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

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2011







       Section Two:

Studies of the Text







Chapter 1                                                                                              [Page 68] 





            In chapter one, the apostle hits hard at the underlying problem in Corinth:  rampant, uncontrolled, and probably unscrupulous divisiveness within the congregation, a situation in which “victory” for one’s faction was the ultimate goal.   He never does spell out how much of the local chaos grew out of this being the over-riding agenda:  For example, one can easily imagine one clique backing unrestricted speaking in tongues and another opposed.  On the other hand, he avoids linking specific factional groups to any of the individual abuses.  This makes it far more likely that we have factional divisiveness superimposed upon a wide variety of existing disagreements on other matters.  It also permits Paul to “depersonalize” the issues and argue them as abstract issues of good or bad.






How the Themes Are Developed  






Author and destination of the epistle (1:1-1:2)



            ATP text:  1From Paul, who was chosen by the will of God to be a spiritual ambassador of Jesus Christ, and Sosthenes our brother, 2to the assembly of God which is at Corinth.  You have been made pure in Christ Jesus, called to be a set apart people, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ--their Lord and ours.” 

            Development of the argument: The apostle begins by telling his readers the identity of the writer and that of his compatriot (and presumably co-worker) who was joining him in his message.  Since this is the only specific co-worker mentioned and since Paul distinguishes what the brief note he personally wrote from the text of the book that came before it (16:21-24), Sosthenes may well have functioned as scribe for Paul.[1]   

Perhaps because there would be so many negative things to be said, it was especially useful for Paul to begin with a groundwork of praise for what the Corinthians had previously accomplished.  The faith they had was one they shared “with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1:2; all quotes within the body of our text is from the NKJV unless otherwise noted).  Whatever



[Page 69]  their internal divisiveness, they had not—at least, not yet, broken themselves away from the broader body of the faithful found throughout the world. 

Although Paul does not introduce the minor prophet text as symbolically fulfilled in what the Christian community (worldwide) was doing, those with a detailed knowledge of the Jewish literature might well have seen a precedent there.  Malachi rebuked his contemporaries for neglecting the worship of Yahweh and spoke of a day when outsiders would be doing what they themselves should have been doing, “For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts” (1:11).  






Paul’s continued affection

for the Corinthian congregation (1:3-1:9)



            ATP text:  3May Divine favor and peace be granted you by God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  4I thank my God continually concerning you for the favor of God which was given to you by being in Christ Jesus:  5In Him you were made rich in everything in speech and knowledge of every kind, 6even as the testimony concerning Christ was verified among you.  7The result is that you are not missing out on any spiritual gift, as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.  8He will also keep you strong to the end, so that you may be free of blame in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ:  9God is reliable, by whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

            Development of the argument:  From the positive standpoint, they had much to be pleased about:  they had  received God’s grace (1:4), they had been enriched spiritually not just in a few matters but in “every thing” and this had been reflected in their conversation (“utterance;” “speech,” ATP) and in what they knew (“all knowledge;” “knowledge of every kind,” ATP) (1:4).  They had “gift[s].” presumably the gifts of the Spirit discussion in chapter 12, that were equal to that found everywhere else (1:7). 

            This is the picture of a profoundly blessed group of people:  they weren’t spiritual seekers; they were spiritual accomplishers.  Furthermore, God would uphold what He had begun in them.  He would “confirm you to the end” (“keep you strong to the end,” ATP) so that their character might be “blameless” (“free of blame,” ATP) when Jesus returned (1:8).  In short, He would remain faithful to them (1:9).  Unstated, but to be discussed next, is whether they would be equally faithful to Him.






The core problem of the Corinthian assembly:    

                                 internal cliques (1:10-1:13)


[Page 70]         ATP text:  10By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ I plead with you, spiritual comrades, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no internal divisions among you.  Be completely united, with the same frame of mind and the same conviction.  11My comrades, I have been informed concerning you, by those of Chloe's household, that there are quarrels among you.  12Now I mean this, that every one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ."  13Has Christ been divided?  Was Paul nailed to a cross for you?  Or were you immersed in the name of Paul?”

            Development of the argument:  Now comes the pain.  The question Paul shifts to is whether they will do their part, whether they will remain faithful to God and to Christ.  He pointedly urges them to be united in all ways (1:10).  Not being one to rest on pious and noble generalities when his listeners might miss the personal application, he immediately emphasizes that he is receiving credible reports that there are major divisions among them.  He is hearing that they are aligning themselves into factions proclaiming loyalty to Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ (1:11-13).   Implicit, though unstated:  On a spiritual level, they were guilty of the factionalism for which their city was well known in the political sphere.[2] 

            Sadly, there is something in the human nature of both the religiously and politically enthusiastic that can beguile the individual into aligning with a splinter group and to confuse principle with mere group loyalty.  The future Cardinal Newman, at the tail end of his long allegiance to Anglicanism, looked out and observed such an attitude in some of his supporters in the Oxford Movement.  He spoke of how “there will ever be a number of persons professing the opinions of the party . . . too young to be wise, too generous to be cautious, too warm to be sober, or too intellectual to be humble.  Such persons will be very apt to attach themselves to particular persons, to use particular names, to say things merely because others do, and to act in a party-spirited way.”[3]  This mind-frame of misplaced allegiances was present in Corinth.

            Even so, there was an obvious absurdity in the division of the Corinthians and others who profess the name Christian.  “Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1:13; “Has Christ been divided?  Was Paul nailed to a cross for you?  Or were you immersed in the name of Paul?,” ATP).  These rhetorical questions obviously called for a negative answer.  The fact that he implicitly denied that they had been baptized in his name argues that they were not baptized in the name of Apollos or Cephas either.  It was not that the Corinthians denied the importance of Christ but that they effectively replaced (or at least undermined) their claim to be His followers by a more immediate and direct loyalty to factional leaders.[4] 

Yet his language does not target the clique leaders themselves; rather, he tears into the fact that such divisions exist at all.[5]  In other words, the fault lies not just with the leaders but, even more so, with those who voluntarily align themselves into the factions.  In some situations cliques form because of self-centered individuals advancing their own agenda; in other cases, they evolve because groups sharing a similar set of passions are seeking out individuals to serve as their rallying points.  Whichever pattern may have



[Page 71]  been found in Corinth, Paul words his criticism in such a manner as to cover both situations.  Factionalism is sin and the road they traveled to reach it was virtually irrelevant.

Nor could they deny that the problem existed since Paul’s information came straight from reliable sources inside the congregation itself.   (Reliable as seen in the fact that Paul felt no need to defend his informants, implying that their word was such that no one was likely to challenge it.)  The language of “Chloe’s household” is so broad that it could encompass her offspring, servants (including both slaves and the equivalent of freemen “employees”),  and close relatives (who might well be living in to her household due to family ties).[6]  It is hardly likely that their intention to visit Paul was unknown and they would have immediately known just who the parties were composed of.       

Furthermore, there was the three man delegation from Corinth of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Archaicus to provide supplemental reports--though their central purpose was to supply “what was lacking on your part” (1 Corinthians 16:17) rather than the latest news per se.[7]  Furthermore, there was an epistle from the church (“the things you wrote me,” 1 Corinthians 7:1),[8] that would implicitly if not explicitly have warned him of internal tensions.

In short, there was no way they could credibly deny they had a problem and once Paul raised the matter explicitly they were going to have to deal with it—grudgingly and unwillingly, most likely, but deal with it nonetheless.  It was his intent to leave them no maneuvering room.






Paul’s disinterest in who performed their

baptism proved that he never sought to create

a group owing its loyalty to him

personally (1:14-1:16)



            ATP text:  14I thank God that I immersed no one among you except Crispus and Gaius, 15lest anyone should say that I had immersed in order to make you my disciples.  16Yes, I also immersed the household of Stephanas.  Beyond that, I do not remember immersing any one else.”

            Development of the argument:   Why then were they divided?  Paul washed his hands of any responsibility for the situation.  He had baptized only a very few individuals (1:14-16), so virtually no one could falsely claim a special loyalty or responsibility to him on such a ground.  Indeed, he had to stretch his memory in order to include Stephanas (1:16) for he had initially omitted him (1:15).  Would a spiritual “empire builder” be so forgetful of his “prizes”?  No, only the person more preoccupied with their conversion and their faithfulness than in who could take credit for their discipleship.





[Page 72] 

Justifying the existence of a clique by its

members’ supposedly greater insight was vain

because the gospel had little appeal to such

people in the first place (1:17-1:21)



            ATP text:  17Christ did not send me to immerse.  He sent me to preach the gospel, not with clever intellectual arguments, lest the cross of Christ should be robbed of its power, 19for the message of the cross makes no sense to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  20It is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the scholars."  20Where is the philosopher?  Where is the expert in scripture?  Where is the skillful debater of this age?  Has not God made nonsense of the wisdom of this world?  21In His wisdom, God decided not to permit the world to use its wisdom to successfully learn about Him.  Instead, it pleased God to use the “foolishness” of the message we preach to accomplish the saving of those who accept it.”

            Development of the argument:  The roots of their problems were a preoccupation with eloquent oratory (1:18-25) and temporal standing and reputation (1:26-31).  If individuals were great speakers or occupied prominent socio-economic roles, then loyalty was felt toward them.  This mind frame certainly enjoyed no sanction from Paul’s conduct.  His preaching had obviously been effective or they would not have been converted.  Yet it had lacked the “wisdom of words (ATP:  “with clever intellectual arguments” (1:17) that marked the oratory that was now so vital to them.  Directness of speech and clearness of message had accomplished that which oratorical brilliance had not.[9]

            Only later does Paul make plain that he did not enjoy the kind of earthly status, either, that they thought earned support:  he had been a hard-working, self-supporting minister and was proud of it; he had not lived off their support, though he had been fully entitled to it (9:1-18).

            Paul argues that even from the practical standpoint their preoccupation was ill-begotten.  “Where is the wise?  Where is the scribe?  Where is the disputer of this age?” (ATP:  “Where is the philosopher?  Where is the expert in scripture?  Where is the skillful debater of this age?,  1:20).  The simple fact of the matter was that very few such individuals were converted.  Why then should they rank such skills so high on their priorities?





[Page 73] 

Justifying the existence of a clique by the

superiority of one’s ethnicity was absurd

because both Jew and Greek found excuses to

reject the gospel of Christ (1:22-1:25)



            ATP text:  22Jews demand a miraculous sign, and Greeks want something that sounds like wisdom, 23but we proclaim the crucified Christ. To the Jews this causes them to stumble and to the Greeks to dismiss it as nonsense, 24but to those who are called--both Jews and Greeks--Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.  25This is because the “foolishness” of God is always wiser than human wisdom, and the “feebleness” of God is always stronger than human strength.”

