Triangular Reciprocity: A New Perspective on 1 Corinthians 9

In current New Testament research Paul’s motive for not accepting any form of remuneration from the congregation in Corinth is still an area of contention. One of the reasons for this lack of present consensus can be found in the evolving paradigm which views Pauline ministry from a socio-economic perspective, rather than from a position of social status. One of the new areas in Biblical research is the concept of reciprocity. Several studies grapple with the way in which Paul submitted to or ignored the unwritten laws of reciprocity. In this paper the concept of a triangular reciprocity is explored. The apostle Paul offered the gospel free of charge (1 Cor 9:18) without receiving a reward, but expected the Corinthians to give their lives to God in turn. By toiling hard and providing for himself, Paul compares himself to a slave, who “forwards” the profit of his labour to the benefit of everyone. Despite the lack of a central theme in 1 Corinthians, there are several indicators in the letter that the economic differences between church members played a major part in the problems in the congregation. It is argued that the poor would probably profit the most from Paul’s practice, by not having to contribute to Paul’s salary. Using the economic disparities in the congregation as an interpretative framework for the conflicts in Corinth does therefore deserve new attention. The results of such an investigation may also prove fruitful in understanding the relation of 1 Cor 9 to the rest of the letter.