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Who is ‘of Christ’? A Grammatical and Theological Reconsideration of 1 Cor 1.12

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 March 2014

James B. Prothro*
36 Selwyn Gardens, Cambridge CB3 9BA, United Kingdom. email:


In 1 Cor 1.12 Paul summarises a report he has received about divisions in the Corinthian congregation and attributes four so-called slogans to the Corinthians: ‘I am of Paul; I am of Apollos; I am of Cephas; I am of Christ’. Exegetes have puzzled especially over the final slogan, ‘I am of Christ’. This paper argues that this phrase was written as Paul's own claim against the divided Corinthians and belongs to no sectarian ‘Christ-group’. I attempt to demonstrate that this reading is grammatically possible, contextually consistent and therefore exegetically preferable.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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1 Thiselton, A. C., The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000)Google Scholar 122. Cf. BDAG s.v. ἐξαπατάω.

2 Senft, C., La Première Épitre de Saint Paul aux Corinthiens (CNT 7; Geneva: Labor et Fides, rev. edn 1990)Google Scholar 34.

3 Rom 3.8; 16.17–18; Gal 1.6–9; 2.11; 5.10–12; 6.12–14; 2 Cor 11.4, 13–15; Phil 3.2. See Garland, D. E., 1 Corinthians (BECNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003)Google Scholar 50.

4 Pace Ker, D. P., ‘Paul and Apollos—Colleagues or Rivals?’, JSNT 77 (2000): 7597Google Scholar; Sellin, G., ‘Das “Geheimnis” der Weisheit und das Rätsel der “Christuspartei” (zu 1 Kor 1–4)’, ZNW 73 (1982) 6996CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Neither Paul's dismissal of ‘eloquent wisdom’ nor his subordination of all to Christ and God is directed against Apollos, as will be made clear below.

5 Cf. Pogoloff, S. M., Logos and Sophia: The Rhetorical Situation of 1 Corinthians (SBLDS 134; Atlanta: Scholars, 1992) 99104.Google Scholar

6 See Martin, D. B., Slavery as Salvation: The Metaphor of Slavery in Pauline Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990) 3042CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Meeks, W. A., The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983) 20–3Google Scholar, 29–32; Wolf, E. R., ‘Kinship, Friendship, and Patron–Client Relations’, The Social Anthropology of Complex Societies (ed. Banton, M.; New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1966) 122Google Scholar, at 16–17; Stewart, E. C., ‘Social Stratification and Patronage in Ancient Mediterranean Societies’, Understanding the Social World of the New Testament (ed. Neufeld, D. and Demaris, R. E.; New York: Routledge, 2010) 156–66.Google Scholar

7 See Winter, B. W., After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001) 3140Google Scholar, 190–2. To seek a precise classification of the groups as either academic, political or ritual unnecessarily burdens interpretation. Competitions over political, religious and scholastic leaders, as well as social benefactors, all operated within the patron–client framework. See Clarke, A. D., Secular and Christian Leadership in Corinth: A Socio-Historical and Exegetical Study of 1 Corinthians 1–6 (AGJU 18; Leiden: Brill, 1993) 94–5Google Scholar; Stewart, ‘Patronage’, 158–60.

8 See esp. Clarke, Secular and Christian Leadership, 89–107; Zeller, D., Der erste Brief an die Korinther (KEK 5; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010)Google Scholar 91 n. 36. Cf. Theissen, G., The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity (ed. Schütz, J. H.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1982) 5467Google Scholar; Welborn, L. L., Politics and Rhetoric in the Corinthian Epistles (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1997) 142Google Scholar. Due to a lack of political parallels found in the first person singular, M. M. Mitchell has suggested that the form ‘I am of X’ does not reflect direct speech from Corinthians but rather Paul's own caricature (Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation: An Exegetical Investigation of the Language and Composition of 1 Corinthians (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1991) 83–6Google Scholar; for other views, see Zeller, Der erste Brief, 91 n. 35). The abruptness of the formula's introduction in 1.12, the somber tone of 3.4, and its rhetorical reversal in 3.21–3, suggest that, at least, Paul expected the Corinthians to recognise their own behaviour in his use of the phrase immediately, no matter whether the ‘slogans’ were partial or full reproductions of first-person partisan claims in Corinth.

