Monday, April 1, 2019

READ IT! - Introduction to 1st Corinthians 1-7

Readings for this week

Monday: 1st Corinthians 1
Tuesday: 1st Corinthians 2
Wednesday: 1st Corinthians 3
Thursday: 1st Corinthians 4
Friday: 1st Corinthians 5
Saturday: 1st Corinthians 6
Sunday: 1st Corinthians 7

Introduction to 1st Corinthians 1-7

Context of 1st Corinthians 

Author: Paul 

Date: Early 50s A.D. 

Place of composition: Ephesus 

Audience: Members of the newly established church at Corinth, Greece. 

Themes of 1st Corinthians 

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

Main themes of the letter: 

Avoiding competitiveness and cultivating divine wisdom 
The limits of Christian freedom
Lawsuits among Christians
Marriage, divorce, and celibacy
Freedom of conscience
The Lord’s Supper
Gifts of the Spirit
The Hymn to Love (Agape)
Speaking in tongues (glossolalia)
The resurrection of the dead 

Chapter 1 

The letter claims to be written by the Apostle Paul and a man named Sosthenes whom Paul calls his brother in Christ. 

The letter is addressed to: 

The church of God in Corinth
Those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people
All those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ

A blessing of grace and peace is then given.

Paul opens with a declaration of thanksgiving. He thanks God for them because they have received grace in Christ and have been gifted with “all kinds of speech” and with “all knowledge.” And they have all spiritual gifts and they wait eagerly for the Lord Jesus to be revealed. He says that Christ will keep them firm to the end and blameless on the Day of the Lord because God is faithful and has called them into fellowship with His Son.

Paul then addressed the divisions in the Church. He appeals to them in Christ’s name to put an end to division by agreeing with each other and being united in word and thought. He says that some people from Chloe’s household told him about the quarreling. Different groups of them were saying… “I follow Paul” and “I follow Apollos” and “I follow Cephas” (Peter) and “I follow Christ.”

Paul’s questions for the Corinthians:

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?

Paul says he is grateful that he only baptized a few of the Corinthians (including a few he admits he can’t remember) so that more of them won’t claim to be baptized in Paul’s name. He adds that Christ didn’t send him to baptize but to preach the Gospel. And Paul adds that he is neither wise nor eloquent when he preaches. He avoid that kind of preaching so that the “cross of Christ will not be emptied of its power.”

Paul then addresses the causes of the divisions, beginning with the fact that they have a faulty view of the Christian message. He contrasts “false wisdom” with the Gospel of Christ. He says that the message of the cross is foolishness to the Gentiles who are perishing, but it is the power of God to those who are being saved. Paul sets up his argument with some questions:

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

For in God’s wisdom…

The world through its own wisdom didn’t know God
God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe

What do different groups look for?

Jews demand signs
Greeks look for wisdom
We preach Christ crucified

Christ is…

A stumbling block to Jews
Foolishness to Gentiles
The power and wisdom of God to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks

The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom. The weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Paul tells them to think of what they were when they were called. Not many of them were wise by human standards …or influential …or of noble birth.

But God chose…

The foolish things of the world to shame the wise
The weak things of the world to shame the strong
The lowly things of this world to shame the high
The despised things to shame the honored
The things that are not to nullify the things that are


So that no one may boast before him

Jesus has become our…

Wisdom from God

Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” 

Chapter 2 

Paul then points to the centrality of the Cross to his Kerygma (Kerygma is the Greek word used in the New Testament for preaching). Paul says that he came to them without eloquence or human wisdom and proclaimed to them the testimony about God.

Paul’s resolution:

To know nothing while he was with them but the crucified Christ
To come in weakness, one afraid and trembling
Not to preach with wise and persuasive words
To demonstrate the Spirit’s power


“So that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”

Paul then discussed true wisdom and the Spirit of God. First, he addresses the maturity of the spiritual man, saying that the message to the mature is not of this or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. He says that God’s wisdom is a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began, and that it is not understood by the rulers of this age. He says the evidence for this is that they crucified the Lord of Glory.

He then quotes Scripture, which says:

"'What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived'—
the things God has prepared for those who love him..."

And he adds that these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

He says that the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God, and is the only one who knows the thoughts of God. He says that what we have received is not the spirit of the world but is the Spirit who is from God. He says that the reason God did this was that we may understand what God has freely given us, speaking words taught us by the Spirit rather than by human wisdom.

