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Paul as Master Builder Construction Terms in First Corinthians*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2009


For some time the present writer has been impressed by certain verbal and phraseological correspondences between a number of ancient inscriptions, relating to temple building and public works, and a rather extensive metaphor in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. This paper will address some parallel features of form and content shared by a particular inscription of the 4th century B.C. from Arcadian Tegea and the Pauline metaphor (1 Cor 3. 9b–17), features which offer tangible assistance in the interpretation of the latter.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1988

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page 461 note 1 Whether one should regard this passage (from 1 Cor 3. 9b), or a portion of it, as a simile or as a metaphor depends upon the interpretation of ώς in the phrase ώς σοφòς άρχıτέκτων; Paul prepares the reader for metaphor in vs. 9 with θεο γάρ έσμεν συνεργοί, θεο γεώργıον, θεο οίκοδομή έστε. The early date of the Arcadian inscription does not per se vitiate the argument for comparison with Paul's later metaphor. The vocabulary of the building inscriptions is both standardized and conservative.

page 461 note 2 Buck, C. D., Greek Dialects (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955) 201–3.Google Scholar From Tegea in Arcadia; Temple of Athena Alea. Orthographic and morphological peculiarities in the terms cited are explainable in terms of the Arcadian dialect in which the inscription was written.

page 462 note 1 The precise meaning of άγκαρυσ[σόν]των ίν έπίκρıσıν is unclear. The unprefixed form appears rather frequently in the contracts with the sense of auctioning or letting out a contract for public bid. The prefixed form seems to mean reauction or relet, implying a contract recalled from the contractor who was subjected to the fine mentioned in this clause. See Burford, Alison, The Greek Temple Builders at Epidauros (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969) 159.Google Scholar

page 463 note 1 See the work of Burford. Also Tomlinson, R. A., Epidauros (Austen: University of Texas Press, 1983).Google ScholarPleket, H. W., Epigraphica, Vol. I, Texts on the Economic History of the Greek World (Leiden, Brill, 1964), Nos. 20, 28;Google ScholarMarcus Tod, A Selection of Greek Historical Inscriptions, Vol. II, 403–323 B.C. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1948).Google Scholar Many additional inscriptions and papyri deal directly or indirectly with the subject of temple construction and public works in antiquity.

page 463 note 2 Burford, Builders, 85, 157.Google Scholar I question ‘random selection’ of some records to be inscribed in stone, and the suggestion that others were temporarily posted on wooden boards. It is clear, however, that no complete set of contracts has been preserved.

page 463 note 3 Burford, Builders, 55, 192.Google Scholar

page 464 note 1 In keeping with early usage and the testimony of the ancients, Greek σοφός is better translated here in its earliest sense, skilled. Cf. Aristotle, , Nich. Eth. vi, vii, 1.Google Scholar See also the comments of Meyer, H. A. W., Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Corinthians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1877) 88–9.Google ScholarGaebelein, F. E., ed., The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan), 208 notes.Google ScholarRobertson, Archibald, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2nd ed., 1914), ad loc.Google Scholar Robertson refers (n. to his discussion of vs. 11) to Wood, St Paul, the Master-Builder. I have been unable to locate a copy of this.

page 464 note 2 See Hodge, Charles, An Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, repr., 1974) 54–6.Google ScholarJamieson, Robert et al. , A Commentary, Critical, Experimental and Practical on the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1948), Vol. 6, p. 291, notes.Google Scholar

page 464 note 3 Greek μıσθóς is variously translated in the English versions and commentaries: ‘payment, wage’ by Barrett, C. K., A Commentary on The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New York and Evanston: Harper and Row, 1968) 8891Google Scholar (for a discussion of the entire subject of reward and loss relative to this passage); ‘wages’ by Lenski, R. C. H., The Interpretation of St. Paul's First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House) 143.Google Scholar (Though in general Lenski presents a view of this passage which differs considerably from that presented here, he does settle upon the meaning ‘wages’ for μıσθóς.) Just preceding this immediate metaphor, in vs. 8, Paul has clearly used μıσθóς in the sense of wages.

page 464 note 4 Greek φθείρεıν appears in the translations and commentaries as ‘destroy’, e.g. Laubach, F. C., The Inspired Letters in Clearest English (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1956) 48;Google ScholarBarrett, , Corinthians, 90;Google ScholarHodge, , Exposition, 23;Google Scholar as ‘defile’ by Barlee, E., A Free and Explanatory Version of the Epistles (London: William Pickering, 1837) 64;Google Scholar ‘ruin’ by Hayman, H., The Epistles of the New Testament (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1900) 95;Google Scholar by ‘damage’ in the notes (though not in the text) of Gaebelein, Expositor's, 208.Google Scholar The rather free and unwarranted rendering, ‘punish with everlasting destruction’, of J. Guyse seems to be recalling, inappropriately, the expressionλεθρον αίώνıον of 1 Thess 1. 9. See Guyse, John, A Practical Exposition of The Acts of the Apostles, the Epistle to the Romans, and the First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians in the Form of a Paraphrase with Occasional Notes… (London: Edward Dilly, 1761) 561.Google Scholar I list these few examples to illustrate the diversity of opinion evoked by this verb among past translators and commentators.