            Development of the argument:  The sad fact was that traditionalist Jews were preoccupied with receiving “a sign” (1:22)—as if Jesus had not performed a multitude.  How many more did Jesus really have to perform to be convincing?  Gentiles were preoccupied with “wisdom” (1:22)--and every year would surely produce a new trend, a new tendency, a new field of query so the quest would be eternal and never completed.

            But to Christians there was an abundance of both:  They knew the sought “sign” had been given:  Christ had fully manifested “the power of God.”  Furthermore, through Christ they no longer had to perpetually seek out wisdom; they already had in their hands “the wisdom of God” (1:23).  And at its supposed weakest “the foolishness of God” is still always “wiser than” the best human wisdom can produce (1:24). 






Justifying the existence of a clique by its

members higher social status was equally

misguided because there were few

such people converted (1:26-1:31)



            ATP text:  26You see your calling, comrades, that it did not attract many wise according to human standards, not many influential, not many of high social standing.  27Intead God has chosen the “foolish” things of the world in order to shame the wise, and God has chosen the “weak” things of the world in order to shame the powerful.  28The things the world regards as “insignificant,” “despised,” and “nothing at all,” God has preferred.  He has done so to destroy the value of that which the world regards as important 29so that no mortal will be able to brag in His presence.  30By God’s doing, you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and ransom from sin.  31This was done so that, as it is written, "He who brags, let him boast of things concerning the Lord." ”

            Development of the argument:  Why should they exalt individuals with earthly status when they themselves represented what opinion looked down upon as the “weak



[Page 74]  things of the world” (1:27-28)?  God had not sought out such individuals from some masochistic impulse, but so that no human being could never “glory in His presence” (ATP:  “brag in His presence”) as to their accomplishments or successes (1:29).  Hence they should not be preoccupied with the successes of their fellow men and women but give the glory to God (1:31).  Success was fine and good but it was not the criterion of spirituality.







Invoking of Explicit Old Testament

Quotations to Justify His Teaching






            1:19:  The limits of human insight when it comes to spiritual matters.  The Greek culture of Paul’s day elevated the capacity of human philosophy[10] and Paul did not question that, within limits, it possessed both genuine insight and real value.  He appeals, however, to the teaching of the Old Testament to prove that it must never be given veto power over accepting the teachings God is described as revealing in the scriptures.  Indeed, he selects a text that directly threatens the continued success and credibility of such individuals, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent” (ATP:  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the scholars”).

            This is part of a text (quoted from the Septuagint version)[11] that rebukes superficial religion and which is convinced that such external appearances is adequate to satisfy Yahweh,


                        “Therefore the Lord said:  ‘Inasmuch as these people draw near with their         mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me,     and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men.  Therefore,        behold, I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish and the    understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.’  Woe to those who seek deep         to hide their counsel far from the Lord, and their works are in the dark:  They say,          ‘Who sees us?’ and ‘Who knows us?’ ”  (Isaiah 29:13-15). 



Paul makes a slight change in the LXX of Isaiah 29:14 in order to make his criticism even more emphatic.  Alexandra R. Brown points out that he “intensifies the divine negation of human wisdom by changing its final verb from krypso (‘I will hide’) to atheteso (‘I will set aside/bring to nothing’).  His use of the verse, moreover, seems to



[Page 75]  echo its large context in Isaiah, for Isaiah goes on to outline the false, self-exalting perceptions of Israel” as being so extreme that it was like the clay challenging the potter that made it (29:16).[12]   

            The people are not condemned for doing the wrong things in their religious behavior--at least it is not mentioned.  So far as the text goes, they were strict Torah observers.  They had three  problems, however.  The first was that it was all external:  in act they did everything right, but their “heart” was elsewhere.[13]  They were “ritualists” in the worst sense of the term; they performed every required form but it meant little or nothing to the internal person.[14]

            The second criticism aimed at them is that even the “right” things they did, they did for the wrong reason.  Yes, they followed the Torah but not because what it was what was commanded by that document but because it happened to be taught “by the commandment” of whatever group of “wise men” they counted themselves disciples of.

            It may well be that these “wise” individuals also gave the people excuses to rationalize their sins away (note the condemnation that immediately follows, in verse 15).[15]  Be that as it may this introduced yet a third fault:  they did the right religious acts, but went out and ignored the Torah’s moral demands as they applied to everyday life.[16]  Like the pseudo-wise in Paul’s day, their self-proclaimed insight and spiritual depth was brought to nothing--not in their own eyes, of course, but in those of God and those who could look at the matter from a distance.

Their folly was compounded by the fact that they were supposed to be the intellectual pacesetters of society.  They were supposed to be perceptive and insightful.  Yet by rejecting the wisdom God had revealed, they had stripped themselves of the most valuable wisdom they could have access to, thereby fatally compromising their purpose in life.  In Jeremiah 8:8-9 this humiliating reality is described in these terms, “How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us’?  Look, the false pen of the scribe certainly works falsehood.  The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken.  Behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord; so what wisdom do they have?”

At a later date, Celsus used the fact that Christianity appealed overwhelmingly to the lower classes rather than to the intellectual, economic, and political elite as a pivotal argument that the religion could not possibly be valid.[17]  Since Paul recognized that the basic assumption (but not the conclusion) was accurate, one can’t help but suspect that pagan critics latched onto the argument from a very early time.  Yet Paul does not deal with this as an argument against his faith but utilizes it as a reason that Christians at large should keep the importance of the “elite” in its proper perspective.  Same basic facts, but opposite conclusions are drawn.



            1:31:  Honor and praise should be directed toward God and His blessings rather than our own real and imagined accomplishments.  Paul cites justification for this in the Old Testament admonition, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord” (ATP:  "He who brags, let him boast of things concerning the Lord.") 

            This is an abridgment of the thought found in Jeremiah 9:23-24, “Thus says the Lord:  ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment,



[Page 76]  and righteousness in the earth.  For in these I delight,’ says the Lord.”  Paul produces the modified version of the quotation by pruning out everything not relevant to its conceptual heart--taking the beginning words of the verse (“let him who glories, glory in this”) and combining them with the middle  words of the verse (“that I am the Lord”).[18]   Thereby he zeroes in on the part of the text most relevant to his argument.[19]
            “Wisdom,” “might,” “riches”--these are the secular trinity of all ages[20]--often worshipped with more passion and enthusiasm than Deity itself.  They can come in various forms.  “Wisdom” in the context of the ancient world suggests philosophical insight.  Today we would predominantly stress its expression in scientific and technological acumen.[21]  In the broader sense, “wisdom” in our world is the scholar working at his or her peak of performance.[22]

            “Might” includes one’s physical abilities.[23]  We see it manifested in the well trained athlete[24] (such as at the Olympics) and the warrior both in training and on the battlefield.[25]  “Might” includes strength in the sense of influence on others--the “born leader” who needs no formal position to exercise leadership.[26]

            “Riches” refers to both hard currency that one possesses as well as property and assets that one has title to.  We might think of both the person with a large bank account as well as the fabled Wall Street financier.[27]

            Solomon was the Old Testament standard of bringing together these attributes.  So it may be that Jeremiah has in mind not just normal human distorted priorities but “the entire value system of royalty” in particular.[28]

            Be that as it may, all three traits have an unquestioned benefit—they are legitimately desirable in their own right.[29]  In the final analysis, however, they are still “nonessentials” when compared to what brings true value to life.[30]  According to our text, what counts with God is the pursuit of those characteristics He manifested in His relationship with the human species:  love, good judgment, and ethical behavior (“righteousness”).  To the extent that we demonstrate this “in the earth,” we are giving glory and honor to the God who exhibits and expects this lifestyle.[31]        

            Paul deals with each of these attributes in 1 Corinthians:  love (at length in chapter 13), good judgment (chapter 5 and arbitration), and ethical behavior (chapter 6 and various other texts throughout the epistle).  Hence Jeremiah 9:23-24 represents a very good text for Paul to recall to the mind of his readers and correspondingly useful for us to have considered at greater length than many others that we will only mention in passing.

            Other passages have a relevance to this matter as well.  They make allusion to the appropriateness and desirability of giving esteem to God and receiving honor not through self-righteous puffery of our own merits but through service to Yahweh.  The language expressing this sentiment is often similar.  For example, 1 Chronicles 16:10 refers to “glory[ing] in His name” (1 Chronicles 16:10)  Psalms 105:3 endorses “glory[ing] in His holy name.”  Isaiah 41:16 modifies the wording to “glory[ing] in the Holy One of Israel.”   Indeed, this was to be a characteristic of all Israelites in all generations, “In the Lord all the descendants of Israel shall be justified, and shall glory” (Isaiah 45:25).

            Although Jeremiah 9:23 is usually cited as the Old Testament text in Paul’s mind, there are those who believe that close attention should be given to the possibility that the prayer of Samuel’s mother could be intended, at least in part,




[Page 77]  The Lord will weaken his adversary; the Lord is holy. Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, nor let the mighty man boast in his strength, and let not the rich man boast in his wealth; but let him that boasts boast in this, to understand and know the Lord, and to execute judgment and justice in the midst of the earth. The Lord has gone up to the heavens, and has thundered: he will judge the extremities of the earth, and he gives strength to our kings, and will exalt the horn of his Christ. (1 Samuel 2:10, LXX [1 Kingdoms],  Brenton translation.)[32] 


John Paul Heil argues that Paul’s lack of a specific reference to the source was an intentional act, permitting the readers/hearers to identify with either passage that they might be more familiar with or, for that matter, any other reference that emphasized that trust should always be placed in God rather than in any human intellectual resource.[33]






How Old Testament Concepts

Are Repeatedly Introduced and Woven

 into the Heart of His Argument





            1:2:  “Calling on the name of Jesus Christ.”   “Calling on the name” involves a complex of ideas such as invoking the authority and intervention of Christ, prayer to (or through) the One  who is “called” upon, and actual worship. 

            1.  The expression as equivalent to prayer.  This usage is especially clear in Psalms 116:1-4, “I love the Lord, because He has heard My voice  and my supplications.  Because He has inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.  The pains of death surrounded me, and the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me; I found trouble and sorrow.  Then I called upon the name of the Lord:  ‘O Lord, I implore You, deliver my soul!’   Did he worship as well?  Surely!  But the “calling” was the prayer not the worship. 

            When Namaan spoke of how he had anticipated that the prophet would “stand and call on the Name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place [of infection], and heal the leprosy” (2 Kings 5:11) it is prayer and not worship that is clearly intended.

