From:  A Torah Commentary on First  Corinthians 1-6                   Return to Home

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2011

 

 

 

 

Section One:

Introductory Matters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1:                                                                                  [Page 8]

 

The Writing and Intents of the Work

 

 

 

 

 

1.  Authorship

 

 

Most scholars concede that First Corinthians is an authentic Pauline work, however much they may challenge the right of other epistles to that designation.[1]  

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw a determined effort to “de-Paulinize” the New Testament letters, asserting that at least several of the works that bear his name actually came from other sources.  First Corinthians is one of those to escape major challenge even from those vigorously opposed to many traditional attributions.  

            Nor have efforts to chip away the individual chapters on love (13) and on the resurrection (15) as non-Pauline interpolations found much acceptance.[2]  On the other hand, efforts to make First Corinthians a compilation of part or all of several Pauline epistles has gained more favorable attention.  The theory of the compilation of genuine Paul texts into one epistle has enjoyed wider appeal, however, in efforts to explain the structure of Second rather than First Corinthians.[3] 

 

 

 

 

 

2.  Date of Composition

 

 

            Perhaps the easiest way to present the variety of opinions on the matter is to simply sum up the options in short statements and present some of the more interesting speculation tied in with the various dates: 

            AD 51:  “around Easter.”[4]

            AD 52-54:  though with a leaning toward 54.[5]

            AD 53-54:[6]  “spring of 53 or 54 AD.”[7]  Either “towards the end of 53” or, more likely, “in the early months of 54.”[8]

            AD 53, with a maximum lee-way of a year or two in either direction.[9]

            AD 54-55:[10]  “Early in May” of one of these two years.[11]  In “spring” of one of the two.[12]  Or “about late 53 C.E. to early 55.”[13]

            AD:  54:[14]  during “spring” in particular.[15]

            AD:  54-56:[16]

            AD 54-57:[17]  

AD 55-57:[18] thus casting it anywhere within a broad three year span.  Some are  yet more cautious by adding a “presumably” in front of the dates.[19]

AD 55.[20]  Some make it even more specific, suggesting “early in AD 55”[21] or the

 

 

[Page 9]  spring” of that year.[22]  More specifically “about Passover (March-April)”[23] or “circa Easter.”[24]  Others think this is the wrong end of the year, preferring a date in either the fall or the winter.[25]      

            AD 55 or 56:[26]  some suggest a specific season (“spring,”)[27] or advocate a specific month, such as “early in May.”[28]  Yet others settle for a vague “probably” to describe the composition to somewhere in this two year period.[29]

            AD 56:[30]  “late 56 or very early 57 seems most likely,” says another.[31]  “Perhaps in the spring of A.D. 56” is yet another suggestion.[32]

            A.D. 56 or 57:[33]  thereby placing it somewhere within a two year span.  

            AD 57.[34]  “The most widely held dating of the first Epistle is in the spring of AD 57. . . .”[35]  Some place it, more specifically, at “a short time previous to Pentecost of 57 AD . . .”[36]  Or, “possibly at the time of the Passover of the year 57.”[37]  Place it where one might wish within that year, a date at or near 57 has been the majority opinion since at least the mid-nineteenth century.[38]

            Perhaps the most fascinating fact is that all of the estimates fall within a relatively narrow six year (51-57) time frame.  Much of the disagreement rises out of uncertainties and controversies over the exact chronology of Paul’s ministry.  Even so, all of the dates center on broad area of the mid-fifties.

           

 

           

 

 

           

 3.  Place of Writing

 

 

            Reginald H. Fuller sums up concisely the powerful internal evidence that the epistle was written from Ephesus, “In 16:8 Paul says ‘I will stay at Ephesus until Pentecost.  In 16:19 he sends greetings from ‘the churches of Asia.’  Note also 16:19, ‘Aquila and Priscilla salute you.’  According to Acts 18:19, 26 this couple took up residence at Ephesus after they left Corinth.”[39]

            There has been some speculation that we can identify the individual who conveyed the epistle to Corinth as his respected co-worker, Timothy.  In 1 Corinthians 4:17 Paul refers to how “I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord. . . .”  Clearly, it seems that (1) Timothy was not there yet; (2) Paul was anticipating his arrival; and (3) his arrival would be independent and separate from any return visit of Paul.        He was to “remind you of my ways in Christ” and was to stress the teachings that Paul had uniformly taught “everywhere.”   Three times Paul applies this concept of uniformity to the issues in dispute at Corinth:  7:17 (remaining in one’s current status); 11:16 (women’s head “covering”); 14:33 (on tongue speaking and prophesying). 

            Hence it would be easy to come to the conclusion that Timothy was the one whose job was to convey the epistle and reinforce the teaching in it so that they would  accept it.  On the other hand Paul also tells the Corinthiansif Timothy comes, see that

 

 

[Page 10]  he may be with you without fear” (16:10).  He also enjoins them to “send him on journey” to Paul “in peace” since “I am waiting for him with the brethren” (16:11). 

