Criswell Theological Review 5.2 (1991) 221-239.

          Copyright © 1991 by The Criswell CollegeCited with permission. 





                AND THE LORD'S SUPPER:

              FAMINE, FOOD SUPPLY, AND

                 THE PRESENT DISTRESS *




                                     BRADLEY B. BLUE

                                            King College

                                        Bristol, TN 37620





Food figures prominently in 1 Corinthians. This should not come as

a surprise, since food and related concerns (e.g., commensality) are pre-

dominant in many other NT texts. In addition, it was an important is-

sue in the Jewish communities; so important, that many of the

synagogue complexes included cooking and dining facilities. In some

instances, the Jewish community gathered in a renovated house (i.e.,

house synagogue), in which case the facilities were already present.

And in the nondomestic setting, facilities were sometimes introduced.1

            Food and meals were also important concerns to the non-Jews in

the Greco-Roman world.2 In particular, as in the Jewish communities,


            * For John McRay, with sincere appreciation.

            1 The most helpful collections for synagogue complexes are offered by L M. White,

The Christian Domus Ecclesiae and Its Environment: A Collection of Texts and Monu-

ments (HTS 36; Minneapolis: Fortress, forthcoming) and A T. Kraabel, "The Diaspora

Synagogue: Archaeological and Epigraphic Evidence since Sukenik," Aufstieg und Nie-

dergang der riimischen Welt 2.19.1 (1979) 477-510. Evaluations of the material include:

L M. White, Building God's House in the Roman World. Architectural Adaptation

among Pagans, Jews, and Christians (The ASOR Library of Biblical and Near Eastern

Archaeology; Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins, 1990) 60-111 and B. B. Blue, In Public

and In Private: The Role of the House Church in Early Christianity (IVP, forthcoming).

            2 D. E. Smith, "Meals and Morality in Paul and His World," SBLASP (1981) 319-39;

"Table Fellowship as a Literary Motif in the Gospel of Luke," JBL 106 (1987) 613-38,




food and meals are prominent features in various associations and

religious/cultic groups.3 This fact is seen in 1 Cor 8:10 with the refer-

ence to being "at table in an idol's temple." It was not uncommon for

a temple to include culinary appurtenances and accommodate com-

mon meals. In addition to literature from this period4  and the archae-

ological evidence from Corinth and elsewhere,5 the papyri attest to

invitations to religious meals at temples as well as in houses.6 One ex-

ample will illustrate the phenomenon of religious meals and their set-

ting in the Greco-Roman world: the cult of Sarapis.

            The remains of an inscription on Delos records the dedication (on

a column) of a temple to Sarapis by Apollonius II.7 The inscription,


and Social Obligation in the Context of Communal Meals: A Study of the Christian

Meal in 1 Corinthians in Comparison with Graeco-Roman Meals (unpublished ThD.

dissertation, Harvard Divinity School, 1980).

            3 A catalogue of material has been assembled by H.-J. Klauck in his 1980 disserta-

tion (Catholic Theological Faculty, Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich). This

was later published as Herrenmahl und hellenistischer Kult. Eine religionsgeschichtli-

che Untersuchung zum ersten Korintherbrief (NTAbh [NF] 15; Munster: Aschendorff,

1981). A second edition appeared in 1982.

            4 Philostratus, for example, writes that Ptolemy of Naucratis had a brilliant repu-

tation among the sophists: “For he was one of those who were admitted to dine at the

public expense in the temple of Naucratis, an honour paid to few of her citizens" (Lives

of the Sophists 595 [LCL Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press/London: William

Heinemann, 1968]). Like other public buildings, the banqueting halls (in the temples)

were donated by benefactors. See for example the banquet hall in the temple of Arte-

mis at Ephesus which was part of a gift from Damianus (the sophist), dedicated to him-

self (Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists 605).

            5 A good example can be seen in the sanctuary of Asclepius at Corinth. The pre-

cincts included dining rooms beneath the Abaton which accommodated meals G. Wise-

man, “Corinth and Rome: 228 B.C.-A.D. 267," Aufstieg und Niedergang der ramischen

Welt 2.7.1 (1979] 487, 510; cf. J. Murphy-O'Connor, St Paul's Corinth. Texts and Archae-

ology (Good News Studies 6; Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1983) 161-67, figs. 9 and 10.

The earlier sanctuary of Demeter-Core at Acrocorinth (6th-2d century B.C.) included

some 40 dining rooms (accommodating seven-ten diners each). For this evidence see

the literature cited in “Invitations to the Kline of Sarapis," New Documents Illustrating

Early Christianity. A Review of the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri published in 1976

(Macquarie University: The Ancient History Documentary Research Centre, 1981)

21:5-9. One recent study is concerned with this question: E. Will, “Banquets et salles de

banquet dans les cultes de la Grece et de l'Empire romain," Melanges d'histoire anci-

enne et d'archeologie offerts a Paul Collart (ed. P. Ducrey; Cahiers d'archeologie ro-

mande 5; Lousanne: Bibliotheque historique vaudoise, 1976) 353-62. For a general

discussion of the function of the Roman temples see J. E. Stambaugh, "The Function of

Roman Temples," Aufstieg und Niedergang der ramischen Welt 2.16.1 (1978) 554-608.

See the examples and literature cited in R MacMullen, Paganism in the Roman Em-

pire (London/New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981) 36.

            6 C.-H. Kim has produced a satisfying (although not exhaustive) collection in his

study "The Papyrus Invitation," JBL 94 (1975) 391-402.

            7 The report appeared in full in 1975: H. Engelmann, The Delian Aretalogy of Sa-

rapis (Etudes preliminaires aux religions orientales dans l'empire romain 44; Leiden: E. J.

            Bradley B. Blue: THE HOUSE CHURCH AT CORINTH             223


dated to the late 3d century B.C., records that Apollonius received a

nocturnal vision in a dream in which he was encouraged not to pro-

long the despondency of his ancestors who ignored the god; rather, he

was to build a temple so that Sarapis would no longer have to live "in

a rented room" (e]n misqwtoi?j). Despite opposition, Apollonius fulfilled

the summons, and the project was completed in six months. The Sa-

rapeion included a dining hall (40 sq. m.), marble seats, and couches.

            In addition to this epigraphic evidence, the papyri are full of invi-

tations to a dinner at the table of the lord Sarapis.8 The occasions for

these dinners in the Sarapeion were wide ranging, including birthday

parties.9 What is most striking, however, are the references to dining "at

the table of the lord Sarapis" in places other than the Sarapeion,10 and

in particular the references to the meals in the homes belonging to in-

dividuals.11 It is not inconceivable that the Sarapeion could in fact be a


Brill); cf. A. D. Nock, Conversion: The Old and the New in Religion from Alexander the

Great to Augustine of Hippo (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933) 50-53 and most re-

cently R M. Grant, Gods and the One God (Library of Early Christianity; Philadelphia:

Westminster, 1986) 38-39. J. E. Stambaugh has provided a good overview of the history

and development of this cult group in his The Sarapis under the Early Ptolemies

(Etudes preliminaires aux religions orientales dans l'empire romain 25; Leiden: E. J.

