Lecture: 1 Corinthians
This is the 9th lecture in the online series of lectures on understanding the Epistles and Revelation, in complement with the textbook by Craig Blomberg’s Book, Acts through Revelation, An Introduction and Survey. (Please note that all italicized words consist of Hebrew, Greek and or Latin words.)
I. 1 Corinthians Background
First Corinthians is very different from any of the three books surveyed in previous lectures: Galatians, 1st & 2nd Thessalonians. It is more than twice as long and at first glance doesn’t seem to have any integrating themes but instead reads like a potluck or potpourri of problems and as many things as one could imagine going wrong with a single church as one time. For precisely that reason, it contains some of the most practical conversations about sexual morality, marriage and divorce, speaking in tongues and the use of other spiritual gifts; about gender roles in home and church, the taking of the Lord’s Supper in proper and improper fashion etc. and merits very close scrutiny indeed.
The setting of the letter is not difficult to determine. Paul founded the church in Corinth on his second missionary journey. It’s located just southwest of Athens. Paul arrived there from the north and stayed for some time. You remember that after Corinth, Paul actually returned to Jerusalem for the Pentecost Festival there. We are also able to date and place the location of Paul when he wrote 1st Corinthians as any of his letters. In 1st Corinthians chapter 16:8, we read that he would stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost because a door of effective work had opened to him there and interestingly there were many who opposed him. But because he stopped only briefly at Ephesus on his second missionary journey, he could not have written these words that come only after the founding of the church there and anticipating a prolonged period of time with the fledgling Ephesian Christians. That means that 1st Corinthians must have been written during his third missionary journey and during that three year period of time when Paul ministered in and around the port center and major trade capital of Asia Minor. As he anticipates coming to Corinth again and even appears that he is in route to Corinth, even as he writes, suggest that he did succeed in following his plans. Most scholars assume that 1st Corinthians stems from the end of the period of time in Ephesus and hence dates to around AD 55.
(The following two paragraphs have the lecturer describing certain buildings, items and inscriptions within Corinth from a few slides he is displaying for his original class. Make sure you down load the appropriate PowerPoint slides, if they are available; otherwise, do a search on Google and most likely you will be able to find photos that fit the lecturer’s points.)
The excavations at Corinth are extensive and in many instances, very dramatic. The Arco Corinth which means, the Hill of Corinth or the Corner of Corinth, stood in slightly later times as an elaborate Roman fort which one can still view and well beyond on a clear day, makes one realize just how large an urban center Corinth was. The central streets crisscrossing the city center have been uncovered in many places. You can see the Agora (central market place) and particularly shops entrances delineated with their arch ways and an archaic temple dedicated to one of their many gods of polytheistic pre-Christian Greece which remains with a few of its principle pillars not far from the Agora and plus three foundational pillars to a temple to Augustus reminding us of significant Roman Imperialism, presence and supervision in the Corinth of New Testament times. One of the intriguing sites of ancient Corinth was the center or shrine devoted to one of the many deified heroes of ancient Greece such as Asclepius and many others. Offerings were fashioned out of clay and stone representing parts of the human body for which the individual used as they prayed to the gods for healing of that part of the body. This stonewall and remanence of large chair attached to it shows the probable location of Roman Gallous, called the judgment seat where he would have heard the case against Paul and dismissed it as described in Acts 18, quite possibly it was a judgment seat like this that inspired Paul to use his metaphor of the judgment seat of Christ at the end of time in 2nd Corinthians 5:1-10.
The letters etched on one such stone as shown by the lecturer are in Greek capital letters, gamma omega, gamma eatha, epsilon beta row which formed the four letters at the end of the Greek word: sunnagogay or synagogue and the first three letters of herbryon or Hebrew, a first-hand demonstration of the presence of a Hebrew or Jewish Synagogue in Corinth as attested in Acts 18. There is craved relief work showing the seven branch candle obbra in a pillar that has been preserved and perhaps associated with the synagogue or with some other Jewish building. Another dramatic inscription, in Latin, refers to an individual by the name of Erastus in the second line, after which comes a portion of the word pro-e-dail, a Latin term for a manager of public works, a rough contemporary equivalent; intriguingly, there is in the Book of Romans, written from Corinth as we will see when we discuss that letter, a reference to an Erastus whom Paul wishes to greet in the Church of Corinth who was described in Greek and who very well could be the equivalent to the pro-e-dail. Of course, this does not prove we have the very individual in view; it’s possible that men with the same name occupy the same office but this coincidence is intriguing. The dating comes from the correct period of time and it may well be that we have archaeological collaboration of yet another detail in the Scriptures of this particular inscription.
We have already mentioned the barrage of different problems that appear in the Church in Corinth as reflected by the issues that Paul has to address. We can see this vividly illustrated in outline of the letter, the body of which does not at all correspond to the conventional Hellenistic division of largely information, followed by a predominately exhortation. Rather it appears that Paul has begun by responding to the news he has received from representatives such as from an otherwise unknown woman from the Corinthians Church by the name of Choe as he describes in chapter 1:10 and following verses. This information primarily has led him to know about the divisions in Corinthian congregation and not surprisingly he devotes most of the first four chapters to this topic. He then proceeds to touch on three other issues, much more briefly, a case of the man living in sin having sex with his father’s wife, probably meaning a step-mother. The scandal of Christians suing one another in the pagan courts and thus bringing Christian witness into disgrace and the issue of sexual immorality more generally, particularly as illustrated in the practice of prostitution, not surprisingly, wide spread in a sea port like Corinth but perhaps exacerbated by the Temple of Aphrodite which stood roughly in the place where the ruins of the Roman Fortress mentioned in the previous paragraph or so. This Temple housed as many as one thousand prostitutions known as priests and priestesses that worked there. There was the belief, not limited to paganism of the ancient world that such sexual union with a priest or priestess was a form of union with the god or goddess. There were both homo and heterosexual opportunities for such union to occur.
We don’t know for sure who the messenger was that brought information of these problems but it seems to be a reasonable hypothesis, particularly as we turn to the second and largest major section of the body of Paul’s letter. And so, beginning in chapter 7 where Paul appears to mark a shift in describing the source of his information as he explains in verse 1: now for the matters you wrote about. Here we learn that the Corinthians had sent him a letter to which he is responding just as we can discern from chapter 5:9 that Paul had written a previous letter to the Corinthians. And when we introduce our next letter, Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians, we will say a few more things about them, now lost letters as precursors to a fuller discussion of the entire sequence of Paul’s correspondence with and from the church in Corinth.
If it is reasonable to infer that not only the very next topic, issues of marriage and marriage related matters in chapter 7 stemmed from the letter that the Corinthians wrote to Paul, but also subsequent topics did as well, then we may consider food sacrificed to idols, spanning chapters 8-10, a triad of issues surrounding public Christians worship in Corinth, what men and women did or did not wear on their heads, the use and abuse of the Lord’s supper and right and wrong practices related to spiritual gifts, questions about the resurrection and finally, instructions about the offerings for the impoverished saints in Jerusalem, all as stemming one way or another from the letter the Corinthians wrote to Paul. Finally verses 5-24 may be viewed as an extended conclusion in which Paul discusses some of his travel plans as well as those of his associates and acknowledges meeting up with the household of Stephanus as well and then sends final greetings.