9 Contra Fee, G. D., The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987) 47–8.Google Scholar

10 For a plausible discussion of how these may have originated, see Ciampa, R. E. and Rosner, B. S., The First Letter to the Corinthians (PNTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010) 77–8Google Scholar. For a discussion and defence of a Cephas-group, see Barrett, C. K., Essays on Paul (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1982) 28–9.Google Scholar

11 Thiselton, First Epistle, 129–33, lists six in the history of interpretation, to which many nuances have been added: (1) Jewish or Judaising Christians, perhaps extremists in Torah observance; (2) spiritual enthusiasts, claiming allegiance to no apostle but to Christ alone; (3) the phrase is a misreading for ΕΓΩ ΔΕ ΚΡΙΣΠΟϒ, preserved in no textual exemplar; (4) the phrase is a marginal insertion by a scribe or even Paul's amanuensis, copied into the only manuscript eventually preserved; (5) it is a declaration of Paul himself; (6) the phrase was conjured by Paul and put into the mouth of a fictitious fourth group to reduce the other claims ad absurdum.

12 Fee, First Epistle, 58; cf. the similar list in Kammler, H.-C., Kreuz und Weisheit: Eine exegetische Untersuchung zu 1 Kor 1,10–3,4 (WUNT 159; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003) 1114Google Scholar. For the sake of clarity, I have altered Fee's sequence slightly.

13 Cf. Thiselton, First Epistle, 122; Lake, K., The Earlier Epistles of St Paul: Their Motive and Origin (London: Rivingtons, 1911)Google Scholar 127.

14 Thus Theissen, Social Setting, 66 n. 58; Meeks, First Urban Christians, 117; Barrett, Essays on Paul, 29; Thiselton, First Epistle, 125–6; Senft, Première Épitre, 33; H. Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969) 33 n. 23. Tertullian also sees the relationship between divisions and baptism as causal (propter quod, CSEL 20.213.19).

15 See Dunn, J. D. G., The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998) 406–7Google Scholar for a discussion. On 2 Cor 10.7, see below.

16 Branick, V. P., ‘Source and Redaction Analysis of 1 Cor 1–3’, JBL 101/2 (1982) 251–69, at 260Google Scholar. In light of this, Branick agrees that the final slogan is Paul's own sarcastic retort. However, his argument that this indicates the existence of a pre-existent homily on divine wisdom is unnecessary.

17 Fee, First Epistle, 58.

18 This difficulty has not dissuaded four-group theorists from positing a rationale for this, however: e.g. Robertson, A. and Plummer, A., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, (ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1914 2) 1213Google Scholar; Meyer, W., Der erste Brief an die Korinther (2 vols.; Zürich: Zwingli, 1947)Google Scholari.31–2.

19 See Clarke, Secular and Christian Leadership, 95–9. Cf. also Carter, T. L., ‘“Big Men” in Corinth’, JSNT 66 (1997) 4571.Google Scholar

20 Thus Schrage, W., Der erste Brief an die Korinther (EKKNT vii/1–4; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1991–2001)Google Scholar1.147 n. 289; cf. Fee, First Epistle, 59 n. 55.

21 Cf. Thrall, M. E., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (2 vols.; ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994)Google Scholarii.620–1; Kammler, Kreuz und Weisheit, 13–14.

22 Cf. BDAG, s.v. πρόσκλισις. This need not indicate that Clement's text of 1 Corinthians omitted the final slogan (contra Barrett, C. K., The First Epistle to the Corinthians (HNTC; New York: Harper and Row, 1968) 44).Google Scholar

23 Hurd, J. C. Jr., The Origin of 1 Corinthians (New York: Seabury Press, 1965) 104–6Google Scholar; Kammler wittily agrees: ‘Der Satz wäre Wasser auf ihre Mühlen gewesen’ (Kreuz und Weisheit, 12).

24 Ambrosiaster, accordingly, interprets the Christ-group as faithful Christians who are not guilty of division and are thus praised by Paul (CSEL 81/2.1.12, 10.7–15).

25 Thus Schrage, Der erste Brief, 1.148; Thiselton, First Epistle, 132–3; Garland, 1 Corinthians, 49–50; Horsley, R. A., 1 Corinthians (ANTC; Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1998)Google Scholar 45; Baumann, R., Mitte und Norm des Christlichen: Eine Auslegung von 1 Korinther 1,1–3,4 (NTAbh 5; Münster: Aschendorff, 1968)Google Scholar 54; cf. Hurd, Origin, 105–6; Zeller, Der erste Brief, 92–3.

26 Kammler has similar reservations (Kreuz und Weisheit, 15).

27 Ciampa and Rosner, First Letter, 80.

28 Contra Branick, who thinks that the sarcasm of 1.12 is only realised when the audience reaches 3.23 (‘Source and Redaction Analysis’, 260). If all of the Corinthians referred to themselves as ‘of Christ’ generally but as ‘of’ Paul, Apollos or Cephas within the Christian community, Paul's insertion would have been effective immediately when the auditor heard Χριστοῦ – and necessarily so, if 1.13 is to have any weight.

29 Lake, Earlier Epistles, 127 (emphasis original).

30 Lake, Earlier Epistles, 127. Ciampa and Rosner concur that the syntax is ‘not decisive’, but offer no grammatical analysis to support their assertion (First Letter, 80).