            What this sounds like is that Paul had communicated either orally or by writing with Timothy and wished for him to pass through Corinth before rejoining the apostle.  Hence he sent him “to” them as a waystation on his way to Paul’s next domicile rather than as the carrier of the epistle.  Furthermore, the conditional “if” conveys that Paul was not certain whether conditions would even work out to permit Timothy to go there at all.    

 

 

 

 

 

4.  Canonicity

           

 

Although several New Testament writings were challenged in some places during the first few centuries as to the propriety of counting them as scripture, First Corinthians was one of the epistles to go unchallenged.  Indeed, it is one of the earliest New Testament writings to be explicitly cited or referred to in non-canonical sources.  Its argument against division is referred to in First Clement (c. 95 AD) and is listed in the Muratorian Canon of the second century (dated variously from the early years to mid-century).[40]    

 

 

 

 

 

5.  The Broad Themes of the Epistle: 

An Overview

 

 

            First Corinthians can be divided into four major sections (in the first fourteen chapters) and two short ones (in the final two chapters).  Although different themes are discussed in each section, the first fourteen chapters explicitly or implicitly deal with the current or potential impact of Corinthian factionalism on various aspects of their collective existence as a church.  Hence the unifying theme of First Corinthians is, paradoxically, factionalism.  It was already widespread and had the potential for undermining every aspect of their religious practice.      

            The first major division of the text deals with the underlying folly of factional loyalty in the local church (1:1-4:21).  Factionalism is not explicitly mentioned except near the beginning (1:11-13) and near the end (4:6-7).   We assume--we believe properly--that when an author has begun with this theme and ends with it, that it is best to seek out an interpretation that blends in the individual sections of the text with this underlying argument.  Perhaps the best way to concisely convey this linkage that uses factionalism as the unifying theme is to outline the path of reasoning that Paul utilizes: 

 

 

 

[Page 11]  A.  Introducing the Corinthians problem (1:1-1:13)

            1.  The Corinthians had a faith they shared with those in many other places (1:1-3).

            2.  They shared the kind of blessings these others possessed as well (1:4-9).

            3.  In spite of having laid such a good foundation, there were alarming reports of divisive factions existing among them (1:10-13).

 

B.  The folly of such factionalism (1:14-4:21)

            1.  Paul neither encouraged nor sanctioned it (1:14-17).

            2.  The basis of factionalism was repudiated by the gospel:  a preoccupation with eloquence (1:18-25) and earthly status and prestige (1:26-31).

            3.  Paul’s initial preaching--which they had found quite acceptable and convincing--did not manifest the rhetorical excellence and philosophical insight (“wisdom”) that they now deemed so vital (2:1-5).

            4.  Even so, the reality was that Paul continued to teach a “wisdom” more profound and insightful than any humanly originated system--a system so penetrating and reliable that it came from Deity itself (2:6-16).

            5.  Factionalism demonstrated a spiritual immaturity and lack of adequate spirituality (3:1-4).

            6.  Factionalism refuses to face the fact that the church prospers not because of one leader alone, but because of what all can contribute (3:5-8). 

            7.  Just because the results of factional alliance appear to justify it, that is no guarantee that the results will hold up to God’s critical judgment (3:9-15).

            8.  Factionalism that supports sexual misconduct--no matter how good a case can be made from considerations of earthly desirability and prudence alone--remains self-destructive (3:16-23).

            9.  Factionalism results in seeking favorable judgment from the group instead of from God (4:1-5). 

            10. Factionalism breeds excessive pride instead of the needed restrained humility (4:6-8) and he contrasts their spiritual ego with the apostolic self-sacrifice (4:9-13).

            11.  Paul desired a peaceful resolution of their local problems, but--one way or another--they were going to be resolved when he returned to Corinth (4:14-21).

 

            In the second text section, Paul deals with maintaining the respect of the pagan world (5:1-6:20).  Their divisiveness posed an immediate and continuing danger to retaining their individual and collective reputation. 

            The apostle begins with a situation so extraordinary that it guaranteed a negative response from the surrounding world:  There was a case of sexual misconduct in the Corinthian church so severe that even the pagan world found it abhorrent and unthinkable (5:1-8).  Not that it never happened among them, but even in their society that so freely accepted moral excess, this crossed a line that was deemed so fundamental that only the most jaded would even consider embracing it—and gain precious few supporters in doing so.

 

 

[Page 12]         Paul had prepared for this theme by a section (4:14-21) reminding them that he was one of the few “fathers” they had in Christ, i.e., one of the few who had been responsible for their conversion.  There were, he warned, some “puffed up” (4:18) and who, therefore, might be unwilling to accept his corrective teaching.  Indeed, of the incest in the congregation he uses the same expression “puffed up” to (5:2) describe the mind frame of those who defended the behavior. 

            Besides the fact that he had been laying the ground work for introducing the problem of incest, are we to regard this as also a reflection of the factionalism among them?  The use of “some” (4:18) as in the category of “puffed up” and unreceptive, could imply that a distinct (factional?) group is in mind.  Indeed, it is the type of behavior that was so radical that one finds it hard to imagine it being defended unless the individual were a major factional leader.  Admittedly, this is pure speculation--but reasonable speculation none the less. 