Brill, 1972).

            8 P. Oxy 110 (2d century A.D.): Invitation to a dinner at the table of the lord Sarapis

in the Sarapeion (deipnh?sai ei]j klei<nhn tou? kuri<ou Sara<pidoj e]n t&? Sarapei<&. Klei<nhn

appears to be a technical term (roughly equivalent to i[e<rwma in the Isis cult, cf.P. Fouad

76), cf. Kim, "The Papyrus Invitation," 395; H. C. Youtie, "The Kline of Sarapis," HTR 41

(1948) 9-29; L. Koenen, "Eine Einladung zur Kline des Sarapis (P. Colon inv. 2555),"

Zeitschrift fur Papyrologie und Epigraphik 1 (1967) 121-26. P. Oxy 2592 is similar

while 1485 is an invitation to dine at the temple of Demeter.

            9 P. Oxy 2791: "Diogenes invites you to dinner for the first birthday of his daughter

in the Sarapeion tomorrow " This is not to suggest that all birthday celebrations

were held in the Sarapeion or other temples. Most of the common celebrations took

place in the home. One of the most common invitations sent was for the marriage cele-

bration (which often included a meal), cf. P. Oxy 111, 524, 1579 (all listed, along with oth-

ers, in Kim, "The Papyrus Invitation").

            10 P. Oxy 1484: "Apollonius requests you to dine at the table of the lord Sarapis on

the occasion of the approaching coming of age of his brothers at the temple of

Thoeris. . . ."

            11 This has not gone unnoticed. Cf. Klauck, Herrenmahl und hellenistischer Kult,

134-36; idem, Hausgemeinde und Hauskirche im fruhen Christentum (SBS 103; Stutt-

gart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1981) 88-89. (A revision of this work appeared later as

"Hausgemeinde und Hauskirche im fruhen Christentum," Theologisches Jahrbuch 1985

led. W. Ernst et aL; Leipzig: St. Benno, 1985) 144-213. We will refer to the earlier SBS

publication). Kim, "The Papyrus Invitation"; cf. "Invitations to the Kline of Sarapis,"

New Docs 1976 (1981) 21:5-9. Nonetheless, a few examples are instructive:

P. Oxy 523 (2d century A.D.)  Invitation to a dinner at the table of the lord Sarapis in

the house of Claudius Sarapion (deipnh?s(ai) par ] au]tw?i ei]j klei<nhn tou? kuri<ou Sara<pidoj

e]n toi?j Klaud[i<ou] Sarapi<w[noj ] . . . ).




house12 (converted or otherwise).13 A house may be envisioned in the

Delian Aretalogy (i.e., rented quarters—e]n misqwtoi?j). Keeping this in

mind, Paul may very well have been referring to religious meals in

1 Cor 10:27 as well as in 8:10.  In 8:10, it is clear that a temple proper is

the venue. In chap. 10, the matter is not quite so clear. Given the evi-

dence, we should not rule out the possibility that Paul is referring to re-

ligious meals in a private home. If the meal was not religious, it was

more likely than not that the meat would have been part of a pagan sac-

rifice (cf.10:28), particularly since meat was usually only available on the

occasion of sacrifices.14

            This preliminary overview allows us to turn to the Corinthian cor-

respondence. Unfortunately, we cannot take up all the questions con-

cerning food/invitations and religious associations at Corinth. Our task

is more modest and our question more restricted: we will only take up

the question of the difficulties at the table and Paul's injunction in

1 Cor 11:17-34. We begin with three assumptions: 1. Like many other re-

ligious groups, the Christians gathered in a house. 2. Like other groups,


P. Oslo 3.157 (2d century A.D.F Invitation (from Sarapion the gymnasiarch) to a dinner

at the table of the lord Sarapis in his own house (deipnh?s[ai] ei]j klei<nhn tou? kuri<ou S[a-

ra<pidoj] e]n t^? i]di<& oi]ki<% . . . ).

P. Yale 85 (2d century A.D.F Invitation (from Dionysios) to dine on the 21st at the kline

of Helios, great Serapis, at the Ninth hour, in the house of his father (deipnh?sai t^? ka ei]j

klei<nhn  [Hli<ou mega<lou  Sara<pidoj. . . patrikh?i e[autou? oi]ki<%).

A fourth possibility is in P. Oxy 1755 (second or early 3d century A.D.):  Invitation to din-

ner at the table of the lord Sarapis in the house of Sarapion (  ]Erwt% se  ]Api<wn deipnh?sai

e]n t&? oi@k& tou? Sarapei<ou ei]j klei<nhn tou? kuri<ou Sara<pidoj . . . ). As Grenfell et al., com-

ment: "It is not clear whether the oi#koj was Apion's [the host's] own house, in which

case e]pi< may be supplied before tou? Sarapei<ou, or was a part of the temple itself; cf. e]n

t&? Sarapei<& in [P. Oxy.] 110.3." Similar invitations to religious banquets in private homes

could be included at this point, e.g., for the devotees of Isis in P. Fouad 76 (2d century

A.D.F Invitation (from Sarapous) to a dinner in his house (deipnh?sai ei]j i[e<rwma th?j kuri<aj

  @Isidoj e]n t^? oi]ki<%).

            12 In addition to the literature cited above, see J. E. Stambaugh and D. L Balch,

The New Testament in Its Social Environment (Library of Early Christianity; Philadel-

phia: Westminster, 1986) 43.

            13 It is not inconceivable, however, that the houses belonging to the Delian sup-

porters were too small for such a gathering although the dining hall in the new Sa-

rapeion would not have accommodated a large crowd It must be remembered that

whatever location was chosen, accommodation was needed for the sacrifice and meal (cf.

"Invitations to the Kline of Sarapis," New Docs 1976 (1981) 21:6.

            14 Smith, Social Obligation, 12; G. Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Chris-

tianity: Essays on Corinth (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982) 155-63; Murphy-O'Connor,

St. Paul's Corinth, 101, 161-67.


            Bradley B. Blue: THE HOUSE CHURCH AT CORINTH             225


the Christians partook of a common meal15 in the house.  3. Given the

at Corinth, the importance of meals taken in a religious context

his lengthy stay at Corinth (18 months),16 Paul would have cer-

tainly addressed the question of proper procedure and protocol at the

table. That this was the case is seen in Paul's own words in 11:2; i.e.,

Paul's commendation that the Corinthians maintain the traditions.