            When the Proverbist speaks of how disaster would come upon the neglectful people of his nation (1:27), he argues that “then they will call on Me, but I will not answer” (1:28), which surely refers to prayer in particular rather than the broader concept of worship.  The immediately following words, “They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me” (1:28) also makes more sense as a reference to prayer and how it goes unanswered. 

            When Jonah is shaken from his sleep with the plea to, “Arise, call on your God;



[Page 78]  perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish” (Jonah 1:6) one hardly imagines him requesting a worship service nor that a worship service would, by its nature, really “tell” God what was needed.  Prayer would.

            2.  Even when worship was involved, the prayer element could equally be so.[34]  Perhaps the best example of the use of the expression to include (but not exclusively) that of worship is the example of Elijah.  Although Elijah urged the prophets of Baal to “call on the name of your gods and I will call on the name of the Lord” as a test of which deity truly existed and had power (1 Kings 18:24-25) this was far more than just worship—it was the use of prayer as well.  After making sure his sacrifice was triple buried in water, He prayed publicly, “Hear me O Lord, hear me, that this people may known that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant and that I have done all these things at Your word” (18:37) and then the fire poured down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice.



            1:7:  The Corinthians were “eagerly waiting for the revelation” of Christ.  In a similar vein the patriarch Jacob is quoted in his final blessings upon his children to “have waited for your salvation, O Lord” (Genesis 49:18).  If we concur in the translators’ ending the verse with an exclamation point, it would imply the idea of “eagerly waiting,” as Paul’s language does explicitly.



            1:9:  “God is faithful:  the steadfastness and reliability of Yahweh.  In a similar vein, the author of Lamentation 3:22-23 rejoices because, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning.  Great is Your faithfulness.” 

            This reliability, the Psalms stress, will never alter with the passage of time, “He will ever be mindful of His covenant (Psalms 111:5b).  His commandments are “sure” (111:7) and “stand fast forever and ever” (111:8).  Psalms 105:8 sums it up concisely, “He remembers His covenant forever, the word which He commanded, for a thousand generations.” 

            This steadfastness grows out of His core nature:  Since He is not a human who has the capacity to “lie” or the need to “repent, whatever He has committed to will be fulfilled:  “Has He said, and will He not do?  Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19).

            As they read the pages of the Torah and later writings, they encountered accounts of events that could be cited as conformation of this reliability.  Repeated promises of good are mentioned as having been made and either explicitly or implicitly fulfilled:  the pledge never to destroy the earth again by water (Genesis 9:13-16); the promise that the elderly Abraham would father a child by Sarah (Genesis 17:7-8; 18:18; 21:1-2; cf. 24:27); the promise of the land of Canaan (Exodus 6:4-5; cf. Psalms 105:42-45).  The last made possible the existence of a Jewish nation in Palestine.  Such commitments and accomplishments occurred later as well, such as in the building of the Jerusalem temple (1 Kings 8:22-30).

            These were precedents that could be counted on in the future.  He is “the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments; and He repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy



[Page 79]  them.  He will not be slack with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face” (Deuteronomy 7:9-10).  Because of this obedience to God’s “commandment[s],” “statues,” and “judgments” is essential (7:11).

            Hence this is a two-sided teaching; it applies to whatever God has promised--both the blessings and the retribution.  Having made a commitment, He will always live up to His end of the pledge.  In a positive context, this is a powerful reassurance; in a negative one, a threatening warning of future judgment.   



            1:10-13:  The evil of divisiveness among God’s people.  Perhaps the closest analogy we have in the Torah with the factionalism in Corinth was the attempt by Miriam and Aaron to stir up discontent against Moses because of the woman he had decided to marry (Numbers 12). In this case, the text speaks of the troublemakers being called apart to answer to God for their behavior.  As punishment, Miriam was cursed for a week with leprosy and exclusion from the Israelite camp. 

            We read nothing of Aaron being punished though verse 11’s use of the plural “us” in describing who was guilty of “sin” shows that he recognized more than a little personal responsibility.  The text does not explain the reason for the difference, but one would assume (unless one insists that gender differences had to have been the cause) that Miriam had played the major role criticizing the marriage.  Also inflicting leprosy upon the sole high priest of the land posed serious questions of ritual purity, far above and beyond doing so with any other member of the nation. 

            The repeated Old Testament teachings about such matters as stirring up strife and spreading gossip have an obvious relevance to either creating or perpetuating factionalism in any group.  Psalms 15:1-3 stresses that these and related behaviors must be avoided to be accepted by Yahweh, “Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle?  Who may dwell in Your holy hill?  He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart; he who does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor does he take up a reproach against his friend.”

            The concept of peaceful religious co-existence (in any and all contexts) is also taught.  The Psalmist spoke of, “how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (133:1).  After being returned from foreign captivity, then God would “give them one heart and one way” that they might perpetually give him the reverential fear and respect He deserved (Jeremiah 32:39).  It is not unfair to read this text as carrying the implicit warning that without such unity of conviction and practice that they would be unable to honor God as they should.  



            1:20:  God’s ability to make “foolish the wisdom of this world.”  These individuals considered themselves highly intelligent and perceptive and we have no real reason to doubt that they usually were.  But their inability to accept the idea of a crucified redeemer had fatally compromised the illusion that they could correctly “reason” their way to the solution of all the world’s moral and spiritual questions. 

            In Isaiah, Yahweh is quoting as claiming the power to wreck havoc on such misdirected earthly wisdom.  This was made feasible because of His power to create the “heavens” and the “earth” (44:24)--He simply had resources above and beyond any  



[Page 80]  human capacity.  Hence God “frustrates the signs of the babblers, and drives diviners mad; [He] turns wise men backward, and makes their knowledge foolishness” (44:25).  On the other hand, at the very same time he “confirms the word” sent by “His messengers” (44:26).   

            Yahweh “plunder[s]” the wisdom of skilled “counselors” (Job 12:17).  He strips those trying cases of their insight and common sense, thereby “mak[ing] fools of the judges” (12:17).  He strips “away the discernment of the elders” (12:20) who oppose Him.  Likewise he can remove the “understanding” of national leaders so that they “wander in a pathless wilderness” of unwise and unproductive policies (12:24-25).



            1:23:  Christ as a “stumbling block” to ethnic Jews due to His having been crucified.  Dominant christological thought in the first century viewed the coming Redeemer in conquering hero imagery.  The idea of a judicially murdered Messiah was so unexpected, detested, and appalling that the very concept became an intellectual and emotional road block to many Jews accepting the apostolic message about Jesus.  The inability to comprehend is fully understandable, especially in retrospect; but it inadvertently produced the rejection of the very One past generations had dreamt of.

            In the Old Testament, Yahweh himself is pictured in similar terms, “He will be as a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken, be snared and taken” (Isaiah 8:14-15).  This would be because they did not adequately “hallow” and “fear” God (8:13).  They created an image of what was right and proper or even “had” to be; when it failed to match Yahweh’s intentions, their own errors caused them to stumble at the truth.



            1:26-28:  God’s use of the less respected classes of society to teach their “superiors” wisdom and humility.  Since fewer higher societal types were converted in Corinth, this resulted in the  lower classes predominating.  Those who were in that smaller “elite” group had one of two choices (1)  view it as an admission that their faith was wrong or (2) view it as evidence of the limitations of those of their own class.   

            If they were Torah-literate (and the ethnic Jewish segment certainly would have been) they would have been aware of God’s special interest in protecting the poor.  In addition, since the Torah imposed unwanted restrictions on economic and social behavior by the well-to-do, those more likely to observe its demands were those either poor or closer to it than to well-being.  Hence by the first century, the very term “poor” itself had taken on overtones of implying faithfulness to God (cf. the Beatitudes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.)

            Other teachings of the Old Testament also demanded respect for the poor.  The most obvious reason was that God had created those of all economic levels (Job 34:19; Proverbs 22:2).  Just as certainly, the amount of one’s income could not alter the ultimate inevitability of death (Job 34:20; Psalms 37:35-36).  Furthermore, the honorable poor person is pointed to as having greater moral value than the person who engages in dishonorable behavior (Proverbs 19:1; Proverbs 28:6).  Although financial wealth is certainly wonderful, there is a kind of wealth that has nothing to do with money and the

wealthy often (usually?) lack it (Proverbs 13:7).            




[Page 81]         1:30:  Believers accept Jesus as “wisdom from God,” “righteousness,” “sanctification” and “redemption” (ATP:  “righteousness,” “sanctification” and “ransom from sin”)

            (1)  “Wisdom from God:  The first chapters of Proverbs personifies wisdom as itself a teacher of the human race.  In contrast, Jesus was a very real and live human being.  In 1 Corinthians 1:30 the idea is that the “wisdom” that is attributed to God is expressed to the world in the person (“personified,” if you wish) in Christ.  Alternatively the idea may be that Christ is the expression of “wisdom” for the post-Torah age.

            (2)  “Righteousness:”    In describing the days when the Messianic king would reign (Jeremiah 23:5), one ancient prophet spoke of how “Israel will dwell safely” (23:6).  “Now this is His name by which He will be called:  The Lord Our Righteousness” (23:6).  Adherence to Jesus is pictured in the New Testament as enabling a person to become righteous.  In a similar vein, Isaiah 45:24 reads that “in the Lord I have righteousness and strength.”

            (3)  “Sanctification:”  Yahweh is pictured in the Old Testament as the ultimate sanctifier, hence constituting the supreme embodiment of that which permits and carries out sanctification.  This image is mentioned in Exodus (31:13).  The depiction is more common in both Leviticus (20:8; 21:15; 21:23; 22:16) and Ezekiel (20:12; 37:28; 38:23). 

            (4)  “Redemption:”  Utilizing a different, but similar, image, Isaiah 45:15 promises that “Israel shall be saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation; you shall not be ashamed or disgrace forever and ever.”   Yahweh is the prototype redeemer in the Torah by rescuing/redeeming/saving Israel from Egyptian captivity, just as Jesus rescues the new, spiritual Israel from the captivity of sin.






Historical Allusions to the

Old Testament:  None







Problem Texts






[Page 82]         1:1:  Was “the church of God which is at Corinth” one congregation meeting in one place or did it actually consist of only dispersed “house churches” within the city?  There was a strong inclination in much of late twentieth century exegesis to assume that virtually all first century congregations existed simply in the context of house congregations.  In other words they rarely if ever met in a single facility--loaned or rented to them.  Services in one place rarely embraced the bulk of the entire city’s church membership.

From such reasoning one easily assumes that the Corinthian “church” actually consisted of many “churches” and that the “church” (in the singular sense) existed far more as a rhetorical description of the believers than as an actual description of what would be observed by visitors as they visited any particular group meeting.  

