When I am teaching hermeneutics, I teach my students that before they try and apply any passage of Scripture, they have to ‘go to Corinth’ first. It’s a shorthand way (that I learned from someone else) of saying that they have to determine what was the original application to the original readers of the passage before they can determine the contemporary application. In that sense, Corinth is representative of the original readers/hearers of any biblical text.
Ben Witherington has done us a great service in writing this fictional account of life in Corinth, incorporating into his story such biblical characters as Paul, Priscilla and Aquila and Erastus, and weaving a strong, gripping story line around a week in their lives. There’s intrigue, skullduggery and even a hint of romance, all set in a very convincing portrayal of everyday life in this important Roman colony city.
As well as the fictional account, Witherington inserts a series of ‘A Closer Look’ features’ in which he explains, or gives the background to, features of the life and times of Corinth and its people – such things as the Roman baths, homeschooling, Greco-Roman beliefs about the afterlife, the Roman calendar, and many more, and this is where this book really comes into its own, for me at least. As you read the story you feel as if you are walking the streets of Corinth and expect to turn a corner and see Paul or one of his friends. There some illusions to the more lurid aspects of the Corinthian way of life that we know of from elsewhere, but never in an unhelpful way.
There are a couple of comments that slightly irritated me, such as the statement that “there was no reason to think that Paul expected that gift (of prophecy) to be confined to the apostolic age. Indeed, 1 Corinthians 13 suggests it will continue until faith becomes sight when the Lord returns.” (p155); or the possibility that “the marks of Christ” Paul speaks of in Galatians 6 might be stigmata (p43). These are, however, small blemishes, and I will certainly be recommending this valuable book to my students. Next time I have to ‘go to Corinth’ I will do so with much greater knowledge and insight.