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The honour owed to the wealthy is redirected to God as the ‘cosmic benefactor’, and to those socially marginalised in the community. The pervasiveness of benefaction allowed Paul to communicate the ‘gospel of grace attractively at a theological and social level’, while undermining the prevailing social reciprocity system: divine grace becomes ‘the great social leveller’32 within the Christian community. Paul’s invention of charisma There are only very few instances of the word ‘charisma’ in extant Greek texts before the writings of Paul, and those instances are subject to scholarly dispute.

14: 5) The charisma of glossolalia, then, is of limited benefit to the church, unless complemented by another charisma: ‘the interpretation of tongues’. Glossolalia operating without interpretation offers no ‘edification’ for the community beyond the self-esteem of the speaker who, without the aid of an interpreter, speaks ‘into the air’ (14: 10). Paul acknowledges that the Corinthian congregation is ‘eager for manifestations of the Spirit’, but urges that such spiritual abilities should be used ‘in building up the church’ (14: 12).

The plural ‘charismata’ suggests that Paul is referring to the wide range of gifts, including those of a supernatural nature, evident in the Corinthian community. This first reference to charisma is notable for the theological context in which Paul encases the spiritual gifts: they are to be understood as ensuing directly from divine grace; and they are to be regarded not as an end in themselves, but as abilities to be used in the period leading to the eschatological event of the Return. This framing of the charismata by a future divine event undermines the fervour and pride with which some Corinthians had revelled in their supernatural gifts.

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