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7. 1 Corinthians: Introduction, Argument, and Outline

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I. Introduction

A. The Author

Although there is no dispute nowadays about Pauline authorship, it may be helpful to rehearse, in brief, why that is the case. “Both the external and the internal evidence for the Pauline authorship are so strong that those who attempt to show that the apostle was not the writer succeed chiefly in proving their own incompetence as critics.”1

1.              External Evidence

The external evidence for the authenticity of 1 Corinthians is impregnable. Clement of Rome (c. 95 CE)2 states explicitly that it is by Paul and by so doing grants to 1 Corinthians the distinction of being the earliest NT book in which an extra-biblical writer attaches a name. The Didache and Barnabas seem quite familiar with it; Ignatius and Polycarp know it intimately, collectively alluding to it scores of times; Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Basilides all refer to it—some, hundreds of times. This epistle even made Marcion’s short list! These data are nothing less than overwhelming on behalf of authenticity.

2.              Internal Evidence

The internal evidence is equally strong. Even F. C. Baur, that Hegelian-minded critic of the Tübingen school over one hundred and fifty years ago, said of the Pauline Hauptbriefe (Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians), “they bear so incontestably the character of Pauline originality, that there is no conceivable ground for the assertion of critical doubts in their case.”3

The internal grounds for asserting authenticity are four: (1) the letter is “the product of a strong and original mind, and is altogether worthy of an Apostle”;4 (2) there are several coincidences (conceptual, verbal, historical, etc.) with what we know of Paul from Acts and other Pauline letters which are so unobtrusive as to be undesigned that they bear the stamp of genuineness; (3) there is controversy in the letter; Paul defends himself and his gospel as though both were doubted; later forgeries hardly recognize the tension and instead put Paul on a pedestal; (4) there is nothing negative in the epistle (historical discrepancies, language, theological development, etc.) to cast any doubts on authenticity.

These two considerations, external and internal evidence, taken together provide not only an unassailable fortress of authenticity, but also a benchmark by which other would-be Pauline epistles can be measured.5

B. Date and Place of Origin

Paul had visited the Corinthians on his second missionary journey, and, because of the lack of troubles (Acts 18:10), he was able to stay there eighteen months (Acts 18:11). This was in 50-51 CE—i.e., up until some months after Gallio began his proconsulship.6 Most likely, Paul left Corinth in the fall of 51 CE. After concluding his second missionary journey, Paul returned again to Asia on his third journey (c. fall, 52 CE). This time he settled down in Ephesus for almost three years (Acts 19:10; 20:31)—i.e., from the fall of 52 until the spring of 55 CE. While in Ephesus there must have been contact between Corinth and Paul, for he speaks of the Corinthians misunderstanding his “previous letter” in 1 Cor. 5:9. The apostle had to clear up the misunderstanding, as well as address other issues—hence, “first” Corinthians was written.

Paul wrote this epistle from Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:8, 9, 19) while on his third missionary journey. It was probably written in the spring of 54 CE as is evident from the following data: (1) The letter was written some years after Paul’s first visit, since Apollos had ministered there (Acts 18:26-27; 1 Cor. 1:12) and Timothy had also been sent there (Acts 19:22; 1 Cor. 4:17). (2) This letter was written sometime after his first letter (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9) and probably not in the last year of his ministry in Ephesus. He mentions that he intends to spend the next winter with the Corinthians (1 Cor. 16:6), a visit which, nevertheless, is not to be identified with the three-month stay of Acts 20:3. This latter visit (Acts 20:3) reads as though it were at the end of Paul’s Ephesian ministry, while it is doubtful that 1 Corinthians was written at the end because otherwise the chronology does not fit with data in 2 Corinthians. (3) This letter was written in the spring because Pentecost is just around the corner (1 Cor. 16:8).7

C. Destination/Audience

The letter was written to the relatively new converts at Corinth (1:2). The church at Corinth was composed of both Jews and Greeks (Acts 18:4), though it must have been predominantly Gentile since it was while Paul was in Corinth that he reiterated the proclamation which was to define his ministry, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6; cf. 13:46).8 Further, he made this announcement very early on in his stay there (perhaps in the first few weeks), for the vision that he would not get harmed came later (Acts 18:9-10), prompting Paul to stay for eighteen months (Acts 18:11).