Although preferred by more “liberal” theologians, the concept certainly did not stay there.  Indeed, there is now a strong developed evangelical style theology arguing that the only proper form of the “church” is exclusively that of such small/tiny groups.  As one web site advocating this approach candidly argues, “The house church is the Biblical church.  All of the churches in the New Testament era were small assemblies that met in homes.”[35] 

An indirect argument for multiple house churches in Corinth has been derived from 1 Corinthians 14:23, “Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say you are out of your mind?”  Ben Witherington III uses this to  prove “that meetings of all Christians in a given city were the exception not the norm.”[36]  The obvious problem here is that even in a house church setting the same incredulity would occur if outsiders found everyone speaking in foreign languages they did not comprehend.  Hence, the conditional “if” is far more likely used because of the unlikely (but not unknown) coming of an outsider to the worship service, rather than to the unusualness of all Christians meeting together.

Based upon the assumption that Romans was written from that city, an initially impressive argument for the house church scenario in Corinth can be grounded on Romans 16:23, “Gaius, my host and the host of the whole church, greets you. . . .”  The Contemporary English Version renders it, “Gaius welcomes me and the whole church into his home.”  Today’s English Version strikes a similar note, “My host Gaius, in whose house the church meets.”

This has been cited as proof positive that the Corinthian congregation followed a house church pattern.  The first problem is that if the text is to be read this way, it also means that there was only one house church, that of Gaius, and that it was big enough to hold all Christians in the city.  Wayne A. Meeks tries to avoid embracing  this understanding of the text by arguing that Gaius “has a house ample enough not only to put up Paul, but also to accommodate all the Christian groups in Corinth meeting together.”[37]  No text anywhere, however, indicates there were additional house churches in the city; so if such truly represented their style of meeting, this is the one and only house church we have any right to insist upon existing.  All others are assumptions.

Furthermore, even assuming that this was their collective meeting place, if the entire church could meet in this man’s home wouldn’t the social instinct inevitably have them meeting there as often as they could?  In short the availability of a place large  



[Page 83]  enough would inevitably crowd out of existence any other house churches that existed. 

It should also be noted that “host of” need not carry the implication of the church, as such, actually meeting there as a group.  The Bible in Basic English properly presents an equally credible alternative, “Gaius, with whom I am living, whose house is open to all the church . . . .”  He would be “host” of the church not in the sense that the church assembled there, but simply that his doors were open to one and all in the church—all were welcome friends.  Is there additional evidence that points to a non-home meeting place for the Corinthian church that could assist us in deciding which interpretation to adopt?

Assuming that a first century congregation’s normal meeting place was only the private home, there would unquestionably have been severe limitations on its size.  Based on a study of four home ruins from Corinth (only one of which, unfortunately, can be dated to the time of Paul), the maximum capacity for meetings or festivities would be fifty.  This maximum Jerome Murphy-O’Connor promptly reduces to a range of thirty to forty on grounds that the larger capacity is based on the assumption of the absence in the meeting room of any decorative objects such as urns.[38]  Whatever the figure, if children or assorted non-believing servants/slaves were present, that would further reduce the maximum number of actual worship participants.[39]    

This immediately runs into two major problems so far as Corinth.  Murphy-O’Connor candidly admits that if one counts the names of Corinthian Christians mentioned in Acts and the Pauline correspondence, you have to begin the estimate of membership at forty to fifty and it may well have been higher.[40]  In other words, a simple house church was not large enough to accommodate the membership.

Secondly, the Corinthian letter stresses the division accentuated by church fellowship meals.  Though you could theoretically and with difficulty cram as many as fifty into one room, you have to envision them “sitting knee to knee with their food on their laps,” which violated the societal norms of that day.[41]  Furthermore it seems thoroughly incompatible with the textual description of some having food and some not as the various cliques ate together, seemingly in distinctive groupings—a situation requiring far, far more space.

Even among those stressing the small entity scenario, it is normally conceded (at least in the liberal, scholarly approaches) that all of these groups sporadically met together.  Of course, once one concedes that they regularly met as a total group—whether one thinks in terms of monthly, quarterly, or sporadically—the natural question is “why not more frequently”? 

The only arguments against it are prudential (safety) and financial (could they afford it).  If they could find a way around such potential difficulties at all, the social instinct to unite with ones of similar convictions would surely have fueled the desire to maximize the number of occasions and, to the degree that was successful, the withering away of formal house congregations.  (Though this would not rule out groups meeting in such places as a supplement to the regular larger group services, just as a significant number of well established congregations today will have smaller groups meeting in private homes—not as “the church” but simply as convenient size study groups.)

            There are two basic arguments in defense of a city’s “church” actually consisting of many “house congregations.”  The first is that we can document the



[Page 84]  existence of such congregations.  Yes, many did worship in such “home” situations (as Philemon verse 2 and Colossians 4:15) amply testify.  But did they do that because that was all the space they needed--or out of considerations of distance to be traveled to meet with a larger group--or was it because it was considered the definitive method of organizational size and structure?  The latter would make the approach obligatory; the former considerations would make it a matter of practicality and convenience and nothing more.

            Furthermore, there are more questionable texts that have been used to refer to house churches and these are used to needlessly multiple their apparent number.  In Acts 12, we see the apostle Peter being angelically rescued from imprisonment in Jerusalem.  At first he thought he was merely beholding a wonderful vision (verse 9).  It was only when he was safely beyond the guard posts that he realized it was objectively happening (12:11).  “So when he had considered this he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were fathered together praying” (verse 12).   

This has been called “Mary’s house church”[42] though the text does not actually use that term.  In our day and age a large number of church members may gather for some reason in the home of a given family due to crisis, ill-health of some member (and hence prayer), or for group Bible study.  Yet they often do such without any desire of calling themselves a “house church;” they are simply part of a church meeting in someone’s residence because of a specific need or situation.  There is no reason to exclude the early church from the practice—a phenomena independent and separate from any genuine house churches that existed.

            Indeed there seems to be a hint that this case was definitely not considered a congregational meeting in verse 17, “But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison.  And he said, ‘Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.’  And he departed and went to another place.”

            “The brethren” could be simply his fellow apostles.  So you have a “church meeting” without the “church leaders” being there?  Especially when it was one of their number under arrest?  Alternatively “the brethren” could mean the church in general, making a distinction between the immediate group and the church.  Again, would this be a “church” meeting or a private gathering for prayer?

            There is precious little “hard” data to go on, but the arguments against this being a “house church” are at least as weighty as any on the other side.

            In Acts 16:14-15, we read of how “a certain woman named Lydia heard us.  She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshipped God.  The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.  And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.  So she persuaded us.”

Call this a “house church” if you will[43] but the text does not.  It was simply the logical place for Paul to reside and he went there.  Its status (or lack thereof) as a house church was irrelevant to that action.  It was simply where his friends and those he most trusted were at. 

The most that can be said in behalf of the designation is that at this stage this was the congregation in Philippi.  What the congregation did when it grew larger must rest upon one’s assumptions as to how early Christians would have handled the problem (and



[Page 85]  blessing) of church growth.

            A useful test case of whether congregations remained strictly house churches would be the city of Rome.  Like Corinth, there also the “church” is often assumed to be a conglomeration of mere “house churches.”  Yet, writing to the “church” (singular) in Rome, Paul urges that they “greet Priscilla and Aquila” (16:3) which makes no sense if they did not live in or near Rome and they are also to greet “the church that is in their house” (16:4).  In other words in Rome itself you had “the church” Paul writes to and at least one house church either in the city itself or the immediate urban area. 

This makes inherent sense:  it would not be practical for all Christians in New York City to meet in one place today; many could but others would land up in the equivalent of other large congregations or in modern “house churches” because of practical concerns of distance and schedule.  Similarly, first century Rome was a vast city in which such concerns would also have existed.

            If there were house churches as well as “the church” in Rome, there is every reason to assume that such was the case in other major urban centers in which Christianity had more than a token success and Corinth clearly fell into that category.  But the alternatives are not house churches or a major local congregation; Romans shows both could exist in geographic proximity.

            Furthermore, a major test of the house church only scenario in Corinth is utilitarian:  One wonders how such a small group could possibly spawn the variety of divisions Paul recounts.  Indeed, if such an arrangement was the norm in Corinth, the problem of division in Corinth would, essentially, be self-solving:  you would attend at whatever house church that represent your faction.  You wouldn’t even have to meet the other factions that existed!

            The second basis for the strictly house church scenario is that Christianity was not a legal “sect” in the first century and it could not safely meet in large groups.  Yes, Christianity existed in a legally nebulous area.  To the extent that its membership was predominantly Jewish it would be considered a strange dissident faction of Judaism. 

            The perception of Roman authorities in the Palestinian region toward the close of Paul’s two year imprisonment at Caesarea (58 or 59 A.D.) can be seen in the words of King Festus to King Agrippa, “When the accusers stood up, they brought no accusation against him of such things as I supposed. But some questions against him about their own religion and a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive” (Acts 25:18-19).

            Hence 25 odd years or more after the death of Jesus, the Jesus movement was still perceived as part of Judaism at least so far as their Roman legal status was concerned.  There is no indication that King Agrippa dissented from this view.  For that matter even the Jewish traditionalists appear to have worked from the assumption that the Christians were Jewish dissidents/heretics rather than representing an alien movement.  If they thought the dissidents were practicing an “illegal” religion would they not have pressed that as a key part of their case when appearing before Roman authorities?

            Indeed in Corinth just such an attempt was made, “When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him to the judgment seat, saying, ‘This fellow persuades men to worship God contrary to the law’ ” (Acts 18:12-13).  The term could refer to either their religious law or the Roman law. 



[Page 86]         Gallio reasoned that if it might reasonably be considered a matter of their own religion, he had no reason to consider it as a matter of Roman jurisprudence at all, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or wicked crimes, O Jews, there would be reason why I should bear with you.  But if it is a question of words and names and your own law, look to it yourselves; for I do not want to be a judge of such matters” (18:14-15) and proceeded to have them driven out of the meeting place (18:16).  It would seem safe to say that, to him, their shared monotheism made them, legally, “one religion” whether they wished to regard themselves as such or not. 

Furthermore, whether the followers of Jesus should be entitled to inclusion among legal religions would surely have been argued in the affirmative by Paul for he insisted that the Christian community was the true Israel (Romans 2:28-29).  This would provide the legal arguing point that differences should be ignored and it should be regarded as entitled to all the protections afforded Judaism. 

