Paul employs patronage terminology with some frequency, and in 1 Corinthians he employs it mainly to secure his position against rivals for patronage of the Corinthian church. So argues Joshua Rice in Paul and Patronage: The Dynamics of Power in 1 Corinthians. Paul names himself father in 4:15, claiming the authority of the paterfamilias who has “total authority over his children” (145). Paul, to be sure, attacks “elitist hierarchies” but he does it to create “an egalitarian community, with his own patronal elitism” (138).
One immediately wonders, What of chapter 1? Doesn’t Paul attack the very idea that any founder of apostle could be the patron of the body of Christ?
Not according to Rice, who says that he uses the patronage terminology of charis and pistis to undo the factionalism of the Corinthians so that the church can be unified under “Paul’s patronage” (107). He admits that it is initially ambiguous whether the Corinthians are clients of Paul or God, and acknowledges that Paul the apostle acts in the name of his Lord. But the thrust of the argument is that Paul’s letter is an intervention in a power struggle in which Paul asserts his own supremacy in the Corinthian church.
The church is “threatened by a constituency that is aligning with Apollos” but Paul works hard to call them “back to his patronage” (108). So, “I am of Apollos” is factional, heretical. But “I am of Paul” – that’s perfectly fine by Paul?
Color me unconvinced.