Paul then offers some explanations of spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. He says that the person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, and considers these things foolishness. He says that they cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. But the person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, and is not subject to merely human judgments. He points out that people are not capable of knowing the mind of the Lord… and yet we have the mind of Christ. 

Chapter 3 

Paul then discusses the immaturity of the carnal man. Paul addresses the Corinthians not as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly. He calls them infants in Christ who are drinking milk and are not ready for solid food. He says he knows they’re still worldly because they are jealous and quarreling. One says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos.”

Paul then discusses faulty views of Christian ministry and ministers. The first analogy he uses is on farmers and the field. He says that he and Apollos are only servants delivering the Gospel, just like everyone else whom God has called. Paul planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.

The one who plants = nothing
The one who waters = nothing
The who makes things grow = everything
The planter and the waterer = laborers who will be rewarded
The field = God’s Church

The second analogy he uses is on builders and the Temple.

God’s Temple = The Church
The foundation layer = Paul
The one building on the foundation = Apollos
The foundation = Jesus Christ
Builders who build with gold, silver and costly stones = true teachers of Christ
Builders who build with wood, hay and straw = false teachers
The Temple burning = God’s purifying fire
What remains after the fire = the pure truth of God
What is destroyed in the fire = false teachings
The builders whose work survives the fire = the true Apostles
The builders whose work burns = false teachers who barely escape the flames themselves

Paul asks, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwell in your midst?” And he adds, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.”

Paul then offers a warning about self-deception regarding the ministers. He says that with the wisdom of this world you are better off becoming a fool if you think you’re wise, and you are foolish in God’s sight if you think you’re wise.

So his conclusion is that there should be no more boasting about human leaders… because all these things are yours: Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter), The world, Life, Death, The present, The future. He says that this is because we are of Christ and Christ is of God. 

Chapter 4 

Paul then offers some reflections on his own ministry. He says that the apostles ought to be regarded by the church as servants of Christ… as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.

On the issue of judgment, he says that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful, but Paul doesn’t care if he is judged by the Corinthians or by some court because Paul doesn’t even judge himself. He says that his conscience is clear, but he knows that this does not prove innocence. God is Paul’s judge. And he adds that those who want to judge others should wait until the Lord comes because God is the only one who knows the motives of the heart, and God’s praise is the only praise that matters.

Paul then discusses faulty views of the Christian’s blessings. Paul says that he made these analogies about himself and Apollos in order to teach the Corinthians…

To not go beyond what is written
To not be puffed up in being a follower of one over against the other
To teach them that they are no better than anyone else
To remind them that they earned nothing, but received everything
To get them to stop boasting about how well off they are

Paul then sarcastically proclaims how he wishes he were as well off as the Corinthians, and he compares himself and the others apostles to prisoners of war being paraded through the streets and made to fight as gladiators in the arena. Paul then sarcastically describes the life of the apostle in comparison with the “strength” and “wisdom” and “honor” of the Corinthians, saying:

We are fools for Christ!
We are weak!
We are dishonored!
We go hungry and thirsty!
We are in rags!
We are brutally treated!
We are homeless!
We work hard with our own hands!
When we are cursed, we bless!
When we are persecuted, we endure it!
When we are slandered, we answer kindly!
We have become the scum of the earth!
We are the garbage of the world!

Paul then offers the cure for divisions, by saying that they should imitate his own behavior. He says that he’s writing to them not because he wants to shame them, but in order to warn them as his dear children. Paul says to them that he is like a father to them in spite of the “ten thousand guardians in Christ” they may already have. Paul also says he is sending Timothy to them to remind them of the way of life in Christ.

He then offers a rebuke of arrogance. Some of the Corinthians have become arrogant and have declared that Paul will never return. But Paul says that he will return very soon if Christ allows it, and that when he comes he will find out who these “talkers” are and whether or not they have any real power. He declares that the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. And he asks them if they would prefer him to come with a rod of discipline or with love and a gentle spirit. 

