Grace Theological Journal 10.2 (1989) 203-223
Copyright © 1989 by Grace Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.
CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS
Paul finds himself needing to address a number of issues in
1 Corinthians in which the Gentile cultic heritage of many of the
readers intrudes. The two most significant of these issues are the
eating of meat offered to idols and believers' participation in temple
banquets. Scholars have argued that Paul uses terminology of be-
lievers which echoes and perhaps imitates the cults and, consequently,
that Paul saw believers engaged in a Christian cult. However, from an
analysis of Paul's discussion of the matters in question in the letter, it
is argued that the redemptive achievement of Christ in history, and
the response of believers to that work as proclaimed in the gospel,
repudiates cult as the model for that response.
* * *
KARL Donfried's recent article "The Cults of Thessalonica and the
Thessalonian Correspondence"1 investigates the first century A.D.
cultic context which surrounded the church in Thessalonica. His
study suggests to this writer the possibility of extending the inquiry
both to the cultic background presupposed by Paul in his corre-
spondence with the Corinthians, and suggested by commentators .in
their exegesis of the first letter in particular. This essay, therefore,
attempts to investigate (1) the nature of the cultic milieu in which the
Corinthians lived as reflected in the correspondence, and (2) the
extent to which commentators have been correct in their interpreta-
tion of certain passages from that cultic perspective.
FOOD OFFERED TO IDOLS
Paul finds it necessary to address a pastoral problem which has
arisen with regard to the propriety of believers eating food offered to
1 NTS31 (1985) 336-56.
204 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
idols. This was meat which had been slaughtered in ritual sacrifice to
the gods before their images, and among that sold in the market.2
This meat is termed i[ero<- or qeo<quton ("food offered to a god")
by the Gentiles. Paul follows the Jewish practice in I Corinthians 8
when he employs the pejorative term EtOffiAO8u'tov ("food offered to
an idol',).3 It is the meat left over from the sacrifice, i.e., after the god
has received his/ her share via the altar fire. In sacrifices to the dead
and to the chthonian gods (the gods of the underworld), the victim
was wholly immolated.4 But in the sacrifices to the Olympian gods,
the bulk of the meat was consumed by the sacrificer and his family
and friends in a meal at the shrine. The Greeks accounted for this
sacrificial practice in myth.5
Returning to 1 Corinthians, the i[ero<quton was that which had
come onto the market after the festivals when the numbers of victims
were large.6 That not all meat on sale was necessarily sacrificial is a
2 See H. J. Cad bury, "The Macellum of Corinth," JBL 53 (1934) 134-41.
3 For a discussion of the Greek terminology see H. S. Songer, "Problems Arising
from the Worship of Idols: 1 Corinthians 8: I -11: I, " Rev Exp 80 (1983) 363-75 (364-
65); see also TDNT 2 (1964) 377-79.
4 See J. E. Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (
Cambridge University Press, 1922) 16; Homer, Iliad 23:161-225 (the funeral pyre for
Patroclus), Apollonius of
5 Hesiod (Theogony 540f.) relates how Prometheus-the great champion of man-
kind-slaughtered a great ox and set two packages before Zeus; one containing the
meat wrapped in the stomach of the beast, the other containing the bones but wrapped
in "shining fat." Asking Zeus to choose which package he would like, the god (suc-
cumbing to the attractive presentation) chose the latter-the bones, the useless portion.
"Because of this," concludes Hesiod, "the tribes of men upon earth burn white bones to
the deathless gods upon fragrant altars" (Theogony 557). Cf. Homer, Odyssey 3.429-64,
Iliad 1.457-74 where thigh bones are laid on the altar covered in fat with raw flesh laid
on top. The usual ritual by which animals were sacrificed involved a procession to the
altar undertaken by sacrificer, his company, and the victim (cf. Odyssey 3.456, Iliad
1.460). Once there the sacrificer offered prayers, invocations, wishes and vows. The
victim, having been slaughtered, was dismembered. The inner organs were roasted on
the altar fire. The sacrificer and his company tasted these thus sharing the meal with
the god. Then the inedible remains, the bones, were burnt along with fat cut from the
thigh of the victim. Small amounts of other food were also burned on the altar with
wine added as a libation (cf. Phil , 2 Tim 4:6). The meat was then prepared for
consumption by the worshipers at the sanctuary. In reality, then, the god received very
little indeed. See W. Burkert,
Greek Religion (
Press, 1985) 56-59. Burkert bases his reconstruction on passages such as Homer,
Odyssey 3.43-50 and Iliad 2.421-31.
6 J. Murphy-O'Connor,
Glazier, 1983) 161. Writing of the annual
"Little Panathenaic" festival in
"great" Panathenaic was celebrated every 4 years-Burkert says that the city officials
received their share of the meat of 100 sheep and cows slaughtered at the great altar of
Athena on the Acropolis. The remaining meat was then "distributed to the whole
CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT
reasonable assumption. Cad bury informs us that at
not all meat sold in that macellum was sacrificial meat.7
Should a believer eat such meat? Both the Jews and any believers
they influenced would have insisted that such meat was tainted by
idolatry. Moreover, it had not been killed in the prescribed way laid
down in the Torah (see Lev -13). No tithe had been paid on it.
Such meat should neither be bought nor eaten. Therefore the Jew was
forbidden to eat.8 Pressure could have come also from within the
congregation from those believers who were Gentiles and who now
sought to avoid all contact with the cults. They had once participated
in the cuI tic round. They once had eaten sacrificial meat as a matter
of course. Such custom had now produced a built-in reaction to
sacred objects; a reaction which they were not strong enough in
faith to eradicate.9 Paul refers to these believers whose conscience is
troubled as the "weak."
The weak among the believers were apparently countered by
those in the church who were of the opinion that since there was one
God only there were no gods at all standing behind the idols of
temple and shrine. If the statue-the cult image-was popularly
regarded as the "residence" of the god,10 then, since there was only
one God, food offered to the gods resident in the images was food
offered to non-entities. The ritual was meaningless. The meat could
not be tainted. These many divinities-so-called gods and lords (1 Cor
8:5)--simply did not exist. For the "strong" Corinthians, food offered
to idols could be eaten without scruple.11
population in the market place," Greek Religion 232 (cf. 440 n. 34). See also G.
