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

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2011






Chapter 4:                                                                                                   [Page 59] 


The Epistle’s Doctrine of the Supernatural






1.  Doctrine of God



            The believer’s relationship to God.  A number of isolated texts make passing reference to this subject.  He is identified as “our Father” at the beginning of the epistle (1:3).  He is One to be prayed to, as Paul himself did:  “I thank my God always” concerning the spiritual blessings others had received (1:4).  Though there are many things that claim to be “gods” (8:5), in reality there “is no other God but one” (8:4).  Furthermore, He is the creator of all things through Christ (8:6). 

            God had “bought” them “at a price” (6:2).  This is an obvious allusion to the ancient, universal practice of slave purchasing.  As the result of that new relationship, then, one should “glorify God” both in “your body and in your spirit” since both are His in the final analysis (6:2).  He will ultimately raise up their bodies from the dead (6:14):  Note here the mere passing reference to a theme Paul will devote all of chapter 15 to, much later in the epistle.

            God’s character.  The expression “faithful” as a description of God (1:9) sums up His reliability and steadfastness.  This trait of being “faithful” is held up as an encouragement in the time of temptation:  because this is God’s desire and nature, the believer can be confident that somewhere there will be a way of escaping yielding to temptation (10:13). 

            Since God expects His temple to be “holy” (3:17) that would imply that He is as well.  The fact that He “judges” carries with it the idea that He has a standard of judgment and demands that humans live in accordance with it (5:13).

            God’s method of redemption.  A central thrust of much of chapter one is that God saves believers through the teaching of the reality of a crucified Jesus and that this represented an approach toward reconciliation with the supernatural that was totally out of touch with Jewish and Gentile thinking (1:18-31).  This “wisdom” represented something which had been decided (“ordained”) indescribably long before (2:7). 

            God “gave” to every Corinthian Christian their “belie[f]” through the teaching they heard from Paul and Apollos (3:5).  Hence their conversion could be described as the work of God who “gave the increase” and caused the seed to growth to full maturity that Paul had planted and Apollos had watered (3:6).  Due to their redemption Christians became “the temple of God” and needed to treat themselves accordingly (3:16-17).





[Page 60]

2.  Christology



            Paul’s teaching about Jesus can be divided into several broad categories.  The first concerns Jesus’ relationship to the Father.  Jesus was for believers “wisdom from God” and that made possible our “righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1:31).  God exercised power through Him, having utilized Christ to create all things (8:6).

            God Himself is occasionally referred to as “Lord” in this epistle.  In quoting the Old Testament, the term “Lord” most naturally refers to Yahweh and, barring contextual requirements, should be interpreted this way here as well.  In 1:31 the adage about “glory[ing] in the Lord” is quoted as amplification of the fact that it was God who made Christ our redeemer (1:30).  Likewise the Old Testament text, “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness” is quoted twice in the matter of a few verses (10:26, 28).  The original application was obviously to Yahweh.

            But this is a minority usage of the term in the epistle.  The expression “Lord Jesus Christ” (or a slightly different verbal equivalent) is utilized repeatedly:  1:3; 1:7; 1:8; 1:9; 1:10; 5:4; 5:5; 6:11; 8:6; 9:1; 12:3; 15:57.  In light of the number of such clear and precise references to Jesus as “Lord,” all references where the identification is not explicitly stated would most naturally be interpreted as allusions to Christ. 

            If Paul’s teaching is sound that God has made Jesus the ultimate power figure in our world (15:24-27), then the usage would be both appropriate and natural. Since the power was provided by Yahweh in the first place and will be returned to the Father (15:28), then the usage of the term as a description of Christ also makes sense from this standpoint as well.  He is Lord by Divine delegation.

            Jesus’ as current ultimate authority figure.   This concept is concisely summed up in the term “Lord,” which carries with it the connotations of authority, power, and supremacy.  Jesus is identified as having this relationship to all believers almost at the beginning of the epistle (1:2):  “our Lord, both theirs and ours” is the wording Paul utilizes.  The implication is that this Lordship carries with it power, strength, and control greater than all human beings.  Hence Paul challenges the Corinthians, “Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?  Are we stronger than He?” (10:22).

            Jesus’ authority is a delegated authority.  Matthew 28:18-20 speaks in these terms as to its beginning.  Paul speaks in these terms of when the authority comes to an end.  He will rule until all rival authorities are subjugated (15:24), including death itself (15:25-26).  The only authority not subject to Jesus is the Father Himself (15:27) and Jesus will again come under His jurisdiction when the kingdom is returned to Him (15:28).  Hence in the final analysis “the head of [even] Christ is God” (11:3).  Jesus may currently exercise authority but it is derived and will be returned.

