Factions in the Corinthian Church — 1 Cor 1:11-12

The Temple of Apollo at Corinth

The temple of Apollo at Corinth, with the city

Yesterday my eye was drawn to something intriguing at the start of 1 Corinthians. This is a letter written by the apostle Paul to a church he founded in Corinth which has grown and matured to some extent, but is gripped with some serious infighting and factional disputes. Some scholars (I’m thinking particularly of Dale Martin’s excellent “The Corinthian Body”) posit that these disputes line up on class lines, making the division basically a class war. Paul’s message can then be seen as giving succor to the majority, lower class position the church.

But what interested me was the list of names, Paul writes:

My brothers, some of Chloe’s folks have told me that there are quarrels among you. In other words: one of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Peter”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
– 1 Cor 1:11-12 (trans, mine)

The first thing that is amusing is the little gossip you get – word of the infighting came to Paul from a spy in the camp: “Chloe’s people” (this could mean members of her household, or her friends, or the house church that met with her). Lots more could be said about Chloe, but she’s a sideshow for this post!

The thing I noticed here is the four names mentioned. I wonder if that suggests four, rather than two factions. We know, for example, that Peter and Paul were at odds (read Galatians 1 for Paul’s rather arrogant take on their disagreement, and Acts for the official version that tries to smooth over the cracks!). For some of 1 Corinthian’s debates, such as the eating of food sacrificed to idols, I can imagine Paul and Peter lining up on opposite sides. We know further that Apollos was a follower originally of John the Baptist, rather than Jesus, but was converted later (Acts 18), but we don’t know of any theological differences here. Tradition also has it, via Jerome, that Apollos was so discontent with the split at Corinth, that he left the city and retired to Crete.

But most tantalizing to me is the faction who traced their teaching direct to Christ, I wonder what they believed.

I also wonder if the various problems Paul addresses (sexual abstention, food sacrificed to idols, speaking in tongues, etc) were distributed among those other three factions. Is he taking on all comers here? Trying to assert his theological dominance as the head of the community. Or was it basically a two-sides dispute as Martin, convincingly, argues.

Certainly something must have worked, because in a later letter Paul seems to have fewer debates he wants to win. (I’m referring to the first part of 2 Cor – the second part of 2 Cor, chapters 10-13, is a separate letter, and may even be the “letter of tears” referred to in 2 Cor 2:4).

I’m going to need to read more about it, obviously. I’m particularly loose on the early church traditions around Apollos. Any particular book suggestions would be welcome.

One of the reasons I love studying just one compilation of texts in detail is that you notice and take off on these new flights from time to time. The text doesn’t change (much!) but there are always new questions to research, and new insights to be had.

I know Shakespeare scholars who feel the same way about their text. For various historical twists of fate, the New Testament is my personal playground.

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17 responses to “Factions in the Corinthian Church — 1 Cor 1:11-12

  1. Boz

    heh, you sound pretty excited!
    :)

  2. I know Shakespeare scholars who feel the same way about their text(Ian)

    Not surprising at all. You can see the same in all groups(even Atheists). As the saying goes, “Same shit, different stink”. ;)

  3. imarriedaxtian

    I have always wondered if this Apollos is another name for Apollonius of Tyana. Paul have shortened names before. He uses Silas/Silvanus. (Or so some of the bible commentators I read)

  4. Ian

    @imarriedaxtian Welcome, thanks for posting.

    Wow, that’s an angle I’ve never come across before. Interesting to speculate. And certainly the forms of names are quite fluid in the period.

    But I really can’t see it. I think Paul would have used different terms to describe something that sat so clearly out of his idea of Christianity. It seems pretty clear that Paul is talking about factions in the church, because he is gearing up to talking about unity. Since we have no evidence of a Pythagorean/Christian syncretism based on Apollonius, I think it stretches it. Particularly as Apollos is referred to elsewhere, it would be a huge shock to find he was Apollonius of Tyana!

    Though I think there are definitely interesting threads left to unpick over Pauls use of greek philosophy.

    My sense of Apollonius is that he is important in the Christian story sometime later as one of those characters that gets cited as being ‘just like Christ’, to emphasize that there was nothing intrinsically special about Jesus. In the same way Horus, Mithras, and various other figures are often used.