Theissen, The Social Setting of Early Christianity (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1982)
7 See Cadbury, 141, and G. D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) 481 n. 21.
8 See Exod 34:14-16, 4 Macc 1:2; G. D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians,
481 n. 25, C. K. Barrett, "Things Sacrificed to Idols," NTS 11 (1965) 138-53 (146), and
W. F. Orr & J. A. Walther, I Corinthians, AB (New York: Doubleday, 1976) 228-29.
j 9See W. F. Orr & J. A. Walther, I Corinthians, 254. Perhaps, as Barrett suggests,
Rom 14:2 introduces us to a Jewish believer unable to obtain meat slaughtered in the
correct Jewish manner and free of idolatrous association, "Things Sacrificed to Idols,"
140. On the question of the conscience of the weak, see P. W. Gooch, "The conscience
in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10," NTS 33 (1987) 244-54. Gooch argues persuasively that
Paul's use of ounei<dhsij in these chapters refers to the self-perception of the believer,
not his moral conscience. The weak do not have a robust sense of their Christian
10 C. K. Barrett, I Corinthians (London: A. & C. Black, 1968) 191.
11 Theissen, Social Setting, 121-43 (see especially 123-25) argues unpersuasively
that the terms "strong" and "weak" are further related to the social status of the
Corinthians. The "strong" are the socially privileged few (see 1 Cor -27) among the
Corinthian believers. For them attendance at cult banquets was an integral and
.unavoidable aspect of their civic responsibility. The weak, on the other hand, were to
206 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Paul sides with the strong to the extent that he argues that there
is indeed one God and One Lord (1 Cor 8:6). Because the whole world
belongs to the Lord, Paul argues in 1 Cor , meat both before
and after the ritual still belongs to God. Robertson and Plummer
helpfully paraphrase, "Meat does not cease to be God's creature and
possession because it has been offered in sacrifice: What is his will not
pollute anyone."12 Meat per se is a thing indifferent. "Eat whatever is
sold in the market," Paul counsels in 1 Cor 10:25.13 In the context of
chapter 8 where the issue is dealt with first, he insists, nevertheless,
that the conscience of the "weak" brother must be guarded. "What if
your weak brother should come upon you eating food offered to idols
in an idol's temple?," he asks in . "Won't he be encouraged to eat
food offered to idols and so sin against his conscience?" "Your free-
dom to eat," Paul continues, addressing the strong, "then becomes a
sin against Christ" (v 12). Here we are moving from the issue of meat
to that of the context in which sacrificial meat might be eaten.
In Paul asks the question of the strong, "If anyone sees you
a man of knowledge, at table in an idol's temple, might he not be
encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?"
One could encounter this food offered to idols in three ways-on sale
in the market; at private banquets in a home where the meat served
may have been purchased from the market and had been offered to
be found at the lower end of the social scale. As former Jews, they could only have
eaten such meat with a bad conscience, or as Gentiles who had little opportunity to eat
meat in the course of everyday life, the chance to eat meat in a cultic setting presented
a "genuine temptation" (127). For a response to Theissen's arguments see W. A.
Meeks, The First Urban Christians (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983) 69-70.
12 A. T. Robertson and A. Plummer, 1 Corinthians, ICC (
13 For a helpful discussion of Paul's attitude toward the problem of i&po9u'tov see
C. K. Barrett, "Things Sacrificed to Idols," 138-53. Barrett believes that Paul is at odds
with the "Apostolic Decree" (see Acts ) in not forbidding all consumption of
i[ero<quton regardless of the context in which it was eaten, writing, "In permitting the
eating of ei]dwlo<quta, Paul allows what elsewhere in the New Testament was strictly
forbidden" (149). Cf. J. C. Brunt, "Rejected, Ignored or Misunderstood? The Fate of
Paul's Approach to the Problem of Food Offered to Idols in Early Christianity," NTS
31 (1985) 113-24. However, Barrett appears to moderate. this view in his more recent
but much briefer comments on this question in "The Apostolic Decree of Acts 15.29,"
ABR XXXV (1987) 50-59 (50-52). Here he suggests that the Decree in forbidding the
eating of ei]dwlo<quta (see Acts ) is in fact to be interpreted in the light of James'
earlier reference to ta> a]lisgn<mata tw?n ei]dw<lwn in v 20. Of these defilings, eating
sacrificial meat, Barrett concludes, "pins this down to a special (and perhaps the most
insidious) contact with pagan religion" (52). He seems to be referring here to eating
such food at a temple.
CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT
idols before sale; and, at a banquet in a temple precinct. Paul has the
third of these contexts in mind in . In chapter 8 he passes no
judgment on the strong believer for eating at the temple per se. He
does, however, hold him accountable for causing a weak brother to
violate his conscience (v 12).
In discussion of Greek sacrificial practice (n. 5) it was noted how
the sacrificial occasion was also the occasion for a meal--'the diners
dining on the sacrificial victim. The sacrificer and his company, by
eating of the sacrifice, participated with the god. It was a meal
shared.14 All the meat had to be
queting rooms for the purpose
of the meal. The Asclepeum in
had three such rooms which, writes Murphy-O'Connor, could ac-
commodate 11 people each. Small tables were provided and cooking
appears to have been done in each of them. Roebuck notes the
existence in the center of each room of a block for a brazier.15 They
could be hired out for private functions (in much the same way as one
can hire a room today at a reception house or club). Murphy-
O'Connor suggests that while some functions held in these rooms
were purely social, others were held as "gestures of gratitude to the
god for such happy events as a cure, a birth, a coming of age, or a
marriage."16 The Asclepeum was not the only establishment of this
have been excavated in the Demeter-Kore precinct at the foot of
Acrocorinth, a precinct which dates from before the
by the Romans in 146 B.C.17
Papyri have been recovered in which diners are invited to the
god's table in his temple.IS Horsley cites three such papyri:
1. Nikephorus asks you to dine at a banquet of the Lord Sarapis in
the Birth-House on the 23rd, from the 9th hour.
2. Herais asks you to dine in the dining room of the Sarapeum at a
banquet of the Lord Sarapis tomorrow, namely the 11 th, from the
3. The god calls you to a banquet being held in Thoereum tomorrow
from the 9th hour.
14 Homer, Odyssey 3:429-64, Aelius Aristides, Orations 45:27. See also n. 23.
15 C. Roebuck,
16 M. Murphy-O'Connor,
17 G. H. R. Horsley, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, Vol. I (North
Ryde, NSW: Ancient History Documentary Research
1981) 7. Horsley cItes the research of N. BookidiS and J. E. FIsher, 'Sanctuary of
Demeter and Kore on Acrocorinth," Hesperia 43 (1974) 267-307 (267).
18 Horsley, New Documents, 1.5-9. See also P. Oxy 110 (A.D. ii).
208 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
The god was both host and guest at the banquet, concludes H. C.
Youtie.19 Horsley writes, "The papyrus invitations. . . documents in
quite a striking manner the situation which would have been known
as normal and everyday by the recipients of Paul's
and no doubt elsewhere.”20 There is, moreover, evidence of a cult of
Sarapis from the third or second century B.C., though the remains of
the Sarapea on Acrocorinth mentioned by Pausanias in the mid-
second century A.D. have not yet been found.21
Returning to 1 Cor 8:10, we can assume that there were some
idols to be eaten without scruple, but that accepting invitations to
cult banquets was, likewise, an indifferent matter. The matter of
attendance is shelved until 1 Corinthians 10 and raised indirectly in
2 Cor -7:1.22
In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul exhorts believers to be on guard in their
relationships with one another, to persevere in the life of a believer, to
remember what happened to the generation which
came out of
at the time of the Exodus. "Remember what happened to those who
worshipped idols," Paul urges his readers in v 7. They were over-
thrown. Their bodies were strewn about the desert. Having warned of
the peril of thinking that one is strong and beyond temptation, he
cries, "Flee the worship of idols" (v 14). In what context are believers
tion in cult banquets. In such banquets one was brought into partner-
ship wIth the god whose banquet it was and over which he presided.
