Paul writes to the Corinthian church, who is heavily influenced by the prevailing Greek culture, challenging them to live holy lives, to love and to serve one another, rather than being busy with self-presentation, pride and competition.
Paul founds the Corinthian church on his 2nd missionary journey with Silas and Timothy (50-52 AD). He spends one and a half years with the Corinthian church, longer than with any other church he founded to this point (Acts 18:1-11). The church has received much teaching and discipleship from Paul, Prisca and Aquila, his co-workers in Corinth. Some three years pass till Paul writes 1 Corinthians in 55 AD.
Corinth was a challenging city to be a believer in: it was a big port city, known for its harbor, but also for its idolatry, immorality and prostitution. Corinth’s most revered gods were Aphrodite (the goddess of beauty, seduction, sexual love and prostitution), Poseidon (the god of the sea and of navigation), Apollos (the god of prophecy, music, arts, medicine and philosophy) and Dionysos (the god of wine, debauchery and wild living).
Paul, while in Ephesus, receives a letter from the Corinthians where they ask specific questions about their church services (1 Cor 7:1) concerning women’s head coverings, food sacrificed to idols, the Lord’s supper and the use of spiritual gifts. This letter is probably sent by the hand of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus, a delegation from the Corinthian church (1 Cor 16:17). But Paul is visited by others, sent by a concerned church member (Chloe, a woman, 1 Cor 1:11) who is seeing several worrisome developments in the church (division over leaders, pride, a man living in immorality, law suits among the believers).
In response Paul writes the Corinthian church a challenging letter (1 Corinthians), trying to make them understand that their prideful focus on self-presentation and eloquence has really lead to loveless behavior, competition, division in the church and chaos in their church services. In this letter he asks them over a hundred convicting questions, hoping to make them see where their wrong thinking has lead them. He combats the prevailing Greek culture’s influence over the church with its focus on appearance, eloquence, smartness and popularity by showing them what a truly Christ-like attitude looks like: holy lives, loving one another, doing everything to build each other up and maintaining unity.
He addresses the many issues that have come up in one way or another: division in the church, focusing on big leaders, sexual immorality, anti-women attitudes, wrong ideas about marriage, food offered to idols, teachers taking honorariums, head coverings in church, the Lord’s supper, spiritual gifts (tongues, prophecy) and the certainty of resurrection. He shows at each turn that selfless love and service to one another is the answer to their many conflicts.
Some believers in Corinth hold that there is no resurrection. Probably they are influenced by Greek philosophy’s fascination with the spiritual (‘who would want a bodily resurrection anyway?’) or by a church over-focus on being spiritual (‘we only need God’s Spirit!’). Paul asserts the bodily resurrection of Jesus as a historic reality with many witnesses and vast implications: Jesus’ resurrection is the seal on his self-sacrifice on the cross and the guarantee of salvation in his name.
Paul identifies himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” and as author (1 Cor 1:1). He mentions “our brother Sosthenes” as co-author.
Most likely Sosthenes was somebody the Corinthians were familiar with, possibly he was a Corinthian himself. He could be one of Chloe’s people who informed Paul of some happenings in the church (1 Cor 1:11). The only other Sosthenes mentioned in the New Testament is a ruler of the Synagogue in Corinth, who is beaten up, after the Jews unsuccessfully attack Paul (Acts 18:17). It is possible that he became a believer, joined the church, worked with Paul and here appears as co-author, but nothing sure can be known.
The history of the Corinthian Church
On his second missionary Paul founds the Corinthian church together with his team mates Silas and Timothy and the couple Aquila and Priscilla, with whom he stays and works as a tent maker (Acts 18:1-2).
Paul has been quickly expelled from Philippi and Thessalonica due to persecution. When in Corinth Paul receives a command of God to stay in Corinth longer and a promise from God that, though there will also be opposition in Corinth, God will protect him (Acts 18:9-10). Paul and his co-workers spend one and a half years in Corinth discipling the church, longer than in any other church founded so far (Acts 18:11).
There indeed is opposition from the Jews. They attempt to have Paul sentenced by the proconsul Gallio (Acts 18:12-17). Gallio, the half-brother of Seneca, tutor of Nero was proconsul of Corinth only for one year (summer 51 till summer 52 AD), so this event helps date Paul’s time in Corinth.
Paul, after leaving Corinth, embarks on his third missionary journey, where he spends more than two and a half years in Ephesus, across the Aegean sea from Corinth. When in Ephesus, some three years later (around 55 AD) Paul sends the Corinthian church a letter, warning them not to associate with immoral believers (probably in connection with the immoral person in 1 Cor 5:9). This letter is not preserved in the Bible. Also it was misunderstood by the church to mean that they shouldn’t associate with immoral people in general, a notion that Paul corrects in 1 Corinthians (1 Co 5:10-11).
Paul then receives a letter from the Corinthian church asking about several specific issues, including several relating to their church service (1 Cor 7:1). Paul addresses these issues from chapter 7 onward: issues around marriage (ch 7), food offered to idols (ch 8), honorarium for teachers (ch 9), head covering and ministry of women in the church (ch 11), the Lord’s supper (ch 11), spiritual gifts and their use in the church (ch 12, 14) and wrong ideas that the resurrection had already happened (1 Cor 15:12).
Paul also receives a delegation of Corinthian believers, Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus (1 Cor 16:17) and others, who are people sent by one Chloe (1 Cor 1:11). Chloe is a woman in the church who is concerned with the way things are going. It is probably their report that Paul bases the first half of his letter on (ch 1 to 6), addressing division in the church around leaders (ch 1 to 4), pride (ch 1), the sexual immorality of a specific man (ch 5) and law suits among the believers (ch 6).
Paul is so worried that he wants to go to Corinth as soon as possible, but he plans to stay in Ephesus till Pentecost and then travel to Corinth via Macedonia (1 Cor 16:5-9). He is also considering to send Timothy to Corinth before himself to see how the church has responded to his letter 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 16:10-11, Acts 19:22).
The historical background of the Corinthian church
Corinth was at the time the leading city of the Roman province Achaia, both politically (being the seat of the Roman Government in Achaia) and economically (as a major sea port and center of trade). Every two years Corinth also hosted the ‘Isthmian Games’, an important athletic competition.
Corinth was famous for its wealth, its idolatry and its prostitution. Corinth was tge ‘sin city’ of Greece.
The most popular goddess was Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, seduction, sexual love, and prostitution. Aphrodite worship included sexual acts with temple prostitutes, who in the peak time numbered as many as a thousand women.
Prostitutes generally had their heads uncovered, the Aphrodite prostitutes had shaved heads. Paul probably refers to this when he requires women to cover their heads (which was a sign of nobility) and speaks about a woman’s long hair as natural (1 Cor 11:6,14-15).
The main male god was Poseidon, the god of the sea, navigation and of sailors. The Isthmian games were held in his honor.
Apollos was the god of prophecy, music, song, medicine, arts, philosophy, law, male beauty and homosexuality, quite reflective of the Greek fascination with science, logic and philosophy.
Dionysos was a male deity worshiped with debauchery, sexual promiscuity, and wild behavior, like free-flying hair for women and sex-reversals, men wearing long open hair and women shaving their heads, dressing like men. Paul possibly refers to this in 1 Cor 11:1-16.
Worship of the gods and attendance at the temples was a central part of life in Greek society. Family celebrations would be held at the temple, trade guilds would do contracts in celebrations at the temple of the respective god, often including eating food offered to idols (ch 8-10) and ritual prostitution (ch 5-6).
Greek culture and philosophy
Greek philosophy valued and even deified knowledge, wisdom, reason and logic. Theoretical knowledge was considered sufficient in itself. There was no demand of an application of knowledge in daily live. To be wise meant to be intelligent, it was a matter of skill not character. Wisdom was not considered a matter of knowing good and evil, nor of choosing good, like in the Bible.
Greek philosophy also valued eloquence. The question was not ‘is this true?’ but rather ‘was this well said?’ Appearance, presentation, fluency and logic-based arguments were valued very highly, as was beauty. Beauty was not linked to any inner quality of character but simply to outward appearance.
Greek philosophy was dualist, declaring the spiritual world to be good and desirable and the physical world to be inferior. This lead to two wrong views: libertinism and asceticism. Libertinism maintained that since the physical world and the body is inferior to the spirit, what a person does with his body cannot affect the spirit. Therefore immorality and prostitution are no problem. Asceticism on the other hand maintained that since the physical world is evil, the spirit needs to be set free by the subduing of the body. Subduing the body was achieved by rigorous fasting, by punishing the body by inflicting pain and by refusing marriage.
The influence of Greek philosophy and culture is visible at many places in the letter of 1 Corinthians. Paul addresses a proud refusal of marriage in 1 Cor 7:1-2, the issue of prostitution in 1 Cor 6:12-19, the issue of immorality in 1 Cor 5:1-13, the issue of false wisdom, boasting and pride in chapters 1 to 3, the issue of a self-centered, flashy use of spiritual gifts in chapters 12 and 14. He addresses those compromising with surrounding idolatry in chapters 8 and 10 and those who want to either exclude or use women in many other passages. He also continually addresses their divisiveness, lovelessness and selfish use of God’s gifts.
Paul’s central answer
Paul’s answer to all the Greek philosophy-induced superiority, self-presentation, competition and division is very simple: love. God-like love, self-sacrificing love, focus on edifying others and accepting love. He describes love in a beautiful passage that radiates out over all the letter, the famous chapter 13.
Love is the “more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31). Love is the answer to prideful posturing and divisive superiority. Love is the measure for all spiritual gifts: If the use of the gift does not encourage and build up the other person then it is used wrongly. Love will last into eternity, when spiritual gifts will no longer be needed (1 Cor 13:8-9).
Spiritual gifts, understanding, wisdom, knowledge, faith, self-sacrifice and self-control – all these desirable things are nothing without love (1 Cor 13:1-3).
Love is the real standard by which everything needs to be measured; not knowledge, not smartness, not eloquence, not super-spirituality. Paul therefore concludes his letter with the challenge “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor 16:14).
Chapter 1 Divisions versus godly wisdom
The Corinthians have been taking pride in who they heard the gospel from, and who taught them: Paul, the eloquent Apollos (Acts 18:24-28), Peter (1 Cor 1:12) and others. This fascination with big names is typical for Greek culture and it has caused division in the church. Paul counters this by saying that it matters little who they heard the gospel from, or who they were baptised by, the real question is whether they responded to Jesus.
Paul contrasts worldly, puffed up, Greek style wisdom and knowledge to God’s wisdom and knowledge: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:24-25).
Chapter 2 Humilty and godly wisdom
Paul reminds the Corinthians how he came to Corinth and first shared the gospel with them, not by proclaiming a mystery, not by lofty words or wisdom, only by knowing Christ, and him crucified; in weakness, in fear, trembling (1 Cor 2:1-2).
Chapter 3 Working together to edify
The Corinthians are very desirous of the gifts of the Spirit and pride themselves in their spirituality. Yet Paul says that he “could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ” (1 Cor 3:1). “As long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?” (1 Cor 3:3). They have spiritual gifts, but no Spirit-like attitude or use of the gifts.
Paul defines what being spiritual really means: not spiritual gifts but being lead by the Spirit, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit, being Christ-like, selfless, loving, serving and humble. To be unspiritual means to be self-concerned, self-serving and prideful. By this definition the Corinthians for all their focus on the Spirit are very unspiritual indeed.
Paul explains that each apostle has his role, but it is God who gives growth. One sows, one waters, all take part, though each one’s role is different. Paul refuses to be divisive, rather he explains that church and individual growth should be an organic thing, not a competitive claiming of glory (1 Cor 3:6-7).
Chapter 4 True apostles
Paul draws an irony-dripping contrast between the Corinthians and the apostles that serve them. The Corinthians “have all they want” and are “rich” (1 Cor 4:8) but the apostles are “last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals. We are fools for the sake of Christ… we are weak… we are in disrepute, we are poorly clothed, hungry, thirsty, homeless and we grow weary from the work with our hands. When reviled we bless, when persecuted we endure, when slandered we speak kindly” (1 Cor 4:9-13). Paul has modeled to the Corinthians both power in the Spirit as well as true spirituality: selfless love, service and self-sacrifice.
Chapter 5 Shocking immorality
Paul now addresses another problem that the Corinthians don’t recognize as a problem (like the issues of pride and division): A church member is having sexual relations with his father’s wife (his own mother or possibly a stepmother). Paul calls this an immoral behavior “not found even among pagans” (1 Cor 5:1). Immorality and prostitution itself was not considered a problem in the promiscuous Corinthian society, but this behavior is offensive even to the Corinthians! Yet the church has not only allowed this, but even condoned this man’s behavior as an example of Christian freedom. The church seem to have hailed him as a trophy of a newly found freedom: “all things are lawful” (1 Cor 6:12).
It is probably this issue that Paul addressed already in his previous letter that is not preserved, instructing the church not to associate with believers living in immorality (1 Co 5:9-11). Paul didn’t say not to associate with unbelievers living in immorality. Bit they misunderstood him. And the case of this man is still not addressed.
Paul instructs the church to “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor 5:5). This is an application of church discipline in the hope of producing repentance in the man who has been excluded from the church. To make him an outsider means that he is not a brother in Christ, but again an individual that needs to be won to God, as other unbelievers.
Chapter 6 Lawsuits among believers
The believers are suing each other in court over conflicts they are having. Paul shames them for this: “Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another?” (1 Cor 6:5). This is a sore rebuke to a church that thought itself particularly well endowed with wisdom.
Paul goes on to explain why visiting prostitutes can never be an acceptable thing for a believer. The Corinthians are influenced by the dualism of Greek culture, saying that what a person does with his body has no effect on his spirit. Paul strongly counters this.
Chapter 7 Rights and responsibilities in marriage
The Corinthians, like Greek culture in general, have a very abysmal view of women: Some want to use them as prostitutes (ch 6), others want to stay away from them totally “It is well for man not to touch a woman” (1 Cor 7:1).
Paul in this chapter answers questions around marriage. In the Greek view the husband and ‘pater familias’ had total power over the wife, the children and the whole household. In Greek writings of that time all rights and privileges were with the husband, and all duties and responsibilities with the wife. In stark contrast to this, Paul in a very symmetric way gives equal rights and duties to both sides, husband and wife.