            Could a person even today successfully depart from the local norm in a comparably extreme manner unless having a significant body of supporters to support the behavior?  If we are correct, then what we have here is the application of the generality that divisiveness was wrong to what can happen when loyalty to faction becomes superior to loyalty to the truth one believes--behavior that is blatantly in violation of those norms becomes acceptable because of who is doing it.

            Paul next lays down a broad general principle applicable to such situations:  God expects far superior moral behavior of believers than of those in the surrounding world and the church has the right to disavow and shun those who blatantly violate those standards (5:9-13).  The church might not be able to stop such conduct, but it could make it plain that it disavowed it and in no way condoned it.

            The case of incest was so outrageous that it automatically set on the defensive any who supported it within the congregation.  There were other situations, however, in which the reputation of the church and its members could easily be discredited by actions that seemed to have the purpose of upholding “truth” and “justice.”  In particular, Paul has in mind the use of the pagan law courts to settle disputes among members.  So potentially destructive is this of the church’s reputation (not to mention its individual members!), that Paul urges that it would be better to either suffer the loss or find someone within the congregation to decide the issue (6:1-11).

            Paul is not deceived:  these are not mere innocent disagreements, disputed interpretations in which good will is present on both sides.  In such cases, perhaps, he would not have been so hostile to outsiders deciding the issue.  Instead, these cases involved “do[ing] wrong and cheat[ing]” their own spiritual brothers and sisters (6:8).  To take these cases before outsiders would make the church look like it refused to live by the high standards it demanded of others.  Painfully, this was also true.  Hence, the need for them to work out among themselves (6:5) the solution to their internal problems.

            Again, Paul does not explicitly tie-in the conduct with that of factionalism, but it would be a very naive person who did not recognize the potential.  Such excesses could be justified on the grounds that the suits were against members of other factions:  “What do you expect of such people?”  “If I don’t do it to them, they’ll do it to me.”  “People like that would do it to others so you have to fight fire with fire.”  And when clearly verifiable cases of dishonesty and chicanery did occur, that provided further justification that one could not trust those in the opposing faction.  

 

 

[Page 13]         Some of their problems certainly grew out of drives that were honorable in and of themselves.  Hence he warns that even desires that are honorable in their own right must not be used as an excuse to do that which is dishonorable (6:12-20).  In this connection, he deals with the two questions of eating food (6:12-13a) and human sexuality (6:13b-20).  Both represent God-given instincts:  without the hunger instinct, we would starve; without the sexual extinct, the human race would perish.  Yet both can be used to rationalize behavior that actually hurt the individual and the group. 

            He makes only passing reference to the matter of food.  He simply implies that all types of food could be properly eaten.  He leaves till a later chapter how eating foods one had doubts about (in particular, food sacrificed to idols) could be self-destructive.

            Instead his emphasis for the moment is on the sexual drives of the human species.  Human sexuality is a divine gift--in the Biblical account, going back to the Garden of Eden:  how were they to want to populate the world, much less have sufficient children to do so, unless it were a powerful in-built drive?  Yet the sexuality can be cheapened when expressed outside the bounds of full commitment to a spouse and Paul uses the example of enjoying the pleasures of a harlot to illustrate the point (6:15).

            These matters could also become factional issues:  one can easily imagine a group coalescing that refused to eat any food unless a 100% assured that it had not been sacrificed to idols.  Likewise one can imagine a clique evolving that saw nothing wrong with a more “open” and “progressive” attitude toward sexual expression than Paul endorsed.  Yet whether faction-supported or strictly due to individual weakness, what was wrong remained wrong and they had a personal responsibility to avoid such forms of conduct.   

            Having spent more than a third of his epistle rebuking them, the third major division of his letter answers the questions he had received from the congregation (7:1-9:27).  He deals with six queries in particular:

           

1.  Marital sexuality is both honorable and essential (7:1-9).

            2.  Divorce among believers is unacceptable and from an unbeliever only when left with no alternative (7:10-16).

            3.  Stability in our existing lifestyle and earthly status is desirable:  The principle is illustrated by the fact that circumcision does not need to be removed merely because one is a Christian nor does one need to feel spiritually inferior because one is a slave (7:17-24).

            4.  On a subject that “the Lord” has provided no instruction, all Paul can do is provide his best judgment:  under the circumstances of the period, marriage is not desirable for the unmarried, nor divorce for the married, nor remarriage for the widowed (7:25-40).  This is an application of the principle he had just developed, that it is best to maintain stability in our existing earthly relationships.

            5.  There is nothing wrong with eating meats sacrificed to idols so long as we do not use that liberty to compromise the scruples of the spiritually weak against such a practice.  If that danger is real and obvious, then the obligation is to abstain (8:1-13).

            6.  Challenges to Paul’s differences in life-style from the other apostles:  his being unmarried and generally declining to accept local financial support for his preaching (9:1-27).

