I’ve been enjoying James Thompson’s excellent book, Moral Transformation according to Paul. He has a wonderful chapter on the communal character of the church’s moral transformation.
Paul shares with Aristotle and the Stoics a concern for behavior, but he speaks with a totally different vocabulary, which is nowhere more evident than in the terms with which he establishes the identity of his readers. Unlike ancient moralists, Paul is concerned not with the virtue or happiness of the individual, but with the corporate identity of his communities as the basis for moral formation (p. 53).
He demonstrates from 1 and 2 Corinthians how Paul shapes the church’s self-conception by drawing upon Israel’s identity (“holy” and “elect”) and the community’s new constitution as the family of God.
His concluding paragraph:
Paul shapes the moral consciousness of his gentile converts by instructing them with the vocabulary of ancient Israel. The corporate ethic of his communities is based on their identity as the elect and holy people who live out the consequences of their divine calling. Inasmuch as these communities, unlike the Israelites, are not united by physical kinship, Paul provides an identity of fictive kinship by which they assume the roles of families. These images indicate that the moral life cannot be lived in isolation, but only in the company of others who are called to be elect and holy members of the family. These images also draw boundaries between the in-group and the outsiders that the community expresses by adopting a code of conduct that distinguishes them from others. Insider language drawn from Israel’s Scripture characterizes the moral discourse of this in-group. As in Israel, they respond to the holiness granted by God by being holy in their activities. They respond to their relationship as a family by behaving as family members (p. 62).