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The Essentials and 1
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ISBNO - 8163 - 1409 - 8
J Practical Guide to
Ahundant C hri sti an Li ving
in the Book of
Jon L. Dybdahl
God Creates a People
Samuel Alden Thompson
From the Danger of Chaos to the Danger of Power
Ezekiel Robert K.. McIver
Through Crisis to Glory
Daniel 1-7
Prophecy As History
Daniel 7-12
Prophecies of the End Time
Wtlliam H. Shea
Wtlliam H. Shea
Jon L. Dybdahl
A Call to Radical Reform
Matthew George R. Knight
The Gospel of the Kingdom
John Jon Paulien
Jesus Gives Life to a New Generation
Romans John C. Brunt
Mercy for All
Timothy & Titus Charles E. Bradford
Counsels to Young Pastors for Struggling Churches
Hebrews William G. Johnsso
Full Assurance for Christians Today
James Pedrito Maynard-Reid
True Religion in Suffering
Peter & Jude Robert M. Johnston
Living in Dangerous Times
The Essentials and Nonessentials
of Christian Living
General Editor
Pacific Press," Publishing Association
Nampa, Idaho
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
Edited by B. Russell Holt
Designed by Tim Larson
Copyright 1997 by
Pacific Press Publishing Association
Printed in the United States of America
All Rights Reserved
Unless otherwise mentioned, all Bible quotations in this book are
from the New International Version, and all emphasis in Bible quo-
tations is supplied by the author.
Richards, W. Larry (William Larry), 1936-
1 Corinthians : the essentials and nonessentials of Christian
living / W. Larry Richards.
p. em. - (The abundant life Bible amplifier)
ISBN 0-8163-1410-1 (alk. paper). - ISBN 0-8163-1409-8
(pbk. : alk. paper) .
1. Bible. N.T. Corinthians, 1st-Study and teachmg. 1. Title.
II. Series.
97 98 99 00 01 5 4 J 2 1
General Preface ........ ...... ... .. .. ... .... ...... .............. ......... .... .... ..... .... ... 11
Author's Preface ................. ....... .... ................... ......... .... .. ... .... ... .. . 13
How to Use This Book ............ ....... .. .... ....... .... ... ..... ..................... 15
Introduction to the First Letter to the Corinthians ...... ............... 19
List of Works Cited ... .... ............... ....... .. .... ... ..... ..... ... ...... .. .... ... ... . 37
Part I: The Cross: The Essential of All Essentials (1-4)
1. God's Wisdom Versus Man's Wisdom (1:1-3:4) ..... .. ........... .. 43
2. The Apostles Are United! (3:5-4:21) ............ .......... ..... ........ .. . 65
Part II: Morality: An Essential (5-7)
3. Morality Versus Immorality (5, 6) .. ........ ........ .. .... ............... ... 91
4. Marriage and Morality (7) ...... .... ..... .. ....... ........... .. ................ 115
Part m: Essentials and Nonessentials (8-11)
5. Love Is Essential; Knowledge Is Not (8, 9) ... ... .................... 141
6. "Do All to the Glory of God" (10:1-11:1) .... ... .................... 165
7. Essentials and Nonessentials in Worship (11 :2-34) ............ . 181
Part IV: Love: The Guiding Essential for Christian Living (12-14)
8. Spirituality Defined (12, 13) ...... ....... .. ... ............ ... ..... .. ......... 205
9. Evaluation of Gifts and True Spirituality (14) ..... ................ . 228
Part V: Resurrection: Essential Basis of Hope (15, 16)
10. Defense of the Resurrection (15) ......... ........... ....... .. ... ..... ... .. 253
11. Concluding Matters (16) ... .. ... ...... .................. ...... ... ..... ... .... . 275
To Dorothy,
my favorite conversationalist
The Abundant Life Bible Amplifier series is aimed at helping
readers understand the Bible better. Rather than merely offering com-
ments on or about the Bible, each volume seeks to enable people to
study their Bibles with fuller understanding.
To accomplish that task, scholars who are also proven commu-
nicators have been selected to author each volume. The basic idea
underlying this combination is that scholarship and the ability to
communicate on a popular level are compatible skills.
While the Bible Amplifier is written with the needs and abilities
of laypeople in mind, it will also prove helpful to pastors and
teachers. Beyond individual readers, the series will be useful in church
study groups and as guides to enrich participation in the weekly prayer
Rather than focusing on the details of each verse, the Bible Am-
plifier series seeks to give readers an understanding of the themes
and patterns of each biblical book as a whole and how each passage
fits into that context. As a result, the series does not seek to solve all
the problems or answer all the questions that may be related to a
given text. In the process of accomplishing the goal for the series,
both inductive and explanatory methodologies are used.
Each volume in this series presents its author's understanding of
the biblical book being studied. As such, it does not necessarily rep-
resent the "official" position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
It should be noted that the Bible Amplifier series utilizes the New
International Version of the Bible as its basic text. Every reader should
read the "How to Use This Book" section to get the fidlest benefit from the
Bible Amplifier study volumes.
Dr. W Larry Richards is professor of New Testament exegesis at
the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews Uni-
versity where he also serves as director of the Greek Manuscript
Research Center, soon to become the largest depository in North
America of Greek biblical manuscripts on mIcrofilm. Dr.
holds a doctoral degree in New Testament studies from
'ty and I'S the author of The Classificatum oJ t e ee
ern ruversl . I . b th
Manuscripts of the Johanine Epistles as well as numerous artlc es m 0
scholarly and popular journals.
George R. Knight
Berrien Springs, Michigan
I remember vividly the Bible Marking Class I held as a pastor in
my first district in Red Bluff and Corning, California. Toward the
end, we set aside an evening to deal with difficult Bible passages.
One of the passages we looked at was I Corinthians 15 :2'1, in which
Paul wrote about baptism on behalf of the dead. In 1965, I had what
I thought was a very well developed explanation for the passage, one
that made use of my knowledge of the Greek! Even to this day, long
after moving to a different explanation, I think it was probably a
pretty good answer.
Good answers, though, are not necessarily satisfying in themselves.
Years later, after a much more careful examination of the Corinthian
correspondence, I discovered, to my great joy, that the answers to
that passage and all the other difficult ones in First and Second
Corinthians were much easier to explain by simply knowing what
was going on in Corinth when Paul wrote his letters to the people
there. The complex and carefully developed answer I had worked
out was not required.
What I share with you in this volume, I have taught many times to
srudents and church groups at Pacific Union College, the SDA Theo-
logical Seminary at Andrews University, the Adventist seminary in
Zaokski, Russia, workers' meetings, and church presentations. The
great reward that comes to any religion teacher is the response, "I
want to go back and study the text again!" It is my prayer that this
will be your experience as you read this book.
For their part in this volume, I want to thank my wife, Dorothy,
and my students at Andrews University. First, Dorothy has repeat-
edly told me that I should share with the larger church community
my understanding of a wide variety of topics. This is a start. First
Corinthians offers the opportunity at least to touch on some of these
topics. She and I have had many stimulating discussions on a multi-
tude of subjects, all of which have helped sharpen my own thinking.
That contribution may not be easy to define in an undertaking such
as this commentary on 1 Corinthians. What is clear, and easy to ac-
knowl edge, is that she has given me invaluable assistance in editorial
work, especially in getting the material into a less "scholarly" form-
an important criterion for this series. On this point, I also wish to
thank George Knight, general editor for the Bible Amplifier series,
who often prompted me to make the presentation easy to under-
Second, the classroom setting in the Seminary of Andrews Uni-
versity offered me an opportunity to probe the meaning of the text
with students. These exchanges have been very rewarding for
me.Teachers sometimes overlook the fact that the value of a student-
teacher relationship is reciprocal. We teachers need to remember
that we are also students! In this respect, it is clear that this commen-
tary should serve, not as the final word, but to open the door to an
ever-expanding understanding and appreciation of God's Word in
the Corinthian correspondence.
For the opportunity even to be able to write this volume, I would
like to express thanks to my colleagues in the New Testament De-
partment at Andrews University, Robert Johnston, Jon Paulien, and
Richard Choi. Their friendship and their support meant, among other
things, that I was given the time to do the writing.
How to Use This Book
The Abundant Life Bible Amplifier series treats each major por-
tion of each Bible book in five main sections.
The first section is called "Getting Into the Word." The purpose
of this section is to encourage readers to study their own Bibles. For
that reason, the text of the Bible has not been printed in the volumes
in this series.
You will get the most out of your study if you work through the
exercises in each of the "Getting Into the Word" sections. This will
not only aid you in learning more about the Bible but will also in-
crease your skill in using Bible tools and in asking (and answering)
meaningful questions about the Bible.
It will be helpful if you write out the answers and keep them in a
notebook or file folder for each biblical book. Writing out your
thoughts will enhance your understanding. The benefit derived from
such study, of course, will be proportionate to the amount of effort
The "Getting Into the Word" sections assume that the reader has
certain minimal tools available. Among these are a concordance and
a Bible with maps and marginal cross-references. If you don't have a
New International Version of the Bible, we recommend that you
obtain one for use with this series, since all the Bible Amplifier
authors are using the NIV as their basic text. For the same reason,
your best choice of a concordance is the NlV Exhaustive Concordance,
edited by E. W. Goodrick and J. R. Kohlenberger. Strong's Exhaus-
tive Concordance of the Bible and Young's Analytical Concordance to the
Bible are also useful. However, even if all you have is eroden's Con-
cordance, you will be able to do all of the "Getting Into .the Word"
exercises and most of the "Researching the Word" exercises.
The "Getting Into the Word" sections also assume tbat the reader
has a Bible dictionary. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary IS
quite helpful, but those interested in greater depth may want to ac-
quire the four-volume International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1974-
1988 edition) or the six-volume Anchor Bible Dictionary.
The second section in the treatment of the biblical passages is
called "Exploring the Word." The purpose of this section is to dis-
cuss the major themes in each biblical book. Thus the comments
typically deal with fairly large portions of Scripture (often an
chapter) rather than providing a verse-by-verse treatment, such as IS
found in the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. In fact, many
verses and perhaps whole passages in some biblical books may be
treated minimally or passed over altogether.
Another thing that should be noted is that the purpose of the "Ex-
ploring the Word" sections is not to respond to all the problems or
answer all the questions that might arise in each passage. Rather, as
stated above, the "Exploring the Word" sections are to develop the
Bible writers' major themes. In the process, the author of each vol-
ume will bring the best of modern scholarship into the discussion
and thus enrich the reader's understanding of the biblical passage at
hand. The "Exploring the Word" sections will also develop and pro-
vide insight into many of the issues first raised in the "Getting Into
the Word" exercises.
The third section in the treatment of the biblical passage is "Ap-
plying the Word." This section is aimed at bringing the lessons of
each passage into daily life. Once again, you may want to wnte out a
response to these questions and keep them in your notebook or file
folder on the biblical book being studied.
The fourth section, "Researching the Word," is for those students
who want to delve more deeply into the Bible passage under study or
into the history behind it. It is recognized that not everyone will
have the research tools for this section. Those expecting to use the
research sections should have an exhaustive Bible concordance, the
Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, a good Bible dictionary, and
a Bible atlas. It will also be helpful to have several versions of the
The final component in each chapter of this book will be a list of
recommendations for "Further Study of the Word. " While most
readers will not have all of these works, many of them may be avail-
able in local libraries. Others can be purchased through your local
book dealer. It is assumed that many users of this series will already
own the seven-volume Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary and
the one-volume Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary.
In closing, it should be no red that while a reader will learn much
about the Bible from a reading of the books in the Bible Amplifier
series, he or she will gain infinitely more by studying the Bible in
connection with that reading.
First Letter to the Corinthians
Get ready for an advenrure! The letter Paul wrote to the newly formed
Christian church in ancient Corinth touches on an amazing array of
topics-topics that unexpectedly stray from the original point, incor-
porate seemingly unanswerable questions, and at times offer puzzling
solutions rarely found in a New Testament book. The letter addresses
proper and improper behavior, correct and incorrect theological stances,
and even intriguing psychological exchanges that go on between
friends and enemies. Talk about variety' It's in this letter! The volatile
conditions at Corinth give us tremendous insights to the apostle Paul as
a person and to the innermost workings of a community of Christian
believers who had more than their share of trouble. But before we go
any further, I invite you first to do the following:
1. Read the entire letter. If you are unable to do so in one
sitting, read the letter according to its major sections (see
the Outline): chapters 1-4; chapters 5-7; chapters 8-11;
chapters 12-14; and then the final two, 15 and 16. Whether
you read the letter in one sitting or several, indicate in a
notebook what you believe are the major ideas in each sec-
2. As you read, make a record of your initial impressions,
noting in patticular the issues discussed in the letter as
well as Paul's method of dealing with them. When is Paul
informing the church? When is he counseling? Disputing?
Later in this Introduction you will find additional study sugges-
Corinth: The Problem Church
No church in the first century of Christianity caused more prob-
lems than the young church at Corinth. The unity of the church was
severely fractured by dissension among its members. Alienation arose
not just over one or twO issues but over a wide range of diverse view-
points about both beliefs and practices.
Many of those first-century questio.l1s raised by the church at
Corinth still exist for some Christians today. And while some of our
problems are similar to the problems the Corinthians faced, we have
the added difficulty that comes from the passing of nearly two mil-
lennia-many of Paul's counsels to the Corinthian church members
are at times unclear to us and sometimes just plain difficult. We may
even wish he had not written some things at all or at least had given
us more information!
In view of the many issues that plagued the church at Corinth in
the first century, we might well ask ourselves if we would feel com-
fortable joining a church that taught or practiced the foll owing:
Acceptance of immorality among the members of the church.
(A man is considered in "good and regular standing" while
living with his stepmother.)
The need for women to wear a veil in public worship.
Acceptance and even commendation of derogatory statements
about Jesus and the cross. (Members are considered in "good
and regular standing" while saying, "Jesus be cursed.")
Speaking in tongues as a sign of spiritual superiority.
The obligation for women to remain silent in public worship.
Denial of the resurrection doctrine.
Baptism on behalf of the dead.
As we look at all these topics, and others, in the chapters that
follow, it will be important for us to understand 'vhy the problems
existed-what caused them. But before we discuss the reasons for all
that went wrong in Corinth, we want to indicate the method that
has been followed in this commentary.
Approach to the Study
The reader is invited to adopt two governing presuppositions used
by the author in the writing of both volumes on 1 and 2 Corinthians.
1. The letters are pastoral responses to questions that arose in Corinth
in the early 50s of the first century AD. (see the greeting in 1 Cor. 1:1-
3). That is, Paul's letters were written to deal with pastoral needs; they
were not written as theological essays. While this is true for all Pauls
writings, it is particularly true for the Corinthian letters. Theology does
indeed exist in the letters. But theology was not the purpose for writing
the letters. By approaching Paul's epistles as pastoral letters (in which
theology emerges), we will be much more open to the historical setting,
which is vital for an accurate understanding of what Paul wrote.
2. Before we can make an application to our day, we must first know
how Paul's words were understood by the original readers-the church
at Corinth. The approach used by Ellen White in her hook on Jesus'
Sermon on the Mount applies equally well for all the Bible books, and
we shall readily recognize its value for the Corinthian correspondence:
"Let us in imagination go back to that scene, and, as we sit with the
disciples on the mountainside, enter into the thoughts and feelings that
filled their hearts. Understanding what the words of Jesus meant to those who
heard them, we may discern in them a new and beauty, and
may also gather for ourselves their deeper lessons" (Thoughts From the
Mount of Blessing, 1, emphasis supplied).
In this statement we have two key suggestions and two invaluable
1. Go back to the original scene and enter into the thoughts of
the first audience.
2. Understand what the words meant to those who received the
original counsel.
1. We shall discern a new vividness and beauty.
2. We may gather for ourselves their deeper lessons.
Recommendatiom for Study
Once it is agreed that an understanding of the o.rigillal setting is
indispensable to a correct interpretation of the Cormthlan letters, It
is necessary to focus on the reasons Paul wrote what he did. The
apostle wrote nothing without a reason . . We must contmually ask
ourselves why these letters, with such a Wide vanety of tOPICS, were
written. For example, Paul did not arbitrarily decide one day that he
would include ill his letter a comment that although he might not be
a trained speaker, he did at least have knowledge (2 Cor. 11 :6). The
writing of pastoral letters simply did not happen that way. For every
statement made hy Paul, the reader is invited to ask (and wlthm the
commentary itself, many times will be requested to ask):
1. Why did Paul write that? What happened at Corinth that
caused Paul to make that statement? Remind yourself repeatedly
that Paul did not write anything in a vacuum. As simple as it may
seem, it is easy to overlook the fact that Paul was to
either a specific act or a specific statement. The value of pausmg
to ask just what that act or statement might have been cannot be
To demonstrate exactly what the reader is being asked to do, let
us take the example from 2 Corinthians 11 :6, referred to above, in
which Paul claims he might not be a trained speaker but did have
knowledge. Why did Paul say that? Once we have asked that ques-
tion and set forth an answer, we have expanded our information base.
We realize that Paul was responding to a charge made by his oppo-
nents (who are identified below) that he was (1) not trained in speak-
ing and (2) an ignorant person. The text, for all practical purposes,
now reads (with the added comment italicized): "I understand that
these 'super-apostles' are saying that I don't have any rhetorical skills and
also that I do not have knowledge. I may not be a trained speaker, but I
do have knowledge."
2. As you ask the question "Why did Paul write this state-
ment?" jot down in your Corinthians notebook possible an-
swers that come to your thinking (from either your imagina-
tion or passages in the letter). Then compare your notes with
the information given in the commentary.
These two exercises will assist you in arriving at a new level of
appreciation for the Corinthian letters. Remember we want to en-
. ,
ter into the thoughts and feelings of the original Corinthian audi-
ence in order to realize for ourselves the "deeper lessons." And so a
third exercise is suggested:
3. As you gain insights into the original setting at Corinth
and begin to sense the church's struggles, ask yourself: "How
does this apply to my life today? How can I personally benefit
from this passage or idea or experience?"
I have one further suggestion for those who may be using the
commentary for group discussions. As you do your personal study:
4. Make a list of questions you would like the group to discuss
with you. These may be questions that are covered in the com-
mentary, or they may be questions that have not been addressed.
Identity of the Troublemakers and Their Emphases
We now turn to the question looming before us: Why did the
church have so many problems? The answer is that outsiders came
into the community teaching a "different" gospel and, in so doing,
they attacked Paul's ministry. Let's first specifically identify these
troublemakers, and then we will examine the nature of their hereti-
cal theology.
As pointed out earlier, Paul was writing to the Corinthians to deal
with concrete problems that had arisen in the church there. In iden-
tifying the causes for the trouble in Corinth, we cannot separate the
content of both 1 and 2 Corinthians; therefore, in this Introduction,
we depend on crucial information from both epistles.
Identity of Paul's adversaries
Paul tells us, in the following verses, a number of important points
about his opponents. Notice especially the italicized information.
First, we know that they are Jewish Christians. Paul writes of them,
"Are they Hebrews? So am 1. Are they Israelites? So am 1. Are they
descendants of Abraham? So am 1. Are they servants o/Christ? I am a
better one" (2 Cor. 11 :22, RSV, emphasis supplied).
Paul also calls these troublemakers "apostles," but they are not
apostles in any positive sense of the word. They are "super-apostles,"
and Paul's references to them make it clear that they have challenged
his apostolic office. "I do not think I am in the least inferior to those
sttper-apostles" (vs. 5, emphasis supplied). He repeats this same thought
in the next chapter: "For I am not in the least mfenor to the sttper-
apostles" (12: 11, emphasis supplied). The negative approbatJon IS
without equivocation in another reference to these opponents: For
such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masqueradmg as
apostles o/Christ" (11:13, emphasis supplied). .
We also know that these "super-apostles" came from outsIde the
Corinthian community. That is, they were not members of the lo-
cal, original, Corinthian church. The word apostle itself means "one
sent forth." It is the equivalent to our word lIl/SSlOnary. When these
missionaries arrived in Corinth, they produced what we would call
today "ministerial credentials," or "letters of recommendation" as
Paul calls them. We know from a statement Paul made, no doubt in
the heat of controversy, that these apostles argued that Paul did not
have such recommendations, for he asks, "Or do we need, like some
people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?" (3: 1).
Teaching emphases of Paul's antagonists .
The dominant characteristic of Paul's opponents at Cormth, these
"super-apostles" who had come into the church from elsewhere with
their letters of recommendation, was the strong emphasIs they placed
on knowledge and wisdom. In fact, in 1 and 2 Corinthians the Greek
words for "to know" and "knowledge" occur seventy-seven times, and
the word for "wisdom" occurs twenty-eight times. The troublemakers
adhered to the view that "knowledge" was the key to salvation.
These twO words, knowledge and wisdom, more than any others,
point to the overarching thrust of the thinking of Paul's opponents.
We can discern the underlying orientation of his adversaries simply
by asking the question referred to earlier in the Introduction: Why
did Paul say that'
Let's observe, first, the negative implications about wisdom in the
following comments: "Christ did not send me ... to preach ...
with ... human wisdom" (1 Cor. 1: 17). "My peech and my message
were not in plausible words of wisdom, ... that your faith might not
rest in the wisdom of men .. . ; yet among the mature we do impart
wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age" (2:4-6, RSV) . We
ask the same question about Paul 's use of the word knowledge in two
remarks from 1 Corinthians 13: "As for knowledge, it will pass away.