Is there any way to make sense of this mixed group of problems that Paul has to confront the Corinthian church about? There certainly doesn’t need to be for any logically compelling reason, but it is intriguing to ask the question if there is some central underlining error that could have accounted for this range of issues. Indeed there are several plausible suggestions. The title that we have used for our comments is in more detail in the textbook. What about misguided views of Christian maturity? Can at one very broad level explain what seems to be a very casual or lackadaisical attitude which the church has had, even to some of the most serious of their sins? Read the opening paragraph of 1st Corinthians 5 for perhaps the most dramatic example of this.
II. Results of Sharp Division Between Body and Spirit
But if we probe beneath the surface a bit more, we will see that the philosophical dualism owing its origins as far back as the writings and life of Plato, spanning the 4th and 5th centuries BC had given the Greek and Roman philosophy more broadly than the Neo-Platonism of the 1st century, a sharp division in religious and ideological thinking between the material world and the immaterial world, which meant that for much Greco-Roman Anthropology, their beliefs about the human person. There was an equally sharp dichotomy between the material body and the immaterial soul or spirit of an individual. Interestingly, the results of a sharp dichotomy between these two parts of the human person led in various Greco-Roman philosophical and religious thoughts combinating perhaps at the end of the 1st century and into the 2nd century with a full blown syncretistic combination of Christian and pagan thoughts in the religious world known as Gnosticism in two quite different out workings ethically and in practical living. Quite different from our religious and pagan world views of the 21st century, the majority of philosophical dualist or their less philosophical sophisticated followers in and among ordinary humans were a kind of ascetic practices. In short, if the material world was irredeemable and inherently evil as much of the Greek philosophical speculation from the time of Plato onward has likewise affirmed as one could look forward only to the immortality of the soul rather than the resurrection of the body, then it made sense to try to buffet the body, to try to deny those bodily appetites that could so easily turn abusive and additive.
Therefore, one could easily limit one’s understanding of spiritual maturity nearly to the inward intangible invisible spirit and define spirituality not in terms of external practices. This could easily lead to the false sense of maturity that apparently permitted the divisions within the Corinthian congregation. No verse in chapters 1-4 puts this more dramatically than 4:8, dripping with irony, Paul lambasted the church, ‘already you have all you want, already you’ve become rich, you have begun to reign and that was without us.’ Unless anybody think that he is speaking factually and literally, he then goes on to add, lamenting, ‘how I wish you had begun to reign so that we might reign with you.’ The claims to a kind of elitist or super spiritual wisdom that Paul has to address in the latter half of chapter 1 and first part of chapter two and then redefine in chapter 3. Probably draws from this same spiritual source. The problem of advocates of celibacy which appears to lay behind chapter 7 which fits this same ascetic tendency of dualism as does the absolute prohibition of certain forms of food and drink seen in chapters 8 and 10. Perhaps the problems that led Paul to pen chapter 15 were likewise an outgrown of the belief in a nearly spiritual rather than a bodily resurrection.
Dramatically differing from this branch or outgrowth of Hellenistic dualism was a minority faction that was hedonist rather than ascetic which was flesh indulging rather than flesh denying. Hence the sexual sin that Paul has to confront. The oblivious nature the church had for those who drink or eat without any concern for the so called weaker brother or sister. For those demanding pay in chapter 9 for Christian ministry and for the drunkenness at the Lord’s Table in chapter 11. For the disrespect in both chapter ‘s 11 and 14 of the appearance that would communicate to the Corinthian culture sexual propriety and perhaps religious propriety as well and to the overall apparently chaotic nature of the use of the spiritual gifts in public worship also. That is quite a list! We can perhaps say even more; in 1st Corinthians 1, we may infer from verses 26 and following that while not many of the Corinthian Christians initially wise by human standards or influential or of noble birth. That very statement implies that a few were.
III. Patron/Client Problems
We alluded briefly in our last lecture on 1st & 2nd Thessalonians to a social institution that was endemic and pervasive in the Greco-Roman world in the 1st century, that of patronage. In a world without any standardized or institutionalized welfare system; if the poor people in community or rural regents of the Roman Empire were to receive any assistance from anyone outside their immediate or extended families or historic clans or tribes, it was through the informal but nevertheless very expected custom of patronage. For the handful of prosperous and at times extremely wealthy land owners, court assistants, and political, philosophical and religious leaders in institutionalized forms of religion and the occasional successful business person or entrepreneur with their wealth, came the responsibility and social expectation to gather around themselves a large group of people as might have need and who could be helped through the wealth of the estate of the person in question. In return for which those clients as the term came to be used owed their patriots the responsibility to work odd jobs around the estate as need required and to wait on the members of the household to accompany them in public, particularly in the cities, giving them an entourage that demonstrated their status in Roman society and to vote for them when they ran for public office, to support them in more informal clubs and trade guilds and other associations, etc.
It would be hard to believe that Christians, coming to faith from a background of such patronage would not at times find it difficult to make a break or believing it was necessary to make a break from this system. Recent writers such as Andrew Clark, Jonathan Chow and Bruce Winters and others have demonstrated in some detail in how a substantial majority , though perhaps not every last problem Paul must deal with in first Corinthians could have come from Christians still trying to practice a system of having patrons with their clients. The very need to divide into house churches once the Christian fellowship in Corinth got larger than fifty or so people, would have meant that the more well to do home owners would have been sought as owners of places the Corinthian church could naturally meet. And thus it would be equally natural for those host and hostesses assume that they could be the leaders in charge and indeed have the responsibility of the well-being of the remaining Christian attendees. It is a short step from this kind of division to the outright factions that Paul must confront in 1 to 4.
The unprecedented nature, even in pagan circles, of the sin covered here and the particular type of incest that Paul berates in chapter 5 is probably comprehensible only if the man who had fallen into this sin was a wealthy power broker and former patriot. That appears to be about the only reason the church was reluctant to confront him that fits this historical time period. We also know in the ancient Roman Empire that for the most part the wealthy sued the wealthy, primarily to gain greater status and honor and shame their opponents rather than to fill their pockets with money which they didn’t need. While prostitution was by no means limited to the upper class, it is intriguing to know that there was a coming of age party for the Roman young man at about the age of eighteen and which the higher class prostitutes would be now available to him for the first time in a banquet, not unlike the elaborate symposium that was originally in the Greek world but now also in the Latin equivalent. Another problem; why would some Christians in Corinth not be able to eat meat sacrificed to idols with a clear conscience and others would have no problem in doing so? Probably as Gear Tyson has shown, because the poorest of the Christians, before coming to Christ, may have had access to meat primarily or exclusively only at the community civic festivals when meat was available for public consumption, free of charge.