Yet, Paul argues, eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord
Jesus constitutes partnership with him. Loyalty to Christ excludes all
other loyalties. The many so-called gods and lords have no further
claim on the allegiance of the believer.
But has not Paul agreed earlier that food offered to idols is an
indifferent item-that eating it is neither here nor there? In the
development of the argument he asserts that what Gentile unbelievers
sacrifice to their so-called gods is in fact sacrificed to demons ().
Participation in the sacrifice and participation in the meal which
follows means participating with demons. It means having fellowship
with evil supernatural personalities. One partakes and is a sharer of
the table of demons.23 This is not a matter of indifference. It is to
19 H. C. Youtie, "The Kline of Sarapis," HTR 41 (1948) 9-29 (13-14).
20 Horsley, New Documents, 1.9.
21 See D. E. Smith, "The Egyptian
and Pausanias, Description
22 For discussion of this passage (2 Cor -7:1) see G. D. Fee's article, "II Cor-
inthians and Food Offered to Idols," NTS 23 (1977) 140-61 and particularly 145.
23 W. F. Off & J. A. Walther, 1 Corinthians, 255, "This partnership is set up when
the food is eaten at a meal where the dedication to the idol is identified," and C. K.
CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT
invite the same catastrophe which befell the idolaters of the exodus
generation. He makes the same point in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1.24
In 1 Cor Paul returns to the issue of meat sold in the
market. Although such meat may have been ritually slaughtered and
offered-not to gods but to demons-the meat can be eaten. As
meat, it belongs to God. It is not tainted. It will not harm. However it
is the context in which meat offered to idols is eaten that is crucial.
Eating in a cult banquet constituted the eater a sharer in the table of
a demon.25 But eating in a private house may be a different matter
altogether (). Paul is thinking "of social occasions which can
acquire a cultic tendency, but do not have to do so.”26 If the believer
is informed, however, that the meat he is eating is "sacrificial meat"-
i[ero<quton, the polite term is the term used (not "meat offered to an
idol"—ei]dwlo<quton)--then it is right not to eat it. This is enjoined
on the believer, not because of the meat but because of the conscience
of the informant (see 1 Cor -13; -29). We assume that he is
a weak believer who has had his suspicions concerning the status of
the meat confirmed by enquiry. The informant has given the purely
social meal the character of a cult banquet. If it were in fact the case
that this meal was a cult banquet it would have been obvious to the
strong believer that the meat had come from the sacrificial ritual.27
To what extent is the Lord's Supper the believer's cult banquet?
IThough this point will be taken up again in the section on the
Mystery Cults, we can say at this juncture with Barrett that Paul
"allows a limited degree of analogy between the pagan feasts. ..and
the Christian feast.”28 R. P. Martin cites and dismisses the theory
that Paul was "a Hellenist who foisted on the church a sacramental
Barrett, I Corinthians, 237, eating at an idol's table brought one into intimate relation-
ship with evil spiritual powers. For the partnership and companionship of the wor-
shipers with the divinity to whom the sacrifice has been made, see Plato, Symposium,
188 B-C. Cf. Plato, Laws, 653, and Philo, Special Laws, 1:221, as well as Homer (see
also n. 14).
24 However, see G. Theissen, Social Setting, 122, 139. He argues that passive
participation as a guest at a cult banquet is not specifically outlawed by Paul in 1 Cor
8:7-13. This is a concession to the socially advantaged among the believers. What is
excluded in -22, however, is the reciprocal hosting of such banquets by the
strong. That would amount to "idol worship" (139). Theissen's argument is, I feel,
25 This is C. K. Barrett's point in "Things Sacrificed to Idols" where he summarizes,
"Hence (conscientious scruples permitting) the Christian may freely use ei]dwlo<quta
and eat with unbelieving friends, To take part in idolatrous ritual is another matter. . ."
26 H. Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, 177. Cf. C. K. Barrett, "Things Sacrificed to
27 C. K. Barrett, 1 Corinthians, 243.
28 C. K. Barrett, 1 Corinthians, 21.
210 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
doctrine which was modelled on the Greek Mystery practice of a meal
in honour of a cult deity.”29 The analogy of which Barrett speaks
consists in the fact that like the cult meal, the Supper (dei?pnon)
establishes communion/partnership (koinwni<a) with the Lord Christ,
though, of course, with one who is rightly Lord and God.
Moreover, Paul speaks of the table (tra<peza) of the Lord and
the table (tra<peza) of demons. Though table was an accepted desig-
nation for the sacrificial altar,30 there is no sense in which the Supper
of the Lord is a sacrificial meal. In contrast, the cult banquet was
precisely that. The food had been offered to the god (i[ero<quton,
qeo<quton). The believers' Supper on the other hand celebrates a sac-
rifice-or more exactly-a death (see 1 Cor 5:6-8). It is eaten in
memory of Jesus' death and in gratitude for its benefits. Paul never
uses the word sacrifice (qusi<a) to refer to the supper. It is not eaten in
a shrine or a temple before an image, but in a meeting, an e]kklhsi<a.
It is not eaten by worshipers participating in a cult, but by believers
meeting together in one another's homes. That Christian writers came
to use sacrificial terminology to refer to the Supper, thus departing
from the New Testament understanding, is evident from the middle of
the 2nd cent.ury A.D.31
THE BODY IMAGERY
It is quite possible that the body imagery surfaces for the first
time in Paul's output in 1 Cor , and. more extensively
12:12-26, and m Rom 12:3-8 as well. What is the Origin of this
E. Best offers an extensive and persuasive treatment of the inter-
pretation and possible origin of the imagery as encountered in the
earlier Pauline letters. He concludes that the concept of Christ as
29 R. P. Martin, Worship in the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975) :
121. However, compare H. Lietzmann, Mass and Lord's Supper (Leiden: Brill, 1979) i
205-6. Lietzmann presses the sacrificial imagery too far in arguing that the Pauline
Supper is to be regarded not only as an analogue to Hellenistic meals held as
memorials to great men and cult founders, but also is to be thought of as a "sacrificial
meal, in the elements of which divine power dwells" (205). He continues, "The symbolic
words of Jesus now describe a spiritual reality: the faithful partake of the body of the
Lord and become thereby one body with him and with one another: the corpus
mysticum of the church comes into being. The simple table-fellowship of primitive
times is now a mystical koinwni<a" (206).
30 See, e.g., LSJ and inscriptions and papyri cited, Mal (LXX), Diodorus
Siculus, Histories, 5:46:7.
