Our reflection on 1 Corinthians and our research into its cultural background have led us to the conclusion that the basic issue for Paul in this letter is one of social class, status, and the insidious impact of the corrupt values of the Roman Empire. Hierarchies were everywhere. Patrons and clients were bound to each other by tight relationships of inequality. Women were considered by nature to be inferior to men. Wealth was created on the backs of enslaved bodies with no rights whatsoever. Everyone was locked into “their place” in a tight pyramid. At the top sat the emperor, high priest of an imperial religion which justified this hierarchy as normal, necessary, and ordained by the gods.
Against this immovable object of imperial religion and domination, Paul hurled the irresistible force of Jesus’ gospel of radical equality, shared community, and salvation open to all.