Future Reward and Salvation by Fire: Honor and Shame Discourse in 1 Corinthians 3:14–15

Two monographs on Paul’s use of honor and shame discourse have recently enriched the field of Pauline studies. Jackson Wu traces honor and shame throughout Paul’s argument in Romans and demonstrates their centrality to the letter’s message and purpose.(1) Te-Li Lau introduces the importance of shaming discourse in Pauline ethics and shows its formative effect in Galatians, 1 Corinthians, Philippians, and Philemon.(2) The study of honor and shame discourse holds out promising opportunities for interpreting the Pauline epistles afresh. Of all his letters, Paul makes the most explicit use of honor/shame discourse in 1 Corinthians. In this paper, I am concerned with Paul’s use of honor and shame discourse in 1 Corinthians 3:14–15.

The thesis of this paper is that considering Paul’s use of honor and shame discourse in 1 Corinthians 1:10–4:21 is important for understanding at least one aspect of what Paul’s references to future reward (3:14) and salvation “only as through fire” (3:15) mean. Paul shares in a larger motif found in the Old Testament, Jewish apocalyptic texts, and the teachings of Jesus, which associates salvation and judgment with eschatological honor and shame. Paul’s use of honor and shame discourse associated with the larger eschatological motif of salvation and judgment creates in the readers an “alternate court of reputation” to effectively motivate them to continue in the gospel and not follow the so-called wisdom of the world.

The paper presents an exegetical and theological study of 1 Corinthians 3:14–15, focusing on Paul’s use of honor and shame discourse in 1 Corinthians 1:10–4:21. The first part of the paper summarizes the motif found in the Old Testament, Jewish apocalyptic texts, and the teachings of Jesus, which associates salvation and judgment with eschatological honor and shame. The second part of the paper presents an exegetical and theological study of 1 Corinthians 3:14–15 in view of Paul’s honor/shame discourse in the larger section of 1:10–4:21. I show that Paul associates future reward in 1 Corinthians 3:14 (cf. 3:8) with God’s eschatological commendation or praise (ἔπαινος, 4:5). In contrast, 1 Corinthians 3:15 associates unfaithfulness with the eschatological shame of judgment. Whether Paul’s reference to salvation “only as through fire” is hypothetical or not, the intention of his eschatological metaphor is to help his readers associate with God’s honor values now revealed in the gospel of the crucified Christ (3:18–20).

(1) Wu Jackson, Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes: Honor and Shame in Paul’s Message and Mission (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019).
(2) Te-Li Lau, Defending Shame: Its Formative Power in Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020).

4 thoughts on “Future Reward and Salvation by Fire: Honor and Shame Discourse in 1 Corinthians 3:14–15”

  1. Honor/Shame in 1 Corinthians 3
    It would help to engage a wider range of scholarship on this topic. “Only as through fire” as a hypothetical is not helpful. As a metaphor it needs to unpacked and its use elsewhere explored.

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  2. Has potential
    This idea looks like it has potential, provided that it makes a contribution and does not simply repeat ideas in the two books cited. I would like to see what he has to say about the meaning of “only as through fire” and where there are connections to the HB and Jewish apocalypses.

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  3. No mention of 4:13? It should
    No mention of 4:13? It should be part of the argument: ουκ εντρεπων γραφω ταυτα (My question is itself an echo of Paul’s statement.)

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