            If 11:2 serves as more than sarcasm17 or literary device,18 but as a

captatio benevolentiae to introduce the issues taken up in 11-14,19 we

must seriously consider whether the "deviations" addressed in 11-14

(specifically 11:17-34) are deliberate, or whether recent events (unparal-

leled during Paul's visit) have raised new problems which Paul must ad-

dress in absentia. If this is indeed the case, alternative solutions must

be found which answer the question: Why so much attention to such a

fundamental and important issue? In the case of 11:17-34, the syntax

suggests that new circumstances have been introduced at Corinth

which affected the Christian gathering and, in particular, the meal.


                                    The Language of Gathering


            The vivid language of gathering in 1 Cor 11:17-34 includes the

use of sune<rxomai five times. In this passage Paul does not commend


            15 Tertullian's comments are most instructive: “The Salii cannot have their feast

without going into debt; you must get the accountants to tell you what the tenths of

Hercules and the sacrificial banquets cost; the choicest cook is appointed for the Apa-

turia, the Dionysia, the Attic mysteries; the smoke from the banquet of Sarapis will call

out the fireman. Yet about the modest supper-room of the Christians alone a great ado

is made" (Apology 39, ANF 3).

            16 Murphy-O'Connor dates Paul's arrival to A.D. 49 and his departure to A.D. 51 (St.

Paul's Corinth, 139-40). So too M. Hengel, Between Jesus and Paul: Studies in the Ear-

liest History of Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983) 49. R. Jewett dates Paul's ap-

pearance before Gallio sometime during the twelve month period ending with July 1,

A.D. 52 (Dating Paul's Life [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979] 40; cf. G. Ludemann, Paul,

Apostle to the Gentiles. Studies in Chronology [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984] 2 and

C. Herner, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History [WUNT 49; Tubingen:

J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1989] 255-56). Most recently, see J. McRay (Archaeology and

the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Baker, forthcoming] who dates the tribunal episode

to A.D. 51.

            17 So J. C. Hurd, The Origin of 1 Corinthians (London: SPCK, 1965) 182-82, citing


            18 So H. Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975) 182.

            19 G. D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerd-

mans, 1987) 500.

            20 In 11:17, 18, 20, 33 and 34. The only other occurrences in the Pauline corpus

come in 14:23, 26, and 7.5.




the Corinthian gathering for the community meal; rather, his griev-

ances indicate that their meetings are more destructive than benefi-

cial (ou]k ei]j to> krei?sson a]lla> ei]j to> h$sson sune<rxesqe; "when you

come together it is not for the better but for the worse"). Apparently

the abuse was sufficiently abhorrent that the divisions (sxi<smata, v 18)

and factions (ai[re<seij, v 19) rendered the meal as merely one of many

and not the Lord's Supper (v 20). In this pericope Paul establishes

three pairs of antithesis: 1. "house" contrasted with "house church,"

2. kuriako>n dei?pnon ("the Lord's supper") with to> i@dion dei?pnon ("one's

own meal"), and 3. e@xontej ("those who have") with mh> e@xontej ("those

who do not have").


            (18) prw?ton me>n ga>r                                 w!ste, a]delfoi< mou, (33)

            For, to begin with,                                         So then, my brothers and sisters

sunerxome<nwn u[mw?n e]n e]kklhsi<% 1

when you come together as the church

a]kou<w sxi<smata e]n u[mi?n u[pa<rxein

I hear that there are divisions among you

(20) sunerxome<nwn ou#n u[mw?n e]pi> to> au]to>      sunerxo<menoi ei]j to> fagei?n

            when you come together                              when you come together to eat

ou]k e@stin kuriako>n dei?pnon fagei?n:

      it is not to eat the Lord's supper

(21) e!kastoj ga>r to> i@dion dei?pnon prolamba<nei 2     a]llh<louj e]kde<xesqe

                                    e]n t&? fagei?n,

when you eat, each of you goes ahead                     share with one another

                        with your own supper

kai> o{j me>n pein%? o{j de> mequ<ei                             ei@ tij pein%?  (34)

and one goes hungry and another becomes             if anyone is hungry


(22) mh> ga>r oi]ki<aj ou]k e@xete                              3 e]n oi@k&

           do you not have houses                                  at home

            ei]j to> e]sqi<ein kai> pi<nein;                        e]sqie<tw,

            to eat and drink in?                                        eat

h} th?j e]kklhsi<aj tou? qeou? katafronei?te       i!na mh> ei]j kri<ma sune<rxhsqe

Or do you show contempt for the church               so that when you come together,

                                                of God                    it will not be for your condemnation

kai> kataisxu<nete tou>j mh> e@xontaj:

and humiliate those who have nothing?


"House” as Residence and Church: (Re-)Defining Boundaries

            The first pair contrasts the oi#koj/oi]ki<a (house) and the e]kklhsi<%

("church," i.e., "the meeting in the 'house"'). Paul describes the latter

as: ounerxome<nwn u[mw?n e]n e]kklhsi<% (assembling as a church, v 18),

sunerxome<nwn ou#n u[mw?n e]pi> to> au]to< (assembling as the community,

Bradley B. Blue: THE HOUSE CHURCH AT CORINTH             227


v 20)21 and sunerxo<menoi ei]j to> fagei?n (assembling to eat, v 33). Here,

Paul's emphasis is on defining what is appropriate and inappropriate

when the various house churches (h[ kat ] oi#kon e]kklhsi<a) gather in

one house:22 behavior which may be acceptable in the house (oi#koj/

oi]ki<a, vv 22, 34) is not appropriate for the "church" (e]kklhsi<a) when

gathered in the house.23 The very fact that the believers met in a pri-

vate house forces Paul to avoid using house, i.e., oi#koj/oi]ki<a, as a desig-

nation for assembled believers in favor of participial clauses which

effectively mean: when all of you are gathered together in a given

house as the church.


"Those Who Have" and "Those Without"

            The third pairing contrasts those who have and those who are

lacking: one is hungry, another drunk (o{j me>n pein%? o{j de> mequ<ei); some

have houses, others have nothing (oi]ki<aj e@xontej, mh> e@xontej). On the

one hand there are believers who have plenty of food and drink while

others have an insufficient quantity (and quality?) and are hungry. The

stark difference between these two groups is seen at the table. To fur-

ther accentuate the difference, those belonging to the advantaged

group have houses to which Paul relegates their detestable behavior,

while the second group are without (food and, perhaps, houses).24


            21 According to B. Metzger this phrase (e]pi> to> au]to<) "which is common enough in

classical Greek and the Septuagint, acquired a quasi-technical meaning in the early

church. This meaning, which is required in Acts 1:15; 2:1, 3:1, 47; 1 Cor 11:20; 14:23,

signifies the union of the Christian body, and perhaps could be rendered 'in church

fellowship'" (A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament [London: United

Bible Societies, 1971] 305). This rendering is supported by M. Wilcox (The Semitisms of

Acts [Oxford: Clarendon, 1965] 95); however, Wilcox seems to allow that it may mean "in

church" (94,98). In his opinion, the expression is a Hebraism and may carry with it the

idea of (joining/belonging to) the community/congregation, similar to the Qumran idiom

dHyl tzyhl; cf. M. Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts (3d ed.; Oxford:

Clarendon, 1967) 10-11 and E. Ferguson, "When You Come Together: Epi to Auto in

Early Christian Literature," Restoration Quarterly 16 (1973) 202-8.

