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The Supposed Election of Officers in 1 Cor 11.19: A Response to Richard Last

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 June 2014

Timothy A. Brookins*
Department of Classics and Biblical Languages, Houston Baptist University, 7502 Fondren Road, Houston, TX 77074, USA. email:


This article responds to a recent proposal by Richard Last that 1 Cor 11.19 speaks of the necessity of holding regular ‘elections’ (αἱρέσεις) for the appointment of church officers who would assist in the administration of the Lord's Supper (11.17–34). In addition to exaggerating difficulties inherent in traditional explanations, Last's proposal introduces a number of insurmountable discourse problems, rendering his interpretation more problematic than those he intends to replace. A traditional reading should be retained, in support of which further arguments are here added.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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1 Last, R., ‘The Election of Officers in the Corinthian Christ-Group’, NTS 59 (2013) 365–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar; citation at 368.

2 Last, ‘The Election of Officers’, 379 (emphasis added).

3 Last, ‘The Election of Officers’, 374.

4 In passing, let it be said that I do not see why the holding of ‘elections’ (granting αἱρέσεις) to resolve problems of church disorder must indicate regular terms of office, still less a ‘flat’ system precluding the concentration of power into the hands of the social ‘elite’. Could 11.19 not be read, with even greater warrant, as suggesting that elections were ‘necessary’ only in times of greater disorder? And what then would prevent that the next official ‘selected’ would be the next ‘elite’ in the pecking order? These questions, however, I pass over to address the more pressing concerns treated below.

5 Justin cites with this logion Matt 7.15; Matt 24.5 // Mark 13.6 // Luke 21.8; Matt 24.11.

6 Last, ‘The Election of Officers’, 370.

7 That the oral tradition continued into the second century is widely accepted among biblical scholars. Note, for example, that the saying recorded in Acts 20.35 is not otherwise attested in the New Testament.

8 Last, ‘The Election of Officers’, 374. On the problem of factions in the letter, he cites 1 Cor 1.11; 3.3; 4.19; 5.6; 6.1; and 14.33 (pp. 370–1).

9 A number of scholars understand Paul's words in terms of eschatological resignation: e.g. Moffatt, J., The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1938) 159Google Scholar; Barrett, C. K., A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1971) 262Google Scholar; Fee, G., 1 Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) 538Google Scholar; Collins, R., 1 Corinthians (SP; Collegeville: Liturgical, 1999) 422Google Scholar, among others.

10 A point widely recognised in the commentaries. With 1.12/3.22–23, compare SVF 3.590; with 6.12a/10.23a (Diogenes Laertius 7.125; Dio, Or.14.18) and 6.13a (Posidonius, fr. 184/Seneca, Ep. 92.10), compare 6.12b/10.23b, 13b (SVF 2.86; 3.86; 3.208; Epictetus, Diatr. 1.22.1; 1.28.5; 4.7.9; Cicero, Fin. 3.14); with 6.18b (SVF 3.501; 3.500; Epictetus, Diatr. 2.24.20), compare 6.18c (SVF 3.289) and 6.19c (Epictetus, Diatr. 3.20.1; 3.22.21, 34, 40–4; 4.1.66, 78, 87, 104, 158; 4.7.17, 31–2; Ench. 1.1; Seneca, Ep. 120.18–19). Compare also 6.7 with Musonius Rufus, Diatr. 3; compare 7.4 with Stobaeus, Anth. 4.67.24; Musonius Rufus, Diatr. 13a; Diogenes Laertius 7.87; compare 7.19 with Diogenes Laertius 10.124–5; Epictetus, Diatr. 1.4.27; 1.9.13; 3.8.2; 3.16.15; Ench. 1.5; 32.2; compare 12.12–30 with Hierocles/Stobaeus, Anth. 4.84.20; and 15.28 with SVF 2.596–632; Seneca, Ep. 9.16.

11 I reference language that is widely held among interpreters to be Corinthian in origin.

12 See σοφός in 1.19, 20, 25, 26, 27; 3.10; 3.18 (2x), 19, 20; and σοφία in 1.17, 20, 21; 2.1; and especially 3.19 (‘wisdom of this world’) and 2.5 (‘wisdom of men’).

13 For rhetorical questions introduced by οὐκ, see BDF, §427.2.

14 To cite only a few examples from the last one hundred years of scholarship: e.g. Robertson, A. T. and Plummer, A., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1914) 15Google Scholar; Grosheide, F., Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954) 42Google Scholar; Hurd, J. C., The Origin of 1 Corinthians (New York: Seabury, 1965) 76Google Scholar, 77; Funk, R., ‘Word and Word in 1 Cor 2:6–16’, Language, Hermeneutic, and Word of God (New York: Harper & Row, 1966) 277Google Scholar; Barrett, C. K., A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1971) 275–6Google Scholar; Fee, G., 1 Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) 64Google Scholar; Pogoloff, S. M., Logos and Sophia: The Rhetorical Situation of 1 Corinthians (SBLDS 134; Atlanta: Scholars, 1992) 105Google Scholar; Ciampa, R. E. and Rosner, B. S., The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010) 120Google Scholar, cf. 20–1; Finney, M. T., Honour and Conflict in the Ancient World (LNTS 460; London: T&T Clark, 2011) 80Google Scholar.

15 So also Horsley, R. A., 1 Corinthians (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998) 159Google Scholar.

16 Last, ‘The Election of Officers’, 377.

17 Last, ‘The Election of Officers’, 377.

18 Last, ‘The Election of Officers’, 379. The extra-biblical references brought in at this point are said to show that the holding of a private office was a ‘prestige symbol’ and could ‘provide social enhancement’, which, I mention as an aside, seems in itself to run against the grain of Paul's message (e.g. 1.26).

19 For an application of the linguistic theory to biblical Greek, see Runge, S. E., Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010) 185–95Google Scholar.

20 Certainly this is what Last intends, for he says, ‘the notion that approved Corinthians would become “persons of distinction” after being elected matches ancient behavior suggestive that holding a private office could provide social enhancement if performed honorably’ (‘The Election of Officers’, 379). In other words, unless I am mistaken, elections should take place for the purpose that these people might become persons of distinction.

21 That is, I do not see how Last's translation of φανεροί, if we keep the element of ‘focus’ in view, can be accommodated at all. Even if we were to shift the focus from φανεροί, where Last has it, to οἱ δόκιμοι (‘in order that those who are approved [i.e. rather than certain other people] might become the persons of distinction in your community/your members of distinction’), conceptually, φάνεροι would then be given a level of definiteness that would seem to require the article, which we are obviously lacking here.

22 Last, ‘The Election of Officers’, 373.

23 Last, ‘The Election of Officers’, 373 n. 27. On my reading, the γάρ does in fact ground μέρος τι πιστεύω in v. 18: ‘this is easy to believe, for it is necessary that this would happen’; but this is not what Last has going on.

24 It should be added here that, if Paul does provide a quotation in 11.19a, the lack of a citation formula is not unusual. Formulae are lacking also in 2.16; 10.26; 15.27, 32; and in three of four instances, the quotation is introduced, as here, by γάρ.

25 On the circumstantial νῦν (‘as it is’), see LSJ s.v. i.a.4; cf. BDAG, 681.2.a.