So why would Paul be reluctant under certain circumstances to accept money for ministry? Perhaps because some former patriot’s would assume that as in their pre-Christian world when one gives money to a person, then they have the right and even responsibility to decide and direct the person’s actions in what they do or say, even in their work or ministry. Paul would not allow such people and such things to cause them the think they were in charge of him. The out of control women in 1st Corinthians 14 along with the inappropriate use of head covering and the lack thereof of both genders probably stems from the fact that the only women that were typically able to take public roles in the religious worship in the Greco-Roman world were those who were well-to-do and thus formed a part of the world of patrons, either because they had access to education that other women normally did not or because they were spouses powerful men and were allowed freedoms that other women were not. The abuse of the Lord’s Supper as reflected in the latter half of Romans 11 similarly may well have stemmed from the fact that the poor Christians would have had to work longer hours, not being able to come to the services early, not be able to bring much food or drink for communal meals they shared together in the church. So when Paul berates certain members in the Corinthian church for over eating and over drinking at the expense of others, it is very natural to assume that this divide occurred along the socio-economic division of rich and poor. And finally the public flaunting of spirit gifts more generally, particularly tongues and prophecy that Paul dealt with in chapters 12 - 14. People’s wealth perhaps bought them a particular role in the running of the early Christian church.
None of this is to say that being a rich Christian then or now relegates one to a kind of second class Christian status guarantees a series of problems. But it is certain true that temptations have been present more often than not throughout Christian history of well to-do Christians thinking they could use their money to obtain privileges to which others did not have access or to avoid being disciplined by threatening to withhold their giving; when they committed sins in need of church discipline and in contact, where less well to do Christians would have without question been disciplined.
IV. Divisions in the Church (1:10-4:17)
At last we are ready to return to the contents of the letter and survey it in more systematic fashion and unpack the broad outline which we considered earlier. The problem of factions within the church in chapter 1:10 through the end of chapter 4 may be subdivided first into an identification of the problem in verses 10 – 17. Here we learned first of all in verses 10 – 12 that people are aligning themselves with such as Paul or Apollo or Peter, all who have had some period of ministry in Corinth while still others thinking that they are better for so doing only identify only with Christ but yet apparently end up being also divisive.
Verses 13 – 17 berate this form of division and as part of Paul’s response he appeals to the common baptism that all have received in the name of Jesus rather than names of people or Christian leaders. It could well be that the dividing factions and leaders of the various house churches was a kind of series of cliques developed as people were converted and baptized under the ministries of different people who had visited Corinth. What is the antidote to these factions? The rest of the chapters 1 – 4 present a series of answers implicitly to that question. Chapter 1:18 – 2:5 defines the necessary center of the Gospel message: the Cross of Jesus Christ, even though this is viewed as foolish in the eyes of the world by Jew and gentile alike. If one focuses on the agonizing death which Christ willing and voluntarily endured in sacrificing himself to atone for the sins of the world that is the people of the world who in turn did deserve judgment that God would have meted out on them. What they were doing in setting themselves up in rival factions did not make sense. Sub dividing the section we may see the paragraph in 1:18-25 as Paul promising that what the non-Christian world though to be a sign of strength, merely human wisdom would ultimately be destroyed and at what the non-Christian world thought to be merely weakness, a crucified Messiah and followers of His willing to suffer for their faith, especially those who came from by human standards no exalted pedigree at all, would be vindicated and shown to be truly wise one day. Thus the heart of Paul’s message in 2:2 boils it down in what some might see in the one verse, being the theme of 1st Corinthians, is that Paul declares that he knew nothing except Jesus Christ crucified, a statement which obviously from the very letters to the Corinthians cannot be taken to mean he spoke about no other topic, but rather that this was the central unifying principle of his message.
The second antidote to the factions in Corinth begins in chapter 2:6 and continues to the end of chapter 3. There is an appropriate form of wisdom in which Christians must grow but it is not the wisdom of this fallen world that leads no room for God or the Christian Gospel in its mist. It is Christian wisdom and here Paul confronts those within the church at Corinth who apparently believed they were promoting such Christian wisdom but were, in fact, utilizing the concepts of a fallen world around them, creating an elitist and therefore divisive mentality. So Paul’s response is to use language of an elitist factionalism, language which would be used later in full blown Gnosticism and perhaps reflects the very beginning of this movement, dualism as it was already in Corinth in the Ad 50’s by writing in verse 6. ‘We do however speak a message of wisdom among the mature.’ The τέλειος (Greek) or the Perfect, but less anyone think that Paul is focusing on a small sub-group of the total sum of the Christian community in Corinth, he goes on to make it very clear that the mature, the person who has spiritual wisdom is anyone who has the spirit in them, namely all Christians. He sets up a distinction in chapter 2:6-16, particularly in the latter half of this segment between what the King James or AV calls the natural person but which the NIV and other modern translations correctly interprets in verse 14 a contrast between a person without the spirit and verse 15, a person with the spirit.
Chapter 3 has misled readers and even theologians at times because it continues to refer to spiritual individuals but now does subdivide the Christian person into those who are mature and immature; those who merit the title spiritual and the carnal individuals or worldly as the NIV expresses it. On the one hand, there is a fundamental contrast in chapter 2 between the Christian who has the Spirit and the non-Christian who does not. But it is true that there is a contrast among Christians not in the ways the elitists in Corinth were claiming that only a few had the Spirit at all, but more prosaically though no less seriously among those who were mature verses those who were immature. Hence the analogy that Paul uses to illustrate this in 3:1-5, just as some partake only of baby food, drinking milk in Paul’s world, almost exclusively from their mother’s breast verses those who are able to begin to eat and chew and digest solid food often represented by the term, meat. Paul illustrates this contrast with additional analogies but before turning to them, it is worth looking at a well-known and helpful illustration which comes from the literature over the past half century, from the international ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, developed first by Bill Bright back in the 1950’s. Campus Crusade has used a series of diagrams (as shown in the slide) over the years. To illustrate the natural person of chapter 2:6-16, one may think of a circle defining a person’s life, especially the most animated portion of one’s life, the driving power of one’s existence, the capital E as standing for the ‘Ego’ or the ‘self’ and the Cross, standing for Christianity and the relationship with the crucified Lord. The natural person then, according to this diagram has ego enthroned and Christ is not a part of their life at all.
(Any slides and photos that the lecturer mentions should be down loaded if they are available)
The second two diagrams (on the slide) reflect the two kinds of Christians corresponding to Paul’s teachings in the beginning of chapter 3. The carnal person has accepted Christ, the Cross is their life but at the moment, the ego remains in the center of the throne of one’s life and thus Christ is still dethroned almost to the same extent as one who has never had Him in their lives. The 3rd category of the spiritual person now in this narrower sense of chapter 3 has the ego dethroned, though our self and selfish desires remain with us throughout our lives, they’re never jettisoned from the circle altogether short of eternity but the crucified Messiah is the animated person in power in our lives and thus on its throne. In principle, there is nothing wrong much of use in all three of these diagrams but we perhaps should qualify them by introducing two additional diagrams. It has often been pointed out that it is hardly fair to the entire non-Christian world to say that simply Christ is not in their lives and therefore ego is on the throne of their lives. It may indeed be another god altogether, another religious power or individual or founder of a religion or philosophy that leads that person to an ultraistic or humanitarian or self-sacrificing behavior. It may be a purely atheist or agnostic or evolutionary material individual, with humanitarian care for one’s family or person within a local community or very distance places that animates that individual and again it may not be. But the point is still, it is not the crucified Messiah.