31 See, e.g., Didache, 14:3; Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 41:3; Irenaeus, Against
4:17:5. See further, J. B. Lightfoot, The
Christian Ministry (
millan, 1901) 124-35, and
Environment," ANRW II.23.2 (1980) 1159-89, especially 1166-89.
CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT
corporate personality explains the distinctive Pauline use of the im-
agery as applied to believers in their relationship to Christ.32
Recently a fresh suggestion as to the origin of the body imagery
has been advanced by A. E. Hill (and supported enthusiastically by
G. G. Garnier and J. Murphy-O'Connor).33 He observes that archaeo-
logical excavation has brought to light a number of terra-cotta repre-
sentations of parts of the body
placed in the
god of healing, as votive offerings. They were expressions of gratitude
for the healing of that particular bodily member. Hill believes it quite
likely that Paul, wandering about
(cf. Acts , 23), and observed these myriad dismembered parts of
the body. Hill concludes that this emphasis on dismembered parts in
the Asclepeum may lie behind Paul's exhortation to the believer not
to tolerate dismemberment within their congregational life. Murphy-
O'Connor similarly believes Paul was influenced by these votive im-
ages. The church, he urges, ought not to be like the "dead, divided,
unloving and unloved" bodily members in the Asclepeum.34 From
this, he concludes, "it would have been an easy step to the contrasting
image of the whole body in which the distinctive identity of each of
the members is rooted in a shared life.”35 Hill's suggestion appears
attractive particularly in light of the fact that Paul only refers to
individual parts of the body in I Corinthians among his letters (see
I Cor -26). Furthermore, the Corinthians were familiar with the
cult of Asclepis. There had been Asclepea in the city since the late
fifth century B.C.36
However the difficulty with this reconstruction of the origin of
the body imagery in I Corinthians lies in the fact that the terra-cotta
votives which have sparked this interest date from before the Roman
32 See E. Best's chapter, "The Body of Christ: The Earlier Epistles," in his One
Body in Christ (London: SPCK, 1955) 83-114. See also B. Daines, "Paul's Use of the
Analogy of the Body of Christ with Special Reference to I Corinthians 12," EQ 50
(1978) 71-78. G. D. Fee rather dismisses Best's discussion and conclusions. "The very
commonness of the imagery," he asserts, "makes much of that discussion irrelevant,"
The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 602 n. II. There is no doubting this "common-
ness." See, e.g, Aristotle, Politics, IV:iii:ll; Xenophon, Memorabilia, 2:3:18-19; Livy,
2:32:9-12; Seneca, Letters, 95:52-53.
33 A. E. Hill, "The
Theology?," JBL 99 (1980) 437-39. See also G. G. Garnier, "The Temple of Asklepius
(1984) 147-59 (156). G. D. Fee is unconvinced, see The First Epistle to the Corinthians,
602 n. II.
34 J. Murphy-O'Connor,
35 J. Murphy-O'Connor,
36 C. Roebuck,
212 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
to the fourth century B.C.38 They were found as fill, deposited before
later Hellenistic and Roman building programs. Unless there was a
continuation of the practice of placing such votives in the Asclepeum
after the Roman re-founding of the city-and we have no evidence
that this is the case-then we must conclude that Paul's imagery did
not have its origin here.
THE ATHLETIC IMAGERY OF 9:24-27
The NT letter writers occasionally refer to the life of the believer
by the image of the athletic contest (see 2 Tim 2:5, 4:8, cf. Heb 12:1,
Jas 1:12,1 Pet 5:4). Paul sees himself as the athlete in 1 Cor 9:24-27.
He does not run aimlessly, he assures his readers. His commitment to
gospel preaching and submission to the will of God is earnest. His
one aim in persevering is to obtain the prize. For him it is a heavenly
prize-as Phil indicates-"I press on toward the goal for the
prize (to brabei?on) of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." The
athlete submits himself to pain and suffering-to the regimen of
training and self-control (). And the athletes, remarks Paul, re-
ceive a perishable wreath (fqarto>j ste<fanoj); we, on the other hand,
an imperishable (a!fqartoj) one.
All Greeks would have been familiar with this imagery. The
Corinthians were host to one of the four panhellenic (athletic) festi-
vals-the Isthmian Games held approximately seven miles distant at
the sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia. These had been inaugurated as
early as the early sixth century B.C. They were dedicated to the god
Poseidon. The games were not only for athletes. Drama, poetry and
music also had their place. Like all such occasions, the Isthmian
Games were decidedly cultic in nature. Oscar Broneer believes that,
37 I owe this insight to
University, whose study of the excavation reports of C. Roebuck first led him to doubt
comprehensive study of the extant
votives from Asclep around the
is not aware of any to be dated later than the end of the first century B.C. He adds (per
litt.) that this is not to say that Paul had not seen votives to Asclepius in travels.
stone votives were still to be seen in the Asclep at
the first century A.D.
38 See C. Roebuck,
material found in the deposits in which the votives have been found, Roebuck con-
cludes his discussion with the observation, "The evidence of the coins, of the lamps,
and of the pottery indicates that the accumulation of votives represented in the deposits
began in the last quarter of the fifth century and ended in the last quarter of the fourth
century B.C., when the precinct and Lerna were rebuilt," 137. The latest datable object
found in the deposits is a Theban coin of 315-288 B.C.
CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT
since Paul stayed in
during Gallio's proconsulship, he would have been present in the
spring of A.D. 51 when these biennial games were held.
Murphy-O'Connor speculates that Paul may have attended the
games despite their cultic orientation.39 Though Palestinian Jews had
a long tradition of hostility to Gentile festivals,40 Jews of the Disper-
sion may have lacked their scruples.41 Since Paul's trade was that of
tent-maker and the visitors and spectators were housed in tents, Paul's
attendance, Murphy-O'Connor concludes, would have been likely.
As we have noted above, Paul observes that the runners receive a
"perishable crown." It is of some interest that from early times (c. 473
B.C.) the victors at the Isthmian games received a wreath of withered
celery, not the fresh celery wreaths granted victors at the Nemean
games (held approximately 12 miles southwest of
lighting more acutely the contrast between the perishable and im-
perishable crowns which are the goals and prizes of athletes and
In a justly famous section of his work Light from the Ancient
East,43 A. Deissmann enthusiastically argues that at the basis of
Paul's assertion: "You are not your own; you were bought with a
price" (I Cor -20), and, "You were bought with a price; do not
become slaves of men" (), lies the practice of sacral manumission,
the custom of releasing a slave in the context of the cult. Deissmann
cites inscriptions from Delphi and elsewhere in
freedom.”44 It is clear that the slave has already paid the price of
his / her freedom, having deposited the money in the temple treasury
from which the master receives his price. The feigned transaction
completed, the slave is now free from his former master. "At the
utmost," adds Deissmann, "a few pious regulations to his old master
39 J. Murphy-O'Connor,
40 See 1 Macc 1:14; 2 Macc 4:9, 12-13. See also E. Schfirer, A History of the
Jewish People in the Age
of Jesus Christ,
rev. ed., Vol. 2 (
41 E.g. Miletus Theatre Inscription. For text and discussion, see A. Deissmann,
Light from the Ancient East (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978 repr.) 451-52, and G. H. R.