For our knowledge is imperfect" (vss. 8, 9, RSV).
Paul's adversaries came close to being what we call "gnostics"-a
word that comes from the Greek word for knowledge (the "g" is si-
lent just as the "k" is si lent in our word knowledge).The gnostics'
stress on "wisdom" and their ultimate reliance on "knowledge" does
not disclose the whole picture about gnosticism, however. What
precisely was a gnostic or gnosticism?
Gnosticism. Of all the heresies in the early Christian centuries,
gnosticism posed the greatest threat to the church. New Testament
scholars today are divided over the question as to how advanced the
heresy was in the first century. Some hold that the gnostic heresy
was rather fully developed; others beli eve that only the seeds of the
heresy existed. The facts seem to support a position somewhere in
between. That is, although gnosticism was not a mature system of
belief in the first century A.D., prominent elements of the heresy
certainly were conspicuously prevalent before the turn of the cen-
tury. Obviously, the second-century heresy did not all of a sudden
appear on the scene as a fully-establi shed system of thought-it was
a growing and developing system that took decades to mature. And
those decades began, as a minimum, in the first century A.D. (There
is no dispute among scholars regarding the status of the heresy in
the second century and beyond.)
Aspects of the heresy, if not the heresy itself, are a primary con-
cern in many New Testament books, particularly in 1,2, and 3 John,
1 and 2 Timothy, and of course, 1 and 2 Corinthians. It is also ad-
dressed to a lesser degree in other New Testament passages. While
acknowledging that, from a technical point of view, the terms gnostic
and gnosticism are more precisely identified with the second century,
I have elected to use these terms in this commentary for the sake of
clarity and simplicity. This seems preferable to using words that are
either ambiguous or too long, "proto-gnosticism" and "incipient gnos-
ticism," or of using quotation marks each time (e.g. , "gnostic"). (See
Addendum at the end of this Introduction for additional information
about the identity of Paul's opponents in Corinth.)
Even though there was an unending number of forms of gnosti-
cism in the early church, core features appear in almost all of them.
It is important that we list two key characteristic elements here, with
a few observations about the results that can and often did follow
from the gnostic positions. The reader of this commentary should keep
these features in mind as we discuss the Corinthian letters.
1. Salvation comes through knowledge. We obviously want to know
what sort of knowledge can bring salvation. The New Testament
teaches that salvation comes from the act of God's love at the cross
and is based on grace, not upon works or knowledge or anything
else. For the gnostic, though, the essence of "salvation" is the knowl-
edge that he or she is immortal, a part of the divine, part of the
eternal spiritual existence, a spark of the deity. The "good news" for
gnostics was to understand and accept this news about their identity.
The consequences of this view, particularly in 1 Corinthians, are as
Gnostics held that, as immortals or as participants of the great
universal spirit, sin was irrelevant to them, and, therefore, they
had no need of a Saviour, no need for the Cross (1: 19;
expressed in various ways throughout 1 Cor. 1-3).
Arrogance and boasting are common characteristics that
result from this view, and throughout 1 and 2 Corinthians
these characteristics are evident in Paul's opponents (the word
arrogance, with synonyms, appear six times; boast[ing] thirty-
nine times).
Since the gnostics were immortal and from a spirit world where
there is no gender, they believed that the divine spark in the
female was the same as that in the male. They did not believe
that gnostic women needed to comply with conventional
practices that delineated a distinction between the sexes
(I Cor. II and 14).
2. Matter is evil; only that which is spirit is good. Since the human
body is matter, it was considered evil. Thi view of the body (matter)
and spirit showed up at Corinth in the following ways:
Adherents of gnosticism held that there was no resurrection
of the body (1 Cor. IS).
Persons who adopted these theories believed that it was not
only permissible but actually profitable for them to partici-
pate in activities that showed scorn for the body. Such activi-
ties not only demonstrated their contempt for matter, they
also accelerated the body's demise (I Cor. 5).
This belief also distorted their view of the creative acts of God,
because, for them, the creation of the world (matter) was the
work of an evil god. They believed that it was unfortunate, in
the first place, that the human spirit had to be housed in a
body. It was even worse, from their point of view, that the
"bodies" were created male and female for the purpose of
producing more matter (directly, I Timothy; indirectly, I Cor.
5 and II)!
To sense the dynamic exchanges that occurred between Paul and
the Corinthian church, we must emphasize a central characteristic
that surfaces repeatedly in Paul 's letter. This characteristic was the
dominant by-product of gnostic thinking and can be summed up in
one sentence: The adherents of the heresy were unbelievably bold and
defiant in all aspects of Christian life. This shows up in their contempt
for the Cross (1:18, 23); their challenge to Paul's apostolic ministry
(I Cor. 1-4; 9); their defiance of morality-"of a kind that does not
occur even among pagans" (5:1); their repeated claim that "every-
thing is permissible" for them (10:23), showing, therefore, no
gard for others and causing weaker believers to be destroyed by their
so-called knowledge (1 Cor. 8); their challenge to the Lord-"Are
we stronger than he [the Lord]?" (10:22); their disrespect for angels
and for the solemnity of the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11); their effron-
tery in saying "Jesus be cursed"-they viewed Jesus a man, not as
Christ (12:3); their claim to be spiritually supenor by the use of
tongues (1 Cor. 14); and finally, their denial of a fundamental Chns-
tian doctrine the resurrection (1 Cor. 15).
The impo;tant questions for us are: How do these views
cally show up in the Corinthian letters? What a.re the lmphcauons,
and how does Paul deal with them? Not only Will the defimuons of
gnosticism given here (and their applications to Paul's counsels) be-
come much clearer as we continue in the chapters that follow but
passages so often considered problematic will become refreshlOgly
clear and meaningful .
One final word abQllt the misguided theology of Paul's antago-
nists. In my class lecttftes, I use 2 Corinthians 11:4 as an outline for
their theological aberrations. In this passage Paul warns of persons
who might come with a "different Jesus," a "different spirit,': and a
"different gospel." First Corinthians is filled Wlth lOformauon on
these "differences."
Paul's Visits and Letters
The reconstruction of Paul's contacts with the church, both his
personal visits and his letters to them, is important for understand-
ing the various responses he makes to the church at Cormth. Our
interpretation of the text is affected by Paul's own increased under-
standing of the churc.h!s problems. As time passed, he became.
informed about the nature of his rivals' thinking, and his wnungs,
especially 2 Corinthians, show this. . . ,
Before we trace Paul's contacts with the Connthlans, lets take a
brief look at the city itself. Corinth had been destroyed in 146 B.C.
and then restored in 44 B.C. by Julius Caesar. Prior to its destruc-
tion, Corinth had the reputation of total degradation, and the ex-
pression in the ancient world, "to Corinthianize," meant to practice
the immoralities that were prevalent in Corinth involving the wor-
ship of Aphrodite (Venus-the goddess of love). Now, one hundred
years after its restoration, in Paul's time, the city had apparently re-
gained its earlier reputation of corruption. The city's lifestyle, as we
shall observe, had spilled over into the newly established church.
The city's schools of rhetoric and philosophy also created an auno-
sphere that affected the new group of believers.
An overview of Paul's contacts with the Corinthians
1. Paul founded the church on his second missionary journey, some
time between 51 and 53 A.D. (Acts.l8:I-ll). According to his cus-
tom, when Paul arrived in Corinth, he went first to the synagogue.
After being rejected there, he went next door to the house ofTitius
Justus, and in that home the church was established (vs. 7).
2. While Apollos was in Corinth (Acts Paul, on his third
missionary journey, returned to Ephesus for a lengthy stay (Acts 19).
It was during this period that he wrote a letter to the Corinthians
that probably has been lost or misplaced, that is, a letter that is
earlier than our I Corinthians. We know this simply because in our
I Corinthians he refers to a "previous" letter, urging the believers
not to associate with immoral church members (1 Cor. 5 :9). This
means that our canonical I Corinthians is, in fact, Paul's second
letter to the church there.
3. During this prolonged stay at Ephesus (Acts 19: I), Paul learned
about the trouble at Corinth. The news came from members of the
church on &t least two occasions-once by an oral report and once
by a written report (1 Cor. 1:11; 7:1).
4. Paul responded by writing I Corinthians from Ephesus around
55 A.D.
5. Paul's letter (our I Corinthians) apparently did not resolve the
difficulties, so he decided to visit the church personally in an attempt to
handle the situation (2 Cor. 2: I). This was his second trip to Corinth.
To Paul's great surprise, he found when he got there that the "super-
apostles" were much stronger than he had ever imagined. The visit was
a disaster for him, and he returned to Ephesus very alarmed and frus-
crated. It was indeed a "painful" visit (2 Cor. 2:1).
6. With a heavy heart, Paul wrote a letter that has been called the
"sorrowful" letter, the "painful" letter, or the "severe" letter (2 Cor.
2:3,4; 7:8). This letter contains many statements that are uncharac-
teristic of Paul, especially on the subject of boasting (2 Cor. 11). In
this "severe" letter, written after his visit, he conclurles that he has
spoken like a madman-which, he tells the Corinthians, they forced
him to do. I believe this letter is chapters 10-13 of what we know as
2 Corinthians. The reasons for this position are developed in my
commentary on 2 Corinthians. It is within the content of the "se-
vere" letter (2 Cor. 10-13) that we learn precisely who Paul's adver-
saries were and how Paul labeled them.
7. Paul left Ephesus after the silversmiths' riot and was waiting
with considerable anticipation for news of the response to his "se-
vere" letter. He met Titus in Macedonia, where he was relieved to
learn from him that the church accepted his strong rebukes (7 :5).
8. His final letter to the Corinthians was written from Macedonia
(Acts 20: 1-4). This letter would be the first nine chapters of
2 Corinthians.
The following diagram may help understand the identity of the
four letters:
Paul's Letters to Corinth
Letter 1 "Previous Letter"
Reference: 1 Cor. 5:9
Letter 2
1 Corinthians (as it is in our Bible)
Letter 3
2 Cor. 10-13: the "Severe Letter"
Reference: 2 Cor. 2:3,4; 7:8
Letter 4 2 Cor. 1-9
Three Important Words
Within this commentary I will be referring to three Greek words
that are very important for understanding Paul's letter. Translators
often give several meanings to the same Greek word, and while this
is a perfectly correct translation technique, it occasionally means
that a concept or theme within the letter is not fully appreciated. As
a Greek teacher for thirty years, I have learned to sense some of the
difficulties that expert translators have dealt with. In this commen-
tary, however, it is possible to make observations about Paul's theol-
ogy that could not be reflected, for practical reasons, in an English
translation of his letter. Within the commentary itself, the reader
will always be given the necessary English and will not be required
to look back at the list below Jor a translation.
The Greek words used in this commentary are:
Greek Word Pronunci ati on Defini tion
1. pneumatikoi new-mat-ee-KOI spiritual persons
2. phusioo foo-see-AH-oh to be puffed up, arrogant
3. exolls;o ex-oo-SEE-uh authority, power, righcs, freedom
Major Emphases in 1 Corinthians
1. The crucified Christ
The Cross, for Paul, is the ultimate event of human history. It
defines the gospel and personal relationships; it informs us as to what
constitutes wisdom (2 :1 -5); and it is the basis upon which we make
our final choice. The Cross is either salvation or it is a stumbling
block (1 :22-24). We decide.
2. Christian morality
Whether related to sexual promiscuity (1 Cor. 5) or to the proper
relationship between a believer and an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor.
7), the highest standard must be maintained. Morality determines
to whom we have given our allegiance. We cannot serve two mas-
ters. In the case of prostitution, Paul says that such a union breaks
the union with God (6:15-17). He states precisely the same thing
about participation in pagan temple meals (10:20-22).
3. Love for others governs all behavior
From the beginning of 1 Corinthians to the very end, Paul gives
one example after another of the importance of living so that others
may be won to Christ (and certainly not destroyed by what we do).
"I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I
might save some" (9:22). Paul repeatedly speaks of the importance
of "building up" one another (I Cor. 14). Perhaps the most beautiful
chapter in the Bible is Paul's essay on love in I Corinthians 13-a
chapter that speaks with resounding clarity about caring for others.
4. The resurrection
The strongest case in the Bible for the resurrection and its
importance is found in this book. In fact, the longest chapter in
I Corinthians (I Cor. IS) covers this cardinal teaching of Christian-
ity. If Christ is not raised, as Paul's opponents had argued, we of all
people are to be pitied (vs. 19)! It is, indeed, the foundation for Chris-
tian hope in a glorious eternity.
5. Essentials and nonessentials
First Corinthians was written to deal with controversies that
arose over the introduction of a major heretical scheme. And al-
though Paul did not use the word heresy, it is evident from many
statements in the letter that he considered the views and prac-
tices that were causing the problems completely unacceptable (5 :9;
II :22). In his pastoral responses, we find out what the great mis-
sionary had to say about elements of Christianity he considered
to be essential (10: 19-21) and elements he considered not so es-
sential (7: 19). Valuable lessons for Christians in every age can be
gained from his counsels. First Corinthians contributes perhaps
more than any other New Testament book to answering what
constitutes the essential elements of Christianity over against the
nonessential elements. How do we decide where we can be flex-
ible and where we must stand firm? Are there scriptural guide-
lines advising us when we should be tolerant and when we should
draw the line? The book Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, in
the setting of conflict in real-life situations, addresses this press-
ing issue in numerous cases. The following outline reflects the
theme that is developed in this commentary.
Outline of 1 Corinthians
The Essentials of Christian Living
LThe Cross: The Essential of All Essentials (1-4)
A. Greeting and report of division (I: 1-1 7)
B. The Cross: God's wisdom versus man's wisdom (1:18-3:4)
C. Apostles are united (3:5-4:21)
II. Morality: An Essential (5-7)
A. Immorality in the church (5)
B. Litigation among churcR members (6:1-11)
C. Prostitution forbidden (6:12-20)
D. Marriage and morality (7)
III. Essentials and Nonessentials (8-11)
A. Love is essen tial; knowledge is not (8, 9)
I. Love builds up (8)
2. Paul's authority: derived from love (9)
B. "Do all to the glory of God" (10)
C. Essentials and nonessentials in worship (II)
IV: Love: The Guiding Essential for Christian Living (12-14)
A. Spirituality defined (12, 13)
I. Spiritual persons and spiritual gifts (12)
2. The most excellent way (13)
B. Evaluation of gifts and true spirituality (14)
v: Resurrection: Essential Basis of Hope (15, 16)
A. Defense of the resurrection (IS)
B. Concluding matters (16)
Who Were Paul's Opponents at Corinth?
The possible opponents are given below, numbered I to 6. The
information in the right-hand column represents the positions
held by Paul's opponents (either directly or by implication from
Paul's response). An "X" in anyone of the first six columns means
that the group would be in agreement with that position. A ques-
tion mark (?) simply means that we are uncertain about the group's
position on the given point.
Possible Opponents:
1. Judaizers Oewish Christians)
2. Christian pneumatikoi Oewish or Gentile, or both)
3. Gentile Christians
4. Gentiles (including "Wisdom Seekers")
6. Jewish Christian "Gnostics"
Notice that only category 6, the Jewish Christian "Gnostics," lines
up 100 percent with the test (all "X"s). No other group shows this
uniformity. Only the non-Christian groups come close, and the rea-
Concept, position, phrase
" ..'51
(or shows Paul's attack on such)
'O' L: c
c.c c ._"
within 1 Corinthians -0 .cO
V; ,.;
x x x Denial of the Cross
x Immorality is allowed and bragged about
Gross selfishness a way of life (no concern
for me "weak")
x x x Disdain for the Christian's Lord's Supper
"Are we stronger than the Lord?" (Opponents'
selfunderstanding led to this question.)
Willing to challenge the Lord (Dare we put
the Lord to a test?)
x Disrespect for angels
x x Tongues are a sign of spiritual superiority
x x Denial of a resurrection of the body
x "Knowledge puffs up ... " (Opponems' emphasis
on knowledge led to thi s comment by PauL)
x "AJl things are permissible!"
x x x "J esus be cursed"
? ? x Knowledge is imperfect and will pass away
son is that they would obviously not accept the Cross or the Chris-
tians' Lord's Supper, etc. Additional entries in the right column would
corroborate these findings.
A note regarding the structure of this commentary
First Corinthians has sixteen chapters. This commentary divides
these sixteen chapters into five parts. The five parts are divided
into eleven commentary chapters, which means, of course, that some
of Paul's chapters have been combined. For example, "Parr One"
covers I Corinthians 1-4. However, within this section, Paul's first
four chapters are divided into two commentary chapters. Chapter
One covers I Corinthians I: 1-3:4; Chapter Two covers I Corinthians
3:5-4:2 1.
To avoid confusion about the word chapter, I have consistently
referred to Paul's chapters by actual reference. This means, for ex-
ample, that I Corinthians 10 will always be referred to as
"I Corinthians 10" (and never "chapter 10") .
For Further Reading
1. For the best overall commentary on the epistle, see G. D.
Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians. This excellent vol-
ume is written by a New Testament scholar whose con-
servative background allows him to blend, in admirable
fashion, the best in scholarship with a high regard for the
sacredness of the text. His use of the original languages is
not a deterrent to a lay person's ability to appreciate. When
a more detailed study is suggested in the Further Study of
the Word sections, I always recommend this volume. Read-
ing the entire commentary, however, would be a reward-
ing experience.
2 . For a general overview on the subj ect of gnosticism in
New Testament times, see a good Bible dictionary, such
as The Interpreter's Bible Dictionary or the Anchor Bible
Dictionary. For a detailed discussion of gnosticism as it
relates to the New Testament, see G. Van Groningen, First
Century Gnosticism: Its Origin and Motifs
3. The most extensive work on gnosticism in the Corinthian
church is Gnosticism in Corinth, by W. Schmithals. The
first 116 pages reflect a view of gnosticism (and a struc-
tural organization of the letters) that I do not share, par-
ticularly with respect to his position that the gnostic her-
esy was more advanced in the first century than the evi-
dence seems to support. Much of what he writes on the
text itself, beginning with page 117, is, however, quite valu-
able, in spite of the fact that he occasionally overstates his
4. In her book, The Acts of the Apostles, E. G. White gives
valuable insights into the early church setting. The spe-
cific Corinthian situation is covered in pages 243-254 and
5. Excellent material is found in the SDA Bible Commentary,
volume 6, in the section containing E. G. White's com-
ments, particularly in describing the characteristics and
theology of Paul's opponents.
Bandstra, Andrew J. "Interpretation in 1 Corinthians 10: 1-11." Calvin
Theological Joumal6 (1971):5 -21.
Barclay, William. The Letters to the Corinthians. The Daily Smdy Bible.
Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956.
Brunt, John C. "Rejected, Ignored, or Misunderstood? The Fate of
Paul's Approach to the Problem of Food Offered to Idols in Early
Christianity." New Testmnent Studies 31 (I985): 113-124.
Buttrick, George Arthur, ed. The Interpreter's Bible Dictionary. New
York: Abingdon Press, 1962.
Cardidge, David R. "1 Corinthians 7 as a Foundation for a Chris-
tian Sex Ethic." Joumal of Religion 55 (1975):220-234.
Church Manual (SDA). "Church Discipline." Hagerstown, Md.: Re-
view and Herald, 1995 (15th ed.).
Cosby, Michael R. Sex in the Bible. Englewood Cliffs, N.].: Prentice-
Hall, 1984.
Cull mann, Oscar. Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?
New York: Macmillian, 1958.
Deissmann, Adolf. Light From the Ancient East. Trans. by Lionel R.
M. Strachan. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1927.
___ . New Light on the New Testament. Trans. by A. Grieve.
Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1908.
Derrett, J. D. M. "Judgement and 1 Corinthians 6." New Testament
Studies 37 (1991):22-36.
Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New Inter-
national Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1987.
* This list does not include classical works that utilize standard ref-
erencing systems across various editions.
Fiorenza, Elisabeth. 1 Corinthians. Harper's Bible Commentary. New
York: Harper and Row, 1988.
Freedman, David Noel, ed. Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York:
Doubleday, 1992.
Godet, F. Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, 2 vols.
Edinburgh: T&TClark, 1886 [reprint: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1977]. . ..
Hawthorne, G. F., Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. ReId. DIctIOnary
of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove, Ill. : InterVarsity Press,
Johanson, Bruce C. "Tongues, a Sign for Unbelievers: A Structural
and Exegetical Study of 1 Corinthians 14:20-25." New Testament
Studies 25 (1979): 180-203.
Johnston, Robert M. Peter and Jude: Living in Dangerous Times. Bible
Amplifier seri es. Boise: Pacific Press, 1995 . . .
Knight, George R. Matthew: The Gospel oftbe Kingdom. BIble Amph-
fier series. Boise: Pacific Press, 1994.
Lowery, Davi d K., I Corinthians. The Bible Knowledge Commen-
tary: New Testament Edition, ed. by John F. Walvoord and Roy
B. Zuck. Wheaton, Ill. : Victor Books, 1983.
Murphy-O'Connor,]. "Food and Spiritual Gifts in 1 Cor. 8:8." Catbo-
lic Biblical Quarterly 41 (1979):292-298.
. St. Paul's Corinth: Texts and Archaeology. Wilmington, Del.:
Glazier, 1983.
Nichol Francis D. , ed. SDA Bible Commentary. Ellen G. White's
on 1 Corinthians, vol. 6. Hagerstown, Md.: Review
and Herald, 1957.