page 465 note 1 Lenski departs from this traditional approach, of course, when he speaks of ‘each man's structure’, Corinthians, 138.Google Scholar In this same sense see also Maclaren, Alexander, Exposition of the Holy Scriptures: Corinthians (New York: Hodder and Stoughton) 41.Google Scholar

page 465 note 2 For the role of άρχıτέκτων, see Burford, , Builders, 53 (incl. note), 106, 127–138–9, 144.Google Scholar Also Rostovtzeff, M., The Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World, 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941) 1234–6.Google Scholar

page 466 note 1 ‘There was no other distinction, technically speaking, between the architect and the craftsmen who worked with him on the temple than that the architect was more skilled and thus was competent to command them.’ Burford, , Builders, 139.Google Scholar

page 466 note 2 Col 3. 12–17.

page 466 note 3 Eph 4. 11–16.

page 466 note 4 Note especially 1 Cor 3. 1–8, 12. 27–31.

page 466 note 5 ‘Both Theodotos and his assistant Astias are likely to have received their training at Corinth; this had been the chief building centre in the Peloponnese since the seventh century … The Epidaurian accounts show Corinthians among the chief contractors for the supply and working of stone for the temple, and very probably most of the stone came from the Corinthian quarries.’ Burford, , Builders, 142–3.Google Scholar

page 466 note 6 Note 3, page 463 above. About 200 men participated in the temple construction at Epidauros.

page 466 note 7 Paul allows for only one Christ (2 Cor 11. 4–6) and one approved Gospel (Gal 1. 8–9). The Foundation which he has laid at Corinth is, he claims, true to both. Hodge, Exposition, 55Google Scholar, argues for one or the other, either Christ or the doctrine. The two are hardly distinguishable.

page 467 note 1 1 Cor 3. εἴ τıνος τò ἔργον κατακαήσεταı, ζημıωθήσεταı, αύτòς δσωθσεταı, οὕτως δέ ώς δıά πυρός.

page 467 note 2 Hodge, Exposition, 56.Google Scholar

page 467 note 3 Gaertringen, F. Hiller Von, Inscriptiones Graecae: Inscriptiones Epidauri, 4 2 102.A.3–5.Google Scholar

page 467 note 4 It is clear that the basis for receiving one's due wages or for being fined (see below) ultimately rests upon the builder's choice of materials and the manner (πς v. 10) in which he utilizes them.

page 468 note 1 Burford, , Builders, 98.Google Scholar ‘The contractor shall be given the remainder of his payment when he has shown the architect and the contracting agents that the whole job has been done according to the contract.’ Cf. Tod, Selection, 203.Google Scholar ‘The έπıδέκατον is the tenth of the contract-price, retained by the ναοποıοί until the whole work was certified by the architect to have been satisfactorily completed.’ Tod refers here to the accounts of the ναοποıοί at Delphi, 346–4 B.C.

page 468 note 2 Lenski, , Corinthians, 138;Google ScholarBurford, , Builders, 73–5, 151–4;Google ScholarTomlinson, , Epidauros, 38, 9.Google Scholar

page 468 note 3 Cf. Tomlinson, , Epidauros, 36Google Scholar, ‘Timber, of course, is another essential material, for roof beams and doors, which inevitably has perished totally … wood might have been used instead of stone columns for the vertical supports in places where the stonework (stylobate) seems too narrow to have supported columns of normal dimensions …’. See Burford, , Builders, 177.Google Scholar

page 469 note 1 See μıσθώτης μıσθώματα, of the Athenian accounts, Burford, , Builders, 111, 142 n. 2.Google Scholar

page 469 note 2 Βραβεīον of Philippians 3. 14 is more appropriately rendered ‘reward/prize/award’ than is μıσθóς.

page 469 note 3 ζημıωθήσεταı of vs. 15. The Tegean inscription at lines 26, 29, 36, 44, 48, 51 has nominal and verbal forms of this same root.

page 469 note 4 Barrett, , Corinthians, 8991Google Scholar, translates, ‘…he will be mulcted of his pay’, an apt and unique rendering.

page 470 note 1 In light of the majority of the contracts, I cannot agree with Jamieson, et al. , Commentary, 292Google Scholar, in their assertion that ‘…the destroyers are distinct from the unwise builders’, and, ‘So any Christian who violates the spiritual temple shall perish eternally.’ This conclusion seems to press Greek φθείρεıν to an unwarranted extreme, and fails to take into account the fact that any worker, from whatever motivation, has the potential to damage the structure, and so to receive commensurate harm.