“Imitators” (Mimetai) in 1 Cor. 4:16 and 11:1: A New Reading of Threefold Embodiment

in Horizons in Biblical Theology
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Abstract

When it comes to the language of “imitation” (mimesis) in Paul’s letters (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:6-7; 2:14), divisions among scholars are most clearly manifest. At one end of the scholarly spectrum, Paul follows a Stoic model of imitation, according to which the teacher exhorts pupils to follow him, based upon his authority established (demonstrated) by good conduct. Accordingly, Paul is viewed as an advocate of the Hellenistic ideal of unity at the expense of diversity. At the other end of the spectrum, Paul is seen as a social conservative and an obstacle to true liberation. Here the idea of imitation serves as a means of control and domination of others, as post-colonial and feminist scholars have pointed out. So Paul’s exhortation to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1) is understood as a demand for sameness, an appeal to copy Paul. However, the language of imitation can be read through the eyes of “embodiment”—a way of life, as an alternate meaning of imitation in 1 Corinthians, which will lead to the involvement of three aspects of God, Christ and the believer. I argue that imitation in 1 Corinthians is neither a copy or sameness nor a type or model to be emulated by the Corinthians. Rather, it should be understood as a way of life rooted in the image of Christ crucified, which plays a central role in the letter, deconstructing abusive, destructive powers in a community and society and reconstructing a beloved community for all.

“Imitators” (Mimetai) in 1 Cor. 4:16 and 11:1: A New Reading of Threefold Embodiment

in Horizons in Biblical Theology

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