… and Sosthenes

by Alistair Matheson

Who was Sosthenes?

I’m guessing not every Bible-lover will remember that this little known figure was actually Paul’s co-producer of the First Epistle to the Corinthians

“Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, to the church of God that is in Corinth …” (I Cor. 1:1-2a)

But who was this Sosthenes?

Some assume he was simply a scribe whose identity needn’t be relevant to the text, with Paul not adding his own personal farewell greeting until the very end (I Cor. 16:21-24). Others go further, saying that although we can’t be certain, he would have been someone who needed no introduction to the Corinthians, a well known figure whose name may even have added weight to the letter.

The obvious fit would be the like-named Corinthian synagogue ruler of Acts 18:17, whom the Jews had beaten up outside Pronconsul Gallio’s tribunal, perhaps for supporting Paul. If that was the same Sosthenes, then his contribution to the epistle would have been more than that of a secretarial assistant. I can easily imagine the ex-synagogue official, now on the move with Jesus’ apostolic band, sitting with Paul, discussing reports from Chloe’s household (I Cor. 1:11), perhaps even alluding to concerns of the likes of another Corinthian ex-synagogue ruler, Crispus (I Cor. 1:14; Acts 18:8?), and discussing what to write.

From his own background knowledge and inside experience, Sosthenes may well have confirmed for Paul the home truths he knew the Corinthians needed to hear; truths among those to which he alluded in the following chapter: “… We (emphasis mine) have the mind of Christ.” (I. Cor. 2:16)

Paul and Sosthenes, and maybe others, surely arrived at the mind of Christ together, before anyone put quill to papyrus.

In an important sense, it’s not so much who Sosthenes was that’s important, as what he represented.

When I did my teacher training, I became fascinated by what educators called the ‘hidden curriculum’. The hidden curriculum is the unwritten, unofficial and often unintended lessons, values and perspectives that students learn – the things they ‘pick up’ unconsciously in the classroom as distinct from what they’re told to write in their jotters.

Gold stars to all who instantly recalled that Sosthenes was generously attributed joint authorship of First Corinthians! Most of us brush past and instantly forget this seemingly cursory reference. Yet the very fact of his mention is ‘hidden curriculum’, standing sentinel at the gate of this weighty compendium of teachings; his presence, as we say in Scotland, is better felt than telt, his inclusion embodying a lesson better caught than taught.

These two words – and Sosthenes – amount to more than a mannerly tribute. They are a signature statement for New Testament leadership culture: ‘Apostles don’t do ministry alone – and neither do those they equip!’

  • Who are you thinking with?
  • Who are you discussing heart matters with?
  • Who are you arriving at the mind of Christ together with (including but beyond your spouse), before you speak to those you lead?

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