D. Occasion and Method of Composition

What occasioned the writing of 1 Corinthians was apparently three things.

(1) Paul had written a previous letter (1 Cor. 5:9) which was misunderstood by the Corinthians. In that letter he told them not to associate with immoral persons and they took this to mean all immoral persons, while he only meant immoral professing believers (5:10-13). The matter needed to be cleared up.9

(2) The apostle also got news from members of Chloe’s house that there were divisions arising among the Corinthian believers (1:11). Presumably the report included other problems such as attitudes toward the apostles (4:1-21), incestuous behavior (5:1-5), and lawsuits between Christians (6:1-11).

(3) Chapter 7 begins “now concerning the matters about which you wrote . . . ,” indicating that Paul was also responding to issues raised by the entire congregation. Apparently a delegation of believers (including Stephanas, Fortunatas, and Achaicus [16:17]) came with these questions in the form of a letter. First Corinthians 7:1 begins περὶ δέ, which is repeated in 7:25; 8:1; 12:1; 15:1 (simply δέ here), and 16:1. This sounds very much as though Paul is merely responding, in a very business-like manner, to questions which may or may not be intrinsically related to the preceding section.

The occasion for the writing of this letter then gives us a great deal of help in deciphering the method of compilation: the first six chapters are written as a response to the report from Chloe (including both the correction of the Corinthians’ misreading of Paul’s first letter and specific problems raised by Chloe’s people); chapters 7-16 are written as a response to the questions raised by the congregation itself in their letter to Paul brought by Stephanas and friends.

E. Special Problems: The Opponents of Paul at Corinth

If we could fully grasp the nature of the opposition to Paul’s ministry in Corinth, we might have a better feel for Paul’s relationship to the Corinthians. Over the years, some scholars have proposed that the basic opponents were Jewish (so F. C. Baur, etc.). But this is extremely doubtful because the letter is concerned with the licentiousness of the Corinthians. Would Jews promote immorality (cf. the Judaizers in Galatians!)? Schmithals argued that the opponents were Jewish Gnostics, a view which suffers from the previous criticism as well as the lack of evidence supporting Gnosticism as a fully developed system in the first century CE. Some argue that the opponents held to a kind of realized eschatology.

The problem of the identification of the opponents is that they were no doubt a mixed bag, an amorphous entity of several factions. This can be seen by the very nature of Corinth itself, a rather cosmopolitan city which was constantly having an influx of new ideas. The church at Corinth is analogous to any church in southern California in the 1960s/1970s: the “land of fruits and nuts” involved such a diverse influx of ideas, fads, and avant garde heresies that to pin down any unified group as the opponent of the church would be like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall!10 In other words, Paul’s opponents at Corinth were Jews, proto-Gnostics, libertines, ascetics, ecstatics, realized eschatologists,11 anti-resurrectionists, and more! It may be an overstatement to call all of these “opponents,” but it is obvious that several factions existed in Corinth (cf. 1:10-17) and the problems needed to be dealt with seriatim.12

F. Theme

Basically 1 Corinthians deals with abuses of liberty (just as Galatians deals with the stifling of the Spirit because of legalism). The correction Paul gives is not to question their salvation, but to challenge them in their sanctification. Although the apostle is dealing with several different issues, the general theme of the epistle is “the practical implications of progressive sanctification in the context of the Christian community.”

II. Argument

Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians in customary fashion, viz., with a greeting (from the apostle and “our brother Sosthenes”) (1:1-3), followed by a thanksgiving offered to God (1:4-9). In the thanksgiving, however, we see the first glimpse of troubles brewing, for the apostle is primarily thankful for what God has done for them rather than for their response to him.

Following quickly on the heels of this salutation, Paul addresses the issues raised by Chloe’s people (cf. 1:11)—namely, divisions in the church (1:10–4:21) and disorders in church life (5:1–6:20).

First, Paul addresses the divisiveness in the church (1:10–4:21). The divisiveness had to do with loyalty to a personality rather than fidelity to a doctrine (1:10-17). Its root causes were due to seeing the Christian ministry through very Greek eyes (1:18–4:13).

