Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

I Write These Things Not to Shame You

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

I Write These Things Not to Shame You

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

Paul's rhetoric of shame in 1 Corinthians is puzzling. In 4:14, Paul claims that he is not writing to shame the Corinthians ( ... ). Yet, in two other places (6:5 and 15:34), Paul explicitly states that he intends to shame them ( ... ). One can explain the differences by various complex partition theories.1 If we accept 1 Corinthians as a unified letter, we might explain the tension by arguing that Paul composed the letter in stages as he reacted to reports about the Corinthian community,2 or that the different subject matter in these verses required different measures of response. All these solutions affirm a marked contrast between the rhetoric of 4:14 vis-à-vis 6:5 and 15:34. Against these readings, I argue that Paul does intend to shame his readers in 4:14 despite his apparent denial to the contrary. Moreover, I affirm that 4:14 is the paradigmatic lens with which to understand Paul's rhetoric of shame such as that found in 6:5 and 15:34. My thesis is that Paul uses shame as a pedagogical tool to transform the mind of his readers into the mind of Christ. I defend my thesis in two steps. First, I exegete 4:14 within the larger context of 1 Corinthians 1-4, showing this verse to be paradigmatic for understanding Paul's rhetoric of shame. Second, I provide a sketch of Paul's rhetoric of shame and sharpen this portrayal with a brief comparison to other Greco-Roman moralists.

I. EXEGESIS OF 1 CORINTHIANS 4:14

Paul in 4:14 states, "I write these things not with the intent to shame you" (oùx svrpsrcwv ugaç ypáw ravra). "These things" (ravra) refer primarily to the immediately preceding verses (4:6-13), but secondarily to Paul's entire rebuttal of the Corinthians' infighting beginning from 1:10.3 There are two main reasons for this. First, since 4:14-21 concludes 1 Corinthians 1-4,4 ravra probably also refers to arguments made in these chapters. Second, although shaming language is strongest in 4:8-13, it is also present in the earlier chapters. In 1:13-14, Paul rebukes their factionalism; in 3:1-4, he questions their status as "spiritual people" and considers them "infants in Christ" who can only feed on milk; and in 3:18, he warns them not to deceive themselves but to become "fools." The èvrpénuv participle ("to shame") in 4:14 is therefore relevant not only for 4:6-13 but for his entire rebuke in 1 Corinthians 1-4.

At first blush, Paul's demurral is surprising since the catalog of afflictions in 4:8-13, with its dripping irony and sarcasm,5 appears designed to shame his readers. Moreover, the very fact that Paul needs to make an explicit denial is evidence that he believes his response would shame them. The argument that Paul's denial indicates his reluctance to "demolish their self-respect" or "crush them with selfrecrimination" is not fully satisfactory by itself.6 After all, Paul is clearly not shy to shame them. In 6:5 and 15:34, he explicitly shames them using the nominal form (svrporc^) of the same verb in 4:14 (svrpsrcw). In other passages, he implicitly shames them (5:2; 11:17, 22). If Paul is not afraid to shame his readers in subsequent chapters, why is he reluctant to do so in 4:14? Commentators typically explain Paul's reluctance on the grounds that the matter at hand limits his ability or does not justify the use of harsh rhetoric. Thus, C. K. Barrett writes that Paul can speak more freely in 6:5 "because he is not personally involved (as an injured and neglected apostle)."7 Joseph Fitzmyer notes that against the conciliatory tone of 4:14, Paul uses a harsher rhetoric in 15:34 because the issues there relate to "a fundamental knowledge of God and his power."8 In other words, Paul is unwilling to shame his readers in 4:14 because he does not want to alienate them as he defends his apostolicity (so Barrett) or because the issue is not as theologically critical as in 1 Corinthians 15 (so Fitzmyer). But if ravra in 4:14 refers to Paul's broader argument in 1 Corinthians 1-4, with its passionate defense of the central theme of the entire letter-the significance of the cross-then Barrett's and Fitzmyer's explanations are less convincing, necessitating another look at 4:14. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.