around behaviors that involve excess and exploitation in action in the church in Corinth. Paul is seeking to show how these behaviors are putting one’s own interests against God’s covenantal relationship with mankind established by Jesus (Hearon 614).

The pericope is framed by Paul’s complaint of lawsuits and prostitutes, and both fall under the heading of excess and exploitation. In ancient Greco-Roman society, only the wealth and very powerful would be able to take people to court (Sampley, First Corinthians 823). This would fall under both categories as the wealthy were seeking to exploit and gain more excess against their fellow Christian. Paul seeks to remind them about what is appropriate within the community and how the church should relate to one another (as God’s chosen people) as well as with the outside world (who are unrighteous and won’t inherent the kingdom) (Sampley, First Corinthians 855). This reflects Paul’s eschatological understanding that Christians are not “of” this world (5:10) and God’s people will in fact judge the world (Furnish 70). Paul even reminds that that soon they will be judging angels (6:3).

The visitation of prostitutes also shows the concern against sexual excess. Paul’s view is that the church is the very body of Christ and in rabbinic thought that any kind of sexual union defiles the temple of God and thus the body of Christ (Furnish 33). Paul’s view is that within the body is the Spirit of Christ which is united to the human spirit so intimately that the two become one spirit just as the two bodies become on in sexual intercourse (Bassler 39). Also in Paul’s culture, the body is subject to demonic invasion and union with unbelievers not only in court but also in sex acts puts the church at risk. Paul’s Christian ethic states that bodily actions count and have relational as well as eschatological meanings for the church (Balch 8).

The structural fit of “excess and exploitation” extends beyond the passages framing the pericope. In talking about the man sleeping with his father’s wife (5:1) Paul doesn’t use purity language as one would expect an ex-Pharisee to do, but instead uses “greed” language (Balch 6). Paul speaks to the excess and exploitation going on in the church at Corinth.

Paul talks about the many diverse kinds of gifts, and that possession of one or another does not take place over another as all are from one Spirit (chapter 12). Any practice of excess and exploitation is not part of the body of Christ. Paul insists that those who are sanctified and justified (6:11) must act that way. This style of indicative/imperative rhetoric is typical language for Paul (Balch 6).

All instances brought up by Paul about what he’s heard about the Corinthians stem from his concern with relations within the community. The eating of meat offered to idols or concern about spiritual gifts or even his famous passage on love (chapter 13) all stem from a concern with exploitation and excess in relationships. Paul sees sin, whether property, sexual, other otherwise, as something that destroys the efficient functioning of the mind and harms relationships between people and God (Willam F. Orr and James Arthur Walther 203).

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