    But, having said all that from a historical perspective, your thesis is just plain fun. Probably couldn’t be verified if it were true (given the texts we have), but its going to be fun imagining the alternative universe where a faction of Christians trace their doctrinal basis to Apollonius – cool beans :)

    [edit: I originally wrote Plato, and Platonic. I’d misremembered Apolloius as a Platonist, he was a Pythagorean – sorry – not that that changes anything of substance, I don’t think.]

  5. imarriedaxtian

    Ian, thanks for the welcome.

    The issue is one of dating. It is only in Matt and Luke that scholars were able to adduce the dates of Jesus birth. But our first gospeller Mark was not interested in the Nativity stories. In his gospel, Jesus first appeared as an adult. In Mark’s gospel, even His mother and family did not understand Him! (See for eg Mark 3.21). A bit of a stretch if your own mum was informed earlier of your divine birth as per Matt and Luke !

    So we need to see if we can discount Matt and Luke’s dating of Jesus birth! My own take is probably yes. First there is the problem of the different genealogies of Matt and Luke. Then there is the problem of Matthew’s story of Herod’s slaughter of the toddlers which is not historically attested anywhere. Luke’s Augustinian census also not attested elsewhere. Their different journeys subsequent to the birth does not compute. So yes, maybe we should not try too hard to pin the dates of JC’s birth on these two gospels. So what if JC was born later? That could argue for why we have no extant mss of the texts from the first century CE. I could go on speculating all day! This would put us closer to period when Apollonius of Tyana operate.

    As for your comment that Apollonius is “just like Christ”, isnt that what happen to Paul and Peter in Acts?

    But we are going off the topic of your post. I will have some comments on Dale Martin’s class war thesis later.

  6. Ian

    Yes, the birth narratives are later apologetics. I can count on one hand the scholars who think that there is any content in them (other than the fact that Jesus was born :).

    But the dating they provide is only one of the reasons we date Jesus to the start of the first century (and the reasoning even there is somewhat more subtle than you seem to assume). The chronology through Paul (see particularly his timescale in Galatians), Mark, and then to the later NT manuscripts and then into the church fathers, particularly Ignatius, simply don’t make sense if you push Jesus forwards more than a few years. The typical mythicist angle is actually to push him back into the first century BCE, to postulate a mythological tradition possibly even a hundred years before that. But placing Jesus later? A generation later? Around or after the fall of Jerusalem? Hmm… You’ve got your work cut out to support that thesis.

    But the identity of Apollos didn’t even occur to me to be a question of dating: it certainly wasn’t the dating that would suggest to me that Apollonius isn’t being referred to in 1 Cor. The theologies and biographies don’t make sense. It seems to me to be overwhelmingly likely that Paul is talking about Apollos the Egyptian Jew here. Someone who figures several times in the NT and has a subsequent tradition in other (albeit significantly antedating) ancient texts. Other than a slightly similar name, I can’t see any reason at all why we should suspect we have a different Apollos here, much less that we should suspect this one happens to be a Cappadocian Gentile who happens to have been an apostolic leader of the early Christian church while leaving behind a legacy of being a Pythagorean philosopher. Like I said, its a fun thought, but I really can’t take it at all seriously as a historical thesis.

    I’m looking forward to your take on the class war in the Corinthian church though.

  7. imarriedaxtian

    First let me say that I have not read Dale Martin’s book. My only info would be your summation that he (Dale’s) posit a dispute along class line.

    It just so happen quite coincidentally I am currently reading a book by Robert Price “Deconstructing Jesus” and he made a remarkable observation on 1 Cor 1.12 in his chapter 2 on the various Jesus movements. He was writing on the apocryphal books that never made it into the canon. He wrote :

    “In the Acts of Paul, of John, and of Thomas, the Apostles are practically Christs in their own right, with their own miracles, their own martyrdoms, and even their own resurrections and empty tombs! And think of 1 Cor. 1:12, where Cephas, Paul, and Apollos are esteemed by some as full rivals to Christ himself!”

