“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.


All that Glitters: A Brief Reflection on Wealth in 1 Tim. 6:17

Τοῖς πλουσίοις ἐν τῷ νῦν αἰῶνι παράγγελλε μὴ ὑψηλοφρονεῖν μηδὲ ἠλπικέναι ἐπὶ πλούτου ἀδηλότητι, ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ θεῷ τῷ παρέχοντι ἡμῖν πάντα πλουσίως εἰς ἀπόλαυσιν

“To the rich ones in the present age, command them to not be prideful nor to hope upon the uncertainty of riches, but upon God who is presenting to us all things richly for enjoyment.” 1 Tim. 6:17.

I’ve been attempting to write a future Ph.D dissertation proposal, and came across this text in 1 Timothy and it stuck with me. My wife and I are having some financial turbulence and living paycheck to paycheck is always a rough ride. However, in thinking about this text within the pericope in chapter 6, it seems that a disparity between rich and poor is percolating behind the scenes.

See for example:

·      (V.9) “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”

·      (V.10) “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

Paul’s concern for the poor has been well documented, especially in recent works by David Downs and Bruce Longenecker. As the articular dative adjective πλουσίοις suggests, the author is directly addressing members of the congregation, this being the wealthy ones. While the poor could indeed own slaves, the context seems to suggest that these rich ones are slave owners (c.f. 6:1-2). Leaving aside the thorny issue of slavery in Paul, the direct address, followed by the imperative παράγγελλε, suggests a possible counter to the brief commentary on slaves in vv.1-2.

The interplay between the adjective and the nouns for “riches” is curious, as the materiality of wealthy is devalued by the author—serving as a “temporal” reality (ἀδηλότητι). Material possession, it is suggested, is limited to this world.

For those of us in turbulent times (as I suspect most of us are), this text bothers me. Not in a negative way per se, but it got under my skin pretty good. What about those who do not have wealth or sustainment?

Well, the answer seemingly lies in v.18, where the rich are enjoined to be “generous” (εὐμεταδότους) with the poor. The futurism mentality of the author shines through here, as this is a rhetorical maneuver to make it ‘appropriate’ for the wealthy to be generous. They give now, so that their futures are bound to eternal life. The poor are thus dependent upon the mandated generosity of the wealthy, which may have interesting implications. Something to chew on, perhaps.

The church, early on, was marked by generosity and the sharing of possessions; here, it seems, it took a little longer for them to get the hang of it. This brings me great comfort that many women and men in the early church were not unlike many of us today (just read the news, hint hint). The statement "into ruin and destruction" (v.9) is surprising. The use of εἰς ὄλεθρον καὶ ἀπώλειαν suggests both a present actuality (poverty resulting in material destruction and even death) and also perhaps eschatological destruction (due to disregard of the body or exploitation therein). In the times I've wondered what it would be like to be rich and have millions of dollars, this text now makes me reconsider those fantasies.

Plus my chances of winning the lotto are like 1 in 2,048,086,421 or something.

While that may not put a comma in my bank account, it does remind me that the poor will always be among us, and that even in our current state, generosity is the name of the game.

There is much more that could be said, but I will leave it there. Just some brief thoughts, nothing more.