            Jesus’ death.  Paul emphatically asserts the reality of that death.  It was a “stumbling block” to Jews and “foolishness” to Gentiles (1:23).  Yet it was at the center of Paul’s message to the Corinthians (2:2).  It was a death with a redemptive purpose, however.  In discussing the importance of the resurrection in chapter 15, Paul first emphasizes that Christ “died for our sins” (15:3). 
            This concept is conveyed in chapter five by a powerful Old Testament image:  Jesus is described as “our Passover [who] was sacrificed for us” (5:7).  The allusion, of course, is to the sacrifice of the Lamb whose blood was put on the outside of the Hebrew



[Page 61]  homes in Egypt.  When death came their way, they were protected and only their enemies suffered loss.  What this was temporally, Jesus’ blood provided spiritually.   

            Jesus’ return.  Paul calls this the “revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:7) and “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:8).  He looks forward to it with enthusiasm and virtually ends his epistle with the prayer, “O Lord, come!” (15:22).  At this point, the theme ties in with the points raised in the rewards and retribution section below.

            Jesus and Paul.  Paul reminded the Corinthians that however the techniques and methodology of his teaching might not measure up to the cultured Greek standards of their society, the fact remained that he had received a commission from Christ “to preach the gospel (1:17) and had done so effectively enough to have converted many of them.  Furthermore that “message of the cross” had the “power of God” standing behind it (1:18).

            If this were not enough to support his authority, Paul had personally “seen” Jesus (9:1), though not specifying where or under what conditions.  He makes a longer allusion to an appearance in 15:8-9 and puts it on a par of reality and importance with the appearances immediately after the resurrection (15:5-7).

            On a moral plane, Jesus was the apostle’s role model.  Paul “imitate[d]” Christ (11:1).  They should imitate the apostle for the same reason (11:1)--after all, he was following the right role model.        


            Jesus’ teaching as given by given Paul.  This falls into three categories:

            (1)  Teaching that we know from the synoptics and which was already accepted as coming from Jesus.  Paul attributes the prohibition of believers divorcing not to himself “but the Lord” (7:10-11; cf. Mark 10:1-12).  The teaching about mixed marriages is more permissive (1 Corinthians 7:12-16) and therefore represents new teaching.  Hence he speaks in terms of “I, not the Lord” doing the instructing (7:12).  It simply did not reach back to the personal ministry and both Paul and his listeners full well knew it.          

Interestingly, Paul presents this supplemental teaching as also fully authoritative.  He conspicuously does not suggest that following a different course would be acceptable to God.  This is in vivid contrast to that emphasis when he discusses continued virginity versus marriage (7:25-26, 38) and in regard to remarriage after death (7:39-40).  Even in the latter case he goes beyond calling it just his “judgment” and stresses that this was viewed as the best (but not exclusive) course by deity:  “I think I also have the Spirit of God” (7:40).  Such “hedging” is conspicuously nonexistent in regard to the teaching on mixed believer-unbeliever marriages.  Hence we have every reason to believe that he considered it authoritative, period. 

            Later in discussing the communion Paul quotes the words of its institution (11:24-25).  Paul’s knowledge of this is not attributed to an apostle or even to a written source such as one of the synoptic gospels or their alleged predecessor documents.  He describes it as teaching which he had “received from the Lord” and had faithfully “delivered to you” (11:23).  Yet its similarity to the synoptic narratives on the subject makes one suspect that it was derived from such a document, even if an explicit assertion is not made.

            (2)  Teaching independent of the synoptics and John that Paul attributes to Jesus.  Paul refers to how “those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel”



[Page 62]  (9:14).  The closest to this is the instruction to the twelve apostles during their preaching tour of Israel during Jesus’ life to take nothing they did not need “for a worker is worthy of his food” (Matthew 10:10).  The commission to the seventy spoke in similar terms, “Remain in the same house [in each community], eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages.  Do not go from house to house” (Luke 10:7).     In neither case are their hosts commanded to provide for them, while Paul speaks in terms of such support being an inherent right. 

There are two possibilities.  The “command” Paul refers to may be considered by him a necessary inference from the principle in these synoptic texts.  Alternatively, he is alluding to how Jesus had at some unknown point afterwards delivered such explicit teaching or application though the apostles or other prophetic voice. 

