Paul’s Corinthian correspondence is both one of the richest resources for early Christianity and a set of texts still rife with historical and literary problems. In 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks as an authoritative figure, legislating on a host of social and ethical issues for a divided community. In 2 Corinthians, however, the situation has imploded: that same community has turned against Paul and preferred apostolic rivals who take pay for their work and boast in their Jewish status as children of Abraham. Since the 1950s, with few—though notable—exceptions, it has been assumed that it was, in large part, the arrival of these so-called “interlopers,” at some point after the writing and reception of 1 Corinthians, that provoked the larger conflict. But the role of the “interlopers,” as well as their motivations for clashing with Paul, have remained a puzzle for Pauline scholarship.
This dissertation will propose a new solution to the problem of the “interlopers” and, in so doing, also propose a new explanation for the dramatic deterioration of the situation at Corinth. First, it will argue that the hypothesis of an “incursion” of apostolic rivals “between” the letters rests on shaky logic and scant textual evidence, and that an older model—where these other apostles were present at Corinth when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians too—has at least as much to recommend it as the incursion hypothesis, if not more. Second, it will examine how the rival apostles’ antagonism toward Paul could have been sparked not out of an effort to subvert Paul’s authority or vaunt their own, nor as part of some fundamental theological conflict, but simply as a reaction to Paul’s own claims, especially in 1 Corinthians. In short, apostles who valued Judaism and relied on community support would have ample reason, simply from 1 Corinthians, to react against Paul: against his claims of unique authority and spiritual exemplarity; against his promotion of financial abstention over Christ’s command that preachers of the gospel receive support for their work; and against his brief but dismissive statements about Jewish ethics and Jewish identity.