Chapter 5 

Paul then discussed disorders in the Church. First he addresses their failure to discipline an immoral brother. Paul responds to a report that a member of the church is sleeping with his father’s wife. Paul is angry that the Corinthians are proud of this, pointing out that even pagans know better. Paul says that they should have gone into mourning and kicked this guy out of the church. Paul says that even though he is absent physically, his spirit is present with them and has already condemned this man in the name of Jesus. He says that while he is with them in spirit, they ought to assemble and hand this man over to Satan in the hopes that he will realize the destructiveness of his acts, and will be saved himself from destruction on the Day of the Lord.

Paul tells them that their boasting is not good, and he compares it to yeast which spreads throughout the dough. He tells them to get rid of the old yeast in order to become a new unleavened batch. Paul points to the Passover Lamb which represents the new life in Christ, and how as part of the Passover ceremony the Jews removed yeast from their homes. Paul says the Corinthians should do the same thing with wickedness that the Jews did with yeast – throw it out, and make something new.

Paul also clarifies that when he says they should avoid sexually immoral people, he is not talking about unbelievers, but only those who claim to be a brother or sister, yet are sexually immoral, greedy, idolaters, slanderers, drunkards, or swindlers. He says to not even eat with believers who act like this, while at the same time affirming interaction with nonbelievers who do the same things. Paul says that it’s none of his business to judge people outside the church, but that they ought to judge those within. It seems that the Corinthians want to judge the world, which is God’s job, but that they can’t even correctly judge one of their own members – the one they ought to have expelled. 

Chapter 6 

Paul then addresses their failure to resolve personal disputes. Paul asks why the Corinthians would even consider having their disputes resolved by a non-believer. He says that believers will be appointed by God to judge the world and so they should be competent enough to judge trivial cases… especially since they will end up judging the angels. Paul is embarrassed that the Corinthians have gone to unbelievers to resolve fights between believers, and in doing so have made a mockery of the church. Paul points out that the very fact that they are suing each other in the first place shows that they are already defeated. He says that it’s better to be wronged and cheated than to cheat and do wrong.

Paul says these types of people will not inherit God’s Kingdom:

The greedy

He concludes his point by saying that these were the types of people the Corinthians once were. That was before Christ through the Spirit washed them, sanctified them, and justified them. 

Paul on Homosexuality 

Paul tells his readers that fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, malakos, arsenokoitēs, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Interpretation of this passage’s stance on homosexual activity hinges on the translation of the two Greek words that are transliterated above – malakos and arsenokoitēs. The NRSV translates these words respectively as male prostitutes and sodomites. The NIV has male prostitutes and homosexual offenders.

Malakos, the first of those words, the word that is translated in both the NRSV and the NIV as male prostitutes has a basic meaning of soft or delicate. More metaphorically it can mean effeminate, weak, sickly, cowardly, fond of luxury, lazy, lacking in self-control. A man known for willingly taking the passive role in homosexual activity might be labeled malakos. On the other hand, a man known for indulging excessively in heterosexual activity might be labeled malakos because he couldn’t control his passions. He didn’t have self-control. He was weak. In the ancient Greek mind, “weak like a woman.” He was “malakos”. He was a “sissy”.

Arsenokoitēs occurs for the first time in extant Greek literature in 1st Corinthians. We don’t know whether the word existed before Paul wrote 1st Corinthians or not. It may have occurred in numerous texts that are now lost. It may have existed in conversational vernacular. It may be that Paul coined the term – made it up. We have no way of really being sure. It seems likely that the roots of the term lie in Leviticus 18:22 as it’s rendered in the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Old Testament. In Leviticus 18:22, the Septuagint reads in part “Kai meta arsenos koimathasa koitan guinaikos.” A literal translation would run something like “and with a male you shall not lie as the lying of a woman.” A more enigmatic translation “ You shall not lie with a male as you would with a woman.” Clearly Leviticus 18:22 condemns homosexual activity. The terms vital to the discussion today are arsenos and koimathasa and koitan.

Arsenos, a form of arsen, means male or man. Koimathasa is a form of the verb koimaomai, which means to sleep, or metaphorically, to have sex. Koitan, a form of koita, means bed, metaphorically marital relationship or sex. It appears that Paul or another Hellenistic Jew combined the words arsen and koita to form the words arsenokoitēs, meaning one who has sex with a male. Since the statements in Lev. 18:19-23 seem to be directed toward men, arsenokoitēs likely refers to men who have sex with a male.

