After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change

Bruce Winter, Eerdmans, 2001, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Corinthian Christians did not automatically abandon the culturally accepted ways of doing things in Corinth. Paul was in Corinth for about eighteen months; why didn’t he respond to many initial issues only after they were raised by letter or verbally, from Corinth?  He had shared instructions (‘traditions’, 11:23, 15:1-4, and commended the Corinthians for following them (11:2).  Yet the Corinthians found it necessary to write Paul about six matters on which they lacked clarity (7:1,25; 8:1; 14:1; 16:1,12).

        These are basic issues readily faced after conversion to Christianity. Winter’s book reflects his convictions that Paul did not deal with many of the issues reflected in 1 Corinthians because they had not risen during his time there, or they had done so in a way different from that in which they were now encountering them.

        As a Roman colony, Corinth was highly susceptible to changes or trends in Rome itself.  Three major changes took place in the CE 50’s that had consequences for the social life after Paul left Corinth:  the creation of a federal imperial cult, the Isthmian Games (with the temptation to join in the eating festivities in pagan settings), severe grain shortages.  These changes occurred after Paul left Corinth.

        Of major import was that relating to eating meat. When Paul was present in Corinth, the Jewish community had special market privileges of buying kosher meat, meat which was then accepted by the Christian community because it had not originated from pagan settings. There is some evidence that this privilege was cancelled by Roman diktat and that the Christian community now had to buy its food supplies from sources that might have originated in pagan temples. Paul, having left Corinth, needed to give an urgent apostolic ruling.

        Winter’s book encourages us to see how our present day perspectives impact on the Christian community.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.