New Documents Illustrating Early
Christianity (Vol 3;
Ancient History Documentary Research Centre,
42 0. Broneer, 'Paul and the Pagan Cults at Isthmia', HTR 44 (1971) 169-87 (186).
43 Light from the Ancient East, 318-30.
44 See also C. K. Barrett, Documents Illustrating the New Testament (London: SPCK, 1956) 52-53.
214 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
are imposed on him.”45 The deed of manumission is left in the care of
the god. The slave is a completely free man.
With reference to 1 Cor ("You were bought with a price"),
the price of freedom, says Deissmann, is not that paid by the slave
but that paid on his behalf by Christ in his death. But one senses that
Deissmann has not fully perceived the implications of the manu-
mission texts and the I Corinthians passages. Though for Deissmann,
the slave was only fictitiously sold to the divinity, the price paid to
which Paul refers results in slavery to Christ. Believers have been
bought by Christ in the same way that God bought/ransomed his
to himself (Exod 6:6-7, 19:5; I Pet 2:9). Such bond-service is perfect
The point being made by Paul in I Cor 7:22-23 ("For he who
was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord," and
"Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. . . “46) is
more helpfully explained by Francis Lyall from the standpoint of
Roman custom. This custom is particularly appropriate since New
distinctive Roman attitude of the mutual obligations of freedman and
former master. The master, now the patron of the former slave, cared
for him should he be needy, sick, or homeless. He could not testify
against his former slave. The freedman owed certain reciprocal duties
to his patron. Lyall writes,
The free Christian is to consider himself the slave of Christ, subject to
the full control and care of his Master. The Christian slave is to
consider himself Christ's freedman, a full human being, yet not de-
tached from his patron. Christ has freed him and will perform the
duties of a patron towards him, summed up in caring for him. The
freedman owes reciprocal duties to Christ to the fullest extent.48
Sacral manumission does not illuminate these passages in I Cor-
inthians.49 The insights gained from a study of Roman customs
appear far more persuasive.
45 Light from the Ancient East, 322. On the precise nature of the sale to the god,
see also S. Scott Bartchy, First-Century Slavery and 1 Corinthians (SBL Disserta-
tion Series 11;
that sacral manumission took the form of an "entrustment sale," the slave depositing
the money with the priests (the god's representatives) as the one who as a non-person
at law needed a trusted intermediary in the commercial transaction.
46 Paraphrase of 1 Cor -22 in C. K. Barrett, 1 Corinthians, 152.
47 F. Lyall,
Slaves, Citizens, Sons: Legal Metaphors
in the Epistles (
Zondervan, 1984) 27-46.
48 F. Lyall, Slaves, Citizens, Sons, 44.
49 See however Gal 5:1, "For freedom Christ has set us free." Cf. C. K. Barrett,
1 Corinthians, 171; Epictetus, Discourses, 1:19:9; 4:7:16-18.
CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT
DELIVERING TO SATAN (1 COR 5:5)
In chapter 5 Paul confronts the serious immorality of a believer
living with his father's wife. Paul counsels, "Let him who has done
this be removed from among you" (v 2), adding, in v 5, "You are to
deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his
spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (RSV).
Many commentators see in vv 2 and 5 allusions to excommuni-
cation. This was practiced by the ancient Israelites (see Deut 17:7,
,, , 24:7)50 and by the Jews of the NT era (e.g., John
, 16:2). Robertson and Plummer, commenting on the phrase
paradou?nai . . . t&? Satan%? ("to deliver . . . to Satan," v 5), write,
"This means solemn expulsion from the Church and relegation of the
culprit to the region outside the commonwealth and covenant where
Satan holds sway.”51 Suffering and ultimately death, inflicted by
Satan, would result, which suffering, however, would have a remedial
Hans Conzelmann, however, highlights the reflection of Paul's
injunction in magical incantations. He observes, "(This) shocking idea
is to be understood in the first instance within the context of con-
temporary history: the view of the curse and ban as entertained by the
whole ancient and Jewish world.”53 A similar phrase to that which
occurs in 5:5 is to be found in a third century A.D. magical papyrus-
an incantation for the driving out of a demon-in which the follow-
ing occurs," I give you over to black chaos in utter destruction.,,54
Deissmann illustrates the verse by citing another magical papyrus
which has the words, "Daemon of the dead. . . I deliver unto thee
such a man, in order that. . ." (test breaks off).55 Not surprisingly,
50 See P. Zaas, "'Cast Out the Evil Man from your Midst' (I Cor 5:13b)," JBL 103
51 A. T. Robertson & A. Plummer, I Corinthians, 99.
52 See A. T. Robertson & A. Plummer, I Corinthians, 99-100 and C. K. Barrett,
I Corinthians, 126. This interpretation is supported by the RSV in its rendering of the
Greek "to (to> pneu?ma). Adela Yarbro Collins in her article, "The Function of 'Excommuni-
cation' in Paul," HTR 73 (1980) 251-63, has challenged this by arguing that (I) the
injunction must be interpreted "communally and eschatologically" (259), (2) the destruc-
tion of the flesh is a reference to the eternal destruction of the transgressor on the Day
of the Lord, and (3) Paul was not concerned here about the man's possible repentance.
The "spirit" (to> pneu?ma) which must be saved is not the spirit of the man, but the Spirit
in the church which must be "untainted by the contagion of impurities in the day of the
Lord, by the ejection of the incestuous fornicator" (260).
53 H. Conzelmann, I Corinthians, 97.
54 P. Par 574. Text in
G. Milligan, Selections from the Greek
me<lan xa<oj e]n toi?j a]pwli<aij.
Light from the Ancient East, 302 n. 5; nekudai<mwn, ... paradi<dwmi< soi to>n dei?na o!pwj
216 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Deissmann concludes his discussion of 1 Cor 5:5 with the words, "the
Apostle advises the Corinthian church to perform a solemn act of
But as C. K. Barrett and G. D. Fee properly point out that there
is a considerable difference between the Pauline injunction and the
magical incantation.57 In the former the transgressor is not handed
over to Satan's complete control. The expectation is that he will be
reclaimed if the discipline of excommunication is administered. In the
latter, however, the powers of darkness are given complete control
over the one into whose power he has been consigned.
THE MYSTERY CULTS
There existed in
mystery cults. These cults, both native and
the state actually organized the famous Eleusinian mysteries. Specula-
tion concerning the origin of the mysteries focuses on the possible
survival of prehistoric agrarian cultic
mysteries were seen as the particular gift of Demeter the corn-goddess.
They were open to men and women alike, to slave and free. Initiation
often took the form of lustration.
