1 Corinthians 9: Cultural intertexture
Paul: 1 Corinthians
The imagery of athletic competition--running, wrestling and boxing--has its natural home in Greek culture, not Jewish culture. Thus, Philo's incorporation of it is a matter of synthesis of Jewish and Greek culture in a context of first century Mediterranean society. Greco-Roman moralists also incorporated this imagery. Russell Sisson has gathered intertexts together, using the research of Malherbe, Horsley (1978) and Martin (Sisson 1994: 97-9). The discourse of Epictetus describes the Cynic as one who is 'sent (apestaltai) by Zeus to men' (Epictetus, Discourses 3.22.23-25). Further on, the discourse adds that the Cynic also is 'a herald (k�ruka) of the gods' (3.22.69).
This Cynic must be 'free to go about among men, not tied down by the private duties of men' if he is to be true to his calling (3.22.69). Moreover, he thinks of his service (diakonos) to God as something he willingly does, even though he was called by Zeus to do it:
For the Cynic, the goal is to attain freedom from all things (Epictetus, Discourses 3.13.11). The Cynic has been sent by God to teach people this freedom:
The Cynic does not show concern for just a few people, but he cares for all humans:
Epictetus describes the task of the Cynic sage called by God in terms of athletic competition that produces hardship and requires discipline (Epictetus, Discourses 1.24.1-2). For Epictetus, the struggle is a discipline that trains the Cynic (Epictetus, Discourses 3.20.9). Epictetus speaks directly about the end result of athletic training as self control.
In the end, Epictetus says, the Cynic receives the crown as his reward (Epictetus, Discourses 3.24.51-52; cf. 2.18.28). The discourse emphasizes that this is not just any contest, but the greatest--Olympia itself (Epictetus, Discourses 3.22.51-53). Usually the discourse speaks of this activity as service (diakonos) and refers to the one who has been called as a servant (hyp�ret�s):
But there is an extended discussion, as well, of the freedom of the Cynic in relation to slavery:
The goal of the Cynic is to become free in all things, because this is the truly natural state of humans (3.24.71). The point is that a person should allow no humans and no internal human desires to make them their slave. But then the discourse turns to God, using some of the same imagery of the Pauline discourse:
The issue, finally, is fear of death (3.26.38-39). Then the discourse turns directly to slavery:
One of the ways, and one of the reasons, people enslave themselves is for food:
Finally, the discourse distinguishes between 'microslavery' and 'megaslavery':
For the Cynic, it is the knowledge about freedom and slavery which allows him to live a free life:
But there is another issue, namely, God. How can the Cynic, called by Zeus, be entirely free? The answer lies in making his own free will the same as the will of God:
In the end, then, the true philosopher submits his own will to the will of God so that he wills what God wills for him. This is an amazing similarity with Paul, compelled to preached the gospel but free, because he freely chooses to endure hardship to offer it free of charge.
What, then, is distinctive about Pauline discourse in the setting of Greco-Roman discourse? First, Pauline discourse orients itself toward the God of Israel, not Zeus. The God of Israel has made promises to special people whom he has selected to receive his benefits, if they live according to his will. Second, Pauline discourse concerns itself directly with the law the God of Israel gave to his people. The discourse of the moral philosophers grounds its discussion more in the 'moral laws of the universe' than in laws given by Zeus. Third, Pauline discourse focusses on a recent act of God in the death and resurrection of a crucified Messiah, who is a stumbling block to Jews and a folly to the nations (1 Cor. 1.23). Fourth, Pauline discourse robustly embraces the term 'slavery' to describe the commitment to all people for the sake of the gospel; the discourse of Epictetus maintains a restraint with slave language by emphasizing that the Cynic's work is 'service' (diakonos) and the Cynic himself is messenger, scout, servant (hypêretês) and friend of God who cares for all people.
From: Vernon K. Robbins (1996) The Tapestry of Early Christian Discourse: Rhetoric, Society and Ideology, London: Routledge: 133-137.
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