31 Cf. G. Lüdemann, Paulus, der Heidenapostel (2 vols.; FRLANT 123, 130; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1980–3) ii.118 n. 48; Branick, ‘Source and Redaction Analysis’, 260. Garland follows Lake's sentiment but adds quotation marks to mark Paul's mockery of the other slogans: ‘I mean this: that each one of you is saying, “I belong to Paul”; “I belong to Apollos”; or “I belong to Cephas”; but “I belong to Christ”’ (1 Corinthians, 40).

32 Compare his notes in First Epistle, 45 (1978) with his comments in ‘Sectarian Diversity in Corinth’, Paul and the Corinthians: Studies on a Community in Conflict: Essays in Honour of Margaret Thrall (ed. Burke, T. J. and Elliott, J. K.; NovTSup 109; Leiden: Brill, 2003) 287302CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 289–90: ‘there is something to be said for the view that the words should be regarded as a marginal gloss or as Paul's own outraged comment on the party cries’.

33 Kammler, Kreuz und Weisheit, 15 (emphasis original).

34 Schrage, Der erste Brief, 1.147.

35 Fitzmyer, J. A., First Corinthians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 32; New Haven: Yale, 2008)Google Scholar 145, cf. 137; compare Kammler, Kreuz und Weisheit, 16. Contra Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, 33.

36 Meyer, Der erste Brief, i.31.

37 R. F. Collins, First Corinthians (SP 7; Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1999) 72. Cf. Allo, E.-B., Saint Paul: Première Épître aux Corinthiens (EtBib; Paris: Gabalda, 1934)Google Scholar 82; Ciampa and Rosner, First Letter, 80; Fee, First Epistle, 58 n. 54; Schrage, Der erste Brief, 1.148.

38 Fascher, E., Der erste Brief des Paulus and die Korinther (THKNT vii/1–2; Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1975)Google Scholar 1.92.

39 Kammler, Kreuz und Weisheit, 16.

40 See Smyth, H. W., Greek Grammar (Harvard: Harvard University Press, rev. edn 1956)Google Scholar §§2905, 2915. Often, when highlighting a contrast, the elements to be juxtaposed precede the particles. But this rule was not rigid even in Attic Greek, much less in κοινή. See Denniston, J. D., The Greek Particles (Indianapolis: Hackett, rev. edn 1950) 369–74Google Scholar, esp. 371–2; Smyth, Greek Grammar, §2914.

41 Cf. Smyth, Greek Grammar, §§2905, 2907.

42 E.g. Barn. 10.7–8; Herm. Vis. 2.3.2 (11.2).

43 For a further sampling of this construction, including instances where ‘2’ is not only of a noun a different case but also another part of speech, see e.g.: Gen 38.23–4; 2 Macc 5.22–4; 10.28–9; 12.1–2; 4 Macc 1.22–4; Ep Jer 54–5; Bel 7 (LXX); Acts 9.7–8; Rom 8.10–11; 2 Cor 10.1–2; 2 Tim 4.4–5; 1 Pet 4.6–7; Barn. 5.2; Josephus, AJ 1.40–1, 49; Herm. Vis. 3.2.7–8 (10.7–8). Classical sources illustrate the same interpretive difficulties: Homer, Il. 2.444–5; 4.364–5; 7.473–5; 12.469–70; 13.614–16; 17.430–2; 20.462–3; Herodotus 2.84.3–85.1; Thucydides 1.28.4; 1.30.1–2; 1.46.1, 1–2; Apollonius Rhodius, Argon. 2.981–2; 3.1282–4; 4.1627–8.

44 In addition, see 4 Macc 5.26–27; 13.11–13; Wis 14.2–3; Josephus Ant. 1.134–135, 269.

45 Cf. Luke 10.2: ὁ μὲν θερισμὸς πολύς, οἱ δὲ ἐργάται ὀλίγοι. The μέν | δέ still juxtaposes two contrasting elements, of which one is singular and one plural by necessity (also Heb 12.10, below).

46 This is the meaning of the similar construction in 1 Cor 12.8–11: ‘To one (ᾧ μέν) is given …, to another (ἄλλῳ δέ) …, to another (ἄλλῳ δέ) … , [etc.,] but all these things (πάντα δέ) …’

47 Cf. Denniston, J. D., Greek Prose Style (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952)Google Scholar 86.

48 Note e.g. the difficulties involved in placing quotations in Gal 2.14–21 and Jas 2.18–19.

49 τίνος δὲ ἕνεκεν προσέθηκεν, Ἐγὼ δὲ Χριστοῦ; Εἰ γὰρ οἱ ἀνθρώποις προσνέμοντες ἑαυτοὺς ἡμάρτανον, οὐ δήπου καὶ οἱ τῷ Χριστῷ ἑαυτοὺς ἀνατιθέντες. Ἀλλ' οὐ τοῦτο ἐνεκάλει, ὅτι τὸν Χριστὸν ἑαυτοῖς ἐπεφήμιζον, ἀλλ' ὅτι μὴ πάντες μόνον. Οἶμαι δὲ αὐτὸν καὶ οἴκοθεν αὐτὸ προστεθεικέναι βουλόμενον βαρύτερον τὸ ἔγκλημα ποιῆσαι … (PG 61.24).

