In 1 Cor 4:9, Paul writes that God has “displayed” the apostles as condemned to death, “for we have become a theater for the cosmos.” This is followed by three (ironic) antitheses contrasting the apostles, who were foolish, weak, and dishonored with the Corinthians as wise, strong, and honored. Interpretations of this metaphor of the theater have emphasized Roman spectacles of death as background to Paul’s depiction of apostolic adversity. Without denying the cultural significance of public displays of combat and execution, this study proposes a fresh perspective on Paul’s “theater” in view of tragic drama. As in 1 Cor, a central feature of many tragedies was the surprising downfall of those self-assured in their own wisdom and political power. Like his younger contemporary Epictetus, Paul evoked theatrical reversal to deflate the allure of human prestige, which, in his distinctly apocalyptic mode, would be nullified at the final judgment, deus ex machina.


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pp. 813-832
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