J. A. Robinson helpfully defines the term "mystery" (musth<rion)
as signifying "a religious rite which it is profanity to reveal.”59 The
56 Light from the Ancient East, 303. Cf. 1 Cor ; ei@ tij ou] filei? to>n ku<rion
h@tw a]na<qema ("If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed"), Gal 1:8, 9 1c",
and 1 Tim . M. Smith goes too far when he argues that Paul (like Jesus) was a t'
magician and that congregational meetings at
which the most important elements were the invocation of spirits, the utterances they
inspired, and the changes they produced in the personalities of the possessed." See his
"Pauline Worship as seen by Pagans," HTR 73 (1980) 241-49 (246).
57 C. K. Barrett, I Corinthians, 126; G. D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians,
208-13. On the question of what is signified by the term "destruction of1he flesh," Fee
concludes that Paul is using "destruction" metaphorically, arguing that Paul's anthro-
pology which does not envisage the separation of flesh and spirit (211), and the
following purpose clause contain the key to exegesis, "It is especially difficult to see
how an expected death can be understood as remedial. . . (210).
58 See W. Burkert, Greek Religion, 276-78 for discussion. See also R. Bultmann,
Primitive Christianity (Edinburgh: Fontana
Library, 1956) 185-92;
World of the New
New Testament Message #2 (
Glazier, 1980) 35-41, and C. K. Barrett, Documents, 91.
59 J. A. Robinson,
1909) 234. See too Herodotus, Histories, 2:171; and Plutarch, On Exile, 607C. Cf.
Press, 1961) 7. S. Angus's treatment in The Mystery Religions and Christianity (Lon-
don: John Murray, 1924) 45-75 remains a valuable and detailed attempt to define the
various elements of the mystery cults. D. H. Wiens, "'Mystery' Concepts in Primitive
CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT
word comes to mean something secret requiring divine revelation to
be made known. This meaning is in line with the common meaning of
the word "mystery" in English. Only the initiated had access to the
rite(s). In the context of the mystery the initiate had experiences in
which great terrors were provoked and dispelled by the rites. "For the
'mystes'" [the initiate], writes Burkert, "death loses its terror.”60
Robert Banks observes that the mysteries "catered for the psycho-
logical needs of the people. . . chiefly through various dramatic rituals
in which adherents participated and vivid mystical experiences to
which they aspired.”61 Such experiences were termed redemptive or
salvific.62 By participating in the cult drama, the worshiper felt him-
self re-born. It is suggested that he received from the god, who
himself had been brought back from the dead, assurance of well-
being (swthri<a) now and in the future, even to the extent of a
guarantee of immortality.63 Apuleius, the second century A.D. Roman
writer, describes in the last book of the Metamorphoses a procession
of initiates of the Isis Mystery witnessed by his hero Lucius at the
tion soon after,
Christianity and its Environment," ANRW II.23.2 (1980) 1248-84 is a helpful recent
summary of the present state of the debate concerning the possible interface of the
Graeco-Roman background and the New Testament.
60 W. Burkert, Greek Religion, 277.
61 R. Banks, Paul's
Idea of Community (
Publ. Co., 1980) 20.
62 "Salvation" (swthri<a) is apprehended by the initiate. See also R. Bultmann,
Primitive Christianity, 188; R. Reitzenstein, Hellenistic Mystery Religions: Their Basic
Ideas and Significance,
wick Press, 1978, reprint) II;S. Angus, The Mystery Religivns, 137-38.
63 See, e.g., R. Reitzenstein,
Hellenistic Mystery Religions, 27;
Testament Environment (London: SCM, 1976) 232-43 (233), and A. J. M. Wedder-
bum's discussion in "The Soteriology of the Mysteries and Pauline Baptismal The-
ology," NovT XXIX (1987) 53-72. Wedderburn argues that there is no evidence for the
initiates' dying and rising with the god, rather it was a case of their hopes of immor-
tality being raised by their participation in the ritual, 56. On the other hand, the
Christian has died with Christ (see Rom 6:5, 2 Cor ). Donfried in "The Cults of
Thessalonica," 348-49, citing an observation of Ramsey MacMullen (in Paganism in
the Roman Empire [
that the Mysteries offered worshipers any sure hope of immortality. However, see also
the response of W. A. Meeks to MacMullen in The First Urban Christians, 241-42
n. 44. Striving for a secure eternal well-being is reflected in the mid-4th century writer
Firmicus Maternus (The Error of the Pagan Religions 22:1) who reports the following
assurance whispered to the initiates in an unspecified mystery cult, qarrei?te mu<stai tou?
qeou? ses&sme<nou: e!stai ga>r h[mi?n e]k po<nwn swthri<a. Wedderburn argues that the
future "we will have (e!stai) salvation" seems to contrast wIth the more assured perfect
tense of "of the god has been saved" (ses&me<nou), "The Soteriology of the Mys-
218 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
I approached the very gates of death and set one foot on Proser-
pine's threshold, yet was permitted to return, rapt through all the
elements. At I saw the sun shining as if it were ; I
entered the presence of the gods of the underworld and the gods of the
upperworld, stood near and worshipped them.64
Lucius does not reveal the mystery, i.e., the details of the rite. Yet he
narrates something of what happened, giving some enigmatic indica-
tion, without profaning the mystery. As a result of his initiation, he is
a man re- born.
Now in 1 Cor 2: 1 Paul says to his readers, "1 did not come
proclaiming to you the mystery (though see the textual variant,
J.lap'tuptov) of God in lofty words or wisdom." In 2:7 he writes, "We
impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God," or literally, "We speak
the wisdom of God in a mystery." In 4: 1 he writes, "This is how one
should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries
of God" (see also 13:2, 14:2, ). Paul's use of this term musth<rion
is by no means rare (Eph 1:9, 10; 3:3-6; Coll:26, 27; 2:2).
Accordingly some scholars have presumed that Paul was the pur-
veyor of a mystery cult-a Christian one. According to J. Reumann,
Windisch saw Paul as the arch-mystagogue, the arch-hierophant--the
guide of the initiated, the leader in the rites.65 Reitzenstein was also
prepared to assess Paul in this fashion.66
But it is clear in 1 Corinthians, and elsewhere in Paul, that he is
using the word musth<rion in a radically different way compared to
the way it was used in the ancient world in the cultic context. If Paul
has a mystery-a secret-he imparts it, speaking it and disclosing it
to all in public. The "mystery" is available in the public arena. It is
the once hidden divine plan for the redemption of the world through
Christ, a plan which is now made known and declared in the histori-
cal facts of the life and death of Jesus, and now disclosed to the
world-to Jew and Gentile-in the preaching of the gospel. It is these
events which baptism and Lord's Supper commemorate. In them
Jesus' redemptive achievement wrought on the behalf of believers was
re-presented to the congregation. When one became a believer at
64 Metamorphoses (Loeb edition). i
65 See J. Reumann, "'Stewards of God'-Pre-Christian Religious Application of
OIKONOMOS in Greek," JBL 77 (1958) 339-49 (340).