 

 

 

[Page 14]         Paul does not assert that these questions had become factional ones, but one can easily suspect that some or all were such.  Indeed, factionalism was so pervasive in Corinth that anything else would be startling.  Furthermore, the very nature of a faction requires one to seek out differences with others (rather than to emphasize the areas of agreement); it requires that one establish justification for aloofness and separateness rather than build bridges to repair the division. 

            If issues of marriage and divorce and general lifestyle can stir up passionate, outraged discussion and debate in our age, should we expect it was any different among Christians in the first century?  Paul does not bother with identifying what faction believed what--the factions themselves were wrong even when they advocated the “right” thing.  What Paul is interested in is establishing in their minds an understanding of what is right; “who” happened to believe it is an irrelevancy to him.  

            The fourth large division of the epistle develops the theme that decorum in the church assembly is a positive good in its own right and is a means of retaining the respect of outsiders (10:1-14:40).  He develops this section with these general themes:

 

1.  Just because they were God’s people did not guarantee that God would find them acceptable and he cites various Old Testament precedents to back up his argument (10:1-13).

            2.  To further illustrate this principle, he emphasizes that they could not worship both God and idols and remain acceptable (10:14-22).

            3.  In whatever they did, they were to avoid giving needless offense to church members or to outsiders (10:23-33).

            4. Responsible gender-based distinctions (head “coverings”) were to be respected and maintained among them (11:1-16).           

            5.  Their factionalism had transformed the Lord’s Supper into an adjunct to feasting (11:17-34).

            6.  Miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit existed and were to be utilized (12:1-14:40)

            a.  These came in a variety of forms (12:1-11)

            b.  All of these various forms were useful.  Therefore no Christian was to feel inferior to another who possessed a different gift (12:12-31).    

            c.  Every Christian had something to contribute to the church and was mutually dependent on every one else (12:12-27).  This was because of the fact that the specific gifts of the Spirit varied immensely (12:28-31).

            7.  Useful as such miraculous abilities were, love was even more important (13:1-13).

            8.  Even though they were miraculous in origin, in order to maintain decorum in the services, speaking in unknown tongues and prophesying were to be limited as to the number of participants and how the gifts were exercised (14:1-40)

           

Factionalism lurks in the background when Paul discusses the church services in their community.  The precedent of ancient Israel (Jewish but not loyal) represents an

 

 

[Page 15]  initial shot across the bows (10:1-13):  In a similar manner the Corinthians claim to be God’s people (each faction presumably even more so than that of their rivals), but that is no guarantee they will be counted by God as such.

            Depending upon the inclination of various cliques, one can imagine them giving at least limited sanction to the ancient polytheism so long as the God of Israel was also worshipped (10:14-22).  Far more so, we can recognize that factions need their distinctive characteristics.  So the embracing of behaviors that annoyed coreligionists or outsiders could even become a further proof of one’s “true faithfulness” however counterproductive it was for the group as a whole (10:23-33).

            Paul’s strong words among women’s headcovering (11:1-16) makes sense only if there were significant numbers thinking differently.  Faced with opposition, supporters of both genders would naturally gravitate to a supportive clique.

            In these matters, factionalism may or may not be present--though it is hard to believe there was not.  Giving the facts that (1) there were factions and (2) there were disagreements in practice over such matters one is hard pressed to avoid the conclusion that the two phenomena interlocked and these issues of proper conduct and behavior became another rationale for the existence of their divisions.           

            When Paul next turns to the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34) and how they had turned it into a time of feasting, he explicitly refers to the credibility he attached to reports that this had become an occasion for their “divisions” and “factions” to be publicly manifested (11:18-19).

            When he turns to the matter of the miraculous in then contemporary church worship (12:1-14:4), the matter is not explicitly mentioned and if we forget the pervasiveness of divisiveness in Corinth we might overlook it.  Yet, once again, it is hard to see how the gifts of speaking in tongues and prophesying could possibly avoid being appealed to by one faction or another as proof of their orthodoxy and superiority:  “We do it more than you.”  “Ours is better than yours.”  And a hundred and one other rationales to “prove” their clique’s manifest superiority to one and all.    

            Even without such factionalism, it would have been tempting to exalt such capabilities above the more “mundane” and “humdrum” need to manifest love in daily conduct.  This is so much an individual matter that the emphasis on it in chapter 13 represents a slap at both individual and factional exaggeration of the supernatural gifts.    A person could have all the supernatural gifts they could imagine, but if they lacked love in behavior and attitude, all they had left was the empty shell of spirituality and not its real substance.

            The fifth broad subject discussed is that of Corinth’s sole explicitly “doctrinal” problem:  a popular denial of the resurrection of the individual Christian believer (15:1-58).

            Whether the denial of the individual resurrection was a manifestation of one particular faction’s convictions or whether it spanned multiple groups (and even took multiple forms in different factions?), it is the only strictly “doctrinal” deviancy that Paul considers important enough to address.  This would seemingly argue that by Pauline standards their “abstract” convictions were generally sound and proper.  Where they faltered and failed was not so much in what they believed but in how they manifested their faith in relationship to each other and the surrounding world.