On the other hand, the Corinthians had a wrong perception of the Christian message (1:18–3:4) in terms of “wisdom.” Their pagan background had negatively shaped their understanding of wisdom (due, no doubt, to the influence of Greek philosophy [cf. 1:20]). The message of salvation from sins which involved a dead Jew on a Roman cross was foolishness to the pagans (1:18-31), though it was central to Paul’s proclamation (2:1-5). But true wisdom—the wisdom which comes from God—can be known only by believers (2:6-10), and fully grasped only by mature believers (2:11-16). The unbeliever, because of his volition, is not at all able to grasp the wisdom of God (2:14). The fact of divisions among the Corinthians proves that they are still fleshly, however, and not mature enough to grasp all that could be theirs in Christ (3:1-4). Thus with few words the apostle Paul has been able to turn the tables on what constitutes true wisdom by showing that true wisdom comes by way of revelation, not reason.

On the other had, the Corinthians had a wrong perception of the importance of the messengers of the Christian message (3:5–4:5). Divisions are inevitable if the messengers  are put on a pedestal (3:5, 21; 4:1). Paul uses two analogies to get his point across (3:6-17). Paul and Apollos are merely farmers, but only God cause the growth (3:6-9).13  And, by God’s grace, they are builders (3:10-15), and what they erect is mature Christians, a “temple” of God (3:16-17). The implication seems to be that if the Corinthians choose sides, they prove that Apollos and Paul have not done a good job! Consequently, they should “stop boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos . . . ” (3:21). Finally, Paul appeals to them to regard him and Apollos as mere servants of Christ (4:1-5).

To put all this in perspective, Paul reminds them of the irrationality of pride over things given to them by God (4:6-13). He uses irony and sarcasm here to show that their very arrogance strips them of the riches they claim to have.

To solve the problem of divisiveness, Paul essentially gives two commands: imitate the apostle, for his lifestyle is in accord with his instructions (4:14-17), and stop being arrogant (4:18-21).

In the second major section Paul addresses a second group of issues raised by Chloe’s people (5:1–6:20), viz., disorders in the life of the church. All of these disorders are due either to the Corinthians’ faulty view of wisdom (6:1-11) and/or their misunderstanding of grace (5:1-13; 6:12-21).

First, the Corinthians failed to discipline a man who was committing adultery with his father’s wife (5:1-13). Paul commands them to hand the man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh (5:5), noting that boasting about their freedom in Christ has turned grace into license and is ruining them (5:6-8).

Second, the Corinthians failed to solve their personal disputes among themselves and instead went to secular courts (6:1-11). Clearly, this was due to their faulty perception of wisdom, for they assumed that pagan judges were wiser than they in solving their disputes (6:1, 5). But if Christians are going to judge the world, surely they should be able to judge trivial matters among themselves (6:2).

Third, they failed to exercise sexual purity (6:12-21), once again thinking that their freedom in Christ meant license to sin (6:12). But since they had been bought at great cost and since their bodies were the temple of the Holy Spirit, they ought not to go beyond the bounds of true grace.

This issue of license with the flesh probably also grew out of their pagan background, and, in part, Greek philosophy (for both Stoicism and Hedonism divorced the soul from the body14). Thus, if there is any unity in the issues raised by Chloe’s people, it is found in misunderstandings of the Christian life due to pagan philosophy, focusing on the twin themes of wisdom and license.

Paul now turns to issues raised by the entire congregation as represented by a delegation of believers (see 16:17). These issues focused on two areas: (1) practical difficulties in the church (7:1–14:40), especially concerning marriage (7:1-40), Christian liberty (8:1–11:1), and worship (11:2–14:40); and (2) the negative influence of some of Paul’s opponents concerning the resurrection (15:1-58).

Paul dealt with pragmatic difficulties in the church (7:1–14:40) in the third major (and by far the largest) section of the epistle. First, he had much practical advice to give about marriage (7:1-40). The problem of facing one’s conjugal duties if one is married, coupled with the necessity of abstinence if one is not married, was addressed first (7:1-9). No doubt again the reason this was a problem was due to the Corinthians’ pagan background.15 Then, Paul discussed the painful issue of divorce, though in a very matter-of-fact manner (7:10-24). Essentially his advice was that two believers must not get divorced (7:10-11), but that if an unbeliever leaves a believing spouse, the believer is not bound to the partner with the implication being that he/she may, in fact pursue remarriage (7:12-16).

