Foolish Rhetoric in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31: Paul’s Discourse of Power as Mimicry

South Africa is a young democracy whose colonial and Apartheid legacies are still fresh in the minds of some, while the lasting impact and consequences of hegemony is still tangible and measurable. This is the context against which Paul’s appeal for a different understanding of wisdom and appearance to insist on breaking through the conventions of the day (1 Cor 1:18-31) is read. On the one hand, since it was Empire that largely defined wisdom in the first century CE, Paul’s rhetoric of foolishness can be interpreted as critique of and even a subtle challenge to the imperial discourse of wisdom and power. But simultaneously Paul invoked a new discourse of power through his rhetoric which leaned heavily on the Scriptures of Israel for its authentication and authority, by direct invocation and otherwise. It is a postcolonial optic that enables one to see Paul discourse as mimicry, negotiating power as much with the discursive colonialism of the Romans as with the recipients of his letters, and also with the Scriptures of Israel, renegotiating their meaning through their induction into Paul’s hermeneutics.