            22 The construction h[ kat ] oi#kon e]kklhsi<a, 'die sich hausweise konstituierende

Kirche' (Klauck, Hausgemeinde und Hauskirche, 21) occurs four times in the NT: 1 Cor

16:19; Rom 16:5; Phlm 2; Col 4:15. Like the phrase e]pi> to> au]to this phrase denotes a gath-

ering in the confines of a private house. The construction e]kklhsi<a o!lh depicts the gath-

ering of the believers in one house. At Corinth, Gaius was one such host (Rom 16:23).

            23 It may very well be that the behavior which Paul relegates to the oi#koj is

equally unacceptable in that context and must be addressed at a later time (cf. v 34). His

present concern, however, is to intervene so that what has been/may be acceptable in

the oi#koj is not promulgated in the house gatherings.

            24 Although it is not explicitly stated that those who are lacking are without

"houses," the group which "is lacking" the food for the meal (see below) is likely the




            G. Theissen has recently addressed the attendant social conditions

of the Corinthian community and has convincingly demonstrated that

at the socioeconomic level the early believers, unlike many of the con-

temporaneous associations, were not a homogeneous group; rather,

early Christianity as reflected in the Corinthian correspondence dis-

plays "a marked internal stratification."25 This diversity promoted cer-

tain difficulties in the meal context. In addition to enjoying better food

as well as greater quantities,26 it is conceivable that because the host

would have been a wealthy member of the community,


same group who lacked the houses of plenty. Although we are uncertain of the propor-

tion of insulae to detached, the former outnumbered the later by a considerable num-

ber. It is likely that during our period, the domus accounted for approximately three

percent (the rest insulae) while claiming one third of the residential space. Cf. J. E.

Packer, "Housing and Population in Imperial Ostia and Rome," JRS 57 (1967) 80-95; R

MacMullen, Roman Social Relations: 50 B.C. to A.D. 284 (New Haven: Yale University

Press, 1974) 62-63; Carcopino, Daily Life in Ancient Rome (New Haven: Yale Univer-

sity Press, 1959) 23-24; K. H. Beebe, "Domestic Architecture and the New Testament,"

BA 38 (1975) 96-97, and most recently P. Garnsey and R P. Saller, The Roman Empire:

Economy, Society and Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987) and J. E.

Stambaugh, The Ancient Roman City (Ancient Society and History; Baltimore/London:

Johns Hopkins, 1988).

            25 G. Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth

(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982) 145-74; 69-120; cf. E. A Judge, The Social Pattern of

Christian Groups in the First Century: Some Prolegomena to the Study of the New Tes-

tament Ideas of Social Obligation (London: Tyndale, 1960) 60-62. In addition to the lit-

erature cited one further point needs mention: for the most part, societies and

associations included people who (even though they might only be guests) could afford

the provisions for the festivities (cf. P. Teb 118-late 2d century B.C.). Furthermore, an

initiation fee and maintenance costs would, in part, restrict membership. This, how-

ever, did not mean that the group was "purely" homogeneous. The constituents of the

burial society at Lanuvium, for example, included slaves and masters. The voluntary so-

ciety met once a month for business and more frequently for social and religous func-

tions. The initiation fee was 100 sesterces, and each member was required to pay

monthly dues. The four men chosen to be in charge of each feast were required to pro-

vide the dinners. Cf. the bylaws of a burial club (dedicated to Diana) in Lanuvium (136

A.D.) in CIL 14.2112-Roman Civilization. Sourcebook II: The Empire (trans. N. Lewis

and M. Reinhold; New York: Harper & Row, 1966) 274-75, and K. Hopkins, Death and

Renewal (Sociological Studies in Roman History 2; Cambridge: Cambridge University

Press, 1983) 215. Theissen discusses this matter in Social Setting, 153-63, esp. n. 25. In

addition we should add the example of the private house cult at Philadelphia (in Lydia).

This house cult has been discussed in S. C. Barton and G. H. R Horsley, "A Hellenistic

Cult Group and the New Testament Churches," lAC 24 (1981) 7-41; cf. Sylloge Inscrip-

tionum Graecarum (3d ed.; ed. W. Dittenberger) 985,

            26 Theissen, Social Setting, 153-63. "Differences in menu are a relatively timeless

symbol of status and wealth, and those not so well off came face to face with their own

social inferiority at a most basic level." Ibid., 160.


            Bradley B. Blue: THE HOUSE CHURCH AT CORINTH             229


            He invited into the triclinium his closest friends among the believers, who

            would have been of the same social class. The rest could take their places

            in the atrium, where conditions were inferior. Those in the triclinium

            would have reclined. . . whereas those in the atrium were forced to sit.27


The Communal Meal and Private Meals

            Given the discrepancy in the social makeup of the Corinthian

community, Theissen interprets prolamba<nw as a reference to wealth-

ier Christians who began their private meal before the communal

meal which was an integral part of the Eucharist.28 According to his

reconstruction, the wealthy add injury to insult by consuming larger

and better quantities of food both prior to the inception of the Eucha-

rist and during the sacred meal. Other scholars, who separate the

communal meal from the Eucharist, also claim that the wealthy are

able to arrive leisurely at their convenience and gorge themselves be-

fore the Eucharist.29 For our study we are not so much concerned to

determine whether the communal meal was introduced by the break-

ing of bread or whether the latter followed the meal and was a rite

which was separated very early in the church. What is important is

Paul's attitude toward the common meal as it relates to the Eucharist:

            Paul in no way had in mind a fundamental and definitive separation of

            the common meal and the sacramental celebration, as it had been carried

            out from the beginning of the second century. Rather, for Paul meal and

            celebration still belong so closely together that he can maintain that the

            bad state of affairs in the common meal [part of the Eucharist or

            otherwise] makes the entire Lord's Supper illusory.30


            Although Theissen does not deal with the corrective given by

Paul (a]llh<louj e]kde<xesqe, see below), he suggests that the i@dion dei?pnon


            27 Murphy-O'Connor, St. Paul's Corinth, 159; cf. L Morris, The First Epistle of

Paul to the Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament

Commentaries; rev. ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985) 157. In the Greek and Roman

contexts only free citizens (including women during our period) reclined. To be sure,

"the use of this custom promoted a consciousness of social ranking” (Smith, "Meals and

Morality," 321). In 14:30 we have a reference to believers sitting (kaqh?sqai) during a

meeting. Although it is difficult to establish that it was necessary for some (or all) to

have done so during the meal, the large number of people may have necessitated the


            28 Theissen, Social Setting, 151-53.

            29 G. Bornkamm, Early Christian Experience (New Testament Library; London:

SCM, 1969) 127-28, 142; P. Neuenzeit, Das Herrenmahl: Studien zur paulinischen

Eucharistieauffassung (SANT 1; Munich: Kosel, 1960) 71-72.

