The Polluted Body: Dale B. Martin

This post is part of our ongoing series on Head Coverings in Corinth.

Our third perspective on Head Coverings in Corinth comes from Dale B. Martin in his work The Corinthian Body, which examines the constructions of body and sexuality within Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. Here we will examine the contextual concerns Martin argues are important for interpreting First Corinthians 11.2-16, his interpretation of the passage on ‘head coverings,’ and his understanding of the Pauline conception of body. Ultimately, we find that Martin argues that Paul understands the body to be a potentially polluted agent.

Dale B. MartinMartin’s perspective is unique in that he pays little attention to more traditional historical-critical resources in his construction of the Corinthian context. He argues that Paul conceived of Corinth as one of his most important operational locals as he propagated his message about Jesus of Nazareth and that because of this centrality Paul paid special attention to the competing ideologies of the human body within the Corinthian congregation.[1] Key for Martin’s reading of First Corinthians is his argument that the numerous conflicts between the Corinthian Strong and Corinthian Weak stemmed from their differing conceptions of the normative human body. Within this framework, Martin understands Paul, along with the majority of the Corinthian Christians, to have viewed the body as being threatened by polluting agents, while a minority of Corinthians elites emphasized a hierarchical balance in the arrangement of the body without Paul’s concerning for bodily boundaries and pollution.[2] The divide between Strong and Weak encompassed socioeconomic status,[3] though Martin argues that a more important contextual concern were ancient discourses about the body driven by ideological constructions viewing the human body in certain ways due to societal influences and interests.[4] Martin argues that for ancients, the body was a microcosm of the universe,[5] perceived as a transitory point in the midst of cosmic movement,[6] within the hierarchical structure of Roman society.[7] Hierarchy was similarly formative with respect to the construction of sexuality, as all humans were understood along the lines of the spectrums of active/male and passive/female.[8] Setting Paul’s writing firmly within the tradition of Greco-Roman rhetoric,[9] Martin argues that Paul rejected the higher status Corinthians denigrating lower status Corinthians because of their lack of gnosis,[10] as he understands Paul to reverse normal power and hierarchy structures within the church whilst simultaneously affirming communal boundaries between the body and corrupt cosmos, especially concerning issues divided along social status lines.[11] Ultimately, Martin divides Paul’s concerns in First Corinthians into two major topical sections, those concerned with hierarchy and those concerned with pollution, situating Paul’s discourse on head coverings that we now turn to within his consideration of bodily pollution.[12] Continue reading

The Socially Gendered Body: Richard B. Hays

This post is part of our ongoing series on Head Coverings in Corinth.

We begin with Richard B. Hays’ perspective found in First Corinthians: An Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. As we examine the context, his interpretation of First Corinthians 11.2-16, and the conceptions of body that come from this passage, we will find that Hays conceives of the human body found in First Corinthians to be socially gendered.

Richard B. Hays

Richard B. Hays

Contextually, Hays emphasizes the importance of reading First Corinthians with the consciousness that modern readers are eaves dropping on a portion of an ancient conversation between Paul and the church at Corinth.[1] Concerning his approach to the text, Hays writes that interpretation involves a “process of distancing ourselves from the text enough to see its foreignness and then allowing the text to draw near again and claim us.”[2] Regarding Corinth, he notes the importance of remembering that Paul’s Corinth existed as a commercial city full of sporting games that was well acquainted with political prowess.[3] Additionally he argues for contextualizing Corinth as a colonial city full of people seeking upward mobility.[4] Socio-religiously, Hays indicates the importance of understanding the diversity of deities and centers of worship within Corinth, especially the Corinthians reputation (at least among the Athenians) for sexually promiscuous worship and the Jewish presence within the city.[5] Also noteworthy was the apparent socioeconomic diversity likely represented within any given house church.[6] Hays locates two occasions for Paul’s writing to Corinth, the first of which was Paul’s reception of a letter from “Chloe’s people” concerning dissensions among the Corinthians on matters of sexuality, legal disputes, abuses of the Lord’s Supper, and controversies concerning the resurrection of the dead.[7] Additionally, the Corinthians had written Paul asking for advice on sex within marriage, food sacrificed to idols, spiritual gifts, and Paul’s collection for Jerusalem.[8] As Hays understands it, this two-fold communication from the city indicated to Paul a church in a moment of division and crisis—hence his multiple letters to the congregation.[9] Paul’s response to these issues are framed within theological terms, however it seems clear that not every concern would have been understood by the Corinthians as a necessarily theological issue, perhaps causing even greater divisions in the church.[10] Continue reading