Judgment and Community Conflict: Paul's Use of Apocalyptic Judgment Language in 1 Corinthians 3: 5-4: 5.
The writer's assumptions are clearly influenced by the discipline of sociology and by the work of Drs Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann and, in particular, of his supervisor, Dr Wayne Meeks. It is assumed that apocalyptic symbols do function in the Corinthian community in a way that affects the behaviour of individuals and the social patterns of the community (p. 36). Therefore, a rhetorical analysis of the text of I Corinthians will help identify an |interaction between the symbolic language of the text and the thought and behavior of individuals within the social structure' (p. 37).
A comparison of the function of this apocalyptic language in I Corinthians and that found, for example, in Jewish and Greek literature is expected to provide keys to understanding both Paul's thought and that of the Corinthians. This should enable a reconstruction of the Corinthian position. One of the most original chapters in the book looks at the subject of |Postmortem Judgment' (sic) in Graeco-Roman traditions. Kuck's various conclusions show that there was a considerable difference between the rather rare use of judgement as a theme in philosophical circles (other than the Platonic school) and the vitality of such beliefs at the popular and religious levels of society. Here judgement language was largely focused on the individual. It was never centred upon an apocalyptic concept of a final act of God but rather upon the end of the individual at death.
Kuck's concern in his writing is to describe clearly the function of the judgement motif in Paul's discussions with the Corinthians. He does this and demonstrates how flexible and unsystematic he believes Paul is in his teaching on judgement. He suggests that Paul uses judgement in two ways. First, the primary teaching |is that God will judge all Christians to be righteous and grant them salvation, in contrast to the unbelieving world'. This helps contribute to building the corporate identity of God's people. However, Paul also uses judgement in a |more individual and relative' manner. Kuck suggests that Paul is not thereby talking about two judgements, as some have supposed, but adapting the one judgement in application to a live and relevant issue in the community.
It is in this latter way that Paul uses the idea of judgement in the passage being examined. For Kuck eschatology is not the underlying problem for the Corinthians. That, he says, is to be found |in their over-zealous striving for the attainment of wisdom and the status that goes with it' (p. 234). Thus, Paul uses eschatology not to show the Corinthians they are wrong in their beliefs but to show that their emphasis on status, the gifts of the Spirit and wisdom is threatening the unity of the body of Christ. Paul's use of apocalyptic judgement is practical and applied. A right view of this judgement will help them see that it is in the future that their desire for status and fulfilment will be achieved. If individual Christians are content to wait for their reward then the divisive pressures within the community will be reduced.
Kuck's goal is |to shed light on the disputed question of the nature of the problems in the Corinthian congregation and on Paul's response to the situation' (p. xii). But herein there lies a certain tension in the work which is not entirely happily resolved. The title of the work accurately describes the content, but it is not clear how the |goal' is allowed to affect the textual exegesis and the interpretation of the background material. It is good to see how, once again, careful exegesis has called into question the commonplace belief that eschatology is the underlying problem with the Corinthians. In this negative sense some light is shed on the |disputed question'. Kuck has well argued his case for the function of eschatology in this particular text. But it is doubtful whether we are any closer to understanding why the particular problems the Corinthians faced had all occurred so quickly after the apostle's work among them. Although it is indeed likely that wisdom, the gifts of the Spirit and status give rise to the problems Paul had with the Corinthians, the case for this is assumed rather than defended in this dissertation.
The work as a whole provides very valuable material for anyone looking at I Corinthians, but also for all who are more generally interested in Paul's eschatology.
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|Publication:||The Journal of Theological Studies|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Apr 1, 1993|
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