Who was Chloe of Corinth?

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My brothers and sisters, those of Chloe have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: Each of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul’, and ‘I am of Apollos’, and ‘I am of Cephas’, and ‘I am of Christ’” (1 Cor. 1:11-12).

Chloe’s name appears just once in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 1:11. But from this one mention, and from the issues addressed in the rest of 1 Corinthians, we can piece together some ideas of who Chloe might have been. Was she a pagan or a Christian woman? Was she a quarrelsome leader of a faction or a concerned leader of a house church?

“Those of Chloe”

Paul mentions Chloe’s name near the beginning of 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:11). Here he writes that he has been informed by people who are somehow associated with Chloe that there are rivalries or quarrels (erides) in the Corinthian church.

In the Greek text, these informants are simply referred to as tōn chloēs, which can be translated literally as “those of Chloe”. The CEB, NASB and ESV translate this short phrase as “Chloe’s people”. However, many English translations have added the word “household” and render tōn chloēs as “some of (or, members of) Chloe’s household” (e.g. NIV, NET, HCSB, NLT).

A few verses down, Paul mentions Stephanas of Corinth, but here the apostle included the word for “household” (oikos): “the household of Stephanas” (1 Cor. 1:16). The insertion of the word “household” in some English translations of verse 11, however, rather than aiding our understanding, may mask what Paul is saying about Chloe.

Perhaps “those of Chloe” were one of the factions in Corinth. In the following verse, Paul writes concerning the Corinthian Christians, “Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul’, and ‘I am of Apollos’, and ‘I am of Cephas’, and ‘I am of Christ’” (1 Cor. 1:12 NASB). Perhaps the informants considered themselves as belonging to the faction “of Chloe” and were not simply members of her household.

On the other hand, the addition of the word “household” may indeed accurately convey Paul’s meaning.[1] If so, who was Chloe, and who or what was her “household”?

Was Chloe Pagan or Christian?

Historian Kate Cooper proposes two possibilities about who Chloe might have been. “The first is that she is a prosperous pagan householder, not herself a member of the Christian community but a figure of respect—or fear—in the lives of the Corinthian faithful. On this reading, the complainers in Chloe’s household are her slaves or servants.”[2]

Kate’s second proposal is that Chloe was a Christian but one of Paul’s rivals, and that “those of Chloe were not happy about it”. Kate believes that because Chloe is not among those who are greeted in First Corinthians, Paul was not on friendly terms with her. If Chloe was a Christian and not a pagan, “the fact that Paul mentions her without sending greetings or adding a word of praise constitutes quite a noticeable slight.” Kate adds, “Perhaps some of her followers have gone behind her back to Paul, the absent founder of the community, with complaints about what is happening in her house.”[3]

I believe that the lack of a greeting may not have been an intentional slight and can be explained in another way. It is likely that First Corinthians is a composite letter, made up of three letters, each authentically written by Paul, and spliced together to form one letter.[4] This composite letter was then circulated among other churches. It could be that Paul did greet Chloe at the end or beginning of a letter, but that this portion ended up on the “cutting room floor”.[5]

Was Chloe Quarrelsome or Concerned?

I propose a third possibility for who Chloe was. Like Stephanas and others mentioned in First Corinthians, I believe that it is most likely that Chloe was a house church leader,[6] and not necessarily one of the quarrelsome and factious ones. I think Chloe may have been concerned about some of the goings-on in the Corinthian church, and so she sent a delegation to Paul asking for his advice and assistance.

Paul took the report given by Chloe’s people seriously and he wrote a letter in reply. Moreover, the report Paul received may not have been just a verbal explanation of what was happening in Corinth; perhaps Chloe’s people also brought a letter written by Chloe to Paul. Much of First Corinthians was written in response to a letter which Paul occasionally quotes from. Did Chloe write this letter? Did Chloe write that some Corinthians were telling her,

Much of First Corinthians was written in response to a letter which Paul occasionally quotes from. Did Chloe write this letter? Did Chloe write that some Corinthians were telling her, “Women should keep silent in the churches . . .”?[7]

For a fourth possibility of who Chloe may have been, read Richard Fellows’ credible remarks in the comments’ section below. Richard suggests that Chloe may have been an Ephesian rather than a Corinthian. Larry Wellborn, however, believes there is no reason to doubt that Chloe was a Corinthian, and that she was a Christian.[8]

One thing is certain, Chloe was known to the Corinthian church, otherwise Paul would not have mentioned her by name. Moreover, “if Chloe’s household joined Paul’s group at the request of their mistress—in the same way as Lydia’s household did—then she is a person of standing among the faithful in Corinth.”