            Finally, the sixth section consists of various closing admonitions:  In this

 

 

[Page 16]  division of the letter, he puts a heavy emphasis on his encouragement to partake in the widespread contribution for needy Christians and to prepare for his return (16:1-24).

            Hence, Paul attempts to wrap up the epistle on a positive note.  Who could take issue with helping the destitute Christians in Jerusalem?  So he encourages them to begin taking up a weekly collection to meet their needs (16:1-5).  But he warns them that generous collection or not and whether they correct their local problems or not, he is returning--hence an implicit warning that they can not sweep their problems under the rug in the days and weeks after receiving the epistle.  Furthermore, individuals he deeply trusts will first be coming their way--and the reasonable implication is that they will not be pleased either if these problems still exist (16:6-12). 

            He then concludes with a plea that they be steadfast, that they manifest love, respect those who labored in the gospel, and remember that no matter what he has had to say--he does indeed love them (16:13-24).  Since psychological mind frames seem to remain so constant, it is likely that there were many in that day as in ours who felt that “love means never telling any one they are wrong.” 

            True, that may make for a more peaceful relationship but how would it result in a correction of their serious failures?  Yet someone correcting another may become so stern and demanding that love gets driven out of his or her heart.  Paul was determined to fervently encourage reform in others while maintaining the proper frame of mind in himself:  love for their best interests and the people themselves.  As a human being, this had to be a challenge to himself just as his words had been a challenge to them.

 

 

 

 

 

6.  Doctrine of the Church and

Its Leadership:  Overview

           

Collectively the Corinthian Christians are “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1:2; cf. 10:32; 11:22; 15:9).  Using a different description to convey the same special relationship, they are “God’s building” (3:9) which had been built by Paul and others (3:10).

            Being “in Christ Jesus” resulted in being counted among those who are “sanctified” and “called to be saints” (1:2).  A pervasive unity was to characterize the relationship of the members to each other (1:10).  This was the goal; the reality was much different.  Unfortunately, the Corinthians were spiritually immature.  They were the spiritual equivalent of babies (3:1) who could only handle milk rather than “solid food” (3:2).  The reason for this was their needless divisiveness (3:3).

            The organizational structure of the church.  Paul conspicuously does not mention the presence of elders/presbyters or deacons in the introduction to the epistle.  In 12:28 he does refer to the church having individuals who served a number of specific responsibilities, two of which seem to cover the kind of work that would be undertaken by such church leaders.  How many of these “positions” existed in the Corinthian

 

 

[Page 17]  congregation we do not know, though the assumption of Paul’s argument would most naturally be that they had all or most of those he mentions.  At least one refers to a formal church office (“apostles”).  In other cases the term “office” seems too formal a term for what is more a function that a position (see the problem text section for chapter 12 for a discussion of these).      

            The worship assembly of the church.  The presence of spiritual gifts is heavily emphasized in both chapters 12 and 14.  The underlying guideline beneath all of the teaching was that the worship be carried out in an orderly manner that did not create needless offense to members or outsiders (14:40).

            Paul instructs the Corinthian Christians to take up a weekly contribution for the destitute believers in Jerusalem (16:1-4).  This implies that their regular day of meeting was “the first day of the week” (= Sunday).  Assuming this was actually given during the assembly rather than put aside at home (see the difficult text section for chapter 16), there is still the question of whether this was a second and special contribution to go along with one they took up for their own local requirements.  What is known is that it was to come to an end.  When Paul arrived it was to be sent on to Jerusalem for those who needed it (16:3-4).  Hence it was a special purpose contribution necessitated by a unique situation with which they could help.

            Those who ministered for a congregation had the right to “live from the gospel” Paul proclaimed (9:14), a principle he delivers at great length (9:6-18).  Hence such a person had the right to receive their financial and other recompense though Paul himself had voluntarily passed by the opportunity (9:6, 15, 18).  Were there such individuals among them?  We don’t know, though to identify one or more factional leaders with such individuals would meld well with modern experience of those ministers who have become more interested in preserving their position than upholding the doctrine they theoretically advocate. 

            Such support could have been provided by more prosperous members providing accommodations and other assistance.  On the other hand, Paul did not see any need to justify the propriety of a contribution in their meeting when it came to helping the needy Jerusalemite Christians.  This would argue that they had acquaintance with the concept of a regular contribution and such would certainly have been readily accepted as one appropriate means to meet the needs of the types of individuals Paul describes.  Not to mention potentially free them of the subtle entanglements of long-term reliance upon a specific household for all of the congregation’s needs and finances.

            Composition of the congregation.  The church was bi-ethnic (both Jews and Gentiles) (12:13) and had both slave and free members (12:13; cf. 7:21-24).  The thought of denying a slave the right to practice any lawful religion was anathema in those days.

