Tucked in a passage about unity in Christ is a line that gets passed over too often:
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. (1 Corinthians 1:11, NRSV.)
Usually when I read the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth I am focusing on the fact of the quarreling among people who identified more with the leadership of Apollos, or Peter, or Paul, and how it took people’s attention off of God. Someone recently pointed out Chloe the other day and it made me wonder: Who is Chloe and why does she have people?
The People of Chloe
Starting with the people aspect, it turns out the word “people” is not explicitly used in the original text; translators put it in to clarify the meaning of the passage. (Other Bible translations use “family” or “household. An extensive compilation of the translations of the verse in English is found at Bible Gateway.)
The original Greek uses the pronoun ton rather than “people”, “household” or “family.” Strong’s interlinear aid renders the Greek as:
It was shown indeed to me concerning you brothers of me by those of Chloe that quarrels among you there are. (1 Corinthians 1:11, Strong’s.)
Putting aside the Yoda-like syntax, Strong’s translation raises a couple of points.
First, when Paul writes “those of Chloe”, does he mean Chloe’s brothers? The word “brothers” in the phrase “brothers of me” must be figurative, since Paul is writing to fellow believers and not his actual siblings. It looks as though he means the same for Chloe by use of the word “those” – Paul is likely referring to Chloe’s fellow Christians.
Second, is he restricting his letter to men only, or is he including all fellow Christians in Corinth? The Greek word translated “brothers” is “adelphos”, which can be meant either for men or for men and women together depending on whether the context is restrictive or not. (See, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, note 6.) The context of 1 Corinthians 1 does not show a reason to consider it restricted only to men, so it appears the NRSV got it right by translating the word as “brothers and sisters.”
Chloe’s Got People
Which brings up Chloe herself. Why is she the one identified as the person the other Christians belong to (“those of Chloe”)? This is where the translators are trying to be helpful by inserting “people”, “family” and “household.” Yet if we think only of family in this context it seems a more domestic arrangement is conveyed rather than the gathering of faith and fellowship to whom Paul is writing. Thinking of it as a household might get us closer to fellowship of Christians if the word is meant to refer to a house church (as opposed to a biologically related household) among the larger number of Christians in Corinth.
A better translation decision (such as in the NRSV) is to speak of Chloe’s “people”, a counterpart to Paul referring to his own companions in Christ. In this case Paul would be comparing Chloe’s relationship to those Christians known as “Chloe’s people” with the relationship he has with his companions. This is not to say Chloe had an apostolic position like Paul’s but it is to say she likely had a position significant enough that people would be known in relationship to her. (See Marg Mowczko’s Who Was Chloe of Corinth.)
If, as some insist, Paul was completely against women being in a position of authority over men, one would expect him to mention this somewhere in his correspondence with the church in Corinth. If his other letters are any indication of style, he might have worded his concern like this: “It has come to my attention you have a woman [Chloe] presiding over a group of brothers and sisters. This must not be! Is there not a man among you who could take over? Don’t wait until I am among you to correct this abomination.”
But he didn’t. Rather than chastise Chloe or the church, he credits Chloe and her people for bringing the real problem to his attention: Don’t get caught up in human leadership, but rather turn your attention to Jesus as the one to follow.
This is good advice for those who insist Paul said only men can lead the church. After all, the Bible record doesn’t support it; see not only Chloe’s example but also Priscilla’s and Junia’s and Phoebe’s, among other friends and fellow workers of Paul’s. (As for passages such as 1 Timothy 2, a more thorough study shows Paul was not restricting women from church leadership over men and women. See the Junia Project’s Defusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb.)
Also, the point is to focus on Jesus and not the people who happen to be in more prominent roles among the church. If those people point to Jesus, the leadership glorifies God. Women have been doing this from the early days of the church, as well as before that under the Old Covenant. The most notable example is Deborah who was a prophet and ruled over Israel (Silencing Women – the guaranteed way for men to stay in control) but there are also women like Huldah who advised royalty on spiritual matters. (Godly Women Teaching Godly Men is Godly (and Biblical).)
Chloe’s prominence in the early church builds on the legacy of Deborah, Huldah and others. It is a legacy worth honoring today as women and men both serve God in pointing people to look upon Jesus as the one true leader worthy of honor, praise and worship.