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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70 JANELLE PETERS
has indicated, Paul may not be assured of the salvation of all of the
Thessalonians; he fears being “robbed” of his crown, his commu-
nity 11. Yet, at the same time, this partial realization of the commu-
nity as the “glory and joy” of Paul and his co-workers means that
in some sense the community already exists as Paul’s crown in its
present manifestation in Thessalonica. The crown in 1 Thess 2,19,
as in Phil 4,1, has a twofold aspect in that it refers simultaneously
to the present and future situations of the Corinthians 12.
The associations that the crown has in 1 Thessalonians are
slightly ambiguous. The future connotations of the crown as the
“hope” of Paul indicate that the crown to which Paul refers is not
the athletic, perishable one of the polis. However, in 1 Cor 9,24-
27, Paul clearly models the “imperishable crown” on the “perishable
crown” of the athlete; so it is not impossible that Paul means to in-
voke a vision of himself as a successful athlete in these verses. Yet
the crown’s function may be no more than the proverbial “crown of
boasting” found in Prov 16,31 (cf. Ezek 16,12; 23,42 LXX) 13. The
crown is interchangeable with other abstract concepts, and it has no
discrete, unique identity. The crown Paul describes to the Corinthi-
ans clearly exists in post-resurrection time, whereas the crown being
invoked in the minds of the Thessalonians belongs to the present.
The information Paul provides in 1 Thess 4,10-17 has been thought
to yield the interpretative key for understanding his image of the
crown in 1 Thessalonians 2. Ascough, among others, has attributed a
civic importance to what Paul describes as “our hope and joy and
crown of boasting” (h`mw/n evlpi.j h' cara. h' ste,fanoj kauch,sewj,
2,19). Noting that the benefactor of an association at Thessalonica
requires members to wear a crown of roses during the ceremony at
her tomb (IG X/2 260), Ascough imputes a similar usage to the
crown in 1 Thessalonians 2 based on the evidence in 1 Thessaloni-
ans 4, where Paul concludes his letter by praising the Thessalonians
J. GUNDRY VOLF, Perseverance and Falling Away in Paul’s Thought
(Tübingen 1990) 271-273.
PFITZNER, Paul and the Agon Motif, 105-106.
Bockmuehl highlights a tendency in early Christian literature for the
heavenly crown or prize not to refer to the Hellenistic games (cf. 2 Tim 4,8;
Jas 1,12; 1 Pet 5,4; Rev 2,10). See M. BOCKMUEHL, Philippians (BNTC; New
York 2006) 223. Ascough reads the “crown of boasting” (1 Thess 2,19) in
light of voluntary associations. See R.S. ASCOUGH, Paul’s Macedonian As-
sociations (WUNT 2.161; Tübingen 2003) 153.