A second caveat involves our definition of the Christian and hence the carnal and spiritual people to observe with Paul in 1st Corinthians 3:3 and following that those individuals he calls worldly and carnal does so because as he writes: ‘there is jealousy and quarrelling among you.’ You are acting like mere human being when one says, I follow Paul and another says I follow Apollus, etc. Too often, I’m afraid, the concept of a carnal Christian whether in Church or in various Christian organizations has been communicated as if it was a synonym for a nominal Christian. Paul doesn’t use it in this way but rather refers to those who are active church goers but divisive and combative in their participation and worship. The person we would identify as nominal, largely inactive in any Christian worship or group or service of any kind falls under the shadow of suspicion of not having the Spirit of Christ in them at all, thus accounting for their ultimate inaction. There are of course back siders who demonstrate by a returning to Jesus at a later date, because the Spirit had been working on them all along. But we should never become complacent and take for granted those who show only a nominal allegiance to Christianity over a prolonged period of time is truly saved but has merely back slid. We must encourage them to return to Christ.
Conversely, we must be very careful not to elevate the spiritual Christian to such a fixed and water tight category one as to divide them from others who we may think as worldly. If we are honest with ourselves and have the Spirit of Christ within us and truly trying to serve him, but are ruthlessly honest about the strangle hold sin can still have over us, we will admit as with the second diagram that ego and Jesus and perhaps many other things on a fairly regular basis trade places with each other on the thrones of our lives, even if Christian maturity and sanctification puts before us a lifelong goal of allowing us to be center stage more and more.
Returning to our outline, we see Paul illustrating this contrast, not with baby food verses adult food but now with different workers in God’s field, comparable to different people who have different roles, one person sows, one waters and one harvests, but compared to the role that God plays, they come out looking quite equal. God’s grace acting in our lives creates so much more than any human contribution that it is the ultimate leveler. Again, this conclusion should temper our desire to pit ourselves against our fellow human Christians. Paul again changes the metaphor abruptly in the middle of verse 9 to speak of God’s building in ways in which people build on the foundation of Christ. Variations which from a human perspective can seem quite different, such as getting into heaven or the fellowship of the company of the redeemed in the life to come just by the skin of their teeth. Changing Paul’s metaphor, ‘so as by fire’; where others are securely entrenched with their places clearly marked out and God’s commendation for them on judgment day are truly hearty. One thinks of Christ’s words in the parable of the talents, well done good and faithful servants. But once again, the contrast by which we should focus is not the contrast between different kinds of Christians but between the Christian of whatever level of maturity and the complete outsider. There are some which Paul warns are not building on the foundation of Christ at all. Even with building materials that could easily be burned in a fire. Some are trying even to tear down or destroy God’s temple, verses 16 and 17, and these individuals will in turn by God be themselves destroyed. A metaphor again for eternal damnation and a sober reminder that a person who for a prolonged period of time seems to make a career being a trouble maker in a Christian context without any balancing redemptive side to their ministry. They may, in fact, be demonstrating that any Christian faith they may have professed is utterly gone. They stand lost should they die at that moment and are again in need of being treated as a lost person in need of salvation and not merely an immature believer. Believers on the one hand, Paul insists have available to them every spiritual blessing in at least in this life. What more could they want or ask for and this summary at the end of chapter 3, once again reinforces his plea for them to be reconciled instead of being divided from one another.
The last antidote to this factionalism accounts for Paul’s words in chapter 4; in four subsections he focuses on how the Corinthian congregation should look at his apostleship and those other apostles and Christian leaders that they have obviously been elevating inappropriately. Such leaders are merely stewards or servants or under-shepherds of Christ who is the great steward, verses 1-5. Their ministry should never go beyond what is written but should be scripturally based, which will preclude the divisiveness that afflicts the Corinthians. More often than not that they will be persecuted and suffer the hardships of this fallen age in what by human standards seem to be unjust and here, Paul introduces his poignant catalogue, one of a number that punctuate his letters, of his suffering, first for being a believer and for being an active witness for Christ. Yet in the mist of all of this, the apostles do have a special relationship with their flock, but never let it be forgotten that Paul was the one who founded the Christian church. Never mind that other Christian leaders came through and brought and even baptized, and even their disciples baptized additional converts, but Paul as the founder of the church will always have throughout his life a special relationship and care and authority which he appeals gently for now but if necessary later, more firmly.
V. I Corinthians 5-6
Finally, he’s ready to turn to his next topic. The problem of the incestuous offender in chapter 5:1-13 is so acute that Paul moves immediate to the final stages of the process of church discipline that has been outlined already by Christ in Matthew 18:15-18. We can only assume even though it is not explicitly stated that less drastic attempt to deal with the problem as outlined by that same passage in Matthew 18 either had already been tried with no positive results or that the church was unwilling to make those attempts or that the believer, himself, caught up in sin was unwilling to be part of such an attempt at reconciliation. Because we know the specific sin that triggers the demand for church discipline, sexual sins throughout the history of the church when churches have made any attempt to implement Biblical church discipline have commanded a dis-apportioning amount of attention in terms of those sins that trigger the process of discipline in Matthew 18 as illustrated climatically here in 1st Corinthians 5. But it is important to remind ourselves that no passage in either the Old or New Testament, with the Old Testament sins with the high hand being kind of equivalent, leading to people being cut off from their community, already in Old Testament times. No text of Scripture ever gives a list or even a broad set of principles for discerning when such a process of the disciple needs to be begun, other than the very mundane introduction to Matthew 18:15 of a Christian Brother or Sister having something against each other. Hopefully in the vast majority of situations, in all of them, the process never gets as far as the threat of dis-fellowshipping. But it is not a particular kind of sin or level of seriousness of sin that begins the process which we read of at its very end here in 1st Corinthians 5.
Indeed the two other New Testament texts speaking of partial dis-fellowshipping involve a text and passage we have already looked at, ‘those who are unwilling to work and improperly mooch off the church or society and paradoxically when we come to applying 1st Corinthians, Titus 3:10 tells us that the person who failed to repent after two initial warning should be shunned. How rarely do we put these commands into practice in the church today. Contemporary application is made more difficult because of the contextualization that is required in a world where shunning or ostracizing fellow believers without some are mitigating expression of love and concern, without a plan of restoration or rehabilitation, without a mechanism of accountability being agreed upon and initiated. More often than not, Christians will simply leave one fellowship, either abandoning any outward association of Christian fellowships altogether or simply joining a different one. Church and ministries that take fellowship seriously have regular discovered in the 20th and late 21st century in a western context that a partial dis-fellowshipping is more effective than a full excommunication, which may in fact have been Jesus’ intention all along, especially when we read in the Matthew 18 text, even at the last stages the unrepentant defenders to be treated as a tax collector or gentile. That is as if they were a non-Christian and in fact a rather stigmatized one, but let us never forget that those were precisely the people loved to associate with in order to try to woo them to himself and his Kingdom. Where the church has activities and gathering that are for Christians only, then such excommunicated people should not be permitted to participate but where there are services as many Christian worship services are, to which outsiders are welcomed and encouraged to come, such different believers should not be forbidden to attend but on the other hand, business as usual continue. Friendships may be maintained but they must be treated as people in need of repentance as if they had never come to the Lord in the first place.