Paul does another radical thing: He says that marriage is good, but that it is not mandatory. A man – or a woman – can be “concerned about the Lord’s affairs” (1 Cor 7:34). This opens totally new choices and possibilities, especially to women.
Paul also addresses several groups of people or situations in life: those unmarried, those engaged, those married who have a spouse that hasn’t converted yet and those widowed. His basic instruction is for people to ‘stay as they are’ (1 Cor 7:21-24), but that they are free to marry. Those married to unbelievers should not ask for a divorce, but if the spouse divorces them, they are free to remarry after the earlier divorce, though they must then marry a believer.
Chapters 8 and 10 Freedom but no idolatry
Along with the normal Greek idol worship in the temples came participating in sacrifices. The meat from these sacrifices was first presented to idols, then either eaten at a temple ceremony or sold in the local meat markets. Should believers eat this sort of meat?
Paul answers that meat is simply meat and that idols are simply stone statues and that therefore there is no principle prohibition to eat such meat. “All things are lawful for me”, indeed. But if a believer’s conscience objects to it, then he should not eat such meat. Or if one believer’s freedom in eating such meat becomes a temptation to another believer to violate his conscience, then love dictates that it is better to forego eating the meat for the other believer’s sake.
It seems that the Corinthians were a bit ‘overly sure’ of their freedom, because in chapter 10 Paul sorely warns them against idolatry (1 Cor 10:14-22). Though there is freedom concerning meat eating, the Corinthian believers should in no way participate in any idolatrous practices.
Chapter 9 Selfless apostleship
In Greek culture a good speaker or philosophy teacher could demand significant money from his pupils or audience. The more money one could claim the more successful and powerful a teacher one was considered.
Paul refuses to fit this mold. He does affirm that an apostle has the right to be supported through his ministry, arguing this from common practice, Scripture and common sense. But he also says that it is his boast that he never claimed this right (Acts 18:3), and he won’t do so in the future (1 Cor 9:15-18). He defends his apostleship and sacrificial ministry to those who want to criticize him for it (1 Cor 9:19-23).
Chapter 11 Women’s dress and the Lord’s supper
In this chapter Paul corrects the Corinthian church concerning the way they run their church services. First he addresses the issue of women’s appropriate behavior in the services and then the issue of the Lord’s supper.
Paul affirms the participation of women in the church service, including them taking roles like public prayer and prophesying (1 Cor 11:5). But he requests the women to cover their heads while doing so, and objects to uncovered hair, loose hair, or shaved heads. In Greek culture it was the privilege of upper class women to wear a veil, slave women walked unveiled. Also prostitutes had their hair uncovered, the Aphrodite prostitutes were shaved. In the Dionysos cults loose hair was a sign of wild living. Paul thus is trying to find a way to include women, to give them roles, but to do this in a honorable way, so as to not associate women’s participation with any sort of immorality. He asks the man to take pride in women ministering in their midst (1 Cor 11:7).
He further criticizes the Corinthians for taking the Lord’s supper in a selfish way, not waiting for one another, not making sure that all are included.
Chapter 12 and 14 Spiritual gifts and their use in church
The Corinthian believers prided themselves in their spiritual gifts, and loved to display them publicly, sometimes in a rather selfish and chaotic way.
Paul counters this by explaining that there is no pride or merit in spiritual gifts – they are simply gifts, as Paul said earlier in 1 Cor 4:7 “What do you have, that you did not receive?” The Holy Spirit can activate any gift in any believer at his will (1 Cor 12:4-6). Paul uses the metaphor of organs in a body to illustrate that every one has a different role to play but that all roles are important (1 Cor 12:12-26).
Paul affirms the gift of tongues, but explains that speaking in tongues doesn’t serve the other person (who doesn’t understand), only the speaker himself. So it should not be used publicly or in an attention-seeking way. Paul shows that prophecy or tongues with interpretation are desirable, because they serve others.
To make their services less chaotic, Paul instructs that only two to three prophecies should be given (1 Cor 14:29). Only a few tongues should be given, and only if there is an interpretation (1 Cor 14:27-28), otherwise the speakers should be silent. He also encourages the women to ask their husbands at home, not during the service, so as to reduce the chaos in the church service (1 Cor 14:35). The command to be silent to women is not any more universal than that to the tongue speakers and the prophets. It is a situational command, restricting oneself temporarily in order to allow for order in the church service.
Chapter 15 Bodily resurrection
Some believers in Corinth held that there is no resurrection (1 Cor 15:12). Probably they are influenced by the surrounding Greek culture that was fascinated with the spiritual, – and for which to be given a body again was not a desirable thing. Possibly this is also a fruit of the ‘over-spiritualization’ in the church, thinking they have got it all already now.
Paul asserts the bodily resurrection of Jesus as a historic reality with many witnesses, including himself (1 Cor 15:3-11). He then shows that if their was no resurrection, Jesus’ death would be a sad accident only, and the gospel void. The resurrection is the seal on Jesus’ sacrifice and salvation.
Paul shows that just as Jesus was resurrected first, at the end of time all humans will undergo a physical resurrection (1 Cor 15:23), which amounts to the abolishing of death (1 Cor 15:26). Everything will be put under Jesus’ feet (1 Cor 15:27).
Paul then answers the question of how the bodily resurrection will look. In 1 Cor 15:35-54 Paul explains that the resurrected body is in clear continuation of the body before, but also far greater in nature (like a plant is from a seed), imperishable and immortal. He concludes the whole resurrection teaching by challenging them to therefore “be steadfast always excelling in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58).
Chapter 16 Generosity and travel plans
Paul reminds them to keep giving towards a love offering for the Jerusalem church and shares his plans to visit them soon. He summarizes his message to them in 1 Cor 16:14: “Let all that you do be done in love.”
Authorship of 1 Corinthians
- Paul (1 Co 1:1) and Sosthenes, described as “our brother”, so likely somebody the Corinthians were familiar with, most likely he was a Corinthian himself. He could have been a Corinthian co-worker of Paul, or the one of Chloe’s people that actually informed Paul of some happenings in the church.
- The only other time a Sosthenes is mentioned it is in Acts 18:17, that one is the ruler of the Synagogue in Corinth and gets beaten up, after the Jews unsuccessfully attack Paul. Could it be that he became a believer and joined the church? Maybe. But maybe this is another person.
To whom was the book written?
- 1 Co 1:2 “To the church of God in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of the Lord”.
- Two key themes are exposed here: sanctification and the unity with other churches. The Corinthian church is not the only church, not are they a superior church, they are one church in the context of the bigger whole.
From where was the book written?
- 1 Co 16:8-9 “I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me and there are many adversaries”. This would be the Pentecost of year 56 AD most likely.
- 1 Co 16:19 “the churches of Asia send greetings, Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house”. During the 2 ½ years in Ephesus, towards the end, he is making travel plans to visit them.
What was the historical background?
Geography of Corinth
- Corinth was the leading city of Achaia at the time. Politically and Economically. Politically the seat of the Roman Province Achaia Government and economically the most important port and center. Athens was the educational center.
- Corinth is located on a 6-20 km Isthmus, connecting the Greek mainland with the Peloponesian peninsula. It was the crossroads of Greece. Especially since the 200 miles to ship around the Peloponesian peninsula was considered the most dangerous thing to do in the whole Mediterranean. And storms are possible 9 months of 12, and very likely the winter 3 months. So much so that most of the ship-traffic preferred to go via Corinth. Smaller ships were actually put on rolling units and were hauled across the Isthmus, bigger ships were unloaded at one side and the cargo reloaded on another ship on the other side. Either way: much traffic and much trade!
- There was talk in ancient times of cutting a canal across the isthmus, an attempt by Nero in AD 66 was abandoned. Experts told him that the seas on each side were at different levels, so flooding would occur! Instead, a stone road was built between the two ports. A canal was finally built in 1893 AD by Napoleon.
- Acro-corinth, around 650 m elevated, very easy to defend stronghold.
History of Corinth
- 1000 BC Corinth existed as early as that, settled by Phoenicians > introduced profitable business and impure deity worship.
- Later: Greeks later took control and called the city Corinth.
- 335 to 197 BC Macedonians held the city from Alexander’s time.
- Soon it became one of the foremost cities of Greece, a rival to Athens, with flourishing trade, outstandingly beautiful in its appearance, powerful and influential.
- 146 BC Rome conquered Greece, completely destroyed Corinth, that had rebelled against Rome > uninhabitable ruins
- 44 BC Julius Caesar took pride to rebuild Corinth and soon it became again a great and beautiful city, famous for its grad buildings, in a sense even greater than Athens, and shining-new.
- In 27 BC it became the capital of Achaia, and the seat of Roman government, with a proconsul residing there. Acts 18:12-17 Gallio, half-brother of Seneca was proconsul, refusing to judge Paul.
- Roman freedmen were the most numerous inhabitants, but Greeks, Jews and other peoples settled there, it becoming a cosmopolitan port city. The population was 200,000, plus 500,000 slaves, squashed into a small area.
- It was a rough, tough city with a bad reputation.
- Strategic location of the Isthmus, center of trade and transport > Corinth again became wealthy
- Corinth also became a center of exquisite art, paintings, pottery, bronze work and the like. Corinthian bronze was regarded more highly than silver, and even gold … among other things they exported bronze mirrors (as glass mirrors didn’t exist yet). This is probably what Paul refers to in 1 Co 13: 12 … “for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face”
- Corinth also hosted the two yearly “Isthmian Games”, an athletic competition. These games were held in honor of the sea-god Poseidon. Paul most likely refers to the Isthmian games when he says in 1 Co 9:24-25. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do get a crown that will last forever”.
Corinth’s Spiritual Background
- Corinth boasted twelve major temples, and the so-called “Acrocorinth” a temple hill, with Corinth at its feet. The basic religion was Greek idol worship.
- The most popular was Aphrodite (the Roman Venus, Phoenician Ashtoreth, Egyptian Ishtar), the goddess of beauty, love, sexual pleasure, procreation, prostitution. She had several temples, with the center being on the Acrocorinth.
- Glorification of sex. Temple prostitution was common, at one time a historian records 1000 Aphrodite temple prostitutes in Corinth, beside normal ones.
- Aphrodite in Greek mythology is an incredibly beautiful goddess who magically makes all people fall in love with her, including the top-God Zeus. Nobody can escape her spell. Married couples as well as prostitutes would look to her for blessing.
- Prostitutes in Corinth were not so much looked down upon, rather they had a spiritual influence and function as well. At one point in history when war threatened the Greeks it was the prostitutes who entered the temple and together prayed for the salvation of the Greeks … “with success”.
- Prostitutes generally had their heads uncovered, this was one way to recognize a prostitute. Every morning the Aphrodite prostitutes would descend from the Acrocorinth in a long line in white dress with shaved heads into the city to get clients in the market.
- Other gods were Poseidon (the Roman Neptune or Phoenecian Baal Melkart) the god of the sea, of navigation, of seamen and seafaring
- Apollos, the god of prophecy, music, song, medicine, arts, philosophy and law, male beauty > kind of like an “upper society god” and quite reflective of the Greek fascination with science, logic and philosophy, also homosexuality
- Bacchus, a deity worshiped in a mystery cult. Typical for the worship of Bacchus was debauchery, sexual promiscuity, and “wild behavior”. For women this wild behavior consisted of free-flying hair. Also this cult was famous for sex-reversals, men wearing long open hair and women shaving their heads, dressing like men.
- Worship of the gods and attendance at the temples was a central part of life in Greek society. All family celebrations would be held at the temple. Trade Guilds would be centered in the temple of their patron god (see 1 Cor 8-10). Ritual prostitution was a normal part of life (see 1 Cor 5-6)
- Corinth was wealthy, beautiful, famous. But it was most famous for its self-indulgent lifestyle. The word for debauchery and reckless living in Greek was “to corinth”. The Greek word for a prostitute was “Corinthian girl”.
- Prostitution is to a degree typical for every sea-port, but Corinth really excelled in this sad business. Merchants and sailors squandered their earnings on prostitution and wild life. Idolatry <> immorality <> debauchery. Sin City!
When was the church founded? History of the church?
- Acts 18:1-18 tells us the foundation story. It’s the second missionary journey, 50 AD. Paul just was in Athens, having sent back Timothy with a letter to the Thessalonians. Later Silas and Timothy join him again.
- Ac 18:1 Paul arrives in Corinth
- Ac 18:2-3 Paul meets a Jewish couple, Aquila and Priscilla. They were expelled from Rome by Emperor Claudius’ edict (49 AD) prior to coming to Corinth, which allows us to date the Corinth time very exactly > 50-52 AD. Paul lives and works with them. They either become believers in Corinth or were believers from before. They also become teachers, church planters and leaders themselves.
- Ac 18:4-5 “Every Sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks … Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus”. A gift from the churches in Macedonia and Philippi, probably brought by Timothy and Silas enabled him to devote himself full-time to preaching. Note that he receives money from Macedonia, not Corinth (1 Cor 8-9)
- Ac 18:6 helped by Timothy and Silas > many believe > opposition. > left synagogue, and went to the house of
- Ac 18:7-8 Titius Justus (worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue. Crispus, synagogue official
becomes believer, with his household, and many Corinthians > baptized
- Ac 18:9-11 God encouraging Paul to speak, to not be afraid, to stay. Probably afraid (came in fear and trembling 1
Cor 2:3), worn down by continual opposition … After this word stays one and a half year teaching >
converted some Jews, many Greeks
- Ac 18:12-17 Jews mounting an attack … Gallio, (half?) brother of Seneca (Nero’s tutor & philosopher), and (later?)
MP in Rome … not bowing to pressure like Pilate, refuses to judge Paul. Precise dating (made procounsul in July 51 AD, left in 52 BC because of a fever. Gallio was known for his amiable character and wit, perhaps the Jews thought he would be sympathetic to them. Sosthenes, probably the new synagogue official, is beaten up in front of tribunal, most likely for becoming a believer.
