Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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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17 thoughts on “Who was Chloe of Corinth?

  1. Excelente articulo como los demás. Gracias por el buen trabajo que haces y la forma como nos ayudas a acercarnos a la Biblia.
    Bendiciones.

    1. Gracias, Olga.

  2. It is more likely that Chloe was from Ephesus. Chloe’s people had informed against the Corinthian church, so it would have been undiplomatic for Paul to reveal their identity if they were part of the Corinthian church.

    There is no evidence of house churches in Corinth.

    1 Cor is not a composite.

    1. Ah, so you think that Chloe’s people had travelled to Corinth for business or some other reason, and then brought back a bad report to Paul who was in Ephesus at the time. That’s interesting, and plausible.

      In that case, I wonder at Paul “outing” his informants. There seems to have been bit of travelling going on by members of Pauline churches. Stephanas and his buddies (or slaves) had travelled from Corinth to Ephesus. I wonder how he would have felt meeting Chloe’s people if they had ratted on the Corinthians. Instead, I imagine that Paul mentions Chloe to validate her and her concerns, and that she was a Corinthian.

      The composite idea helps to make sense of (among other things) the sometimes conflicting advice and instructions that keep popping up in First Corinthians about eating meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8:4-13; cf 1 Cor. 10:14-22, 25-28). The differing advice may reflect slightly different problems that developed surrounding this issue.

      1. Yes, I imagine that Chloe’s people had travelled to Corinth on business. Paul mentions them perhaps to shame the Corinthians by pointing out that even outsiders are aware of their divisions. There may be a similar thing going on in 1 Cor 5:1.

        It is quite possible, or even likely, that Stephanas shared the concerns that Chloe’s people reported. Paul gives a strong endorsement of Stepanas’s household so we should probably assume that Paul and Stephanas were on the same page. Paul puts a positive gloss on Stephanas’s report, perhaps for diplomatic reasons. In any case, in 2 Cor Paul puts a positive gloss on Titus’s report and this seems to be to avoid jeopardizing Titus’s relationship with the Corinthians. This explains the difference in tone between 2 Cor 7 and 2 Cor 10-13. We do not need to partition 2 Cor, let alone 1 Cor.

        1. I find the partitioning of 2 Corinthians, and Philippians, quite helpful. (It is not especially helpful in 1 Cor.) But this is a minor matter that I hold loosely and am happy to disagree on.

          Like you, I am interested in Paul’s coworkers, especially his female coworkers. I have read your blog in the past, and am happy to “meet” you now on mine.

  3. Thanks for letting me know about Kate Cooper’s book. That goes on my to be read list!

    1. Hi Robin, I’m enjoying Kate’s book. She has some interesting perspectives that are new to me.

      Even though she is scholar, the book is written for a broad audience, including people who know nothing about the context of the first century church.

      There’s quite a long preface, but it’s one you won’t want to skip or read lightly.

      Chapter 3 on the Galilean women was thought provoking and heart warming. I’m up to chapter 4 which is on Thecla at the moment. I hope to write something about her one day. But right now I need to catch up on uni work.

      1. Thanks, Marg.

        I used to partition 2 Corinthians too, but I have repented of that! 😉

        Richard.

  4. During Paul’s missionary journeys, he came to a place where the men had been sent away to war and there were no one to manage the church business and conduct service but women. Paul appointed a woman to manage and be in charge. Who was that woman? I need this info to present to the congregation because there are so many people against women preachers.

    1. Hi Annette,

      Compared with the previous century, there were only a few outright wars in the Roman Empire in the first century AD. Certainly many men were Roman soldiers, but they didn’t leave towns undefended and deserted. Roman soldiers were everywhere in the Empire. And many soldiers who had completed active duty lived in Roman colonies such as Corinth and Philippi.

      I have not come across any evidence that a woman was put in charge of a church because there were no men. Most New Testament letters, and post-apostolic letters, written to first and second century congregations mention men as ministers. Several letters also mention women as ministers.

      I don’t know of any ancient document that plainly mentions that Paul appointed a woman to be in charge. However, Paul does mention women like Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2), Priscilla, with her husband Aquila, Nympha (Col. 4:15), and Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3) as being ministers, without saying who appointed them. Some of these women may well have been in charge of the network of house churches in their town. Or they may have simply hosted and led one of the house churches.