Many (not all) Jews were clearly unhappy with the Christians and would not have been particularly thrilled with such a defense being asserted; they would have regarded it as empty pretense.  Furthermore, to the extent that Christianity burst out beyond its Jewish ethnic boundaries and made significant inroads among Gentiles, both traditionalist Jews and traditional polytheists would have been more reluctant to grant any of the protections to this new movement.  (Many Gentiles would have been far from unhappy to strip the protection from traditionalist Jews as well.)

            Hence even though the Roman rulers examined above—even in a Corinthian context!—considered Christianity, legally, to be lumped in with traditional Judaism, pure discretion required what we today would call a “low profile.”   “Out of sight, out of mind,” if you will.  Even the house church scenario of early Christianity often comes with the caveat that periodically the groups in the same town managed to meet together.  If they could manage to meet together quarterly—and there seems no particular reason to deny they could somehow get together at least that often--was there any inherent reason they couldn’t do so monthly or even weekly? 

            If Christians could only a century or two later manage to meet together in large groups on a regular basis even though their legal status was now clearly open to denial, why should we rule out them doing so in the first century as well?  Would not the same psychological drive to be with ones of a similar mind frame—joint dissidents within their society--have made them “move heaven and earth” to accomplish just that goal as early and as often as feasible? 

            By the nature of their nebulous borderline legal status, the meeting place would, more often than not, be like in Troas (Acts 20:5-13) in a facility built for some other purpose and on whatever upper floor that was available.  Was this the regular meeting place of the congregation at Troas?  We don’t know, but it does show that venues could be obtained for a relatively large group to meet if they sought it.    

            It is possible that the space in Troas was provided by a Christian who owned the property.  It is possible that a well-to-do individual financed this meeting place either on a one-time or on-going basis.  But it is also possible that the church itself paid the rental.  The frequency of such large scale meetings can only be conjectured just as the percentage who met in a house church context is also a matter of speculation and one’s underlying assumptions and presumptions. 

Both approaches could and surely did occur.  Legal or not, large group meetings



[Page 87]  could be arranged in most major places most of the time.  In our own age large scale illicit operations (think bars during Prohibition as an example) were able to serve a 100, 200 people at a time—and continue to do it even when they were in blatant violation of existing regulations.  The human mind can find a way around virtually any law if there is incentive and motive.   

Unlike the apparent warehouse in Troas, other facilities might be used as well:  in Ephesus Paul was “reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9).  It is far from unreasonable to suspect that such facilities—at least in some places—might have been used for Christian worship as well.  This would presumably have been larger than a normal size room, accommodating significantly more people.

In Jerusalem we read of how Peter “stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty” (Acts 1:15) and discussed how a replacement for Judas as apostle was needed.  Hence they somehow, somewhere found a meeting place that would fit roughly a 120 members in a city where the religious establishment was bitterly opposed to them.  We don’t know what it was or where it was, but the key fact is they found it and their church meeting involved far more than the numbers a mere “house church” would hold.

Are we to believe that Jerusalem was the only place where such a facility could be obtained or that it was only in Jerusalem that those of like minded faith would be determined, as far as practical, to meet together in a group to share their loyalty to their Lord?  Such inner drives would predispose the disciple movement to seek out such meeting spots as it spread from city to city.      

            The house church option was always a fall back option if bad times erupted, of course.  We read of how in Jerusalem persecution became so bad that “they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1).  The “house church scenario” was revived—out of necessity and because now all the members would fit in one such place.  But when better times arrived, surely their passion for fellowship would compel them to once again seek out a larger, truly “congregational” meeting format.  Just as they had done earlier.   



            1:12:  What were the convictions of the “Paul(ine),” “Apollos,” “Cephas,” and “Christ” factions referred to in the chapter?  It is usually assumed that these groups were “theologically motivated groups,”[44] that each had its own distinctive religious “ax to grind.”  The analysis of the spiritual rationale for each group has significantly differed, however.[45]  To John Drane, the Pauline party was one of libertines, the Cephas group, consisted of Judizers, the Apollos faction adhered to classical Greek philosophy and the Christ party thought itself superior to all the others.[46]

Wilfred L. Knox, though, implies that the Pauline group consisted of those rallying around the supernatural “gifts” found in the congregation and using them as an excuse to look down on the opinions of non-gifted co-religionists.[47]  The Cephas party consisted of Jews upset with the undignified excesses in the congregation.[48]  Since she sees no reasonable way to make out a significant doctrinal difference between Paul and Apollos,[49] she speculates that Apollos’ more recent work at Corinth and his “personal gifts led some of them to regard him as a higher personage in the Christian world as a



[Page 88]  whole” than Paul himself.[50]   Finally, the Christ party either consisted of or condoned libertines who had misunderstood or misrepresented Paul’s teaching on Christian freedom.[51]         

            Anthony J. Tambasco sees the Paul party as advocating freedom from traditional Jewish practices for Gentiles while the Jewish Christians had the option of continuing them or not.[52]  The Apollos group could have been far more radical and “may have advocated elimination of Jewish practices for all Christians.”[53]  The Cephas clique were not fully Judaizers (i.e., demanding circumcision) but their basic sentiments on other matters relating to traditional practice was on that side of the fence.[54]  Finally, the Christ faction may be what Paul wishes to substitute for the other groups.  Alternatively, they may have been individuals who had known Jesus personally during His ministry and wished to steer the congregation in one specific directly or another.[55]        

            Such are some representative the reconstructions of the factions in twentieth century speculation.  The Drane scenario is probably the most representative for the first three groups, at least if one substitutes “freedom from the Jewish law” for the more extreme libertine accusation.  The problem of establishing a widespread consensus defining the Christ faction, however, has been one far more difficult to accomplish.

            To a modest degree, the search for a “theological” explanation for the groups is probably a valid quest, but not to the extent commonly indulged in.  Rank and file local cliques--and that is what Paul is describing, factions within one specific congregation--rarely become centered in such matters today.  Assuming the psychology of divisive personalities was the same in the first century (and there is no particular reason not to), then they were self-centered, self-absorbed, self-perpetuating factions first and distinct religious viewpoints were only then grafted on, more often than not, to justify the perpetuation of these divisions. 

In other words, the cliques came first and the theological differences, if any, only later.[56]  Of, if you will, theological differences become the rallying point for the divisive personality to latch upon to justify their own claims to leadership.  The end result is much the same either way.     

It is, of course, quite possible that some members had known the individuals their groups were named after and were trading on that association to inflate their own local importance.[57]  Today we speak of “Washington insiders” in regard to political matters.  They may well have claimed to be “Jerusalem or apostolic insiders,” both for reasons of personal status and to perpetuate their influence and control.

If distinctive theologies were in mind, unless marginally, we would expect a more explicit linking of specific groups with specific errors that Paul rebukes.  Instead, we have various practices and beliefs critiqued, yet without a linkage to any of the individual party names utilized by the factions.[58]  Indeed, he does not use the language or accusation of false doctrine against any of them.[59] 

We seem on the soundest ground, then, to assume the existence of shared errors in judgment that knew no hard and fast local party boundaries.[60]  In other words, the same error(s) might well be shared by individuals owing factional loyalty to different local leaders.  Furthermore, even if and when true clique doctrinal existences existed, we have no reason to believe that Paul, Apollos, or Peter had done anything to create them or encourage them.[61] 

We lay aside for later discussion in chapter 4 the question of whether the labels



[Page 89]  are actually euphemisms for the actual factionalists.  In this scenario, the names are utilized because the underlying foolishness of their divisiveness was easier exposed by attributing it to loyalty to well known individuals and not obscure folks never heard of outside Corinth itself.  (This does not rule out the individuals being the closest perceived approximations to the attitudes or beliefs of the local leaders.)  Why then these names?  Why then these individuals?  Assuming there is a significance, what might it be? 

            Paul and the Pauline faction:  Paul had been so important to the forming of the Corinthians’ church, the special tie that existed between “father” and “child” (cf. 4:15) could become distorted into a pretext for a faction.  With him long gone elsewhere, one might build up a following asserting a unique loyalty to his teaching that others did not supposedly share.  Hence his became a name to be used to further one’s own local agenda.

            Paul believed that an ethnic Jew could be a Christian without repudiating his Jewishness and that a Gentile did not have to give up his heritage either (at least so far as it was morally neutral and not polytheistic) in order to be a Christian.  Paul’s willingness to accept Gentiles without requiring traditional Torah rituals could easily have inadvertently spawned a group dedicated to a church “without any Jewish requirements.”[62]  Just as some Jews could think in terms of a Christianity only in “Jewish” traditionalist terms, it is likely that some Gentiles were just as happy to think in terms of a Christianity as shorn of its Jewish forebearers (both historically and theologically) as humanly possible. 

            Apollos and the Apollos clique:  At first, Apollos seems a strange choice for sectarian loyalty.  Yet the eloquence of Apollos is marked upon in Acts 18:24 and this kind of ability was widely honored in the Gentile community (1 Corinthians 1:22). 

            For those equating truth (and/or authority) with power of speech, Paul’s more limited talents had to suffer by comparison.  On this point Paul was assailable and the weakness provided an excellent rallying point for a clique.  One can easily imagine how “[t]hey took delight in making unfavorable comparisons between the dazzling oratory of the Alexandrian and the more pedestrian performance of Paul.”[63]

            As if to assure that no one misused his opposition to the clique name or reputed clique loyalty to Apollos, Paul goes out of his way to stress his personal relationship and respect for the man.  Although it was the apostle himself who had planted the gospel in Corinth, yet it was Apollos who performed the equally important job of “watering” the crop to assure it would grow (3:6).  Furthermore, his confidence was manifested in the fact that Paul would have preferred to have sent Apollos back with this epistle, an opportunity he emphatically declined (16:12)—perhaps out of concern of being drawn into the political infighting in the congregation.  Those local factionalists who exulted in their “superior” intellectual and philosophical talents could hardly have picked a better name to hide their own ego-trips behind.     

            Cephas and the Cephas group:  Since there is no evidence of a visit by Peter to Corinth,[64] it is likely that any local faction claiming to be imitating him was initiated by Christians moving to the city from other regions.[65]  If he ever visited the city at all, it was more likely at a point after the epistle than before it.[66] 

            Since the Aramaic form of his name is used (Cephas), this could point to individuals whose native language was Aramaic, and that in turn would point to possible disciples from geographic Palestine.[67] Hence the initiating group for the bloc may well



[Page 90]  have personally known and worshipped in a congregation(s) where Peter had preached and labored[68] or even been baptized by him.[69]  The latter could be an especially powerful motive:  a little later in this chapter Paul stresses how glad he was that he had personally baptized so few in Corinth, lest it give them an excuse for claiming to be his followers (1:17).  