- Ac 18:18 Paul made some sort of vow in Corinth, as he cut off his hair in Cenchreae, the port of Corinth. This may
have been a Nazarite vow. Interesting for he tells the Corinthians that short hair is ‘normal’ for men. Priscilla and Aquila go with Paul to Ephesus, where they stay, minister to Apollos (Acts 18:24). Prisca & Aquila later return to Rome (Rom 16:3-5) and again later were back in Ephesus (2 Tim 4:19). Paul moves on to Jerusalem and Antioch.
- Ac 18:27 Apollos goes to Achaia and Corinth and helps the churches there by preaching to Jews and apologetics. Apollos “watered” what Paul had planted (1 Cor 1;12, 3:6).
- 1 Co 1:12 Cephas (Peter) visits the church and ministers there
- Ac 19 At the start of the third missionary journey, Paul visited Galatia on his way to Ephesus, where he works
3 years: evangelism, training, workers’ development … all Asia hears the word. AD 53-56
Occasion of the letter – The Corinthian Correspondence see handout
- 1st Visit: Paul established the church in Corinth on 2nd Missionary Journey 50-52 AD. He stayed 1 ½ years, then left for Ephesus (Acts 18:1-18).
- 1st Letter: “PREVIOUS LETTER“. Paul warns them not to associate with immoral believers (link to 1 Co 5:9), but it was misunderstood (1 Co 5:10-11). This letter is lost. (Some think that it is part of 2 Corinthians: 2 Co 6:14 – 7:1).
- Reports from Chloe’s people about misunderstandings over his first letter and about divisions, disorder and contentions in the church (1 Co 1:11), bad behavior at the Lord’s Table (1 Co 11:18) and rejection of Paul’s authority (1 Co 4:3,18).
- Letter from the Corinthians to Paul, asking questions about Marriage, Food offered to idols, Spiritual gifts (1 Co 7:1 “now concerning…”). Probably carried by Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus (1 Co 16:17-18), who also brought news of immorality in the church.
- Original plan as for Paul to visit Corinth after traveling through Macedonia, after staying in Ephesus until Pentecost (1 Co 16:5-9).
- 2nd Letter = 1 CORINTHIANS, written AD 55 from Ephesus on the 3rd Missionary Journey, probably carried by Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus (1 Co 16:15-18).
- additional probable plan to send Timothy to Ephesus before Paul himself was going, maybe to see how the Corinthian church had responded to “1 CORINTHIANS” (1 Co 16:10-11, Acts 19:22).
Why is he writing the letter of 1 Corinthians? What occasioned it?
- 1 Co 7:1 “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote” … The Corinthians wrote a letter to Paul asking him about matters, chapter 7-16 is Paul’s answer to their questions and concerns.
- How does this letter come to Paul? 1 Cor 16:17 “I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours”.
- 1 Cor 1:11 … For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you …
- Chloe and her people, her household or her house church seems to see problems in Corinth that are going out of hand and that need addressing. So she sends a delegation to inform Paul aware of what is going on. Clearly she has some leadership in the church, at least over this house church. She is perceptive, she is concerned, she is initiative enough to send a team abroad. And Paul seems to fully trust her judgment or report. It is her report that occasions 1 Cor 1-6, Paul very much picks up what she tells him and answers it.
- 1 Cor 5:9 “I wrote to you in my letter” … Paul mentions a letter, where he wrote something that created confusion in the Corinthians and which Paul addresses now again, explaining further. This must refer to a letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians at some time before 1 CORINTHIANS. We do not have this letter preserved for us in the Bible. This is usually called the “PREVIOUS LETTER”.
- Remember in Colossians (Col 4:15) that a “letter to the Laodicians” is mentioned? What should we make of something like this? Christians hold that God has not only inspired Paul and other New Testament writers, but that be also sovereignly watched over these writings and that He preserved carefully those he wanted us to have and made sure they made it into the Canon.
- 1 Cor 16:10-11 Paul gives instructions concerning Timothy: “If Timothy comes, see that he has nothing to fear among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord just as I am, therefore let no one despise him”. … Why is Paul so preventive-defensive? What is Paul worried about? Timothy seems to be on the shy side, but ‘nothing to fear’ is a strong statement! How are the Corinthians seeing Timothy orjudging Timothy?
- Also he wants to send Timothy ahead and obviously expects him back before his own departure: 1 Co 16:11 “for I am expecting him with the brothers …”.
- It seems Paul realizes that Corinth really needs help but he really can’t run off himself right now, because he is very bound up with things in Ephesus. He preventatively writes 1 Corinthians, he strengthens and surely instructs Stephanas, Forntunatus and Achaicus and furthermore he wants to send Timothy a bit later to see how the letter of “1 CORINTHIANS” was received … and then Paul will go visit them:
- 1 Cor 16:5-7 “I will visit you after passing through Macedonia … perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter … I do not want to see you now just in passing, for I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits”.
• Also in 1 Cor 16:3 he says concerning the money collection: “when I arrive, I will send any whom you approve”.
- now the story will continue when we read 2 Corinthians. But for now we just note that there is a bit back and forth between Ephesus and Corinth that is not mentioned in detail in Acts. Luke will summarize all this back and forth with a simple paragraph (Acts 20:1-3): “Paul … left for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given the believers much encouragement he came to Greece, where he stayed for three months”.
- Since there is a time span and traveling between 1 and 2 Corinthians, and the date for 2 Corinthians is 56 AD, 1 Corinthians is written about 55 AD.
Who makes up the church?
- some Jews, many Greeks (Acts 18:1-17)
- slaves and free (1 Cor 7:20-24)
- men and women (1 Cor 7). All sorts are specifically mentioned: unmarried, married, married to unbeliever, widows
- rich and poor, lower classes, some higher classes (1 Cor 1:26). Erastus some years later is city treasurer (Rom 16:23).
- educated and uneducated (1 Cor 1:26)
- We can conclude that the church represented every segment of Corinthian society and that there was significant diversity concerning ethnics, status, economy and gender.
Collecting Corinthian believers
A significant amount of people who made up the church in Corinth can be gleaned from Acts and the Corinthian letters. Here is a listing and what is known about them:
- Sosthenes. He is the co-author, scribe, secretary to Paul in writing the letter of “1 CORINTHIANS” (1 Cor 1:1).
- Acts 18:17 mentions that the replacement ruler of the synagogue after Crispus had become a believer, after the unsuccessful attempt to have Paul judged by the proconsul Gallio by frustrated Jew-Jews. Why did they beat him? possibly he also became a believer. This may or may not be the co-author of 1 Corinthians.
- Crispus: A Jew, synagogue official, converts, followed by Sosthenes (Acts 18:8). 1 Cor 1:14 mentions a Crispus as early converts that Paul baptized.
- Gaius, according to 1 Cor 1:14 he is an early convert that Paul baptized. Rom 16:23 mentions one Gaius who hosts Paul on third visit (after the whole crisis is over). He knows Roman believers.
- Titius Justus: Acts 18:7 mentions him as a Gentile God-fearer, who lived in the house next door to the synagogue, Paul went to his house after being rejected by the Jews. Some think he is the same as Gaius.
- Stephanas: According to 1 Co 1:16 he is an early convert that Paul baptized. 1 Co 16:15-16 mentions that Stephanas and members of his household were the first converts in Achaia and devoted themselves to serving the saints. Paul urges the believers to be subject or to be of service to such men, and those toiling with them. 1 Co 16:17 mentions that Stephanas with Fortunatus and Achaicus brought a letter from the Corinthians to Paul to Ephesus. Maybe Stephanas is the leader of the church, after Paul’s heart, but maybe sidelined by current Greek style preachers. Also: the name Stephanas in Greek could be the name of either a man or a woman, because of hisleadership it is usually assumed he is a man, but that is not sure.
- Fortunatus and Achaicus (1 Co 16:17) are part of Stephanas’ group, most probably other faithful Corinthian believers, probably elders.
- Chloe and her people, possibly her house church (1 Co 1:11). In Greek it is literally “those of Chloe”. There are two other Scriptures in which Paul uses the exact same phrase: Rom 16:10b “those of Aristobolus” and Rom 16:11b “those of Narcissus who are in the Lord”. These two passages in Romans are usually understood to be greetings to house churches and their leader. Also with similar expressions housechurches are mentioned elsewhere: Corinth: 1 Cor 16:15 “members of the household of Stephanas”. In Ephesus (2 Ti 1:16, 4:19): “household of Onesiphorus” and (1 Cor 16:19): “Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house”. In Colossae (Col 4:15): “Nympha and the church in her house”. In Rome (Rom 16:3-5): “greet Prisca and Aquila … who risked their necks for my life … greet also the church in their house”.
- So we find in Corinth a woman leading a house church. Not only that, but she has pastoral concern for the church and right judgment enough to realize that there is things going on in the church that need to be addressed by a higher authority. She furthermore sends a delegation to Paul. Paul obviously trusts her information, assessment and judgment and we will find, that the first segment of the letter, Paul will deal with issues that this woman had raised and will instruct and rebuke the church on the basis of her information.
- A man committing sexual immorality with his own father’s wife (step-mother most likely, 1 Cor 5:1).
- Tertius, Erastus, Quartus: Rom 16:22-23 mentions greetings from an Erastus, the city treasurer, and Quartus. Also one Tertius is mentioned as scribe for Paul. These were most likely Corinthians, as Paul writes the letter of Romans from Corinth in 56 AD.
- Phoebe of Cenchrea (Rom 16:1-2). When Paul writes the letter to the Romans from Corinth, he chooses a Corinthian person for the important job of delivering the letter: Phoebe, another woman, a deacon of the Cenchrea church, a benefactor of Paul and many others. Paul gives a high recommendation and full indorsement of Phoebe.
Strengths of the church
- 1 Co 1:4 grace given, in every way enriched, in speech and knowledge of any kind
- 1 Co 1:27 chosen, though not of noble birth
- The Corinthians have freedom, have desire for Spirit, love and use of spiritual gifts, have given women part in worship and prophesy.
- 1 Co 7:1 are willing to be ascetic
Weaknesses of the church?
- 1 Co 1:10-11 dissensions, quarrels
- 1 Co 3:1-3 not spiritual, still of flesh, as infants, can’t handle meat yet, jealousy, quarreling, human inclinations
- 1 Co 3:31 boasting
- 1 Co 4:5 Judging
- 1 Cor 4:6 puffed up
- 1 Cor 4:18 arrogance
- 1 Co 5:1 immorality and tolerating it
- 1 Co 6:8 wronging / prosecuting brothers
- 1 Co 7:5 refusing conjugal rights
- 1 Co 7:9 lack of self-control
- 1 Co 7:11 divorce
- 1 Co 10:14, 21 idol worship, eating at temples
- 1 Co 10:27 disregarding conscience of unbeliever
- 1 Co 11:6 women prophesying uncovered or shaven
- 1 Co 11:20-33 inappropriate taking of the Lord’s supper
- 1 Co 14:27 tongues without interpretation
- 1 Co 14:26 gifts but not edifying
- 1 Co 5:12 no belief in resurrection …
- 1 Co 16:11 likely to despise a Timothy
- mostly prose > literal interpretation
- some OT quotes in poetry > figurative interpretation
- epistle in Greek letter writing style: 1 Co 1:1 author. 1:2 addressee. 1:3 blessing. 1:4-9 thanksgiving and affirmation. 1:10 body.
- 1 Co 16:5-20 plans, instructions, greetings from people.
- 1 Co 16:21-24 blessing and personal blessing.
- topical arrangement of materials
- Paul quotes quite a few slogans that are commonly used among the Corinthians:
- 1 Co 1:12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos” or “I belong to Cephas” or ”I belong to Christ”.
- 1 Co 1:15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name.
- 1 Co 4:8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you.
- 1 Co 6:12 “All things are lawful for me” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me” but I will not be dominated by anything.
- 1 Co 6:13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other.
- 1 Co 7:1-2 “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
- 1 Co 8:1 We know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
- 1 Co 8:4 we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.”
- 1 Co 8:8-9 “Food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
- 1 Co 14:35 “Women should be silent in the churches”. … did the word of God originate with you?
- 1 Co 15:12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
- 1 Co 15:35 But someone will ask “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”
- Radiation: The famous 1 Co 13 is a crucial passage, like an underlying theme or principle that determines the way the practical problems are addressed. Love is the answer and the guiding principle to be applied in everyday life and conflicts.
- Paul uses more Rhetorical Questions in this letter than anywhere else, for example (1 Co 1:13): “Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” In total there is well over a hundred biting, thought-provoking, often ironic question, which are a slap in the face of spiritual pride.
- Irony, for example (1 Cor 4:8): “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings!” Paul expresses his frustration by using irony. Irony would be a literary style very familiar to the Greek audience.
- The frequent use of the Greek work “Eta” in 1 Corinthians: “Eta” is a disjunctive conjunction. It is used to distinguish things or thoughts which either mutually exclude each other, or one thought which which can take the place of the other. If used at the beginning of a sentence “eta” expresses that the author disagrees with the preceding sentence. The author indicates that he disagrees, denies or refutes what was just said (Thayer’s Greek‑English Lexicon of the New Testament). While the King James and the Revised Standard Versions translate the provocative “eta” with “What!” or “What?” in many places, they, like the NIV, completely omit translating it. Following are several places in 1 Corinthians where Paul uses this conjunction. Whenever you see the “eta”, you may read either “Nonsense!”, “What!”, or “What?” or “no way!”
“Eta” in 1 Corinthians
- 1 Cor 1:12‑14: I mean each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? NONSENSE! I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius …
- 1 Cor 6:1‑2: “When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he dare go to the law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? NONSENSE! Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?
- 1 Cor 6:8‑9: “But you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that even your own brethren. WHAT? Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?”
- 1 Cor 6:15‑17: “Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? NEVER! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is written, “The two shall become one flesh.” But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”
- 1 Cor 6:18‑20: “Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. WHAT? Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
- 1 Cor 9:5‑8: “Do we not have a right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? NONSENSE! Is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? NONSENSE! Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating of its fruit? Who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? NONSENSE! Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law say the same?”
- 1 Cor 10:21‑22: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. WHAT? Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”
- 1 Cor 11:21‑22: “For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. WHAT! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.”
- 1 Cor 14:33‑38: “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. “For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church”. WHAT! Did the word of God originate with you? NONSENSE! Are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.”
Main themes / topics?
