SPECIAL TOPIC: SOPHISTS

The Greek word sophia means wisdom.  The related term sophistēs came to denote someone "skilled" or "educated in rhetoric."  It usually denoted a public speaker, often itinerant, who came to a town and tried to start a school to train the children of the elite class.  This public speaking is what caused the parents to seek them out for private lessons or schooling of their children.

There was a tremendous competition between these "wise men" related to their reputations and ability to attract students.  There was even a set of guidelines for their initial speaking opportunities. One of these set procedures was a time for the philosopher to list his qualifications and strength.

Paul's problems at Corinth seem to be related to

1. factions in the Church, each claiming to follow a particular teacher (1 Corinthians 1-4)

2. Hellenistic-trained Jewish false teachers from Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 10-13)

Paul's disclaimer of "wisdom" in 1 Corinthians 1-4 set the stage for his being attacked by those who gloried in their philosophical, rhetorical training and judged all others in light of these criteria.  It is surprising that Jewish teachers would have gloried in philosophical categories, but a precedent is set in Judaism by Philo of Alexandria and possibly even the training and background of Apollos of Alexandria.

Paul was not a polished public speaker.  He was attacked for this.  He retaliates by writing polished, balanced, well-constructed, rhetorical form in 2 Corinthians 10-13.  He uses their terms, their forms and exposes their improper attitudes and arrogance.  See Bruce W. Winter, Philo and Paul Among the Sophists.

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