            Paul refers in 11:2 to the “traditions” that the Corinthians were keeping and which he had “delivered” to them.  “Delivered” suggests that they had not originated with himself, but that he was the transmitter of that teaching from someone else.  In other contexts Paul quite vigorously denied that the teaching he presented had come from the original apostles (Galatians 1:11-2:20).  Hence he is probably alluding to teaching received directly from Christ that he had conveyed to them (see problem text section in chapter 11).

            Even if we attribute the previous examples to a use of pre-existing materials by the apostle, this can not be the case in regard to his regulations on the exercise of spiritual gifts in the church assembly (chapter 14).  After giving these, he stresses, “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (14:37).  Not Paul’s opinion, nor Paul’s preference, but that which Jesus Himself demanded.  And there is simply nothing preserved from Jesus’ ministry to fall back on as direct (or even indirect) precedent.

            (3)  Closely akin to the above type of teaching is Paul’s teaching authority based upon being Christ’s apostle.  Some of this teaching is worded in such a way that he seems clearly implying that this is new revelation given by Jesus for their benefit.  Hence the fact that Paul could invoke the authority of Jesus in regard to teaching He was now writing to the Corinthians.  For example, in regard to his initial rebuke of their divisiveness, he “plead[s]” with them “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” to be united in thought and action (1:10). 

            Likewise in demanding that they expel the incestuous man, he issues the instruction “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:4).  Since the instruction has the Lord’s backing, it is not surprising that when it is carried out the Corinthians will be acting “with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:4), i.e., with His approval, support, concurrence, and backing.






3.  Doctrine of the Holy Spirit



            Relationship of Spirit, Son, and Father in the epistle’s teaching.  The words



[Page 63]  Paul spoke, he insists, were “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (2:4).  He immediately adds that this was so that their faith would be grounded “in the power of God” (2:5).  This could be either an assertion of the Spirit’s deityship or that the preached message had the backing of both the Spirit and the Father.  Read in isolation the former is more convincing, but since Paul immediately enters a discussion of how “the wisdom of God” (2:7) is revealed by God “through His Spirit” (2:10), the idea of the two being partners in revelation would be the more likely point of emphasis.

            Indeed, the Spirit, the apostle tells his readers, has a unique access to the complete thoughts and intents of God (2:10) in a sense parallel to the human spirit of we mortals (2:11).  By accepting that Divine Spirit’s message, the Christian is simultaneously accepting the things “freely given to us by God” (2:12).  Hence Paul’s reference to his teaching being “the testimony of God” (2:2).  This message was put in “words” that would convey the Spirit’s will and intent (2:13).  The typical, unconcerned human being (the “natural man” of any age) rejects it as “foolishness” because it requires an interest in spiritual matters that makes no sense to him (2:14).

            The role of Jesus in all this is finally touched on at the close of the chapter, though just barely.  The end result of having received this teaching of God (and the Spirit) is that “we have the mind of Christ” (2:16).  Hence, in the argument of Paul, the teaching comes from all three sources and does not stand alone.   

            The miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit (12:7, 11) also manifested “God who work[s] all in all” (12:7).  This God/Spirit linkage could again intend a deityship implication but the primary point of emphasis is more likely that both are involved, that the Father as well as the Spirit is working through them. In a similar vein is Paul’s discussion of the usefulness of the miraculous gift of prophesying (inspired teaching) in the assembly:  though He calls this a gift of the Spirit (12:7-10), He also argues that its effective use in the assembly will so impress the unbeliever that he or she will “report that God is truly among you” (14:25). 

            Individual believers are described as “the temple of God” due to the fact that “the Spirit of God dwells in you” (3:16).  Here we get to a clearly intended (rather than possibly coincidental) concept of the Holy Spirit as deity: “God” = Father, Son, or Holy Spirit according to context.  Although we read in various Biblical texts of angels guiding, protecting, and even speaking to human beings there is none to my knowledge that ever refers to an angel being “in a person, in either a “literal” or “symbolic” sense.  Hence the reference to the Spirit being “in” the believer would argue a status of the Spirit far higher and different than even angels. 

            Paul is not concerned with the “how” this was done only the fact that it did occur:  either a literal personal indwelling by deity is compatible with this or a symbolic indwelling through the impact of the word which the Spirit had revealed (cf. 2:10-13) upon the life and behavior of the individual.  The reference to Corinthian Christians constituting the temple of God (3:16) also carries the implication of His being “in” them as well.  Likewise Christians collectively constituting “the body of Christ” (12:27) would also convey the idea of Christ being “in” them.  The repetition of such imagery in regard to all three, certainly points to the belief in some form of indirect indwelling:  of one of these through the presence of another or of all three through the word Paul emphatically insists that all played a role in revealing.