- addressing problems in the church (division, immorality, court cases, pride)
- answering question of the church (marriage, food sacrificed to idols, appropriate worship, the Lord’s supper, spiritual gifts, women)
- sacrificial love is the answer to all problems
- teaching against Greek philosophy / thinking
- Jesus has not yet come but a full physical resurrection will happen to all believers
Main reasons / goals for writing the book?
- so that the Corinthians would address their problems and get godly answers to their questions
- so that they would learn to live by love, serving and building up one another, and forsake pride and self-concern
- to break the influence of Greek philosophy / thinking and the Corinthians will learn to put value on the right things
- so that they will get right teaching and full assurance about the bodily resurrection of all believers.
Color coding 1 Corinthians
When coloring 1 Corinthians watch out for:
- names, people, groups
- when, where
- contrasts, comparisons
- quotation marks
- wisdom, wise, foolishness, fools, mysteries, knowledge, know, discernment, deception
- message, proclaim, words, speech
- Spirit, spiritual, worldly, human
- Power, strong, weak, weakness
- Sin, immorality, idols, idolatry, disobedience
- One, unity, all vs division, groups
- Death, life, resurrection, heavenly
Structure of the Book
- We already found the basic structure of the book: 1 Co 7:1 “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote …”. Isn’t it interesting that Paul doesn’t even get around to answering the Corinthians’ questions till 1 Cor 7! Why do you think this is?
- What does he address till chapter 7? > Issues raised not in the letter that the Corinthians wrote, but issues raised by the report of Chloe’s people and Stephanas. These are problems that the church doesn’t see as problems, though Chloe, Stephanas, godly people and Paul do.
- Why do you think Paul does this (not answering their questions till half through the book)? Could it be, that the Corinthians were worried about the wrong things? Or that they worried about real issues, but with wrong motives and attitude? Or with wrong basic understanding of God?
- Paul seems to see the problem of the Corinthian church differently as (at least) some Corinthians. Or he seems to see the things mentioned as an outflow of underlying wrong understanding, wrong attitude …
- Definitely there is a humbling aspect in the fact that Paul addresses lots of things before the questions that were asked … and it does seem to speak of the Corinthians having different priorities. Keep this discrepancy in mind as we now look at some concrete topics and problems.
- In summary: first division addressing issues, second division answering questions
Overview over the topics addressed in 1 Corinthians
- divisions over leaders chapter 1 first half
- worldly versus true wisdom chapter 1 second half
- right attitude towards leadership chapter 3
- Paul’s defense of his apostleship chapter 4, chapter 9
- tolerance of sexual immorality chapter 5
- lawsuits chapter 6 first half
- immorality, prostitution chapter 6 second half
- marriage chapter 7
- food offered to idols chapter 6:12-14, chapter 8
- rights of a Christian worker chapter 9
- idol worship chapter 10:13-22
- head-covering public worship chapter 11 first half
- Lord’s Supper public worship chapter 11 second half
- Spiritual gifts and function public worship chapter 12, also 1:14-16
- Basis for everything; love chapter 13 radiation passage
- order & goal of gifts public worship chapter 14
- resurrection chapter 15
- Money collection chapter 16:1-4
What topics does Paul teach about while addressing this issues
- God’s wisdom versus worldly wisdom 1 Co 1:18-31, chapter 2
- true apostleship / servant leadership 1 Co 3:5-15, chapter 4, chapter 9
- Godly living is not optional (prostitution & idolatry) 1 Co chapter 10
- Gender issues in the church 1 Co chapter 11
- Body of Christ 1 Co 12:12-31
- Love 1 Co chapter 13
- Resurrection of Christ, Jesus’ second coming 1 Co chapter 15
What are some of the underlying root causes out of these two lists?
- a sense of superiority, an underlying spiritual pride, boasting, competition, lack of love, judging
- a fascination with the flashy, spectacular, eloquence, the limelight
- power politics
- selfishness, self-seeking
- wrong view of the body … asceticism (body is evil) or license (body doesn’t matter), both pre-gnostic
- no resurrection (1 Cor 15:12), no place for death in their theology, resurrection was spiritualized, no bodily resurrection. Christ’s return wouldn’t alter anything
Someone said: “There was a church in Corinth, but there was too much of Corinth in the church”.
Greek Culture and Philosophy
- Europe (and its extension America, and later colonies) and all its philosophy has two major roots or influences, the Judeo-Christian and the Greek. The two are in many points at opposition or conflict with each other. Europe has always oscillated between the two and history has gone accordingly. Currently there is a clear Greek shift in the Western world.
Greek Itinerant Philosophers
- In 1st century Greece there were many traveling teachers and philosophers.
- They traveled around teaching in different centers of education.
- They earned money from their teaching. Better teachers would earn more. Only a very inferior teacher would have to work with their hands to earn money. Working with hands was considered most degrading.
- Disciples would name themselves after their favorite teacher, or school of teaching.
- Knowledge is honored, pursued, almost deified … knowing is enough … reason, logic is the way to know
- Dichotomist thinking, thinking in categories, subdividing life into separate parts that have no connection.
- Greek philosophy: to know = to know about
- Biblical thinking: to know = to believe = to do = to experience = to love = to have sex with (“he knew his wife”)
- Biblical thinking is integrated, life is one whole, everything is interrelated
- no separation of knowing and practicing, of theory and practice
- If you don’t obey a law, you don’t know it.
- Greek: Sophia. Philosophy means the “love of wisdom”.
- Great respect & honor for wisdom, learning, education, knowledge, reason, logic, argument, eloquence
- Greek philosophy: to be wise = to be intelligent, knowledgeable, logical … a matter of skill
- Biblical thinking: to be wise = to know good and evil, to choose good … a matter of character
Eloquence or Rhethorics
- Great importance on how one speaks > eloquent, long words, fluent speech, pleasing words, skillful use of Greek style, smartness , cleverness, persuasion by argument and logic
- Greek philosophy asks: did he say it well?
- Biblical thinking asks: is it true?
- Acts 17:21 “Now all the Athenians and the foreigners there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” … it had to be new, different, tickling intellect
- outward focus on talent, skill, ability, health, athleticism, intelligence, accomplishment, eloquence, beauty, appearance, position, reputation
- Completely contrary Biblical thinking: inward focus on character, attitude, good use of what’s given, faithfulness, diligence, selflessness, generosity, humility
- Aristotle: God is so transcendent, he doesn’t know there is a material world.
- The spiritual world is the good, real, perfect, desirable world … the material world is either evil or irrelevant … goal to escape the material world.
- Physical resurrection is not only impossible, unreal, but also not desirable
- Plato: the material world is inferior, a shadow only, far from the real God (who is an impersonal principle of form and order). The world is made by a lesser god. For God to enter the material world is to defile himself.
- Dualism lead to division of spiritual and material … therefore to a low view of the physical body / world …
- spiritual world = good … physical world and body = bad … we Christians have become very Greek indeed! leading to either of two things:
- 1 License (ch 5-6): If the material is inferior > it doesn’t matter, what a person does with the body > it will not affect the spirit within > immorality and prostitution is no problem since of no spiritual consequence
- 2 Asceticism (ch 7): If the material is evil > spirit needs to be set free to receive greater revelation > the body must be subdued and brought into submission to the spirit. How? through fasting, no good food, punishing the body, not sexual relations, no marriage
- Thinking that they are living in ‘the age to come’, ruling and reigning in glory now, enjoying all the eschatological blessings (freedom, fullness and consummation of salvation) now
- Over-focus on spiritual gifts, leading to comparison, competition, selfish use or self-promoting use, spiritual pride, lack of love and consideration, judging unbelievers, but not themselves (1 Co 4:5, 5:9, ch 6)
- They said there was no resurrection (1 Co 15:12), there is no place for death in their theology, neither for a physical resurrection. Christ’s return would not alter the way they were living.
Summary of Greek Philosophy
Greek philosophy favors: Biblical Thinking favors:
Spirit over Body Physical and Spiritual world
Skill, Talent Attitude, Behavior
Eloquence, Logic Truth
Status or Position Worthiness
Intelligence Willing mind
Argumentation Desire for truth
Talent Attitude, Behavior
Skill Obedience, Virtue
The Fundamental Question
So the question in Corinth was: What does it mean to be wise and what does it mean to be spiritual? And: influenced by Greek thinking the Corinthians mostly answered it wrong. Paul is trying to set them right.
1 Co 1:22-24 “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Effect of Greek Philosophy on the Church
Corinthians’ resulting questions or objections about Paul:
- Paul is not truly “spiritual, he doesn’t really have authority
- Paul is not a good speaker (1 Co 2:4), does he do well at using Greek rhetoric, no persuasion, no eloquence
- Paul doesn’t have real wisdom
- Paul is not good-looking, nor exciting, nor impressive, nor presentable
- Paul doesn’t accept money from them (1 Co 9) rather he works with his hands
- Paul suffers and lives a sacrificial lifestyle
- There are much better teachers or orators (especially Apollos), leading to divisions in the church
- A love of wisdom and words
- an impressed-ness with the outward, the shiny, the smart, feeding pride, comparison, competition, dissensions
- a disregard for the importance of a godly lifestyle, service, sacrificial and enduring lifestyle
- This thinking set the church up for trouble > for superficiality, for ego-trips, for pride, for comparison, for division, for judgmental attitude, for immorality
1 Corinthians Chapter by Chapter
- 1 Cor 1:1-9 Thanksgiving, prayer – Exposure of themes
- 1 Cor 1:1 Paul’s self-identification is simple … apostle of Christ by the will of God …
- that’s what he is, that’s what after all their fascination with the big shots he still is: the pioneer of there area, the founder of their church
- 1 Cor 1:2 Paul’s description of the readers … church of God in Corinth … those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus … called to be saints … together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
- He affirms their calling (in spite of all their problems), but he also defines what church is meant to be: sanctified saints
- the measure is not eloquence, flashy preaching or spiritual gifts, but growing in God-likeness
- Also he reminds them they are not alone, not the only ones, not the center of the world … many have believed, share their status and destiny
- 1 Cor 1:4-9 the thanksgiving prayer in the beginning. He lines up major topics addressed in the letter
- “grace” has been given > Paul is affirming grace as undeserved gift, to be humbly received
- “enriched in speech, knowledge” > affirming wisdom, knowledge
- “not lacking in spiritual gifts” > affirming spiritual gifts
- “wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” > affirming the reality of the resurrection
- “he will strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” > sanctification is needed and possible
- “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son” > call into relationship with God
- 1 Cor 1:10-17 Divisions, quarrels, disunity. These themes are continued till the end of chapter 4. Here the division is over adhering to different leaders or teachers. Actually, the Corinthians were divided over just about anything, but here Paul addresses division over leadership.
- Remember, they are a church that had quite an array of famous teachers and apostles coming: Paul, Apollos, Peter
- Apollos? Acts 18:24-28 He is a Jew from Alexandria, eloquent, well-versed in scriptures, burning enthusiasm, aught accurately, bold, accepts teaching by Priscilla and Aquila, crosses over to Achaia, greatly helped believers there by powerfully refuting the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.
- The underlying problems are fascination with big names, pride, impressed-ness with the wrong things.
- Paul counters this by sending them not another ‘even bigger’ shot, but the shy and young Timothy, one who models the right attitude:
- 1 Co 4:17 “For this reason I sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus”
- 1 Co 16:10-11 “If Timothy comes, see that he has nothing to fear among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord just as I am; therefore let no one despise him”
- Paul here is defending and protecting Timothy … Why is this necessary? Timothy was part of the missionary band that founded the church, that spent lots of time with them. Yes he is shy … but why is that a problem?
- Their attitude is not only fascination with the big shots, and with valuing the wrong thing, but by actively looking down on leaders, even godly leaders, – and again for the wrong reasons. Not only do they sign up with the wrong thing, they also look down of the right thing.
- 1 Cor 1:18-31 Worldly wisdom versus God’s wisdom. Paul shows a contrast: worldly, showy, Greek style, puffed up by wisdom and knowledge versus God’s wisdom and knowledge.
- 1 Cor 1:18 “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”
- What about the message of the cross is foolishness? > blessing when reviled, forgiving when treated unjustly, serving when lorded over, loving when looked down upon.
- meekness will inherit the world, vulnerabilty will conquer, sacrifice will win, giving away will make rich, self-denial will make joyful, self-control will make free.
- money. Some may advise: “If you donated away less money, you would have more.” No. I will never be richer by giving less.
- power. Some may say: ‘Do politics, unless you play the game, unless you are smart and let some odd be even … you will never make it into high leadership”. Maybe, but that is nor godly leadership anyway.
- fame. Some say: unless you promote yourself, unless you make a good appearance, unless you please the right people, you will never get into the limelight.
- 1 Co 1:19-21 God humbling us, God resisting our pride. Only in humility do we understand, only in humility do we become wise.
- 1 Co 1:22-24 “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength”.
- Jews: always demanding for a sign, for supernatural evidence, for spiritual power and proof … then ethno-centric applying thereof.
- Greeks: always desire wisdom, but here God thwarts smartness, self-congratulation, self-pleasing knowledge. Only humility will really understand.
- Jesus has shown it to us: The cross is the inversion of everything – we humans not only deny God, we ridicule him, we attack him when he comes, we kill him … and the God takes this act of atrocity and makes it the foundation of grace, providing mercy and forgiveness to us!
- C.S. Lewis says that pride always looks down, and if you look down, you can never see God, who is unfathomable above us.
- 1 Cor 1:26-31 “God choose the foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” Modern day examples: Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Church in East Germany.
- Contrast: limelight, big names, party spirit, power politics versus servants or good stewards of God’s gospel, faithfully and sacrificially working against the odds and often in dishonor.
- Our modern culture is very, very, deeply Greek! We need to break this pattern, we need to cry out on our knees for change, we need to radically think different in our hearts, we need to commit deeply to a Jesus’ style leadership.
- God is not concerned with our status, talents, abilities. He is not impressed with its presence. He is not limited by an apparent lack thereof.
- Again: God or the gospel is the great Leveler, the great Humbler, but also the great Developer of us humans.
- Note that Paul does not actually condemn wisdom or knowledge, he discourages a puffed-up, competitive, self-promoting wisdom and knowledge. He tries to encourage the Corinthians not away from wisdom and knowledge but towards a humble, God-fearing, others-serving wisdom and knowledge.
