I Write These Things Not to Shame You -- By: Te-Li Lau

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 60:1 (Mar 2017)
Article: I Write These Things Not to Shame You
Author: Te-Li Lau


I Write These Things Not to Shame You

Te-Li Lau*

* Te-Li Lau is associate professor of NT at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2065 Half Day Rd., Deerfield, IL 60015. He may be contacted at tlau@tiu.edu.

Abstract: Paul’s denial that he intends to shame his readers in 1 Cor 4:14 is puzzling. The catalog of afflictions in 4:8–13, with its sarcasm, appears designed to shame. Moreover, Paul explicitly writes in two other places (6:5; 15:34) that he intends to shame them. Through an exegetical investigation of 4:14 within the larger context of 1 Corinthians 1–4 and a comparison of Paul’s rhetoric of shame with other Greco-Roman moralists, this article argues that Paul does intend to shame his readers in 4:14. More importantly, 4:14 functions as the paradigm for understanding Paul’s rhetoric of shame in 1 Corinthians, a rhetoric in which Paul uses shame as a pedagogical tool for transforming the minds of his readers into the mind of Christ.

Key Words: Paul, 1 Corinthians, shame, mind of Christ, moral formation, ethics

Paul’s rhetoric of shame in 1 Corinthians is puzzling. In 4:14, Paul claims that he is not writing to shame the Corinthians (οὐκ ἐντρέπων ὑμᾶς γράφω ταῦτα). Yet, in two other places (6:5 and 15:34), Paul explicitly states that he intends to shame them (πρὸς ἐντροπὴν ὑμῖν λέγω). One can explain the differences by various complex partition theories.1 If we accept 1 Corinthians as a unified letter, we might explain the tension by arguing that Paul composed the letter in stages as he reacted to reports about the Corinthian community,2 or that the different subject matter in these verses required different measures of response. All these solutions affirm a marked contrast between the rhetoric of 4:14 vis-à-vis 6:5 and 15:34. Against these readings, I argue that Paul does intend to shame his readers in You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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