1Corinthians 9:15-22

Sep 16, 2010


This blog entry actually contains two pericopes. Both pericopes are introduced by a couplet of verses that lead to the main chiastic structure.

The first of these chiastic structures is rather short, but challenging from the standpoint of structural analysis.  This is because, when given close examination, it does not assume the usual Pauline chiastic (ABB’A’) structure.  Instead it looks, at first glance, like a structure that moves into a third level, but with only one central term, “for necessity is laid upon me” (9:16c).  However, as we have seen elsewhere, Paul normally is partial to balanced rhetorical schemes. Here he maintains this balance, but in a different way.  He balances the isolated 9:16c term at the very end of the pericope in 9:17b, where both terms emphasize his apostolic responsibility.  Apart from this stylistic change, there are some instructive and also pleasing parallels.  Note that the outer “A” terms emphasize Paul’s personal motives that allow him to decline the apostolic prerogatives due him.  In one term he says this is a “boasting” motive and in the other he further delineates this as “reward.”  However, he saves his explanation of this motive for the next pericope.  Note that the inner “B” terms have a pleasing balance of the Greek conditional clauses in that the condition and result portions are reversed from one term to the other.

The second pericope further explains what Paul introduced in the first. The outline above shows how clearly this structure is presented (and this was helpful in defining the boundaries of the first, more difficult, pericope).  The symmetry is evident and all I want to note is that the structure makes it clear that the “weak” in 9:22 should be identified with Gentiles, just as the Jews were the subject in the first half of the chiasm.  Here, the figurative (inner, non-physical) weakness relates to the Gentile’s lack of relationship to the Torah as opposed to the Jews being “under” the constraints of the Law. This lack on their part was evidenced by their participation in idol worship up until this point (recently) in salvation history.  In 1Cor 8:1-12 we see that it was the Gentiles who were said to weak in conscience in association with this past experience with idols.  Paul did not, however come to the Corinthians as a teacher of the Law to put them under the Torah.  He came to them as one under the a new Torah, the fulfillment of the old, which is the “the law of Christ” (1Cor 9:21).  In Romans, this same Torah is called, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:2).  This is how Paul became “weak” (while, in reality, always being strong in Christ and in the Spirit of our God).