66 See Hellenistic Mystery Religions, 327 and 533-43. Reitzenstein (327) believes
that Paul's teaching concerning dying and rising with Christ (see Rom 6:1-14, 2 Cor
) has direct links with the Mysteries in which the worshiper dies and rises with the
god in the cult drama. This view has no basis according to A. J. M. Wedderburn (see
his "The Soteriology of the Mysteries," 53-57, and the detailed analysis of paucity of
the evidence from the various Mysteries in 57-71). Reitzenstein himself provides no
CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT
into some great secret in which there might have been some hope of
immortality. Paul speaks confidently about the resurrection of be-
lievers in 1 Corinthians 15 as a consequence of the raising of Jesus
from death. Moreover, all believers are in possession of the "secret."
There are no grades or levels through which the "initiate" must
progress,67 though some at
ism a childishness which, as yet, deprived them of maturity. C. K.
Barrett observes, "All Christians are potentially perfect or mature in
be.”68 There is no distinction between those initiated. The "deep
things" (1 Cor 2: 1 0) of God are available to all in the gospel which
focuses on the cross and on God's redemptive work wrought there.
It has been argued that the phenomena of glossolalia and their
interpretation evident among the Corinthian believers find their paral-
lel in the Greek cults, namely, in ecstatic utterance excited by the cult
frenzy associated with the mystery cult of Dionysus, and the Greek
mantic tradition as represented by the nearby oracle at the shrine of
Apollo at Delphi.69 In a recent article, H. Wayne House seeks not
only to demonstrate affinity between glossolalia and these cults but
argues that Corinthian believers' excess in regard to "tongues" was a
result of believers allowing their background in these cults to influence
their theology and conduct in the congregation.70
That the worship of Dionysus and Apollo-gods associated in
myth-was well known in
Broneer.71 It is conceivable that former devotees of these gods were
among the converts in the Corinthian congregations. But what evi-
dence is there that glossolalia was a feature of the cults in question?
67 See Apuleius, Metamorphoses, Book 11. Lucius passes from his uninitiated state
to worshiper of
68 C. K. Barrett, I Corinthians, 69.
69 That the cults explain the Corinthian glossolalic excess is described by Chris-
topher Forbes, "Early Christian Inspired Speech and Hellenistic Popular Religion,"
NovT XXVIII (1986) 257-70 as the "consensus" view. J. Behm, for example, writes
that "Paul is aware of a similarity between Hellenism and Christianity in respect of
these mystical and ecstatic phenomena," TDNT 1 (1964) 724. See also Forbes' appen-
dix "Works on Early Christian Prophecy and Hellenistic Religion" in his article "Early
Christian Inspired Speech and Hellenistic Popular Religion," 269-70.
71 See O. Broneer, "Paul and the Pagan Cults at Isthmia," 182.
220 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
House assumes that in the ecstatic state the worshipers of Dionysus
spoke in tongues and that the entranced ma<ntij who received oracles
from the god at
ing to House, a priest/ prophet interpreted what she said to the
enquirer by translating the oracle into Greek. House, citing the
authority of an article in the 1911 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica,
adds that even the phrase "to speak in tongues" (glw<ssaij lalei?n)
frequently used in 1 Corinthians 14 was "borrowed from ordinary
The evidence for cultic glossolalia-both in the Mystery cults
and at the oracle at
of the consensus. While it is certainly true that the worshipers of
Dionysus did conduct themselves in a frenzy-dancing wildly, tossing
their heads, eating raw flesh-the extent of their glossolalia appears
to have been the wild cry eu]oi?73 and their acclamation of Dionysus by
names of Phrygian origin.74 Their eu]oi? is an ejaculation, an outburst,
a "Yahoo!" There is no demonstrable affinity between the glossolalia
encountered in the Corinthian congregations and the frenzied shout-
ing of the bacchants.
Christopher Forbes has decisively rebutted House's assumption
that the mantic pronounced her oracles in "tongues.”75 By a careful
investigation of the ancient sources he concludes that while the ma<ntij
was entranced she neither raved nor babbled nor did she deliver her
pronouncements in a foreign tongue at she communicate was
in Greek. It required not interpretation by translation but rather was
announced by the profh<thj; speaking on her behalf.77 What she said
might be obscure-in archaic Greek. She might deliver her oracles in
72 House, "Tongues
and the Mystery Religions of
further discussion of the origin of the term glw<ssaij lalei?n; see R. A. Harrisville,
"Speaking in Tongues: A Lexicographical Study." CBQ XXXVIII (1976) 35-48, and
S. D. Currie, "'Speaking in Tongues,'" Int 19 (July 1965) 274-94; R. H. Gundry,
"'Ecstatic Utterance' (N.E.B.)?"
73 For this exclamation, see Euripides, The Bacchae, 142; Aristophanes, Lysistrata,
1291-94; Demosthenes, On the Crown. 259-60; Diodorus Siculus, Histories, 4:3:3.
74 See Euripides, The Bacchae, 158-59.
75 See C. Forbes. "Early Christian Inspired Speech," especially 260-67.
76 See Plutarch's definition of divine inspiration as encountered at the Delphic
oracle (at which he served as a priest) in The Oracles
that of the god. nor the utterance of it, nor the metre, but all these are the woman's; he
puts into her mind only the visions, and creates a light in her soul in regard to the
future; for inspiration is precisely this" (Loeb tr.).
77 See C. Forbes, "Early Christian Inspired Speech," and "Prophecy and Inspired
(unpublished Ph.D. thesis;
8, "Early Christian Prophecy and its Hellenistic Parallels: Definitions and Termi-
nology," 229-61. In the latter, Forbes writes of the role of the profh<thj; in the
oracular process at
CHURCH AND GENllLE CULTS AT
riddles. But she did not speak in "tongues." Nevertheless Forbes
discusses an instance (the only instance of which he is aware) where
the mantic did reply to the enquirer in a foreign language. The.
incident is known to Herodotus (fifth century B.C.), Plutarch (first/
second century A.D.), and Pausanias (second century A.D.).78 Having
consulted the oracle of Ptoan
received his reply in that language much to the surprise and amazement
of accompanying Thebans who clearly expected the reply to be in Greek.
STEWARDS, SERVANTS, SUBORDINATES, AND SLAVES OF GOD
Finally, I want to deal with the following terms: "subordinates of
Christ" (1 Cor 4:1); "servants of Christ," (1 Cor 4:1; 2 Cor );
"servants of God" (2 Cor 6:4); "stewards of the mysteries of God"
(1 Cor 4:1); and "slaves of Christ" (1 Cor ).