The application of Paul’s teaching in chapter 6:1-11 on lawsuits also requires thoughtful contextualization in a modern world where judicial systems both inside and outside of Christian circles often operate quite differently than they did in the ancient world. But the key principle which motivates Paul’s instruction is annunciated in verse 6 to Paul’s discuss that one brother goes to court against another brother and this in front of unbelievers. If the Gospel is going to be so discredited and defeated as Paul’s puts it; why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Whether or not, it is appropriate in various contexts to take individuals or organizations to court, although there may be Christians among them, given at times Christian alternatives in society, should be adjudicated largely by the issue of whether one is seeking justice for others. First, that the world will admire and bring Christianity into better repute or it will appear rightly or wrongly that someone is selfishly trying to get their own way and thus bring their supposed reputation in disrepute. Conversely, even when there are Christian mechanism set up for binding arbitration to help resolve in-house Christian disputes, motives are for true justice to be served and not merely oneself, the very difficult, but counter cultural demands that Paul’s phrases in the form of questions is that, it may be better for our larger cause simply to allow ourselves, not to take vengeance into our own hands.
The major section of the body of Paul’s letter, dealing with sexual immorality and prostitution, of the many things that could be said, I’ve chosen to high light the particular puzzling verse, verse 18, flee from sexual immorality, all other sins, people commit are outside their bodies but those who sin sexually, sin against their own bodies. At first glance, that seems false, for example, look at alcoholism, drug addiction, self-mutilation and suicide are all against one’s own body but the term σῶμα or soma could also mean ones entire person or self, including the physical aspect in communion or self-expression with some other person or entity. And as we suggested in the notes of the textbook, that seems to make good sense. No other sin so violates the intimacy of interpersonal intercourse, to use the originally intended double meaning behind that terminology.
VI. Paul on Marriage (1 Corinthians 7)
As we turn to chapter 7 and to the questions about which the Corinthians wrote to Paul. We come across a chapter on marriage which has unfortunately been misunderstood, perhaps more often than not in the history of the Christian church. In Roman Catholic circles, Paul’s valuing of celibacy and the Christian life prove to be one highly influential factor in the development of the requirement of celebrant clergy as well as those who takes vows for various monastic orders, recognizing that not everyone in the world could achieve the ideal of celibacy. Catholics, nevertheless enshrine this as the most spiritual ideal. Protestants on the other hand, often than not, have ignored the possibility of voluntary adopting a celebrant life, perhaps because of the Catholic idea and use of it. A celebrant life provides more time for an undivided attention to God’s service. The other difficulty with 1st Corinthians 7 is translating and interpreting verse 1 correctly. ‘It is good for a man not to touch a woman,’ is the most literal translation of the Greek. But touch is being used here as an euphemism much as ‘knowing’ was in the Hebrew Bible when Adam knew his wife, Eve, for sexual intercourse. The original addition of the NIV, ‘it is good for a man not to marry’, which gets at part of the meaning but the most recent addition, has it corrected: ‘it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But the point worth observing and pointing out as far back as origins commentary on 1st Corinthians in roughly 200 AD is that this appears to have been a Corinthian slogan, which reflects an ascetic wing of Hellenistic dualism and which reflects a sizable influence in the early Christian history where celibacy came to be promoted, even before the emergence of Roman Catholicism and any similarity to the elaborate institution of the form we know it as. Valuing the completely celebrant life style as a spiritual ideal. All of the many diverse instructions of Chapter 7 can be understood as falling into place, once we realize that Paul is willing to affirm this Corinthian slogan up to a point but only up to a point. He will never encourage it and in some cases only confirm it in a minimalistic way.
The very first category considered was with those who were already married and who were considering reframing from sex, altogether. And we have abundant examples in the 1st century of Christianity influenced by Hellenism, of people who proposed and sometimes succeeded in doing that. Paul’s response was, ‘yes, for a very short time and for spiritual benefit but not as a general principle’, because it leaves to satisfying sexual desires in improper ways. We point out in the textbook, reasons for thinking for verses 8 – 9 refer to the widow and widower; here, it may well be that Paul is a widower, himself. We explored this possibility in our introductory lecture to Paul. This was to account to why he makes the comment about himself here rather than under other categories in this chapter. Whether or not that is the case, Paul is much more positive about the possibility of staying unmarried and thus celebrant but again refuses to be absolute in recommending it in general as remarriage is far better than lusting in ways that could lead to sin and improper sex. Returning to those who are married, some considered separation and even formal divorce was the only option but again Paul is reluctant to support this. He does allow for a situation where an unbelieving partner wishes to leave and abandon the marriage altogether and realizes the believing partner may be unable to stop it and therefore a time comes when they need to stop trying to recover something that is not possible to recover. So Paul still doesn’t support the pro-celibacy faction.
In a preliminary summary in verses 17-24, he encourages to live life where you are, don’t be eager to change your status in life simply because of your new found Christian faith. He returns in verses 25-38 to the unmarried and an engaged couple trying to decide to go through with their plans for marriage and once again stresses contra to the celibacy faction that marriage is in no way sinful but once again commends those who might be a tempted to over value marriage as the only full expression as a reward in Christian life or simply as a rewarding life that there is definitely a time and a place to consider a calling to singleness for the sake of the Kingdom. But for those who marry, it is a life-long commitment and in verses 39-40 gives permission to remarry after one is widowed which was implicit already in verses 8-9 and because a word was used in very similar meaning to the word for being bound earlier on in Paul’s discussion of divorce, he may well be implying there that in those rare instances in which divorce is permissible remarriage is permissible as well.
Our final notes on the PowerPoint slide remind us that these are the basic concerns of each section and in each case, Paul permits certain exceptions and his own sympathy sometimes agrees with the ascetics up to a point but for very different reasons, freedom to serve Christ wholeheartedly, not because sexuality is somehow sinful.
VII. Marriage and Divorce in Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7
We passed very rapidly over the section of 1st Corinthians 7 which does at times get great attention disproportionate to its size in the chapter and is Paul injunction concerning marriage and divorce. In Matthew 19, Jesus had permitted divorce in one instance of sexual unfaithfulness. Here, Paul adds what has often been called, the Pauline privilege when an unbelieving partner wishes to leave. It’s interesting to ask the question, whether or not it’s answerable, whether there is some unique to these two situations that leads Jesus and Paul to permit divorce in ways that do not in other situations and a suggested answer is that the very constituent elements of a marriage from a Jewish and Christian perspective are outlined in Genesis 2 and repeated several places throughout the Bible, namely leaving and cleaving; leaving one’s parents and cleaving to one’s spouse as the human person to one is ultimately devoted and secondly, the sexual confirmation of marriage becoming one flesh. Interestingly, sexual immortality breaks the second of those constituent elements and physical desertion or abandonment breaks the first of those. Addressing the vex question of whether there are other items that were not in view in either Matthew 19 or 1st Corinthians 7 that might legitimate divorce in other times and places, would appear the appropriate way to answer that question is if other circumstances put forward as possibly justifying divorce have in fact so destroyed a marriage that it is as irreparable by definition as when a person has had multiple sex partners or has simply abandon without any intention of returning. To those who would argue that it would never be appropriate to agree to add any other circumstances to which divorce could be justified, it is worth pointing out that Paul has done precisely that.
