Paul's appropriation of the role of the fool in 1 corinthians 1-4

Laurence Welborn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


This essay suggests that Paul's acceptance of the role of the "fool," and, arising out of this, his evaluation of the message of the cross as "folly," are best understood against the background of the popular theater and the fool's role in mime. The interpretation is, therefore, a corrective to the traditional view that the proclamation of the crucified Christ was an absurdity to the people of the ancient world. The essay also offers an alternative to the attempt, in some recent monographs and commentaries, to subsume Paul's "foolishness" under the category of the anti-rhetorical. The essay argues that the term "folly" was generally understood as a designation of the attitude and behavior of a particular social type, the lower class buffoon. As a source of amusement, these lower class types were widely represented on the stage in the vulgar and realistic comedy known as the mime. The essay suggests that Paul's Corinthian detractors labeled him as a "fool," in contrast to the eloquent and sophisticated Apollos. Paul's acceptance of the role of the fool mirrors the strategy of a number of intellectuals in the early Empire, who exploited the paradoxical freedom which the role permitted for the utterance of a dangerous truth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)420-435
Number of pages16
JournalBiblical Interpretation
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2002


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