Some have argued that in Paul’s mind the lines of demarcation between the



[Page 64]  actions of Christ and the Spirit tended to blur and even disappear.[1]  It should be noted that much of the evidence comes from passages that attribute the same action or result (salvation, peace, etc.) to both Christ and the Spirit.  However, if one believes in a triune Godhead, then it would not be surprising if more than one Person in the Godhead were involved in each or all of these matters. 

Perhaps the simplest illustration for this is by the example of God sending Jesus to earth to save the human race.  Would not the fact that both were involved permit salvation to be attributed to either or both, according to the contextual appropriateness of the observation?  If the Spirit were also involved in some manner (see next section), would it not also be appropriately attributed to that source without any needful deduction that the lines between Father, Son and Spirit have been blurred or made indistinct?

In the Corinthian correspondence two more direct equations of Spirit and Christ are found as well.  In 2 Corinthians 3:17 we read that “now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”  This could at least equally well carry the connotation that the Lord “now” was manifested through the Spirit rather than personally, as in the days of his fleshly ministry.[2]

In 1 Corinthians 15:45 support of the Jesus/Spirit equation has also been found, “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’  The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”  The contrast, though, seems to be that the original Adam began as nothing, inert matter and was transformed by the power of God into a living being.  In contrast, the second (already a living human being) was transformed by the resurrection into “a life-giving spirit” (since He longer had a flesh and blood body to restrain Him and was returning to the nature He originally possessed before coming to earth).[3]  In that case the Holy Spirit would not be under discussion at all.

The Holy Spirit and salvation.  According to this letter, the Holy Spirit played a role in producing salvation.  Believers were “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus” as well as “by the Spirit of our God” (6:11).  It was “by one Spirit [that] we were all baptized into one body” (12:13).  He does not say believers were baptized by the Spirit, but that it was due to the Spirit that they were baptized.  The reference would then be to the role of the Spirit (which Paul heavily stressed in the first of the epistle) in giving the message that lead to their conversion. 

Miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit.    Heavy emphasis in chapter 12 is on the various forms of the supernatural expression of the power of the Spirit (12:8-10) and it was exclusively the Spirit’s decision who received what (12:7, 11).  In short, it was not a learned experience secured or mastered through repetition; the gifts were simply given and were utilized or they were not given and there was nothing within human power to acquire them. 

Chapter 14 zeroes in on the gifts of tongue speaking and prophesying in particular.  These are closely regulated as to number of participants in each service (never more than three, 14:27, 29) and, in the case of tongue speakers, the presence of interpreters is required (14:28).  The reason for these restrictions is to avoid needless “confusion” in the congregation and to preserve its “peace” (14:33).  Hence “let all things be done decently and in order” (14:40).

Even so there were limitations on recognizing something as the act of the Spirit.  For one thing there are statements the Spirit absolutely would never make, such as “call[ing] Jesus accursed” (12:3).  Paul clearly does not believe that a mere claiming of



[Page 65]  having such a gift was to prove actually possessing it.  The presence could be tested, at least in part, by what was being said—whether it was in conformity with the known will of God.  Anything clear-cut out of line with it proved the illegitimacy of the claim.

Furthermore, these gifts were controllable ones.  The demand that would-be tongue speakers remain silent if there were no interpreters present implies it (14:27-28), as does the instruction that one prophet become silent when another had a message to deliver (14:29-31).  Paul makes it explicit when he argues that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (14:32).  Neurotic expressions of religion may not be controllable, but genuine gifts of the Spirit were.    






            4.  Doctrine of Divine Justice:

         Rewards and Punishments—

       Temporal and Beyond



            The “judge” at the final accounting is described as “God” (5:13, as in distinction from the Corinthians).  A similar attribution is found in the preceding chapter.  When “the Lord comes” the evil secrets hidden in the heart will be revealed (4:5).  On the other hand it will be a time when “praise will come from God” (4:5), implying that the unknown or unacknowledged good will be brought front and center as well.  This will be a time individuals will be “judge[d]” (4:4, 5).  Since “Lord” is normally synonymous with Jesus in the epistle this points to His role in that final reckoning as well. 

