“Not Many of You are of Noble Birth: Wealth, Status and 1 Cor. 1:26”

I find ancient economics and social-science fascinating, especially regarding the potential for Pauline theology. Here is a short post on how God's economy works with Paul's brief statement regarding the status of his church in Corinth. Thanks, and forgive my future indulgences in this topics. I'm sure there will be many of them, provided I can further study this subject on the doctoral level.

God willing, at least.

Now onto the short show!

26 Βλέπετε γὰρ τὴν κλῆσιν ὑμῶν, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι οὐ πολλοὶ σοφοὶ κατὰ σάρκα, οὐ πολλοὶ δυνατοί, οὐ πολλοὶ εὐγενεῖς·

“For you see your situation, brothers and sisters, that not many are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many of high or noble status or birth.” (NRQT).

Other translations of 1 Cor. 1:26—

“Look at your situation when you were called, brothers and sisters! By ordinary human standards not many were wise, not many were powerful, not many were from the upper class.” (CEB)

“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters:[a] not many of you were wise by human standards,[b] not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” (NRSV)

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” (NIV).

The Common English Bible (CEB) translates the noun κλῆσιν as “situation.” While interpretive in some sense, I think this actually reflects the original intent of the noun, rather than “calling.”

Paul uses the various tense of the verb καλέω later in 1 Cor. 7:20-23 to describe a situation a slave is born into, or partakes in. So, “situation” makes good sense and I changed my translation accordingly. Just a note on that.

The adjective εὐγενεῖς ("noble birth," "high-class") in other tense appears two other times in the New Testament, one in Luke 19:12 and another in Acts 17:11. In Luke 19, the adjective is used to describe someone born and going to take a βασιλείαν (“Kingdom”). This person is of clearly noble birth, of high rank, and of wealth in order to go to χώραν μακρὰν (“a far off place”). In Acts 17:11 the adjective describes Jewish noblemen (and women, in v.12). Thus, the term likely denotes social status of a high caliber. Most of us in the United States would be considered "εὐγενεῖς."

So Paul is likely writing to people who are not like the man in Luke 19 or the Jewish men and women in Acts 17. This is confirmed by Paul’s own comment on their status as seen by others: they are μωρὰ (“foolish”), as seen from people of a higher social-class (v.25). God sets the one’s lacking in social status aside for himself in the following verses in order to be καταισχύνῃ  (“dishonored”), which suggests social shaming, among other things.

The poor being uplifted or shown preference instead of the obvious wealthy is indeed a slander to the ancient mind. That likely makes up most of the people within the small house church in Corinth.

People of ignoble birth, of low status, likely slaves as well (1 Cor. 7:20-23). The letter addresses both sides of an apparent conflict, as some are taking the other’s to court (ch6), engaging in egregious sexual immorality without remorse or recourse (ch5), dividing over the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), and fighting over who has the gifts of tongues (ch12-14).

The entire letter seems to presuppose this tension or conflict between classes, genders (11:2-16: 14:34-35, though I believe the latter is an interpolation), and even slaves in the aforementioned 7:20-23.

For Paul, the poor are given something in Christ:

ἐξ αὐτοῦ δὲ ὑμεῖς ἐστε ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, ὃς ἐγενήθη σοφία ἡμῖν ⸃ ἀπὸ θεοῦ, δικαιοσύνη τε καὶ ἁγιασμὸς καὶ ἀπολύτρωσις

“But from [God], you are in Messiah Jesus, who became wisdom to us from God, both righteousness and sanctification and liberation.” (NRQT)

The Messiah is spoken of as θεοῦ δύναμιν καὶ θεοῦ σοφίαν (“God’s power and God’s wisdom”).

Christ is the wisdom of God, on behalf of those of ignoble birth, of low social status, and especially for those who are dishonored, marginal, and forgotten. In this Messiah, there is liberation, as this Messiah is not just for the rich and the powerful, but for those without power.

Those are identified as τὸ ἀσθενὲς τοῦ θεοῦ (“the weakness of God”) is seen in the same grammatical pattern as τὸ μωρὸν τοῦ θεοῦ in v.25: article + nominative adjective + article + genitive (divine) noun. The weakness of God is manifest in the community, suggesting identification and participation. God, it seems, is powerful enough to identify with the poor, the destitute, and not of high or noble status or birth.

Just some thoughts on the economy of God.