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Currents in Theology and Mission







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The social background of first-century Christianity has received much attention recently, with many of these studies focusing on the letters from Paul to the Corinthians. Paul's refusal to accept Corinthian financial support is a central concern of these letters. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is adamant concerning this issue, claiming that he would rather die than to accept the Corinthians' pay (9:15). Why does Paul devote an entire section of the letter (chap. 9) to defending his refusal? How should we understand this section within the larger context of the letter? I am principally concerned here with the social reality of Paul's ministry and exploring questions of why Paul refuses the financial support of the Corinthians. To remain focused, I use 1 Corinthians 9 as a foundation and pay special attention to vv. 15-18 as they relate to Paul's boast of making the gospel "free of charge" (v. 18). My aims are (1) to understand how Paul's tentmaking and subsequent income affected his relationship with and ministry to the Corinthians; (2) to investigate the purpose and meaning of 1 Corinthians 9 in context; and (3) to examine 9:15-18 in order to shed light on Paul's decision to remain financially free from the Corinthian body. I argue that Paul's tentmaking trade was an avenue for him to identify with the lowly and to exhort the socially elite to do the same. As I suggest, this identification with the lowly was something Paul did in imitation of Christ. Further, Paul's refusal of financial support proves to be his solution to possible obligatory relationships in Corinth and aids his overall objective, to remove divisions and unify the body there (1:10).

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