    That is certainly food for thought! I am more comfortable with the idea of early xtian movements with competing/conflicting theologies than i am of a class conflict :-)

    In your response to me you say that the dating of JC’s birth to the start of the 1st Century CE is more subtle than my simple reasoning. I would really appreciate it if you could guide me by providing references so that I can progress my knowledge. You mention the timescale in Galatians. Can you elaborate? I am not trained formally in any biblical colleges, so please dont read too deeply into anything i write. Anything I have to say is a result of my own self study and that may be misguided :-(

    The idea that got my synapses firing was Price observation that the Apocryphal Acts show the various Apostles in a Christlike manner. But Apollonius of Tyana was also depicted like so in Philostratus. So my thinking is to push Paul’s life into a later period so that he can coexist at around the same time as Apollonius around 98 CE .

  8. Ian

    Hmmm… Okay, well Price is an interesting character, but publishes a lot of polemic away from scholarly criticism. You have to be very careful with him. His scholarly work tends to be very much more limited and doesn’t support these conclusions very strongly.

    There is *no* sense in 1 Cor 12 that Paul, Peter and Apollos are ‘full rivals to Christ’. That just doesn’t make sense with Paul’s theology or the language of the passage. 1 Cor is a treaty about various issues related to practice in the worship of Christ, and Paul is encouraging unity in the church around his understanding of Christ Jesus, definitely not Christ Paul!

    Having said that, there is certainly real competition and conflict in the theological outlook of early christian groups. The NT alone is full of examples, before you even hit the non-canonical material. John the Elder calls one group of people who left his church “antichrists” (1 John), for example. Galatians 1 describes Paul publicly tearing a strip off Peter in front of the church. The battle for orthodoxy was long and intriguing. I don’t think you have to imagine those splits. Volumes 3 (episodes 1-16) of the “Religions of the Ancient Mediterranian” podcast provides an excellent undergraduate level tour of these issues.

    My comment about the birth narratives and dating runs is worth a separate post.

    I’m not sure I’d agree that the non-canonical acts and hagiographies of the apostles claim they are Christ-like in anything but a very trivial way (i.e. they do the same things Jesus did and commanded them to). I think that is Price overblowing the texts to a disingenuous amount and putting a dubious theological spin on it, if he claims that. I assume he doesn’t quote any mainstream early church text that makes that claim, but relies on phenomenology (i.e. Paul did X, Jesus did X, therefore Paul is like Jesus), which isn’t a good approach. If he does, let me know. I’ve done a search of the early church writings here, and none claim Paul or Peter are Christs. They do, however, show the early church, particularly the apostles, having authority and magical powers that Jesus had (and John the evangelist has Jesus saying that the apostles will do so in John 14:12), raising the dead, healing the sick, miraculous escapes, etc. But there is never any sense, that I’m aware of, that this is done in anything other than a subservient status to Christ Jesus.

    I think there’s a real danger in the work of some atheist scholars such as Price. By trying to put forward a polemic, they find themselves doing really terrible scholarship. A large number (a majority) of biblical scholars I know are functionally atheist – any religious association they have is based on community, not theology. As an atheist it is quite heartening to know that real, good quality, biblical scholarship tends to make our case about Jesus and the early Church quite well. In that sense poor-scholarship by an affirmative atheist is counter-productive. Folks like Price need to stop writing over the top books for the atheistic choir and start putting some of these more outlandish theories into a context of peer-review. The fact that he avoids that should tell you something.

    Of course you could conclude, as some do, that there is a ‘conspiracy’ among the academy, that these ideas wouldn’t get fair hearing, that they are discriminated against for their heretical implications and so on. Unfortunately it isn’t true. I’d advise watching “Expelled” for source material for that kind of conspiracy theory.

  9. imarriedaxtian

    I’ve done a search of the early church writings here, and none claim Paul or Peter are Christs.

    The problem is these writings are the works of what Bart Ehrman (Intro NT 4ed) call proto-orthodox. In other words they already have JC in their sights in all their writings. But supposing we do not have the prism of the 4 canonical gospels to read through Paul’s works, what do we have? JC was first “humanised” in Mark/Matt/Luke and then latterly “deified” in John (This is is a vast oversimplification of course but I am hoping you get my gist). Without these later works, we would not have any idea of a historical JC. And how much later is later? As early as 50 CE to 90 CE for the completion of these works as some Evangel theologians would have it? Or as late as 150 CE to 180 CE for John as some critics would have it? What do you think this would imply?