Paulien, Jon. What the Bible Says About the End-Time. Hagerstown,
Md.: Review and Herald, 1994.
Perkins, Pheme. Love C01Jlmands in the New Testament. New York:
Paulist Press, 1982.
Peterman, Glen O. "Equipping God's People for Ministry in
1 Corinthians 1--4." Reformed Review 21 (1967):56-64.
Richardson, H. Neil. "Some Notes on lQSA." Journal of Biblical
Literature 76 (1957):108-122.
Richardson, William. Speaking in Tongues: Is It Still the Gift of the
Spirit? Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald, 1994.
Robertson, A. T. The Epistles of Paul. Word Pictures of the New Tes-
tament, vol. 4. New York: Richard R. Smith, 1931 .
Robertson, A. T. and Alfred Plummer. First Epistle of St. Paul to the
Corinthians. The International Critical Commentary. Edi nburgh:
T&T Clark, 2nd ed., 1914 [reprint,
Schmithals, Walter. Gnosticism in Corintb. Trans. by John E. Steely.
New York: Abingdon Press, 1971.
Scroggs, Robi n. "Paul and the Eschatological Woman." Journal of
the American Academy of Religion 40 (1972):283-303.
Stendahl , Krister. "Glossolali a-The New Testament Evidence."
PaulAmongJewsand Gentiles. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978.
Van Groningen, G. First Century Gnosticism: Its Origin and Motifs.
Leiden: E. ]. Brill, 1967.
Westphal, Carol]. "Coming Home." Refo17lted Review 42 (1989): 177-
White, Ellen G. The Acts of the Apostles. Boise: Pacific Press, 1911 .
_ __ . The Desire of Ages. Boise: Paci fic Press, 1940.
___ . Selected Messages, 2 vols. Hagerstown, Md.: Review and
Herald, 1958.
___ . Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing. Boise: Pacific Press,
1955 .
Wilson, Robert McL. Gnosis and the New Testament. Philadelphia:
Fortress Press, 1968.
Yarbrough, O. Larry. Not Like the Gentiles: Marriage Rules in the Let-
ters of Paul. SBL Dissertation Series 80. Atlanta: Scholars Press,
1 Corinthians 1-4
The Cross:
The Essential of
All Essentials
In this letter to the Corinthians, we have the story of a church
that has at least twelve problems, ten of which relate to behavior and '
two to theology. As noted in the Introduction, at the center of these
problems were the troublemakers who arrived at Corinth following
Paul's visit and then proclaimed a heretical message that ultimately
chall enged not only what Paul had taught but Paul himself. In many
places, Paul is defending his apostolic office because if the attack on
his apostleship remains unchallenged, he has no basis for counter-
ing his opponen ts' false theology and behavior.
Paul learns of the problems at Corinth first from oral reports and
then from a written report. The first six chapters of I Corinthians
deal with the problems presented in person by Chloe and friends
(see I: II; 5: I) . The remaining ten chapters deal with questions that
were presented to Paul in written form. He takes up this written
report with the words, "Now for the matters you wrote about" (7:1;
see also 7:25; 8:1; 12: 1; and 16:1).
Chloe's report centers around two major difficulties: (I) Paul's
authority, combi ned with whether he has the right to define the gos-
pel (I Cor. 1-4), and (2) the definition of morality (I Cor. 5, 6). We
consider the first point in Chapters One and Two and the second,
on morality, in Chapter Three. .
Part One, covering 1 Corinthians 1-4, is about the underlYing
crisis at Corinth: the denial of the importance of the Cross. In Chap-
ter One (1 Cor. 1 :1-3:4), Paul defends his gospel of the Cross against
the new "knowledge" (gnosis), a "worldly wisdom," that had been
introduced by the "super-apostles." In the new of the
"super-apostles," a totally "different gospel" emerged, one In ,,:hlch
the Cross was considered foolishness. It was the troublemakers err-
oneous view of the Cross that opened the door for all the behavioral
problems Paul addresses in his letter.
In Chapter Two (3:5-4:21), we find Paul clearly identifying his
ministry with that of the other apostles, particularly Apollos. Paul
not only establishes the unity of the apostles; he makes a strong case
for his own leadership, and in this way, he glVes authonty to h,S
definition of the gospel, specifically, as it centers in the Cross.
God's Wisdom Versus
Man's Wisdom
1 Corinthians 1:1-3:4
Although the Corinthian church has argued about who is really wise-
the followers of Peter, Paul, Apollos, or Christ-this is not the real isme in
the letter; it is only a symptom of the actual problem. In Paul's mind the
troublemakers have essentially overlooked the heart of the gospel-the
Cross-and the battle lines are drawn as to what constitutes the gospel. As
we will observe through our disC'/lssion of his letter, it was the troublemak-
ers' (the gnostics,) aberrant interpretation of true knowledge that led to all
their problems. Their definition of "knowledge" totally ignored the Cross.
From the list of persons giVf:n in 1,'12, the key players are Paul and
those claiming to be the "Christ Party "-who are, ironically, the trouble-
makers. It is important to keep this view of the Christ Party in mind, for,
as we shall see in our discussion in Chapter Two (on 1 Corinthians 4), there
is no way one can view this party in a positive light .
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 1:1-17
As you begin your study of this important letter, read 1: 1-17
with the purpose of capturing the original setting. Picture your-
self in that ancient city as you read. Read the passage again. Do
you sense the atmosphere that encompasses the content? Here
are some study questions for you to consider, based on these
1. Make a list of the key fearures mentioned in Paul's introduc-
tion (given in the first four verses). Now turn to Paul's other
letters and make notes about the similarities and differences
between his introductory words to these churches and those
to the Corinthian church. What do your notes tell you?
2. Since Paul has responded to the report about qnarreling (vs.
11), begin reconstructing the actual report Chloe's friends
gave to Paul by listing the key elements of the quarrel(s).
Your list begins with 1 Corinthians 1, but you will add to
this list until the end of 1 Corinthians 6. Label your list:
"Chloe's Report." This exercise will require some serious
reflection, but you will find it well worthwhile.
3. Beginning with 1:4, Paul expresses his thanks to God for the
church. Make notations of the various elements of this "thanks"
that Paul mentions in verses 4 to 9. Specifically note the two
points of "enrichment" in verse 5 and the point in verse 7 about
the Corinthians' "spiritual gift." These terms form a major
thrust within the following chapters of his letter.
4. Explain why Apollos may have been popular in Corinth (vs.
12-see the clue in Acts 18:24).
5. From the context, what are some reasons Paul would downplay
his role in baptizing new converts? (1 Cor. 1:13-17).
6. Look carefully at the statements Paul makes in verses 13 to
17 regarding his role in baptizing believers in Corinth. Make
a brief outline of his comments, observing the changes he
makes during his recollections. What do we learn about the
process of inspiration in Paul's discussion of whom he did
or did not baptize?
Exploring the Word
Greeting and Report of Dissension
In the verses of this section (vss. 1-1 7), Paul sends his greetings
(vss. 1-3) and expresses his thankfulness to God for the church (vss.
4-9). He then introduces the topic of the dissension within the church
(vss. 10-1 7). In verse 17, Paul begins his transition to his major Con-
cern: the place of the Cross.
Greeting (vss. 1-3)
Using the form of greeting that was common in the Greco-
Roman world, Paul, just as he does in eleven of his letters, identifies
himself as an apostle. But the identification carries with it more sig-
nificance in 1 Corinthians (and Galatians) than it does in the other
letters. In both Corinth and in Galatia, Paul's apostolic office has
been severely challenged. And only in Romans and 1 and
2 Corinthians does Paul begin his letter with the additional ringing
endorsement of his apostleship: that he is an apostle "by the will of
God" (1 Cor. 1:1). He is fully conscious of the charges that some
have made about his not being one of the original twelve apostles.
He is also fully aware that some have harshly criticized his apostleship,
and in many places within the letter Paul defends his call to be an
apostle (this defense is the content of 1 Cor. 9). But so far as Paul is
concerned, such criticisms are irrelevant. Like the twelve, he main-
tains he was chosen by God.
How could Paul call the Corinthiam "sanctified"? (1 :2). The typical
greeting also names the recipients: The letter is "to the church of
God in Corinth" (vs. 2). If the Corinthians had recognized that the
church was not "Paul 's church," not any apostle's church but "God's
church, " the divisions and subsequent strife might not have occurred.
Paul also greets the Corinthian believers as ones who have been sanc-
tified (vs. 2). As he does in six other letters, Paul states that the church
members are called to be saints (RSV). Given our usual definitions
for sanctificatioll and sainthood, these terms, when attached to the
Corinthians, are difficult to comprehend .
However, according to the biblical meaning of the word "sancti-
fication" (and its cognate, "saints"), Paul's comments are easy to
understand. Both the act of sanctification and the title, saints (from
the same root word), mean that the members, responding to God's
initiative, have "set themselves apart" for a sacred purpose. In this
sense, then, as an act of consecration, all Christians, from the mo-
ment they respond to God's grace in the act of making their com-
mitment to Christ, have been sanctified and can be called saints!
(Even the original word in the Greek for church, ekktesia, from which
we get our words ecclesiastical and clergy, literally means, "to call out,"
for the purpose of a sacred assembly. This fits the concept of "hav-
ing been sanctified," or consecrated.)
We must bear in mind, though, that these terms do not mean the
Corinthian members had already attained a high degree of spiritual
maturity. As we shall note below, reality is quite the contrary. So whi le
the terms do not refer to the achievement of some rigorous code, they
definitely do mean the Christian is committed to a very high standard
of behavior. For example, Paul told his readers that they will have to
face their actions in the judgment, whether good or evil (2 Cor. 5: 1 0).
"Grace and peace to you "(1 Cor. 1: 3) are characteristic words for
Paul in the greeting section of his letters. A Greek or Roman writer
would have said "Hello" or "rejoice," while a Jewish writer would
have said "Peace." Paul combines both forms but substitutes for the
hello a theological term-grace-meaning "undeserved favor." Grace,
particularly as it is demonstrated at the Cross, is everything to Paul.
And while he refers to grace in all his letters, for the Corinthians its
use here is even more powerful. "Worldly wisdom" at Corinth pro-
duced a serious crisis about the importance of the grace demon-
strated at the Cross (1 : 18-2 :8).
Thanksgiving (1:4-9)
After Paul expresses his thanks, even for a church that is causing
him such a great deal of grief, he provides a clear indication about
where he is going in his letter: "You were enriched in him with all
speeell and all knowledge, ... so that you are not lacking in any spir-
itual gift" (1 :5, 7 RSV; emphasis supplied). T he itali cized words in
this verse represent major areas of disagreement berween Paul and
the church. The word for "speech" means powerful rhetoric and
goes hand in hand with knowledge in the minds of his opponents.
These themes will be discussed in more detail in Part Four. The
knowledge (gn6sis) that was so crucial to Paul's adversaries was knowl-
edge available only to a select few (see 1 Tim. 6:20).
And yet, even while being fully conscious of the confrontational
topics that he will be discussing, Paul gives thanks for the church.
T he expression of thanks, therefore, in this setting, also tells us much
about him. Paul knows the members of the church are not only his
children in Christ (I Cor. 4: 14, 15) but more, they are the supreme
objects of God's love (2 CGr. 5: 19).
It is important to observe, furthermore, that Paul tells them this "en-
richment" was a gift from God (I Cor. 1 :5). As Paul will remind them
later (4: 7), everything they have is theirs only as a gift-quite a neces-
sary reminder for persons who are wrapped up in self-exaltation. Paul's
opponents argued that all they were was due to who they were, not due
to grace (which, by definition, is a "gift"). In fact, Paul wants to rein-
force the idea that from the very beginning their membership in the
church is due to that gift. As we shall see, Paul makes this point in a
number of ways throughout the letter (see, for example, 3:7).
His concern is not to be taken lightly, and this is evident when
Paul writes, "Our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you" (I :6,
emphasis suppli ed). He uses a word that means being established in an
unwavering manner. The movement in the church away from Paul
and his message causes Paul to remind the members in the first words
of his letter that a special relationship exists berween him and the
church-one based on their first response to Christianity.
The thanksgiving concludes with the promise that God will keep
the Corintllian Christians "strong to the end" (vs. 8). Paul began
thIS paragraph on thanksgiving (vss. 4-9) with thanks to God; he
ends it with another statement about God: God is faithful (vs. 9).
The faithfulness of God is a powerful Pauline theme. Here, Paul
ties the theme of God's faithfulness with God's call to fellowship in
HIS Son- an important point in view of the dissension soon to be
addressed. Fellowship with Christ is impossible while members are
at odds with each other (Matt. 5:23, 24). God's faithfulness is the
basis of Paul's appeal in 1 Cor. I: 10: God can make it possible forehe
Corinthian problems to be solved.
Report of dissension (vss. 10-17)
In verse 11, Paul refers to his source of information about the
quarreling: "Some from Chloe's household have informed me . . .. "
We know very little about Chloe, and we also do not know who
those of "Chloe's household" might be (relatives or servants'). What
we do know is that her involvement, which in itself shows leadership
quality, is a further indication of a social revolution already occur-
ring within Christianity on the position of women.
The major issues in 1 Corinthians (vss. 10-17). In this passage, Paul
will address the two overriding issues of the entire letter:
The question of Paul's authority (and, indirectly, the author-
ity of all apostolic leaders).
The content of apostolic preaching.
As we look at the content of apostolic preaching, we will observe
Paul continually addressing a large number of behavioral problems
that have arisen over the differences in defining the gospel.
Paul begins with an appeal for unity, and he does this in a
nonconfrontational manner by calling the Corinthian believers
"brothers." He discusses at length the meaning of unity in
1 Corinthians 12, but even here at the beginning of his letter he
appeals to the church to stop quarreling, to be united in "mind" and
"judgment" (1:10).
The divisions (vss. 12-17). Unity is surely needed in Corinth' The
church members, according to verse 12, have either created, or al-
lowed "super-apostles" to create, factions that are quarreling with
each other and calling themselves followers of a different apostle or
even of Christ (as though the other followers were not!). Let's take a
look at the different groups.
I believe that the following scenario describes the situation in
Corinth: Some time soon after Paul had departed from his newly
established church, the missionaries, probably two or three in num-
ber, known as the "super-apostles," came into Corinth with their
gnostic theology (2 Cor. 11: 5, 13; 2 Cor. 3: 1). These missionaries,
with their heretical gospel, were a very intelligent, influential, and
highly vocal group, and as a result, they soon had a following. How-
ever, they were making their gains at the expense of Paul. Obvi-
ously, there were those who were going to remain loyal to Paul re-
gardless of the persuasive criticisms against him. Every time Paul's
followers defended him, the "super-apostles" would j ntensify their
attacks on Paul. Soon a considerable amount of strife existed within
the church. Many persons were not quite sure what to do. One out-
come must have been the "Apollos" faction-an in-between-group.
That is, some must have been influenced sufficiently by Apollos, a
good friend of Paul's, to move in the direction of gnostic thinking,
because Apollos himself shared with the "super-apostles" a promi-
nent characteristic: Alexandrian rhetorical skills, or as Luke wrote,
"He was an eloquent man" (Acts 18:24, RSV).
We are able to reconstruct two different views of the divisions in
Corinth. One view was offered by the Corinthians themselves, which
we know about through the report from Chloe's people (1 Cor. 1:12).
This view holds that there were four separate groups (paul, Apollos,
Peter [Cephas], and Christ). On the other hand, as we discover in
the course of his letter, Paul had a different perspective. He con-
cluded that there were only two divisions; namely, a division be-
tween the apostles and those who called themselves the "Christ
Party." (This view of Paul's is developed in Chapter Two of this com-
mentary.) This is not to deny the perspective of the Corinthians
who reported that there were four groups. Rather, Paul believes,
after analyzing the reports he has received, the Corinthians have
been drawn into their controversies solely because of the work of
one group, the very party that is pitted against all the apostles; the
party that called themselves the Christ Party, the party of the gnostic
In view of the multitude of titles and designations Paul uses to
refer to the same group of adversaries, we should note here that the
following designations refer to the same group-Paul's theological
adversaries in Corinth: (a) "super-apostles," (b) gnostics, (c) the Christ
Party, (d) false teachers, and (e) troublemakers, opponents, etc. Let's
now look briefly at the groups named in Chloe's report.
The "Christ Party. "The Christ Party probably insisted that as fol-
lowers of Christ they had every right to downplay the authority of
all the apostles, especially Paul, who was their chief competition. (In
the commentary on 1 Corinthians 4, five reasons are given for be-
li eving that the Christ Party is Paul's opposition.)
The "Peter Party." We are able to put together only a sparse pic-
ture of this group because there is so little information. First, we do
not know why Peter (Cephas) is mentioned. We have no additional
information about Peter and the church at Corinth except for, what
seems to be, an incidental reference in I Corinthians 3 :22. His repu-
tation as a prominent leader (Acts 1-11) was no doubt known to at
least some in Corinth.
The "Apollos Party." From Paul's perspective, Apollos and he are
co-workers (I Cor. 3:5, 6; 4:6). Apollos came from the city of Alex-
andri a, which had a reputati on for rhetoric and philosophy, so he
may have been si ngled out as a leader because he quite probably was
known for his eloquence and wisdom (Acts 18:24). We know he had
ministered in Corinth while Paul was in Ephesus (Acts 19: 1; see Paul's
frequent references to him in 1 Cor. 3 and 4). Most likely, as the case
against Paul was taking shape, some may have said something like,
"Now, if Paul could only speak like Apoll os .... "
The "Paul Party." The members of the Paul Party would natu-
rally consist of those loyal to Paul as the founder of the church,
even if he was not as eloquent as Apollos or the "super-apostles"
(2 Cor. 11: 5,6). Paul's followers mi ght also include those who
had been baptized by Paul-this would account, at least in part,
for Paul's comments on baptism (1 Cor. 1:14-16). However, if
any of the church members were in Paul's party because he had
baptized them, Paul would not have accepted hi s act of baptizing
them as the onl y reason for support. Paul wants support solely on
the basis of the gospel he has preached' His mission was not a
mi ssion of bapti zing people; others could do bapti Ling. T he fact
that he did indeed do some bapti zing was beside the point-it
was incidental at best, for he was not sent to baptize (vs. 17). And
just because he may have bapti zed some was not grounds for form-
ing another fact ion, even if in his favor'
As we consider Paul's disclaimer on both the matter of baptism
and his preaching "wi th words of human wisdom" (vs. 17), we can
reconstruct twO of the criticisms that had been leveled at him: "Paul
did not even do baptizing" and "Paul is not a wise man." Paul 's repl y
to these charges was simply: Yes, you are right on both counts, but
baptism was not my call ing, nor was my preaching style based on
human wisdom.
The gospel is the Cross, not human skills (vs. 17). No sooner does
Paul menti on the different groups than he gets to the heart of the
issue. Paul was sent by Christ to proclaim the gospel. And that
proclamation was not with human wisdom (rhetorical skill), lest
the Cross of Christ should be nullified. Skillful speech would have
drawn attention to the speech, not the Cross. The qualifying
words, not with human wisdom, tell us about hi s feeli ngs towan;!
his critics. Paul uses the word wisdom with negative overtones, as
in being "too clever." It is this human wisdom that Paul fears will
cause the Cross of Christ to lose its power (vs. 17) . The term
Cross of Christ would have been repulsive to the gnostics simply
because it combined the notion of physical death (that is, the death
of a body) with Christ, who belonged, according to them, exclu-
sively to the spirit world, to a nonmaterial existence. As we find
out later in the letter, the gnosti cs believed that Jesus, the man,
was not the same being as Christ, a God. Therefore, they prob-
ably had no trouble with the idea of a dying Jesus (12:3), but they
did have trouble with the idea of a "dying" Christ. Christ, as God,
could not die. This is discussed in detail in the commentary on
1 Corinthians 12:3.
Paul's statements in 1 Corinthi ans I: 13-16 on his role in bap-
tizing new converts afford us valuable insights on the nature of
inspirati on. His words tell us how inspiration does not work.
There is no place for verbal inspiration in these verses where Paul
first states he did not baptize anyone but then adds an excepti on
of two persons. Then, as he recalls what actually occurred, he
remembers he did indeed baptize also the household of Stephan as.
By now, after havi ng reflected on the subject, he realizes his first
assertion about having baptized no one is inaccurate and hon-
estly concludes, "J don't remember . . . " (vs. 16)! These recoll ec-
tions clearly indicate that who bapti zes whom is not important
for Paul, because he was sent not "to baptize, but to preach the
gospel" (vs. 17).
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 1:18-3:4
Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-3:4 to renew your familiarity with
the content. Then read the questions given here, keeping them
in mind as you read the verses once again. Try to gain a sense
of Paul's direction as he writes about the Cross, wisdom, fool-
ishness, and spirituality. What is the bottom line? (Remember
to update "Chloe's Report"; see number 1, Getting Into the
Word, for 1 Corinthians 1:1-17.)
1. List Paul's key arguments in this section of the letter, par-
ticularly as they relate to the terms: the Cross, wisdom, fool-
ishness, and spirituality. How do these words relate to each
2. Using marginal references, determine what Old Testament
passage Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 1:19 about Go.d de-
stroying the wisdom of the wise. How do the events m the
history of Israel, referred to in the Isaiah quotation, help
Paul make his case? Hint: Read 2 Kings 18:17-19:37.
