A Discourse Analysis of First CorinthiansRalph Bruce Terry
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Christianity and Culture at Corinth

In his book Christ and Culture, Yale theologian Richard Niebuhr (1951) has postulated five categories to embrace different viewpoints of the relationship between Christianity and culture throughout the centuries. The first two are extremes and these he labels "Christ Against Culture" and "The Christ of Culture." By "Christ Against Culture" he does not mean that Christ is opposed to all aspects of culture, for people cannot exist without culture. Christians partake of culture just as others do; they speak in a language, marry one another, wear clothing, and do many other things that they share in common with non-Christians. However, Niebuhr is here speaking of an attitude toward those aspects of culture that come into conflict with Christianity. In these, the practices of a culture that are opposed to the teaching of Christ must not be followed. In the other extreme of "The Christ of Culture," Christ is viewed as sanctioning every aspect of the society. Such a viewpoint cannot be held until the culture has been greatly affected by Christianity.

The other three categories that Niebuhr names are all various attempts at synthesis between the first two views. He labels these "Christ Above Culture," "Christ and Culture in Paradox," and "Christ the Transformer of Culture." In his fifth chapter Niebuhr lists Paul as one of the individuals holding to the second synthesis "Christ and Culture in Paradox," which he labels the "dualist" view. But it is perhaps significant that in assigning Paul to this category, he fails to refer to I Corinthians. It is true that Paul does make a few appeals to Greek culture in this letter: he appeals to the normal hair length in 11:14 (cf. Plutarch Moralia, The Roman Questions 14) and to the shame of a woman speaking in public in 14:35 (cf. Plutarch Moralia, Advice to Bride and Groom 31-32). But as noted above, in many aspects Paul is quite against the practices of Greek culture. In fact, several of the items that Paul challenges, such as the importance of human wisdom and disbelief in the resurrection, strike at the heart of the Greek world view. It would seem that Paul's approach to culture, at least for the book of I Corinthians, best fits in the category "Christ Against Culture."

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