            30 Bomkamm, Early Christian Experience, 129; cf. I. H. Marshall, Last Supper and

Lord's Supper (Didsbury Lectures, 1980; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980) 111.




is the meal which the individual Christians bring and that because

others have no i@dion dei?pnon not all contributed to the Lord's Supper

(or, following Bornkamm et al., to the common meal) but that the

wealthier Christians provided, for all e]k tw?n i]di<wn (i.e., “from their

own).31 Apparently, then, Paul’s advice would be something like this:

the wealthier Christians who arrive early should not begin eating a

private meal which precedes the communal meal but should wait and

thereby have more to contribute to those who have nothing. If the

wealthy are insistent on gorging themselves, they should do so at

home (in a private meal) but not at the Lord's Supper.32 Theissen's in-

terpretation is not avant-garde. Other scholars have offered a similar

interpretation of this passage. To his credit, Theissen, unlike the ma-

jority of other commentators, has reconstructed a milieu which would

explain the problem envisaged in 11:17-34.

            B. Winter has offered an alternative reconstruction which, when

considered in light of epigraphic evidence from Corinth, is more satis-

fying. According to Winter, prolamba<nw is not a reference to the con-

sumption of food by some prior to the arrival of others. Rather, he

submits, during the communal meal (which he takes to be part of the

Eucharist) certain Corinthians were "devouring" (prolamba<nw) their

own private meal while the latter were lacking (mh> e@xontej).33 Winter's

proposal that prolamba<nw carries this overtone (and does not retain the

temporal sense) is supported by Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum (3d

ed.) 1170 (in which the context is a meal scene in the temple of Ascle-

pius at Epidaurus, 2d century A.D.). In the inscription, prolamba<nw is

found three times: turo>n kai> a@rton prolabei?n ("eating cheese and

bread," I. 7); kitri<ou prolamba<nein ("eating of the citron," II. 9-10); ga<la

meta> me<litoj prolambei?n ("eating honey-milk," 1.15). The fact that in each

case the verb carries the idea "to eat" is seen in the editors' suggestion

that prolamba<nw should be read proslamba<nw.34 In this respect, both in

SIG31170 and 1 Corinthians 11, the temporal force of the prefix pro<- is


            31 Theissen, Social Setting, 148. According to his scenario, the fact that some Chris-

tians can afford to have a private meal before the communal meal to which they con-

tribute substantially is further confirmation of the wealth which some of the

Corinthians possessed.

            32 Theissen envisages either a modest common meal or perhaps the simple ele-

ments of bread and wine (cf. Social Setting, 161).

            33 B. W. Winter, "The Lord's Supper at Corinth: An Alternative Reconstruction,"

Reformed Theological Review 37 (1978) 73-82. Others have taken note of Winter's con-

tribution (cf. Fee, First Corinthians, 542; G. C. Nicholson, "Houses for Hospitality: 1 Cor

11:17-34," Colloquium 19 [1986] 1-6).

            34 As Winter indicates, there is weak textual attestation for proslamba<nw in 1 Cor

11:21 (cf. Acts 27:33, where "eating" is clearly the meaning).

            Bradley B. Blue: THE HOUSE CHURCH AT CORINTH             231


lost.35 Furthermore, given the severity of the problem at Corinth, it is

possible that pro<- is affixed to strengthen the meaning of the verb.36

            This unacceptable behavior takes place e]n t&? fagei?n, that is, during

the meal/supper.37 By way of contrast, Paul gives the injunction a]llh<-

louj e]kde<xesqe, that is, receive one another in the sense of sharing.38

            From the vantage of the text itself, the greatest strength to Win-

ter's proposal is the appropriateness of the corrective with respect to

the indictment. It makes little sense to render a]llh<louj e]kde<xesqe as

"wait for one another,"39 even if the indictment was that some were

arriving early. How would this alleviate the problem that there were

those who had nothing? Rather, if the contrast is between those who

devour and Paul's exhortation to share, the passage is intelligible.

In addition, there are other merits to Winter's argument and evi-

dence which supports his reconstruction which has largely gone un-

noticed. We will begin our discussion with the question: who are the

have nots? In turn, we will ask: what is it they lack and why?


                        Commensality and Social Classes

            Commensality was of central concern in the establishing of the

early church. The conflicts in the early church included what groups


            35 This is brought forward in J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of

the Greek Testament Illustrated from the Papyri and Other Non-Literary Sources

(London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1930; repro Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972) 542, and

W. Bauer, W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the

New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (2d ed.; Chicago: University of

Chicago, 1979) 708.

            36 See Winter, "Lord's Supper," 76 for examples.

            37 The aorist articular infinitive connotes that it was during the meal that each ate

his own.

            38 Winter, "Lord's Supper," 79-80. Barrett suggests that Paul instructs them to wait

for proper distribution (The First Epistle to the Corinthians [Black's New Testament

Commentaries; 2d ed.; London: A. & C. Black, 1971] 276; cf. Fee, First Corinthians, 568).

Theissen is close to this when he writes: "At home everybody may eat and drink in

whatever way seems proper. . . . Within their own four walls they are to behave accord-

ing to the norms of their social class, while at the Lord's Supper the norms of the con-

gregation have absolute priority. Clearly this is a compromise. It would be much more

consistent with the idea of community to demand that this 'private meal' be shared.

Paul's compromise, which simply acknowledges the class-specific differences within

the community while minimizing their manifestations, corresponds to the realities of a

socially stratified congregation which must yield a certain preeminence to the rich-

even contrary to their own intentions," Social Setting, 164.

            39 See, for example, Bornkamm, Early Christian Experience, 126; S. C. Barton,

"Paul's Sense of Place: An Anthropological Approach to Community Formation in

Corinth," NTS 32 (1986) 241; Smith, "Meals and Morality," 327; Murphy-O'Connor, St.