Jesus, himself, gave only one exception and yet Paul for some reason felt free to give a second. If one appeals to the argument that Paul was inspired but we are not, there is still the reverse problem, an apparent contradiction exist with Paul not allowing or explicitly stating the exception clause from Jesus. To avoid the charge of contradiction, it would appear that we are required to concede that one or both these chapters is dealing with certain situations specific elements and therefore leaving the door open for asking the question of whether there are other items of destructiveness. At the same time, we must recognize the very real temptation to follow the camel’s nose into the tent, to use the ancient metaphor and while there may be in rare cases, situations where for example, physical abuse followed prolonged separation and refusal of the offending party to take any steps to repentance; situations of irreversible lifelong imprisonment or terminal illness or terminal mental illness, one must add the caveat, it is never God’s ideal, even in when exceptional situations permitted in Scripture for a divorce to occur. It is also an admission of defeat at one level or another. The goal is always restoration where ever there is any chance of it taking place and that many people who claim they have exhausted all their options, have done so in their own eyes, close friends, council members, regular see many more possibilities and it is their more non agreeable view point that should be consulted.
VIII. Food Sacrificed to Idols (1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1)
The next issue in Paul’s sequence of topics that the Corinthian church wrote to him about concerns the idea of eating food sacrificed to idols. At first glance, it is seemingly largely irrelevant to a modern western society, except for some parts of the world perhaps and within some sub-cultures. Yet the principles dealing with morally neutral issues here can be applied in a very wide spread fashion in different situations. When we examine the principles in the following PowerPoint slide, one can find numerous situations and contexts in which these principles are quite relevant, such as that of Christian liberty and freedom can very easily turn into a license to sin, as in eating food sacrificed to idols without any regard for anyone else because one has the true knowledge that there is indeed one God in the World. It is true, Paul stresses, the main application of this initial problem that food is inherently neutral since God has cleanse all foods implicitly in the teachings of Jesus and explicitly in the vision that Peter received enabling him to minister to Cornelius in Acts 10. It is never a sin in and of itself to part take of a particular kind of food. But one should be sensitive to hurting one’s weaker spiritual brother or sister. Here, we must note carefully in what Paul writes in 8:4-13. These are individuals if they see those who understand the freedom believers have in Christ to do morally neutral things, would be tempted and perhaps succumb to that temptation to imitate them without a similarly clear conscience which then becomes a sin, in and of itself and or go beyond the morally neutral action to something which is inherently sinful. It is in that sense that we are called not to be a stumbling block to others. Paul is not in this context simply talking about some morally neutral practice that might cause offence to a fellow Christian even though that person would not be remotely tempted to imitate us. That isn’t to say that Christians should glibly go around offending one another; principles for addressing those kinds of situations must come from other Scriptures but not this one.
Perhaps in an even less noted point in1st Corinthians 8 comes almost in passing as Paul in 8:4-6 acknowledges that an idol has no real concrete existence because monotheism rather polytheism is the true nature of the universe indirectly as if he can assume rather than argue for something that all in his audience would have taken for granted, he writes in verse 5, even if there are so called gods, things that other people worship as god or lord, yet for us (verse 6) there is but one God which means that we know it to be the case. There is but one God, the Father from whom all things came and one Lord, Jesus Christ through whom all things came in whom we live. There is one Kyrios (Greek Κύριος means lord, master) one ultimate master, God, Jesus Christ. There is no God but one, verse 4, one plus one equals one. In Paul theology, if not Trinitarian theology, certainly binotarian (meaning two), yet, left unexplained but presumed to be already agreed on at a remarkable early stage in Christian history.
In Chapter 9, one could be forgiven, thinking that Paul had changed topics altogether and that Paul had moved on to the next item of the list from the Corinthian letter. Talking about those who devote a full time effort to proclaiming God’s Word having to write, based on Jesus’ teachings in Luke 10:10 and Matthew 10:7 where the worker is worthy of his or her wage. Paul insists that church should support those who devote their full time to spreading the Gospel. He also says with respect to Corinth, he has never availed himself to insist on any support, undoubted as we alluded to it briefly earlier on, because of the system of patronage so entrenched there. Paul felt that this could hinder and even limit his teaching and ministry there. On closer scrutiny, this is yet another application of the larger issue of freedom in the Christian life that must be restricted or limited voluntarily under certain situations for the larger benefits of the Kingdom or as Paul puts it so memorably in 9:19 and following, including in five consecutive verses in the beginning of this passage, he wants to put as few stumbling blocks in front of people becoming Christians, short of things sinful so as to be all things to all people thus by all possible means saving at least some.
Chapter 10, however, makes it still clear that he has not switched topics altogether and that the issue of liberty verses license is very much in the foreground using an analogy from the Israelites festive celebration and eating and sacrifices and worshipping in regards to the episode of the golden calf at Mt Sinai as described in the Book of Exodus. He makes it clear that there are instances in which eating food sacrificed to idols is in fact absolutely wrong. But the lengthy warning of verse 1 – 12 is mitigated in the equally lengthy though individual verse, verse 13 in reminding Christians that no temptation to sin are unique to any individual Christian or Christian community and God always provides a way out if we are fully yielded to Him whereby we can avoid sin. Applying these principles to the situation of meat offered to idols in Corinth, Paul concludes that no feast dedicated to idol worship should ever be celebrated and their food consumed by believers. But when there is a case of buying meat sold in the market place with the Greek equivalent kosher stamp of approval, namely it had been sacrificed to a god and bless by that god’s priest. There is nothing inherently wrong with buying such meat or even eating it with families and particular with unbelieving families who serve it to you. So where is the balance between freedom and restraint? For many conservative Christians, explicitly or implicitly, the impression given that one always errs on the side of restraint.
A case can, however, be made, that it is wrong and that if one must err in one direction or the other, very similar to the lengthy Peterson quote and the Swindol comment on that quote that we used to conclude our lecture on Galatians, one should rather err on the side of freedom, freedom from legalism so that a watching world in keeping with the spirit of becoming all things to all people so that by all means we may save some, would not reject Christianity for all the wrong reasons, thinking that it is about do’s and don’ts rather than a liberating relationship with Jesus Christ. There certainly is a voluntary curtailment of one’s freedom that Paul enunciates, parenthetically in these closing verses but he likewise stresses that when it is only clear that another person would in some way be harmed by it, suggesting that the general overarching principle for the Christian remains one of freedom or liberty.
1st Corinthians 11 presents us with several key texts of Paul dealing with gender roles and because of the inter relationship between a number of these texts, I have chosen to devote an entirely separate lecture to all of the gender role passages in Paul, grouped together and dealt with at once after we have completed the individual lectures on the Epistles of Paul and before we proceed to the lectures on the non-Pauline writings to the end of the New Testament. So we skip over head covering for the moment. We have already commented briefly on 1st Corinthians 11 and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. We may add that the central point of Paul’s warning here, have very little to do with the debates and teachings that Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches alike over the centuries have stressed but has everything to do with those that might be imitated by sins of omission or commission, as in the Corinthian failure to be concerned for the poorer among them making sure that they have enough food to eat and drink to consume. That is the problem which Paul has to address and that is presumably what he still has in mind when he writes in verse 29 for those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ, eat and drink judgment on themselves. The body of Christ here as in chapter 12 refers to the Christian Church in all of its many diverse members and segments much like the different parts of a body. It would appear that everyone and only those people who are adequately concerned for the poor among them.