3. Read 1 Corinthians 1:25 as a "heading" for the content of
1:26-2:3. List the points that Paul makes in this section and
then show how these points support his remark in 1:25.
What does Paul want the Corinthians to conclude about
the wisdom of God from this sequence of references to
their previously unenviable state? How does the sequence
support his own approach to, and content of, the gospel,
compared to the eloquence and wisdom of his opponents?
How do these ideas demonstrate that the Cross is really
what defines true wisdom and knowledge?
4. Indicate the way in which Paul's use of the word wisdom in
1:18-2:5 differs from the use of the word in 2:6 to 2:16. Ex-
plain Paul's purpose for the different usage. (It would be
helpful to connect Paul's words in 1:30 with his words in
2:8, keeping in mind that Paul is attacking his opponents'
definition of wisdom.)
5. Jot down all Paul's points in 2: 7-14 which show that the
"spiritual person" possesses spirituality as a gift (in contrast
to him who is "spiritual" on his own). Save your notes. You
will have more information to add when we discuss
1 Corinthians 4. These will be valuable for our study of
1 Corinthians 12-14. We want to understand what Paul
means by being "spiritual" versus the new definition given
by some Corinthian church members.
6. List the reasons Paul gives to prove to some of the church
members that, contrary to their claims, they are indeed not
"spiritual" (3:1-4).
Exploring the Word
True Wisdom and True Spirituality
In this secti on (1:18-3:4), Paul shifts from the issue of dissension
to three other topics: (I) a discussion on wisdom and its relationshi p
to the Cross (1 :18-25), (2) a demonstration of God's wisdom in the
church's life as well as his own (1:26-2:5), and (3) a definiti on of a
"spiritual person" (2:6-3:4). Although these topics suggest a new
theme, Paul has not changed directi on. He had these concerns long
before he sat down to write, for the divisions in the church are, in
his mind, the result (not the cause) of a misunderstanding of wisdom
and spirituali ty.
T he content of God's wisdom (1:18-25)
Division in the church is only a symptom of the real crisis. In the
passage under consideration, we are looking at the most important
theological section of the letter. T his importance is evident as soon as
we ask: Why does Paul spend so much time defending the Cross
while at the same time attacking worldly wi sdom? There are two
I. Paul's extensive defense of the Cross informs us that the Cross
was under attack by the "super-apostles," and probably also by a
significant number of the church members who had been influenced
by the worldly-wise missionaries. Paul would not have been making
this lengthy and intense defense in a vacuum.
2. The importance of this defense of the Cross lies in the fact that
unless Paul succeeds in setting the church straight on this, he will
have no basis for anything else he wants to write regarding their
selfish and immoral actions. Furthermore, it would not be an exag-
geration to say that everything that has gone at Corinth (the
divisions, the misbehavior, the arrogance, the derual of the resurrec-
tion, etc.) is based on the new evaluation of the Cross being espoused
by the opposition party. And for Paul, the Cross is the heart of the
gospel! Paul's opponents not only were teaching a "wisdom". that
down played (probably rejected) the Cross but were promonng a
"different" gospel that led to unbelievable practi ces and attitudes.
We cannot overemphasi ze Paul's own sense of mission here; he
knows only toO well that if he fails to make a successful defense of
the Cross and its place as the center of the gospel, everything else he
would write would be meaningless. The Cross is unquestionably the
essential of all essentials! On the other side of the coin, teachings that
do not have the Cross at the center-or worse, have no Cross at all
("worldly wisdom"}-are nothing but foolishness in God's
This is very evident in the contrast Paul delineates m 1 Connthians
I: 18 (notice the italicized words): "For the message of the Cross IS
foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved
it is the power of God" (emphasis supplied). .
Because Paul defines wisdom in the context of the Cross, hiS com-
ments offer us an important insight about the meaning of true wis-
dom, regardless of what age we may live in. Occasionally there are
individuals who use these passages in I Corinthians to attack phi-
losophy, or any kind of human reasoning. This would be a serious
misuse of the text. What is so crucial to recogni ze in this section of
I Corinthians for a present application is that whenever wisdom ex-
cludes or challenges the Cross, such "wisdom" becomes folly (be
that in the middle of the first century A.D. or in Qt'r own time) . Paul
makes it clear that the Cross is the criterion by which wisdom is to
be measured. This is non-negotiable. Thus, Paul is not attacking
philosophy and wisdom per se, as some have interpreted this pas-
sage. This viewpoint is substantiated by the fact that Paul himself
makes use of "worldly wisdom" and its persuasive elements to drive
home even more sharply his assault on his opponents and their use
of a wisdom minus the Cross'
A wisdom minus the Cross! Paul begins his thesis with the words: "For
the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing" (vs.
18) and proceeds to contrast the wisdom of God first with the folly of
man (vss. 20-25), and second, with the wisdom of the world (1:26-2:5).
For those perishing, the Cross may be foolishness, when in fact it is the
power of God (1:18; see Rom. 1:16 for a discussion of God's power).
The Greek word for "power" is our transliterated word for "dynamite."
No other message has this dynamite (I Cor. 1 :24; 4:20). No other preach-
ing has the power to save men and women. The knowledge (gn0sis),
however, that had become a part of the Corinthians' new understand-
ing precluded a need for the Cross. Their new wisdom could not toler-
ate the Cross simply because it was diametrically opposed to their self-
centeredness (see discussion below on "spiritual persons").
The news of the Cross is a message of service, of self-
renunciation, of obedience to God, not a message that produces ar-
rogance and boasting. Can you imagine how their new knowledge
("gnosis") must have related to Jesus, the center of God's saving ac-
tivity? Jesus, who, far from being proud and self-exalted, emptied
Himself and became obedient unto death (Phil. 2:6-8)' The good
news, though, in Paul and in the Gospels, is that this death leads to
life (Mark 8:34,35; developed in I Cor. I S) and exaltation (2 Tim.
2: 12; Rev. 22:5). This is the recurring theme in this passage (1 Cor.
1:17,18,23, 24; 2:2, 8), a theme that those who are perishing con-
sider foolishness.
An Old Testfl1l1e17t p"oof (I Cor. I: 19). As Paul often does in his
letters, he has an illustration to cite from Israel 's history to support
his position. This time his reference to Israel's past is to show the
fai lure of worldl y wisdom. He tells the Corinthi ans, "It is written: ' I
will destroy the wisdom of the wise' " (vs.1 9, a citation ofIsa. 29: 14).
When we turn to the Old Testament (Isa. 29:14 and 2 Kings 18 and
19), we see that Paul is referring to the time Israel had turned to
"wise" men to devise a plan to stave off the impending Assynan ill-
vasion; the plan failed to save Israel. The "wise" ones established an
alliance with Egypt against God's will, thinking they would aVOId a
catastrophe from the invading Assyrians.
But the wise men in Israel forgot a vital point: Only God could save
Israel. It's that simple, only God, not the wise counselors of the time!
(In the Assyrian Gallery of the British Museum is a tablet-the so-
called "Shalmaneser" tablet-which depicts this incident in Israel's
history to which Paul has referred. The tablet shows the retreat of
the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, and the annihilation of his officers.)
This was not the way the wise statesmen in Israel had planned It, but
then, God's wisdom differed' Paul, however, is not yet finished mak-
ing his point about man's inadequate wisdom and his inability to
appreciate the plan of God (Isa. 55:8, 9). .
Paul's challenge to the world's best minds (1 Cor. 1 :20, 21): He re.m-
forces his point of verse 19 with another statement, thiS nme gomg
a step further by stating that not only does man's wisdom fail; there
are times when God takes the wisdom of the world, represennng
the world's best, and turns it into "foolishness" (vs. 20, RSV). .
With a note of triumph, he asks, "Where is the wise man? Where IS
the scholar [scribe]? Where is the philosopher [debater] of this age?"
(vs. 19). Paul feels he has covered all his bases here as far as the
wisdom is concerned. The "wise" man was a philosopher-associated
with Greek thinkers. The "scholar" (or "scribe," RSV) was highly edu-
cated (similar to our Ph.D.s in religion)-associated with Jewish think-
ers (see Mat. 2.4). And the "philosopher" (or "debater," RSV) was asso-
ciated with both Greeks and Jews (Acts 6:9; 9:29; 17: 18; 28:29). The
answer to Paul's question is simple: When it comes to the real issues,
the wisdom of these three clever guys is pure foolishness' (1 Cor. 1 :21).
"There is such a thing as the ignorance of the learned, the wisdom of
the simple-minded" (Robertson, 77).
Getting priorities straight (vss. 22 -2 5). When you leave the Cross out
of the picture, you are left with a sense of direction that is skewed: Jews
seeking signs and Greeks looking for wisdom (vs. 22). The Jews often
came toJesus asking for signs (Matt. 12:38; 16: l;]ohn 6:30). Signs would
prove thatJesus could be a conquering Messiah. Such a Messiah would
never be condemned and crucified (Matt. 27:42; Luke 24:21). It was, in
fact, the very event of Jesus' crucifixion that made Him totally unquali-
fied to be the Messiah. According to the Jews, anyone who "hangs on a
tree" has been cursed by God! (Oeut. 21 :23). The Greeks, on the other
hand, were philosophical wisdom seekers and speculators (Acts 17:23).
Paul argues that in spite of their intellectual endeavors, in which
these wisdom seekers sought philosophy and mysteries (Greeks) and
signs and miracles a ews), they did not find God or His Cross. The
Cross thus becomes, in essence, a stumbling block to Jews and noth-
ing but foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:22, 23). Paul's point is
direct: We are not to go about searching for more miraculous proofs,
nor are we to philosophize or dispute; on the con trary, we are to
proclaim Christ crucified (who Himself shunned display and who
Himself was not a philosopher).
A demonstration of God's wisdom (1:26-2:5)
It is because God's wisdom is so unlike the world's wisdom that
Paul now demonstrates exactly how God's wisdom-which is "fool-
ishness" by the world's standards-accomplishes two very impor-
tant things. First, as a wise God, He chose the highly unlikely can-
didates in Corinth for salvation (1:26, 27). Certainly, a wise God
would never have chosen the sorry lot who now make up the
Corinthian church! And second, as a wise God, He chose a man
with no speaking abilities at all. Certainly, a wise God would never
have chosen a bumbling speaker like Paul to be the bearer of the
most important news the world has ever heard (2: 1).
Since an underlying burden for Paul is the defense of his apos-
tolic authority and his gospel, we ask here: How does his discussion
on wisdom tie into this concern? Obviously, Paul needs to make his
defense on two fronts: his apostolic authority and his gospel. As noted,
they cannot be separated. Therefore, in giving his definitions of wis-
dom, coupled with his conclusions about worldly wisdom (1: 18-2 5),
he is now ready to make a pivotal point about the validity of his own
minisny. He is going to tell the Corinthians that their experience is
parallel to hi s own (1:26-2:5). It is precisely their experience that
makes his ministry (office and message) authennc. How could he
accomplish such an about turn? .
This is quite a unique argument. As alluded to above, It has twO
parts: (1) God's act of choosing the Corinthians, and (2) God's actin
choosing Paul. This is how Paul structures hi s ..
God's wisdom in choosing the Corinthiarzs (1 :26-31). Paul begms by tell-
ing the Corinthians something to which they can agree: For
those God has called, Christ is the power and the Wisdom of God (vs.
24). Since the Corinthians would have cheerfully concurred with Paul
that they have been called, they would have to further conclude that
Christ is the power and the wisdom of God. Well spoken, Paul' Who
would want to disagree with that positive assessment? But he then asks
them, and this is vitally important, "think of what you were when you
were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many
were influential; not many were of noble birth" (vs. 26, emphasis sup-
plied). If God had chosen the Corinthians on the basis of wisdom, influ-
ence, and nobility, they would have been passed by. Like It or not, the
church members knew Paul was right, and so again, they agreed, al-
though probably not with as much enthusiasm as earlier. ,.
For those in Corinth who are accurately followmg Paul s line of
thought, the stage is set. With considerable skill, Paul is now to
make a rather amazing point about God's wisdom in operanon as It
relates to them. He states, "But God chose the foolish things of the
world .. . the weak things of the world ... the lowly things ... and the
despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that
are" (vss. 27, 28). The Corinthians knew that everything Paul had men-
tioned applied to them. But it is very important that we grasp what Paul
is trying to do: God turned the world's standards, the wisdom,
upside down and chose the ordinary rather than the excepnonal. No
one is able to disagree with Paul at this point. Paul has connected the
Corinthians' previous condition of nothingness to the very things God
chooses-the weak and lowly things of nothingness!
Paul reminds them, too, that God works this way "so that no one
may boast before him" (vs. 29). Before he moves to the final point of
his argument, he tells them, "You are in Christ Jesus, who has be-
come for us wisdom from God-that is, our ri ghteousness, holiness
and redemption. Therefore, . .. ' let him who boasts, boast in the
Lord' " (vss. 30, 31). Anyone who boasts must boast in what the
Lord has done, not in anything any person has done (vs. 30), regard-
less of how persuasive and wise it might be'
God's wisdom in choosing Paul (2: 1-5). Paul is now ready to draw
the parallel between the Corinthian believers and himself and in
. '
domg so proves that both his message and the manner in whi ch he
delivered it are related to the wisdom of God. You can sense the
drama of his conclusion in the first five verses of 1 Corinthians 2
which I offer here, with some liberties: "When I came to you, I did
not come with eloquence or superior wisdom. I came to you in weak-
ness and fear, with much trembling, not in any way at all with wise
and enchanting words. I was a nobody-how much like you I was! I
acknowledge that my preaching is unimpressive by human standards.
But my dear friends, it is precisely under these conditions that the
message of God can be recognized for what it is. The success of the
proclamation is enhanced by the fact that I had none of the skills
that would have made it easy for you to accept! Indeed, this is what
makes it possible for your faith to rest in what God can do (through
my weakness), not in what man can do (through superior human elo-
quence)" (based on 2:3-5 and 2 Cor. 10:10).
Paul felt that the Corinthians, rather than accepting the criticisms
being leveled at him by his attackers, should be eternally grateful that
God operated the way He did, for in His wisdom, they are now part of
God's family. Surely, the Corinthians now have to ask themselves some
soul-searching questions, for they cannot help but agree with Paul that
worldly wisdom would have excluded the Corinthian nobodies in just
the same way the so-called wise men were attempting to exclude Paul !
Consequently, Paul 's preaching, weak as he admits it may have
been, IS leglUmanzed through God's endorsement, and that is evi-
dent through a power outside himself, the power of the Spirit (2:4;
he uses here the same word for "power" as in 1: 18 and verse 24).
Paul has skillfully scored a powerful point. Somewhat ironically,
he does so by using rhetorical devices against the very rhe-
toncal techmques he is attacking!
The Definition of a "Spiritual Person"
Paul's major purpose in this section (2:6- 3:4) is to correct the
Corinthians' understanding of who a "spiritual" person IS. ThIs IS
very important for Paul because his opponents had argued that they,
not Paul, were spiritual persons. It was theIr c,lalm to be spmtual
persons that gave them the right to deny Paul s authorIty and the
message of the Cross he had proclaimed. .'
And it was because of this claim that they argued for theIr version
of Christian behavior. To Paul's opponents, his interpretation was
unauthorized. Because Paul knows what the opponents are thinking
about him, even when he writes that only the mature can the
wisdom of God and that only God's Spirit can define God s WIsdom
(2 :6-10), he is setting up his case for a definition of a spiritual per;
son. (It might appear at first that Paul is setting out to derme God s
wisdom or the working of God's Spirit, but he has already done that
in the previous discussion on God's wisdom as the Cross.)
The Greek word, pneumatikoi, a key word In 1 Connthrans (2:6-
3 :4). In order to appreciate Paul's attempt to correct the definltlon
of a spiritual person that was coming out of Cormth, I want to am-
plify information given in the Introduction on the Greek word,
pneumatikoi (plural), the word for "spiritual person.s." The. reason I
refer to the Greek word pneumatikoi rather than Just Its EnglIsh trans-
lation is because this is the same word used in I Corinthians 12,
where it is translated with a different meaning. English versions trans-
late pneumatikoi as "spiritual persons" throughout 1
except in 1 Corinthians 12 where pneumatlkorls translated
gifts." I believe the word pnett7llatikoi should be translated spmtual
persons" consistently. . .
Both here and throughout the letter, including 1 COrInthIans 12,
Paul is definitely challenging the Corinthians' claim that, as
pnemnatikoi, they were more than "mere men" (3:3, 4). We men-
tioned earlier that Paul warned of those who mIght come WIth a
"different spirit" (2 Cor. 11:4). I believe his warning was about these
pneumatikoi ("spiritual persons"). This discussion .the meanmg of
the word should be underscored in the reader s thir, ang, as It will be
helpful for understanding the mentality of Paul's adversaries.
Paul, of course, is not opposed in any way to a person being spir-
itual. The serious problem at Corinth was the church's definition of
"spiritual"-it led the members to believe that they were beyond
anyone else's authority. In addition, their understanding of
pneumatikoi made them arrogant (puffed up) and boastful . And this
boldness and arrogance meant, from their perspective, that they had
the authority to denounce Paul's authority (1 Cor. 9), to toss out
conventional church practices (11:1-16), to make a major reinter-
pretation of the Lord's Supper (vss. 17-34), and to set up an entirely
new moral code (1 Cor. 5, 6). It is this understanding that led Paul to
his lengthy discussion in 1 Corinthians 8 to 11 about authority, rights,
freedom, and what constitutes true knowledge. As noted above, the
claim in Corinth to be "spiritual persons" is so serious that later in
his letter Paul devotes three chapters to it (1 Cor. 12-14).
A ''spiriwal'' person J wisd07ll would "not have mtcified the Lord" (2 :8).
Paul has been using the word wisdom when it is connected to his
opponents in a derogatory manner-it utterly fails in contrast to
God's wisdom. But beginning with verse 6, Paul uses the word
wisdom to refer to "God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been
hidden" (vs. 7). This usage of the word is the meaning we find in the
Jewish wisdom literature written in the period between the Old and
New Testaments, where wisdom was defined as the agent of creation
and deliverance.
Paul makes use of this widely accepted definition by identifying
this wisdom with Christ. What does he have in mind? It is another
way of making an earlier point: The wisdom of the world is no more
than foolishness when compared with God's wisdom. How is this
so? The wise of the world were so far off target that they crucified
Christ, WIsdom Himself! Had the rulers of this age recognized Christ
(that is, had they been truly wise and genuinely spiritual), they would
not have crucified "the Lord of glory" (vs. 8). Paul accentuates the
mysterious element of this wisdom with a quotation from Scripture,
a passage many of us have cited numerous times: God has prepared,
for those who love him, far more than we (even the wisest among us)
could ever imagine (vs. 9; see Isaiah 64:4, KJV). The only way, Paul
says, that a person can know the thoughts of God regarding what
He has prepared for us is through the Spirit of God (vss. 10-16)-
not as some Corinthians believed, because they were inherently spir-
itual in their own ri ght. T he gnostics at Cori nth did not believe they
required any external assistance; namely, God's Spirit. For Paul,
though, if an individual is not taught by the Spirit, sl-iritual truths
(such as the Cross) will inevitably appear to be "foolishness" (vs. 14).
It is a simple equati on: Unspiritual, immature persons cannot dis-
cern spiritual truth. Conversely, only spiritual persons (someone who
is taught by the Spirit and therefore truly spiritual) can receive the
gifts of the Spirit and, consequently, know that God's wisdom em-
braces the Cross (vss. 12, 13).
A spiritual person does not quorrel (3: 1-4). In the concluding verses
of this section (vss. 1-4), Paul agai n defends himself. He indirectly
tells the Corinthians they are not qualified to critique his message
or his method. He does this by telling them why he could not speak
to them as pnettmatikoi (something they claimed to be!). Their quar-
reling is proof they are not who they think they are-spiritual per-
sons. On the contrary, Paul says their childish behavior proves that
they are actually immature infants, and still not ready for solid food
(vss. l, 2).
In fact, we learn a great deal about the issue when we notice what
Paul tells them about their actions-their actions indicate they are
mere men (vss. 3,4). This is an important clue that for the gnostics
the designation pnettmatikoi meant they were more than men, that is,
persons beyond the ordinary realm of human existence. This im-
portant conclusion by Paul will be covered in more when we
discuss 1 Corinthians 12 to 14.
Applying the Word
1 Corinthians 1:1-3:4
1. When occasions for dissension arise in my own church, how
might I relate to other church members if I were to always
ask myself: Is the Cross governing in the outcome? What
would be the implications for a church if its members al-
ways put all arguments at the foot of the Cross?
2. Today church divisions often center around such matters as
"conservative" versus "liberal" rather than around whom we
choose to follow. Explain how Paul 's counsels in
1 Corinthians 1 and 2 could be instructive for us with our
different divisions?
3. Although God expects me to use sound reasoning, to be a
thinker, what criteria should I apply to make sure that my
human wisdom is always subjected to God's \visdom? How
do I determine what God's wisdom might be?
4. Paul writes that "my message and my preaching were not
with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration
of the Spirit's power" (2:4). Explain how the use of "wise
and persuasive words" in our outreach today, be it preach-
ing or one-to-one contacts, is not in disagreement with Paul's
personal testimony.