            Peter is described by Paul himself as having a ministry to the Jews (Galatians 2:7-8).  He would be a logical choice for ethnic Jews, without any need to assume that they were the ultra-traditionalist “Judaizing” type of individuals Paul strenuously rebukes in Galatians.  That there was a significant Jewish contingent in Corinth (and, unquestionably, a widespread knowledge of at least the broad outlines of the Old Testament) can be seen in the way Paul introduces historical allusions in chapter 10 and feels no need to amplify upon them for the benefit of the reader.[70]

            Jews were a minority throughout the Roman Empire.  In a mixed Gentile-Jewish congregation, it would be natural for an ethnic Jew to feel especially close to others of that physical and spiritual heritage.  In itself, there was nothing wrong with this.  Under the right circumstances, however, it could lead to a misplaced loyalty and become the basis of factional divisions, encouraged by some local “empire building” zealot falsely claiming to be protecting that apostles’ interests and beliefs.

            A strong case, however, can be made that this had not developed into a distinct “Judaizing” movement as denounced in Galatians and Romans.  The “Cephas[ian]” group disappears from Paul’s rebuke in the chapters that follow.  Furthermore, no divisive issue discussed in this epistle would seem to have any unique or special appeal to those of what was the “Judaizing” faction in other congregations.    

In chapter 8 those who are tempted to eat idol fool are far more likely to be Gentiles for it is hard to imagine Jews being tempted by that course in the first place; indeed, no hint is given that it is Jews being tempted away from their monotheism.[71]  The reference to eating idol food in a social context (10:28) could represent a Jewish concern but it would be a natural one for Gentile converts to monotheism as well.[72]

            Just as he had done with Apollos, Paul went out of the way to defend the practice of Peter.  In regard to being married and receiving local support while preaching in a given city, his personal policy was to avoid both.  Yet he grounds his right to marry and receive support in the practice of “the other apostles” and names Peter in particular (9:5-6).  He might not do the same as Peter on such matters, but Peter’s apostolic behavior had established Paul’s own right to follow that course if he wished.

            Christ and the Christ faction:  That Christ would be given as the name of a faction is itself surprising:  Wasn’t loyalty to Him supposed to be the reason they were all believers in the first place?  

It may mean that these individuals considered that a loyalty to Christ excluded any recognition of the authority of the apostles to control their religious activity.[73]  On the local basis, it could easily have entailed the claim that they were the exclusive clique that was loyal to Jesus; the rest were mere pretenders to such loyalty.[74]  It might even mean that they were suspicious that certain apostolic teaching was contradictory to that of Jesus and therefore allegiance to Jesus required that it be spurned. 

            Especially was this the case if some of their key people had been personal disciples of Jesus during His earthly ministry.[75]  What better grounds to justify their own clique than that they had had this relationship that even the apostle lacked?  Hence they—



[Page 91]  or a leader with such credentials--“didn’t need Paul.”  They could even argue that by this personal relationship they were in a better position to rightly understand what Jesus really intended. Perhaps this reality (or danger) provides an additional reason for Paul’s heavy stress on the validity of his apostleship.

            One reconstruction is that such a group based their independence on claims of having “direct visions of Christ” and therefore needing no human leaders.[76]  Paul conspicuously avoids any mention of visions as a point of division in Corinth.  He does, however, emphasize prophesying and speaking in tongues.  So if they were appealing to purported supernatural revelation one would be on safer grounds to assume that it was of this type instead.    

            The Christ party:  factionalists or anti-factionalists?  If we were to parallel the factions inside the Corinthian church with factions within the broad pattern of western religion, we might think in terms of Baptists, Methodists, and Anglicans, for example, while the “Christ” party represents the “anti-denominationalists” who refuse to have anything to do with the others, thereby forming their own group either intentionally or unintentionally.  On a strictly local level this could have translated into a self-conscious effort “to avoid dirtying their hands in the squabbles and therefore adopt[ing] an attitude of withdrawal [from the others] and superior spirituality.”[77] 

            The intent was sound, if this was the case; but the result was the forming of yet another faction rather than the abolishment of those that existed.  Of course in a world where factions refuse or are unable to come to a mutually agreeable consensus is there any choice but to become “an anti-factionalist factionalist”?  

            A gentler view of the situation is to argue that these were simply those who tried to stay out of the conflicts and the language is certainly consistent with such.  On the other hand, the other three names mentioned are used of cliques and it would seem more natural that this is one as well.  In all fairness, however, how else would one describe those members who wanted no part of the feuding and fighting and were doing their best to stay out of it except as a distinct group, a de facto “faction” no matter how much they didn’t wish to be one?[78]      

            Other explanations of the “Christ” group:  Some see in this “Christ” faction as a primitive form of Gnosticism or, to word the same basic idea slightly differently, what much later became Gnosticism:[79]  they proclaimed the risen Christ and spurned the earthly Jesus, playing the two against each other rather than admitting that they were two aspects of the same individual.  One advocate of this approach argues that there was really only a two-fold division in Corinth:  on the one side you had the quasi-Gnostics and their exclusive allegiance to the heavenly Christ and on the other side the traditionalists “Christians, who wished to remain attached to their teachers,” such as Peter, Paul, and Apollos.[80] 

            In addition to the fact that this requires a development of Gnosticism to a level of independence from traditional faith extremely unlikely this early, there is also the fact that Paul does not make a two-sided contrast:  Christ versus current teachers but rather a four sided conflict:  Christ, Peter, Paul, and Apollos. 

            One can meet this, in part, by contending that Paul did not have an accurate knowledge of what was going on in Corinth.[81]  Against this must be weighed the fact (as seen in the introduction) that he had multiple sources of information about what was happening in the city and the epistle itself reveals detailed knowledge of their problems. 



[Page 92]  All this argues extremely strong against misapprehension on Paul’s part.  Furthermore if it be true that Paul is utilizing the better known names as pseudonyms for local faction leaders (cf. 4:6), the theory collapses entirely.         

            Others are convinced that there was no “Christ faction” at all and seek out an alternative explanation.  Some find satisfaction in the possibility that some indignant scribal copyist once wrote the reference to Christ in the margin of his manuscript to show where his loyalty lay in contrast to those he was reading about.  This was added to the body of the manuscript by a copyist who was unaware of its original intent.[82] 

            There is no manuscript evidence supporting this theory, however, and for it to be valid it had to have occurred extraordinarily early in the manuscript tradition.  And even then, one would be surprised by the lack of a manuscript tradition without the words.  Furthermore, although such an insertion could theoretically have happened, the “harder reading” of a text is usually accepted as being more likely to be the original.  And since the inclusion of “Christ” as one of the divisions in the congregation is far harder to explain than its omission (as can be seen from the length of our discussion!), its textual genuineness is inherently far more probable. 

            Instead of being an interpolation via marginal note, some have suggested that we are really dealing with an impatient and annoyed “interjection of Paul’s” own.  Rather than continuing the list of cliques, Paul is indignantly inserting, in essence, “but I [am] of Christ!”[83]  Paul had mentioned in the previous verse, however, that he is going to discuss “contentions among you” (our emphasis) and that is more consistent with the “Christ” reference being one of their cliques rather than being an expression of Paul’s own passing exasperation. 

            What can we conclude from what we have examined?  Little beyond the likelihood that the Pauline party stressed Gentile rights, the Cephasian party stressed traditional Jewish practices, the Apollian party gloried in traditional Greek style eloquence, and the Christ party somehow tried to stake out grounds for existence separate and apart from all the others.  As we have seen from the length of our discussion, we are dealing with an abundance of speculation but little that can be regarded as hard certainty.       



1:15, 17:  Paul’s “unconcern” with baptism.  Many have taken Paul’s remarks as indicative of an unconcern for the importance of baptism.[84]  Yet Jesus had spoken passionately of its importance (Mark 16:15-16), as had Peter (Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21), and Paul himself (Galatians 3:26-27).  Hence it come as a surprise to see Paul seemingly downgrade the importance of the act.  He speaks of how he “thank[ed]) God” that he had only baptized two of their number (1 Corinthians 1:14) beyond the “household of Stephanas” (1:16).  Indeed Jesus “did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel,” he insists (1:17).

            Paul is not discussing the spiritual value of baptism, however; his aim is something far different.  He is simply expressing his joy that his lack of personally doing it strips the “Pauline” party of being able to claim a special relationship to him.  It wasn’t that baptism was unimportant; what was unimportant was whether he, personally, performed the act.  Even on those occasions that he did, it never bestowed some special importance or significance to those receiving it.[85]

The Corinthian church presented him with a difficult situation.  They were  



claiming to be followers of Paul and what better way to “prove” it than to      [Page 93]  have been baptized by him?[86]  Within the Corinthian context of justifying their divisiveness, it is no wonder that Paul breathed a sigh of relief that he had personally baptized so few.  This way it was impossible for them to claim “that I had baptized in my own name” (1:15).

            It is also important to remember that he in no way denies that they had been baptized.  He merely denies that he had personally performed the baptisms.  He did not feel an ego need to be the one performing it; he was humble enough to recognize that there were others quite capable of carrying out this part of the conversion process.  In this he was following the precedent of Jesus (John 4:1-2).  On the other hand Jesus had specially set him aside “to preach the gospel” (1:17); that commission was uniquely his own and where he put the stress of his work.  Any one might baptize, but few were specially commissioned to preach as an apostle.

            This also provides us an insight into the Pauline mentality.  To use a modern expression, the apostle wasn’t interested in building up an impressive set of “church statistics;” [87] he was interested in turning the minds and hearts of those he taught.  And in the case of Corinth it also protected him against being cited as justification for their local cliques.



            1:22-23:  Fundamental Jewish and Gentile dislike for the conception of a crucified Messiah.  The dominant Jewish image of the Messiah was that of a conquering hero, who would restore national independence.  That he might suffer in the process, might enhance him in their eyes.  But that he would be so ingloriously “defeated” as to die, not merely die but be judicially executed at the insistence of the religio-political leadership of the land--such was utterly inconceivable.  And granting their initial premise of what the Messiah would be like (a temporally triumphant Lord), quite understandable as well.  To them, to claim Jesus as both “Christ” (and all the triumph over foes that it implied) and “crucified” (which implied defeat by those foes) was inherently self-contradictory.[88] 

            They sought for a tangible “sign,” says Paul and that was not wrong nor does he say it was.  What was wrong was that having seen and observed such evidences they were unable to explain them away and yet utterly refused to embrace Him and His teaching.  The Synoptics and John portray such acts repeatedly and how even the most dramatic healing or exorcism was insufficient to move the power shakers to accept Jesus’ credentials.  This probably grew out of a number of different and often overlapping motives.