Repeated Question: Do you not know?
This question occurs ten times in 1 Corinthians:
- 1 Co 3:16 “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
- 1 Co 5:6 “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?”
- 1 Co 6:2 “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?”
- 1 Co 6:3 “Do you not know that we sill judge angels?”
- 1 Co 6:9 “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?”
- 1 Co 6:15 “Do you not know that your bodies are the members of Christ?”
- 1 Co 6:16 “Do you now know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her?”
- 1 Co 6:19 “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit … and that you are not your own?”
- 1 Co 9:13 “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple?”
- 10 x this provocative, convicting question to people who think themselves so wise and spiritual! Paul is biting their superiority and humbling their pride.
- Application? We today also live in a time or society that is completely taken up by a pursuit of education, this is where families spend their money, even money they don’t have (going into debt).
- We also experience a fascination with education, but are not really fully convinced of the fruit of that education. Our education system feeds comparison, competition, pride. It is exam-driven, rote learning driven education: You need to pass the test, you don’t need to understand, you need to get a degree, you don’t need to love or understand the subject
- Desire for knowledge, wisdom and understanding is a good thing. But Paul says the pride approach is not it.
- In our pursuit of knowledge we need to stay under God, stay in his will. Gen 3, forbidden knowledge like palm reading, astrology, future, death date … trust God to teach you and develop you.
- Even as believers who are trying to live this ‘different’ lifestyle, trying to serve, supporting other ministries, being ‘without reputation’, without title, without even job descriptions, without ordination, as lay people with no ‘letters behind our name’ we find this difficult. We don’t put down prerequisites for our staff, we have no budgets, no salaries, no securities. We are attracted to this life, but find it hard to explain to others, we like it but often feel ashamed when explaining to others, we are often ridiculed, smiled about … often we do not understand the importance of what we are doing.
Chapter 2 – Paul’s example
- 1 Cor 2:1-5 Paul in Corinth: no proclamation of mystery, no lofty words or wisdom, knowing only Christ, and him crucified, in weakness, in fear, trembling
- What does he refer to? Some say: after a rather ‘smart approach’ in Athens he felt convicted, re-evaluated and did differently in Corinth. Maybe Paul is coming in the opposite spirit to Greek philosophy? He says: fear and trembling, yet actually Athens has no persecution recorded, though Thessalonica and Philippi before had. Is he anxious about news from Thessalonica? Or possibly worried at all the “post 49 AD-edict-full-of-Jews cities” in Greece?
- 1 Cor 2:6-16 “But among the mature we do speak wisdom”
- 1 Cor 2:7 “But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” … God’s foreknowledge, sovereign planning, total control over history.
- 1 Cor 2:8 … None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. Rulers? … could be thought of as political rulers … Rome, Pontius Pilate, the Jewish Sanhedrin … supposedly sovereignly removed Jesus’ challenge by terminating him … but God makes this precisely into salvation, the gospel, the message that will go out, change, challenge all corrupt powers … in another 275 years Rome’s emperor will become a Christian, and Rome a Christian empire … who conquers whom?
- Or even with the Jews: though the Jewish faith being the parent religion, Christianity has multiplied and has more followers today, completely sidelining the Jewish faith in comparison.
- Remember Daniel 2? … Statue of the powerful Superpowers, a stone from God crushing everything, turning into a rock that will fill the earth.
- Rulers? .. behind evil and tyrannical human governments stand evil spiritual powers … here it’s even more ironically true: Satan thinks he can terminate Jesus – God – by having him killed.
- If Satan had understood, that Jesus on the cross will bring forgiveness and earn salvation for all, he would have done whatever he could to prevent Jesus’ death … but he thinks he is powerfully scheming, he’s getting his will, he’s moving all the right pieces … to utterly and terminally destroy himself !! 🙂 … who conquers who on the cross? … God’s foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of man, and of fallen angels!
- Illustration: Lord of the Rings … Sauron doesn’t ever understand what the good side is plotting, because he cannot believe that anybody who could get their hands on the ring of power would want to not wield it, but destroy it.
- 1 Cor 2:10-16 … a bit difficult passage … Basically:
- How is God’s wisdom, knowledge revealed to us? … by the Spirit of God.
- Illustration: human spirit knows what is in a human … God’s Spirit knows what is in God … so the Spirit will tell us
- 1 Cor 2:13-14 … we have received the Spirit of God those who are un-spiritual, natural, physicos
- > understand the gifts bestowed by God > do not receive gifts as they seem foolishness
- > we speak of these things in words by the Spirit > speak of these things in words taught by human wisdom
- > discern all things > unable to understand
- Usually understood as: the Great Divide between spiritual and un-spiritual, spiritual and physical. Actually Paul fights exactly this wrong dichotomy in Corinthians.
- How then should we read it?
Repeated Theme “spiritual”
- What does “spiritual” mean? Total listing in 1 Corinthians:
- 1 Co 2:13 … And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.
- 1 Co 2:15 … they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual
discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny
- 1 Co 3:1 … I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.
He says this to a church that is highly endowed with spiritual gifts (1 Co 1:5, 12, 14), and thinks itself
wise and yet he calls them ‘carnal’, people of the flesh. Having spiritual gifts does not in itself mean I
have fruit of the Spirit or am spiritual as such. Being spiritual is being Spirit-led, being Christ-like, being
loving, considerate, humble, serving, seeking the good of others.
- 1 Co 9:11 … If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefit?
- 1 Co 10:3,4,5 … They … all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them … as above, no guarantee
- 1 Co 12:1 … Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want your to be uninformed.
- 1 Co 14:1 … Pursue love, and strive for the spiritual gifts, especially prophesy.
- 1 Co 14:12 … So with yourselves, since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the
- 1 Co 14:37 … Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to your is a command of the Lord to not be divisive
- 1 Co 15:44 … It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.
- 1 Co 15:46 … But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual.
- 1 Cor 3:1-9 … division over leaders – what are apostles?
- 1 Cor 3:1-3 … very convicting, simple diagnosis by Paul: They are not spiritual people, but rather people of the flesh, as infants in Christ, still needing milk, not able to handle solid food. This is striking because they are totally into spiritual gifts, and richly endowed (1 Co 1:5).
- 1 Co 3:3b … For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? … they have spiritual gifts, but no spirit-like attitude and use of the gifts.
- Jealous, quarreling … means: still comparing, competing, prideful, taking glory for gifts, self-concerned and self-promoting in their use of gifts.
- spiritual = Spirit-lead = fruit of Spirit = Christ-like = selfless, loving, serving, sacrificing, humble
- un-spiritual = fleshly = worldly = natural = human = self-concerned, self-serving, prideful
- 1 Co 3:4 … For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?
- 1 Co 3:5-9 … What then is Apollos? What is Paul? > servants … I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth … each does according to his calling, gifting, … the glory belongs to God who gives the growth … they work in unity, always building the church. Paul refuses to be competitive, he refuses to assign himself the more important role than Apollos, he refuses to indirectly accuse Apollos for not ministering accurately and for Greek-ifying the church.
- Beautiful Illustration: One sows, one waters … all take part, each one’s part different, each needed … organic, not competitive, not claiming ‘glory’
- 1 Co 3:10-11 … In the case of Corinth: Paul laid the foundation, other apostles and teachers came later and built on it.
- 1 Co 3:11 … no man can lay another foundation than the one that has been laid: that foundation is Jesus Christ. Peter to Christ: “You are petros (pebble), and on this petra (rock) I will build my church” … the rock then being the confession of Jesus as Christ, the foundation of the church. This is not exclusively to Peter, Paul here also lays foundations.
- 1 Co 3:12-15 … Illustration shifts slightly: it started out with apostles and their ministry … and now shift to normal believers (leading on to 1 Cor 3:16-20): challenge on how I personally build on the foundation of Christ in my life: gold, silver, precious stones … or wood, hay, straw. It will be revealed by fire.
- 1 Co 3:15 … If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved but only as through fire.
- I think a challenge to the Corinthians: they have not really built well, they have run after the wrong stuff, have not used their talents well (= in love, selflessly, for edification)
- I think also a re-assurance to the Corinthians: they are saved, their salvation stands, but who wants to arrive in heaven with nothing to be able to give God? Challenge to make them think: what is really important? What lasts?
- 1 Co 3:16-17 … Do you not know that your are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? … an affirmation of them as a true church of God, with the Spirit present. If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person, a dire warning to those dividing the church with wrong focus and false teaching.
- 1 Co 3:21 … Summary: So let not one boast about human leaders … all things are yours, whether Paul, Apollos … Christ, summarizing chapter 1 – 3. Paul stays admirably gracious and affirming in his rebuke to them.
- Plenty: Are we into big names? Are we impressed with the big preachers? So and so taught in our church. So and so prayed for me. That guy prophesied this to me.
- Who do we take for role model, the cool or the faithful? Are we despising the Timothies?
- Do we listen to those who say what we like of those who say what is true?
- Do we serve when nobody will know it? Do we serve those who cannot repay us or be of advantage for us?
- Will we fight people we don’t like? Will we fight people we don’t agree with? Will we rally around us those of the same opinion?
- Do we do local “politics”, winning people’s favor and using relationships to accomplish things?
- Do we love the limelight? Do we love it, if people listen to us? When our prayer for somebody made a difference? When people take our word serious? When people allow us to have authority and influence in their lives? – yes we do. And not all of it is wrong … but we need to carefully watch our heart.
- Do I rejoice just as much, if somebody else’s prayer is heard? If somebody else really ministers successfully?
- 1 Cor 4:8-13 … Irony-dripping contrast: Corinthians <=> the apostles that serve them
- 1 Cor 4:8 … this is pure irony, Paul is biting them, trying to induce conviction, showing them their wrong thinking
- 1 Cor 4:9-13 … description of apostles: sentenced to death, spectacle to the word, fools for the sake of Christ, weak, in disrepute, poorly clothed, hungry, thirsty, homeless, work with our hands, bless when reviled, endure when persecuted, speak kindly when slandered … rubbish, dregs of all things … even more so in 2 Corinthians
- Paul has modeled both “power in the Spirit” … and also true spirituality: “selfless love & service & sacrifice”.
- Triumphalism? Not from Paul!
- 1 Cor 4:14-20 … Appeal as father in Christ … Timothy … how should I come?
- 1 Co 14:-17 … They looked-down on Timothy, Paul upholds him as true model: one who has been a true child to the father Paul, imitating Paul, in relationship with Paul.
- 1 Co 4:18-20 … But some of you, thinking that I am not coming have become arrogant …. But I will find out not the talk of theses arrogant people but their power … What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
- In 1 Corinthians Paul is rattling the cage, shaking up, biting, convicting, challenging … he will make good on this ‘threat of visit’, but it goes very badly. In 2 Corinthians he has a very different tone, bleeding heart, soul poured out, pleading.
- 1 Cor 5:1-5 Sexual immorality: adultery cum incest.
- Paul now addresses another problem in the church (which they didn’t think a problem, like pride and division): A church member having sexual relations with his father’s wife (mother or mother-in-law).
- 1 Co 5:1 … not found even among pagans … Immorality and prostitution itself was not considered a problem in the promiscuous Corinthian society, but this one is offensive even to Corinth.
- 1 Cor 5:2 … and you are arrogant! should you not rather have mourned? … seems to indicate that the church in Corinth had allowed, even condoned this man’s behavior as an example of Christian freedom … they seem to hail him as a trophy of a newly found freedom “all things are lawful” (1 Co 6:12 twice)
- It’s probably this issue that Paul addressed already in the previous letter (1 Co 5:9-11), instructing the church not to associate with believers living in immorality (but not referring to unbelievers … “since then you would need to go out of the world.”). This they misunderstood. And the case of this man is still not addressed.
- It seems this man was in no way repenting and also in no way challenged by the church to repent. Maybe this was one of the concretes issue, that made Chloe send a report, and that made Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus make the trip (1 Co 16:17).
- How could this be? And how could the church so misunderstand ‘Christian freedom’? > Probably underlying there is the old Greek separation of spirit and body. Spirit is good, is saved, is in relationship with God. The body is evil and part of the lower world. What I do with my body doesn’t matter. Paul very clearly addresses this on several occasions in the letter.
- Can God forgive a sexual transgression like this? Is he willing to forgive? … Yes, even this, if there is repentance.
- There must be repentance, and here there hasn’t been. Therefore Paul instructs:
- 1 Co 5:5 … hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord
- 1 Cor 5:13 … Drive out the wicked person from among you … an application of church discipline.
- How do we have to understand this? This person is to be challenged. If not responding or repenting then he needs to be excluded from the church.
- What does it mean to hand him over to Satan? Well, we all, before we came to Jesus, were in the kingdom of darkness and under the authority of Satan. Maybe to hand him over to Satan simply means to treat him as an unbeliever, to make him realize, that his behavior and Christ cannot co-exist in his life.
- The hope is that this clear stand of the church will make him understand his error and the eternal consequences of the sin he holds on to. The warmth of fellowship, church support, friendships needs to be removed … in the hope that he will repent and be saved.
- Paul is warning him to not rely on a “salvation without repentance”, it doesn’t exist, or not for long … he is playing at the very edge, he needs to know this.
- To treat him as an unbeliever doesn’t mean to treat him badly, more to treat him as one “to be won to Christ”.
- The church – for witness’ sake – needs to disassociate itself from this man, but also for ‘infection’s sake’. Also: a disregard of the voice of conviction of the Holy Spirit of this magnitude means a callousness in other areas, a pride, an arrogance, a disdain … and if it goes on unaddressed, it will have a negative influence on the other believers.
- Sin needs to be addressed … Mt 18 gives the procedure: first under 4 eyes, then involving an elder at church, then the whole church. The goal has to be to restore that person, but the sin cannot go on, it will destroy the church’s witness, it will infect others, it will indulge callousness … The action of excommunication is only a ‘expressing current reality’
- Warning: I have heard many examples of willful and un-scriptural application of excommunication, then it becomes a weapon by leadership to silence people or dissent.
- The case here is not over ‘disagreeing with the pastor’, or ‘not following church culture’, it is about a brazen, obvious, major sin which shocks even the surrounding culture. Not getting along with the pastor is not a reason for excommunication.
