Here’s the panel that discussed issues of eschatology in Corinth at the recent SBL annual meeting – from left to right: Linda Belleville, myself, BJ Oropeza, Roy Ciampa, Ben Witherington, Craig Keener, Craig Blomberg.
The session began with my own paper, in which I outlined a proposal that we pursue a modified form of the ‘over realised eschatology’ hypothesis, which I like to call ‘premature triumphalism.’ You can see my conclusion in my previous post. Craig Blomberg then gave a prepared response to my paper, and I was very heartened to hear that he strongly affirmed it. He agreed that ‘premature triumphalism’ is a useful way to describe the situation behind 1 Corinthians, and rightly noted that it fitted well with his emphasis on the Corinthians’ presumed maturity in his own commentary. He added a couple of quibbles, which were helpful to consider.
Roy Ciampa then gave another response to my paper. He does not take an ‘over realised eschatology’ perspective on 1 Corinthians. He opened by pointing out that even in our comfortable twenty-first century setting, there are many elements of our experience that remind us that we are not yet in resurrected glory – jetlag, sickness, discomfort… and death (as BJ Oropeza added). He therefore finds it unlikely that the Corinthians believed that they were already experiencing resurrected perfection. I responded, saying that I don’t believe that the Corinthians believed that the resurrection had already happened. Rather, I think that Paul perceives that they are behaving in a triumphalistic manner that is only really appropriate for the time when Christ himself is revealed in glory.
Next, Ben Witherington gave a paper to which Roy Ciampa responded – but I’ll deal with this separately in a different post, as it didn’t really focus on the same issue.
After this, Craig Keener gave a paper on the topic of over realised eschatology in Corinth. He argued that, although it was a possible valid reading of the texts, it was unlikely. He preferred the suggestion of Hays that the Corinthians were ignorant of Paul’s Jewish eschatological mindset, and therefore had no sense that they were prematurely claiming the things of the end. Linda Belleville responded by giving a detailed account of the Pharisaic eschatological timeline that Paul would have held, and showing that the text of 1 Corinthians betrays the fact that Paul had taught this expectation to the Corinthians when he was with them. For an example, he says – without explanation – ‘Do you not know that we will judge angels?’ I was encouraged that Belleville ended by saying that she had been convinced by my proposal, against her expectations. Keener responded by saying that although we can be sure that Paul held these views, we can’t be sure that the Corinthians properly grapsed them.
My own response – which I spoke through with Keener afterwards, because we ran out of time in the session – was that we do have a clue about how the Corinthians grasped things: they were obsessed with being recognised as ‘spiritual.’ And this was not simply a philosophical category; it was emphatically a Christian category, that was tied to the manifestations of tongues and prophecy. If you think about it, the Corinthians were sparklingly Christian – they were warring with each other over which apostle they belonged to; they were priding themselves in baptism; they were justifying freedoms on theological grounds; they were desperate to outdo each other in the spiritual manifestation of tongues. None of them were claiming, ‘I belong to Seneca’! Such an emphasis on the designation ‘spiritual’ surely constitues an implicit eschatological claim. Thus the proposal, ‘premature triumphalism.’
I was grateful to all on the panel for their helpful, thoughtful discussion, and I was grateful to those who attended the session for their patient attention! I expect to rework my own paper in the light of the discussion, as a journal article.