            Generally speaking the “wise,” the “scribe,” the trained “disputer of this age” (1:20) found nothing appealing in the gospel.  A slightly different threesome is given in 1:26 where Paul refers to how “not many wise according to the flesh,” “mighty,” or “noble” had accepted the message.  Instead its main recipients (implying these constituted the bulk of the Corinthian church as well) were composed of social elements the world looked down upon and mocked:  “the foolish things of the world” (1:27), “the weak things of the world” (1:27), “the base things of the world” (1:28), “the things which are despised” (1:28).  There is a warning subtext implicit in the argument Paul makes:  To the world you are nothing; only to God and to Christ do you count.  (The sermonic

 

 

[Page 18]  messages in that were surely legion!) 

            In chapter three Paul stresses that people of widely different earthly status were represented within the church:  some could be represented in purely human terms as “gold, silver, [or] precious stones;” yet others would be comparable in temporal parallels to “wood, hay, [or] straw” (3:12).  Some of these would survive the trials of discipleship and others would not (3:13), but there is no hint that the determining factor would be their earthly status. 

            He even concedes a little later that there might be some among them who “seems to be wise” in traditional Greek earthly terms (3:18).  He does not denounce such individuals, but warns that they must balance this with the proper humility toward God’s will (3:19-21).  

            These allusions to the social membership of the congregation are not in contradiction to his earlier remark (chapter 1) about the low status church members enjoyed in the eyes of the surrounding world.  There he is stressing the dominant status of the membership and as a generalization that in no way affects the possibility of a significant minority of individuals who did not fit that pattern.  In chapter three he makes passing reference to such individuals who are atypical.  It must be remembered, however, that a movement so often scorned would tend to reduce the perceived social standing of an individual even when the economic, social, or other position would otherwise be honored.

            There are additional hints at a significant number of either economically independent or even better off individuals in the description of law suits in chapter six.  These disputes involved dishonesty (“do[ing] wrong”) and even outright “cheat[ing]” of each other (6:8).  Although this would be of harm to those of any economic strata, the ones most likely to have the time, resources, and inclination to utilize the law courts would be those not among the poorest.   

            The rebuke of utilizing prostitutes (6:15-20) points in a similar direction.  Although couched in language applicable to any sexual relationship outside of marriage, he twice uses the specific term “harlot” (6:15, 16).  Both adultery (post-marital) and fornication (pre-marital) sexual relationships have never known class lines; prostitutes, in contrast, cost cold cash.  For that reason the poorer sections of society would be less likely to be guilty of that particular offense—or, at least, less often.  (Anyone familiar with late nineteenth century England, however, will be aware that we are again speaking in relative terms not absolute ones.) 

            Whether out of blindness or ill intent, those who were better off embarrassed the poor in their midst.  In their abuse of the Lord’s Supper, which they had expanded into a regular feast, some had plenty to eat and others little or nothing (11:20-21).  It was bad enough that they had changed the remembrance into a time of self-indulgence.  But Paul is also angered at how this additionally “shame[s] those who have nothing” (11:22).  Whether intended or not it was contemptuous unconcern that had no place among them. 

            From our survey of the data concerning the congregational membership we see a reflection of a cross-section of the people of that ancient city.  Furthermore, it implies a membership fully integrated into the society of the era,[41]

 

                        We are given the picture of a church which lives anything but a ghetto    existence.  We hear of lawsuits before pagan courts (6:1), and the question of   relations with non-Christians is touched upon (5:10); the reference to the question            of eating meat offered to idols (10:25ff) is probably also connected with the fact             that Christians came into contact socially with non-Christians.  

 

 

 

[Page 19]         From one standpoint this was ideal:  the society was not at war with them and they were not alienated as an oppressed minority.  The flip side of the situation was that, ironically, it imposed its own special dangers:  inappropriate and dangerous compromise with the standards they were expected to uphold.

 

 

 

 

Notes

 

 



[1] Steven L. Davies, The New Testament:  A Contemporary Introduction (San Francisco:  Harper & Row, Publishers, 1988), 61; Walter A. Elwell and Robert

W. Yarbrough, Encountering the New Testament:  A Historical and Theological Survey (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Books, 1998), 290; Reginald H. Fuller, A Critical Introduction to the New Testament, Corrected Edition (Letchworth, Hertfordshire  [Great Britain]: Duckworth, 1971), 5.  

 

[2] Richard Heard, An Introduction to the New Testament (London:  Adam and Charles Black, 1950), 188-189.

 

[3] For a concise summary of twentieth century theories on the matter (and difficulties with them), see Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove, Illinois:  Inter-Varsity Press, 1970), 439-441; Werner G. Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament, translated from the Fourteenth German Revised Edition (London:  SCM Press, Ltd., 1966), 203-205; and Udo Schnelle, The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings, translated by M. Eugene Boring (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1998), 62-63.  For a more detailed presentation of the case that 1 Corinthians is a compilation—rather than originally one letter—see John C. Hurd, The Earlier Letters of Paul—and Other Studies (Frankfurt, Germany:  Peter Lang, 1998), 185-189, including the useful charts of how different scholars divide the current text into their “original” components.  For a detailed study of the pro unity approach see pages 199-206.  (Hurd’s ultimate conclusion is against the multi-source analysis.)    

 

[4] Gerd Ludemann, Paul:  The Founder of Christianity (Amherst, New York:  Prometheus Books, 2002), 62.   