- Be very careful with judging, very careful with excluding. But also: restoration is possible if people humble themselves > a careful process of restoration is possible.
- 1 Cor 6:1-11 Paul addresses lawsuits among believers. This also often happens today: court cases of conflict between believers before non-Christian judges.
- Paul’s rebuke is mostly a string of stinging questions, Paul shames them big time, he appeals to their pride, he painfully plays on their “most precious wisdom”:
- 1 Co 6:5 … “Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another …?” He rebukes sorely, but he is uplifting and affirming within that … “Don’t you know you will judge the world? judge angels?” … he exhorts them, pulls them up out of childishness into maturity.
- 1 Co 6:9 … Paul also challenges the ones doing wrong to fellow-believers: “wrongdoers will not inherit God’s kingdom of God”.
- But he also challenges the victims … to make godly choices within their injured-ness … and even to rather be wronged … to in free choice to relinquish my right – like Jesus. But I do not think that this is a general prohibition of ‘going to court’, but an encouragement to seek out all other options first.
- 1 Co 6:11 … But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified … again graciously affirming their salvation.
- Church History records that the church in Corinth and the first church in general seems to have taken this challenge very seriously: By the 2nd and 3rd century, Christian courts or judges were common. Christians would offer free counseling services to feuding parties, and many many would flock to them, for their wisdom, for not having to pay court fees.
- Here is a vision and challenge for the church, what a testimony this would be!
- Illustration: Switzerland’s tradition of the peace judge
- The church can be abysmal at justice processes, most our conflicts resolve not by being resolved or addressed, but by us moving on after 3 months … we need to learn this.
- We need to be fair … but if we are not even fair to our own children, if we are not even fair about a neighbor’s child and our own, if we are not even non-partial with relative … who would ever trust us with just judgment?
Chapter 6 – Prostitution
- 1 Cor 6:12 … Paul quotes slogans and their answer “all is lawful”(the Corinthian pride in their freedom) … but not all things are beneficial … “all things are lawful” … but I will not be dominated by anything.
- It’s amazing to me that Paul nevertheless affirms their freedom, even to an immoral church in sin city … we would have long gone for complete prohibition.
- Illustration: in a church that struggles with alcohol in a wider culture that has an alcohol problem … Paul never the less does not a full prohibition of alcohol. He affirms their freedom, he does not swing to the opposite … he grows them us … he “freedom-trains” them.• First Paul addressed the abuse of women as condemned even by the Corinthian society. Now he addresses abuse of women as condoned by the Corinthian society.
- Again: Corinth had a flourishing sex trade and even a deification of prostitution, with Aphrodite being a main goddess, backgrounds of immorality and surrounding general culture would have been temptation to the believers in Corinth.
- Obviously the Corinthian believers were not breaking with prostitution, and didn’t see as mandatory to break. Why?
- Again: the wrong thinking of separation of body and spirit … of body = evil … of spirit = good … and the two don’t touch each other.
- Paul corrects: Our body is not evil, it is good, it is God-given, it is God-inhabited, a temple of the Holy Spirit.
- And: a human is a unity … whatever I do with my body I also do with my soul and spirit … no separation, no compartmentalization … the thought of sexuality being merely physical is wrong … it is with the whole being.
- Our body as a temple of the Holy Spirit and must be used in a godly way. The body is meant for the Lord. You are not your own!
- I think we would not disagree with Paul, his argument is convincing, yet also today there is tremendous compromise in this area: Few churches in the West now teach a biblical view of sexuality, co-living, trying out, adultery, divorce, partnerships without commitment … But also in the more conservative East you will find acceptability of prostitution, incest, allowed male homosexuality before marriage etc.
- And even worse – you will find the combination of spirituality, spiritual leadership and sexuality, abuse of children, male and female, abuse of teenagers by spiritual leadership.
- I think the sell-out to pleasure is a force on its own … but I think Paul is right in addressing it from the perspective of value, of ownership … if we truly understand whose we are, what our value is, what God’s highest is, that he wants us not all over the place but whole, holy, wholly united, wholly given … in honor, in righteousness, in peace.
- Greek View of Women – Daughters of Pandora (based on D.J. Hamilton): We will look at some influential Greek people and their view of women. Some of them are poets, some philosophers, some artists, physicians and politicians. What the poets sang, the philosophers tried to prove, the artists perpetuated, the physicians “scientifically undergirded” and the politicians legislated.
- Poets – Homer: Homer lived around 800 BC and wrote two long poetry-stories, both dealing with gods and godesses and humans and their actions … the Illiad and the Odyssey
- The heroic achievements of men are described, but women are also present in the background.
- Actually they are, even though not taking actions themselves, the cause for every conflict and war.
- A king’s wife gets abducted for her beauty, in the ensuing war, the Greek warriors fight each other over another beautiful woman, that was taken captive.
- Therefore: women are beautiful, but a curse to men. They are won as trophies of war, objects in men’s power plays.
- Not even Zeus, the highest god, is happy in his marriage to the goddess Hera: The marriage is torn by deception, mistrust, trickery, insults, strife, fear, manipulation, even outright violence of Zeus to Hera. Zeus also is wholeheartedly unfaithful to Hera. He has children by 7 other goddesses and 15 other woman and even boasts about that before her.
- Aphrodite, the goddess of love destroys her marriage with one god by an adulterous relationship to another one.
- Greek mythology provides us with a very poor image of marriage, or even a devastating one.
- Homer has one or two positive female characters in his story Odysee, but the evil and scheming women are much more numerous. Women, even the best women “can never be trusted”, not one’s wife, not even one’s mother. “a woman is ever easy to be bent.”
- Poet – Hesiod Around 700 AD he wrote monumental poem (Theogony) which describes the decent, the character, relationships and actions of all the gods and goddesses. It is in a sense for Greek mythology, what Genesis is for the Bible.
- BUT: it’s image of women is tragically different. First gods and men lived in a sort of paradise state – without the presence of women.
- Then one man named Prometheus steals fire from the gods. Zeus, mad and revengeful, thinks up the most horrifying punishment possible, a punishment that would cause man eternal sorrow … he makes a woman (Pandora).
- She is described as very beautiful, very evil, irresistible but bringing great trouble to men. Pandora becomes the mother of all women, a deadly race … woman is created to be a pleasant poison for man, a desirable destruction, a hopeless snare. She had a shameless mind and a deceitful nature. The catch is that Zeus’s curse – woman – is unavoidable, inescapable. One can’t live with these cursed creatures, nor without them.
- Poet – Semonides He lived around 600 AD and held the view that men were descendants of gods, but women were made from certain animals (pig, evil fox, donkey, monkey etc.) … Your chance of getting a good wife is about 1 in 10.
- These three writers lay the foundation for an inferior position of woman in Greek society, had justified their ethical and social values concerning women.
Philosophers – Socrates > Plato > Aristotle > Alexander > Hellenistic world
- These three together shaped Greek philosophy, they lived around 400 AD. Socrates didn’t write anything so we don’t know what he thought of women other then what his disciples pick up from him.
- Plato often is quoted as being more favorable to women. On closer look this proves untrue. He writes a work called “the Republic”, a picture of an ideal state. In that state he wants to train women as servants of the state – making use of them for war and other duties – and so allows that for that they need similar training than men. Sounds pretty modern?
- Well, his ideas were even more modern than that: he required that all these women go naked and are pretty much public property concerning sexuality. They didn’t even have a right to keep the children that would be born.
- He quotes Socrates as asking the following question: “Do you know then of anything practiced by mankind in which the masculine sex does not surpass the female on all these points?” So: women are inferior to men in all points.
- Plato also comes up with a different version of where women came from. He states that men, if they behaved cowardly and evil in life they will – as ultimate punishment and disgrace – be reincarnated as women in their next life.
- This sad philosophy was reflected in Greek’s arts. Greece liked theater, comedies and tragedies. In these dramas, a few exceptional woman are sketched, women that dare to rebel against their time, but the story always ends up punishing them tragically for trying to break out of the cultural norm.
- Male dominance in these dramas inflict misery on the women. Women are trapped in grotesque marriages, having to marry the hero that murdered their former husband, or family, or city. One woman, that was killed by her husband, comes back from the dead to remarry the same man. Women are mostly in unbearable and humiliating circumstances and relationships.
- “O women! Our frail, frail sex! No wonder tragedies are made from us”. “calling us … false, faithless, mischief-making gossips, a rotten set, a misery to men”. “intolerable creatures”. “Worthier than ten thousand women one man is to look on light”. “abominations … household pests”. “O, nothing, nothing in the world so hateful your will find as shameless women, save of course the rest of womankind.” “Then why get angry? … we are accused of far less than what we’ve really done” “no woman is good”. “women are an abominable caste, hated of all gods … “O happy me, in that I fail to take a wife”.
- In Greek drama you could laugh about women or cry for them, but they remain belittled, ridiculed, criticized. They are considered to be persons without value, unworthy of respect, trust or love.
- Physicians In ancient Greece, philosophy and medical understanding were closely linked. Aristotle wrote the following statements about men and women. Much of it today sounds ridiculous, but let’s not forget, that his views were considered unquestionable truth for 2000 years … till the 17th century, actually.
- “a woman is as it were an infertile male, the female is female on account of inability to produce semen”. He teaches that “menstrual fluid is impure semen which did not develop properly … because females are weaker and colder … for this reason that we should consider women a “deformity” devoid of soul. That is why … wherever possible the male is separate from the female, since it is something better and more divine”.
- He believed that semen contained full, though small human beings … so the woman’s role in procreation is completely passive. A woman is compared to the soil, into which a seed is planted. Life comes from the seed, not the soil, so women are less human than men. So women’s inferior status is a true reflection of nature. A woman is not a true parent, she is just a nurse … right?? “Men ought to beget children somewhere else, and there should be no female race”.
- Politicians The Greek city defined itself as having 2 classes, free males and all the rest, that is slaves and women. Solon, around 600 BC, not only made prostitution legal, but actually set up brothels actively. For that he was praised as the “savior of the state”. “You, Solon, seeing that the state was full of randy your men whose natural appetites were leading them where thy had no right to be, bought some women and … made them available to everyone. Take a good look at them, boy. … Ready? So are they. The door is open; the price is one obol. In with you … You do just what you like and the way you like. You’re off … she has no further claim on you.”
- Pericles, 400 BC in Athens, declared that “the best woman is she about whom there is least talk … the name of the good woman, like her person, ought to be shut up indoors and never go out”.
- The separation of men and women was also a spatial one. Men frequented the public places, markets, halls, feasts, invitations … but women stayed in secluded “women’s quarters” in the house, to which only nearest kin had access. If they were decent, they didn’t show themselves in the street, actually not even in the front rooms of their own house. Only those women who didn’t have slaves showed themselves publicly, or else they were considered prostitutes.
- Greece gave its women few political or social rights. She had the legal rights of a slave, or of a child, but never became viewed as an adult.
- A daughter could not inherit anything of her father, nor could she make a will, nor could she engage in any business transaction. She had no right to vote, nor could she hold a public office and most women had no access to education.
- A man could legally have a wife (to have children) and concubines (for fun).
- Women in Greece were not persons worthy of faithful love and mutual respect, they were objects to be used or to be avoided. She had the status of possession, chattel
1 Cor 7:1-40 Questions around marriage and women
- Against this abysmal view of women, Paul comes in 1 Corinthians 7
- 1 Cor 7:1 … The slogan is “It is well for a man not to touch a woman” … here we have the ascetics speaking.
- Where does this come from? Well, Greek culture in general
- And again: Spirit = good … Body = bad … solution is to deny / control / ignore the body … “Let us be spiritual by controlling the body!” So: women are temptation, women are the problem, and they must be avoided.
- Paul answers by chapter 7, which has many foundational truths … and is one of the most elaborate teaching on marriage and male-female relationships in the New Testament
- There were other documents of that time regulating male-female relationships, some still available to us … they differ radically from what Paul is saying in this: All privileges and rights were the man’s, all responsibilities and conditionals were on the woman. Marriage was a completely one-sided contract according to these documents.
- Now watch what Paul does in answer … he writes a text about the rights and responsibilities of man and women … and he writes them exactly parallel
- So the mutual rights and responsibilities are exactly the same for both … this was absolutely revolutionary!
- 1 Cor 7:2 … he affirms marriage (and with it sexual relations in marriage) … women are not the problem – sin is! … they are not to be avoided … they are to be committed to in an even relationship
- 1 Cor 7:2 … is also significant because it is the most direct teaching on monogamy in the NT: “Each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” … Remember also Ti 1:6 “elders must have only one wife”, though polygamy existed and polygamy carried over into conversion must be upheld, it is never God’s highest and never example. Christianity is the only religion in the world that strictly adheres to monogamy. Only Christian law has outlawed polygamy.
- Vishal Mangalwadi: “Monogamy is the single most protective institution for women in this world”
- How? by putting women on roughly equal terms, the husband must arrange herself with the wife, can’t walk of, more partnership, more mutuality, more power.
- This doesn’t mean there are no abusive marriages and horrible stories … one can still sin terribly against a spouse, but it still stands that in comparison with polygamous situations a woman has much more power in a monogamy.
- 1 Cor 7:6-8, 7:25-27 … Paul does another radical thing. He affirms marriage, he puts marriage on more equal footing, but he also doesn’t make marriage mandatory. He opens the option of not marrying. This was revolutionary back then, it still is today in many cultures.
- This is especially revolutionary for women. Men had always had the option to remain unmarried if they wanted, because they usually had professions, had own income, were independent, no security risk, so they can be on their own. But Paul says that this now newly is an option for women. 1 Cor 7:34 … a woman can be ‘concerned about the affairs of the Lord’ .
- Again: the principle is freedom, freedom to marry, freedom to not marry.
- Paul is so anxious to open up this option for both men and women to be ‘concerned about the Lord’s affairs’ that he almost overstated his case throughout the chapter … 1 Cor 7:7 “I wish that all were as I myself am” … which was single, or possibly widowed.
- Paul addresses several groups or cases …
- 1 Cor 7:8-9 unmarried or widowed > if self-control then single, if not then marry …
- 1 Cor 7:10-11 married > stay faithful to your covenant (this presumably would include the case of a legal polygamy) … the Corinthians seem to have tended to “radical spiritual solutions” … Paul doesn’t!