5. We have a tendency to measure success by the same stan-
dards the Corinthians were using; namely, we are also im-
pressed by an articulate presentation, one that shows that
the speaker is very well read ("worldly-wise"). And since we
believe we can communicate the gospel with more effec-
tiveness when we are well informed in matters the world
considers to be wisdom, discuss the ways in which "worldly
wisdom" would not be in contradiction to Paul's points on
the subject.
6. Retrace the events of yesterday, or the day before. How would
your interactions with your family, co-workers, or strangers
have been different if those interactions were consciously
governed by the "mind of Christ" (vs. 16)?
7. Since spiritual things "are spiritually discerned" (vs. 14), how
should I respond to someone who differs with me on a theo-
logical point, particularly when both of us believe God's Spirit
has guided us in Our conclusions? Or, how should we relate
to one another over differences on such topics as health,
Sabbath, education, or whatever?
Researching the Word
1. With the help of a concordance, look up the words wisdom
and wise in books of the Bible other than 1 Corinthians and
then compare their use with the same words in 1 Corinthians.
Note in particular the reasons wisdom can t e both good
and bad (as it is in 1 Corinthians).
2. In Paul's greeting to the church at Corinth (1:1-3) and in his
expressions of "thanksgiving" (vss. 4-9), there are three
words that say a great deal about Paul's understanding of
Christianity: grace, peace, and thanks. Look up these three
words in a concordance and make notes of your search. What
do these words tell you about Christianity?
3. One of the most powerful statements in all of Scripture is:
"God ... is faithful" (vs. 9). For a rewarding spiritual expe-
rience, find all the passages in both the Old and New Testa-
ments that refer to God's faithfulness. Connect your find-
ings to the concept of our faith, particularly with regard to
the interrelationship between God's faithfulness and your
personal faith. Which comes first? Why is this important?
Further Study of the Word
1. In a Bible dictionary, read the information given under "gos-
pel." Specifically, read what is said about the meaning and
content of the word (rather than "Gospel" as in one of the
four Gospels).
2. In view of Paul's reference to the Jews' serious misconcep-
tions about the Messiah, see G. Knight's discussion on the
Messiah in the Bible Amplifier series on Matthew, 34-71, for
a clearer understanding of the subject.
3 . For a helpful discussion of "wisdom" in Paul's writings, see
Hawthorne, et aI., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 967-
The Apostles
Are United!
1 Corinthians 3:5-4:21
Underlying every difficult subject presented to Paul by the Corinthian
delegations (through oral and written reports) is the fact that his ministry
to them, at the time the church was established, has not only been chal-
lenged, but outright rejected. As far as Paul is concerned, the divisions
(l : 11, 12) exist only in the minds of the Corinthians.
For Paul, instead of there being several parties (followers of Paul, Apollos,
CephaslPeter, and Christ), there is really only one. The real division in Crrrinth
is between Paul and the Christ Party, not between himself and the other two
apostles, Apollos and Peter. And because Paul does not believe there is any con-
flict whatsoever between himself and any other apostle, he ends up, in this
section, also defending his fellow apostles. The apostles-Paul, Apollos (and
Peter who is mentioned once in 3:22)-are always on the same team.
The Christ Party wing of the church, Paul states with pointed sarcasm, has
already "arrived," while God has ''pu.t us apostles on display at the end of tbe
procession" (4:9). The apostles, in tbe end, are only servants of God, united
ministers of the Crru:r. God gets all the credit, for it was God wbo went to the cross!
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 3:5-23
Read the passage twice. Update the content of "Chloe's Re-
port" (see number 1, Getting Into the Word, for 1 Corinthians
1: 1-17).
1. List the ways that Paul downplays the role of the apostles
and uplifts God's activity in the founding and growth of the
church at Corinth. What are the two metaphors Paul uses
in 3:6-13, and how do they help him make his point about
God's work?
2. After Paul talks about himself and Apollos as "fellow work-
ers" (vs. 9), what does he proceed to say in the following
verses that essentially makes his own ministry the more im-
portant? Explain why Paul has not contradicted himself.
3. Paul describes three types of builders in verses 14-17. What
are the differences between the builders as far as results are
concerned? How does this description relate to his state-
ment in verse 10?
4. Explain what Paul means by saying that a minister's work
may be destroyed while the minister himself is saved (vs.
5. According to Paul, in verse 15, a minister can be saved even
though his work is destroyed. In verse 17, Paul refers to a
minister who will be destroyed. Both ministers have failed,
so why is one saved and the other lost? What distinction is
Paul making between them?
6. How does Paul's eloquent conclusion to this chapter (3:21-
23) eliminate the option of parties? What specifically hap-
pens to the slogans "I am of Paul," "I am of Apollos," "I am
of Cephas," "I am of Christ"?
Exploring the Word
Apollos and Paul: Fellow Workers
In this section of the letter (3:4-23) Paul begins by emphasizing
that the role of ministry, his or anyone else's, is important only as it
magnifies the work of God (vss. 4-9). Different types of ministries
should not cause division or competition in the church. Through-
out the rest of 1 Corinthians 3, Paul continually gI les God all credit
for the successes of the apostles. He explains his point further by the
use of two extended metaphors, one from an agricultural setting and
the other of a building and its architect (vss. 6-10).
Paul describes three types of builders as he enlarges the second
metaphor and warns of the consequences facing the second and third
of these when Christ will return as Judge (vss. 10-17). The building
metaphor becomes more specific and individualized as the building
becomes a temple-the body (vss.I6, 17). Lastly, Paul ties his coun-
sels to an ongoing theme, that of knowledge, wisdom, and division
in the church (vss. 18-23).
Paul and Apollos: fellow servants (3:5-9)
Paul asks two rhetorical questions at the beginning of this sec-
tion, framed in such a way as to emphasize the senselessness of the
church's attempt to compare the apostles: What is Apollos? What is
Paul? (vs. 5). One would expect Paul to use the word who rather than
an impersonal what, but there is a purpose for choosing what. He
wants the Corinthians to fully realize two useful points. (1) Those
who do the work of ministry are relatively unimportant when com-
pared to what God does. The Greek words in this construction
moreover, emphasize the minor role of the apostles, just as the word-
ing does in verse 7, where Paul writes that neither the one who plants
nor the one who waters is anything (rather than anybody). (2) Paul
wants the church to recognize that simply because the two apostles
did a different kind of ministry does not necessitate a basis for creat-
ing division .
To furthe: emphasize the point of the unimportance of the apostles,
Paul states that he and Apollos are "only servants" (vs. 5). He knows
there is a difference in the ministries of the two apostles: Each has a
distinct ministry, and both do the task they are assigned by the Lord
(vs. 5). But there is no difference in their objective (vs. 8). They are
not competing with each other. You, he suggests to the Corinthians,
are the ones who have created the divisions between us. This whole
affair is in your minds, not ours. After Paul founded the church ,
Apollos ministered to them in a manner that complemented Paul's
work. Paul planted (see Acts 18:4-11), Apollos watered (see Acts 18:2 7,
28), and in the end both contributed to the growth of the church as
"fellow workers" (1 Cor. 3:6,9).
. .
The interdependence of the two apostles is inherent WIthin the
description of their labors, taken from the world of farming: Plant-
ing with no watering results in no crop. Watenng when there IS no
seed in the ground is a wasted act. The issue is se:ted,
when the two questions above (What is Paul? What IS Apollos. ) are
answered by Paul's concluding remark on the. matter. He. makes a
statement that transfers all credit from any minIster In Connth, past
or present, to where it belongs-with God. "So neither he who plants
nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things
grow" (vs. 7). It is also God who will pay the rewards (vs. 8). (Paul
elaborates on the rewards in verses 12 to 15.)
For Paul, the farmers (apostles), the crops (church), and the gro:m
(of the church), all are God's doing! "So stop looking at apostles, he
tells the Corinthians, "regardless of the one you have chosen,. and
look to God." How much better off the church would be today
always looked to God! God does use human instruments, but that IS
what we are, instruments. Instruments do not use.; they are used.
A theme we often overlook in Paul is the prominence he gtves to
God. We think so often ofJesus in connection with the gospel,. whIch
is good, of course. But it is God who gives growth (vs. 7); It IS God
h H 'sSon(Rom 325 58 8+ Gal. 4:14; see also John 3:16);
wogavel ."""',.
it is God who was in Christ, reconcIlIng the world to HImself
(2 Cor. 5: 18, 19); it is God's power and righteousness unto our salva-
tion (Rom. 1:16, 17). The list could be Paul would have
us know, along with the Corinthians, that It IS not ?ersons, even
great apostles like himself, but God and God alone who awakens
love in the heart, who re-creates us into a new people He .to
Himself. What great love that we should even be called HIS chil-
dren! (1 John 3:1).
Paul: the expert builder (1 Cor. 3:10-17). .
Here Paul has changed the imagery from an agncultural setnng
(. hich the church members were a field and he the farmer) to a
construction setting (in which they are a building, an e IS e mas-
ter builder). In fact, he made the shift consciously when he said the
church was both God's field and God's building in verse 9. The change
of metaphor makes it easier for Paul to establish some important
points. Having made his case for the unity between himself and
Apollos, Paul now zeroes in on the underlying issue: his own role in
the Corinthian church. It is important for Paul to persuade the
Corinthians that any ministry that goes on in Corinth must be con-
sistent with his ministry to them at the time of his first contact with
them, a ministry that has J esus Christ as its foundation (vs. 11 ). The
foundation that cannot be tampered with is Jesus Christ Himself
(2:2). Paul 's gospel' As we have noted, others had come to Corinth
and preached a different gospel (2 Cor. 11 :4).
The crucified Christ means everything to Paul. We have already
read that Paul considered that this foundation had been seriously
tampered with (1:18-2:8). When he indicated earlier in the letter
tha t some of the Corinthians had made the Cross of no aCCOUnt
they had, by Pauls definition, eliminated the foundation he had built.
He will shortly have some solemn things to say about such ministry
(3:13, 17).
WIth decisive language, he begins with this reminder: It was my
work tha t is the most important! "I laid a founda tion," and he goes
on to say he did so as an "expert builder" (3: 10). The Greek words
Paul uses here for "expert builder" are, literally, "wise architect."
These words are carefully chosen. "WIse" made a statement to those
who gave wisdom inordinate value. "Architect" is a transliterated
Greek word. An archi tect often oversees the work of all other phases
of construction, assuring that all work is done according to the origi-
nal plan. Those who have traveled to Europe and visited the majes-
tic cathedrals have been impressed with how effectively additions to
the original structure have been made through the centuries. The
added portions tie into the original building symmetrically and beau-
tifully because all new construction has followed the original design
of the architect. Paul is telling the Corinthians that any minister
who follows him, while he may not be an expert as Paul himself is,
WIll be successful only by sticking to the original design!
Apart from his own building expertise ("skilled master builder,"
vs . 10, RSV), Paul refers to three other kinds of builders. Builder
One: His work survives (vs. 14); Builder Two: His work is lost, while
he himself is not (vs. 15); and finally, Builder Three: He himself is
destroyed (vs. 17). The building materials Paul lists (vs. 12) repre-
sent the quality of the work done by the first two builders. Gold,
silver, and costly stones obviously represent the minisrry of Builder
One; such a ministry will endure any test, even one by fire. Apollos
would be a good example of such a builder. The wood, hay, or straw
represent the ministry of Builder Two; this ministry is worthless and
will be consumed by fire (see vss. 13, 14), even though the bwlder IS
himself saved (vs.15).
Paul mostly has Builder Two and Builder Three in mind. Builder
Two is not the minister who does the wrong thing. He is the minis-
ter whose work simply does not measure up, whose work is inad-
equate. The minister survives even though his work may be weak,
inept, or out of balance-but not wrong. Builder Two is the minis-
ter who may do a lot of things right, but has, to use Jesus' words,
overlooked the weightier matters (Matt. 23:23). God, in His mercy,
still saves this incompetent, but probably well-intentioned, minis-
ter, but there is nothing of value to save from his labors. What a
tragedy! What a waste of talents!
However, Paul has probably been thinking all along mostly of the
destructive builders because of what has happened in Corinth. He
makes his final judgment about their ministry when he talks about
God's temple (1 Cor. 3:16, 17). When he writes that "someone else
is building" on my foundation (vs. 10), that "someone" is either
Builder Two or Builder Three. He certainly is not referring to
Apollos. He has already given an endorsement to the ministry of
Apollos (vss. 5, 22; 4:6). So Paul has those in mind who need to be
very careful how they build on his work. He knows there are build-
ers in Corinth who at that very moment are destroying his work.
Builder Three is destroyed for one very simple reason: He was him-
self a destroyer (3 :16, 17)! This is the minister who divides churches,
who creates alienation between the members in an attempt to promote
himself or his ideas. He does not accept counsel, not even from his
peers; he is too arrogant or puffed up. He has no qualms about destroy-
ing another person's reputation, possibly in a clever semblance of doing
it for God or for the church, or, ironically, to "protect" the very one he
is destroying' The arrogance of the Corinthian missionaries, as well as
those in the church who were swayed by their sophistries, is what gives
them the deluded notion they can speak for God. After all, they know
what God thinks better than anyone else!
"But each one should be careful how he builds" (vs. 10). This
warning is so serious that Paul connects itwith the day of judgment.
On that "Day" (vs. 13) the ministry that does not measure up, the
ministry of Builders Two and Three, will be burned (vss. 13-17)!
The "Day" is, of course, the day when Christ returns as victorious
Judge (1 Thess. 5 :4), at which time the building materials will be
tested in the fire. Paul is hoping this language will make an impact
on the church's thinking. Judgment day imagery is indeed sobering.
Judgment day means fire, and it means payday. Fire is a biblical meta-
phor commonly used to describe divine judgment (2 Thess. 1: 7; Rev.
18:8). The reward distributed on judgment day is not given for just any
kind of building activity; only top-quality work will reap dividends. It is
not how much building has been done by the builders who followed
Paul to Corinth but, rather, what kind of building has been done, that
will count in the judgment. This concept of judgment is precisely paral-
lel to Jesus' teaching in Matthew on the judgment. Jesus made it clear
that a great deal of activity, which may even appear to be good (Matt.
7:21,22), is not the criterion for a happy ending in the judgment. It is
the quality of the work that counts (25:31-46).
There is a certain note of finality to Paul's words in this section of
the letter. He has stated, in essence, that all subsequent ministry,
regardless of whose ministry it might be, must agree with his. He
has made the labors of all other apostles, whether Apollos or the
"super-apostles," theologically dependent on his own. And the con-
nection with the judgment day lets them know that this needs to be
taken with maximum seriousness!
God's temple and wisdom (1 Cor. 3: 16-23)
Paul again wants to establish the importance of his ministry over
against the ministry based on worldly wisdom and eloquence-dis-po
cussed earlier in the letter. So the purpose of the question in verse
16 is not immediately evident. "Don't you know that you yourselves
are God's temple and that God's spirit dwells in you?" The form of
the question in Greek means that Paul expects the Connthians to
realize they do indeed know; that is, the question calls for a Yes an-
swer. When Paul begins a question with "Don't you krow ... " as he
does ten times within this letter(3: 16; 5 :6; 6:2, 3, 9, 15, 16, 19; 9: 13,
24), his question is always followed by an indisputable statement. It
is almost as if Paul is taunting the Corinthians a httle, smce they
believe they know everything (1:5; 8:1, 10; 13:2)' He seems to be
saying to them, "Surely you, of all people, should know, since you
possess so much knowledge!" .,
Up to this point in his letter, Paul has allowed that his opponents
ministry mi ght not be so bad as to call for their destrucoon. On the
other hand, should the ministry of the "super-apostles" result in the
destruction of the church at Corinth, Paul is going to let them know
right now that God will then destroy them for such destruction (3: 17).
This is his argument. First, he modifies the metaphor he has been us-
ing; he still uses the idea of a building, but it is a special building: th.e
temple. Just as the change from "field" to "building" 9) It
easier for Paul to make his points, so now the change from bwlding to
a more specific building, the "temple," makes it easier for Paul to talk
about the serious consequences to builders (apostles) who are guilty of
what Paul considers criminal activity (ignoring the Cross).
Because the temple is God's dwelling place and because the church
body is this very temple, it follows that any builder who destroys the
temple can surely expect that God will destroy him (vs. 17; see
2 Cor. 11:15)! T he metaphor of the temple is used three different
ways by Paul. Later in this letter (1 Cor. 6: 19), "temple" refers to an
individual. In Ephesians 2 :21, Paul uses the term to represent the
universal church. But here in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul is definitely us-
ing "temple" for the Corinthian church body. T his is by the
context (quarreling disrupts the body ofbehevers and IS thereby de-
structive to the church) and also by the Greek, which uses the plural
for "you" (vss. 16- 17) . . .,
We now come to the final part of Paul 's argument m 1 COrInthians 3.
Gone are the metaphors-farmers and builders. It's back to his
nonfigurative language and the themes already addressed in his letter
(I Cor. I, 2). After telling the believers they should beware of self-
deception, he again reminds them that the truly wise "should become a
'fool' so that he may become wise" (3 : 18). Please, Paul pleads, be humble
enough to learn. An old proverb, which sounds as if it were based on
Paul's words, puts it this way: "He who knows not, and knows not that
he knows not, is a fool; avoid him. He who knows not, and knows that
he knows not, is a wise man; teach him."
These closi ng verses of I Corinthians 3 show that Paul's discus-
sions @ wisdom and parry divisions, along with boasting (themes
from the beginning of the letter), are inseparable topics
m hIS mmd. Paul refers to wisdom in verses 18 to 20a and to boast-
ing and divisions in verses 21 b to 23. In the final verses of the chap-
ter, Paul also turns the slogans about parties (I: 12) upside down, for
rather than there being followers of this person or that person, Paul
makes a sweeping statement which summari ly does away with all
diVISions; for, he writes, Paul, Apollos, Cephas, world, life, dearQ,
present, and future, all belong to the Cori nthians, and they in tum
"are Christ's; and Chri st is God's" (3:22, 23, RSV). Amen!
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 4:1-21
Since this is the last section of a subject that Paul took up
from the very first verse of his letter, and since this chapter
contains Paul's conclusions to the subject, it would be helpful
t? go and read again the first three chapters in conjunc-
tIOn with a reading of 1 Corinthians 4. Bring your reconstruc-
tion of "Chloe's Report" up-to-date. Then work with the fol-
lowing questions:
1. Because Paul has been arguing that he and Apollos are merely
servants and he knows that his critics are claiming the right pi
to pass judgment on him, write down in your .me
points Paul makes in 4:1-5 to counter the opponents VIew
of this "right."
2. Now that we have come to the end of the section that began
with the divisions (1:12), what are we able to conclude about
the various parties? What do we know about the names
mentioned? What about the Christ Party? Do we have any
clues as to who they may be? Retrace the content of
1 Corinthians 1-4 and read 2 Corinthians 10:7; 11:13, 23 to
see if there is a possible suggestion about the identity of the
Christ Party. Jot down your findings; explain the implica-
3. What is Paul seeking to demonstrate in the contrast be-
tween 1 Corinthians 4:8 and verses 9-13? What does this
contrast add to the flow of the argument? Is Paul contra-
dicting himself in verse 14, where he is not:eeking
to shame them? How would you explam this seenung con-
tradiction in light of what he has just written in verses 8-13
and what follows in verses 14-21?
4. Paul makes a significant point about the unity of his minis-
try with that of Apollos, indicating they are both
and stewards (vs. 1, RSV). Explain the reason for the shift m
verse 14 where Paul becomes the only leader.
5. You recill an exercise you were asked to do in the Getting
Into the Word section for 1:18-3:4 in Chapter One regard-
ing the concept that spirituality is a "gift" (Getting Into
Word, number 6). Keeping in mind that Paul's adversanes
were making bold claims to be spiritual on their own, that
is, without spirituality being a gift, examine ad? to
your notes made during the earlier exercise. mvesoga-
tion will conclude in our discussion of 1 Connthians 12-14.
6. List the two contrasting views Paul makes of his opponents
(4:7,8 and vss. 18, 19) and of himself and other apostles
(vss. 9-13). Write a summary statement as to what you be-
lieve the purpose of this contrast is and what it has accom-
Exploring the Word
IdentifYing the True Apostle
First Corinthians 4 (vss. 1-21) provides the climax to Paul's first
major argument. This is where he has been headed from the time he
first spoke of the divisions (I Cor. I). The NIV translati on of the
first word, So then, caprures the notion that Paul is now going
to gIve the conclusion of the whole matter."
The Christ Party is indirectly reintroduced as Paul makes his ar-
gument in favor of the apostles over against the Christ Party. Paul
defends his own ministry with a three-pronged argument: He is a
servant for God; the Corinthians should not and cannot judge him,
SImply because they do not have the right to do so; and, further-
more, God and only God can judge him (vss. 1-5).
Paul next proceeds to show they tend to judge him because of
their lack of humility. Their arrogance is based on a fal se under-
standing of their own identity. Paul contrasts the behavior of his
opponents with the behavior of those who truly serve God. True
servants are weak, perhaps even foolish by the world's standards, but
they are, nevertheless, chosen by God (vss. 6-13).
He concludes the section by changing his approach. In an appeal,
Paul descnbes hImself as a father who, while loving and caring, must
also rebuke and exhort, and sometimes, if necessary, use a rod. Love
is preferred to the rod, however (vss. 14-2 1).