            The Corinthians had a particularly unsavory case of incest among them (5:1).  Paul insists that they expel the member who was guilty so that the rejection might bring him to his senses and “that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (5:5).  Since this was about as extreme an evil behavior as Gentiles could imagine (5:1), the possibility of his redemption carries the idea that any form of behavior is potentially forgivable.  The difference between “potentially” and “actually” lying in the person’s response to the situation.

            God judges (as in rejecting and holding accountable the practicer) far more individuals than just those involved in such socially repugnant behavior as incest; indeed, all believers and unbelievers are held to account—but only the evils of their own brothers and sisters lie within the immediate review of the church (5:13).  Paul lists a number of such types of conduct before making that assertion of ultimate answerability to God (5:9-12). 

Paul lays stress on such matters because he is trying to get the Corinthians to recognize that such conduct is wrong for them as well.  They had apparently gotten it into their heads that the moral norms they would expect of outsiders were, somehow, not binding on themselves as well.  This seems a reasonable deduction from the fact that they were whitewashing the incest (5:1) and if they could sanction that great an extreme, was



[Page 66]  there much they would not excuse?

            In some sense Christians themselves would participate in the judgment of the world and even of angels (6:2-3).  Paul uses this to argue the rightness and propriety of them judging disputes with each other (6:4-5), but leaves undeveloped the concept as it applies to the final accounting of the human race. 

            There was a “reward” that the individual will receive for teaching others about Jesus (3:7).  (When this reward will be received is not specified.)  Their continued persistence in the faith, however, does not determine whether the converter will be saved (3:15); hence the door is left open to the possibility of apostasy and the reassurance that in the final analysis each person must come to terms with God and that no one is responsible for the other’s refusal to do so.    

            Paul looks upon life as a race with a prize to be won (9:24-27), an image that implies there will be a point when it will be “over” and “done with.”  Whether of the earthly cosmos or individual human existence (and the latter seems to fit better), when that race is completed the faithful Christian who has persevered to the very end will be granted “an imperishable crown” (9:25).  An “imperishable crown” makes no sense unless the person who wears it is also imperishable.  Hence Paul clearly implies both the survival of death and that such individuals will receive an appropriate reward for their loyalty.

            The apostle concedes that a person might not measure up and thus, while others are rewarded, they themselves would be “disqualified” (9:27).  In other words, though death had been survived, it would not be a survival of triumph but of condemnation.  He alludes to this possibility in the following chapter as well.  There he warns lest Christians “tempt Christ” as certain ancients had done and “were destroyed by serpents” (10:9) or “complain” needlessly as others had been done and “were destroyed by the destroyer” (10:10).  What form this would take he does not develop; he presents the threatening image of “destruction” and leaves it at that.  If this persuasion will not work, would giving further details?   

            Although Paul does not explicitly link the ideas of rewards or punishment with his doctrine of the resurrection, one would be hard pressed to imagine any other linkage could have been in his mind.  It is in this connection of the resurrection that Paul emphasizes that the nature of the human body will be instantaneously changed “at the last trumpet” (15:52).  The mortality and decay inherent in the earthly body will be transformed into a body subject to neither (15:53-54).  This is the ultimate “victory” that God gives “through our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:56).

            Yet the writer of the epistle also recognized that there would be a “day” of testing “by fire” in this life which would reveal the true commitment and faith (or lack of it) of those who were converted (3:13).  This text has been applied by most to the final judgment (see the problem text discussion of this verse).  On the other hand, Paul certainly recognized a kind of this-world Divine judgment as well for he quotes the Old Testament text that God “catches the wise in their own craftiness” (3:19), i.e., He causes it to work to their injury instead of to their benefit.






Notes                                                                                                                   [Page 67] 



[1] For detailed argumentation (and the citation of specific Pauline texts) see Yves M. J. Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit; volume 1, The Holy Spirit in the “Economy”--Revelation and Experience of the Spirit, translated from the French by David Smith (New York:  Seabury Press, 1983), 37-39.


[2] With this basic thought in mind but worded considerably differently, see Neill Q. Hamilton, The Holy Spirit and Eschatology in Paul, Scottish Journal of Theology Occasional Papers No. 6 (Edinburgh:  Oliver and Boyd, Ltd., 1957), 6-7.  Moule, Holy Spirit, 26, is inclined to find a reference to God the Father and Exdous 34 since that text “is referred to in this passage.”


[3] Moule, Holy Spirit, 26, makes the distinction between a person who was merely “a creature” and one who had been transformed into a “life-giving and spiritual” being.   



Roland H. Worth, Jr.

A Torah Commentary on First Corinthians 1-6:

Interpreting the Text in Light of

Its Old Testament Roots


© 2011