Conversion at Corinth : an exploration of the understandings of conversion held by the Apostle Paul and the Corinthian Christians
Conversion has been a neglected topic in recent New Testament research. The thesis attempts to end this neglect through the pursuit of two inter-connected aims. They are: (i) to clarify crucial theoretical issues surrounding the study of conversion and converts, so making more accessible to New Testament scholars the insights offered by recent studies of conversion in several different disciplines. (ii) to explore the understanding of conversion held by Paul and the Corinthians, so contributing to our knowledge of each, and allowing the perspectives of an advocate of conversion and those who responded to his advocacy to be compared. The structure of the thesis flows from these aims. Part 1, Studying Conversion and Converts, examines theoretical issues. The nature of conversion is discussed. Is conversion a universal phenomenon or a particular one? Is it essentially an individual phenomenon or a social one? It is concluded that conversion is best approached through particular understandings of it, but that there are some common features across time and across the boundaries of religious traditions. One of the most important of these common features is that conversion involves both a personally acknowledged transformation of the self and a socially recognised display of change. Alongside the need to understand conversion stands the need to understand converts. Recent studies recognise that converts are active in their own transformation, especially in the accounts which they offer of their conversion experience. Taking issue with dominant recent trends, it is concluded that although such conversion accounts develop they do not necessarily distort. The work on conversion of New Testament scholars Gaventa and Segal is briefly reviewed in the light of the preceding theoretical discussions, and some broad questions with which to approach particular understandings of conversion are defined. These concern expectations as to how conversion takes place, and expectations as to its consequences. Anthony Gidden's structuration theory is selected as an appropriate theoretical resource with which to pursue these questions.