 

[5] J. Massyngaerde Ford, Bonded with the Immortal:  A Pastoral Introduction to the New Testament (Wilmington, Delaware:  Michael Glazier, 1987), 133 for the three year span; however, he also asserts, “about 54 C.E. or earlier” (131). 

 

 

[Page 20]  [6] Stanley B. Marrow, Paul:  His Letters and His Theology—An Introduction to Paul’s Epistles (Mahwah, New Jersey:  Paulist Press, 1986), 114.    

 

[7] F. W. Grosheide, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953; 1976 printing), 13. 

 

[8] C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, in the Harper’s New Testament Commentaries series (New York:  Harper & Row, Publishers, 1968), 3.   

 

[9] Steven L. Davies, 62.

 

[10] Raymond Bryan Brown, “1 Corinthians,” in Acts-1 Corinthians, in the Broadman Bible Commentary series (Nashville, Tennessee:  Broadman Press, 1970), 292; James B. Coffman, Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Abilene, Texas:  Abilene Christian University Press, 1974), 5; C. Milo Connick, The New Testament:  An Introduction to Its History, Literature, and Thought (Encinco, California:  Dickenson Publishing Company, Inc., 1972), 265; John Hargreaves, A Guide to 1 Corinthians (London:  SPCK, 1978), 52; J. S. MacGorman, Romans, 1 Corinthians, in the Layman’s Bible Book Commentary series (Nashville, Tennessee:  Broadman Press, 1980), 98, and Matthew Thekkekara, The Fact of Early Christianity:  A Study of the Pauline Letters (Bangalore:  KJC Publications, 1988), 99.  Fred D. Howard, 1 Corinthians:  Guidelines for God’s People (Nashville, Tennessee:  Convention Press, 1983), 9, uses the term “approximately” to describe the date.  Elwell and Yarbrough, 290, speak of it being “around A.D. 55.”  Schnelle, 57, opts for 55 AD, but concedes the previous year “cannot be completely excluded as a possibility.”   

 

[11] Ralph P. Martin, New Testament Foundations:  A Guide for Christian Students; Volume 2, The Acts, the Letters, the Apocalypse (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 175.

 

[12] Kummel, 205; Henry C. Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1943; 1989 reprint), 205; and Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians:  A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 32.  

 

[13] Gosnell L.O.R. Yorke, The Church as the Body of Christ in the Pauline Corpus:  A Re-examination (Lanham, New York:  Univeristy Press of America, 1991), 30.   

 

[14] Jouette M. Bassler, “1 Corinthians,” in The Women’s Bible Commentary, edited by Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe (Louisville, Kentucky:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), 321, and John Parry, The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges  (Cambridge:  At the University Press, 1916), lxxv.        

 

 

[Page 21]  [15] Jan Lambrecht, “1 Corinthians,” in The International Bible Commentary:  A Catholic and Ecumenical Commentary for the Twenty-First Century, edited by William R. Farmer (Collegeville, Minnesota:  Liturgical Press, 1998), 1603. 

 

[16] Kenneth L. Chafin, 1, 2 Corinthians, in the Communicator’s Commentary series (Waco, Texas:  Word Books, Publisher, 1985), 20, and Peter F. Ellis, Seven Pauline Letters (Collegeville, Minnesota:  Liturgical Press, 1982), 38.   

 

[17] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Uses of the Old Testament in the New (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1985), 112.   

 

[18] Philip E. Hughes, “1 Corinthians,” in The New Testament, in the Biblical Expositor series (Philadelphia:  A. J. Holman Company, 1960), 259; James Moffatt, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (London:  Hodder and Stoughton, 1938), xv.  Archibald M. Hunter, Introducing the New Testament, Third Revised Edition (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1972), 106, lumps together both First and Second Corinthians for dating purposes. 

 

[19] John J. Kilgallen, First Corinthians:  An Introduction and Study Guide (Mahwah, New Jersey:  Paulist Press, 1987), 3.    

 

[20] Vincent P. Branick, Understanding the New Testament and Its Message:  An Introduction (Mahwah, N.J.:  Paulist Press, 1998), 209; F. F. Bruce, I and II Corinthians,

in the New Century Bible Commentary series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), 25; A. F. J. Klijn, An Introduction to the New Testament, translated from the Dutch by Mrs. M. van der Vathorst-Smit; Second, revised edition (Leiden:  E. J. Brill, 1980), 86.  “About A.D. 55,” suggests Norman Perrin, The New Testament:  An Introduction--Proclamation and Parenesis, Myth and History (New York:  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1974), 101.  “Perhaps,” cautions John Ruef, Paul’s First Letter to Corinth, in the Pelican New Testament Commentaries series (Harmondsworth, England:  Penguin Books, 1971), xxix.    

 

[21] T. Henshaw, New Testament Literature:  In the Light of Modern Scholarship (London:  George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1952), 235.  With slightly different wording, Heard, 181. 