True apostles servants, and God is the Judge (4:1-5)
. In the foll owing two sections, the subheadings include the adj ec-
tive tme In front of the word apostle, because it is Paul 's intention in
these sections to discuss not onl y who a true apostle i., but also what
a true is 71ot . In section one, the true apostle is not a judge,
and In secti on two, the true apostl e i., lIot proud.
A paraphrase of Paul's words in verse 1 would be: "So then, " [with
respect to the divisions,] "I wish to now conclude this whole issue by
tellIng you that you should regard us [the apostles] as united serv-
ants of Christ and as stewards of the mysteries of God." The apostles
have always been on the same team, and he states again in verse 6
that he has "applied these things to myself and Apollos." He also
C " tl" 9
rna es relerence to us apos es III verse .
If the apostles are a united team, what about the group who said
"I am of Christ?" (1:12). Have you wondered what could have hap-
pened to the Christ Party? It has not been mentioned once since
that first reference at the beginning of the letter. We can account for
the apostles who were named. We know, for example, that Paul and
Apollos are the central figures from among those named III
1 Corinthians 1:12. Paul has continually spoken about himself and
Apollos (3:4,5; 3:22; 4:6). We also noted that Peter (Cephas) is men-
tioned twice (1:12; 3:22). Only the Christ Party is left out, a group
not belonging to the apostles.
The Christ Party. I conclude, as indicated earlier in this commen-
tary, that it is the Christ Party that is really Paul's opposition. This
conclusion is based on five reasons.
1. A group of Christians in Corinth who were truly Christians
would not form a factious group. This would be a contradiction of
terms. It could happen, though, if the claimants were not truly Chris-
tian. Any group that sets itself apart from the community of believ-
ers, in a divisive manner, would indeed have something wrong with
its theology, regardless of what it was called.
2. At the very first mention of the Christ Party (UI, 12), Paul
asked,"Is Christ divided?" (vs. 13). The verb Paul uses for "divided"
carries with it the connotation that the Christ Party had actually
separated themselves from the others, implying by their actions that
those who belonged to another group could not be a part of Christ.
The obvious answer to Paul's question ("Is Christ divided?") would
be: "Christ cannot be separated or assigned to one group'"
3. We know from Paul's statement in 2 Corinthians that the Christ
Party had the characteristics of Paul's opponents in this letter; that
is, they were boasting of their status as Christians: "Are they Chris-
tians, I am a better one" (11 :23, RSV)! That doesn't sound like Paul,
does it? The only reason Paul would have fired back a response such
as this to his own question would be because he found it necessary to
counter the bold claim of his opponents. He even says he is talking
like a mad man, but they had forced him to do it (11 :23; 12: 11, RSV)!
Earlier in 2 Corinthians, Paul called his opponents "deceitful work-
men, disguising themselves as ministers of Christ" (11: 13, RSV; em-
phasis supplied). His words in 2 Corinthians 10:7 add another sig-
nificant indication about the claims the Christ Party was making: "If
anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should consider
again that we belong to Christ just as much as he."
4. Paul continually tells us there is opposition to him in the church,
and he tells us a great deal about his opponents' dominant charac-
teristics-none of which are attractive. Since it was a common prac-
tice not to distinguish one's opponents by referring to their names,
and since we can account for all the other named groups mentioned
at the beginning of the letter, except the Christ Party, we have indi-
rect evidence for the identity of this group.
5. The fact that Paul bends over backward to show th;It the
apostles are united through thick and thin, as humble servants,
means they are on one side, and the only party not mentioned, a
non-apostle party, is on the other side. Furthermore, Paul would
have found it difficult to refer to his antagonists with a title that
included the name of "Christ"-a name highly revered by him-
and even more so if the title was used illegitimately as in Corinth
for a factious element.
It is an awesome message for us today: Calling ourselves "Chris-
tians" does not mean that we are! In a passage we cited earlier, we
know it is possible to prophesy inJesus' name, to cast out demons in
His name, and to even perform many miracles, only to be told by
Jesus, "I never kn(wyou. Away from me, you evildoers" (Matt. 7:23).
History is filled with the records of dastardly deeds done in the name
of Christ, and it appears that Corinth may have been one of the first
places where that occurred.
Once again it is evident that Paul finds himself on the defensive
(1 Cor. 4: 1-6). He is fully aware of the fact that his style of ministry
and his message have been under close scrutiny. He knows that some
in Corinth have pronounced strong negative judgments against him.
What is Paul going to do about it?
Paul's three-point defeme of his ministry (vss. 1-5). In I Corinthians
4, Paul makes his defense by emphasizing three significant points.
1. Ministers are servants. Paul once again identifies himself and
Apollos as servants and adds that they are also stewards (vs. 1, RSV).
The idea of "servant" is objectionable in the fullest sense to the proud
Corinthians and Paul wishes to press the point to the limit that
authentic ministry comes under the umbrella of humility, of servi-
tude, not superiority.
Paul's repeated identification of true ministry with the word serv-
ant carries with it much more meaning when we contrast his view of
servanthood with the Corinthians' notions of self-exaltation (as seen
in their arrogance and spiritual superiority). The fact that Paul again
reminds them of a "servant" ministry in the conclusion of this four-
chapter presentation accentuates its importance for him. .
Paul now adds a new dimension to the servant motIf. Earher, Paul
wrote that he and Apollos were servants (3 :5); he states this again,
but this time he uses two different words (4: 1). The word for "serv-
ant" in verse 1 carries with it the connotation of subordination, which
again should be contrasted with Ills opponents' insubordination to-
ward his apostolic office. (This particular word for "servant" is the
word used for those who rowed in the lowest bank of the three-
banked Roman galleys and who were, therefore, helpers in the most
literal sense.)
The other word Paul uses in verse 1, "stewards" (RSV), also con-
veys the idea of servant, only this time it literally means "household
manager." The steward had heavy responsibilities, to be sure, but he
was still a slave. His role was comparable to our local church orgam-
zational structure in which the head person (pastor or head elder)
carries the weight of leadership but is, nevertheless, a servant. With
both words Paul supports his definition of ministry, which is, of
course, the only genuine kind. He gives a strong hint that as a stew-
ard of God's mysteries, he has the inside track. In Judaism it was a
common practice for a fath er to pass on to his son the trade secrets
of the family business. Jesus claimed, for example, to have access to
His Father's secrets (Matt. 11 :25-27; 13: 11), and Paul is quite likely
making a similar claim. You recall, Paul has already stated that the
"secret things of God" (God's wisdom) is the message of the Cross
and known only by the Spirit'S revelation (1 Cor. 2:7-10).
T he steward is a "household manager," and, obviously, in order
to qualify as a steward, one must be trustworthy (4:2). That is the
sole criterion. Paul anticipates a possible response to tills line of tIllnk-
ing, that in order to know if one is indeed trustworthy, one has to
make a judgment about a steward's trustworthiness, in this case, Paul's.
T he Corinthians would argue that they get to be involved in such an
2. Only God is Judge (not Paul's opponents). Thi s leads to the second
point in Paul's defense of hi s ministry, which I give as a paraphrase
of verses 3 and 4. "I know, " Paul would say, "that you have made a
judgment on me, one you believe it is your right to make. I am fully
aware of your position. I know I have failed totally according to your
criteria, especially with regard to wisdom and to eloquence" (1: 1 7
and 2 :4). "But let me tell you something, your judgment is no big
deal. It means nothing to me, for after all, I do not even judge my-
self" (4:3). Paul informs them that their court has neither the com-
petency nor the jurisdiction to make a ruling. In telling them their
judgment is insignificant (vs. 3), he uses an expression that is analo-
gous to God's day of judgment: He speaks, literally, of a "human day
of judgment" (vs. 3, translated as "human court"). Paul , furthermore,
knows that having a "clear conscience" does not mean he is inno-
cent (vs. 4). The point is: "Like it or not, you Corinthians do not get
to be the judges. That is God's prerogative" (vs. 4). Judgment is to
be done only by the Lord, and since judgment is God's sole right,
the Corinthian community cannot presume to pronounce judgment.
They need to back off.
3. Judgment is future, not now. Paul 's third point of defense follows
very naturally. Because the act of judgment is God's and only God's,
and His judgment occurs at the time "the Lord comes" (vs. 5), Paul
tells the Corinthians they need to be very careful about any second
guessing in the present! They do not have sufficient evidence, and
what they do have has been grossly distorted. Paul's warning about
prematurely judging others reminds us ofJesus' counsels in His par-
able of the wheat and tares (Matt. 13:24-30) and of His warnings
about judging others (7: 1-5), as well as Paul 's instruction to the Ro-
mans in chapter 14. Judging others, which is God's business, should
be used with extreme care by human beings. Too often we want to
play God. .
In the verses that refer to "judging" (I Cor. 4:3, 4), Paul wntes
about judgment that occurs at three levels, all of them having a dif-
ferent value.
There is the judgment of us by others ("I am judged by you").
There is the judgment I make of myself ("I do not even judge
And then there is the judgment God makes of us all ("It is the
Lord who judges").
In this case, Paul brushes aside the judgment of others, although
I am sure he would agree there are times in the course of our daily
lives when we should give seri ous attention to what others have to
say, even if it happens to be a negative judgment about us. It has
been said we are given the most accurate judgments about ourselves
from those who either hate us or dearly love us. We need to be sure
we do not have an arrogance that cuts off evaluations that may actu-
ally be a help to us.
Paul also gives little weight to the judgment he might make of
himself (vs. 3). But this must surely be understood in li ght of what
he wants to say about God's judgment-which makes his own self-
judgment relatively insignificant. There is no question, however, that
Paul had a very high regard for who he was. He even could ask church
members to imitate him (vs. 16; 11:1 ; see also Phil. 3: 17; I Thess.
1:6; 2 Thess. 3: 7, 9). He wished, for example, that all persons might
have a healthy conscience, as he did (2 Tim. 1:31; 2 Cor. 1:12). In
fact, Paul looked back on his pre-Christian experience with a rather
positive evaluation. He speaks with what seems to be a little pride
that he "was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people oflsrael,
of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law,
,\ Pharisee" (Phil. 3:5). He said he was a "Pharisee, a son of the Phari-
sees" (Acts 23:6, RSV), and as far as the law was concerned, he was
"blameless" (Phil. 3 :6). Still, Paul knew, and the Corinthi an experi-
ence gave evidence of it, that a person could have a false concept of
self. All the more reason one should apply the Greek axiom, "Man,
know yourself." Self-examination can be a good thing if it is done
for the right reasons-namely, with the interests of others in mind.
For Paul, it is the third kind of judgment that counts-God's judg-
ment (I Cor. 4:4-5). Only God knows the circumstances of each
person's life, and only God knows the motives that govern the be-
havior. How thankful we should be that it is indeed God who makes
the final judgment!
True apostles are humble (vss. 6-13)
Paul now applies the preceding argument to himself and Apoll os
(vs. 6), so that by example the Corinthians might learn the lessons
on judging, which he has just covered, and On humility, which he
now takes up. In verse 6, Paul uses a very picturesque Greek word
(Phusioo) to describe a negative Corinthian characteristic.
The Greek word phllsioo. Paul uses the word six times in the letter;
this is the first use. Because phllsioo is such a meaningful and descrip-
tive word for Paul 's opponents, I want to draw your attention to its
use in the letter. Phusioii means literally "to be puffed up" and, inter-
estingly, is derived from a noun that means a pair of bellows, which
suggests an English sayi ng, "full of hot air." Unfortunately, the force
of Paul's use ofphllsioo in our English translations loses its effective-
ness on two counts. First, because it is translated in three different
ways throughout the letter, we do not know, as we read the English
translation, that Paul has used the same word in all six places. And
second, the choice made by the translators occasionally causes the
force of Paul's word to be lessened.
The NIV translates the word as "pride" or "proud" in 4:6, 5:2,
13:4; as "arrogant" in 4: 18, 19, and as "puffs up" in 8: I. I believe the
NIV's translation of "take pride" in 4:6 causes Paul 's point to get
lost. "Pride" is a word often used in a positive manner, such as, I take
pride in my work or country or church. The text literall y reads,
"puffed up against another," and more aptly states Paul's intention,
particularl y in view of his next comment:
"For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you
have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you
boast as though you did not' " (vs. 7). 'ATe are given a tremendous
amount of information in these questions. This information becomes
evident when we ask and answer: \Nhat prompted Paul to ask the
questions? As we have observed in several different contexts of Paul's
letter, some members in the church, along with the "super-apostles"
who had influenced them, were making claims about themselves that
Paul wishes to counter.
As we pointed out in Chapter One (see comments on 1 Cor. 2: 1 0-
3 :4), the definition his opponents gave to pnelt1l1atikoi ("spiritual per-
sons") alarmed Paul. You recall that the gnostic definition meant
that the pneulIlatikoi were spiritual by virtue of existence! Always
spiritual beings, immortal beings. Spiritual beings who rely on noth-
ing external, such as a "gift" from God, for being who they are!
\Nhen Paul told the Corinthians earlier that their behavior indi-
cated they were "mere men" rather than pnculllatikoi (vs . 4), he was
attacking their defmition by a direct denial. You do not have any
basis whatsoever, Paul argued, for boasting about something you
received as a gift! (4:7) For Paul, spirituality is a treasured gift, not
something persons have solely because they exist (see Rom. 8: 15).
The Corinthians were boasting because of who they thought they
were (1 Cor. 4:7). Boasting-there was no grounds for it whatso-
ever, according to Paul. How could they boast about something that
was a gift? How ungrateful could they be? Boasting is a prominent
theme in the Corinthian letters. Of the fifty-six times the word for
"boast" occurs in the New Testament, all but four are used by Paul.
And in Paul's fifty-two uses, thirty-three of them are in 1 and 2
Corinthians! That tells us something about Corinthian church mem-
bers, does it not'
Humility is in order. Gratitude is in order. There is no place for
their pretense of spiritual superiority. Every gift they have, every-
thing they are, is all from God. It reminds me of the song: "All that
I am, all that I ever will be, I owe it all to You." Paul amplifies his
position on the place of gifts in relationship to persons in
I Corinthians 12 .
An attack on their smugness. Paul uses a different approach in
4:8-13: "Rather than develop theological arguments for his own po-
sition, Paul seeks to undermine that of the Corinthians through sar-
castic paradoxes, ironic exaggeration, and rhetorical insinuation"
(Fiorenza, 1173). He describes the self-satisfied attirude of the
Corinthians with biting sarcasm. "Already you have all you want!
Already you have become rich! You have become kings" (vs. 8). In
each one of these phrases, the emphasis is on a present completed
condition-they assume that they have "arrived"! And because the
gnostics believed they had indeed "arrived," they certainly had no
needs. That was the huge problem Paul dealt with earlier in this
section-their rejection of the Cross (see Chapter One). You do not
ever need to be saved in the past, present, or future if you are not
lost or cannot be lost! Paul's depiction of the Corinthians as in need
of nothing, when they were in such great need, has the ring of the
message given to the church in Laodicea (Rev. 3: 17, 18).
As Paul describes the status of the apostles in 1 Corinthians 4:9-
13, he wants the Corinthians to realize the enormous contrast. The
apostles have been made a spectacle to all the universe, like the worst
of men, criminals condemned to die in the games of the arena. It is
quite likely that Paul was referring to the parades in Rome that took
place when a conquering military leader rerurned from a victorious
campaign with captives in tow. The captives, destined to die in the
arena, were the general's trophies and appeared last in the line-
those who were to die in the gladiatorial shows came into the arena
as the grand finale, "on display at the end of the procession" (vs . 9).
Paul's sarcasm now appears in three ironic antitheses: "we-you,"
using words that sl,ow up several times in the letter, even over against
each other as they are in this passage: "We are fools for Christ, but
you are so wise in Christ! 'I'Ve are weak, but you are strong. You are
honored, we are dishonored'" (vs. 10). Paul put these same terms
together, you recall, in the early part of his letter when he was writ-
ing about God's choices. He wrote that God chose the foolish things
to shame the wise and the weak things to shame the strong ( I :27);
and, furthermore, Paul said that God did these things "so that no
one may boast before him" (vs. 29)! This whole business of one's
standing before God is so different from the views coming out of
Corinth. Paul's way was, "If anyone of you thinks he is wise by the
standards of this age, he should become a 'fool' so that he may be-
come wise" (3:18).
Paul continues the contrast with a long series of miserable situa-
tions he hopes will elicit a sympathetic response from the Corinthians:
The apostles are hungry and thirsty, in rags, brutally treated (the
word used for beating slaves), homeless, having to work With their
own hands, cursed, persecuted, slandered, the scum and refuse of
the world (4:11-13). Many of the responses the apostles made under
these trying circumstances are identical to those Jesus told us to make.
The way a Christian should react to persecuno? and slandenng was
quite different from the prevailing views of society m general. Take,
for example, Aristotle's view that when one IS cursed, the highest
virtue is not to endure it! For Jesus and Paul, when we are cursed,
we should bless! (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:14, KJV).
Paul's comment that "Up to this moment we have become the
scum of the earth, the refuse of the world" (4:13) was probably his
most undesirable picture of all . Both "scum" and "refuse" are very
similar in meaning. "Refuse" referred to garbage, the dirt, dust, any
trash that is tossed out. The "scum of earth" also is related to clean-
ing. The scum is more like the stuff that comes off when washing a
dirty vessel. With both words, we have a very
The word for "scum" carried an additional meanmg m Paul s nme,
which was surely known by the Corinthians, since it was the custom
in Athens, during a plague, to throw out to sea some lowly wretch III
the hope of appeasing the gods, and the unfortunate person was pro-
nounced the "scum" (Robertson, 108).
A "father" appeals to his "children" (vss. 14-21) .
In verse 14, Paul abruptly changes his argument, and with the
change, his tone softens. He shows a conciliatory disposition in
this final section, even while he gets "tough." He first the
Corinthians it is not his intention to shame them. I would hke to
say to Paul , "That sounds a little hard to believe, Paul. If you
have not shamed them by what you have just written, they mdeed
are a hopeless lot! But really, Paul, didn't you intend to shame
them? Please tell me, what is going on? "
Paul would probably answer my questions by pointing out that
shifting to the father/child relationship markedly affected his Own
attitude. New dynamics obviously come into operation.
In the first part of this chapter (vss. I -6), Paul strongly argued
that all the apostles were servants, none higher or lower than an-
other and that the Corinthians should not choose one over the other.
Well ... unless they choose Paul! He is going to tell them he is
actually number one, for although they may have "ten thousand
guardians [tutors] in Christ [of which Apollos would be numbered],
you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your
father through the gospel" (vs. IS).
By introducing the language of father/children, Paul has also pro-
vided some justification for the strong talk he has given in the pre-
ceding section. He has essentially told them that as a father he has a
solemn responsibility to discipline his children, to correct them. The
word for "warn" (vs. 14) is used often in a parent/child relationship,
expressing counsel and advice for the child. The good parent must
be firm at times. That firmness, though, for Paul is not the severity
used to bring an unruly prisoner into line but a firmness that cor-
rects a loved one in a beneficial, constructive way. Parents today
who believe they are demonstrating love by failing to correct their
children do them a grave disservice. There is no room for blind sen-
timentality in a proper parent/child relationship. "There is a love
which can ruin a man by shutting its eyes to his faults; and there is a
love which can mend a man because it sees him with the clarity of
the eyes of Christ. Paul's love was the love which knows that some-
ti mes it has to hurt in order to amend" (Barclay, 42). Paul states he
has that right as no other apostle to be the firm and disciplinary
father, for he is, after all, their father in the gospel (vs. IS). Also,
because of this unique relationship, he is comfortable urging them
to imitate him (vs. 16).
Paul, however, knows full well that no matter what his relation-
ship is to them and no matter how persuasively he makes his appeal,
there will be some in the church who will not respond. This is why
he tells them he is sending Timothy, one who is close to Paul and
"faithful"; but even more, Timothy knows what Paul has been teach-
ing in all the churches (vs. 17). What Paul taught the CorinthIans IS
no different from what he taught in every other church. The ImpLI-
cation is that their rejection of him and his message will als.o put
them outside the sisterhood of Christian churches. He makes a smular
appeal in 1 Corinthians 11:2, 16; 14: 33.. . .
When Paul tells the Corinthians that he IS sendmg TImothy (4: 1 7),
I can hear their reaction: "Sending Timothy-say, Paul, are you afraid
of us? We think you are, and that's why you have not come in, per-
son; that's why you are sending Timothy. And by the way,. thats an-
other reason for our cockiness-your fear proves we were rIght about
ou!" Apparently a report was circulating that Paul was afraid to
Yd' . k
visit Corinth. Paul has heard it, toO, an anOClpates some more snur -
ingwhen they read that Timothy is being sent (vs. 18). He responds
to these reports in the following words, whIch I offer as a paraphrase
of verses 19,20: "But I will come, .. . and then I WIll find out, not If
your speech is eloquent [that I acknowledge], but whether or not
the puffed up persons really have power-which is the true test.
God's kingdom is not identified by eloquent speech but by
It would be a mistake, Paul tells them, to conclude that he IS afraId
of them or feels inferior to them or anything else they may be thmk-
ing, simply because he has not yet paid them a visit.
In his closing statement on this subject, like a good father he asks
them to make a choice, and they can choose either option (vs. 21).
Do they want him to come with a rod (something used by a rucar) or
in love and a spirit of meekness (as a spirirual father)? Either way,
Paul indirectly demonstrates his role as an authority figure the
church at Corinth, for he has indicated his right to eIther pUnIsh or
reward his children.
