Conrad Gempf: 5th Sparrow

February 2004
A tale of two cities
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Comment on this column WE READ IN PAUL'S LETTER to Corinth of a decision he made when he arrived there: "When I came to you... I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom... I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Christ and him crucified... My message and preaching were not with wise and persuasive words" (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

This seems to mark a change. For we know from Acts that before he went to Corinth, he'd been in Athens, and he acted very differently in these two Greek cities. In Athens among the philosophers (Acts 17), he spoke a bit like a philosopher. His quotations were not from the Old Testament scriptures as they had been in speeches to Jews in other cities. In Athens, he referred instead to inscriptions on their temples and quoted Greek poets and philosophers.

But there is another difference that might account for the change in tactics. It's not Paul thinking about himself and his success rate, it's rather Paul thinking about his audience – who they really were and what they really needed.

The Corinthians certainly wanted to be deep thinkers and learners. They would have loved to have been treated the same way as the Athenian philosophers. But the Athenians actually are philosophers; the Corinthians are wanna-bes. And Paul doesn't treat people according to how they want to be treated, but rather according to what they need.

I think we're called to do the same, you know. You might feel that people will be touched by a story or a style or a computer presentation; you might be right. Now: is that what's going to take them further? Are you growing them or pandering to them?

Dr Conrad Gempf is a lecturer in New Testament at London Bible College. He also writes for and edits the monthly webzine there.

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