A week in the life of Corinth
IVP, 159 pages, ISBN: 978-0830839629
When I am teaching hermeneutics, I tell 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 they have to determine the original application to the original readers of the passage, before they can determine its 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 storyline around a week in their lives.
There’s intrigue, skullduggery and even a hint of romance, all set in a convincing portrayal of everyday life in this important Roman colonial city. As well as the fictional account, Witherington inserts a series of ‘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, Graeco-Roman beliefs about the afterlife, and the Roman calendar.
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 are some allusions 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’ (p.155); or the possibility that ‘the marks of Christ’ Paul speaks of in Galatians 6 might be stigmata (p.43).
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.