From the time Paul first learns about the troubles in a church he
had founded (\ : 1\), his heart has been heavy. The complex narure of
the troublem.akers' thinking and actions has not made Paul's response
easy. Surely, he hopes and prays, the defense he has made of the
Cross (1 Cor. 1, 2) and of his ministry, and to a lesser degree of the
other apostles (1 Cor. 3, 4), will be persuasive. It becomes abun-
dantly clear in the rest of Paul's lener that his great and compelling
desire is the salvation of each church member! Is not that what any
father would want for his chil dren'
Applying the Word
1 Corinthians 3 :4-4:2 1
1. The wisdom of the world is foolishness to God. Looking
through a current newspaper or news magazine, make a list
of the things you believe this age considers wise but that
you believe God would consider foolishness.
2. Make a list of what you would identify as good "building
materials" today for the church. Which of the things on your
list is already a part of your church? Which ones are new
materials, and how should they become an integral part of
the "building"?
3. Woe to ministers who tear up a church in a vindication of
self! Indicate the sort of conditions, though, under which a
pastor should take a stand that might have to be divisive.
4. Discuss the type of thing a minister could very well be doing
that would not jeopardize his soul but certainly is worthless
so far as "ministry" is concerned.
5. At Corinth, the party that said of themselves "I am of Christ"
caused" great deal of trouble. Indicate ways that church
members could be troublemakers in the name of something
good. Also indicate ways in which a good position can be
held and shared without being divisive and also so as not to
sound self-righteous or arrogant.
6. Paul said the Corinthians should imitate him, and he told
them to do this shortly after telling them that he goes hun-
gry, is dressed in rags, is persecuted, etc. Discuss why it is or
is not necessary for a Christian to continually experience
such circumstances to be a Christian. Discuss the place of
sacrificial living and its place in determining the level of
Christian commitment.
7. Discuss the type of things that would be safe to do in imitat-
ing a church leader. Indicate areas where such attention to a
minister could be dangerous because it migbt divert one's
faith and trust from Christ.
Researching the Word
1. Using a concordance, look up the following words in the
New Testament: church, building, and temple. What simi-
larities do you find? Differences? In what ways does your
study provide insights as to whether the focus should be on
a place to worship or on a group of believers?
2. Paul's opponents believed they were little gods, that every-
thing they possessed was theirs inherently. In addition t o
the passages in 1 Corinthians that clearly indicate that ev-
erything we have is a gift, find other passages in Romans
and Ephesians that help substantiate this important concept.
Using 1 Corinthians 4:7 as your launching poi nt, find the
words gift and gifts in the three books and note the message
that is made each time. Rejoice in the results!
Further Study of the Word
1. For general insights into 1 Corinthians 3, 4, see E. G. White,
The Acts of the Apostles, 271-280.
2 . For a practical essay on effective communication of the gos-
pel, see G. O. Peterman, "Equipping God's People for Min-
istry in 1 Corinthians 1-4."
3. For a thorough coverage of 1 Corinthians 3:4-4:21 , includ-
ing suggestions for making Paul's messages applicable for
today, see G. D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 129-
1 Corinthians 5-7
an Essen rial
Paul's next three chapters (I Cor. 5, 6, 7) are concerned with fou r
m.orallssues. Three issues deal with sexual morality, and one deals
WIth ethIcal relationships when there are disputes between the mem-
In Chapter Three, covering both 1 Corinthi ans 5 and 6 the
major topic js sexual immorality. Because Paul had strong words to
the COrInthIans far not making a judgment on sexual immorality in
theIr mIdst (I Cor. 5), the language of judgment prompts hi m to
address another af their failures in 1 Cori nthians 6-taking their
legal dIsputes to nonmembers for judgments (vss. I-II). In the last
half of 1 Corinthians 6 (vss. 12-20), Paul tells the church in very
cl ear terms thaturuongWlth a prostirute breaks the union with Ch . t
Paul had apparentl y already warned them af this in the
letter, referred to in 5:9.
In Chapter Four (I Cor. 7), Paul takes up the subject of sex withi n
marrIage, particularly if one spouse is an unbeliever. Apparently there
were some In the church who had concluded erroneously that if sex
WIth a prosOtute broke the relationship with Christ, sex with a spouse
who was an unbeliever might also break the tie with Christ.
Morality Versus
1 Corinthians 5, 6
In 1 Corinthians 5:1-6:20, Paul introduces two new topics. The first
topic deals with two different kinds of sexual immorality: (a) a church
member's sexual relationship with his stepmother (ch. 5); (b) church mem-
bers and their involvement with prostitutes (6: 12-20).
The second topic, which comes between the two passages on immorality
(vss. I-II), deals with litigation between church members and certainly
appears out of place. There is, however, a link between the apparently dis-
parate topics. Toward the end of 1 Corinthians 5 (vss. 12, 13), as Paul
brings closure to the first passage on immorality, he gives the church mem-
bers advice about their responsibility as insiders on judging fellow church
members and reminds them that God will judge those outside the church,
the outsiders. The discussion in 1 Corinthians 6 carries the same sort of
counsel about judgment that needs to be done by insiders (the church mem-
bers) and the judgment tbat is to be done by outsiders (noncburcb mem-
bers). It is probable, therefore, that Patti's comments in 5:12, 13 called to
his consciousness another issue related to judgment within and without the
church. The connection seems to have been a rather natural one, especially
for Paul, wbo often jumps to another subject before finishing the one be is
writing about!
Tbere are also ties between 1 Corinthians 5, 6 and the preceding part of
the letter (especially 1 Cor. 4). The most conspicuous tie has two dimensions
to it. In terms of language, we have Paul's dismay with the Corinthians'
arrogance (being puffed up) in 4: 18, 19 and again in our present passage,
5:2, 6. Another dimension, however, also related to being puffed up, is the
reC1wring issue of Paul's authority. Keeping in mind that the Corinthians
were puffed up because they thought Paul was afraid of them by not VISIt-
ing them in person (4:18, 19) and keeping in lIlindthat he IS right m the
lIliddle of dealing with a serious problelll (1 Cor. 5) m they are once
again puffed up, his strong language about the church s need to dlsClplme
the erring member lIlay be Palll's attelllpt to prove he can be an authorIty
in spite of the fact that he is still absent (vs. 3). As SerlOIlS as the problenlS
are in these next two chapters (1 Cor. 5, 6), Palll seems to be even more
concerned abollt the church's attitude to the problem.
It is critical for Paul that the Corinthians respond to his cOllnsel, denwn-
strating that he does, after all, have allthority. If they respond, not only
will the behavior that drew Paul into this disC1lSsion in the first place be
taken care of bllt all future problenlS will be minimized. On the other
hand if they elect to ignore Paul's advice to the11l abollt what they as a
chur;h m!tst do, then the case he wants to make on behalf of his message
and his office is close to being lost. The "super-apostles" will have won the
struggle to redefine the gospel into a gnosticism that does not even have as
high a standard of ethics as the worldly-wise pagan world (5:1).'
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 5:1-13
Read 1 Corinthians 5 asking yourself: In what way, if at all, is
the content similar to the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians?
What are some distinct differences? Now read the questions.
Read the chapter again (it is a short chapter, with only thirteen
verses). Do not forget to update "Chloe's Report" (see number
1, Getting Into the Word, for 1:1-17).
1. With the help of a concordance, look up the words boast and
boasting in 1 Corinthians. How do these other references
help clarify the conditions at Corinth described in
1 Corinthians 5?
2. Given what we know about gnosticism (see the Introduc-
tion), what words does Paul use in 5:2, 6 that characterize
his opponents so aptly? What words in verse 1 would fur-
ther substantiate your understanding of the gnostics?
3. When Paul announces that the sinner is to be expelled from
the church, he also commands that they deliver him "to
Satan" (vs. 5). Paul indicates at least two reasons for doing
this. What are they? (vss. 5 -7).
4. Leaven is described as both a good and a bad thing in the
Gospels (Matt. 13:33 [good]; 16:11 [bad]), and Paul describes
leaven as something that needs to be purged (5:7). List the
points that are made about the use of "leaven" in the Gos-
pel passages and then the purpose of Paul 's use in
1 Corinthians 5. Explain what there is about leaven that
makes it possible for it to be either good or bad in different
contexts-and a fitting illustration about life.
5. Given the gnostic attitude toward matter and toward the
Cross (see Introduction), what significance can you give for
the follOwing: (a) The Corinthian stance that sins done with
the body mean nothing (5:1; 6:18); and (b) Paul's stance that
Christ is our "sacrificed Paschal Iamb" (5:7). The answer to
this question requires you to draw on infonnation you have
been gaining from the beginning of the letter.
6. In 1 Corinthians 5:12, 13, make a quick check to observe
the verb Paul uses three out of four times. Keep this verb in
mind; it has much to do with understanding the next sec-
tion of the letter.
Exploring the Word
Immorality Is Totally Unacceptable
After Paul mentions the serious problem of sexual immorali ty (vss. I,
2), he counsels the church to expel the offender (vss. 3-5; see also vs. 13).
He then attacks the church's attitude and gives a reminder of the conse-
quences of such an attitude (vss. 6-8). In the remainder of I Corinthians
5, Paul gives clarification to an obvious misunderstanding that had arisen
from advice given in a "previous" letter (vss. 9-13).
Sexual immorality condoned by some church members (vss. 1,2)
With I Corinthians 5, Paul takes up a new problem, a very sen-
ous problem: sexual immorality. Paul presumably learns about an
immoral member from the report of Chloe's people (I: II). The man
is plainly guilty of a grave immorality, but the problem is
compounded by the fact that the church not only the Im-
morality; they are even proud ("puffed up"-phuslOo) about It (5:2),
and, beyond belief, they also boast about it (vs. 6). Paul IS
himself-a Christian community allowing incest to go on In ItS mIdst,
not only without the slightest objection but to be puffed up and
boastful about it!
How could the church be so remiss in its responsibilities? The
immorality (Greek: "fornication") is, therefore, a two-pronged prob-
lem: the fornication itself and also the church's attitude toward the
1. The problem of fornication (vs. I). Many modern translations trans-
late the Greek word porneia (our word ponlOgraphy comes from It) as
"immorality." The drawback with this translation, however, is
there are many types of immorality, such as stealing, lYIng, etc., so If
"immorality" is used for the translation, it should include the full
meaning of the original, which would be "sexual immorality." In this
case, then, the NIV gives the complete meamng, and the KJv. by
using an older English word, fornication, tells us precisely what Paul
is saying. " . . ".
In the New Testament, the word for formcanon IS an all-
inclusive word for sexual sins including adultery and homosexuality.
At Corinth, it is also used for an illicit sexual relationship between a
man and his stepmother. The stepmother does not receIve any re-
buke or counsel of any kind from Paul-probably because she was
not a member of the church, and therefore, not responsible in the
Christian sense for the error. As Paul will point out shortly, neither
he nor the church is to stand in judgment of nonchurch members
(vss. 9-13). Is there a lesson in this approach for us?
We do not know anything about the man's father. Was he alive? If
alive, was he divorced? Regardless of the answer to either of these
questions, this fornication was considered immoral by the Greco-
Roman world as well as Judaism. We have no way of knowing if the
and woman were married or just li ving together. Either way,
the Incest was forbidden.
2. The problem of the response (vs. 2). Paul's first words to
the Corinthians are filled with incredulity, and when we read them
in the his astonishment is even more pronounced.
SInce ItS dd'ficult to render the full force of his statement in a smooth
English translation, I give a translation here that probably will never
see lIght as a new English version but that does accurately represent
the Greek emphases! "You, that's right, I mean you,l You have been
and are continuing to be, 'puffed up' [phusioo] about it!" It is
arrogance (phusioii) that makes Paul very upset with the church; he is
actually more upset with the church than he is with the offender.
The church's attitude is the greater problem from his perspective,
and we certaInly know that the immorality itself was serious enough.
One of the most important questions we must ask of this entire
episode at Corinth is simply: Why is it that the Corinthians did not
feel any concern over a matter about which any normal Christian of
that time period would have said, "No way"? Furthermore: Why
were they boasung about something that even their pagan non-
Christian friends would not accept? Why had they not taken
WIthout Paul having to tell them they should? Even silence as a
. . ,
would have been unacceptable. But to be puffed up
(PhUS100) about It-to boast about it? (vss. 2 and 6)! As far as Paul is
concerned, their response should have been made swiftly and with-
out any equivocation. We have an answer to these questions, one
tha t leaves no amoigui ty on the issue.
Students of the New Testament who are not fully persuaded that
the Corinthian heresy was gnostic in nature conti nue to be puzzled
over the above questions regarding the Corinthian response, or lack
of one. The enigma is resolved, however, the moment we realize
that the gnostics considered themselves to be little gods who were
beyond rightand wrong and that their gospel taught that the body
IS eVIl. As noted in the Introduction, the form of gnosticism
at Connth was bbertine in nature. That is, it held to a view that
encouraged loose living so that anything that contributed to the de-
strUction of the body would have top priority, or, at least, be accept-
At Corinth, the problem is not just a matter of sexual immorality.
For example, we know from many references in Paul's other letters
(1 Thess. 4:1-8; Col. 3:5-7; Eph. 5:3-13) that he often had to deal
with converts from paganism who had trouble with a new Chnsuan
morality. But when we read the counsels he wrote to these other
churches there is not even a hint that they felt arrogant and boast-
ful. But Corinth, as noted, the problem is not simply sexual im-
morality; it is an immorality "of a kind" not found among the Gen-
tiles (vs. 1). Paul uses a term that emphasizes the revolung nature of
this particular immorality.
The solution: expel the man (vss. 3-5, 13)
Why, Paul wonders, aren't the Corinthians filled with a sense of
sadness or remorse rather than bragging about the sexual Immoral-
ity in their midst? He wanted them to feel sorrow for this brother
(see 1 Cor. 12:26; Gal. 6:1, 2), to mourn for him (1 Cor. 5:2, where
the word for "mourn" is the one used in "lamentation" for the dead).
If they had experienced remorse, as Paul believed any sound-minded
Christian group should have, it would have led them to expel the
person from their circle, a command he repeats four umes (vss. 2, 4,
5,7, 13). "That," Paul says, "is what I have already done on my
authority" (see vs. 3), even though he could not be there to do It
personally. His act is to be considered official, one that occurs m
their assembly with him there "in the spirit" (vss. 3, 4). Therefore,
he tells them, when you next assemble in the name of the Lord, I
will be with you in spirit with the power of the Lord, at which ume
you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destrucuon of hiS
flesh. In this way his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord (vss.
5, 6). Paul wants to accomplish three things with this instruction:
To save the man for eternity (the explicit purpose).
To salvage the church's reputation, especially to the on-
looking pagan community. .
To demonstrate, by an immediate response, that Paul suH has
a strong influence on them, particularly when that influence is
spelled "authority."
"H d tho S" an IS man over to atan (vs. 5) is a hard saying, at least on
the surface. Anyone who has participated in a church action to
disfellowshi p a member, for any reason, knows it is one of the most
difficult tasks a church has to do. It was certainly the hardest thing I
had to do as a pastor. Because it is such a hard act to perform, it is
not done by the pastor alone, or even by the board, but by the entire
body. It IS not something that should be done hastily or by a handful
of persons who Wield power. It requires the whole church to pro-
tect both individual members and the body as a whole. '
Once the person is separated from the fellowship of the church
we wonder, as we read Paul's counsels, how much contact the
son IS allowed to have With former associates in the church. At first
readmg, It looks as if Paul was pretty severe. He says later in this
chapter that the church members are not even to eat with the of-
fender (vs. 11). But it is unlikely that Paul intended this man to be
Isolated from all contact. In fact, the statement about "not eating"
needs to be understood from the context of the Jewish world out of
which Paul came.
For Paul, sitting down to break bread was more than the ordinary
SOCial event It IS for us in the Western world today. The Gospels are
filled With examples of the significance of eating with someone in
terms of its statement about acceptance. Jesus often showed his ac-
ceptance of sinners by eating with them, much to the chagrin of the
Jewish religious leaders (Luke 15: 1). The meal that was prepared for
the returned prodigal (vss. 23, 24) is another example. The point is
that Paul did not want the Corinthians making a statement about
acceptance-which eating would have done.
T.he expression hand over to Satan is Paul's way of saying the per-
son IS to be outside the arena of the church (the ekklesia-the ones
"called out"). The person is severed from any connection with God's
people (! Cor. 5: 13). This seems to be an uncharacteristic saying for
Paul, who IS usually on the side of the sinner or the weak person
(1 Cor. 8). Not only does Paul's reaction show that morality is an
essential, but, further, it shows that Paul's counsel is still in harmony
with his overall pastoral concern. How? The severe act of
the person from community fellowship where he was a part of God s
family meant that the person was now in Satan's domain, a place In
h' h hopefully his "sinful nature" would be destroyed (5:5).
w IC " fl h'" b d tr ed
Some translations read that the person's" es IS to e es oy ,
( 5 RS
V for example) and so we may indeed ask: Is the man s
vs.", d d' I
sinful nature to be destroyed, or is his flesh to be estroye '. n a
. b th Although the NIV has "sinful nature" m the
sense, It means 0 . .'
text the translation committee put the word body m the margin.
when "flesh" is juxtaposed with "spirit," Paul IS talking about the
whole person both one's internal and external being. Paul also wrote
. I that the church should deliver twO persons (also
"to Satan" (1:20). Unfortunately, Paul's counsel was used
. th MI' ddle Ages not only to excommunicate persons but also
unng e . I
as an excuse to even kill persons, all in the name of saVing a person s
spirit to the day of the Lord. .
First Corinthians 5:5 remains a hard sa)'lng, but Paul does nO,t
intend that the Corinthian church take immorality lightly. God s
temple is holy (3:17), and those who destroy it will be destroyed.
The church member's body is also a holy temple and should be used
to bring glory to God (6: 19).
The consequences of tolerating evil (5:6-8) .
Paul uses yeast (or leaven) to make a theological point agamst the
. tho attitude of boasting (vs. 6) and begms hIS attack on boast-
onn Ian ," h' h
ing with his second use (out of ten) of "Don't you know. . . . W IC
means, as noted above, that he is getting ready to make a statement
he considers incontrovertible. "Don't you know that a little yeast
works through the whole batch of dough?" (vs. 6).
His Gentile Christian audience probably dId not fully grasp, let
alone appreciate, the impact of his metaphor drawn fr0n:' the Old
Testament. In Scripture, yeast symbolizes an all-pervaSive mfluence,
whether for good or for evil. In the Gospels leaven is a symbol of the
inner strength of God's kingdom (Matt. 13:33) as well as. a symbolo
an unfavorable influence (16: II). Paul's use of yeast COinCIdes With
the scriptural prohibition against the use of yeast in the bread eaten
at Passover (Exod. 12:15)-you toss out the old yeast (I Cor. 5:7).
The parallel, of course, is that you get rid of the sin(ner) in the camp
before you celebrate the Passover (Exod. 12:15, 16; 13:7).
Paul's theological point, therefore, is straightforward and simple.
Rather than boasting about your behavior, you need to get rid of the
evil. For those in Corinth who had no doubt argued that this immo-
rality was really not such a "big deal," Paul reminds them it only
takes a "little" leaven to produce tragic results. Had Paul known our
expression, "One rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel," he might
have used it.
When Paul talks about Christians being likened to a new "lump"
(I Cor. 5: 7), he may very well be thinking in terms of the person in
Christ who is a "new creation," something he wrote later to the
Corinthians (2 Cor. 5: 17). After he tells them to "get rid of the old
yeast" and to "become a new batch without yeast" (I Cor. 5: 7), he
makes a natural connection between the Passover and Christ. He
says, "For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." In this
one statement, Paul said two things that the gnostics would have
had trouble with:
Christ is identified as a lamb (matter).
Christ has been "sacrificed."
As we have already mentioned, gnostics did not believe Christ
had a body, let alone a body represented by a lamb, and they also did
not believe Christ died. Paul will remind them later in the letter
(I Cor. 11) that in the Lord's Supper, which is the celebration of the
sacrificed Lamb, they have grossly misunderstood its significance.
They would have really struggled with Paul's words to the church in
Rome when he told that church that they should present themselves
to the Lord as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1,2; I Pet. 2:5).
Paul believed Christ's death fulfilled the meaning of the sacrifice
of the Passover lamb (Isa. 53:7; John 1:29; Heb. 10:10, 14). Christ
was the Lamb, and the Lamb was crucified on Passover. The con-
nection of the death of Christ on the cross with the Paschal lamb
was common in early Christianity (Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7). This
theology, though, was completely foreign to the gnostic view of re-
Some Corinthians need clarifications (1 Cor. 5:9-13)
At this point in his remarks, Paul seeks to reinforce his preceding
arguments regarding the need to expel an immoral church member
and the theological support for the action by telling them he has
already written to them about not associating with immoral mem-
bers (vs. 9). He finds it difficult to see why they misunderstood him
in the "previous" letter. How could you, he asks, conclude that I was
referring in that former letter to outsiders? To ask that you not asso-
ciate with the immoral of the world would be absurd, simply be-
cause it would be impossible even to exist if there was to be no asso-
ciation whatsoever with persons all around you, who obviously in-
clude unbelievers (vs. 10)!
