A Deficit of Eschatology in Corinth

Michael Bird asks, “Was the problem at Corinth an over-realized eschatology or not enough eschatology?”, noting that Thiselton argued the former, Hays the latter.

The answer depends on whether the Corinthians understood their status achieved at baptism more in terms of a present resurrection of the body or an immortality of the soul. I Cor 15 seems to point in the latter direction. Paul tells the Corinthians: “If Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” (I Cor 15:12) While the Corinthians pay lip service to Jesus’ resurrection, they shun the idea otherwise, believing their baptism to have given them something like immortality of the soul.

But that the Corinthians viewed their baptism in more Hellenized terms may be partly Paul’s doing. Rom 6 seems to be even more strongly concerned that the message of eschatology isn’t lost on the reader. Thomas Tobin, in fact, argues that Romans was crafted to counter misleading perceptions arising from Paul’s earlier teachings in Galatia and Corinth. “Baptism [in Rom 6] should not be understood as allowing for the kind of ethical confusion and disarray found in the Corinthian community.” (Paul’s Rhetoric in its Contexts, p 206). Paul’s earlier use of baptismal imagery, in which believers baptize into the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:13) and indeed “clothe themselves with Christ” (Gal 3:27) calls to mind Greco-Roman mystery initiations (thus Tobin, p 200). That’s why in Rom 6 he emphasizes baptizing into Christ’s “death” more than into his “body”.

By the time he wrote Romans, Paul had evidently acquired an unsavory reputation. People thought he was anti-Torah, anti-Israel, and even anti-eschatology/resurrection. He had to jump through theological hoops left and right to make sure he wasn’t misunderstood. So to answer Michael’s question, I think Hays has the right of it. The Corinthians, in Paul’s view, “didn’t have enough” eschatology. But that was partly Paul’s own fault.

2 thoughts on “A Deficit of Eschatology in Corinth

  1. How is it Paul’s fault? Is it b/c his baptismal theology (or the articulation thereof) is still developing and hence the Galatians and Corinthians knew it only in an inchoate fashion? Or is Paul’s view closer to the Corinthians earlier on and develops away from it?In 1 Cor, Paul is certainly focusing on an eschatological perspective and especially on the weakness/cross of Christ in contrast to the ontologically endowed, (gnosis-based) enlightened-hence-strong Corinthians.I think the Hays line is correct also. Your blog is enjoyable. Thanks.

  2. <>How is it Paul’s fault? Is it b/c his baptismal theology (or the articulation thereof) is still developing and hence the Galatians and Corinthians knew it only in an inchoate fashion? Or is Paul’s view closer to the Corinthians earlier on and develops away from it?<>More the former. From Galatians to Corinthians to Romans Paul becomes increasingly careful about what he means by baptizing into the body of Christ. He needs to spell things out more clearly, because his readers are getting bad ideas. This is essentially what Tobin argues in <>Paul’s Rhetoric in its Contexts<>, that by the time of Romans Paul had acquired a bad reputation because a lot of his rhetoric was being misunderstood.

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