Grace Theological Journal 10.2 (1989) 203-223

Copyright 1989 by Grace Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.

 

 

CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS

AT CORINTH

 

MARK HARDING

 

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.

* * *

 

INTRODUCTION

 

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:

Cambridge University Press, 1922) 16; Homer, Iliad 23:161-225 (the funeral pyre for

Patroclus), Apollonius of Rhodes, The Voyage of the Argo 3: 1026-36.

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 2:17, 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 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University

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, St. Paul's Corinth, Good News Studies 6 (Wilmington:

Glazier, 1983) 161. Writing of the annual "Little Panathenaic" festival in Athens-the

"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



HARDING: CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT CORINTH 205

 

reasonable assumption. Cad bury informs us that at Pompeii, at least,

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 17:10-13). 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)

127-28.

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

identity (250).

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 1 :26-27) 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 10:26, 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 8:10. "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.

 

TEMPLE BANQUETS :

 

In 8: 10 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 (Edinburgh: T. & T.

Clark, 1911) 22.

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 15:20) 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 15:29) 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.



HARDING: CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT CORINTH 207

 

idols before sale; and, at a banquet in a temple precinct. Paul has the

third of these contexts in mind in 8:10. 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 consumed. Temples provided ban-

queting rooms for the purpose of the meal. The Asclepeum in Corinth

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

kind in Corinth. Greg Horsley points out that 40 banqueting rooms

have been excavated in the Demeter-Kore precinct at the foot of

Acrocorinth, a precinct which dates from before the sack of Corinth

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

9th hour.

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, Corinth, Vol. XIV, The Asclepeum and Lerna (Princeton: The

American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1951) 52.

16 M. Murphy-O'Connor, St. Paul's Corinth, 164.

17 G. H. R. Horsley, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, Vol. I (North

J Ryde, NSW: Ancient History Documentary Research Centre, Maquarie University,

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 letters at Corinth,

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

believers at Corinth who considered that not only was food offered to

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 6:14-7:1.22

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 Egypt

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

in Corinth likely to be found engaged in this activity? By participa-

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 (10:20).

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 Cults at Corinth," HTR 70.3/4 (.1977) 201-31

(217-18), and Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2:4:6.

22 For discussion of this passage (2 Cor 6:14-7:1) 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.



HARDING: CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT CORINTH 209

 

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 10:25 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 (10:27). 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 8:10-13; 10:28-29). 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 10:14-22, however, is the reciprocal hosting of such banquets by the

strong. That would amount to "idol worship" (139). Theissen's argument is, I feel,

unpersuasive.

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. . ."

(149).

26 H. Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, 177. Cf. C. K. Barrett, "Things Sacrificed to

Idols," 147.

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 10: 17, 11 :29 and. more extensively

12:12-26, and m Rom 12:3-8 as well. What is the Origin of this

imagery?

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 1:12 (LXX), Diodorus

Siculus, Histories, 5:46:7.

31 See, e.g., Didache, 14:3; Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 41:3; Irenaeus, Against

Heresies, 4:17:5. See further, J. B. Lightfoot, The Christian Ministry (London: Mac-

millan, 1901) 124-35, and E. Ferguson, "Spiritual Sacrifice in Early Christianity and its

Environment," ANRW II.23.2 (1980) 1159-89, especially 1166-89.



HARDING: CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT CORINTH 211

 

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 Temple of Asclepius, 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 Corinth, inspected the Asclepeum

(cf. Acts 17:16, 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 12: 12-26). 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 Temple of Asclepius: An Alternative Source for Paul's Body

Theology?," JBL 99 (1980) 437-39. See also G. G. Garnier, "The Temple of Asklepius

at Corinth and Paul's Teaching," Buried History 18 (1982) 52-58; J. Murphy-O'Con-

nor, St. Paul's Corinth, 165-67, and "The Corinth That St. Paul Saw," Bib Arch 47

(1984) 147-59 (156). G. D. Fee is unconvinced, see The First Epistle to the Corinthians,

602 n. II.

34 J. Murphy-O'Connor, St. Paul's Corinth, 167.

35 J. Murphy-O'Connor, St. Paul's Corinth, 167.

36 C. Roebuck, Corinth, XIV. 154; A. E. Hill, "The Temple of Asclepius,"438.



212 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

sack of Corinth in 146 B.C.37 The excavation reports clearly date these

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 3: 14 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 (9:25). 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 Mr. John Court, a post-graduate student at Macquarie

University, whose study of the excavation reports of C. Roebuck first led him to doubt

Hill's thesis. Mr. Court, whose observations are not in print, informs me that in his

comprehensive study of the extant votives from Asclep around the Mediterranean, he

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.

Venerable stone votives were still to be seen in the Asclep at Athens and Epidaurus in

the first century A.D.

38 See C. Roebuck, Corinth, XIV.111-38 including Plates 29-56. After dating the

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.



HARDING: CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT CORINTH 213

 

since Paul stayed in Corinth for a period of 18 months (Acts 18:11)

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 Corinth), thus high-

lighting more acutely the contrast between the perishable and im-

perishable crowns which are the goals and prizes of athletes and

believers respective.42

 

SACRAL MANUMISSION

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 6:19-20), and, "You were bought with a price; do not

become slaves of men" (7:23), 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 Greece (though not

from Corinth) in which the god "buys" a slave from his master, "for

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, St. Paul's Corinth, 17.

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 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark,

1979) 54-55.

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.

Horsley, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity (Vol 3; North Ryde, NSW:

Ancient History Documentary Research Centre, Macquarie University, 1983) 54.