Nevertheless, the best policy is to remain as one is (especially in light of the “present distress” [7:26]), trusting God’s sovereignty to reign in his life (7:17-24). Finally, Paul gives advice concerning the prioritizing of marriage (which involves commitment to one’s spouse) and ministry (which involves a higher commitment to one’s Lord) (7:25-38). In many ways, Paul’s advice in this chapter seems opposed to what he will say in the pastoral epistles. But 7:26 seems to govern much of what Paul has to say here: “Because of the present distress, I think it is good for you to remain as you are.” Whether this refers to persecutions against believers at Corinth, or the possibility of Christ’s imminent return, or the fact that some of them had died (cf. 11:30) by the hand of the Lord, we cannot be sure.16

Second, he addressed at some length the issue of exercising Christian liberty, especially in relation to eating meat offered to idols (8:1–11:1). He points out although the Corinthians know that idols are nothing (8:4-6), such knowledge can inadvertently destroy the weaker brother. Knowledge without love produces pride (8:1-3), while love for the weaker brother builds him up in the faith (8:7-13).

Paul illustrates this by using himself as an example (9:1-27). Although he is an apostle and has certain rights (9:1-14), he has restricted those rights for the sake of others (9:15-27). His own liberty is bound by his love for the lost. The ironic thing is that this actually produces greater liberty, because for the sake of the lost he has become all things to all men (9:21-22).

The nation of Israel then serves as a negative example (10:1-13). Although they did not have the same freedoms that Christians now have, they did serve the same God (10:2) and they did have certain privileges. He fed them in the wilderness, taking care of their needs (10:3-4). But they still disobeyed and went after idols, resulting in their deaths (10:5-10). This is applied in an ambiguous way to believers (10:1-13), though Paul clears up his meaning in the next section.

The warning to believers seems to be that if they take their privileges and freedoms for granted, they can slip into idolatry (10:14-22). On the one hand, although eating meat offered to idols may be permissible (cf. 8:8; 10:23), if it is done in the temple (10:18-21) one has overstepped even the bounds of liberty. Finally, Paul gives the basic principle once again: love takes precedence over liberty (10:23–11:1).

Third, the apostle devotes much ink to issues related to diversity in worship (11:2–14:40). The ironic thing to note in these four chapters is that the Corinthians sought unity (and identity) precisely where they needed diversity, and diversity where they should have unity.

There should be diversity in the worship roles between the sexes, Paul first declares (11:2-16). Women should wear head-coverings when they pray or prophesy, both for several theological reasons (11:2-10), as well as for obvious cultural ones (11:11-15). Besides, this is what has been handed down in all the churches (11:16) as right—thus the Corinthians are not being singled out in this matter.

But there should not be diversity in how the various social classes worship (11:17-34). That is to say, the rich are filled and drunk at the love feasts and the poor go home hungry (11:17-22). Paul’s rebuke in this matter cannot be taken lightly, for there are even some who have died because of partaking the Lord’s Supper unworthily (11:23-32). Once again, the basic principle is that love takes precedence over liberty (11:33-34).

There should also be diversity in the use of spiritual gifts (12:1–14:40), for this very diversity promotes unity. That diversity of gifts is necessary (12:1-31a) can be seen by the analogy of the Godhead (12:4-11) and human anatomy (12:12-26). Apparently the Corinthians were not seeking such diversity in the use of gifts, but instead were seeking primarily to speak in tongues. So Paul concludes with prioritizing the gifts (12:27-31a), tactfully placing tongues and interpretation of tongues in last place.

But there is another priority—that of love over the gifts (12:31b–13:13). This is because relationship has higher priority than experience—even of experiences which prove that one is spiritual (13:1-3). Love has priority over the gifts because, by its very nature, love cares for others (13:4-7)—while the exercise of the gifts could be done in a vacuum (13:1-3)—and love is permanent (13:8-13).

In this context, prophecy is seen to have priority over tongues (14:1-40), because it can more readily be exercised with love as the motive. For one thing, prophecy edifies others, while tongues—at least as practiced at Corinth—does not (14:1-5).17 Further, prophecy is immediately understandable—without the use of an interpreter (14:6-19). It also has a built-in purpose for the believing community, while tongues was given to convict unbelieving Jews (14:20-25). Finally, one overarching principle of worship is that it must be done in an orderly fashion (14:26-40)—­and “all of these must be done for the strengthening of the church” (14:26).

