This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Osiek and the identity of Stephanas

Carolyn Osiek's paper, Diakonos and prostatis: Women’s patronage in Early Christianity is well written and informative. I want to highlight one thing that she writes:

Stephanas particularly can be singled out for his social prominence, for he hosts Paul and the whole church, the members of which are expected, as good clients, to be submissive to him (1 Cor 16:15-16). ... At a later time, Gaius hosts the whole Corinthian church (Rm 16:23).

Osiek infers that Stephanas "hosts Paul and the whole church" and Rom 16:23 says exactly the same thing about Gaius. Acts 18:7, on the other hand, gives this role to Titius Justus. 1 Cor 16:15 describes Stephanas's household as the 'firstfruits of Achaia', meaning that Stephanas's conversion was Paul's first breakthrough in Corinth, and again Acts gives this honor to Titius Justus.

We seem to have three socially prominent people who fulfilled the same role in the Corinthian church, and this is all the more surprising when we remember that not many in the Corinthian church were socially prominent (1 Cor 1:26). What is going on? It is often pointed out the "Gaius" could have been the praenomen of Titius Justus, but what about "Stephanas"?

The name "Stephanas" means "crowned" or such like, and it was common for those who funded synagogue buildings to be crowned (metaphorically or physically). It is therefore very likely that "Stephanas" was a conversion name/agnomen that Paul gave to Gaius Titius Justus, who had made his house available for Paul to use as a (rival) synagogue.


  1. How much later is Rom 16:23 than 1 Cor 16:15-16? Weren't these letters written within a year of each other?

  2. Hi Stephen. Yes, I consider Romans to have been written one year after 1 Corinthians. Many place two years between these letters to fit in all the intermediate events that they require to have occurred between 1 Cor and 2 Cor. With the Titus-Timothy hypothesis we have no such intermediate events so we have no need to hypothesize a year's delay.

    I'm not sure what bearing this interval has on the Gaius-Stephanas hypothesis, except that a shorter interval makes it all the more surprising that Gaius in Rom 16 takes the role of Stephanas in 1 Cor. Also the absence of "Stephanas" from the list of greeters in Rom 16 requires explanation, as does the absence of Sosthenes.

  3. Of course. I shouldn't be posting so late. It temporarily slipped my mind that there are some scholars who do pack a lot intermediate events between 1 and 2 Cor. They haven't yet had the benefit of my paper on 2 Cor 2:1. ;-)

    Yes, a shorter interval makes the link Gaius = Stephanas (apart from any assistance from Acts) more probable.

  4. A paper on 2 Cor 2:1? Is there another Carlson masterpiece on the way? Do tell. Is killer Carlson going to kill the intermediate visit? You would be doing a great service.

  5. OK, I've had a look at the paper. It is still pretty rough. The arguments are mostly there, but additional research is needed.