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”).

Thanks to Paul’s letters written to and from Corinth, we have more information about the Corinthian church than about any other first-century church. For instance, we know the names of several of its more prominent members, [1] and we know some of the issues and problems the church was facing.[2] One problem was quarrelling factions. While Paul was in Ephesus, he learnt about these factions from people associated with a woman named Chloe.[3]

Paul mentions Chloe near the beginning of 1 Corinthians.

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 CSB).

From these verses, and from the issues addressed in the rest of 1 Corinthians, we can try to piece together some idea of who Chloe is. What is her status?[4] Is she a pagan or a Christian woman? Is she a quarrelsome leader of a faction or a concerned leader of a house church?

Was Chloe a Non-Christian Woman?

Historian Kate Cooper proposes two possibilities regarding Chloe and her position in Corinth.

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.[5]

In New Testament times, when the master or the mistress of a household became a Christian, the rest of the household usually 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). But oftentimes, when members of a household became Jesus’ followers first, their master or mistress did not join them. 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.”[6]

It is possible Chloe is not a Christian but that those from her household who informed Paul are. 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 Corinth.

Was Chloe a Quarrelsome Christian?

Kate Cooper’s second proposal is that Chloe is a Christian but is one of Paul’s rivals and that “those of Chloe” were unhappy about it.[7] Cooper believes that because Chloe is not among those who are greeted in 1 Corinthians, Paul was not on friendly terms with her. If Chloe is a Christian, Cooper argues, “the fact that Paul mentions her without sending greetings or adding a word of praise constitutes quite a noticeable slight.”[8] 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.”[9]

The lack of a greeting may not have been an intentional slight, however, and can be explained in another way. It is possible that 1 Corinthians is a composite letter made up of three letters, each authentically written by Paul, and spliced together to form one letter.[10] 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.”[11]

If Paul’s informants are slaves and servants who are dependent on Chloe, it seems unlikely they would have gone behind her back, speak against her, and risk losing her goodwill. And I doubt Paul would have exposed them in his letter, thus endangering them. It is much more likely Chloe’s servants are acting on their mistress’s instructions.

Was Chloe in Ephesus or Corinth?

Several scholars have argued that Chloe’s home is not in Corinth but in Ephesus. They point out that if “those of Chloe” were members of the Corinthian church, their bad report would have caused more ill-will among the Corinthians who are already quarrelling. Scholars, such as Gordon D. Fee and Paul Trebilco, suggest that Chloe’s servants were members of the Ephesian church who had recently returned from a trip to Corinth and who then reported to Paul (who was in Ephesus at the time) what they had observed. Fee states, “Although one cannot be sure, it is unlikely that these informants were themselves members of the Corinthian community.” [12] C.K. Barret is more cautious. He believes that because Chloe’s people had travelled between Corinth and Ephesus, “they may have been based in either one city or the other.”[13] 

But others, such as Larry Welborn, believe there is little reason to doubt that Chloe was a Corinthian and a Christian. Welborn further suggests that she and her whole household were probably Christians. He argues, “The expression tōn Chloēs (literally, “those of Chloe”), without the [Greek] partitive ek used by Paul in other cases [Rom. 16:10-11], probably implies that Chloe’s entire household are Christians.” [14]

Was Chloe a Concerned Christian Leader?

I propose a third possibility for who Chloe is. We know she is a woman of some means (she was able to send her own servants between Corinth and Ephesus), and so, presuming she is a Christian, it is likely she is a Christian leader, and not one of the quarrelsome and factious ones. Like other relatively wealthy Christian women, Chloe may have hosted and cared for a church based in her home. She may also have been its patron. As such, it seems she was concerned about some of the goings-on in the Corinthian church and took on the responsibility and the expense of sending a delegation to Paul asking for his advice and assistance. She could well have been “as committed as Paul to reestablishing greater unity among the Corinthian Christians.”[15]

As well as the physical resources required to send the delegation, exposing the factions was an action that required fortitude, as the report Paul received must have generated a degree of animosity towards Chloe from some in Corinth, especially from some of the powerful members of the church (cf. 1 Cor. 1:26). Paul does not name the ringleaders of the rival groups.[16] That the leaders of the factions are not named indicates they had a high social status, and so Paul is circumspect in his criticism; he does not name the leaders or address them individually.[17]

Paul mentions “Chloe’s people” as a way of validating the report. The report is not a rumour secretly passed on by unknown persons with unknown characters and motives. The report comes from people associated with a woman known by the Corinthians, a woman who seemingly also has a high social status and has the power that comes with such status (1 Cor. 1:26). Furthermore, Paul identifies his source as a way of indicating his solidarity with them. He is on their side. Paul accepts the report and its source as reliable and he expects the Corinthians will do the same.

