Janelle Peters, «Crowns in 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, and 1 Corinthians», Vol. 96 (2015) 67-84
The image of the crown appears in 1 Thess 2,19, Phil 4,1, and 1 Cor 9,25. However, the crowns differ. While the community constitutes the apostle’s crown in 1 Thessalonians and Philippians, the crown in 1 Corinthians is one of communal contestation. In this paper, I compare the image of the crown in each of the letters. I argue that the crown in 1 Corinthians, available to all believers even at Paul’s expense, is the least hierarchical of the three crowns.
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68 JANELLE PETERS
with the civic apparatus and the Corinthians’ anxiety over social
status 5. Civic bodies handed out both vegetal and gold crowns for
taking part in the enrollment of male citizens at both the supervisory
and subordinate level 6. That Paul distinguishes between the perish-
able crown of the civic athlete and the imperishable crown of the
Christian athlete indicates that he is attempting to draw a distinc-
tion between the current world order and the heavenly politeuma 7.
If there is indeed a connection between Paul’s renunciation of
rights and his advocacy of abstaining from idol meat, this implies
that Paul’s athletic metaphors, which fall between these two ideas
in 1 Corinthians, play a role in orienting the Corinthians within the
political state. The Corinthians are to renounce their worldly
privileges and displays of status and sophistry. In exchange, they
will contend for an exclusive and imperishable crown, the kind
that might be awarded to ephebes or to wealthy patrons such as
Junia Theodora by cities 8. They are not to think of themselves as
better than even the upper echelons of Corinthian society (4,8) 9.
As Paul demonstrates by his own example, they are to direct their
attention to the perfection of their own bodies (9,24-27). Their re-
ceipt of a crown upon demonstrating enkrateia follows the same
mythological and philosophical motif of the self-crowning athlete 10.
The Corinthians had anxiety over social-status symbols such as baptism,
civic position, and dinner parties. Such social striving was common among
the elite families of Roman Greece. See M. WOLOCH, “Four Leading Families
in Roman Athens AD 96-161”, Historia 18 (1969) 509.
Schlatter and Juncker argued that Paul’s use of the athletic image came
out of Hellenistic Judaism and Greek-speaking synagogue, where the athletic
motif had already been evinced by Philo and 4 Maccabees. See A. SCHLATTER,
Die Theologie des NT (Stuttgart 1910) II, 255; A. JUNCKER, Die Ethik des
Apostels Paulus (Halle 1904-1919) 127.
For a history of scholarship and a discussion of the golden crown in an-
tiquity, see G.M. STEVENSON, “Conceptual Background to the Golden Crown
Imagery in the Apocalypse of John (4,4.10; 14,14)”, JBL 114 (1995) 257-258.
For examples of crowns given to ephebes and benefactors, see J.R. HAR-
RISON, “Paul and the Gymnasiarchs: Two Approaches to Pastoral Formation in
Antiquity”, Paul: Jew, Greek, and Roman (ed. S.E. PORTER) (Leiden 2008) 158.
D.B. MARTIN, The Corinthian Body (New Haven, CT 1995) 68.
The “self-crowning athlete” (autostephanoumenos) takes numerous
forms, including the Diadumenos who ties a fillet around his head. See N.
SPIVEY, Greek Sculpture (Cambridge 2013) 105.