By using malakos and arsenokoitēs together Paul seems to condemn both the active partner and the willing passive partner in male homosexual activity. I think it may be important to point out the distinction between a willing passive partner and an unwilling passive partner. I don’t think Paul would say to a person who has been homosexually raped “by this abomination you have been defiled.” He’s speaking to people who willingly become malakos or soft, who assume that role which his culture sees as the role of a woman, which is associated with weakness, softness, penetrability, and would be described as the role of the malakos. So in using these two words together I think Paul condemns both the active partner and the willing passive partner in the male homosexual relationship.

In 1 Cor 6:9-10 Paul lists several types of sinners who he says will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Then in verse 11 he says “and this is what some of you used to be, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” He reminds them that some of them were the sorts of wrong-doers on the list, and urges them to live transformed lives in Christ.

So Paul numbers homosexual activity among the sins from which Jesus Christ can free a person.

Paul then discusses their failure to exercise sexual purity. First, he addresses their dispute on freedom and what it means to be “free”.

The Corinthians say, “I have the right to do anything...”
Paul says, “…But not everything is beneficial.”
The Corinthians say, “I have the right to do anything…”
Paul says, “…But I will not be mastered by anything.”
The Corinthians say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both…”
Paul says, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”

He says that by God’s power Christ was raised from the dead and we will also be raised. He says that our bodies are members of Christ himself and should never be united with a prostitute.


Because he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body, and he quotes from Genesis, saying, “The two will become one flesh.” And he adds that, comparatively, whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit

But why should you flee from sexual immorality?

Because all other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually sins against their own body.

He says that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in us, whom we have received from God. He says, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” 

Chapter 7 

Paul then discusses some more difficulties in the Church. He first discusses some issues concerning marriage, including conjugal duties and celibacy. The Corinthians had written to Paul with questions about sex and marriage, and they had concluded that it was good for men and women not to have sex. Paul agrees but he points out that they are having sex anyway, so he concedes that married couples ought to have sex to avoid being tempted. He says it is the duty of both the husband and the wife to offer themselves sexually to each other because their bodies belong to each other and not just to themselves. He says that they should not deprive each other of sex unless it is to set aside time to pray to the Lord, and even then, this should not be for a lengthy period. Paul tells them that this is just a suggestion; he is not giving them a command from God. He also says that he wishes that everyone was capable of celibacy like he was. To the widows and widowers, Paul says it is better not to get remarried, but that they should go ahead and get remarried if they are unable to control themselves.

He then discussed the issue of divorce. First, he discusses divorce between believers. On the topic of divorce, Paul states that this is not just a suggestion, but a command from the Lord: A wife must not separate from her husband, and if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband… and a husband must not divorce his wife.

Next, he discusses divorce between a believer and an unbeliever. Paul first gives his own opinion on divorce:

“If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. If a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. The unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife. The unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so – The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances. God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?”

Paul then discusses the principle of satisfaction with God’s sovereignty. He says that this is the rule he lays down in all the churches:

“Each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised ...Circumcision is nothing ...Uncircumcision is nothing ...Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person. Similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave ...You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings.”

Paul then discusses marriage and ministry. On the topic of virgins, Paul gives his opinion, stating that this is not a command from the Lord:

“Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned. And if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.”

Paul explains his reasoning (echoing the words of the prophet Jeremiah before the kingdom of Judah was exiled to Babylon):

“The time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not. Those who mourn, should live as if they did not. Those who are happy, should live as if they were not. Those who buy something, should live as if it were not theirs to keep. Those who use the things of the world, should live as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”

Paul says that if a man is engaged to a virgin, and he feels as though he is not honoring her virginity, then he ought to marry her, and he shouldn’t feel bad about this because he is not sinning. But Paul also says that if a man is engaged to a virgin and has decided that he doesn’t want to get married, and he has control over his passions, he is right not to marry her. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.

Paul says a woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. Paul says that in his judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is. Paul also points out that even though this is just his own opinion, he is after all a man whose words are influenced by the Spirit of God. 

Paul on Heterosexuality 

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul advocates marriage ‘for the purpose of avoiding sexual immorality,’ not ‘for the purpose of procreation.’ For Paul, sexual intercourse need not be procreative, ‘it had real value as a release for sexual desire.’

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comments!