Teacher of the Nations: Ancient Educational Traditions and Paul's Argument in 1 Corinthians 1-4 Open Access

White, Devin L. (2016)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/1v53jx64k?locale=en


This study suggests that ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish educational institutions provide insight into the nature of Paul's argument in 1 Cor 1-4. Previous scholarship has largely interpreted 1 Cor 1-4 either as Paul's apology for his apostolic ministry or as Paul's critique of the Corinthians' factionalism. This dissertation attempts to clarify Paul's line of reasoning by demonstrating that 1 Cor 1-4 adapts features of ancient educational discourse in order to portray the Corinthian community as a school. Ancient schools provide Paul with an established script of behavioral norms from which he draws in order both to defend himself against the Corinthians' criticisms (explaining that he has acted as a good teacher) and to rebuke the Corinthians for their poor behavior (depicting them as immature students).

Chapter 1 provides an introduction to the dissertation by demonstrating the frequency with which ancient readers of Paul's letters referred to him as a teacher, by introducing the argument of the dissertation, and by explaining the dissertation's exegetical and reception-historical methodology. Chapter 2 contains a survey of modern scholarship germane to the topics of Paul, the Corinthian community, and ancient educational traditions. Chapter 3 provides an introductory overview to the Greek, Roman, and Jewish educational institutions most relevant to the interpretation of 1 Corinthians, especially the preliminary levels of Greek and Roman education and the Jewish wisdom tradition. Subsequently, chapters 4 and 5 identify eighteen instances in 1 Cor 1-4 in which Paul employs common educational tropes. Chapter 6 provides a thorough rereading of 1 Cor 1-4 in its entirety, giving special attention to the ways that the educational tropes surveyed in chapters 4 and 5 inform our interpretation of the opening movement of 1 Corinthians. Finally, chapter 7 summarizes the dissertation's contributions and suggests avenues for further scholarly inquiry.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Early Christian Reception of Paul and the Interpretation of 1 Cor 1-4 1

I. Teacher of the Nations? 1

II. Argument 6

III. Methodology: Exegesis and Reception 7

IV. Chapter Summaries 10

2. Previous Scholarship on Paul, the Corinthians, and Ancient Education 14

I. The Contents of Paul's Teaching 15

A. C.H. Dodd and Benjamin Edsall 15

B. The Relevance of Preaching, Teaching and Instruction for 1 Cor 1-4 18

II. Paul and Greco-Roman Education 19

A. E.A Judge 19

B. Robert S. Dutch 24

C. Karl Olav Sandnes 28

D. Claire E. Smith 30

E. Abraham J. Malherbe 31

F. Clarence Glad 34

G. Thomas Schmeller 35

H. Johannes Munck and Bruce Winter 38

I. Timothy A. Brookins 39

J. Adam White 42

K. Conclusion: Greco-Roman Education and 1 Cor 1-4 46

III. Paul and Jewish Education 48

A. Hans Conzelmann 48

B. Kathy Ehrensperger 50

C. Conclusion: Jewish Education and 1 Cor 1-4 52

IV. Chapter Conclusion 52

3. Greek, Roman, and Jewish Educational Institutions: An Overview 54

I. Greco-Roman Education 54

A. Unity and Diversity in Greco-Roman Education 54

B. Progress in Greco-Roman Education 57

C. Ancient Literary Sources for Greco-Roman Education 60

II. Second-Temple Jewish Education 73

A. Interpreting the Evidence 73

B. Ancient Literary Sources for Second-Temple Jewish Education 77

III. Conclusion 94

4. Ancient Education in 1 Cor 3:1-4:21 95

I. The Evidence: Educational Language and Imagery 96

II. Educational Motifs in 1 Cor 3:1-4:21 99

A. Milk and Solid Food (3:1-4) 99

B. Sowers, Waterers, Fields, and Seed (3:5-9) 105

C. Building God's Temple (3:9b-17) 110

D. Stewards of God's Mysteries (4:1-2) 114

E. Not beyond what is Written (4:6) 125

F. Pedagogues (4:14-15) 131

G. Parent Teachers (4:14-15, cont'd) 134

H. Mimesis (4:16) 139

I. Teaching in All the Churches (4:17) 144

J. Memory (4:17, cont'd) 146

K. The Rod (4:21) 148

III. Conclusion: The Significance of the Educational Motifs 153

5. Ancient Education in 1 Cor 1:10-2:16 156

I. Educational Motifs in 1 Cor 1:10-2:16 156

A. Factions as Competing Schools (1:10-13) 156

B. The Cross and Wisdom as Elements of a Curriculum (1:18-25; 2:6-16) 162

C. Sage, Scribe, and Sophist (1:20) 166

D. The Nature of the Students: Wisdom for the Elect (1:26-31) 170

E. The Good Teacher Speaks Well (2:1-5) 175

F. The Teacher as Mediator of Revealed Wisdom (2:10b-13) 178

G. Adapting Instruction for the Student (2:13-16) 181

II. Conclusion: The Community as School in 1:18-2:16 186

6. Good Teachers, Bad Students, and the Argument of 1 Cor 1:10-4:21 188

I. Censure and Apology: The Argumentative Aims of 1 Cor 1-4 188

II. Exegesis of 1 Cor 1:10-4:21 190

A. The Community unlike the Schools (1:10-17) 190

B. The Precept of the Cross (1:18-25) 195

C. Called to Receive Wisdom (1:26-31) 203

D. A Style Suited to the Cross (2:1-5) 207

E. Higher Wisdom and its Pneumatic Teachers (2:6-16) 212

F. Teaching Recalcitrant Students (3:1-4) 232

G. The Teachers and their Client (3:5-9) 235

H. Evaluating the Hired Teachers (3:10-17) 239

I. All Things are Yours, and You are God's (3:18-23) 243

J. Judging the Stewards (4:1-5) 247

K. Imitate the Teachers who Embody their Teaching (4:6-13) 251

L. Imitate the Coming Teacher (4:14-21) 258

III. Conclusion 263

7. Conclusion: Contributions and Directions for Future Research 264


About this Dissertation

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
Subfield / Discipline
  • English
Research field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files