Paul's Corinth, 161, and the majority of commentators.



could eat together and what sorts of food were acceptable (cf. Gala-

tians 2; Acts 15). In 1 Cor 11:17-34, the issue is appropriate eating hab-

its at the Lord's Supper (including the common meal) between social

classes. The problem which Paul addresses in this pericope is not so

much who can and cannot eat together, nor what sorts of food are ac-

ceptable (1 Corinthians 8). Rather, assuming that gathering of Jews

and Gentiles had been established, it seems that further problems

have developed. In this instance, the social stratification at Corinth

evoked certain problems at the communal meal. The wealthy, as

Bornkamm writes:

            could confidently spend the time eating and drinking in table fellowship

            with family, friends and peers. Everyone can imagine the very understand-

            able reasons which may have played the role there: the very human ten-

            dency to a sociability among one's own; antipathy for the embarrassment

            that comes when rich and poor, free and slave, sit bodily at one table-real

            table fellowship is something quite different from charity at a distance; the

            worry that the "atmosphere" for receiving the sacrament may be spoiled by

            such an embarrassing rubbing of elbows with the poor.40


            S. Barton furthers Bornkamm's thesis.41 He proposes that there

were some members of the Christian community who consciously

wanted to impose the patterns of private practice on the church. Since

the church met in the house, it would have been natural, he argues, to

collapse the boundaries (which were already thin by the very defini-

tion of church-in-house) so that the eating patterns and practices in

the house church would be the same as in the confines of one's own

domus (which in some cases would have been the same house!).

            While this reconstruction is at first glance attractive, we must

raise two objections. First, it seems questionable to assume that such a

basic question as "whether or not all the believers should partake in

the common meal together (especially if it was an integral part of the

sacrament)?" would not have been addressed by Paul during his

lengthy visit at Corinth. To be sure, Paul must have established a

pattern of practice for the gathering community at Corinth, particu-

larly a pattern for something as important as the Lord's Supper

(including the communal meal). After all, he was there for some 18

months, and the issue of commensality had impressed itself from the

start. Paul would have addressed the issue of the "rubbing of



            40 Bornkamm, Early Christian Experience, 128.

            41 Barton, "Paul's Sense of Place," 235-36.

            42 This is not to say that all the issues concerning food (e.g., what sorts-1 Corin-

thians 8) or the distribution thereof (see below) had been answered. Rather, the funda-


            Bradley B. Blue: THE HOUSE CHURCH AT CORINTH             233


            Furthermore, to equate mh> e@xontej ("those who lack") with the

slaves or even freedmen who fell under the auspices of a householder

is a misnomer. As E. A. Judge has observed: "the dependent members

of city households were by no means the most debased section of so-

ciety. If lacking freedom, they still enjoyed security, and a moderate

prosperity."43 This prompts us to ask two questions: 1. "If the slaves and

freedmen who had the social security of a household are not the ones

who are lacking, to whom is Paul referring?" and 2. "What recent de-

velopment at Corinth precipitated the abuse which Paul addresses in

11:17-34, which seems to be a new problem not addressed previously?"


Social Class: Security and Insecurity

            We propose that those who are lacking the material substance for

the meal and the houses of plenty are those who do not fall into the

net of a secure household. (And, most obviously, they are not the

householders). That is, there is a broad division between the "inse-

cure" (i.e., those who are not financially solvent or do not fall under

the security of a patron/ess's economic umbrella) and the "secure" (i.e.,

those who are financially solvent or, despite insignificant status, find

security under the covering-especially during the frequent storms).

Tacitus, for example, describes certain people as those who were "at-

tached to the great houses" ("magnis domibus adnexa," Histories 1.4).

            Unlike the patron/ess and the household dependents, the non-

slave labor did not enjoy the security of the "house." Under favorable

economic conditions the nonslave laborers prospered; however, when

the economy was threatened, they were the first affected and, effec-

tively, the worst off. Since the "majority of the population living under

Roman rule worked the land and were directly dependent on it for

their livelihood"44 and the nonslave (free workers) were employed by

landowners only as they were needed "by informal, regular arrange-

ments with neighbouring farmers and contractors of labour, not

through the mechanism of an extensive labour market,"45 any crop


mental axiom of the Christian message would have brought people from different reli-

and socioeconomic backgrounds together at the table and would have been of

central importance in the teachings of Paul at Corinth (cf. 11:2).

            43 Judge, Social Pattern, 60; cf. S. S. Bartchy, MALLON XRHSAI: First-Century Sla-

very and the Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:21 (SBLDS 11; Missoula, MT: Scholars,

J.973). We should not altogether exclude the possibility that there were slaves present

at the meal whose masters were not Christians and, therefore, not present to provide

for them.

            44 P. Garnsey, "Non-Slave Labour in the Roman World," Non-Slave Labour in the

Greco-Roman World (ed. P. Garnsey; Cambridge Philological Society Supplement 6;

Cambridge: Cambridge Philological Society, 1980) 34-35.

            45 Garnsey, "Non-Slave Labour," 43.



failure would have been doubly disastrous. On the one hand, the free

laborers would be the first to be without employment, and, on the

other hand, they would be without the financial resources to afford

the expensive staples (imported or otherwise) and would not have the

security of a "household" to fall back upon.46 In his recent book Fam-

ine and Food Supply, P. Garnsey submits:

            The claim of wage-laborers to the product of the land was obviously the

            weakest, and they were particularly vulnerable in times of food shortage

            when demand slumped and wages fell. In comparison with wage-

            laborers, tenant farmers had greater access to the resources of the land-

            lord, who might feel obliged to guarantee their subsistence, at least until

            the crop was harvested.47


            Like the tenant farmer, the slave would enjoy a certain security as

would the freedman who through manumission had received freedom

but had decided to remain under the auspices of the householder. In

such a case, the master-turned-patron would have exercised substantial

control and would have been obligated to provide the necessary staples

of life. The libertini orcini (including the wage laborers), on the other

hand, could not always be assured of such security.48 This classification

of people (nonslave labor) was by no means small, making a shortage

of food an immediate problem which could result in a riot.

            If we are correct that the "have nots" at Corinth were believers

who belonged to this group of people, the logical question which must

be asked is "Do we have evidence for an event which would have

affected the economy at Corinth so that this group was not prospering

but rather without?"


A Famine at Corinth

            The bench mark for confirming whether a famine had threatened

an area in the Greco-Roman world was the appointment of a curator


            46 Of course the independence of the nonslave was precarious and is precisely

why the number of slaves increased and the number of independents decreased (cf.

Garnsey, "Non-Slave Labour," 43).

            47 P. Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply in the Graeco-Roman World: Responses to

Risk and Crisis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) 45.

            48 Of course it is possible, as Garnsey suggests, to "envision a class of freedmen

with living patrons, who might have been kept in tow, but were in practice given a con-

siderable measure of freedom, . . ." "Non-Slave Labour," 45; cf. Judge, Social Pattern, 31.

These "have nots" could have "appealed to the Haves to play patron" in which case the

relationship with the patron would have been based on deference. "He in turn was

granted the right to command" (MacMullen, Roman Social Relations, 123-24). The only

other safety net was the generosity of others: "Smallholders who were also a valued

source of seasonal labour on a large estate were perhaps better cushioned against disas-

ter, if they could accept their neighbouis aid without falling into debt and depen-

dence," Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply, 45-46.

