n HTS : Theological Studies - The social construction of Paul’s apostolic leadership in Corinth - original research

Volume 74 Number 4
  • ISSN : 0259-9422
  • E-ISSN: 2072-8050



In a climate of institutional change and loss of authority, it is urgently needed to rethink the legitimacy of religious authority. This article offers a case study of Paul’s authority claims in Corinth, using French & Raven’s theory of social power, to offer new insights into the construction of religious leadership. Paul negotiated renewed acceptance as Corinth’s founder and apostle by appealing to legitimate power that he was a better leader than Moses, even Christ’s ambassador, and by undermining the legitimate power of his opponents who claimed Jewish descent and apostolic miracles as key leadership markers. Similarly, Paul appealed to referent power by portraying his suffering as a mark of Christ-embodying leadership and undermined the referent power of his opponents by denouncing status, patronage support and rhetoric as legitimation for leadership. Paul did not appeal to other power bases (informational, expert, reward and coercion), because he could not be sure to outrank his opponents on those counts. This analysis suggests that religious authority in the form of Paul’s founding apostleship was difficult to comprehend and embed in the social and cultural structures of Corinth at that time. Paul needed to engage in intense contention and negotiation to construct a socially and culturally viable model of leadership that would do justice to his vision of Christian identity. As a corollary, the evidence of the intensity of this conflict at various levels throughout the epistle can be interpreted as supporting the literary unity of the epistle.

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