As I noted in my last post about this series, “socio-rhetorical criticism integrates the ways people use language with the ways they live in the world” (Vernon K. Robbins). As someone who has spent a lot of time in the text of 1 Corinthians I can say with all sincerity that many modern readers that I’ve come across in church settings don’t care much for how Paul or the Corinthians “lived in the world.” What I mean is that I’ve observed an interpretation of what Paul says as a call for introspection. Believers are supposed to examine themselves and repent of any sin before receiving communion because to receive communion with unconfessed sin is to partake unworthily.
This is wrong, but perhaps no obviously so, although I’d argue that the text itself, apart from much background study does not lend much support to this interpretation. But this is precisely where a commentary like Ben Witherington III’s Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians comes in. It helps us to see that there’s stuff going on in the background of the text that the author and audience take for granted. For example, BW3 helpfully tells us that:
Probably some people saw Christian gatherings as meetings of some sort of association or collegium, especially in view of the fact that early Christianity had no temples, no priests, and no sacrifices. Furthermore, just like a Christian meeting, an association meeting could involve a variety of people from up and down the social strata. It could involve a wealthy patron, male or female, a group of artisans both freeborn and freed, and even some slaves, who perhaps had taken up a trade or started a business using their peculium, money of their own. […] One of the main functions of these associations was to provide for those who were not among the very wealthy or the aristocrats but who had social aspirations a venue in which they could feel appreciated and gain honor and acclaim from their peers.
Even without further detail, notice how this opens up the text for us. Christians gatherings could involve a “variety of people from up and down the social strata.” Paul talks about those who “go hungry” and “have nothing” among those who do. If one of the points of such meetings is for those who lack to feel appreciated and gain honor then we can see why Paul’s rebuke of the “haves” is so sharp. They certainly aren’t making the “have nots” feel appreciated or honored.
But this isn’t just about BW3’s take on the situation in Corinth. It’s about how Logos helps students make use of BW3’s insights. In studying this particular passage I have a Greek NT (NA27) and an English translation (NIV) open alongside BW3’s commentary. But I also have the Highlighting Tool opened so that I can mark the text up. So, for example, I’ve highlighted the material I quoted above along with a relevant portion from the passage in Scripture.
Another great feature of Logos is the automatic syncing across devices. As soon as I highlighted the text on my computer it was highlighted on my iPad and iPhone and every other electronic device I have Logos installed on.
A helpful feature that aids in the use of commentaries, but is certainly not limited to it, is the way that selecting a portion of the biblical text will select the same portion in every version of the Bible that is opened. For example, I’ve selected vs. 20 in the ESV and you can see that the same text in the NA27 above and the NIV below has also been selected. While it may not seem like a big deal, it’s little features like this that really aid in the task of comparison, which becomes important when you’re doing translation work and want to see how others have rendered a passage, or if you’re doing exegesis and want to see how other interpreters have understood the various nuances of a text.
But back to BW3’s interpretation of the text. He helpfully highlights that there are two major groups in play here: the weak/poor and the strong/rich. The latter group is the one likely hosting the meals and as such “would be responsible for the protocol followed at the meals.” Paul rebukes them and says that when they gather it is not the Lord’s Supper that they eat on the basis of their exclusion of the weak/poor. Toward the end of his argument Paul says that the Corinthians should “ἀλλήλους ἐκδέχεσθε,” which can mean either “wait for one another” (ESV) or “all eat together.” BW3 says:
It may be that the wealthy are going on ahead with the meal without the poor, who arrive late after work and therefore go without. This understanding depends on a translation of ekdechesthe in v. 33 as “wait for,” which is perfectly possible. But more likely is the suggestion that the wealthy are eating in the klinē (dining room) while the poor are eating in the atrium and that two sorts of food are being served, as was customary at ancient pagan banquets. Ekdechomai often has the sense of “welcome” or “entertain” when it is used in the context of an act of hospitality (cf. 3 Macc. 5:26; Josephus Ant. 7.351). At any rate, whether the problem is timing or location, the result is a split in the congregation between haves and have-nots.
Again, this is information gleaned from the study of the ways that ancient people lived in the world and how they used language that might not be readily apparent to a modern reader coming to the text with little to no knowledge of the ancient world. I’d also note at this point that the references to 3 Maccabees and Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews are hyperlinked in Logos and appear by simply hovering the cursor over the reference. They can be viewed in context with the simple click of a button.
BW3’s closing remarks on this section are spot on when he says that “all should partake together, with no distinction in rank or food” and that the Lord’s Supper isn’t simply about satisfying hunger. He’s also correct to note that “Verse 34b lets us know that Paul had more to say on these matters, and demonstrates the very occasional or ad hoc character of his letters: They are not preconceived divine treatises, but occasional rhetorical arguments given in the heat of battle.” Again, this is something that comes from studying Paul’s rhetoric rather than treating his letters as a list of mantras or aphorisms as so many modern readers do.
Suffice it to say that BW3’s insights into the text of 1 Corinthians are at times quite helpful. I think his reading of the situation concerning the Lord’s Supper is spot on. Logos makes accessing BW3’s work and utilizing it in study, sermon prep, writing, or whatever, a breeze. I can certainly recommend these resources on this platform with full confidence that interested students will benefit greatly from their use.