I Corinthians and 1 Clement are epistles addressed to a church at Corinth. 1 Corinthians is ascribed to Paul and 1 Clement is ascribed to the leader of the Roman congregation. Both letters concern factions within a congregation (1 Cor 1.10-11 and 1 Clem 1.1).
It is odd that both Paul of Asia Minor, and the Roman congregation, claim pastoral authority over a church in Corinth. One would expect that a church in Corinth had one founder and one affiliation. And Corinth was sufficiently distant from both Ephesus and Rome that (if it existed) it had been essentially independent since its founding.
I propose instead that there was no orthodox congregation at Corinth. I suggest that the term “Corinth” was used as a metaphor for “mixtures”–in this case, mixtures of beliefs, or factions. The term “Corinth” or “Corinthian” indicated to the listener that the subject matter involved mixtures, or factionalism. A modern parallel would be a “Letter to the Marathoners” (Marathon, Greece), which an outsider would naturally suspect, from the title alone, counselled patience and endurance.
Corinthian bronze, a mixture
The term “Corinthian” could not help but remind the listener of the famous and precious Corinthian bronze, which was an alloy. Here’s Satyricon, Chapter 50:
[Trimalchio’s dinner party. The cook has just theatrically gutted a stuffed hog.] The whole household burst into unanimous applause at this; “Hurrah for Gaius,” they shouted. As for the cook, he was given a drink and a silver crown and a cup on a salver of Corinthian bronze.
Seeing that Agamemnon was eyeing the platter closely, Trimalchio remarked, “I’m the only one that can show the real Corinthian!” I thought that, in his usual purse-proud manner, he was going to boast that his bronzes were all imported from Corinth, but he did even better by saying, “Wouldn’t you like to know how it is that I’m the only one that can show the real Corinthian? Well, it’s because the bronze worker I patronize is named Corinthus, and what’s Corinthian unless it’s what a Corinthus makes?
And, so you won’t think I’m a blockhead, I’m going to show you that I’m well acquainted with how Corinthian first came into the world. When Troy was taken, Hannibal, who was a very foxy fellow and a great rascal into the bargain, piled all the gold and silver and bronze statues in one pile and set ’em afire, melting these different metals into one: then the metal workers took their pick and made bowls and dessert dishes and statuettes as well. That’s how Corinthian was born; neither one nor the other, but an amalgam of all.” (emphasis added)*
*Note: Given his track record as a blowhard, Trimalchio is undoubtedly wrong about the origin history of Corinthian bronze, but he is right that it is an alloy.
In the first sentence of 1 Clement the author draws attention to the name of the addressee! 1 Clement 1: “… we feel that we have been somewhat tardy in turning our attention to the points respecting which you consulted us; and especially to that shameful and detestable sedition…that your venerable and illustrious name… has suffered grievous injury.” (emphasis added) This phrase, at the very beginning of the letter, is, I think, a hint to the reader to “pay attention to the name of the congregation.”
The metaphor of a stable mixture appears in 1 Clement 2 “Every kind of faction and schism was abominable in your sight.” The metaphor appears again in 1 Clement 37: “There is a kind of mixture in all things, and thence arises mutual advantage.”
I don’t know if the prologue to 1 Clement, which contains one of the two appearances of the word “Corinth,” is original. It doesn’t matter. At some point the word “Corinth” was included in the letter–I suggest, to spell out a meaning that was originally only implied.
In 1 Corinthians, the only mention of “Corinth” is in the introduction, in 1.1.2, a location highly susceptible to editorial “clarification.” Following the extended salutation, at 1:10 the subject of the letter is stated, “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you but that you be knit together in the same mind and the same purpose.” (NRSV). The subject, as in 1 Clement, is factionalism, i.e., incompatible mixtures.
Can we really believe that both the Roman church and an Asian cleric are writing to the same congregation, claiming authority to advise them? That is just not possible. These two strands of Christianity have different origins.
What then is the origin of 1 Corinthians? “Paul” wrote it to a congregation he pastored. Someone saved it and used it (Marcion?). At some point, before the canonization of the letter by the orthodox, the concept of “Corinthian” was spelled out literally by locating the recipients in Corinth. That’s all I can say.
1 Clement and 1 Corinthians are not historical evidence for an orthodox church in Corinth. There is no evidence that indicates its existence. Personally, I think that the text of 1 Clement is early, i.e., prior to the Jewish War. And it was written in Rome, to which the early church ascribed it. But I suspect it was written to a satellite congregation in the orbit of the Roman church, nearby, perhaps Ostia or the Naples area. It was known as the Corinthian letter, i.e., on the subject of mixtures. Only later was a physical location in Corinth, and an implicit date added to it (the name “Clement), a date associated with the glory days of Flavian patronage (by Clemens/Flavia Domitilla).
expanded May 10, 2021, December 11, 2021, December 21, 2022