- 1 Cor 7:12-16 married, became believer, but spouse didn’t > stay married if the spouse agrees to stay married … if the spouse divorces the believer (on grounds of faith) > allow divorce … Some deduce from this passage that you can marry an unbeliever, I don’t think Paul allows for that at all (see 1 Cor 7:39)
- 1 Cor 7:36-38 betrothed > if self-control, then single, if not then marry
- 1 Cor 7:39 spouse dying > marriage is only until death (remember shottidaho? bound to a marriage beyond death?) … if self-control > remain unmarried, if wishes to marry > marry, only in the LORD.
- Principle: Don’t do anything crazy, radical or super-spiritual, rather remain in the state that you were called
- 1 Cor 7:18 circumcised > don’t remove the marks
- 1 Cor 7:18 uncircumcised > don’t get circumcised
- 1 Cor 7:21-24 slave > don’t worry, if you can get free, do … if not, serve God where you are as a free
- 1 Cor 7:25-31 … Paul here states a reason for remaining single … to be free of anxiety and to devote oneself fully to kingdom work … he displays here a great sense of urgency, culturally? foreseeing Nero? worried about Jerusalem? Expecting Jesus back any moment?
- Neither the catholic “priests can’t marry” nor the evangelical “pastors have to be married before they are taken serious” is biblical.
- Bangladesh society gives women only identity in marriage and motherhood … Testimony: me as single in Bangladesh, non-existing existence, making everybody nervous … Are there life-style options of singleness in this country?
- We also tend to love crazy, all-out, super-spiritual, hundred or nothing approaches … careful to make commitments you do not yet know you can keep
- Principle of whatever the circumstance … We tend to over-stress / paralyzed by / blame / thin ourselves limited by circumstances … oh if that happened then I would serve the Lord
1 Cor 8:1-13 and 1 Cor 10:14-22 Food offered to idols
- Along with the normal idol worship came sacrifices. The meat from these sacrifices were first presented to idols – maybe partially burned on an altar – and then either eaten at a temple ceremony, or sold in the local meat markets
- Some Corinthian believers, – having been worshipers of this or another idol -, refused to eat meat like that, and maybe for them, coming from such a background, it was a good and needed thing to “break” all the way.
- Some Corinthian believers argued, that idols are nothing, and therefore, whether a piece of meat had been sitting before a statue, before a mere stone or not made no difference at all … and everything could be eaten. This was an expression of their freedom in Christ, and a statement precisely that idols were of no consequence.
- Again: Paul affirms their freedom even against a backdrop of heavy idolatry, but he cautions them also.
- Paul condemns neither view, but he challenges the free-er that they might restrict their freedom, not because of it being wrong, but because of consideration for the weaker. Love is the principle here, a self-restriction for other people’s sake.
- A very similar argument will be put forward in Romans 14 as well.
- 1 Cor 10:14-22 … Paul will tell them to decisively flee idolatry. This probably refers to participating in the temple rites, the ceremonies, the worships (that often included sexual acts) … that is out of question and they must flee it.
- The contrast between this two passages shed light on one another as to what probably was or wasn’t involved.
- Similar to before: freedom affirmed … selfless use of that freedom affirmed … more important than outward actions are inward attitudes, motivations, reasons … love as guiding principle and sufficient law
1 Cor 9:1-27 Paul’s defense of himself, of an apostle’s rights, of him not taking them
- The same principle of self-restriction for other’s sake we find lived out in Paul’s life concerning money.
- There seems to have been attacks on Paul’s apostleship, at the way he behaved, also financially.
- Who really is attacking him? Believers who are Greek minded and see this as a sign of weakness / defeat. Or grand preachers coming in and trying to wean the church away from their moorings in Paul?
- This theme of attack and defense – referring among other things to money – will turn big and nasty on us by the time we reach 2 Corinthians … now we just get the first flavor.
- Paul argues on different levels that a worker for God has a right to be fed by the people he ministers to.
- He argues from “common practice” (other apostles) … from scripture (De 25:4) … from common sense (1 Cor 9:7)
- Then he turns around and says that he never actually made use of this right. Remember Acts 18:3, Paul worked with Aquila and Priscilla as tent makers … this act of generosity is now construed to imply his non-authenticity! How Greek!
- 1 Cor 9:19-27 … Paul generalizes this theme of giving up one’s right or freedom further
- Love is the motive for this self-restriction. He applies it to his missionary service: “a slave to all … a Jew to the Jew … a Greek to the Greek”.
- Neither Paul’s identity (nor his authority) is in the fact that he exercises a certain freedom, or in the fact that he doesn’t … on all non-essentials, Paul is very free, either way.
- Example: to dress according to the custom of this country is not a law for me, I don’t have to, but also my identity is not in the fact, that I might run around in shorts either, I can easily adapt.
- Other example: I might have the freedom to lift my hands or scream or shout in worship, but if in the service I’m attending this would be a problem, I can never the less and just as much praise God in a more quiet way.
1 Cor 10:1-33 Warning from Israel’s history: repent from sin, withstand temptation
- In this chapter Paul strengthens his points on the different issues, drawing from Israel’s history.
- 1 Co 10:1-5 … they saw many miracles (plagues, red sea crossing, cloud, manna, water, quails)
- yet still: idolatry (golden calf Exo 32), immorality (Baal Peor Num 25), testing God (serpents / plague?), complaining (continual).
- 1 Co 10:12 … “if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall” … careful with self-righteousness, presumption
- 1 Co 10:13 … “no testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
- all are tempted in all ways. No shame. No surprise. No ‘how could you?” … solution lies not in denying temptation, but in realizing it’s reality, its commonness … but not use that as an excuse.
- Look to God, ask for strength, for his solution, don’t give in.
1 Cor 11:2-16 Head-covering see handouts
- From chapter 11 to 14 are all issues pertaining to church live, to worship service … and it seems to have been pretty wild at times the Corinthian church
- Topics that come up: head coverings … then Lord’s supper … the spiritual gifts … their use … body … love
- This passage is structured around interchange ABAB:
2 “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them onto you”
A right attitude
3 “Now I want your to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of a woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God”
A right attire
4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head – it is just as though her head were shaved. 6 If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair shaved off, she should cover her head. 7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of god; but the woman is the glory of man.
B right attitude
8 for man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 for this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have authority over her head. 11 In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
B right attire
13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.
16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice – nor do the churches of God.
The meaning of ‘kephale’
- 1 Cor 11:3 … what does “head” mean? “Head” can mean either authority / leader or source / origin.
- In Western minds head = authority = boss
- Greeks understood the heart to be the seat of intellect, but the head the source of life and living liquids … Zeus, giving birth to children, gives birth to them out of the head. A father is the head of his children, the source of life.
- This second view would make sense of Scriptures like Eph 1:22-23 where Christ is the head of the church, filling the body with his life. Similar in Eph 5:21-33 and Col 1:15-20, where Christ being the head means his love, care, provision. The church finds its origin in the head. The church started with him the firstborn. He is the source, the source of the church’s existence.
- Also, in the Septuagint (the translation of the Old Testament into Greek prior to the New Testament), if ‘authority’ or ‘rule’ is meant, the Greek word used in translation is not ‘kephale’ but ‘archon’.
- Spelt out it is: either … Now I want you to realize that the leader of every man is Christ, and the leader of woman is man, and the leader of Christ is God … or … Now I want you to realize that the “origin” of every man is Christ, and the origin of woman is man, and the origin of Christ is God.
- If looking at the context, which version is more likely?
- “authority” is mentioned one other time in the text, there is nothing about submission. But there is plenty of reference to the Genesis account (1 Cor 11:8-12), which would speak for the “origin”- meaning
- If we assume “leader” to be the correct meaning, the first pair “Christ > every man” is of universal scope. The second pair “man > the woman” is singular, limiting it to a specific instance. It also leads into confusion concerning which woman is to be lead by which man? what about widows? singles? But if we assume “origin” it fits easily … the origin of Eve was Adam, singular, a specific instance.
- If we assume “leader”, this verse would create a hierarchy. A logic hierarchy would go God > Christ > man > woman. But Paul doesn’t use this sequence, he doesn’t say: God is the head of Christ, Christ of the man, the man of the woman. He inverts it into 2nd, 3rd, 1st … which is very odd for Paul’s usual flow of argument. But if we assume “origin”, this verse creates a time line: Christ is the origin of Adam (Jesus the creating word), Adam is the origin of Eve, God is the Origin of Christ. Adam > Eve > Christ is a logic time line.
- If we assume “leader”, really, the third pair is a little strange: God, the father, is not in hierarchical superiority to Jesus, Jesus is fully God himself. But if we assume “origin” that makes more sense: God the Father sends Jesus to earth, to be born by Mary.
- Another argument for “origin” is that the documents we have of early church fathers interpreted it this way too.
- So then the meaning of this text would be: Man and woman have a shared origin in God.
Both genders pray and prophesy
- 1 Cor 11:4-7 … every man who prays or prophesies … every woman who prays or prophesies … Paul naturally assumes that both men and women would minister to the church in prayer and prophesy.
- At Pentecost we see Peter quoting God’s promise in Joel 2:28-32 … In the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy … Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit
- Note, that to pray and prophesy refers not just to two activities, but the full scope of ministry in the NT. To pray is to speak to God on behalf of people. To prophesy is to speak to people on behalf of God.
Head coverings see handout
- Now to this head-covering business: there is corrections to both men and women. Paul commands men are to have their heads uncovered, women to have their heads covered.
- All over Corinthians we have found divisions, immorality and idolatry. All three might play into this head-covering thing. Maybe there was much contention about this point, decency versus freedom as in other issues.
- Concerning men: both Jews and Gentiles worshiped with heads covered. Paul’s command forced both Jews and Gentiles to break with their past.
- To a Gentile it meant to break with the forms of idol worship.
- For a Jew it would have been an outward expression of a break with the legalistic structures of Judaism, with the synagogue … for a Jewish convert to worship bareheaded means to accept a completely new value system… a humbling thing. They would have perceived it as humbling also to fully include women in worship and ministry.
- Concerning women: a Jewish woman was always covered, to her a head-covering was not a thing linked to synagogue worship in particular.
- For those of an idolatry background, head-covering were a break with idolatry (Aphrodite priestesses were bareheaded), a break with prostitution (uncovered hair was a sign to recognize a prostitute).
- It meant the inclusion of women in spiritual things without requiring either immorality or self-exposure. Women could participate and minister in dignity and decency.
- We have no sources to tell us why a shaved head was so shameful for a woman. But whatever exactly the reason was, Paul wanted to spare the women the humiliation and degradation.
- Also Roman ladies of the higher class wore a head covering called palla. Maybe to a slave woman or a former prostitute, to wear a head covering was an honor, an expression of the new worth and dignity given them in Christ.
In how much is the woman the ‘glory’ of the man?
- 1 Cor 11:7 … why then this contrast between the man, being the image and glory of God but woman, being the glory of man?
- Actually, it is not really a normal contrast. The word that with have translated as “but” is not the normal Greek word used for contrasts “alla’, but “de”. De would be better translated “that and also”, it’s a form of ellipsis.
- So: Man is the image and glory of God and woman is that and also the glory of man. Paul is challenging the Corinthians to glory and rejoice in the women ministering in their midst!
- Anne Atkins in “split image” argues that in 1 Cor 11:9 and 1 Cor 11:12 the word man means (in a Genesis sort of way) ‘mankind’. Mankind is the glory of God (the crowning creation), mankind reflects God’s very being, mankind alone is made in his image. In that sense also woman in the ‘glory of man’: woman is the reflection of Adam’s being (finally bone of his bone!), woman is a true picture of man, a true ‘eged’, a true and equal opposite (Gegenueber).
- 1 Cor 11:8-9 … For man did not come from woman, but woman from man … makes it impossible for women to take on an independent attitude … neither was man created for woman, but woman for man … Remember the strength of the word “helper” … this makes it impossible for men to be proud because they are the ones needing help, needing a helper. Paul levels the ground and does away with both gender pride and gender independence. Women must recognize their need for men and men their need for women, so partnership is restored.
- In summary: Paul starts out by recognizing the ministry of both men and women in the Corinthian church. He then gives some corrections as to what proper attire is for ministry. His aim is to protect men and women from bringing shame on themselves while ministering. Finally he reminds the men to take pride in the women ministering in their midst, even if that went against what the norms of society. This attitude of taking glory in one another has its base in Genesis, in the shared origin and destiny of men and women.
- Whose authority?
- 1 Cor 11:10 … For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.
- The word “authority” here is used 14 times in the NT and it always clearly means authority possessed, not authority to be subject to. The meaning of this sentence is: she is to have authority, not to be under authority. What the actual sign of authority was I don’t think is that important, probably it was a head covering of her choice.
- This is reflected in the different translations in German: Luther … darum soll das Weib eine Macht auf dem Haupt haben. Jerusalemer Bibel … deshalb soll die Frau ein Machtzeichen auf dem Haupt haben. Einheitsübersetzung … deswegen soll die Frau das Zeichen ihrer Vollmacht auf dem Kopf tragen. Gute Nachricht … deshalb muss die Frau als Zeichen ihrer Bevollmächtigung ein Kopftuch tragen. Hoffnung für alle … Deshalb soll sie im Gottesdienst eine Kopfbedeckung tragen.
- This verse does not mean that the man is to have authority over the wife, but that a woman should (for culture’s sake) follow certain habits when exercising her authority in the church.
- The “if” in 1 Cor 11:6 … if it is a disgrace … otherwise don’t worry about it. This is referring to common culture, therefore also not ‘eternal truth’ but temporal truth.
- 1 Cor 11:11-12 … summary in equality
- 1 Cor 11:16 … conclusion
1 Cor 11:17-34 Lord’s Supper
- There seems to have been different aspects to the problem: some get drunk, some overeat while others go hungry. It seems to be more an orgy then a celebration of Christ.
- Again the underlying problem is one of inconsideration towards others, self-focus, of a lack of respect to God and people, concern with outward forms over inward attitude
- Again Paul answers it from the principle of love, of consideration, of respecting and serving one another.
1 Cor 13 Love – Radiation passage
- Beautiful introduction: 1 Cor 12:31 … And I will show you a still more excellent way.
