Mark Nanos has added yet another essay to his website, called “The Polytheist Identity of the ‘Weak,’ And Paul’s Strategy to ‘Gain’ Them: A New Reading of I Corinthians 8:1-11:1”. I’ll be reviewing it in full sometime next week, but would urge in the meantime that everyone read it. I think it’s easily Mark’s best essay, and his strongest piece of writing since The Mystery of Romans.
In The Mystery of Romans, Mark showed that the “weak in faith” of Rom 14-15 were non-Christian Judeans rather than Christian Judeans. Now he shows that the “weak” in I Cor 8 were non-Christian idolaters rather than Christian idolaters. It makes perfect sense, and I see I Cor 8-11 as somewhat parallel to Rom 14-15. In Romans Paul is concerned about the fate of non-believing Israel (Rom 11), and Rom 14-15 is the practical application of this. A similar thing seems to be going on in I Corinthians. Paul wants to get pagan outsiders converted, and the behavior of his converts must aid in this cause. In both cases, Christians must forsake their freedoms according to the outside company they keep. In the case of Romans, forsaking that freedom means accomodating Judean sensibilities in hopes that unbelievers would see Christianity compatible with their Israelite heritage after all. In the case of I Corinthians, forsaking the freedom means acting so that pagans wouldn’t misunderstand Christianity as a syncrestic religion (or perceive its followers as hypocrites) and compromise monotheism.