So, who is Chloe? Kate writes, “It is probably an unanswerable question, but sometimes an unanswerable question can be a useful tool.” I have found it useful to investigate who this first-century woman may have been; it has helped me to understand the first-century church at Corinth a little better. My hope is that my musings on Chloe and the quotations from Kate are useful too.


Endnotes

All quotations above and in the endnotes, unless otherwise specified, are taken from chapter one, “Looking for Chloe”, in Kate Cooper’s book Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women (New York: The Overlook Press, 2013), 1-20. The book can be purchased through Amazon here.

[1] Kate Cooper writes, “The Christian communities of the first few centuries have long been referred to as ‘house churches’ because during the early centuries when their group had no legal status and could not own institutional property, Christians met in one another’s homes. The importance of women in the early missions seems to have grown quite naturally out of their central position in households and families.”

[2] Like Chloe, several other women mentioned in the New Testament were householders who seem to be independent of a husband or father: Lydia, Nympha, the “chosen lady”, Martha, etc.

[3] If these informants were servants and slaves who were dependent on Chloe, it seems unlikely that they would have had the temerity to go behind her back and risk losing her goodwill. Moreover, I doubt that Paul would expose them in his letter, and thus endanger them, by openly stating who the informers were.

[4] Larry Welborn proposes that there are three letters contained in First Corinthians. Letter A (1 Cor. 10:1-22; 6:12-20; 10:23-11:34) covers issues related to associating with immoral and idolatrous people.  Letter B (1 Cor. 7-9, 12-16) was written in response to a letter from the Corinthians. Larry refers to Letter C (1 Cor. 1:1-6:11) as “Counsel of Concord”. L. L. Welborn, “The Corinthian Correspondence” in All Things to All People: Paul among Jews, Greeks and Romans, Mark Harding and Alanna Nobbs (eds) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013) 214.

[5] Larry Welborn notes that “the removal of prescripts and postscripts was standard practice in the making of a letter compilation.” Welborn, “The Corinthian Correspondence”, 214.

[6] In some of the larger cities such as Rome, Ephesus, and Corinth there were several house churches which were collectively called “the church at Rome” or “the church at Corinth” etc.  Kate writes, “There was no Church in antiquity, in the institutional sense. The movement was a patchwork of independent communities, and in the early years, the communication networks and leadership patterns were characterized by improvisation.” Towards the end of the first century, and into the next two centuries, however, each city’s house churches were overseen by an increasingly centralised and hierarchical leadership team of bishops, elders and deacons.

[7] Depending on what the correct interpretations of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 1 Corinthians 14:34ff are, Chloe may have been concerned by some factions who were trying to restrict the ministry of women.

[8] Welborn writes,

Nine individuals are mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians and Romans in connection with Corinth: Chloe, Crispus, Gaius, Stephanas, Fortunatus, Archaius, Tertius, Erastus and Quartus. In every case, the evidence suggests that these individuals are to be identified as Christians and are members of the ekklesia in Corinth. Some scholars have expressed doubts whether Chloe resided in Corinth, and whether she herself was a Christian, but on insufficient grounds in both respects. The fact that Paul mentions her name to readers in Corinth without introduction (in 1 Cor. 1:11) indicates that Chloe and her “people” were well known to Christians there. The expression tōn Chloēs (literally, “those of Chloe”), without the partitive ek used by Paul in other cases, probably implies that Chloe’s entire household are Christians. . . . Chloe was a person of some financial means, as demonstrated by the fact that she was able to provision members of her household, whether slaves or former slaves, to travel to Ephesus where they reported to Paul about the troubles in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:11).
L. L. Welborn, An End to Enmity: Paul and the “Wrongdoer” of Second Corinthians (Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 2011) 230-231, 234.

Image

Chloē is a Greek word which means “green shoot”.


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