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The so-called "Slogans" of 1 Corinthians: Introduction

I will begin our discussion of slogans in 1 Corinthians by looking at 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and revisiting some of my work from my MTh thesis.  Then I plan to address every every possible instance of Corinthian slogans in 1 Corinthians paying attention to the resulting exegetical and theological ramifications of the argument.  Let me know what you think, :-)

Jay Smith defines a Corinthian slogan as,

[A] motto (or similar expression that captures the spirit, purpose, or guiding principles) of a particular group or point of view at Corinth, or at least a motto that Paul was using to represent their position or attitudes.[1]

Smith rightly warns that there is a risk in not attributing slogans, that the interpreter might mistake the Corinthians’ words for Paul’s.[2]  What also needs to be acknowledged is the risk of mistaking Paul’s words for the Corinthians’.   Although there is a range of nuances to the way such slogans might be derived and operate the basic question is whether or not those phrases identified as slogans should be read as Paul’s words or the Corinthians’; that is, should we understand that Paul is distancing himself from the assertions made in the slogan or do we distort Paul’s meaning by using quotation marks to signal a slogan? 


There is no doubt that some of the phrases in 1 Cor 6:12-20 are pithy, even epigrammatic, in character.  When such phrases are identified as slogans there is a spectrum of possible implications:

A. Corinthian Slogan:            Paul cites actual words used by the Corinthians and then opposes them with his own slogans.
B. Commonplace Slogan:      Paul uses a commonplace slogan to represent the Corinthians’ arguments or as a ‘straw-man’ against which to argue.
C. Corinthian Ideas:               Paul invents a slogan to summarise or encapsulate the Corinthian position which he then rebuts.
D. Commonplace Ideas:         Paul invents a slogan to summarise or encapsulate a commonplace idea which he then qualifies with further considerations.
E. Paul’s Ideas:                       The slogan is an ad hoc expression of Paul’s own convictions which he then develops and explores.
F. Paul’s Slogan:                    The slogan is actually a phrase that Paul uses in his teaching and is thus stated as a reminder of previous teaching and as a foundation on which to build an argument.

There are three potential Corinthian slogans in 1 Cor 6:12-20.  Within the limits of this study the question will be simplified as to whether or not the suggested slogans should be understood as Paul’s own words (options E-F) or as his rendering of the Corinthians’ position (options A-C).  If Paul is merely citing a commonplace view of freedom (option D) then he still does not distance himself sufficiently from the slogan for it to qualify as a representation of the Corinthians’ position over and against Paul’s.

Generally the repeated πάντα μοι ἔξεστιν of verse 12 is considered to be a Corinthian slogan, to which Paul twice responds creating a parallel construction.  This looks something like:

Corinthian Slogan:     πάντα μοι ἔξεστιν
Paul’s Response:        ἀλλʼ οὐ πάντα συμφέρει
Corinthian Slogan:     πάντα μοι ἔξεστιν
Paul’s Response:        ἀλλʼ οὐκ ἐγὼ ἐξουσιασθήσομαι ὑπό τινος

A significant reason for the success of this view is that it is such a tidy structural explanation.  However in the next verses (13-14) things are less clear cut, with scholars divided as to where the slogan ends and Paul’s response begins. 
Corinthian Slogan:     τὰ βρώματα τῇ κοιλίᾳ καὶ κοιλία τοῖς βρώμασιν,
Slogan or Response?:             δὲ θεὸς καὶ ταύτην καὶ ταῦτα καταργήσει.
Paul’s Response:        τὸ δὲ σῶμα οὐ τῇ πορνείᾳ ἀλλὰ τῷ κυρίῳ, καὶ κύριος τῷ σώματι
δὲ θεὸς καὶ τὸν κύριον ἤγειρεν καὶ ἡμᾶς ἐξεγερεῖ διὰ τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ.  

If verses 13-14 do contain a Corinthian slogan then the disputed 13b would need to be part of that slogan to maintain the parallel structure with the subsequent phrases 13c-14.  However, as we have already noted there is some confusion as to where the quotation should end.  Nonetheless, the status of these two slogans as citations of Corinthian positions is generally assumed in scholarship.  Although usually prefaced with the language of probability, the alternative is seldom discussed.[5] 

The last potential slogan in this passage is not normally marked in translations although significant scholars have argued for it.  This is 18b, which if it is a slogan is answered by Paul in 18c.  This lacks any intrinsic parallelism except perhaps to echo the construction of the previous slogan-refutation constructions.[6]

Corinthian Slogan:     πᾶν ἁμάρτημα ἐὰν ποιήσῃ ἄνθρωπος ἐκτὸς τοῦ σώματός ἐστιν
Paul’s Response:        δὲ πορνεύων εἰς τὸ ἴδιον σῶμα ἁμαρτάνει