IX. Spiritual Gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14)
The next slide, we turn to the much more extensive discussion that occupies chapters 12 to 14 on the topic of spiritual gifts. In just touching on highlights, Paul begins with the criterion that may not seem to go very far with debates that Christians have regarding this topic but nevertheless remains a very fundamental issue that only those that genuinely acknowledge God’s lordship in Christ, saying Jesus is Lord, just a Paul will put it in Romans 10:9 of what many view as the earliest Christian confession, only those people can ever be said to be exercising what Paul calls the Charismata or true grace given in spiritual gifts. Secondly in verses 4 – 11, he discusses their distribution, noting that there are different kinds of gifts but the same spirit, the same Lord, the same God and at this point, it would appear that we have moved from incipient binotarianism to Trinitarianism on the assumption that the Lord here refers to Jesus. But again, his main points are diversity within unity, not all have the same gifts but all come from the same triune God head; all do, however have at least one gift because these manifestations of the Spirit in verse 7 are given to each one or each believer, and they are to be used for the common good, for the building up of the church, for mutual edification and not for selfish or merely private functions. They are not gifts that we choose though they may well combine natural abilities we have been born with or talents which we have cultivated, together with much more dramatically or supernaturally bestowed abilities and powers. But the point is, it is God’s Spirit who decides who receives what. Paul will later say that it is perfectly appropriate for us to ask for the greater gifts, but no Christian ever has the right to assume that anyone else must have a certain gift must less that anyone gift is a requirement for salvation or Christian maturity. God’s gives them as he see fit.
As a result, they are all important and all needed just like all the parts of the body are needed and here Paul elaborates through most of Chapter 12, his well-known metaphor of the body. The chapter, it appears, however, at first glance, that he contradicts this point of equalizing and relative equal value of all the gifts when he writes in verse 7, ‘now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is part of it and God has placed in the church, first of all: apostles, second – prophets and then teachers and then all of the rest. Is this a hierarchy of importance that would appear to contradict what he has just described? More likely, it is a hierarchy in Chronology. The apostle and in Paul’s terminology, he will use the word much more broadly for just the twelve closest followers of Jesus, not least because it is a spiritual gift continuing to be used. An apostle as the etymology of the word in both Greek and Hebrew suggest that it is someone sent out on a mission. And in today’s vernacular, it is best represented by one who has the gift of functioning well as a missionary or when they don’t go as far away from home, we often call them church planters.
The prophet was a very broad category in Jewish, Greek and Roman background for anyone who proclaimed a message from God or from the gods. It could include very immediate, seemingly, natural revelation. It could include carefully thought out and prepared messages, but the one thing that all prophecy had in common was a message believed to come from a divine source directly relevant to an audience to which is was delivered. Teachers, on the other hand, much more narrowly use of the term today were those who had the responsibility of passing on, often by rote memory, the fixed bodies of tradition that were the instructional heart or core items of information that initiates into a new philosophy, religion or world view needed to master and understand. It makes sense there to speak of a chronological hierarchy that before any church with all of the gifts to bestow on them, one needs one who is sent to plan the church, one needs one or more people who will proclaim God’s word and one needs those who will come and instruct those in smaller groups the fundamentals of the faith, then the nucleolus of a small church is in existence and all of the other gifts will come into play.
1st Corinthians 13 is one of the best known chapters in the entire Bible but even among long time Christians, it has often never been observed, that it is not an isolated quasi poetic rhapsody to the love of God but intrudes right in the middle of Paul’s three chapter discussion of spiritual gifts. Indeed, the opening paragraph compares and contrasts the value of love to a representing sampling of the spiritual gifts such as tongues, prophecy, faith, and giving. Without love, Paul says, all the spiritual gifts in the world are worthless and then come by means of positive and negative attributes, particularly appropriate for the Corinthian Context. What, if not, a formal definition of love is certainly a very full characterization of what it does and does not involve. Chapter 13 ends, verses 8 – 13 with the reminder of the timelessness of love over against the spiritual gifts and even perhaps over against faith and hope or that all three of those attributes remain timeless but love proves most important and central of all.
A huge debate in theological terms are cessationist and non-cessationist has affected the history and particularly in the 20th century and beyond with the rise of Pentecostal and Charismatic movements concerning whether all of the gifts that Paul discusses and elsewhere is meant for the entire church age, that is until Christ returns. One argument in this debate focuses on the fact that the gifts of prophecy, tongues and knowledge can all be understood as the more charismatic of the gifts are said to cease, be still or pass away at a given time in a way that Paul doesn’t apply to the other gifts. He goes on after verse 8 and talks about how we prophecy and know and think only partially but a time is coming when we will understand more fully and from the mid-1st century perspective, one can understand how the suggestion has been made that Paul could be thinking about a time when the completion of God’s revelation of Scripture made further supernatural revelation un-needed. On the other hand, there is no hint anywhere else in the corpus of Paul’s letters that he had the conscious sense of writing works that would be including alongside the Hebrew Scriptures as a New Testament. It is certain not true with the completion of the Canon, we now see face to face as verse 12 now describes that coming day, that would appear to be a more appropriately descriptive of when Christ himself returns and the entire church age is completed and back in chapter 1:7 tucked into Paul’s opening thanks giving, we read, therefore you, the Corinthians do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.
It is not difficult to extrapolate from this the inference that as long as the Christian church and more generally a wider audience that is in fact explicitly addressed in verse 2 beyond the Corinthian congregation, as long as the Christian church more generally waits for Christ to return, they will not lack any spiritual gift. It makes it difficult for this speaker and writer to see how a balanced interpretation to Paul’s words to the Corinthians can support cessationism. But that does not mean that everything that passes for a spiritual gift from God’s spirit is the real thing, not in Corinth and not today and not at all unlike thorny questions in many parts of the Christian church today, Paul proceeds in chapter 14 to isolate the two gifts of tongues and prophecy as meriting further comment because they were proving particularly divisive in this church racked by division. His main point in the first half of the chapter is in essence to argue for the superiority of prophecy because unlike tongues, no interpretation is requires and is immediately understood. All of that makes very good sense of the first 19 verses of the chapter but then verses 20 – 25, it would appear that Paul contradicts himself when he proceeds to say, specifically in 22 that tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers but how can unbelievers understand and come to Christ and not be put out of put off, as Paul has said earlier in the chapter with this at times seemingly very bazaar phenomenon. However, in verse 22, prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers. But what about the evangelistic potential of the proclamation of God’s word that Paul has also stressed in the previous half chapter.
The key would appear to be in the Old Testament quote of verse 21 immediately preceding this puzzling passage and according to Isaiah 28:11 – 12, Paul writes with other tongues and lips of foreigners, I will speak to this people but even then they will not listen to me. Referring to the coming judgment on Israel by means of the non-Hebrew speaking Assyrians, tongues are in verse 22, understood in some context namely where there is no interpreter or where people find the practice as the British would, off putting, a sign of judgment on a Christian congregation that would prove counterproductive to their mission and ministry in a way that prophecy doesn’t. Should tongues therefore be avoided altogether? No, Paul has already thanked God that he speaks in tongues more than all of the Corinthians but that in the church, he would rather speak five intelligent words than ten thousand in tongues (verse 18 & 19). In other words, tongues should take a very, very low place and subordinate role in the exercise of spiritual gifts because they can so easily prove so misleading and harmful. But they remain a gift from God and when used privately, in what is called the prayer language, the testimony of countless Christians who has received this gift, can be very edifying. The proper exercise of both tongues and prophecy in verses 26-40 therefore is to regulate and limit them in a public worship context to two or three people at most with an interpreter.