            To some He had the wrong teaching and no amount of “signs” would justify accepting Him (cf. the many discussions in the Synoptics between Jesus and those who challenged His teaching and practice).  To those of another mind cast, the miracles were impressive proof that God’s power was with Him, but the crucifixion was proof positive that the Divine power had been removed and repudiated by the Almighty (“He saved others; Himself He cannot save,” Matthew 27:42a).

            To yet others, it would have been wanting a specific type of miracle,[89] preferably one that would have confirmed them in their desire for national political independence.  Different critics had different agendas but appeasing the nationalistic one would probably



[Page 94]  have swept away the others with little difficulty.     

            Gentile hostility to a crucified redeemer also grew out of a philosophical objection:  they could not conceive how a person could really be so exalted to leadership and have suffered the fate He did.  It offended their philosophical and practical concepts of what “wisdom” involved and what the perfect teacher and revealer of the gods’ will would be like.  In some ways Jesus might be regarded as admirable, but not as what Christians were attributing to Him.  A crucified Messiah was self-condemned as unworthy of trust and acceptance, much less worship.[90]

            As Margaret E. Thrall summarizes their mixed, feelings, “Cultured pagans, with the example of Socrates in mind, might well admire Jesus as a wise and good teacher unjustly put to death.  But the idea that His death was itself part of a divine plan for the welfare of mankind would be sheer stupidity to such people as these.”[91]  

            Just as it was not wrong, in itself, for Jews to seek a “sign” nor was it wrong for Gentiles to seek “wisdom.” The problem arose when there was powerful external evidence for a system that they found intellectually repellent.  We should not mock them unduly.  Would any amount of evidence today convince most dedicated secularists to become followers of the Nazarene?  Their whole “world system” is just too far removed from that of Jesus, just as was that of the movers and shakers of the first century. 



            1:26:  The class/socio-economic composition of the Corinthian congregation.  In this verse, Paul refers to how “not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble” had become Christians.  This description of the “class” status of early believers has been widely misunderstood and applied far broader than the apostle ever intended.  Based upon the apostle’s statement many have embraced the words of the famous historian of Christianity Edward Gibbon, “The new sect of Christians was almost entirely composed of the dregs of the populace, of peasants and mechanics, of boys and women, of beggars and slaves.”  Just before these words, however (and showing he did not embrace the opinion), he had spoken of this as “a very odious imputation.”[92]

            Of course, most Christians were from the various lower classes for the simple reason that the bulk of the population consisted of those classes.[93]  Furthermore, there is a profound difference between being “lower class” (in whatever organizational spectrum a specific society utilizes) and being in the lowest class.[94]  To use a modern day analogy, Indian has been groups of lower social standing but only one “Untouchables” grouping.

            Furthermore, Paul’s denial that there were not “many” of the uppermost crust, is not the same as saying there were “none.”  “Not many” means there were some but that they did not provide a disproportionate or large percentage of the whole.[95]  Which is exactly what we would suspect of a modest size group originating  in the socially questionable sphere of Judaism and rejecting the polytheism that was a “given” throughout Greco-Roman society.

            Furthermore Paul’s exact wording should be carefully noted:  “not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble.”  The “wise” are surely the philosophers of the day, which edges into the bit broader category of its intellectuals.[96]  Although Christianity has always appealed to some intellectuals, in the presence of any perceived viable alternative, it has typically been the enthusiastic choice of only a minority.     



[Page 95]         Those who are “noble” sounds like the elite of the elite, the higher politicals and the aristocrats[97]—the ones who control things in a society.  Again not the kind of place we would expect to find many Christians.  In this context it is perhaps even more important that most non-Christians in the city would be absent from these categories as well.

            That leaves us with the category of the “mighty,” the ones who carry great influence (because of wealth, ancestry, or other factors).  Again, a group that most non-Christians in the city would also be absent from.[98]  In other words, the social composition reflected exactly what one would have expected many or most movements of the day to have.

            Now let us approach the matter not from the “bottom” but from the “top” of the social spectrum.  An analysis of the Corinthian membership confirms the presence of a significant number of the more prosperous-prestigious classes of the day.  Not a disproportionate number but still significant  For example, Chloe’s household (1 Corinthians 1:11), by having its members in the city Paul was writing from, shows that it was sufficiently prosperous to engage in international travel, presumably out of business reasons.  In short moderately wealthy, probably prosperous business people.

            In the same chapter we read of Crispus (1:14) who, we learn from Acts 18:18, was “ruler of the synagogue.”  This was a post normally held by someone with significant personal financial resources,[99] someone at least firmly in the middle economic classes.  Laying aside his financial status, it certainly indicated considerable social prestige--at least within the Jewish community itself.[100]  

            Assuming that Romans was indeed written from Corinth, then one of its members was “Erastus, the treasurer of the city” (Romans 16:23).  Although the post was sometimes held by a slave, even in that case he would have been an extremely trusted one, had to have demonstrated extraordinary administrative and record keeping skill, and, therefore, would have enjoyed a considerable personal status whether slave or not.  On balance, however, the evidence has inclined most--convinced many--that Erastus was, indeed, what he sounds like, free and of considerable wealth and personal civic importance.[101]

            The man with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5) could hardly have been at the lower end of the spectrum.  The repugnance with which such relationships were viewed, would surely have brought down the collective wrath of the congregation in such a case.  Only a family of some social or financial standing (or both) could have hoped to be so generously tolerated.

            Going to court successfully (chapter 6) required the funds to hire a successful lawyer—not something for the lower stratas (except in their dreams).  The fact that they cheated in business dealings (6:8) argues for at least independent businessman status of a significant number.

            The widespread problem of the use of prostitutes (chapter 6) is presented as if “professionals” are under consideration rather than “mere” adultery.  The later knows no economic lines; the former is far more available to the more prosperous members of a given society.

            Although we associate chapter 7 mostly with matters of marriage and divorce, it also provides insight into the membership of the congregation:  It refers to the fact that there were both freed and slaves in the group (7:20-24).  If we regard the slaves as at the bottom of the social-economic totem pole, then the freed could be of any class above it.  (In reality, things could be even more complicated.  A freeman in Greco-Roman society could land up considerably worse off economically than the slave and there were cases when a slave might actually possess more personal economic resources than the freed.)

            Even the questions about eating food tell us something of the economic position of the Corinthian brethren and their friends.  In that day, “The normal diet consisted of porridge, or barley meal (from which bread and porridge were made), olives, a little wine, perhaps some fish as a relish, and meat on holidays or special occasions.”[102]  Meat represented a special treat to the bulk of the population. 

            It was expensive and, except for rare occasions, its use indicated how well off one was.  Hence eating in an idol’s temple (1 Corinthians 8:10) included “eat[ing] meat” (8:13).  In discussing the matter, Paul assumes that one moves in the company of those able to afford the costs accompanying such feasting.  Therefore the high probability is that one is of either such a class oneself or a valued associate “hanger on” (if you will) deserving of special recognition for skills and loyalty if not personal wealth.  Again, almost assuredly at least of the middle social classes.

            Similarly 1 Corinthians 10 discusses eating that which is sold in the “meat market” (10:25) as well as eating whatever that meat might be that is set before you when you dine with someone else (10:27-28).  The first reference assumes that you can afford the delicacy; the second that the friends you socialize with can.  Both bare witness of a significant number of members living significantly above the subsistence level.

            The discussion in chapter 9 of Paul’s intentional policy of not accepting pay for his local labor would make no sense if the members of the church could not have afforded to offer it to him.  Hence a sufficient number of members who could have—individually or collectively—provided it.  Again, far from the lowest classes.

            Finally, in 16:1-4 we read of how the Corinthians were anticipated to gather a sufficiently large donation of goods or finances that a multi-member delegation would take it to Palestine.  That it would be large enough to justify sending them argues that a significant sum was anticipated; that would require not merely the contributions of the lowest classes (tiny but large in relation to their resources) but also of those far better off.[103]  The ability to pay the expenses of such a delegation—or for them to pay for their own—implies a number of individuals sufficiently well off to take months from their schedule for a lengthy humanitarian journey.  These are not poor people; they have to be at least moderately prosperous and secure financially.

            Later in the same chapter we read that Paul was “glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied” (1 Corinthians 16:17).  Note the contrast between the Corinthians as a group or church (“on your part”) and what these three did.  Although this might, in part, refer to the kind of emotional reassurance and encouragement the Corinthians were in no position to provide due to their multiple schisms, it reads far more like financial assistance is in mind.  In short, these three were of a sufficiently high class to either individually or collectively help considerably in meeting Paul’s financial needs.  They must, therefore, be regarded as in the upper stratas of contemporary society—economically if not socially or politically.[104] 

            In short, Paul’s own description of the members of the Corinthian church implies only that the highest of the high were conspicuously absent in its membership.  It also implies a fairly significant size membership, with much of it among the “respectable” middle classes and even edging into the borders of the higher.  They had their poor, but it represented only a fraction and there is no real hint that it was any higher a percentage than any other social or religious movement of the age.








[1] For a discussion of theories of Sosthenes’ status, see Thiselton, 70-71.


[2] C. K. Robertson, Conflict in Corinth:  Redefining the System (New York:  Peter Lang, 2001), 63.    


[3] As quoted by Moffatt, 9.   


[4] Cf. Rudolf Schnackenburg, Baptism in the Thought of St. Paul:  A Study in Pauline Theology, translated by G. R. Beasley-Murray (New York:  Herder and Herder, 1964), 18-19.    


[5] Alexandra R. Brown, The Cross and Human Transformation:  Paul’s Apocalyptic Word in 1 Corinthians (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1995), 71.    


[6] Ronald Trail, An Exegetical Summary of 1 Corinthians 1-9 (Dallas, Texas:  Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1995), 35.


[7] Cf. Martinus C. de Boer, The Defeat of Death:  Apocalyptic Eschatology in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5,  Volume 22 of the Study of the New Testament Supplement series (Sheffield, England:  JSOT Press, 1988), 96.


[8] Ibid.


[9] Howard, 19.   


[10] For a concise summary of the four broad currents of Greek philosophy/wisdom seeking—Cynicism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Platonism—see Quast, 35-36.  


[11] Robert G. Bratcher, Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament, Third Revised Edition, in the Helps for Translators series (New York:  United Bible Societies, 1987), 48, and David G. Horrell, The Social Ethos of the Corinthian Correspondence:  Interests and Ideology from 1 Corinthians to 1 Clement (Edinburgh:  T&T Clark, 1996), 132.  


[12] Alexandra R. Brown, 81.   



