Original Research - Special Collection: Ignatius van Wyk Dedication

The social construction of Paul’s apostolic leadership in Corinth

Jack Barentsen
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 74, No 4 | a5191 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v74i4.5191 | © 2018 Jack Barentsen | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 20 July 2018 | Published: 12 September 2018

About the author(s)

Jack Barentsen, Department of Practical Theology, Evangelische Theologische Faculteit, Leuven, Belgium; and, Unit for Reformed Theology and Development of the South African Society, North-West University, South Africa

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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.


2 Corinthians; Apostolic Authority; Theology of Ministry; Paul’s Opponents; Church Office; Early Christian Leadership; Religious Leadership; Leadership Self-Sacrifice; Social Power; French & Raven; Social Construction


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