One of the highlights each year is working with undergraduate students on their dissertations. It is the time when they choose the topic they want to research – rather than it being imposed upon them – and apply all their learning and skills that they have gained throughout their three years with us. I have had the pleasure of supervising some excellent work this year. One of the dissertations, by graduand Isabella Wray, is particularly suited for this blog and, I think, many will find it interesting and add a new dimension to your reading of 1 Corinthians 7.
With Isabella’s generous permission, I thought that it would be fun to post excerpts from her work. It is not just a great example of the types of questions and issues that students can explore in our degree programme, but I am also sure that a number of people will appreciate learning a little more about Paul, Corinth and the church that he founded there.
Why ‘slaves’ and ‘free’?
Isabella was intrigued by this text that we had studied in class in relation to Paul’s attitude to women and his community ethics within the Corinthian assembly. Why did Paul suddenly stop halfway through his teaching about marriage (7:1-16) to address circumcision and slavery, only to then pick up the theme of marriage once more (7:25-39)? Isabella was particularly interested in the references to slavery and manumission (the process through which a slave became a freedperson) and was not entirely convinced with my, rather off-hand, remark that this was just Paul, typically, getting side-tracked and his attempt to provide further examples of the principle he was attempting to present. Moreover, Isabella noted that the text relating to slavery and manumission was extremely ambiguous. Furthermore, she was struck by Paul’s language in this section, not just his use of δοῦλος (doulos) , ‘slave’, but also his singular use of ἀπελεύθερος (apeleutheros) , ‘freedman’ in 7:22. Paul uses this term only once in his entire writings; why here and what would it have meant to his Corinthian readers? Isabella’s interest in post-colonialism suggested to her that there might be a far deeper issue behind Paul’s choice of topic and words. The question that Isabella wanted to explore was how would these words have been understood by Paul’s readers? Why would someone who had ‘fought’ for their freedom want to then end up being a slave of Christ (7:22)? Was there anything specifically about the socio-political context of Corinth that would make these terms particularly pertinent and add to their rhetorical power? Continue reading