Why does Paul say Greeks rather than Romans?

You would think, with me being on Spring Break, I would have started working on my sermon for Sunday before now. Sure, the hymns are picked, and the service is organized, and all that, but when it comes to words on the page, I’ve got nothing. I did, however, decide to focus on the Corinthians text for the day rather than the Gospel or the OT reading. All are great texts and all are, in some way, rah-rah-Christianity/God/Jesus texts. We have the ten commandments (which are great), and then we have Paul saying the cross is foolish (which is also great) and then we end with Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple, Rambo style. So, halfway through Lent, the readings seem, to be very “go-get-em!” or “yay team” in nature. Maybe they were specifically chosen because we are halfway through Lent and the crafters of the lectionary thought we might need some pats on the back as we go into the home stretch with our Lenten disciplines.

I’ve decided to focus on the Corinthians text (1 Cor 1:18-25) mostly because of what I’m doing in school right now. With two courses covering Corinthians through historical-critical, queer, feminist, post-colonial, liberation, and other lenses, I’ve been wondering how to take what I’m learning and actually proclaim something. How can I utilize those frameworks to actually strengthen my proclamation of the gospel? It’s possible that I’m going to fall flat on my face trying to do this on Sunday (and if I do, I’ll have 30 minutes between services to re-write it) but I’m gonna give it a shot and see what comes out. And right now, I seem stuck on why Paul juxtaposes Greeks and Jews rather than Romans and Jews, Romans and Greeks, etc.

I mean, Paul was writing to a small community located in the town of Corinth (a little ol’ town near the sea shore). Although it is a Grecian city, it was a city that was destroyed and only recently re-populated by Roman soldiers around 40 B.C.E. It was developed, designed, and built as a colony of Rome, filled with images that perpetuated Imperial Rome’s power, authority, and domination over others. Mixed into this imagery of Roman Imperial power was also the fact that Corinth was a diverse city of traders and merchants. Large numbers of temples from all over the known world were there. Ships would drop off their wares, merchants from a million different places would buy them, and all of this would have taken place under the watchful eyes of Rome. Although Corinth was in Greece, it wasn’t necessarily a Grecian city.

And if that’s the case, then who would Paul’s community recognize as “the Jews” and “the Greeks?” There’s no evidence that there was a Jewish community located in Corinth and, based on the rest of the letter, I’m not sure that Corinth was a mixed community in terms of Jewish and Gentile. Would Paul, then, be their only image of what a Jewish person was like? Or would there be a stereotype that the community would have understood (just like Greek was a stereotype as well)?

I get that Paul is downplaying wisdom here, a rhetoric ploy to actually help reign in some of the groups that he protests against later in the letter. Yet, in this one little bit of text, Paul is busy talking about strength, power, and might. But he does not seem to lay into the image of power that was all around him – the power of Rome. And, from the perspective of Imperial Rome, both the Jews and the Greeks are, to some degree, the same: they are both conquered people. Both groups will have rebellions, both groups will have people sent off into slavery, and both will be saturated by Roman Imperialism. The Greeks might be full of wisdom but they were not Rome. They weren’t THAT powerful. There wisdom might have developed philosophies that covered the known world but, in the nuts and bolts of life, it was Rome that won. They embraced Grecian thought but the wisdom of the world rested in their military, economic, and technological might. If the Jews want signs and the Greeks desire wisdom, what does Rome want? What do all the peoples conquered by Rome want? Why this dichotomy and not something else? Why not talk about the real, visible power that the Corinthians would have lived in? In a Roman colony, why point out the Greeks?