      Paul may have left the Ephesian church in the hands of Priscilla and Aquila, but this is not plainly mentioned. (see Acts 18:18-27.) More on Priscilla here: https://margmowczko.com/tag/priscilla/

      Lydia was probably the first person in charge of the church at Philippi once Paul and Silas moved on (Acts 16). (She is the only Philippian named in Acts 16.) Perhaps you are thinking of her. Lydia was a Jewish convert, and there may not have been many Jewish men in Philippi, but there were plenty of other men. More about Lydia here: https://margmowczko.com/tag/lydia/

      I’m sorry that there are many people in your congregation who are against women preachers. That is very disappointing. I wish you the very best as you reason with them.

      Blessings!

  5. Did Chloe write that some Corinthians were telling her, “Women should keep silent in the churches …”?

    Thanks for passing this on to me, Marg. Now I have a related question. The above comment–I have heard this interpretation from two very good sources (one a study group of Messianic Jewish follower who have matter-of-factly made this observation that Paul was quoting. Another was from a Greek scholar in Athens that my boss had actually asked what he thought of the particular passage and, again, this independent source just matter-of-factly said, “Well, Paul is quoting here…”).

    So, what are the indications this is a quote? Is there something in the structure of the Greek that would mark it as a quote? (I know there are no quotation marks or italics in koine Greek–so is there something specific about the structure that I may be missing?).

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Darryl,

      I briefly discuss the quotation idea here: https://margmowczko.com/interpretations-applications-1-cor-14_34-35/

      A point often brought up by people who favour the quotation interpretation is that, after the supposed quotation in verses 34-35, Paul uses a one-letter-word (the Greek letter η: eta) at the beginning of verse 36 that is equivalent to an exclamation such as “What?!” And Paul then reprimands the Corinthians, or certain Corinthians, for trying silence women.

      However, the one-letter-word η can also mean “or.” In fact, this tiny word occurs twice in 1 Corinthians 14:36. Many English translations (CSB, ESV, NIV, etc) translate the word both times as “or.” The KJV has “What?” and then “or.” (You can compare some translations here.)

      My preferred interpretation is the one I present here: https://margmowczko.com/1-corinthians-1434-35-in-a-nutshell/
      But I also think the quotations idea and another the interpolation idea, both briefly discussed in the first article I linked to, are credible and make good sense of the surrounding passage.

      I hope this helps.

  6. I have always read Chloe as a believer, so it is interesting to consider that she may not be. I still think she probably was, but that the evidence is ambiguous.

    On 1 Cor and 2 Cor being merged letters, I think they are both coherent as each being a single letter. See Ken Bailey’s Paul Thru Med. Eyes on 1 Cor, which won an award, altho I do not agree with him on 1 Cor 14.

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005VLOJG4/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i1

    The question for 2 Cor is how to read it as a coherent letter and one explanation I have seen is in Chris Smith’s Paul’s Journey Letters. This seems reasonable to me. One frustrating aspect of the book series is he is trying to show that referencing chapters and verses is not required, but I think this just makes the book harder to figure out.

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0830858067/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i1

    1. Thanks Don.

      The compilation idea helps to explain why some bits of the Corinthian letters don’t flow. 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, for example, seems to be an insertion. You can skip over it and the text flows beautifully. Philippians may also be a compilation of two or three genuinely Pauline letters.

      I also disagree with Kenneth Bailey’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, but he says heaps of other good things. I have added a series of videos of Bailey here.

  7. Re: “ 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.”

    Could Stephanus et al be the people of Chloe? I.e., these were the. Members of her household that had brought the news to Paul?

    1. Stephanas is presented as a leader of another household in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15-18), and Chloe is not mentioned in association with it.

      I’ve written about Stephanas here.

      Phoebe was a leader of a household in Cenchrea, a port town of Corinth. Scholar Susan Mathew suggests, “Phoebe’s mission in relation to the community at Cenchreae may be the same as that of the house of Stephanas …”

      Stephanas identified as the chief elder of the church at Corinth in an apocryphal letter written to Paul from the Corinthians. I’ve written about this letter here.

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