The Ordered Body: Richard A. Horsley

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

Today we turn to Richard A. Horsley’s perspective as found in I Corinthians (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries). Upon examining Horsley’s contextual concerns, his interpretation of First Corinthians 11.2-16, and the conceptions of the human body within that passage, we will note that the human body within this passage should be understood as highly ordered.

Richard HorsleyHorsley argues that First Corinthians must be read and interpreted as a communal letter in which Paul rhetorically pits groups within the divided Corinthian church against one another to contrast their positions.[1] Along with the diverse urban background that made up the urban area[2] Horsley notes the patron-client system of Roman governance (which was not militarily enforced) in Corinth.[3] This combination of the urban setting and patronage system gave rise to the centrality of the emperor cult in Corinthian worship.[4] Horsley also notes the plurality of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian forms of worship within Corinth, relying upon archeological evidence attesting to Corinthian worship of Athena, Apollos, Demeter, Kore, Aphrodite, Asclepius, Poseidon, and Isis in addition to the cult of the emperor.[5] Within this plurality of worship settings, Horsley argues that Corinthians who became Christians were apparently taken by Paul’s working of spiritual acts.[6] Horsley also indicates the deep socioeconomic inequality present in Corinth and the deeply ingrained Greco-Roman hierarchical system which placed masters over slaves, husbands over wives, and the upper strata of society over the lower and led to the development of an aristocratic “spiritual” status within the Corinthian church.[7] Further, Horsley finds it extremely likely that a large number of Corinthian Christians were women.[8] A final important piece of Horsley’s contextual puzzle is his understanding of the major division in the Corinthian church to have been between followers of Apollos and followers of Paul,[9] who disagreed fundamentally not only on which preacher to follow, but also in their understandings of reality and the new social order coming because of God’s work in Christ.[10] This division appears to influence Paul’s rhetoric concerning divisions of belief and practice as he addresses not only his own followers, but seeks to transform the entire Corinthian congregation.[11] 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

Head Coverings in Corinth

The next two weeks Pursuing Veritas is running a series on contemporary scholar’s perspectives on Head Coverings in Corinth. This series is based on a paper written for a graduate seminar at Wake Forest University that focused on topics surrounding the human body and sexuality in Early Christianity. The topic of head coverings is often discussed among Christians, especially younger Evangelicals, as a perplexing example of the complexity of Biblical Interpretation within contemporary American Christianity.

Head CoveringsThe writings of the Apostle Paul found in the New Testament are some of the most formative documents of Western Civilization. Pauline thought, through the long-standing prominence of the Western Christian Church, has long influenced interpretations of history, human application of ethics, the relationship between ‘church and state,’ and perspectives on the human body and sexuality. Portions of specific letters of Paul, such as Romans, Galatians, and First Corinthians, have long been used to explicate the appropriate norms for human existence through their use as authoritative scripture within the Christian tradition. Such powerful influence, however, has not been without its difficulties. As perspectives on Paul multiplied, the diversity of convictions and interpretations have exponentially increased, providing the modern reader of Paul with numerous and often strongly differing interpretive lenses through which to examine Pauline thought. Passages that were long interpreted in a certain fashion to promote a specific principle are now said to mean very different things. Understandably, certain passages lend themselves to different readings more easily, among these Paul’s statements in concerning the role of women in the Christian church and appropriate ‘head coverings.’ Continue reading