Paul was the main founder of the church of Corinth. This fact gave him authority over the congregation there (see 1 Cor 4:15-16 and 2 Cor 10:8,15). We should therefore expect that those who had helped Paul establish a church would also derive authority commensurate with the role that they had played in the formation of the church. I shall first argue that Paul's selection of co-senders shows that the churches did indeed owe respect to those who had helped Paul to found them.
It was rare in the ancient world for the author to include co-senders. Karen Fulton is doing a PhD on co-senders and finds only about 80 such cases. It is significant, therefore that Paul includes named co-senders: Timothy and Silvanus in 1 Thess; Timothy in 2 Cor, Phil, and Phlm; and Sosthenes in 1 Cor. What all these people have in common is that they all participated in the founding of the church in question (see 2 Cor 1:19 and Acts). Rom and Gal have no named co-senders and this is explicable because no-one who was with Paul at the time or writing had helped to found those churches. The role of Sosthenes in the establishment of church of Corinth is clear from Acts 18:8 and from the meaning of his name, if we accept that Sosthenes was Crispus renamed. So, Paul includes co-founders as co-senders. This suggests that the co-founders had authority in the churches that they helped to establish. Paul adds their authority to his own by including their names as co-senders.
This helps us to understand Paul's rhetoric in 1 Cor 16:15-16. Here Paul is urging the Corinthians to be submissive to the household of Stephanas. We also read that the household of Stephanas had been the "firstfruits (ἀπαρχὴ) of Achaia". It is widely agreed that the term "firstfruits" has the sense of "the first with the prospect of more to follow". Paul is not saying that Stephanas was merely the first convert of Achaia, because that would not have really helped him to convince the Corinthians to be submissive to this household, and because Athenians were actually the first converts (Acts 1:34). No, that Paul goes to the trouble of mentioning it at all suggests that the role of "firstfruits" was a more substantial role that commanded respect. It seems, then, that Stephanas had put his house and household at Paul's service and that this had allowed the formation of the church of Corinth.
Now, I have argued here and here that Stephanas was Gaius Titius Justus renamed. However, Doug Chaplain objects:
"Richard Fellows suggests with many that in the Corinthian Church Gaius and Titius Justus are to be identified as the same person. He goes a step further and suggests the man with this good proud Roman name is also to be known by a Greek nickname and identified with Stephanas. ....
I would say that 1 Corinthians 1:14-16 makes that inherently unlikely.
It seems to me that by far the most natural reading is to see Gaius and Stephanas as different people. It would be odd, I think, for Paul to use (what is a conjectural) praenomen for him as an individual and a nickname for him as the paterfamilias of a household."
I am grateful to Doug for the feedback and for getting me to think about this issue again. He is right that "Stephanas" cannot have been a "nickname" in the modern sense of the word, but that is not what is being proposed. Nicknames in modern times are usually informal names that are often humorous, but religious bi-names in the ancient world were very different. I am proposing that Paul gave Gaius Titius Justus the name/epithet "Stephanas" to honor him for making his house available for Paul to use for preaching.
Dale Allison believes that ancient authors could refer to someone by one name and then switch to another name for no apparent reason. However, I have not found this to be the case very often. I think it is valid to ask why the same person would be called "Gaius" in 1 Cor 1:14 and Rom 16:23, "Stephanas" in 1 Cor 1:16 and 1 Cor 16:15-18, and "Titius Justus" in Acts 18:7. In 1 Corinthians Paul is trying to unite the church under Stephanas's roof. To do this he bolsters the authority of Stephanas by reminding the Corinthians that Stephanas's household was the "firstfruits". It therefore makes perfect sense that Paul should call him "Stephanas" in 1 Corinthians, since this name/epithet honors him for his benefaction of providing a house. The Corinthians will have known the significance of the name and why it was given and Paul's use of it here is in keeping with his desire to remind the Corinthians that the household of Stephanas was the firstfruits and worthy of respect. It is true that in 1 Cor 1:14 Paul calls him "Gaius", but this refers to a time before he had earned the name "Stephanas". It is not surprising that Paul should call him "Gaius" in Rom 16:23. Someone's original name did not usually fall from use after they received a religious bi-name. Thus Peter continued to be known as "Simon/Simeon" (e.g. Acts 15:14). Similarly, Bar Kokhba continued to sign his letters "Bar Kosiba". Unlike the Corinthians, the church of Rome would probably not have known the significance of Gaius's bi-name, and Paul had no reason to use it. It is also not surprising that Acts should call him "Titius Justus" (Acts 18:7). By using his nomen and cognomen here Luke may be deliberately revealing that he was a Roman citizen. In any case, this verse refers to a time before Titius Justus would have received his bi-name.
So, there is nothing odd about the way that Paul sometimes calls him "Gaius" and sometimes "Stephanas". On the contrary, Paul's name selections seem to fit the contexts. I am therefore not convinced by Doug's objections to the hypothesis that Gaius was Stephanas. However, I find his comments on Stephanas here very insightful.
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