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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 51, 2003

B. W. Winter, After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001). Pp xx+344. $US 28.00.

This book is an attempt to answer the question, “Why had Paul not dealt with some, if not all, of the problems he addressed in 1 Corinthians while he was in Corinth?” (p. 1). Winter’s thesis is that Paul did not deal with many of the problems reflected in 1 Corinthians because they had not arisen during his time in Corinth or, at least, had not arisen in their later form (p. 4). When these problems did arise, the Corinthians reacted to them, largely, in ways that were shaped by the learnt conventions and cultural mores of Corinthian Romanitas (p. 27). In support of this thesis, Winter emphasises, in a section on “The Cultural and Social Background of Corinth”, that “Corinth was not a Greek city with a Roman façade. It was conceived of, and deliberately laid out, as a thoroughly Roman colony” (p. 11). At the same time, he concedes that only some Corinthians will have spoken Latin, and that Greek was clearly the common language of the congregation (pp. 24f). In passing, he dismisses as inadequate the view of many scholars that the root of the problems in Corinth was adoption by the bulk of the Corinthian Christians of an over-realised eschatology (pp. 25f).

The main part of the book consists of detailed discussions of the various issues that Paul raises in 1 Corinthians in the light of the extensive, and constantly growing, literature on the contemporary Graeco-Roman world. Winter’s knowledge of this literature is impressive — there are 390 items in the bibliography!

In some cases, Winter throws light on the Corinthian situation without proposing a radically new way of reading the evidence. In his discussion of chapters 1–4, for instance, he draws on ancient authors like Dio Chrysostom to give an illuminating account of the honoured place given to sophists in Corinth, their professional competitiveness and the way in which their pupils were encouraged to demonstrate loyalty to them. Thus, Winter suggests that in 1 Corinthians 1–4 the Corinthians responded to Paul and others in the way that secular disciples did to their teachers (pp. 31–43).

Something I found particularly illuminating was Winter’s analysis of the way in which Platonism had been modified by many of the educated elite, such as Philo. According to this modified Platonism, while the body is the house of the immortal soul, it is not to be despised but cared for. The senses were thought to be out allies and friends, and were given for pleasure in this life. Thus, people are fully justified in engaging in a hedonistic lifestyle. Such a mindset provided the milieu in which maxims like, “All things are lawful for me” (1 Cor 6:12), as well as the attitudes reflected in 10:23 and 15:29–34, could flourish (pp. 77–109).

In the background of 1 Cor 11:2–16, Winter detects a twofold problem. On the one hand, some men were covering their heads while praying or prophesying, and thereby drawing attention to their social status. Many statues exist that show elite Roman men praying or offering up a libation to a god with their togas drawn over their heads. In the case of a woman, on the other hand, a veil was a social indicator of her married status. The absence of a veil, therefore, would be seen as a signal that these wives were aligning themselves with the “new” Roman women who claimed for themselves the sexual freedom enjoyed by men (pp. 121–41).

Other passages from 1 Corinthians on which Winter throws light are: 5:1–13; 6:1–8; 7:1–5, 25–38; 8:1–10:21; 10:25–28; 11:17–34; 12:1–3 and 16:15–16. The book affords a striking demonstration of how much is to be gained by New Testament scholars through cooperation with scholars in related disciplines.

Review by
Rev Prof Nigel M. Watson (Emeritus)
Flemington, Victoria