Vernon K. Robbins

Sociorhetorical Interpretation

Emory Studies in Early Christianity

Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity

Religious Sites in Atlanta

Emory Department of Religion

Emory Graduate Division of Religion



1 Corinthians 9: Opening-middle-closing texture

Paul: 1 Corinthians

How far does the opening seem to extend? It is not possible to tell with precision until we analyze both narrational and argumentative texture. At this point we see an opening (9.1-2) that introduces the narrator himself with first person pronouns, that uses 'not' to evoke certain meanings and meaning effects and that provides at least one reason for understanding certain things in certain ways. Verse 4 introduces the topic of having 'the right to' food and drink. Is this the beginning of the middle part of the discourse? Only analysis of other aspects of the inner texture can provide an answer to this.

What are the basic sections of the middle part? The movement from 'have the right to' to 'but' then to 'in order that' suggests that there are three basic parts in the middle section. Correlating this sequence with the shift in pronouns suggests that a transition from the first part to the second occurs at verse 11, where the discourse begins to juxtapose 'we' and 'you' and introduces the adversative 'but'. A transition from the second part to the third clearly occurs by verse 20, which begins a repetitive occurrences of 'in order that'. Perhaps verse 19 begins the second part with the introduction of a rationale ('because') that calls forth the series of statements of purposes and goals ('in order that'). At this point, however, we cannot tell for sure. But the middle section contains a first part in 9.4-10 that discusses rights, a second part in 9.11-(18 or 19) that begins with 'we' and 'you' and continues with 'but' and 'because', and a third part in 9.(19 or 20)-25 that explains the goals and purposes of having certain rights but not using them.

By verse 26, then, the discourse is ending. We have to hold open the possibility that the reintroduction of the adversative 'but' in verse 24 actually signals the start of the ending, since it is the nature of a conclusion to summarize what has gone before.

On the basis of major aspects of repetitive and progressive texture in 1 Cor. 9 a basic opening, middle and closing begins clearly to appear, as well as basic movement in the middle part. This discourse starts by setting the stage and asserting a case for the speaker's right to do certain things in certain ways. Then the speaker argues that he does not do these things he has the right to do, and he gives reasons for not doing them. Finally, the speaker explains the purpose that underlies the choice not to do the things he has a right to do. To sum up, repetitive patterns of personal pronouns, negative words, conjunctions and the phrase 'have the right to' reveal movement from opening statements to a series of arguments that create a bridge to final statements that purport to explain the goals and purposes of the speaker as he refrains from exercising certain rights which he, by the nature of his status, has the right to exercise.


From: Vernon K. Robbins (1996) The Tapestry of Early Christian Discourse: Rhetoric, Society and Ideology, London: Routledge: 71-2.

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