Bradley B. Blue: THE HOUSE CHURCH AT CORINTH      235


to cope with the actual or potential threat to the populace. The office of

"curator of the grain supply" (curator annonae) was crucial in the an-

cient world during severe shortages.49 "In Corinth, as elsewhere, cu-

ratores annonae were probably not annually elected officers. Instead

they seem to have been appointed in times of threatened or actual

famine, and often, . . . the office fell upon men of wealth who used

their private resources for the relief of the city."50 This phenomenon

of appointing a wealthy patron in time of crisis was not rare. As S. C.

Humphreys has recently observed: "In many cities the concepts of po-

litical office and of liturgy . . . had completely merged."51

            The epigraphic evidence from Corinth indicates that on numer-

ous occasions it was necessary to appoint men to the office of curator

annonae in order to alleviate the tension precipitated by a potential

or actual shortage and, thereby, dispel potential unrest. In the 1st cen-

tury A.D. a wealthy benefactor by the name Tiberius Claudius Dinip-

pus held the office of curator annonae no fewer than three times at

Corinth.52 In addition to the many other offices he held at Corinth, he

was also agonothete Neroneon. What is most striking for our study is

the dating of the inscriptions.


            49 For the most recent treatment of famine in the ancient world see: P. Garnsey,

Famine and Food Supply; P. Garnsey and C. R. Whittaker, ed., Trade and Famine in

Classical Antiquity (Cambridge Philological Society Supplement 8; Cambridge: Cam-

bridge Philological Society, 1983). It was, of course, common for the government to reg-

ularly distribute grain (usually monthly), cf. Garnsey and Sailer, The Roman Empire,

83-88. On the grain supply of Rome see G. E. Rickman, The Corn Supply of Ancient

Rome (Oxford: Clarendon, 1980). It is most striking that even though the Jewish commu-

nity had a common purse and other mechanisms to attend to the needy, the poorer in

their midst still received the dole, cf. M. Smallwood, The Jews under Roman Rule. From

Pompey to Diocletian. A Study in Political Relations (Studies in Judaism in Late Antiq-

uity 20; 2d ed.; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1981) 136-37.

            50 A. B. West, ed., Corinth. Results of Excavations Conducted by the American

School of Classical Studies at Athens. Vol. 8, Part 2, Latin Inscriptions, 1896-1926

(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1931) 73; cf. Wiseman, "Corinth and Rome,"


            51 S C. Humphreys, "Public and Private Interests in Classical Athens," Classical

Journal 73 (1978) 98.

            52 The significance of the Dinippus inscriptions has recently been brought to my

attention by B. Winter. His own assessment of the significance of the material appears

as "Secular and Christian Responses to Corinthian Famines," Tyndale Bulletin 40 (1989)

86-106. For the Dinippus inscriptions see West, Corinth. Latin Inscriptions, nos. 86-90,

and J. H. Kent, Corinth. Results of Excavations Conducted by the American School of

Classical Studies at Athens. Vol. 8, Part 3, The Inscriptions, 1926-1950 (Princeton, NJ:

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1966) nos. 158-63.

*No. 158 = "[Members of the tribe -------] (erected this monument) to Tiberius Claudius

Dinippus, [son of Publius, of the tribe Fabia], who was duovir, [duovir quinquennalis],

augur, priest of Britannic Victory, [military tribune of Legion VI] Hispanensis, chief en-

gineer, curator of the grain supply three times, [agonothetes] of the Neronea [Caesarea

and the Isthmian and Caesarean games]." The fact that Dinippus received the highest



            A B. West has suggested that Dinippus' presidency of Neronea

Caesarea should be assigned to the early part of Nero's reign, most

likely the celebration of A.D. 55. Furthermore, he places the quinquen-

nalic duovirate (the highest magistracy of the colony) in the year A.D.

52/53.53 Most importantly, it is probable that Dinippus was curator

annonae at the time of the severe famine during the reign of Claudius

which, most probably, can be dated in the year A.D. 51.54 "That Dinip-

pus' service was rendered during this time is not at all improbable,

and for the next few years Corinth would have good reasons for hon-

oring him. Thus it is not strange to find him presiding over the next

Isthmian celebration, the first of Nero's reign."55 J. Wiseman also dates

Dinippus' curatorship to the severe famine during the year in which

Gallio was governor of Achaea (A.D. 51-52).56  If this dating is accurate,

then it would have occurred shortly after Paul's departure in A.D. 51.

            We find corroborating evidence for a famine in Paul's response to

the Corinthians' queries in 1 Corinthians. The issues addressed in

1 Corinthians 7 (i:e., matrimonial status and procreation) are certainly

symptomatic of eschatological events57 and, without question, the

trauma surrounding a (potential) famine would have precipitated


honor that the city could bestow (agonothes) suggests considerable wealth and benefac-

tion (cf. Wiseman, “Corinth and Rome,” 500).

Boulagoras of Samos also was a wealthy benefactor who was appointed three times as

the corn supply commissioner of his city (Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 366,

cited in A R Hands, Charities and Social Aid in Greece and Rome (Aspects of Greek

and Roman Life; London: Thames and Hudson, 1968) 176 (0.3); cf. Garnsey, Famine and

Food Supply, 14-15).

            53 West, Corinth. Latin Inscriptions, 72-73; cf; Kent, Corinth. The Inscriptions,


            54 West, Corinth. Latin Inscriptions, 70.

            55 West, Corinth. Latin Inscriptions, 73.

            56 Wiseman, “Corinth and Rome," 505. The most likely date for Gallio's term of

office is from spring to spring, A.D. 51-52, cf. Wiseman, “Corinth and Rome," 503-4;

Murphy-O'Connor, St. Paul's Corinth, 146-50; and V. P. Furnish, “Corinth in Paul's

Time: What Can Archaeology Tell Us?" Biblical Archaeology Review 15 (1988) 19.

            57 That is, should a man have sexual intercourse with his wife? See the evidence

collected by G. O. Fee, “1 Corinthians in the NIV," JETS 23 (1980) 307-14; cf. idem, First

Corinthians, 275, as well as the additional material in Winter, “Corinthian Famines,"

94, n. 43. Herein lies the insight into the text which is gained by a detailed study of at-

tendant circumstances. On this score, Winter has been able to provide (what is in our

opinion) a satisfactory explanation of the impetus behind the questions raised by the

Corinthians in addition to providing the background to serious problems (e.g., at the

table). Given the recent famine which would have been interpreted as an eschatological

event (cf. Mark 13:3-37), Fee is surely correct when he renders a]na<gka (1 Cor 7:26) as a

present reality (First Corinthians, 328-29; cf. Winter, “Corinthian Famines," 93). With-

out question, famine at Corinth (and elsewhere) was a constant threat and concern (cf.