The Greek words for "servant," "steward," "subordinate" and
"slave" (dia<konoj, oi]kono<moj, u[phre<thj and dou?loj respectively) of
themselves do not have cultic significance. The u[phre<thj is a sub-
ordinate of another. [Uphre<thj are to be found in any subordinate
role; in domestic service,79 as minor public officials witnessing and
copying documents,80 or as executors of the orders of a court or
monarch. The oi]kono<moj can denote a steward,81 or an administrator
ravings, he [the profh<thj] was merely an official spokesman, with little or no direct
role in the oracular process itself" (234). In the former Forbes argues that elsewhere it
appears that the profh<thj was the priest-supervisor of the oracular session, 264. See
also D. E. Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World'
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983) 30-34. Plato makes abundantly clear that there was a
difference between the inspired ma<ntij and the profh<thj. While the former receives
oracles while in a "state of frenzy" (mane<ntoj) the latter imparts the oracle in his
"rational mind" (e!nnouj), Timaeus, 71E-72A. Cf. TDNT 6 (1968) 781-96 both for a
general discussion of the phenomenon of prophecy in the Graeco-Roman world, and
787 -88 for an analysis of the difference in function in which the ~av'ttC; and the
profh<thj; were engaged. At
same person but not the same function. In contrast to the Graeco- Roman environment
where it was the ma<ntij; who was inspired and not the progh<thj, Luke and Paul
perceive that the Christian prophet is inspired. Forbes writes that Christian prophecy
"is the reception and subsequent public declaration of (usually) verbal revelation. Such
revelation is normally spontaneous (we have no examples of it happening in response
to enquiries) and the subsequent declaration is normally immediate," "Prophecy and
Inspired Speech" (276).
78 See Herodotus, Histories, 8:135; Plutarch, On the Obsolescence of Oracles,
412A; Pausanias, Description of Greece, 9:23:6; and discussion in C. Forbes, "Prophecy
and Inspired Speech," 140-41.
79 See Herodotus, Histories, 3:63; and Plato, The Statesman, 289C.
80 See P. Tebt 850.54 (170.B.C.), and 866.57 (237 B.C.); P. Oxy 260.19, 20 (A.D. 59),
and P. Fay 26.20 (A.D. 150).
81See LSJ and passages cited there.
222 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
in the public service or of a private estate.82 Paul's Letter to the
Romans was, in all probability, written from Corinth.83 In we
read of one Erastus (see also 2 Tim and Acts for an
associate of Paul of the same name) who is an oi]kono<moj th?j po<lewj
who sends greetings to the Roman believers. There was an Erastus
who, before the mid first century A.D., held the Roman municipal
office of aedile
(commissioner of public works) at
pavement at his own expense in return for the aedileship.84 The
dia<konoj; was a link-man; a courier, or a waiter. The dou?loj was, of
course, a slave.
These four terms are found in the context of the Gentile cults.
We meet the "subordinate" (u[phre<thj) in such a sphere in Dio
Chrysostom, Diodorus Siculus, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus.85
The "steward" is also a term found in the cults as Reumann sum-
marizes, "Private societies of a religious nature employ the title
oi]kono<moj for their stewards, and in the Sarapis and Hermes Tris-
megistus cults clear examples appear.86 The dia<konoj Qeou? ("servant
of God ") is a waiter or server in the temple. The term is used of a
college of dia<konoi, presided over by a priest.87 The cults also testify
to "slaves" of the god -attendants engaged In the precInct In menial
82 See Aristotle, Politics, 1314b7; Luke ; P. Tebt 402.1 (A.D. 172).
83 See C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans, Vol. I (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975)
84 See J. Murphy-O'Connor,
believes that it is more likely that the Erastus of Rom was in fact a quaestor
the Roman office of aedile is a]gorano<moj. While the word for quaestor is tami<aj
not attested for this period. Theissen argues that Erastus held the office of oi]kono<moj
th?j po<lewj prior to the more privileged office of aedile-an office held for one year
only. "It would have been mere chance were Erastus aedile in precisely that year when
wrote to the Romans while in
Urban Christians, 58-59.
85 Dio Chrysostom, Discourses 36:33; Diodorus Siculus, Histories, 1:73:3; Dionysius
of Halicamassus, Roman Antiquities, 2:73:2.
86 J. Reumann, "Stewards of God," 349.
87 CIG II, 1800: I. On the question of the term dia<konoj in general see J. Collins,
"Diakonia as an Authoritative Capacity in Sacred Affairs and as the Model of Mini-
stry," Compass Theological Review 18 (1984) 29-34.
88 See the papyri and inscriptions cited by MM. Strabo mentions i[ero<douloi
employed as prostitutes in temples in his Geography, 6:2:6 and 11:4:7. In 8:6:20, Strabo
populates the pre-146 B.C.
See also P. Tebt. (6.25 (40-39 B.C.) and P. Oxy. 50 (100 A.D.) where there is reference
to the practice of manumission by "hierodulismus," in which "the slave paid a sum of
money and became by a legal fiction the nominal property of a temple but in reality
free," E. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, The Oxyrhynchus
Papyri, Part I (
CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT
Although Paul uses these four titles and the cultic terminology:
such as "servants of God"; "stewards of the mysteries of God"--there
is no Christian cult in
Apollos and Paul. The dia<konoi of God/Christ, likewise, are pur-
veyors of the gospel in the same passage (1 Cor 4:1) and in 2 Cor 6:4
and 11:23. The "stewards of the mysteries" are, once again, preachers.
The "slave" of Christ is the believer (1 Cor 7:22). The "slave" of
Christ does not render a specific cultic obligation but expresses, in his
life as a whole, the fact that having been bought with a price (,
7:23) he is under obligation not to live an immoral life (6:18). He is to
glorify God in his body ().89
At a number of points in the argument of 1 Corinthians Paul
deals with issues in which the Gentile cultic heritage of the believers
conflicts with the commitment of believers to Christ. Eating meat
offered to idols and participating in temple banquets are the two most
significant of these. Scholars have nominated other matters raised in
the Letter which, in their opinion, are illuminated by reference to the
cults. These are the origin of the "body" metaphor in chapter 12 in
Paul's consideration of the disembodied body parts which might have
been on view in the Asclepeum, the practice of sacral manumission,
the execration by magical incantation of the offender in chapter 5,
and the presence of glossolalia in the congregations as an import
from the cults and Mysteries. We have concluded that the drawing of
cultic analogies in these instances is precipitate. The athletic imagery
in -27 is a possible case of Paul using local color to make his
point. Finally, we have emphasized that though Paul may use termi-
nology which, in the case of musth<rion, echoes the cults, and in the
case of the servant/ steward of God/Christ designations, imitates them,
one cannot assume that Paul saw the believers as engaged in a
Christian cult as worshipers. The contrast between the worshiper in
the cults-both state and Mystery-and the believer who, on the basis of the
divine redemptive work in history, relates to God in the sphere of
interpersonal relationships as preacher and believer is studied and deliberate.
Exploration Fund, 1898) 108. This is most improbable. See J. Murphy-O'Connor,
89 For a discussion of the terminology of serving God, see M. Harding, "The
Terminology of Respecting & Serving God in the New Testament Era" (unpublished
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Grace Theological Seminary
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