50 Cf. the similar use of Chrysostom in Silva, M., Philippians (BECNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005 2)Google Scholar 27.

51 Cf. Fee, G. D., ‘Toward a Theology of 1 Corinthians’, Pauline Theology 2: 1 and 2 Corinthians (ed. Hay, D. M.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993) 3758Google Scholar, at 38–9; Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, 170.

52 See Dunn, Theology, 406–7. If there is any distinction to be made, we may note that Paul's language of ‘belonging to’ God through Christ is particularly used to emphasise exclusive divine ownership and loyalty in 1 Corinthians (3.23; 6.19–20; 7.23). Conceptually, one's status as belonging to Christ is the consequence of one's incorporation into Christ.

53 See Campbell, W. S., Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity (LNTS (JSNTSup) 322; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2006) 159–65Google Scholar; cf. Tucker, J. B., You Belong to Christ: Paul and the Formation of Social Identity in 1 Corinthians 1–4 (Eugene: Pickwick, 2010) 82–4.Google Scholar

54 Tucker, You Belong to Christ, 83.

55 Cf. Bouttier, M., Christianity according to Paul (SBT 49; Naperville: Alec R. Allenson, 1966) 6271Google Scholar; V. P. Furnish, ‘Theology in 1 Corinthians’, in Hay, Theology, 59–89, at 67.

56 On the patronal situations behind various aspects of 1 Corinthians, including lawsuits, idol-meat, the Lord's Supper, etc., see Chow, J. K., Patronage and Power: A Study of Social Networks in Corinth (JSNTSup 75; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1992) 133–66Google Scholar. On the nature of this as a reminder, 1.13a and 6.15a indicate that metaphors of incorporation and unity were integrated already in Paul's earlier kerygmatic activity (Furnish, ‘Theology’, 85).

57 See Mitchell, Paul, 200–2. Our interpretation does not rest on a specific rhetorical classification or schema of the letter but on the continual use of ecclesial metaphors against social factionalism.

58 Those in Christ belong to God as ‘Christ is God's’ (3.23; cf. 11.3). Those purchased by Christ, then, belong to God (6.19b–20; 7.23), are God's temple (3.16–17; 6.19a) and are members of the body of Christ (6.15–17; 12.12–27) by the Spirit (2.10–14; 3.16; 6.11, 19; 12.4–13). These and other Pauline phrasings are to be understood as expressing incorporation into Christ, whether subjectively or objectively. See Dunn, Theology, 396–412.

59 See the excellent analysis in Mitchell, Paul, 111–75.

60 For this sequencing, see Ridderbos, H., Paul: An Outline of his Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975)Google Scholar 376.

61 Mitchell, Paul, 205, 209. Cf. 1 Cor 4.6, 16; 5.3, 9–12; 7.7, 8, 40; 9.1–27; 11.1, 16; 12.31b–13.12; 14.18–19; 15.8–11, 14–15.

62 E.g. Fee, First Epistle, 49.

63 Thus Mitchell, Paul, 211; Thiselton, First Epistle, 147–9, 295; Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, 153, 188; Garland, 1 Corinthians, 59; Voss, F., Das Wort vom Kreuz und die menschliche Vernunft: Zur Soteriologie des 1. Korintherbriefes (FRLANT 199; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2002) 206–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

64 Cf. Voss, Das Wort vom Kreuz, 81–7, who argues that Paul incorporates all who are outside the sphere of salvation into the κόσμος in this passage.

65 Mihaila, C., The Paul–Apollos Relationship and Paul's Stance toward Greco-Roman Rhetoric: An Exegetical and Socio-historical Study of 1 Corinthians 1–4 (LNTS (JSNTSup) 402; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2009)Google Scholar 24, passim.

66 See the detailed study of Mihaila, Paul–Apollos Relationship, esp. 181–212.

67 Cf. Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, 164.

68 For sources of this as a Stoic sentiment, see Garland, 1 Corinthians, 124 n. 2.

69 Within this epistle, see 1 Cor 1.2, 8–9, 30–1; 3.5, 16–18, 3.23; 6.14–15, 19–20; 7.17; 8.6; 11.2–3, 11–12; 12.4–6, 18, 24, 28.

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