1 Clem. 56:9).

            Bradley B. Blue: THE HOUSE CHURCH AT CORINTH             237


su,ch anxiety.58 Given all these indicators, it is most likely that the is-

sues which Paul addresses in view of the present distress (dia> th>n

e]nestw?san a]na<gkhn, v 26) have arisen on account of the recent famine.


Once Again: Paul's Response

            If this historical reconstruction is accurate, then the problems al-

luded to in 1 Cor 11:17-34 can be explained in light of the recent de-

velopment, i.e., the famine. That this was indeed the cause of the

problem is the most likely given the alternatives. In a time when fam-

ine threatened the populace, the householders as well as the slaves

and freedmen who fell under their auspices would have had

sufficient food and drink.59 Therefore, as in Theissen's (and others')

interpretation, the injunction to "wait for one another" makes little

sense. The alternative, "share with one another" (as over against "de-

vouring your own meal"), however, befits the problem: those who

have the security of ample food during a difficult period such as a

famine should share with those who could have otherwise contrib-

uted to the common meal according to their means.60 This is precisely

the principle invoked in later tradition (from Corinth!, cf. 1 Clem. 38:2)

which also knows of famine (56:9).

            Without undue embellishment, this interpretation could be help-

ful in understanding what Paul is alluding to when he writes, "about

the other matters, I will provide directions when I come" (ta> de> loipa>

w[j a}n e@lqw diata<comai, 11:34b). Assuming that he had dealt with the is-

sue of commensality Jewish and Gentile) during his lengthy stay at

Corinth, Paul was later confronted with a new development concern-

ing which (some of) the Corinthians sought his advice. From our histor-

ical reconstruction we demonstrated that there was a famine at Corinth

shortly after Paul's departure and a curator was appointed to establish

the mechanism by which the potential unrest could be quenched and

the populace assured that food would be distributed to the needy. Iron-

ically, it would seem, this spirit of benefaction at Corinth was lacking

when the believers gathered for the Lord's Supper. To this end, Paul

instructs them to share. It is consonant, then, to suggest that Paul would

have addressed the issue of (regular) distribution of food to those who


            58 Winter, "Corinthian Famines," 93.

            59 Garnsey argues that "euergetism [public generosity of the wealthy]. . . was an

institution devised by the rich in their own interests. As the grain stocks of the commu-

nity were in their barns, they could time their release to suit themselves; that is why

the same class produced euergetists and profiteers," Famine and Food Supply, 272.

            60 Bornkamm, Early Christian Experience, 128; E. von Dobschutz, Christian Life

in the Primitive Church (Theological Translation Library 18; trans. G. Bremer; New

York: Putnam, 1904) 61-62.



were in need. This is precisely his recommendation during the gather-

ing of the believers.

            The Corinthians who were evidently not willing to display gen-

erosity during the gathering might have argued that the mechanisms

for distribution of the needed staples were well established and con-

firmed by the appointment of a curator.61 If the needy were lacking

(daily or otherwise), provisions could be obtained through the govern-

mental channels. Perhaps Paul's response concerning these matters

(ta> loipa<) was too involved and required his presence rather than his

words. It may very well be that he would have established an alterna-

tive mechanism within the church to ensure that the economically

disadvantaged were taken care of by the church and not the city. To

be sure, similar mechanisms were already at work in Judaism.62



            The central importance of the Lord's Supper and the common meal

in the early church established the incontrovertible necessity of house

gatherings. The radical implications of the gospel message necessitated

cultural and religious disestablishment which could only be manifest at


            61 Winter, "Corinthian Famines," 102-3.

            62 The recently published inscription from Aphrodisias (in Caria-140 km/87 mi.

east of Ephesus) by J. Reynolds and R Tannenbaum confirms that benefactors (includ-

ing God-fearers) contributed to programs within that community, in this case a commu-

nity soup kitchen (pa<tella). The raison d'etre for the erection is given as: ei]j a]penqhsi<an

t&? plh<qi e@ktisa[n], translated as: "erected for the relief of suffering in the commu-

nity. . ." or, alternatively: "erected for the alleviation of grief in the community." This

would correspond to the Hebrew yzHmt (found both in the Mishna, Tosephta, and both

Talmudim as the name of a charitable institution; cf. G. F. Moore, Judaism in the First

Centuries of the Christian Era: The Age of the Tannaim [3 vols.; Cambridge, MA: Har-

vard University Press, 1927-1930] 2.176-77, and E. Schurer, The History of the Jewish

People in the Age of Jesus Christ [ed. and rev. G. Vermes, F. Millar, M. Black, and M.

Goodman; 4 vols.; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1973-1987] 2.437. This charitable institution

was organized in Jewish communities and was required by Mishnaic law "for the daily

collection. . . and distribution of cooked food gratis to the poor and vagrant" (Jews and

God-fearers at Aphrodisias: Greek Inscriptions with Commentary [Cambridge Philo-

logical Society Supplement 12; Cambridge: Cambridge Philological Society, 1987]). They

date the inscription from the 3d century AD. (19-22). The discovery was reported by

K T. Erim in AJA 81 (1977) 306, and Assyriological Studies 27 (1977) 31. Reynolds and

Tannenbaum conjecture that, although the literary sources are later than the NT

period, the reference to the h[ diakoni<a h[ kaqhmeinh< (the daily service/distribution) in

Acts 6:1 might indicate a daily distribution of food to widows (and perhaps others in

need) by the early Christian community of Jerusalem, which is likely to have been cop-

ied from a Jewish community institution such as the one found at Aphrodisias. If this is

indeed the case, it is conceivable that such charities were extant in Palestine in the

thirties of the 1st century AD.

            Bradley B. Blue: THE HOUSE CHURCH AT CORINTH             239


the "table," The boundaries which defined Judaism as a race and reli-

gion were drawn at the table; therefore, the desegregation of the Chris-

tian message had for its appropriate setting the table, Similarly, the

boundaries which defined social and economic classes were forcefully

exposed at a meal. It was uncommon for different classes to eat together:

"The interests brought together in this way probably marked the Chris-

tians off from other unofficial associations, which were generally so-

cially and economically as homogeneous as possible".63

            In the case of the meals at Corinth and the famine, it appears as

though the Christians tolerated existing mores: in the case of a food

shortage the appointment of a curator would hopefully lessen the dis-

crepancy. Paul, however, seems dissatisfied with the existing scheme.

The only way in which the Christians can become the body is to eat

of one body, together, This meant sharing, particularly in the context

of a Christian gathering, Love for one another must be manifest above

all when a meal was shared, and the significance of the bread and cup

must displace former conceptions which tolerated inequality and un-

even distribution,64




            63 Judge, Social Pattern, 60.

            64 In this respect, Klauck's claim that, in part, "Die Hausgemeinde war. . . .Ernst-

fall der christlichen Bruderlichkeitn is on target (Hausgemeinde und Hauskirche,

101-2), although he does not use the expression in this particular context.




This material is cited with gracious permission from:

The Criswell College

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