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