    Price is an interesting character, but publishes a lot of polemic away from scholarly criticism. …I think there’s a real danger in the work of some atheist scholars such as Price. By trying to put forward a polemic, they find themselves doing really terrible scholarship.

    Unfortunately its the works of polemicists like Robert Green Ingersoll, Tom Paine, Baron d’Holbach et al that got me sidetracked from my (self) biblical studies. My house is littered with works from Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell and dvds from various xtian ministries (belonging to my wife when she became born again about 10 or 12 years ago). I started out reading the bible with these guides. Over the years I discovered the flaws in some of their arguments and move on to books published by established academicians (like B Ehrman , a historical-critical scholar). I am now re-reading the bible guided by Raymond Brown’s Intro.(A roman catholic scholar)

    Of course you could conclude, as some do, that there is a ‘conspiracy’ among the academy, that these ideas wouldn’t get fair hearing,…

    I am not a conspiracist. I dont have enough evidence that JFK was assassinated by the Mob/CIA/or aliens from outerspace. That Roosevelt let Pearl Harbour happen to drag the US into WW II. That Roswell was a coverup. etc :-)

    A large number (a majority) of biblical scholars I know are functionally atheist – any religious association they have is based on community, not theology. As an atheist it is quite heartening to know that real, good quality, biblical scholarship tends to make our case about Jesus and the early Church quite well.

    Functionally Atheist Biblical Scholars. Is this admission a good career move? :-)

    I hope you can guide me to some of their works in your future blogs. Its books and blogs for me unfortunately. I dont have access to technical articles published in academic journals nor do I have the necessary academic apparatus to understand them.

    BTW I almost did not click on your link because of your blog name. :-)

  10. imarriedaxtian

    PS Thanks for the heads up on the podcasts on the “Religions of the Ancient Mediterranian”. I googled and found Prof Philip Harland wonderful resource website. :-)

    http://www.philipharland.com/Blog/category/podcasts/

  11. Ian

    [Short answers, in a hurry…]

    proto-orthodox

    This is anachronistic for the period we’re talking about. Orthodoxy isn’t a sensible concept for quite a long time later. Ehrman is trying to get at this by using ‘proto-‘, but it isn’t helpful, imho.

    But supposing we do not have the prism of the 4 canonical gospels to read through Paul’s works, what do we have?

    I agree. If we discount or ignore four of the five most important sources on first century Christianity on ideological grounds, we end up with a very different picture of the movement.

    My house is littered with works from Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell and dvds from various xtian ministries

    I pity you. Ideologically motivated brain-mush is equally reprehensible, regardless of the ideology. But given my own religious affiliation, I hold a special contempt for this kind of apologetics.

    Functionally Atheist Biblical Scholars. Is this admission a good career move?

    It isn’t a bad one. In my experience biblical scholars are *far* more natural bed-fellows for atheists than you may assume.

  12. imarriedaxtian

    Paul: He preached The Christ Crucified

    Peter: He preached The Christ Judaized

    Apollos: He preached The Christ Pythagorized
    :-)

  13. Ian

    @imarriedaxtian

    Excellent! Love it.

  14. imarriedaxtian

    But most tantalizing to me is the faction who traced their teaching direct to Christ, I wonder what they believed.

    I have been cracking my head these last two days on how to conclude my ditty above. The best I could come up with is:

    Christ: He preached Love De-Tribalized
    :-)

  15. Ian

    You think? I always get the sense that Jesus was very much a preacher for and to the Jews. We really only have a couple of incidents about non-Jews, and even then only the woman in Samaria does Jesus appear to instigate ministry to a non-Jew.

    Jesus: He preached The Kingdom Come

    Would be my stab (though inevitably I’d want to drape it with too many caveats!). What the Corinthian church thought following ‘Christ’ meant, I’ve no idea.

  16. imarriedaxtian

    Ah yes, Jesus the apocalypticist. That is also my mental working model for JC. But he also preached love. If my children are going to be indoctrinated into the cult, i want this to be the central message that they take home with them.

    Let me quickly rebut myself by quoting you:

    You Think?
    :-)

  17. Ian

    Love: yes, no argument from me there!

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