- 1 Cor 13:1-3 … Paul contrasts or compares different things with love: spiritual giftings, understanding, wisdom, knowledge, faith, self-sacrifice, asceticism … all of these desirable, godly, impressive things, but all of them are empty – or nothing – without love. There is no bloodless, teeth-clenching, give-it-all that pleases God …
- Love is the one thing that God covets, it’s the one thing he requires, to himself and of others, it’s the one thing he was always after, our response of love to his initiative of love and grace.
- Love is the thing that will last into eternity, many things we are so very worried about now won’t. Paul is in a sense very practical here. And most things that don’t last are the very things that the Corinthians are into!
- 1 Cor 13:8-10 … What do you think, what moment this refers to, when prophecies & tongues end, when we shall be know fully, completely and be known as well?
- Different churches have different interpretations … Those who do not believe in spiritual gifts as a part of the church today, usually quote this passage and say it refers to the moment, the Bible canon was finalized.
- I think (agreeing with the Charismatics for once) it refers to Jesus’ second coming, to full fellowship with God
1 Cor 12 , 1 Cor 14 Spiritual Gifts – Body of Christ – Church life
- The Corinthians were very much into spiritual gifts and practised them heavily … and Paul encourages them in that.
- This aspect of Christianity seems to have really fitted the Corinthian ideas … not necessarily for good reasons only: there is something spectacular, something public, something flashy about spiritual gifts … and some in the church seemed to have used the gift in a competitive, self-promoting manner …
- There seems to have been: several speaking at once, lengthy prayers in tongues, uncontrolled utterances of prophesies … there seems to have been pride, superiority and boasting in having gifts, too, and a comparing of the importance and value of different gifts
- Remember Paul’s sentence earlier on …1 Cor 4:7 … What do you have, that you did not receive?
- Paul levels the ground around the spiritual gifts:
- they are all are gifts (1 Cor 4:7), not merits, achievements, or anything to be proud of
- all are of the same Spirit (1 Cor 12:4)
- all are important and honored (1 Cor 12:12-26) … Illustration: body, members and their functions … Diversity is a good and needed thing
- God allots them as he wills (1 Cor 12:11)
- God can work all gifts in all people, at his will (1 Cor 12:6)
- gifts have to be serving others: to build up, to encourage, to comfort (1 Cor 14:3) … not for self-display or the kick I get
- 1 Cor 14:29 … Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. A prophet’s message is to be checked, weighed, interpreted by all.
- The principle again is love, humility, preferring the other, service to all.
- Illustration of body & organs … very powerful. Even more powerful today as we know more about the incredible intricacies of the human body. Illustration of cancer: one tissue favoring itself, competitively taking up nutrients, inflating itself.
- Desire and practice spiritual gifts
- Check my motives in using spiritual gifts … pride? self-promotion? selfishness?
- Check gifts by this: are they being encouraging? building up? comforting? … if not, there’s a hick-up, a human one
- Peaceful, mutually affirming, appropriate use of gifts
1 Cor 14 Proper use of the gifts / peaceful worship
- 1 Cor 14:1-5 purpose of gifts is building up. prophecy is higher than tongues.
- 1 Cor 14:6-19 speaking in tongues is edifying the speaker, but not others > private, quiet use, unless
there is an interpretation
- 1 Cor 14:20-25 gifts convicting an outsider
- 1 Cor 26-40 controversial … it has sequence alternatives in the earliest manuscripts, it has etas, slogans
- 1 Cor 14:34 Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask, their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
- This is an eternal truth, applicable everywhere and all the time
- This is a temporal truth, Paul gave that for the current situation in Corinth
- This is a misinterpretation of the passage, it can be understood differently.
- Joel 2:17-18 / Ac 2:17-18 sons and daughters shall prophecy, Holy Spirit poured out on male and female slaves
- 1 Cor 11:5 when a woman prays or prophesies (church setting)
- If taken as eternal truth, woman cannot make any noise, can’t pray except silently, shouldn’t sing in church, no announcements whatsoever, not to speak of testimonies, teaching or preaching
- Prohibition to teach (1 Ti 2:12 … I permit no woman to teach / have authority over men) …
- Priscilla & Aquila (5 out of 7 times her name first), her name first when teaching Apollos, an anointed and powerful speaker, church planters & builders in Corinth, Ephesus, Rome (?), proven leadership, among Paul’s most trusted co-workers
- Jesus … no double standard … Lu 8:1-11 adulteress and no adulterer … Mk 10:7 / Ge 2:24 back to God’s standard … Mt 19:10 if men held accountable ‘better not to marry’ … Lu 13:10-17 bent woman called forward ‘daughter of Abraham’
- Jesus … no exclusion … ‘son of man (anthropos)’ … Jesus using woman-metaphors on God twice (lost coin / dough) … Lord’s supper replaces circumcision … women included in life & ministry … Jesus spoke to women, taught women, chooses places to teach that give equal access … reveals important truths to women (and sometimes only women) like Martha ‘I am the resurrection’ and Samaritan woman ‘I am the Messiah’ … defends Mary’s right to learn / rabbinic pupil position … he made them think … praised them … forgave them … made them messengers / witnesses / evangelists / teachers / sent ones / first ones to tell of resurrection … he heals & delivers women … he is ministered to by women: Peter’s mother-in-law, Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James & Joses, Salome, wife of Zebedee, Joanna, wife of Cuza, Susanna, Martha (word used is diakonos, in Ac 6:1 translated as deacons).
- Paul commends women co-workers … Ro 16:1 Phoebe:
- Triplet of corrections of people acting in the Corinthian church service (which seems to have been pretty crazy), followed by a triplet of instructions how … speakers of tongues, speakers of prophesy, women
- tongues > only 2 or 3 and only if interpretations were also given, if no interpretations > rather be silent
- prophecies > only 2 or 3 in sequence, if the next one speaks > let the former be silent
- women > should not talk during the service, rather ask their questions at home > rather be silent
- The identical command “sigao” is given 3 times in this passage, to each group once. We have declared the command to speakers in tongues and prophets to be situation bound and temporal, but we have declared the command to women to be always and everywhere complete prohibition.
- If is was a complete prohibition, women could neither: sing in church, read Scriptures, make announcements, teach Sunday school, or any other form of audible behavior! If that is the meaning, that should be the application.
- There are 3 terms for silence in the Greek: phimoo (forced silence, like Jesus silencing the storm, demons, Pharisees) … hesuchia (with a quiet and attentive spirit, like 1 Ti 2:11-12 woman should learn with hesuchia) … and sigao (voluntary silence, used here). Sigao means to hold my words temporarily and voluntarily for a good reason (respect of others, peaceful proceeding of the service) … like you now in this class. Sigao does not mean that the person quiet has nothing to say, or shouldn’t be speaking, or will remain silent forever. It just means a voluntary temporary submission to serve the common good. This is the same kind of submission as to traffic lights, or bus conductors, or flight personnel.
- Why should women be silent here in the Corinthian context? > probably because of continued talking during the service, asking husbands for information or explanation while things were going on. The inclusion of women meant that women had new freedoms, it probably took a moment for them to catch up in understanding & knowledge and for good appropriate habits to form. Maybe they were overbearing in this new freedom, maybe overly participative …
1 Cor 15 Resurrection is real and essential to gospel
- 1 Cor 15:12 … Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? … This seems to be what triggered Paul to write about the topic of resurrection.
- 1 Cor 15:1-11 … Paul summarizes the basic gospel he has preached: as Scripture foretold forgiveness of sins through Jesus, resurrection of Jesus, with many witnesses. Notice: it’s not how to escape hell and get a ticket to heaven.
Witnesses: Cephas, the twelve, 500 brothers and sisters together, James, then to all the apostles, last to Paul.
- 1 Cor 15:12-19 … he shows that there is no gospel without resurrection, it is an integral part, so to speak God’s seal on Jesus sacrifice and salvation. If the resurrection wasn’t real, then our future hope isn’t real, and then we are stupid to sacrifice in this life! Paul is very straight forward.
1 Cor 15:20-28 Mapping out the Resurrection
- 1 Cor 15:20-28 … Paul maps out the end times: Jesus resurrects (his resurrection is the model by which to understand our own – an his was clearly a bodily-physical resurrection) …
- 1 Co 15:22 all die in Adam, all will be made alive in Christ.
- 1 Co 15:23 first Christ as first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ
- 1 Co 15:24-25 then comes the “now”, us … then all his believers will be resurrected, then Jesus will do away with all evil spirits and subject everything to God the Father.
- 1 Co 15:26 the last enemy to be destroyed is death. When all resurrect, death no longer means anything, it’s undone.
- 1 Co 15:27-28 the final picture is not spirits in a spiritual heaven, but all things under the Lordship of Christ, heaven & earth restored
- 1 Co 15:29 baptism for the dead. Baptisms existed in many cultures & religions, this does not have to mean a Christian tradition of baptizing for the dead, though it could mean that. This is probably an argument from irony: See even they believe that!!
- 1 Co 15:30-24 back to 1 Co 15:19 … if resurrection is not real, we may as well feast now
- 1 Cor 15:35 Paul’s fairly emotional rebuke ‘Fool!’ seem to suggest, that there was people ridiculing resurrection by assuming something weird about the body … or by ridiculing it Plato style: who would want to back to physical things??
1 Cor 15:35-38 Resurrection body?
- 1 Co 15:35-37 Paul uses the Metaphor “seed” … seed dies, then resurrects into new life … This is a powerful metaphor, for it shows both the continuity as well as totally superior nature of resurrection … each seed is different and will in the resurrection be ‘according to its kind’ > stressing continuity. We will not be disembodied, personality-less, unrecognizable spirits, but persons fully alive, fully themselves, totally knowable, recognizable, our uniqueness come to full blossom, our personalities at their highest. C.S. Lewis describes heaven as solid 🙂
- But a tree, though come from a seed, and though according to the seed, is never the less a being much beyond the seed itself. The resurrection body is greater, more powerful, more able than our current body, though it will be a true body also > stressing the superiority of resurrection
- 1 Co 15:38-41 … There are different types of body, of glory (all is good!) … humans, animals, birds, fish, heaven, earth, sun, moon, stars (harking back to creation) > stressing again continuity.
- 1 Co 15:42-44 … A seed is one kind of life, a plant is a different, greater kind of life > stressing superiority
- 1 Co 15:42 it is sown perishable > it will be raised imperishable
- 1 Co 15:43 it is sown in dishonor > it is raised in glory
- 1 Co 15:43 it is sown in weakness > it is raised in power
- 1 Co 15:44 it is sown a physical body ‘psychikos’ > it is raised a spiritual body ‘pneumatikos’
- KJV natural > spiritual …
- RSV / NRSV / REB physical > spiritual …
- ESV natural > spiritual
- Shadharon: shadharon deho matite deoa > oshadharon deho uthano hobe
- Carey / Jubilee: pranik deho > attik deho
- 1 Co 15:45 Adam > Christ
- 1 Co 15:45 living being (actually soul, psyche zosa) > life-giving spirit
- 1 Co 15:46 man of dust … had body, soul, spirit > man of heaven. image of the man of dust > image of the man of heaven
- English translations have wreaked havoc on this passage … the Bangla translation is actually better than most English translations in this case. This is where the ‘saved souls or spirits going to a spiritual heaven’ idea came from.
- But it’s not what is says. Actually Shadharon is pretty good: shadharon deho > oshadharon deho, but still deho.
- Actually Carey / Jubilee is good: not a contrast of body and spirit, but of pranik (soul) and attik (spirit): The question is: What is this body run by?
- Illustration: a sailing boat versus a motorboat. A sailing boat is not made of all sails, but it is moved by the wind in the said. A motor boa is not ‘all motor’, but it is powered by a motor. The issue is not what the boat is made up from, but what it is driven by.
- In the same way: a soul driven body means a body run by human nature, human spirit, with its typical self-focus and pride.
- In the same way: a spirit driven body does not mean a body that is all spirit, but a body that is lead, energized, run by the Holy Spirit
- The contrast is precisely not the platonic physical versus spiritual, but Paul’s soul, psyche, human nature versus Spirit-led … the human natural tendency, the sinful human nature versus a truly Spirit-led, Christ-like person.
- 1 Co 15:50 flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God … human nature cannot redeem itself, human effort cannot achieve acceptability
- 1 Co 15:51 those dead will be raised … those still alive at that moment will be changed > no difference in this regard. The metaphor here for resurrection, for God’s complete restoration is ‘changed’ (in Colossians: reconciled, in Romans: redeemed, in Revelation: made new)
- 1 Co 15:54-55 when full resurrection, death will be undone, terminated, death will die
- 1 Co 15:55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” … dramatic, ironic personification of death and ‘apostrophy’ (addressing a thing that is not a person) underlining the importance of what is said
- Paul nowhere else gives such a detailed, lengthy teaching on the resurrection … why does he give it here? Normally he does address Jesus second coming, but not necessarily in a very lengthy manner, and not necessarily details about the “mechanics of resurrection”, so to speak.
- Maybe he is trying to give the Corinthians “a glimpse” of the good, the heavenly to come, both, to seal their faith in the resurrection and to draw their very worldly focus onto the eternal, the heavenly … this is what’s coming, this is worth waiting for, this is worth obeying for … an assurance, a eternal perspective, a view onward, an encouragement to persevere. Maybe in a society as worldly, a self-indulgent, as selfish as in Corinth nothing short of a strong heavenly call is needed to withstand the pressures and temptations and to live a godly life.
1 Cor 15:58 Resurrection application now
- 1 Co 15:58 … so he climaxes this exhortation to be firm and focus on God … to keep doing good in the meantime … the usual practical application of end time stuff (Mk 13:34-37).
1 Cor 16:1-4 Money Collection
- We will hear more about this by the time we hit 2 Corinthians, why and for whom it was taken … and lots more.
- 1 Co 16:2 take is up weekly > slow, steady, habitual giving, not huge event with emotional pressure and Paul orchestrating. This ensures this is a non-manipulative, thought-through, time-tested, solid venture
- 1 Co 16:3 Paul will not touch the money, but use his links to ensure smooth handling
- 1 Co 16:4 He may or may not travel with the carriers of the money, as per the Corinthians wishes … this is a very carefully handled money collection!