 

[22] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians:  The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 21; Rupert E. Davies, Studies in 1 Corinthians (London:  Epworth Press, 1962), 17; Eduard Lohse, The Formation of the New Testament, translated from the third German edition by M. Eugene Boring (Nashville:  Abingdon, 1981), 67; Charles B. Puskas, Jr., The Letters of Paul:  An Introduction (Collegeville, Minnesota:  Liturgical Press, 1993), 55; Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (New York:  Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911), xxxiii; Schnelle, 57.  W. B. Harris, The First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (Mysore City, India:  Published for the Senate of Serampore College by the Christian Literature Society, 1958), 26, embraces that date but provides a concise summary of potential objections to it (25-26).      

 

 

[Page 22]  [23] John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1976), 54.

 

[24] Calvin J. Roetzel, The Letters of Paul:  Conversations in Context, Fourth Edition (Louisville, Kentucky:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1998),  89.      

 

[25] Robert G. Gromacki, Called to Be Saints:  An Exposition of 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Book House, 1977; 1986 printing), xiv; Robert. G. Gromacki, New Testament Survey (Grand Rapids Michigan, 1974), 202; Merrill C. Tenney, New Testament Survey, Revised Edition by Walter M. Dunnett (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company/Inter-Varsity Press, 1985), 296, opts for winter in particular.     

 

[26] Frederick C. Grant, New Testament:  Romans-Revelation, in the Nelson’s Bible Commentary series (New York:  Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1962), 64; William M. Ramsay, The Layman’s Guide to the New Testament (Atlanta:  John Knox Press, 1981), 124, 127; Hubert Richards, Reading Paul Today:  A New Introduction to the Man and His Letters (Atlanta, Georgia:  John Knox Press, 1980), 39; and Margaret E. Thrall, The First and Second Letters of Paul to the Corinthians, in the Cambridge Bible Commentary:  New English Bible (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1965), 11. 

 

[27] W. Harold Mare, “1 Corinthians,”  in Romans-Galatians, in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 180;  Russell D. Snyder, “The First Epistle to the Corinthians,”  in New Testament Commentary, edited by Herbert C. Alleman; Revised edition (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:  Muhlenberg Press, 1936, 1944), 462.    

 

[28] A. H. McNeile, An Introduction to the Study of the New Testament, Second Edition, revised by C. S. C. Williams (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1953), 133.  

 

[29] Joseph M. Gettys, How to Study 1 Corinthians (Richmond, Virginia:  John Knox Press, 1951), 12.   

 

[30] Addison H. Leitch, A Reader’s Introduction to the New Testament (Garden City, N.Y.:  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971), 63, 71, and John Fotopoulos, Food Offered to Idols in Roman Corinth:  A Social-Rhetorical Reconsideration of 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1 (Tubingen, Germany:  Mohr Siebeck, 2003), 129.   

 

[31] Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York:  Doubleday, 1997), 515.

 

[32] John B. Polhill, Paul & His Letters (Nashville, Tennessee:  Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 129, a view supported by Bo Reicke, Re-examining Paul’s Letters:  The History of the Pauline Correspondence, edited by David P. Moessner and Ignalisa Reicke (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania:  Trinity Press International, 2001), 48.

 

 

[Page 23]  [33] Richards, Paul, 41.

 

[34] Samuel Davidson, An Introduction to the New Testament; volume 2:  The Acts of the Apostles to the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians (London:  Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1849), 220; Robert F. Horton, The Growth of the New Testament:  A Study of the Books in Order (Boston:  Pilgrim Press, 19--), 53; E. H. Robertson, Corinthians One and Two, in the J. B. Phillips’ Commentaries series (London:  Collins/Fontana Books, 1973), 14. 

 

[35] Guthrie, 441.  Richard Kugelman, “The First Letter to the Corinthians,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary; Volume 2,  The New Testament and Topical Articles, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (two volumes bound as one) (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:  1968), 255, goes even further and calls it the “early spring” (our emphasis).   

 

[36] John H. Kerr, An Introduction to the Study of the Books of the New Testament, Second Edition, Revised (New York:  Fleming H. Revell Company, 1892), 132.

 

[37] David Lipscomb and J. W. Shepherd, First Corinthians, in the New Testament Commentaries series (Nashville, Tennessee:  Gospel Advocate Company, 1935; 1974 printing), xvii. 

 

[38] John MacEvilly, An Eposition of the Epistles of St. Paul and of the Catholic Epistles, Third Edition, Enlarged (Dublin:  W. B. Kelly, 1875), 142, spoke of how “about the year 57” as the “common opinion” at that time.   

 

[39] Fuller, 41.  Others who endorse or suspect an Ephesian origin include such scholars as Reicke, 48, and John Knox, Chapters in a Life of Paul, Revised Edition (Macon, Georgia:  Mercer, 1987), 71.    

 

[40] Everett F. Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), 272.

 

[41] Willi Marxsen, Introduction to the New Testament, translated by G. Buswell (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1968; 1980 printing), 74.

 

 

Roland H. Worth, Jr.

A Torah Commentary on First Corinthians 1-6:

Interpreting the Text in Light of

Its Old Testament Roots

 

© 2011