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

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Stephanas to oversee the Lord's supper

1 Cor 11:17-22 seems to have a chiastic structure:
A 17 Now in the following instructions I do not commend you
B because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse
C 18 For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it.
D 19 Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. δεῖ γὰρ καὶ αἱρέσεις ἐν ὑμῖν εἶναι, ἵνα [καὶ] οἱ δόκιμοι φανεροὶ γένωνται ἐν ὑμῖν. C 20 When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper. 21 For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. 22 What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in?
B Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?
A Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!
Whether this is a deliberately chiastic or not, it is clear that verse 19 must relate to the surrounding text. In a recent paper (1) Richard Last surveys the standard interpretations of this verse, and shows that they are inadequate. He then translates αἱρέσεις as "elections" instead of "factions", and he renders οἱ δόκιμοι as "approved ones", and φανεροὶ as "persons of distinction". Thus he offers the following translation for the verse:
19 "There need to be elections among you in order that the approved ones become persons of distinction"
He argues that Paul expected the Corinthians to elect leaders of distinction to solve the problems of division at the Lord's supper. This makes good sense to me: by appointing/electing leaders, the Corinthians will be able to prevent the chaos that characterized their meetings.

Now, Gaius and his household were the hosts of the meetings (Rom 16:23). Why had Gaius not enforced order in the meetings? Why had he not made the wealthy share their food? It is unlikely that Gaius was one of the greedy people, for two reasons:
1) Paul writes "Do you not have homes to eat and drink in?" and "34 If you are hungry, eat at home". If Gaius's household was setting a bad example, they would have replied "but we are at home!".
2) The host of the meetings had come to be known among the believers by his praenomen (Gaius). Praenomina were used among family and intimate friends, in contrast to cognomina and nomina, which asserted status. It would seem, therefore that Gaius, like Publius (Acts 28:7), was known by his praenomen because he was a gracious host who received his guests as if they were family.

It seems to me, therefore, that Gaius was not guilty of the greed displayed at the Lord's supper. It is more likely that Gaius and his household were unable to control the meetings. The believers were on first name terms with Gaius and perhaps they had become too familiar and were starting to take liberties with their host. They showed respect for those who put on airs (2 Cor 11:20), but not, it seems, for those like Paul and Gaius who treated them as brothers. The Corinthians gave their allegiance to those who lorded it over them, but not to Gaius, who did not even insist that they use his dignified names.

Now, in chapter 11 Paul does not urge the Corinthians to endorse the leadership of Gaius and his household. Nor does he recommend any criteria by which the Corinthians should choose their leaders. He does these things, I suggest, in 1 Cor 16:15-18:
15 Now, brothers and sisters, you know that members of the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints; 16 I urge you to put yourselves at the service of such people, and of everyone who works and toils with them. 17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence; 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. So give recognition to such persons.
It is very surprising that Paul should tell the Corinthians to defer to the household of Stephanas, rather than to the household of Gaius. As I've mentioned before, Welborn puts it well:
"Paul's demand that the Corinthians "submit" or "be subject" to Stephanas and his household is surprising, if not to say stunning, in context. Why should the other Corinthian Christians, and especially the leaders of other house-churches, men of substance such as Crispus and Gaius, subordinate themselves to Stephanas?"
All this shows that "Stephanas" was nothing more than an agnomen given to Gaius, as I have argued in more detail previously. 1 Cor 16:15-18 is just what we would expect Paul to write about the household of Gaius. The "service to the saints" is the  work of the household in hosting the church. Paul here attempts to bring order to the Corinthians' unruly meetings by urging them to defer to their hosts. Paul mentions the whole household because they, not just Stephanas, hosted the church. Richard Last has shown that in 1 Cor 11:19 Paul acknowledges that the Corinthians must appoint someone(s) to oversee the Lord's supper. In 1 Cor 16:15-18 Paul asks them to give that role to their hosts. Perhaps Stephanas et al visited Paul in Ephesus to get his endorsement.

Let me know what you think.

(1) "The Election of Officers in the Corinthian Christ-Group," New Testament Studies 59 (2013): 365-81.