Chloe, green shoot, Corinthians

The Greek word chloē (χλόη) means a green shoot of grass or grain.
Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture, is sometimes referred to as Chloē (“Verdant”).

The New Testament gives us more information about the church in Corinth than about any other first-century church. We know the names of several of church’s more prominent members, and we know some of the issues and problems the church was facing. One thing we know from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is that there were factions in the church.[1] Paul learnt about these factions in Corinth while he was in Ephesus. He learnt this from a message delivered by people associated with a woman named Chloe.[2]

Chloe and her “Household”

Paul mentions Chloe’s name near the beginning of 1 Corinthians.

My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:11-12 NIV.

In the Greek text, Paul’s informants are simply referred to as tōn chloēs, which can be translated literally as “those of Chloe.” The CEB, CSB, 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 from (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 includes the Greek 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 about Chloe, rather than aiding our understanding, may mask what Paul is saying about her.

So who was Chloe? Was she a pagan or a Christian woman? Was she a quarrelsome leader of a faction or a concerned leader of a house church? And who were her “people” or her “household”?

Was Chloe a Non-Believer?

Historian Kate Cooper proposes two possibilities about who Chloe and her household 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.”[3]

In New Testament times, when the master or the mistress of a household became a Christian, the rest of the household often followed their lead and became Christians too (e.g., the households of Cornelius in Acts 10:2ff and of Lydia in Acts 16:14-15). At other times, however, members of households became Jesus’ followers, but not the master or mistress. Margaret MacDonald notes that “outside of Acts the reference to whole families offering their allegiance to early church groups is rare (cf. 1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15), suggesting more individualized conversions often took place.”[4] This may be the case, for example, for the households of Aristobulus and of Narcissus mentioned in Romans 16:10-11, and it explains why the men are not greeted, but their households are.[5]

It is possible Chloe was a pagan and that those from her household who informed Paul were Christians. These members of Chloe’s household, her slaves or servants, may have been sent by their mistress to Ephesus for some business purpose and, while there, they took the opportunity to tell Paul about the disunity in the church.

Was Chloe a Quarrelsome Christian?

Kate Cooper’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.” Dr Cooper 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, Cooper argues, “the fact that Paul mentions her without sending greetings or adding a word of praise constitutes quite a noticeable slight.” And, “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.”[6]

I believe that the lack of a greeting may not have been an intentional slight and can be explained in another way. It is possible that First Corinthians is a composite letter, made up of three letters, each authentically written by Paul, and spliced together to form one letter.[7]  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.”[8]

Larry Welbourne sees no reason to doubt that Chloe was a Christian.[9] He even argues that her whole household were Christians. He writes, “The expression tōn Chloēs (literally, “those of Chloe”), without the [Greek] partitive ek used by Paul in other cases, probably implies that Chloe’s entire household are Christians.”[10]

Was Chloe a Concerned Christian?

Like Stephanas and others mentioned in First Corinthians, I believe it is likely that Chloe was a house church leader, and not necessarily one of the quarrelsome and factious ones.[11] I think she 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.[12]

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 that Paul occasionally quotes from, a letter that may well have been written by Chloe. Did Chloe write that some Corinthians were telling women to cover their heads? (cf. 1 Cor. 11:16). Or were they saying, “Women should keep silent in the churches …”? (1 Cor. 14:33).

Chloe may have been concerned by some factions who were causing division by trying to restrict the ministry of women. Moreover, she may have been “as committed as Paul to reestablishing greater unity among the Corinthian Christians, though that tends to be largely forgotten in the scholarly literature.”[13]

One thing is certain, Chloe was known to the Corinthian church, otherwise, Paul would not have mentioned her by name. And, “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.”[14]

Women Ministers at Corinth

Priscilla and Phoebe are two other women of standing connected with Paul and the church at Corinth. Priscilla and her husband Aquila were already in Corinth when Paul arrived there during his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1ff). And the apostle went on to stay with the couple in Corinth for eighteen months, a considerable length of time (Acts 18:11, 18). And Phoebe was a leading member and minister of the church at the Corinthian port town of Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1-2 NIV). As I’ve written elsewhere, these women ministers were prominent and influential in the Christian community.

Both men and women prayed and prophesied in Corinthian church meetings. And though he provides correction about the appearance of hairstyles (or head coverings) of these men and women, Paul did not silence their ministry (1 Cor. 11:5). Paul did ask for silence from tongues speakers, prophets, and women when they were unruly (1 Cor. 14:26-40), but he did not silence edifying speech. Moreover, all of Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 about ministry in the body of Christ were given to all members of the church at Corinth regardless of whether they were men or women, slave or free. Chloe and her household, including her slaves and servants, were probably part of this body.

So, who is Chloe? Kate Cooper writes, “It is probably an unanswerable question, but sometimes an unanswerable question can be a useful tool.”[15] 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 are useful too.


Footnotes

[1] It is traditionally thought that Paul founded the church at Corinth in around 51 AD, but there may already have been a small community of believers there that included Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:1ff). What is clear is that Paul established the Corinthian church and had a strong influence on it.

[2] The Greek word chloē means a green shoot of grass or grain. Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture, is sometimes referred to as Chloē (“Verdant”). Hanz Lietzmann argues that it means “the blonde one” and that it was a name given to slaves. This may mean that Chloe is a freed slave who now, apparently, has slaves of her own. Lietzmann, An die Korinther I, II (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1949), 6.

[3] Kate Cooper, Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women (New York: The Overlook Press, 2013), 3.

[4] Margaret Y. McDonald, “The Religious Lives of Women in the Early Christianity,” Women’s Bible Commentary, Third Edition, Jacqueline Lapsley (ed.) (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 640-647, 645.

[5] In Philippians 4:22, Paul indicates that there were a number of Christians in Caesar’s household, the household of either Claudius or Nero, but neither of these Caesars was a Christian!

[6] Cooper, Band of Angels, 3.

[7] 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.

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

[9] “Nine individuals are mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians and in 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.”
L. L. Welborn, An End to Enmity: Paul and the “Wrongdoer” of Second Corinthians (Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 2011), 230.

[10] Welborn, An End to Enmity, 234.

[11] 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.” Cooper, Band of Angels, 12.
Like Chloe, several other women mentioned in the New Testament were householders who seem to have been independent of a husband or father: John Mark’s mother, LydiaNympha, the “chosen lady,Martha, etc.

[12] Welborn notes, “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).” Welborn, An End to Enmity, 231.

[13] Cornelia Cyss Crocker, Reading 1 Corinthians in the Twenty-First Century (New York/London: T & T Clark, 2004), 114, fn 16 (cf. 117, fn 22).

[14] Cooper, Band of Angels, 20.

[15] Cooper, Band of Angels, 20.

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