In the last major section, Paul corrects the church’s thinking about the resurrection (15:1-58). Apparently some in the church had their doubts both about the necessity of the resurrection and its reality. This state most likely was brought about, in part, by the influence of their pagan friends (cf. 15:33). If the flesh is inherently evil—as some philosophers taught (and as incipient Gnosticism was teaching)—then its resurrection is both unnecessary and foolish. Hence, Paul spends some time proving both the necessity of the resurrection as well as evidence for it.

The evidence for the resurrection of Christ is twofold (15:1-11): the testimony of the OT and the testimony of eyewitnesses. It is necessary (15:12-28) because otherwise we are all dead in our sins (15:12-19) and, further, Christ would not then have any future reign (15:20-28).18 Further, believers’ resurrection is proven (15:29-34) both by the fact that some are being baptized for the dead (15:29)19 and by the fact that Paul is endangering his life daily (15:30-32).

In response to a hypothetical objection (which was probably being asked by outsiders) about the nature of the believer’s resurrection body (15:35-49)—as if the mere question might prove resurrection false—Paul demonstrates both its continuity with the body that has died (15:35-41), as well as its likeness to Christ’s resurrection body, for he is the last Adam, head of a new race of people (15:42-49).

Paul concludes the discussion on resurrection by giving assurances of our eschatological hope, coupled with the argument that if we are ever to live in God’s presence we must have an imperishable, resurrection body (15:50-58).

The conclusion of this epistle finally deals with issues that Paul raises, though they are decidedly of a more mundane character (16:1-24). He reminds the Corinthians about the collection for the poor believers in Jerusalem (16:1-11), brings news about Apollos’ coming visit (16:12), and concludes with final exhortations (16:13-18) and greetings (16:19-24).

III. Outline20

I. Salutation (1:1-9)

A. Greetings (1:1-3)

B. Thanksgiving (1:4-9)

II. Divisions in the Church (1:10–4:21)

A. The Fact of Divisions (1:10-17)

B. The Causes of Division (1:18–4:13)

1. Faulty View of the Christian Message (1:18–3:4)

a. False Wisdom Vs. the Gospel of Christ (1:18–2:5)

1) The Foolishness of the Cross to Gentiles (1:18-31)

2) The Centrality of the Cross to Paul’s Kerygma (2:1-5)

b. True Wisdom and the Spirit of God (2:6–3:4)

1) The Maturity of the Spiritual Man (2:6-16)

2) The Immaturity of the Carnal Man (3:1-4)

2. Faulty View of Christian Ministry and Ministers (3:5–4:5)

a. Analogy One: Farmers and the Field (3:6-9)

b. Analogy Two: Builders and the Temple (3:10-17)

1) The Builders (3:10-15)

2) The Temple (3:16-17)

c. Warning about Self-Deception regarding the Ministers (3:18-23)

d. Paul’s Reflections on his own Ministry (4:1-5)

3. Faulty View of the Christian’s Blessings (4:6-13)

C. The Cure for Divisions (4:14-21)

1. Imitation of Paul (4:14-17)

2. Rebuke of Arrogance (4:18-21)

III. Disorders in the Church (5:1–6:20)

A. Failure to Discipline an Immoral Brother (5:1-13)

B. Failure to Resolve Personal Disputes (6:1-11)

C. Failure to Exercise Sexual Purity (6:12-21)

IV. Difficulties in the Church (7:1–14:40)

A. Concerning Marriage (7:1-40)

1. Conjugal Duties and Celibacy (7:1-9)

2. Divorce (7:10-24)

a. Between Believers (7:10-11)

b. Between Believer and Unbeliever (7:12-16)

c. The Principle of Satisfaction with God’s Sovereignty (7:17-24)

3. Marriage and Ministry (7:25-38)

B. Concerning Christian Liberty (8:1–11:1)

1. Eating Meat Offered to Idols (8:1-13)

a. Knowledge Vs. Love (8:1-3)

b. Knowledge about Idols (8:4-6)

c. Love for Weaker Brothers (8:7-13)

