Solidarity and Difference in 1 Corinthians

Book Review: Horrell, David G. Solidarity and Difference: A Contemporary Reading of Paul’s Ethics.  London and New York: T & T Clark International, 2005.

Review by Sin Pan Daniel Ho

One major thesis of Horrell’s work is that “the first and most fundamental moral value, a metanorm, in Pauline ethics is that of corporate solidarity, a form of human solidarity with egalitarian impulses.” (p.99)  Among the four approaches in developing the theory of Paul’s ethics are: Jewish tradition, Graeco-Roman moral philosophy, Jesus tradition and social identity theory, the last approach is what Horrell mainly adopted to construct his theory of Paul’s ethics, with careful and serious sensitivity to others in doing exegesis on Pauline texts. Thus, chapter 3 lays down his framework on constructing Paul’s ethics: from myth, story, identity, to world-view, ethos, etc.  He then adopts recent NT scholarship on exegesis of texts of Paul’s moral teachings: 1 Corinthians (mainly adopted from  Alistair Scott May’s exegetical work in ‘The Body for the Lord’: Sex and Identity in 1 Corinthians 5-7), Romans 1, 1 Thess.,  Phil. 2, 2 Cor. and the law of Christ in Gal. 6 and 1 Cor. 9.  Then Horrell derives the ethical principle mainly on the social identity theory laid down in chapter 3.  His conclusion is that “bodily union with Christ” and “other-regard” are two basic ‘axioms’ of Paul’s ethics.  Almost all dos and don’ts of Paul’s ethical teachings can be explained by these two ethical norms.  Moreover, Horrell also concluded that Paul’s ethical standards were shared with those in his contemporary world, though motivated by different reasons.  As a result, Paul’s ethics may then find similarities with both liberal and communitarian ethics in the contemporary world: other-regard may echo over-lapping consensus (liberal) while solidarity with Christ and with other siblings (brothers and sisters in Christ) correspond to ecclesial ethics (communitarian).

While Horrell can claim that his ethics is based on serious and detailed exegesis, he perhaps still needs to do full justice to the exegetical results which run contrary to his notion of ethical principles.  For instance, his emphasis on the overlapping-consensus based on 1 Cor. 5.1-11 is at odds with his own exegesis on 1 Cor. 6.1-11 (p.144), where Paul condemns people appealing to the gentile judge to settle civil cases. This may be based on Horrell’s notion of other-regard so that Paul urged the brother not to defraud others.  But this application is very likely not shared by outsiders’ view of fairness: getting what he deserved.  Even though the judge in the Roman world could well be unjust, taking bribes and having favouritism towards the elites, Paul’s application of internal judgment might only find some parallels in Qumran community but not shared by the majority of outsiders.

If the world is really a pluralistic world, it will be more difficult for the world itself to attain any ‘overlapping  consensus’ among different parties even in the absence of Christian community.   If there is another minority group who objects to the social agenda of the majority, what should the church do?  According to Horrell, the church will just turn out to be disciples of the voices of majority and can’t stand as an objective critique to the moral health of the world.  Paul, on the contrary, has done such moral judgment not shared by the majority of outsiders in his world in terms of critical comments against eating idol food and attending social idolatry-related banquets, internal judgment for civil cases between siblings, forbiddance of having sex with prostitutes and most likely male homosexual practice, no matter who plays the so-called ‘soft role’ or the masculine active penetrating role.  This overlooking of Paul’s counter-cultural stances, in my mind, is the critical weakness of Horrell’s ethics. Paul does not take any stance on tolerance in this issue, which may well surprise most of the unbelievers in his world.

Horrell also observes that sibling is a term frequently used by Paul to depict church as family with kinship relations. This is the basis of other-regard.  But this notion also implies the critical difference between values and practice of this family and those not in this family.  Then this family must have its own constitutive goods independent of the cultural values around her.  This aspect of “the basic values orientation” inherited in this church of God / family of God, who are waiting for the inheritance of the Kingdom of God advocated by Paul, shows that the overlapping consensus with outside Greco-Roman world may be coincidental.  Moreover, the concern for regard of outsiders cannot be separated from Paul’s evangelical mission: attracting outsiders to experience the presence of God (1 Cor. 14:24-25), the unbelieving spouse may be saved by the converted husband/wife (1 Cor. 7: 16) and expulsion of the brother committing incest for the salvation of the soul (either his soul or the spirit of the church) in the day of the Lord Jesus (5:5).  This picture seems to be very different from contemporary liberal agenda of church holding hands with outsiders in doing consented good things.  This concept of “co-worker” with outsiders seems to be contrary to Paul.  For instance, metaphor of church as God’s sanctuary in 2 Cor. 6.14-18, power of prophecy toward unbelievers in 1 Cor. 14, resurrection hope against hedonism in 1 Cor. 15.32, and the accountability of the church, the ‘we’ in 2 Cor. 5.10 , to God the judge for reward, etc.

Clearly, Horrell’s attempt on Paul’s ethics really does an excellent job of stimulating reflection on the significance of upbuilding Christian identity in 1 Corinthians: the meaning of Church of God. Yet, Paul’s ethics are closely related to the hope of resurrection and the 2nd coming of Christ, which Horrell overlooks in his exegesis of 1 Corinthians.  Developing the arguments in this direction may help us understand the distinctiveness of this new community of God from Jews who rely on traditions as well as her difference from Greco-Roman world in terms of their citizenship and recognition in the society.

Sin Pan Daniel Ho


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