The Use Of The Father Image In Imperial Propaganda And 1 Corinthians 4:14–21 -- By: Eva Maria Lassen

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 42:1 (NA 1991)
Article: The Use Of The Father Image In Imperial Propaganda And 1 Corinthians 4:14–21
Author: Eva Maria Lassen


The Use Of The Father Image In Imperial Propaganda And 1 Corinthians 4:14–21

Eva Maria Lassen

Family metaphors played an important role in the formation of early Christianity. The Christian theology was centred upon filiation: God was the Father, Jesus the Son, the converts were the brothers of Christ and the true heirs of Abraham. In this article, one aspect of the use of family metaphors will be explored, namely the father-concept used metaphorically by Paul to assert his apostolic authority in the Corinthian church.

In keeping with the NT as a whole, Paul used family images (e.g. ‘brother’, ‘sister’, and ‘heir’) in all his letters. He employed the father-concept metaphorically in connection with Corinth in different ways, sometimes in order to describe his relationship to the congregation as a whole, sometimes to express a feeling of special concern for individuals, for instance Timothy.1 For Paul, the use of the father-image seems to have been a fundamental one for expressing his relationship to the congregations, which he had founded. Most explicitly, this appears in 1 Corinthians 4:14-21 where he attempts to bring the Corinthians back to a right perception of the Christian teachers. He used the father image as a means to convince: ‘I am saying all this not to make you ashamed but to bring you, as my dearest children, to your senses. You might have thousands of guardians in Christ, but not more than one father and it was I who begot you in Christ Jesus by preaching the Good News’. He continued the argument using this father-child image: ‘It is for you to decide: do I come with a stick in my hand or in a spirit of love and goodwill?’

The significance of the father image in this passage will be assessed firstly, by looking at the function of the father-image in the Roman family and secondly, the Roman use of father metaphors in the political and religious sphere in the

late Republic and the Principate, and finally their significance for the Christian congregation in the Roman colony of Corinth.

I The Roman Father

In Republican Rome, a very strong father-figure flourished. Legally, the head of the family was pater familias, who was the oldest male in direct line. He had an overwhelming power.2 This power, patria potestas, was life-long, i.e. it lasted not merely until the children reached majority but until the father's death. A person with a living father could neither marry nor divorce without the latter’s consent. Adults in potestate<...

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