There are many pertinent reasons for considering these to be citations of Corinthian slogans and these will be discussed in due course.  However, it is exegetically dubious to start with the assumption that these are necessarily slogans.  Brian Dodd observes that the modern tradition of reading “πάντα μοι ἔξεστιν” as a Corinthian slogan can be traced back to Johannes Weiss’ 1910 work, Der Erste Korintherbrief.[7]  Weiss’ argument rests on Paul’s omission of τοῦτο δέ to introduce his own speech, as he does in 1 Cor 7:6, 29, 35; 11:17; and 15:50.[8]  Thus Paul does not directly signal that these are his words in the way that he does signal them in five other places in 1 Corinthians.[9]  Nonetheless, when it is considered that in 32 instances in 1 Corinthians Paul clearly signals citations, “whether from the Corinthians, other literature or from hypothetical dialogue,”[10]  it seems apparent that Paul is more than able to signal a citation if he needs to, and far more likely to signal a citation than he is to signal his own words.  This is not to say that one or more of these phrases cannot be Corinthian slogans, but that the initial assumption must be that these are not citations but Paul’s own words, because Paul has not signalled otherwise.  Our exegesis may eventually convince us of the presence of slogans but the burden of proof rests with the slogan hypotheses.  As Fisk writes, “Without any marker to signal the presence of a slogan . . . this view should be adopted only as a last resort.”[11]

The question then becomes, by what criteria may we discern the presence of a Corinthian slogan?  Carson suggests three criteria for evaluating the presence of a slogan:
 [T]hey are short, they are usually followed by sustained qualification, and the Pauline response is unambiguous and does not require the addition of words or phrases to make sense of the text.[12]

Smith, following the work of others, offers a more extensive list, which is reproduced in the table below and correlated to an initial analysis of the three slogans in 1 Cor 6:12-20.[13]

Table of Slogan Criteria and Slogans in 1 Cor 6:12-20
Smith’s Slogan Criteria
6:12
6:13
6:18
Introductory formula
No
No
No
Brief, pithy, elliptical statement in the present tense
Yes
Yes
Yes
Rhetorical features, parallel structures
Yes
Yes
Yes
Repetition
Yes
No
No
Diatribal, dialogical
Yes
Yes
Yes
Vocabulary, syntax, or ideas foreign to or inconsistent with Paul
No
Possibly
Possibly
Contextual or syntactic dislocation
No
No
No
A sharp counterattack, or point-counterpoint argument
Possibly
Possibly
Possibly
Vocabulary or theology that other contexts suggest is exclusively or characteristically Corinthian
Possibly
Possibly
Possibly
Identifying slogan leads to contextual congruency
Possibly
Possibly
Possibly
Confirmation by others in the history of exegesis
Yes
Some
Few
Convergence of multiple strands of evidence
Yes
Yes
Yes

While not every criterion will be appropriate for every possible slogan Smith’s list does suggest that all the possible slogans in 1 Cor 6:12-20 should be given serious consideration.  Smith rightly suggests that slogans should be identified by applying a number of different approaches “in a balanced and self correcting fashion,”[14] and there is no dispute that, “Given the theological sparring between Paul and the Corinthians . . . between the lines of Paul’s text lie Corinthian theology and practice.”[15]  Nevertheless, finding the Corinthians’ words in the text as opposed to merely between the lines is another matter.  


[1] Jay E. Smith, “Slogans in 1 Corinthians,” Bibliotheca Sacra 167 (2010): 68-88, 82.
[2] Ibid., 86.
[5] E.g. Martin, The Corinthian Body, 70; Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, 56; Thielman, Paul and the Law, 94.
[6] See below, §2.5.6.
[7] (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht); Dodd, “Paul's Paradigmatic 'I',” 40; but see Smith, “Slogans in 1 Corinthians,” 80, n.39 who cites John Calvin, Matthew Henry, and Theodoret, as historical examples of this interpretation.
[8] Dodd, “Paul's Paradigmatic 'I',” 43.
[9] Also see Rom 1:12; 2 Cor 9:6; Gal 3:17.  It should be noted that in all there only eight examples of this.
[10] Dodd, "Paul's Paradigmatic 'I,'" 43; 1 Cor 1:19, 31; 2:9; 3:19, 20; 4:6; 6:16; 7:1; 8:1, 4; 9:9; 10:7, 26, 28; 11:24, 25; 12:3, 15, 16, 21; 14:21, 25; 15:27(x2), 33, 35, 45, 54-55.
[11] Bruce N. Fisk, “Porneuein as Body Violation: The Unique Nature of Sexual Sin in 1 Corinthians 6:18,” New Testament Studies 42:4 (1996): 545 n.10.
[12] D. Carson, Showing the Spirit (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1987), 55.
[13] Smith, “Slogans in 1 Corinthians,” 84-85.
[14] Ibid., 76.
[15] Ibid., 79.

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