“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.


Glorify God with your Body

I’ve been working on a potential Ph.D dissertation proposal (don’t worry, it isn’t about hell!), and have comes across some interesting language in 1 Cor. 6:20.

ἠγοράσθητε γὰρ τιμῆς· δοξάσατε δὴ τὸν θεὸν ἐν τῷ σώματι ὑμῶν

“For/because you have been purchased at a price; now glorify God with your body" (NRQT).

This concluding statement comes at the finale of chapter 6, which has been concerned with infighting amongst believers. Concerned to emphasize the goodness of the human person (or “body”), Paul assertsin v.19 that the human body is a ναὸς (“temple”), which establishes a high view of the human person. This human person may give worship (that is what happens at the temple or shrine), and she is also a model for how to interact with God, and suggests further that being σῶμα is a good thing. This is why the human person is still called σῶμα in the resurrected state (c.f. 1 Cor. 25:35-57). The physicality of the body is never fully removed, but the physicality is transformed and restored.

Paul does not draw a dualistic distinction between the “matter” and the “non-matter.” Rather, he uses the natural or concrete images of ναὸς and σῶμα to illustrate God’s good creation.

Verse 20, then, stresses the necessity of holiness of bodily integrity. This verb ἠγοράσθητε is used throughout the New Testament (mostly in the Synoptic Gospels), but finds its use in three instances in Paul. The first is obvious here in 6:20. However, there is a curious use in 7:23 and also in 7:30. In 1 Cor. 7:23, Paul uses an imperative middle verb (γίνεσθε) to argue against slaves to no longer return to slavery and are likely to told to take freedom in 7:21). They were bought with the same τιμῆς or price or cost; “therefore do not become slaves of people!” The human person, in all of her physical totality, is not worthy of slavery, especially in God's eyes.

"argue against slaves to no longer return" and "likely to told to take freedom")

The use of ἀγοράζοντες in 7:30 refers to not “buying” possessions because of Paul’s view of the immanent return of Christ (that is a dissertation or ten right there).  

Thus, the human person has been purchased at a great price (likely, the resurrection of Christ that liberates us from bondage), and as a result, we glorify God with our bodies. Of course, we cannot glorify God in a spiritual manner (to utilize that adjective seems almost disconcerting in light of the economic language here), but we can worship and sing and offer thanksgiving.

We have been purchased from the slavery of Death; therefore, we participate in God’s new economy of glorifying him with all that we truly are: now and forever.