Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Review of Bitner, Paul's Political Strategy in 1 Corinthians 1-4

Bradley J. Bitner, Paul's Political Strategy in 1 Corinthians 1-4: Constitution and Covenant. Society for New Testament Studies monograph series, 163. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. 358. ISBN 9781107088481. $99.99.

Reviewed by Timothy Luckritz Marquis, Moravian Theological Seminary (


Amidst a number of fields pooling their resources to examine early Christianity and the interaction of law and life, Bradley Bitner’s important book shows how Paul evoked the ways laws were constitutively embodied in Corinth’s physical space in order to renovate understandings of community and authority. Bitner argues that 1 Corinthians draws on language of colonial politeiai and juxtaposes with it God’s new constitution or “covenant.” Colonial constitutions not only lay beneath a city’s conceptual understanding and functioning but also physically dominated urban centers as monumental inscriptions. The provisions of a politeia similarly grounded practices of monumental thanksgiving for patronage, practices that functioned as reconstitutions of communal bonds. Against this background, Paul’s language of testimonial in 1 Cor 1:4-9 recycles such language to portray Christ as a patron whose benefits were testified to by Paul’s preaching and are to be confirmed in the eschatological future. Further, Paul’s intricate depiction of the community as a building or “temple” and himself as a “wise architect” (1 Cor 3:5-4:5) reconfigures his audience’s understanding of status and authority, grounded again in constitutional provisions for public building. As such, Paul addresses factionalism by imaginatively constructing a new community using the language of constitution and its monumental expressions. Throughout the book, Bitner judiciously and with agility traverses among literary, epigraphical, and archaeological evidence to create a space in which to understand anew how Paul’s communities creatively inhabited their civic space.