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 6:20 ("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

people from Egypt, delivering them from one bondage into bondage

to himself (Exod 6:6-7, 19:5; I Pet 2:9). Such bond-service is perfect

freedom.

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

Corinth was a Roman foundation.47 He sees v 22 as reflecting the

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 7:21 (SBL Disserta-

tion Series 11; Missoula: Scholars Press, 1973) 121-25. Bartchy argues persuasively

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 7:21-22 in C. K. Barrett, 1 Corinthians, 152.

47 F. Lyall, Slaves, Citizens, Sons: Legal Metaphors in the Epistles (Grand Rapids:

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.



HARDING: CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT CORINTH 215

 

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,

19:19,11:21, 22:24, 24:7)50 and by the Jews of the NT era (e.g., John

9:35, 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

effect.52

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

(1984) 259-61.

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 Papyri (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1910) 112-14. Lines 1247-48 read, paradi<dwmi se ei]j to>

me<lan xa<oj e]n toi?j a]pwli<aij.

55 London Magical Papyrus, 46.334-35, fourth century A.D. Text in A. Deissmann,

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

execration.56

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 Corinth, as in many Greek po<leij, so-called

mystery cults. These cults, both native and imported from Egypt and

Asia, existed alongside the officially sponsored state-cults. At Athens

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 expressions.58 In Greece, the

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 16:22; 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 1:20. M. Smith goes too far when he argues that Paul (like Jesus) was a t'

magician and that congregational meetings at Corinth were "largely group seances of l';

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; S. Freyne, The

World of the New Testament, New Testament Message #2 (Wilmington: Michael

Glazier, 1980) 35-41, and C. K. Barrett, Documents, 91.

59 J. A. Robinson, St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan,

1909) 234. See too Herodotus, Histories, 2:171; and Plutarch, On Exile, 607C. Cf.

G. E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries (Princeton: Princeton University

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



HARDING: CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT CORINTH 217

 

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

Corinthian port of Cenchreae. Lucius reveals that at his own initia-

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 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans

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, Pittsburgh Theological Monograph Series (Pittsburgh: Pick-

wick Press, 1978, reprint) II;S. Angus, The Mystery Religivns, 137-38.

63 See, e.g., R. Reitzenstein, Hellenistic Mystery Religions, 27; E. Lohse, The New

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 5:14). Donfried in "The Cults of

Thessalonica," 348-49, citing an observation of Ramsey MacMullen (in Paganism in

the Roman Empire [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981] 55), disputes the view

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-

teries, 60.



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 midnight I saw the sun shining as if it were noon; 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, 15:51). 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 11:23 (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

5:14) 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

classical evidence.



HARDING: CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT CORINTH 219

 

Corinth one did not enter the realm of myth; one was not initiated

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 Corinth have displayed by their factional-

ism a childishness which, as yet, deprived them of maturity. C. K.

Barrett observes, "All Christians are potentially perfect or mature in

Christ (Col 1:28), though only some are actually what all ought to

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.

 

GLOSSOLALIA

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 Corinth has been established by Oscar

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 Isis, to priest of Osiris, and finally to the higher priestly order of the

Pastophores.

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.

70 H. Wayne House, "Tongues and the Mystery Religions of Corinth," BibSac 140

(April-June 1983).

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 Delphi pronounced them likewise. At Delphi, accord-

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

speech.72

The evidence for cultic glossolalia-both in the Mystery cults

and at the oracle at Delphi-is surprisingly flimsy given the strength

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 Corinth," 134-50 (139). For

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.)?" JTS N.S. 17 (1966) 299-307.

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 at Delphi. 397C. "The voice is not

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

Speech" (unpublished Ph.D. thesis; Macquarie University: North Ryde, 1987) chapter

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 Delphi: "Instead of being the interpreter or versifier of the Pythia's



HARDING: CHURCH AND GENllLE CULTS AT CORINTH 221

 

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 Apollo near Thebes, Mys, a Carian,

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

AND CHRIST

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 11:23);

"servants of God" (2 Cor 6:4); "stewards of the mysteries of God"

(1 Cor 4:1); and "slaves of Christ" (1 Cor 7:22).

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 Delphi, the terms profh<thj; and ma<ntij could describe the

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 16:23 we

read of one Erastus (see also 2 Tim 4:20 and Acts 19:22 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 Corinth. He laid a

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

task.88

 

82 See Aristotle, Politics, 1314b7; Luke 12:42; P. Tebt 402.1 (A.D. 172).

83 See C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans, Vol. I (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975)

12-16.

84 See J. Murphy-O'Connor, St. Paul's Corinth, 37; H. J. Cadbury, "Erastus of

Corinth," JBL L (1931) 42-58; and G. Theissen, Social Setting, 75-83. Theissen

believes that it is more likely that the Erastus of Rom 16:23 was in fact a quaestor

(treasurer) in Corinth in the year that Paul wrote Romans. The usual Greek term for

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

Paul wrote to the Romans while in Corinth," 81. See further W. A. Meeks, The First )

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. temple of Aphrodite in Corinth with 1,000 such i[ero<douloi.

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 (London: Egypt



HARDING: CHURCH AND GENTILE CULTS AT CORINTH 223

 

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 Corinth. The u[phre<tai of Christ are preachers-

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 (6:20,

7:23) he is under obligation not to live an immoral life (6:18). He is to

glorify God in his body (6:20).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 9:24-27 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,

Corinth, 55-57 for discussion.

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

M. A. thesis, Macquarie University: North Ryde, NSW, 1987).

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Grace Theological Seminary

200 Seminary Dr.

Winona Lake, IN 46590

www.grace.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: thildebrandt@gordon.edu