Tucked into this section is the second of our controversial gender role passages in Paul 14:33 or 33b to 38 and again we will wait and combine this with the other information in a lecture by itself. But it is very telling to observe here that this occurs what at first glance seems to be the unrelated context of a discussion of spiritual gifts. In fact, we will suggest that the context is very relevant for determining the specific meaning for Paul’s teaching here. The passage closes and the chapter ends with the two commands, obedience to which could go a long way toward narrowing the gap between factions within any time in church history, including our own that at times pit those overly exalt tongues or others so called supernatural gifts and those who rule them out altogether. Verse 39 without a single new word that is grammatical and lexically ambiguous says, therefore my brother and my sisters, be eager to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues but the balancing truth, everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. That is to say according to the restrictions and guidelines laid down in the chapter.
X. Classification of Spiritual Gifts
In addition, in preparation for our discussion for the other two texts in Paul where individual gifts are listed and discussed, we present one of possible all classifications of spiritual gifts. Those which are commanded of all Christians and recognized that God has given to his spirit what we might call a special measure of these virtues as a spiritual gift to collect believers: wisdom, knowledge, faith, service exhortation, service, giving, caring and mercy. A second category of gifts enable certain people to function in leadership roles: apostles, teachers, evangelists and administrators and that a third selection of gifts in our modern world where we readily distinguish between the natural and supernatural, may be considered more supernatural, Kairos (καιρός), the Greek term for God’s Grace: gifts, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, tongues and interpretation. The term supernatural should be in quotes because the very natural/supernatural distinction is largely the product of the scientific enlightenment of 18th century. Paul would have seen all of the gifts as supernatural and recognized the possibility of a natural component even to the more blatantly supernatural gifts, noting that the means of healing appear in two of Jesus’ situations and one of Paul’s, noting that the line between what is a genuine supernatural miracle verses some other kind of fuzzy miracle. Noted that we have already mentioned, a carefully prepared message believed to be given from God, can be viewed as prophecy more so than a spontaneous utterance, given that it is possible and has been the experience of Godly spirit filled Christians down through the ages to become trained and improved in distinguishing spirits and interpreting tongues, even while at the same time, not being something that can never be manufactured among those to whom the spirit has simple not chosen to bestow the gift.
XI. The Resurrections of Jesus and Believers (1 Corinthians 15)
With those comments, we turn to the finial topic that Paul addresses at any length in his survey of the numerous concerns besetting the Corinthian congregation, namely the question of the resurrection, firstly, Jesus and then in keeping with the Jewish hope of all believers. Verses 1 – 11, chapter 15 stress the truthfulness, the facticity of Christ bodily resurrection and here we have one of the earliest and most remarkable, creedal or confessional types of statements listing those who had seen the resurrected Lord and describing the basic facts of his death, burial and resurrection that form one of the earliest Christian confessions, but addition to support from Christian tradition that Paul would undoubtedly learned about immediately upon becoming a believer and thus within a year or two of the very beginning of the Christian movement, he notes how God gave him that special audience on the Damascus road that we discussed in some detail in our introductory lecture of Paul. Tradition was an important source of knowledge but divine revelation and personal experience brought it home in a way that other teachings could have never done on its own. The implication of this undeniable fact for Paul is that of Christ’s bodily resurrection and therefore the rest of humanity will indeed be resurrected also. The new age has begun and all that has not yet been fulfilled in the new age will indeed happen. What is more, the very creditability of the Christian movement rests on the bodily resurrection of Jesus. For if he was not bodily resurrected, we have no promise or guarantee of the resurrection to come and because of what Christians so often must endure and certainly what Paul endured and gave in terms of comfort of human existence for the sake of his beliefs, if his message is false, he and all others who share it are among all people most miserable.
Not only does the creditability of the Christian faith rest on the resurrection but the chronology of the coming general resurrection of all believers is established. First comes Christ, then all the others who themselves are the first fruits of the re-creation of the entire cosmos. Finally, in the most opaque section of 1st Corinthians 15, Paul declares that the Corinthian’s own concern for those who have died in the Lord or perhaps, are dying in the Lord demonstrates the reality of the coming resurrection. Here in verse 29, he eludes to a practice seemingly mentioned nowhere in Scripture. If there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead. There is however, from the middle of the second century, testimony to Christian practice in which unbaptized Christian believers were baptized by proxy after their death by living Christians believing that this bestowed some spiritual benefits on those individuals. Whether or not, what is happening here a century earlier, the important point to stress is Paul in no way commends much less does he command the baptism of the dead. He is merely created an ad hock argument from an existing practice neither censoring it neither approving of it, any more than in the very next verses, is he commending that believers deliberately put themselves in danger of death every year, day or hour. Even though that has been his experience and those others in the Christian community perhaps referring to verse 32 of fighting wild beast, perhaps a metaphor for personal hostility sense at this period there is no evidence of Christians being thrown to animals in the arena and Romans citizens would have been exempt at any rate. But no more is Paul commending that one deliberately seeks out prosecution and hostility, than he commends being baptized on behalf of the dead person. His point is simply that every one of those practices whether good or bad, right or wrong are simply happening because Christians tolerate it, because Christians don’t renounce their faith as a result of it, shows that there is a lively hope for a resurrection life to come. Finally, Paul turns in this chapter to the nature of Christian resurrection, after detailed discussion, the most that he can say it will be the same body but that body will be radical different. It will be perfected and glorified. There will be continuity just as there is continuity in the same living organism, for example, a seed planted in the ground and springs up as the plant God had created it to become but the discontinuity may be even greater in terms of it appearance, in terms of its nature and it can be described in verse 44 as being raised a spiritual body rather than in its earthly state as a natural body. And it is interesting here that we find in the original language the identical contrast we discussed back in chapter 2 what could also be translated or interpreted as it is raised as a heavenly supernatural re-created and or redeemed body. Finally, Paul stresses the need for this recreation or perhaps we should say re-creation. Because flesh and blood in verse 50 cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. That is not a tradition of everything he has just said about the bodily resurrection of Christ and believers but rather another way of saying what he goes on in the second half of that sentence to repeat nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. ‘Adam’, the Hebrew word for blood, influenced the New Testament writers, the idiomatic usage of a fallen finite humanity. Sinful humanity cannot co-exist in the presents of a holy God and finite entities cannot last for an eternity so there will be the re-creation that will lead to eternal and heavenly and perfect re-creation. In chapter 16, Paul introduces the topic of the collection for the saints in Jerusalem ever so briefly. We will explore that theme in much great detail in 2nd Corinthians 8 and 9 where he comes back to it again and he elaborates at length, he then turns to his person requests and closing greetings and this rich and encouraging and challenging epistle comes to an end.