Ben Witherington is a Bible professor at Asbury Seminary and writes incredibly intelligent books and commentaries that have helped me enormously. This book I got through an IVP book club subscription is a fiction novella (a word I stole off the back cover) about living in Corinth in the middle of the first century. It gives the reader an inside look at the culture in which Paul planted the gospel. The church at Corinth was the most adventurous of all the churches Paul began. Their struggles in adopting to life in Christ were definitely firsts and presented their leaders with brand-new, first time ever kinds of problems. I feel like a lot of pastors read 1 and 2 Corinthians just to remind themselves that problems people face today are not the worst thing ever and that Jesus is faithful to work.
The story itself isn’t exactly riveting, it’s much more like a canvas used to display the culture in which the story takes place. Like any recent Cowboys season in Jerry’s new stadium, the setting of the story is better than the story itself. So, if you are looking for a Bible-era story that is going to pull you in, you’d be better off reading Ann Rice (or just watch the movie). I would, however, suggest this as an accessible way for people to learn more about the culture around the very early church. It’s not overly academic and you will learn without the pain that we have come to associate with learning.
Here’s some fast quotes that painlessly taught me some more:
- p.7, “Estimates suggest that up to half the population of Rome, the Eternal City, were slaves…some of the most highly educated and brilliant persons of the Roman Empire, and some of its best businessmen, were or had been slaves.”
- p.15, “In 146 BC the Roman general Mummius destroyed the ancient city of Corinth, leaving only the ancient temple of Apollo standing.”
- p.39, “Most patron-client relationships were euphemistically called friendships (amicitia). And this is apparently one reason Paul largely avoids using such language in his letters. It would have signaled that Paul and his converts were in a patron-client relationship.”
- p.158, “All of this raises the interesting question of how a high-status Christian like Erastos managed to function, including helping maintain pagan temples, all the while keeping his new faith.”