2. Paul’s Personal Example: Restricting his Rights (9:1-27)

a. The Rights of an Apostle Defended (9:1-14)

b. The Reason for Restricting Paul’s own Rights (9:15-27)

3. Israel’s Failure as an Example to Believers (10:1-13)

a. God’s Discipline Resulted in their Death (10:1-10)

b. Application to Christians (10:11-13)

4. Eating Meat in Pagan Temples (10:14-22)

5. The Principles Applied (10:23–11:1)

C. Concerning Worship (11:2–14:40)

1. Diversity in Worship Roles between the Sexes (11:2-16)

a. Theological Argument (11:2-10)

b. Cultural Argument (11:11-15)

c. Summary (11:16)

2. Diversity in Worship Roles between the Classes (11:17-34)

a. The Love Feast and Rich Vs. Poor (11:17-22)

b. The Lord’s Supper and Discipline from the Lord (11:24-32)

c. Summary (11:33-34)

3. Diversity in Worship Roles because of Spiritual Gifts (12:1–14:40)

a. The Necessity of Diversity of Gifts (12:1-31a)

1) Transition: From Worship of Idols to Worship of Christ (12:1-3)

2) Analogous Arguments for Diversity within Unity (12:4-26)

a) Diversity in the Godhead, Diversity of Gifts (12:4-11)

b) Diversity of Body Parts, Diversity of Gifts (12:12-26)

3) The Priority in the Gifts (12:27-31a)

b. The Priority of Love over the Gifts (12:31b–13:13)

1) The Necessity of Love (13:1-3)

2) The Character of Love (13:4-7)

3) The Permanence of Love (13:8-13)

c. The Priority of Prophecy over Tongues (14:1-40)

1) Edification (14:1-5)

2) Intelligibility (14:6-19)

3) Christian Community (14:20-25)

4) Orderliness (14:26-40)

V. Doctrinal Correction of the Church Regarding the Resurrection (15:1-58)

A. The Evidence for Christ’s Resurrection (15:1-11)

B. The Necessity of Christ’s Resurrection (15:12-28)

1. Past Forgiveness (15:12-19)

2. Future Reign (15:20-28)

C. The Proof of Believers’ Resurrection (15:29-34)

D. The Nature of the Resurrection Body (15:35-49)

E. The Assurance of Resurrection (15:50-58)

VI. Conclusion (16:1-24)

A. About the Collection (16:1-11)

1. Instructions on Giving (16:1-4)

2. The Travel Plans of Paul and Timothy (16:5-11)

B. News about Apollos (16:12)

C. Final Exhortations (16:13-18)

D. Final Greetings (16:19-24)

1Robertson and Plummer, I Corinthians (ICC), xvi.

2Recently this date has been challenged; some are now suggesting a date in the 60s CE! This, of course, would render Clement’s opinion even more significant.

3Cited in Robertson-Plummer, xvii.

4Robertson-Plummer, xviii.

5What is important to understand is that criticism has to start with some benchmark of authenticity. The Corinthian letters provide that for the corpus Paulinum. However, many factors besides linguistic compatibility need to be factored into the equation—especially since even in Paul’s Hauptbriefe he used amanuenses—before a final decision can be reached on the authenticity of the Pauline antilegomena.

6Probably July 1, 51 CE, though recently Dixon Slingerland has challenged the certainty of this date (Dixon Slingerland, “Acts 18:1-18, the Gallio Inscription, and Absolute Pauline Chronology,” JBL 110 [1991] 439-49). Although Slingerland is right to show that other historical reconstructions are possible, I do not think that he has shown that they are nearly as probable as the traditional certainty about Pauline chronology founded on the Gallio inscription.

7For further information on the Acts chronology of this period, see the introduction to Romans.

8We are not implying that Paul had no concern for a Gentile mission (cf. Gal. 2:2, 7-8), but that it seemed to be his pattern in every city to preach to the Jews first. Normally, he approached the Gentiles outside the synagogue only after strong Jewish hostility to his message. The statement in Acts 18:6 (as well as 13:46) does not, then, reflect a program shift, but a circumstantial one, as is obvious from his next stop in Ephesus where he first engages the Jews in discussion (Acts 18:19).

