A longstanding problem for those attempting to study early Christianity involves the obscurity of the first centuries of the Common Era. Though nearly constantly reflected upon and studied since those years faded into the past, there remain numerous gaps in our understanding of the world and context of Jesus and his earliest followers. Unfortunately, this fact becomes especially noticeable when examining conceptions of how Second Temple Judaism and those living in Ancient Palestine impacted the subsequent shape of early Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. To help address this gap and to introduce the recent textual and archaeological findings from this important period comes Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Mishnaic Periods: Life, Culture, and Society: Volume One (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), edited by David A. Fiensy and James Riley Strange. Continue reading
Since its beginnings, the Christian tradition has been interested in the ethical and social concerns of its adherents and the wider world. In recent decades, questions concerning the role of women within the Church have fostered much discussion, academic and otherwise. Speaking broadly, conservative interpreters of the New Testament have affirmed an understanding of “Biblical submission” for women within the Church, while progressive scholars have sought to develop an understanding of New Testament texts that allows for a more inclusive view of the role of women within the modern Church. Scholars continue to write on the proper interpretation of New Testament passages bearing on the subject of gender, especially in the letters of Paul. Particularly interesting, Paul’s passage concerning head coverings in his First Letter to the Church at Corinth provides scholars with an example of a passage that prima facia presents a possible interpretation of Paul that appears rather traditional in his understanding of the role and place of women in the Church. Continue reading
One of the biggest challenges for those studying the Bible involves reading and interpreting the scriptures in a manner consistent with their original context. Modern readers are distanced from the earliest written messages of the Christian tradition not only by time and space, but also by key cultural differences. In their book Understanding the Social World of the New Testament, Dietmar Neufeld and Rochard E. DeMaris compile a number of sources from scholars concerned with discovering the cultural understanding and context of the social world from which the writings of the New Testament came. In this post, we outline some of the most important differences between ancient Mediterranean culture and the modern North American life, as well as some examples of how this cultural understanding can contribute to the interpretation of the New Testament. Continue reading
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.
Horsley 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. Along with the diverse urban background that made up the urban area Horsley notes the patron-client system of Roman governance (which was not militarily enforced) in Corinth. This combination of the urban setting and patronage system gave rise to the centrality of the emperor cult in Corinthian worship. 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. Within this plurality of worship settings, Horsley argues that Corinthians who became Christians were apparently taken by Paul’s working of spiritual acts. 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. Further, Horsley finds it extremely likely that a large number of Corinthian Christians were women. 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, 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. 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. Continue reading
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.
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. 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.” 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. Additionally he argues for contextualizing Corinth as a colonial city full of people seeking upward mobility. 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. Also noteworthy was the apparent socioeconomic diversity likely represented within any given house church. 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. 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. 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. 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. Continue reading