[Page 96]  [13] S. H. Widyapranawa, The Lord Is Savior:  Faith in National Crisis--Isaiah 1-39, in the International Theological Commentary series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 180.


[14] John F. A. Sawyer, Isaiah, Volume 1 [chapters 1-32], in the Daily Study Bible series (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1984), 242.


[15] James A. Davis, Wisdom and Spirit:  An Investigation of 1 Corinthians 1:18-3:20 against the Background of Jewish Sapiential Traditions in the Greco-Roman Period (New York:  University Press of America, 1984),  71, sees the direct relevance of this text in that just as human “wisdom” had misled mankind in the days of the ancient prophet, so it was misleading the Corinthians in Paul’s own day.    


[16] Sawyer, page 243, applies this to misguided political leaders who thought they could escape public knowledge and consequences for their misguided policies by hiding them from the national eye.  This would seem more a secondary application of Isaiah’s criticism rather than its main point.


[17] For the text, see Boring, Berger, and Colpe, 391-392.   


[18] Bratcher, Quotations, 48.   


[19] Davis, 75, though choosing to believe that it is only the “wisdom” aspect that concerns Paul.  In the immediate context that may be true, but Paul’s later rebuke of Corinthian excesses argues that all three factors—“wisdom,” “might,” and “riches”—had become destructive to the members of that congregation.    


[20] Theo. Laetsch, Jeremiah (Saint Louis, Missouri:  Concordia Publishing House, 1952), 118.  


[21] Norman C. Habel, Jeremiah, Lamentations, in the Concordia Commentary series (Saint  Louis, Missouri:  Concordia Publishing House, 1968), 108.


[22] Anthony L. Ash, Jeremiah and Lamentations, in the Living Word Commentary series (Abilene, Texas:  Abilene Christian University, 1987), 110; Charles L. Feinberg, Jeremiah:  A Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), 88.


[23] Andrew W. Blackwood, Jr., Commentary on Jeremiah (Waco, Texas:  Word Books, Publisher, 1977), 109.


[24] Feinberg, Jeremiah, 88.


[25] Cf. Ash, 110.



[Page 97]  [26] John Guest, Jeremiah, Lamentations, in the Communicator’s Commentary series (Waco, Texas:  Word Books, 1988), 89.


[27] Feinberg, Jeremiah, 88.


[28] Elmer A. Martens, Jeremiah, in the Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottdale, Pennsylvania:  Herald Press, 1986), 84.


[29] See the discussion of the Hebrew idiom being used in James L. Green, “Jeremiah,” in Jeremiah-Daniel, in the Broadman Bible Commentary series (London:  Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1971; British edition, 1972), 71.


[30] F. B. Huey, Jr., Jeremiah, Lamentations, in the New American Commentary series (Nashville, Tennessee:  Broadman Press, 1993), 122.  For a discussion of the importance attributed to the two verses in post-Biblical Jewish thought see Solomon B. Freehof,   Book of Jeremiah, in The Jewish Commentary for Bible Readers series (New York:  Union of American Hebrew Congregations,1977), 74-75.


[31] A. W. Streane, The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, Together with the Lamentations, in the Cambridge Bible for Schools series (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1881) 82.


[32] Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton, Greek Septuagint Bible:  The Translation of the Greek Old Testament Scriptures, Including the Apocrypha, 1851; at: (September 2009).


[33] John Paul Heil, The Rhetorical Role of Scripture in 1 Corinthians (Atlanta:  Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), 38; cf. 39.


[34] Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, “1 Corinthians,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, edited by G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Academic, 2007), 696, center on its “worship” meaning and, oddly, omit its other usages.  A simple concordance check of the words “call on the name” (even more so “called upon the name”) shows that the expression needs to be taken in a much wider manner.


[35] No author provided, “Why the House Church,” at “House Church Central” website; at: (February 2010).


[36] Ben Witherington III, Conflict and Community in Corinth:  A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 30.


[37] Wayne A. Meeks, The First Urban Christians:  The Social World of the Apostle Paul, Second Edition (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 2003), 57.



[Page 98]  [38] Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Keys to First Corinthians:  Revisiting the Major Issues (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2009), 183.


[39] Ibid.


[40] Ibid., 189, 192.


[41] Ibid., 192.


[42] Theresa Doyle-Nelson, “House Churches in the New Testament,” St. Anthony Messenger; at: (February 2010).


[43] Ibid.


[44] Schnelle, 59. 


[45] Karl A. Plank, Paul and the Irony of Affliction (Atlanta, Georgia:  Scholars Press, 1987), 15, does not do it injustice when he refers to the “numerous interpretations of the Christian parties.”  Of course, a large part of the problem lies in the fact that with four groups involved (Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ), that the opportunity for disagreement multiplies far more rapidly than if only one or two factions were involved.


[46] John Drane, The New Testament Epistles:  Early Christian Wisdom (New York:  St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997), 65.


[47] Wilfred L. Knox, St. Paul and the Church of Jerusalem (Cambridge:  At the University Press, 1925), 310-311.         


[48] Ibid., 312-313.         


[49] Ibid., n. 18, p. 323.         


[50] Ibid., 313.         


[51] Ibid., n. 25, p. 324. 


[52] Tambasco, 68.   


[53] Ibid.   


[54] Ibid., 69.   



[Page 99]  [55] Ibid., 69, includes a discussion of the possible directions that could have been chosen between.   


[56] For emphasis on the factional rather than doctrinal basis of the problems see, see Maria Pascuzzi, Ethics, Ecclesiology and Church Discipline:  A Rhetorical Analysis of 1 Corinthians 5 (Rome:  Editrice Pontificia Universita Gregoriana, 1997), n. 50, 32, and Raymond Pickett, The Cross in Corinth:  The Social Significance of the Death of Jesus, Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 143 (Sheffield, England:  Sheffield Academic Press, Limited, 1997), 37-38; cf. 39.  Also note the remarks of Horrell, 112-114, Quast, 32, on the lack of clear-cut theological agendas being under discussion.        


[57] C. K. Barrett, Paul:  An Introduction to His Thought (Louisville, Kentucky:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994), 38.  Though speaking of the troublemakers in 2 Corinthians, the reasoning has an obvious appeal in the current context as well.   


[58] Chester, 241.


[59] Cf. William D. Dennison, Paul’s Two-Age Construction and Apologetics (Lanham, Maryland:  University Press of America, 1985), 60.   


[60] James L. Boyer, For a World Like Ours:  Studies in 1 Corinthians (Winona Lake, Indiana:  BMH Books, 1971), 28.   


[61] Pickett, 49, and n. 38, 50.      


[62] Leitch, 66. 


[63] Connick, 275. 


[64] Frederick C. Grant, 73-74; Kummel, 201; Thrall, 18. 


[65] Lohse, 64. 


[66] See the discussion in Parry, xxix-xxx.        


[67] Lohse, 64, refers to individuals as being from a region where “a Semitic language was spoken,” but our application would seem the most natural application of that argument. 


[68] This seems preferable to the suggestion of Tenney, 296, that they had come in contact with him during a missionary journey that brought Peter through Corinth.


[69] Price, 797.        



[Page 100]  [70] Getty, 1101.    


[71] Francis Watson, Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles:  A Sociological Approach (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1986), 81.   


[72] Ibid.   


[73] Cf. Cornelius Vanderwaal, Corinthians-Philemon; Volume 9 of Search the Scriptures series (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada:  Paideia Press, 1979), 11-12. 


[74] Ivan T. Blazen, The Gospel on the Street:  Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (Nampa, Idaho:  Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1997), 16.  


[75] E. Hughes, 262.  


[76] Connick, note 32, page 275.  This is Connick’s secondary choice as to the likely meaning.  For a detailed survey of nineteenth century treatments of the identity of the Christ faction see Weiss, Introduction, pages 259-262.   


[77] Gundry, 264.


[78] For an analysis of whether the “Christ” followers were a faction (and the ultimate conclusion that they must have been) see Samuel Davidson, 225-226.  


[79] Marxsen, 72.  The pro-Gnostic case is more commonly made in light of the general thrust against the abuse of alleged knowledge and spirituality in the text rather than by specific linkage to the Christ party.  Cf. Kummel, 202; Leitch, 65; Luke T. Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament:  An Interpretation (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:  Fortress Press, 1986), 274.


[80] Marxsen, 72-73.


[81] Ibid., 73, seems to imply this when he writes that “Paul did not meet the opponents until after he had written 1 Corinthans and only then realized the threat they represented.” 


[82] This is the preferred explanation of Connick, xxx. 


[83] Heard, 190.  


[84] For example, Stuart Allen, The Early and Pastoral Epistles of Paul (London:  Berean Publishing Trust, 1977), 77.   


[85] Cf. Bernhard Weiss, A Commentary on the New Testament; volume 3:  Romans-Colossians (New York:  Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1906), 151-152.   



[Page 101]  [86] On the inherent danger, see E. H. Robertson, 22. 


[87] Orr and Walther, 151.   


[88] Blazen, 27.  


[89] Grosheide, 48. 


[90] Blazen, 27.  


[91] Thrall, 21.          


[92] Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (New York:  HarperOne, 1996), 32.


[93] Ibid.


[94] Meeks, Urban, has some fascinating remarks on how first century individuals likely held more than one rank on the social totem pole of the day:  “power . . . , occupational prestige, income or wealth, education and knowledge, religious and ritual purity, family and ethnic-group position, and local community status (evaluation within some subgroup, independent of the larger society but perhaps interacting with it).  It would be a rare individual who occupied exactly the same rank, in either his own view or that of others, in terms of all these factors.  The generalized status of a person is a composite of his or her ranks in all the relevant dimensions” (54).  Hence it would be even more difficult to “shoe horn” the bulk of early Christians into the lowest social strata since they defined such matters in far more than mere economic terms.


[95] Stark, 30.  Stark’s analysis is of special interest because he is a sociologist and applies the insights of modern sociological investigation to the development of early Christianity.


[96] Cf. Banks, Robert, “The Middle Class and Urban Mission.;” at: (February 2010).


[97] Ibid.


[98] Ibid.  He seems to regard the “mighty” as either influential individuals or politicians and the “noble” as the aristocratic class, which is also certainly a reasonable reconstruction.


[99] Ibid.


[100] Meeks, Urban, 57.


[101] For a good concise summary, see Meeks, Urban, 58-59.  Also see Witherington, Conflict, 33-34.



[Page 102]  [102] Witherington, Conflict, 190.


[103] Roger Hahn, “The Book of First Corinthians;” at: (February 2010).


[104] Cf. Ibid.



Roland H. Worth, Jr.

A Torah Commentary on First Corinthians 1-6:

Interpreting the Text in Light of

Its Old Testament Roots


© 2011