The report may not have been just a verbal explanation of what was happening.[18] Much of 1 Corinthians is written in response to a letter that Paul occasionally quotes from. Did Chloe, as a concerned leader, write this letter?[19] Some suggest the letter came from Stephanas and his people, though there is less evidence of this (cf. 1 Cor. 16:17). Whatever the case, Paul took the report given by Chloe’s people seriously and he wrote a letter in reply.

Conclusion

There is little information about Chloe in the New Testament, just one sentence that mentions her name. But one thing is certain, Chloe is known to the Corinthian church, otherwise Paul would not have mentioned her. And if she is the host of a house church that included her whole household, she would have been a woman of standing and one of the powerful.[20] Considering the report that her people brought to the apostle Paul, it is likely Chloe is a prominent female minister like Priscilla and Phoebe who were also women ministers of standing connected with the church at Corinth (Acts 18:1ff; Rom. 16:1-2).


Footnotes

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

[2] We know there were many Gentiles in the church and many people of lower classes, including slaves. We also know the Corinthians favoured spiritual speaking gifts but were using them in a disorderly fashion (1 Cor. 14). Furthermore, some Corinthians were avoiding marriage and others were renouncing sex in marriage (1 Cor. 7)

[3] In the Greek text of 1 Cor. 1:11, Paul’s 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). The addition of the word “household” probably conveys Paul’s meaning.

[4] The Greek word chloē means a green shoot of grain or grass. 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 blonde slaves. This may indicate that Chloe was a freed slave who now, apparently, has slaves of her own. Lietzmann, An die Korinther I, II (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1949), 6.

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

[6] 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. This may be the case, for example, for those “from” (Greek: ek) Aristobulus and “from” Narcissus mentioned in Romans 16:10-11, and it explains why the men are not greeted, but their households are. Furthermore, 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!

[7] Cooper, Band of Angels, 3.

[8] Cooper, Band of Angels, 3.

[9] Cooper, Band of Angels, 3.

[10]  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. Letter C (1 Cor. 1:1-6:11), a “Counsel of Concord” is the letter written in response to the report from Chloe’s people. 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. In 1 Corinthians 5:9, however, Paul refers to an earlier letter. This letter is thought to be lost but perhaps it is included in 1 Corinthians.

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

[12] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Revised Edition (The International Commentary of the New Testament; Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI, 2014), 55. See also, Paul Trebilco, The Early Christians in Ephesus from Paul to Ignatius (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI, 2007), 55. (Google Books)

[13] C.K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Black’s New Testament Commentaries; Bloomsbury, 2004), 44.

[14] L. L. Welborn, An End to Enmity: Paul and the “Wrongdoer” of Second Corinthians (Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 2011), 230. My use of square brackets.

[15] 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). (Google Books)

[16] It has been suggested that animosity and rivalry between Paul and Apollos was the source of contention. The factions, however, began after the two apostles had left Corinth.

[17] Paul does, however, ridicule their arrogance and he warns what will happen if their rivalry destroys “the temple,” that is, the church (1 Cor. 2:16-17; 3:7-8).

[18] There is nothing in the Greek verb dēloō, translated as “it has been reported” (CSB), which necessitates that the information was only a verbal message. BDAG give two definitions for this verb: (1) “to make some matter known that was unknown or not communicated previously, reveal, make clear, show.” And (2) “to make something clear to the understanding, explain, clarify.” (p. 222) Either definition fits the context of 1 Cor. 1:11. The same verb is used of Epaphras’s report to Paul about the church in Colossae (Col. 1:7-8). Epaphras seems to be acting in an official capacity and is described by Paul as a faithful minister (diakonos) in the church at Colossae. There is no similar description of the ministry of Chloe and her people, so we cannot be sure what their role was.

[19] The report from Chloe’s people was about factions and rivalry in the Corinthian church. The letter, which Paul occasionally quotes from, is about celibacy, marriage, and divorce (1 Cor. 7:1-40), eating food sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8:1-11-11:1), and exercising of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:1-14:40). However, these issues were causing division, so we can’t rule out that the letter did not come from Chloe. (See footnote 10.)

[20] Kate Cooper writes, “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.” Cooper, Band of Angels, 20.
Raymond F. Collins writes, “If Chloe actually resided in Corinth and if she was a Christian she, along with Erastus and Gaius (1:14; Rom. 16:23), would have been one the ‘powerful’ Christians of Corinth (1:26).” Collins, First Corinthians (Sacra Pagina Vol 7; The Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 1999), 79. (Google Books)

© April 26 2015, Margaret Mowczko. Revised September 17 2020.

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