9As a theological sidenote, it should be noted that the doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture does not entail the notion that everything in the Bible is crystal clear. This is a case in point. Further, there is an implicit apologetic for the need of careful, primary language, exegesis found in 1 Cor. 5:9-13: if the Corinthians, who knew Paul intimately (since he had lived among them for a year and a half), and who spoke the same language as did he, could misunderstand his meaning, how much greater is the danger for us if we share even less than this with the apostle? We not only should do all we can to bridge the communication gap with the writers of scripture, but we also, in the end, need to be humble about our exegetical conclusions. Finally, if one wants to charge the Corinthians with immaturity and claim that this is what caused them to misunderstand Paul’s meaning, then how will we deal with Peter’s statement that Paul writes things that are “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16)? Actually, the Corinthians were in a better position to understand Paul than was even Peter: Paul did not write to him. Interpreting the epistles for us is like listening to one half of a telephone conversation. Great humility, coupled with extreme diligence, is the only way to grasp the details of what is being said.

10The analogy is really quite apt because both in Corinth and in California in the 60s-70s there was incredible wealth and affluence coupled with a very loose lifestyle and a trend-making society. The wealth produced independence, loss of community, and the crossroads atmosphere cultivated new ideas.

11If any case could be made for one primary enemy, it would have to be made for the realized eschatologists. Their view that they were already completely in the kingdom affected their view of the resurrection as well as morality and perhaps even ecstatic experience.

12Ultimately, this illustrates a biblical principle: there is no unity in sin. Sin fractures, splinters, destroys, does not cooperate, does not think of the common good, is selfish and proud, etc. If biblical scholarship had been more prone to interpret the Bible psychologically (i.e., truly addressing human nature) rather than academically, perhaps the theories of a united opposition would never have come up.

13In this context Paul’s statement that “we are God’s fellow-workers” (3:9) surely must mean that Paul and Apollos are fellow-workers with each other, both belonging to God. It is sometimes argued that this meaning is impossible in the Greek, but there are other instances of συν- nouns followed by a genitive in which the genitive is not associative (cf., e.g., Eph. 3:6).

14There are a number of remarkable parallels in thought between the Stoics and the NT, although the NT writers did not share the Stoic view of the ascetic life. In Paul's Corinthian correspondence, he sounds very much like a Stoic philosopher. On the other hand, there is very little similarity with Hedonism, although in his letter to the Galatians the apostle does stress the freedom we have in Christ.

15R. J. Rushdoony, in his booklet, Flight from Humanity, has a nice section discussing this problem as rooted in a faulty view of human nature. It is the “nature vs. grace” syndrome.

16I suspect that there may be another view, but which picks up on the “death” view: the Corinthians were palpably immature. Such immaturity produced the present crisis in the church at Corinth. And any good marriage counselor will say that two immature people ought not to get married. Paul may well have veiled his own meaning, hoping that the audience would ponder the seriousness of marriage in the context of progressive sanctification.

17I take it that this is something of a sarcastic note. Paul is not here legitimizing tongues for self-edification, for this would go counter to everything he has been saying in this whole epistle! Charismatics who see self-edifying (e.g., praying by oneself) tongues as an apostolically endorsed use of the gift have missed Paul’s point in 14:4.

18Although many premillennialists see hints of the millennial kingdom in 15:24-25, for it seems as if Paul is saying that the kingdom will have two stages to it. This, however, ignores 15:27 (quoting Psalm 8:6) in which Paul clearly says that the first stage is taking place right now. In our view, the kingdom is inaugurated, but not consummated (“already, not yet”) and, further, there is no hint in the NT of a two-stage future kingdom until Rev 20:1-6.

19An enigmatic verse whose meaning has eluded all NT students.

20Although 1 Corinthians could be organized according to the sources of information Paul received (so Robertson and Plummer, I Corinthians [ICC], xxvi-xxvii) (thus, chapters 1–6 would be issues raised by Chloe’s people, chapters 7–16 would be responses to the questions brought by a delegation), the very sources were not united. That is to say, the questions brought by the delegation were not necessarily related to each other, just as Chloe’s issues were not necessarily related to one another. Although the use of περὶ δέ in the epistle can give some clues as to when the next question is raised, such a marker will not help in the macro-structure.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines

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