In the two lists of vices mentioned (vss. 10, II ), Paul enumerates
a number of vices in much the same way that contemporary writers
in philosophy did for both vices and virtues (Deissmann, Light, 316-
318). Because these lists were common in this time period, it is un-
likely that Paul is doing any more than giving us a traditional list.
We probably should not conclude that these were all pagan vices
found in the Corinthian church. On the other hand, Paul may be
emphasizing the seriousness of sexual immorality by mentioning it
first in the list. This was "not because Christians were sexually 'hung
up,' nor because they considered this the primary sin, the 'scarlet
letter,' as it were, but due to its prevalence in the culture, and the
difficulty the early church experienced with its Gentile converts who
were performing many acts they did not consider immoral" (Fee,
In his concluding comments on this subject, Paul once again re-
minds the Corinthians that the church does indeed have a responsi-
bility to "judge those inside" (vs. 12). As for those "outside the
church," it is neither any of his business nor theirs (vs. 12). Like-
wise, Christians today should do the disciplining they are supposed
to do-inside the church (Matt. 18: 15-18). For the dme being, there
are governing powers to deal with the outsiders (Rom. 13:1-5), and
God will take care of the judgment of judgments (I Cor. 5: 13; Rev.
20:11-15; Acts 17: 31 ). T herefore, Paul writes, "Expel the wi cked
man from among you" (vs. 13; see Deut. 17: 7).
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 6:1-20
Prior to reading this passage, read 1 Corinthians 5 again.
Then, as you read 1 Corinthians 6, be alert to the connecting
elements for the three major discussions within these two chap-
ters of Paul's letter. Since this is the last section of 1 Corinthians
that covers the issues raised by "Chloe's Report," complete the
final part of your reconstruction of that report (see number 1,
Getting Into the Word, for 1 Corinthians 1: 1-17).
1. Since the overall subject of 1 Corinthians 5, 6 is related to
sexual immorality, refer to the list of verbs you made for the
previous Getting Into the Word section, number 5 (finding
the verbs in 1 Cor. 5:12, 13). In one sentence, state the con-
nection between 1 Corinthians 5, 6. In addition, look for
other connecting links related to words such as insider ver-
sus outsider and believer ("church member," "saint," etc.)
versus unbeliever ("unjust, " etc.). Write down your findings.
2. How does Paul's point about the saints judging angels (6:3)
fit into the context of 1 Corinthians 6? Write a one-
sentence summary statement indicating the purpose of Paul's
questions to the Corinthians in verses 2, 3.
3. List the main reasons why Paul opposes the church's prac-
tice of taking legal disputes outside the church for resolu-
4. Beginning with 6:12, Paul makes a strong case against the
view held by some in Corinth that union with a prostitute
was "permissible" (see especially vs. 12). List all the reasons
Paul makes in opposing their heretical stance. Then write
down what you believe to be Paul's major argument. (Your
answer should coincide with Paul's thinking in 1 Corinthians
10: 10 where he said the same thing regarding the
Corinthians' actions in a pagan temple.)
Exploring the Word
Judgments by "Imiders" and "Outsiders"
In I Corinthian 5, Paul talked about sexual immorality. In the
second half of I Corinthians 6, Paul again discusses sexual immoral-
ity. But in the first eight verses, right in the middle of the section
under consideration, Paul writes about legal actions between church
members occurring before public magistrates. A nacural question is:
Why does he interject a discussion on litigation at this location in
his letter? This topic clearly appears to be out of place-or is it?
It was quite easy in the early decades of Christianity, while col-
lecting writings of a deceased apostle, for sections of his writings to
be put in the wrong order. Many scudents of the New Testament
think this may be the explanation for the passage on litigation exist-
ing at this location in I Corinthians. However, my scudy indicates
that the passage belongs right where it is and fits very well with the
flow of Paul's presentation.
The change of topics is a nacural shift for Paul, and this is evident
when we look at the connecting elements. An analysis of the last two
verses of I Corinthians 5 shows that Paul already has the key ingre-
dients with which to introduce the information on litigation. The
connection between I Corinthians 5 and the first half of I Corinthians
6 is based on the subject of "insiders." The major parallel point for
both chapters relates to what Paul says insiders should do (I Cor. 5)
and should not do (I Cor. 6). And this "should not do" instruction
continues right to the end of I Corinthians 6.
Paul's argument is very logical when we make the equation simple.
Notice in this equation that everything revolves around the insid-
ers; they are both the subjects and the objects of the judging'
A. Insiders are to judge only insiders (5:12- 13).
B. Insiders are to be judged only by insiders (6:1 -8).
The Corinthians failed on both counts! In I Corinthians 5, they
failed to judge one of their own, a very evil man. In I Corinthians 6,
they failed to keep their disputes to themselves, which meant that an
insider was curning, not to another insider for the resolution to a
dispute, but to an outsider' Let's look a little closer. Notice the itali-
cized words. In I Corinthians 5 (vss. 12, 13), Paul said itwas not his
business to judge the one outside (that is God's responsibility), but it
was the church's responsibility to judge those inside (therefore, ex-
pel the evil church member). That is, in I Corinthians 5, he argued
that the church (insiders) does not have the job of judging outsiders,
but they do have the task of judging insiders.
In I Corinthians 6, Paul argues the other side of the same coin;
namely, the ungodly (outsiders) do not have the job of judging
saints (insiders). Paul has already displayed his annoyance with
the church for not judging one of their own (I Cor. 5); he is even
more agitated now about the church curning to outsiders to judge
matters that should have been kept among themselves and for
curning to persons who do not begin to have the qualifications of
the saints.
Paul's Jewish background would accencuate his negative feelings
about what was happening in Corinth, for Jews rarely curned to public
courts; it was forbidden. Their practice was to keep matters in the
"family," that is, they would settle issues before a board of elders in
the synagogue or a group of elders in the village.
On the other hand, the Corinthians, predominately Greeks,
would have been thoroughly familiar with public litigation-
"Greeks were fond of litigation" (Robertson and Plummer, III ).
In the Athenian legal system, we know, for example, that every
man was in a sense a lawyer and gave his own defense, and many
were trained to do so. At least as early as Plato's time (fifth cen-
cury B.C.), we know that a group of educators called the Sophists
(wise men) accually cutored people on how to win a legal debate.
Apparently the love for litigation among the Greeks came right
into the newly formed Christian church at Corinth. It was hard
for Paul to accept.
Church members should not go to outsiders for
judgments (6:1-6)
With this background information, it is easy to understand why
Paul would be appalled at what was occurring in Corinth: "If any of
you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for
judgment instead of before the saints?" (vs. 1, emphasis supplied).
Paul begins his next point with another of his "Do you not know"
questions, one of six in this chapter alone (vss. 2, 3, 9, 15, 16, 19).
"Surely," he is saying, "you realize you will judge the world and an-
gels, and that being the case, you obviously have enough compe-
tence to judge trivial cases between yourselves and the things of this
life" (vss. 2, 3). Many passages in the New Testament indicate that
God's people will share in the judgment work with Jesus (Matt. 19:28;
John 5:22; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 3:21; 20:4; and regarding "angel," see
2 Pet. 4:3; Jude 6). Paul probably has several passages from Daniel
in mind (see Dan. 7:9,22,27; 7: 17, 18). And since, in Greek syntax,
the "Do you not know" questions introduce statements for which
there is no dispute, Paul probably had shared much of this informa-
tion in his first visit with them.
Although we do not know what Paul meant by "trivial cases"
(1 Cor. 6:2), we can safely conclude that criminal lawsuits were not
included-they would have been handled by the state (Rom. 13:3,
4). More than likely, the trivial cases were related to material posses-
sions, for in such cases it is easy to understand Paul's words about a
willingness to "be cheated" (l Cor. 6: 7).
Paul tries to shame them by suggesting that the Corinthians "ap-
point as judges even men of little account in the church" (vs. 4).
"Men of little account" are literally the "despised ones." "So," Paul
states, "if you are willing to go to the outsiders, why don't you turn
your disputes over to the despised?" Paul thinks that persons in the
church with any degree of competence will get his point.
"Because their greed dishonored God, Paul concluded that the
important issue was lost before the case had begun. Corinthian law-
suits seemed not to have been so much a matter of redressing wrong
or seeing justice served as a means for personal gratification at the
expense of fellow believers" (Lowery, 515).
Paul is not only concerned about what they are doing to each
other ("brother ... against another" vs. 6) he is worried about the
impact these actions will have on the gospel. "Before unbelievers,"
for Paul , means their actions are working against any kind of mis-
sionary outreach (vs. 6). Paul believed everything we do should be
done to the glory of God. "Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether
Jews, Greeks or the church of God" (10:32).
Better to suffer wrong (6:7, 8)
It would be preferable to "be wronged . .. be cheated" (vs. 7) than
to cast a shadow on the church or God's glory. Paul would have been
approving of the church if it had been dealing with injustice asJesus
had counseled (Matt. 5 :38-42) or even as was commonly accepted in
the Gentile world. Plato, centuries earlier, for example, said that a
person should always choose to suffer a wrong than to do a wrong.
"A Christian does not order his dealings with others by the desire
for recompense and the principles of crude justice. He orders them
by the spirit of love; and the spirit of love will insist that he live at
peace with his brother, and will forbid him to demean himself by
going to law" (Barclay, 51). Once again it appears that Paul's "chil-
dren" were behaving in a way even the pagans knew was not good.
Some of you were "the wicked" (6:9-11)
In verses 9-11, Paul refers to the kind of persons who will not be
a part of God's kingdom. The verses also tie together what Paul has
just written about "judging" with his second discussion of sexual
immorality (vss. 12-20). His dismay with the church prompts him to
state that their actions belong to the category of vices they left be-
hind, or should have left behind, when they became Christians. This
was, no doubt, a very sobering reprimand, for along with this list of
ten vices (vss. 9, 10) Paul reminds them "and that is what some of
you were" (vs. 11). It should have made them cringe a little, particu-
larly since he adds four vices to the list he gave in 1 Corinthians
This time the list underscores the sins of sexual immorality by
adding "adulterers," which would include the effeminate male pros-
titute and his male partner. A comparison of this list with Paul's other
lists (Rom 1:28-31; Gal. 5: 19; Col. 3:5; Eph. 5 :3-5) suggests that the
church in Corinth had considerably more trouble with pagan vices
than had the other churches Paul started. One of two Greek words
used here for "homosexuality" includes the male adult who has sex
with a boy-an activity that was practiced often in the Greco-
Roman world, even though it was generally disapproved in their
Although Paul protests against all these activities, his primary
concern seems to be with heterosexual sins and those pertaining to
the relationship a church member should have with an unbelieving
spouse. Before launching again into the subject of sexual immoral-
ity, he ends the subject of I Corinthians 6:9-11, fortunately, on a
more cheery note: "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you
were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit
of our God" (vs. II).
The Body Is not Meant for Serual Immorality
The heading for this section (vss. 12-20) is a direct quote from
verse 13 and captures the theme of this passage precisely. It is an
essential truth for Paul. The key words in these eight verses are body
and sexual immorality-they each appear almost once per verse (body-
six times and sexual immorality-five times). This passage also gives
us our clearest insight yet about the gnostic views of the body and
sexual immorality-subjects that go hand in hand in their scheme of
thinking. To further indicate the frequency with which Paul deals
with these two words in I Corinthians, the word body is used ninety-
three times in all of Paul's letters, and forty-nine of these uses are in
I Corinthians. The word for "sexual immorality" !fornication) and
its cognates ("fornicator"-male and female) occur twenty times in
all of the Pauline Epistles, thirteen of them in I Corinthians!
The problem with the gnostic slogans (vss. 12-20)
Slogan 1: "All things are lawful" (vs. 12, RSV). Verse 12 is very
helpful for understanding what was going on in Corinth. Paul be-
gins this section with the first of three slogans being cited in the
Corinthian church: "All things are lawful" (vs. 12, RSV). (This slo-
gan appears three more times in the letter-once again in this verse
and then twice in 10:23.) I have chosen the RSV for the reading
because it is an almost literal translation of the Greek, which trans-
lation becomes significant later in the verse and, in fact, in the letter
itself. The following points are a little on the heavy side but are very,
very important for understanding what is going on in Paul's response
to all the problems in the Corinthian church. So an effort to grasp
these observations will be worthwhile.
The Greek word exousia. In order to fully appreciate the signifi-
cance of the slogan mentioned above, I want to comment about
exousia, another of the Greek words referred to in the Introduction.
Singling out this word is important for two reasons:
It affords us insights to the dynamics of the conflict between
Paul and the Corinthians.
The English translations of exousia are quite varied: usually
"authority," often "rights," and occasionally "freedom."
The English reader is unaware of the fact that Paul uses the same
word each time. As a consequence, a vital connecting link to many
of the discussions is missed. The word occurs over and over again in
the remaining chapters of I Corinthians, particularly in I Corinthians
8,9, II.
The verb in this slogan ("are lawful") is also based on the Greek
word exousitt. The gnostics made an issue about their freedoms and
authority, even at the expense of anyone in their presence, as
I Corinthians 8 demonstrates. The slogan was their way of saying
they had the ri ght or the authority (exo1lSia) to do anything they
wanted. Mter Paul repeats their slogan, he adds, "but not every-
thing is beneficial" (6: 12). We also want to point out that Paul's re-
sponse to this slogan ("not everything is beneficial") represents an-
other theme that will appear many times in the remainder of his
letter to the Corinthians. It centers around the concept that all ac-
tions should be controll ed by one's concern for the other person. It
is a guiding principle for Paul, which he believes should be applied
to every detail of life: The question is not whether I happen to have
the right or the authority (exousia) to do something but whether it is
beneficial to other persons, whether it builds up. This outlook on
life for Paul shows up again in 1 Corinthians 8, 9,10,13 and 14 and
was completely foreign to the gnostic instigators and their followers
at Corinth. One may have the right (exousia) to do a certain deed,
but that is not the Christian criterion. Paul would insist on two ad-
ditional criteria. First, all physical desires are to be under control
(6:12b), and second, what! do with the body must be "for the Lord"
(vs. 13 b), particularly since the Lord has redeemed my body (vss. 19,
Slogan 2: "Food for the stomach and the stomach for food" (vs. 13). In
making their case to do anything they wanted, the Corinthians had
a second slogan they believed proved their point, and it was a rather
clever argument. The argument that was based on the slogan went
like this: "Food is both pleasurable and necessary. When our stom-
achs say it is time to eat, food meets the urge. The same is true for
sex; it is also pleasurable and necessary. When our bodies feel sexual
desire, sex meets the urge." The gnostics therefore tossed out Chris-
tian standards of morality by saying that since the bodily acts of eat-
ing and digesting food have no significant bearing on Christian life,
neither do other acts related to the body; namely, sexual immorality.
Two slogans, two problems'
"Your point is invalid," Paul tells them, "for with regard to
food and the stomach, God will destroy both, and let me put it to
you straight, the body is not meant for immorality, but for the
Lord, and the Lord for the body" (vs. 13 , paraphrased). He de-
nies the parallel they have drawn between the stomach and eat-
ing food on the one hand and the body and sexual immorality on
the other hand. Paul's point is: Both food and sex are designed by
God for use, but both can be abused. But the abuse of food and
drink does not affect other people in the same way the abuse of
sex does. Because sex involves union with another individual, it
affects Christians more than what they put into their stomachs
(vss. 15, 16).
The body and the resurrection (vs. 14)
Next, without any indication why, Paul brings up the resurrec-
tion. Whatever could have caused Paul to suddenly refer to the res-
while he is talking about sexual immorali ty? Applying our
prInCIple that Paul never wrote anything in a vacuum, it is not a
difficult question to answer. The Corinthians had denied the resur-
rection (which Paul deals with at length in 1 Cor. 15). But why did
they deny the resurrection? Because the resurrection has to do with
the notion of a body! Paul tells the Corinthians that as God raised
the body of the Lord, so he will raise us (6: 14).
Pau.1 is thus telling them that their lack of concern for the body
when It came to sexual immorality was indeed serious, for the body
was gOIng to be resurrected. The body is important' In fact, he is
now going to give them several more powerful arguments for taking
care of the body as he argues against their slogan.
The Christian's body is united to Christ (vss. 15-17)
Paul introduces a concept he will develop later (I Cor. 12:27),
that the Corinthians' bodies are "members of Christ" (6: 15). There
is no room for bargaining; it is an essential: Christians may not unite
bodies with a prostitute. Sex involves more than a physical act;
It IS the union of two persons {vs. 16, quoting Gen. 2:24; see also
Matt. 19:5)'l!nion with a prostitute is tantamount to being one body
her; UnIon WIth the Lord is also the same as being united to
hIm spIrItually, and a Christian cannot be united to both-it's one or
the other! Paul will write later (Eph. 5:21-32) that marriage repre-
sents the lofty union with the Lord, and he now tells the Corinthians
that sex outside the marriage breaks the union with the Lord.
Paul believes the physical union of two people is also a union of
personalities, which union could very well result in the birth of a
new personality. Paul quotes Genesis 2 :24 (the two will become one
flesh) to clarify the seriousness of uniting one's body with a prosti-
tute. Sexual immorality violates the union between Christ and the
body of the Christian established by faith and baptism. In baptism,
the Christian participates in the death, burial, and resurrection of
Christ and is no longer to let sin reign in the body (Rom. 6: 1-14).
The seriousness of a sexual sin (1 Cor. 6:18)
Sexual immorality (porneia), Paul tells the Corinthians, is a sin
from which they should "flee" (vs. 18). If there is one sin from which
we should flee, it would certainly be this one. Anselm, brilliant arch-
bishop of Canterbuty in the late eleventh centuty, put it this way: "If
we must fight against other sins, we must flee from fornication"
(Godet, 1,311). Surely, all Christians would agree with Anselm. But
the verse does contain a rather perplexing comment, namely: "All
other sins are outside the body." What ever did Paul mean by this
statement? Is prostitution the only sin that is "inside" the body? How
are other sins outside the body?
Slogan 3: "All sim are outside the body" (vs. 18). Interestingly, most
translators follow Paul's counsel to "flee sexual immorality" with the
words, "All other sins are outside the body" (vs. 18). However, the
word other is not in the Greek. Translators intended the addition of
the word other to make Paul's statement easier to understand. Its
addition, however, actually causes the reader to miss what Paul re-
ally did say!
If the word other is left out of the English translation (that is, if we
follow the Greek and not add the word other), the passage would
actually make better sense. We would then have the words of the
third slogan-"All sim are outside the body." This means that the words
are from the lips of the Corinthians rather than being from Paul's
pen. The Corinthians were not saying "All other sins"; but, simply,
"all sins." Period. One recent English version has the correct trans-
lation: "Every sin that a person commits is outside the body" (vs. 18,
When we realize that the words are a slogan coming from the
Corinthians, rather than a piece of counsel coming from Paul, there
is no longer a problem with the literal wording. The gnostic think-
ers were saying, when we follow the Greek, that sin is not related to
the body! In other words, because the "body" was completely unim-
portant for them, they believed they could do anything they wanted
with it. Paul, then, after citing their slogan, as he did in the previous
two cases (vss.12, 13), responded by saying that the person who sins
sexually, as some at Corinth were doing, is still sinning, because sin
and the body cannot be separated; sexual sin is a sin against one's
own body, which is not even his or hers to sin against. Paul then
proceeds to clarify this position in the next two verses.
Your body is really not yours (vss. 19, 20)
Paul's final appeal on the issue is to remind the Corinthians of
two powerful facts. He begins again with his "Do you not know"
phrase. As noted, in all the instances where Paul begins his question
in this fashion, the expected answer is Yes. In a way, Paul is mocking
their "wisdom." This is the essence, then, of his comment: Surely
you, of all people, should know the following two facts:
"Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom
you have received from God. "
"You are not your own; you were bought at a price" (vss. 19,
In these two facts, Paul refutes three positions the gnostics were
advocating. His statement about our bodies being a "temple of the
Holy Spirit" is in direct opposition to the gnostic views that: (a) sin
is not related to the body and (b) the body is evil. His comment that
the body-temple was something they had received, coupled with the
idea that our bodies are not even ours, counters the third gnostic
error: (c) The gnostics themselves are spirit, a part of the immortal
pneumatikoi. "Some of the gnostics split hairs between the sins of the
body and fellowship with God in the spirit. Paul will have none of
this subterfuge. One's body is the very shrine for the Holy Spirit"
(Robertson and Plummer, 123).
Also regarding his second fact about the Corinthians not owning
their bodies because they had been bought with a price, Paul is tell-
ing them that they have no right to prostitute their bodies, for they
do not even own them; they have been purchased by God at a high
price (vs. 20); that is, the blood of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1 :7; 1 Pet. 1:18,
19). He uses the imagery of a slave being purchased (Rom. 6:17;
7:23), and this purchase means that they have been freed from the
power of sin (Rom. 6:17, 18) and Satan (Col. 1:13). Freedom for
Paul, though, means a different kind of slavery, for now they are
slaves to Christ and to righteousness (Rom. I: 1; 6: 18).
Later Paul writes, in a clever play on words, that when Christ
comes into the picture, the free become slaves, and the slaves be-
come free (1 Cor. 7 :22)! The closing admonition is that, contrary to
what the Corinthians were doing with the body, Pault ells them they
should, "Therefore, honor God with your body" (6:20). This is simi-
lar to his words to the Romans in which he counsels them "to present
your bodies, as a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable to God, which
is your spiritual service" (Rom 12: 1, RSV).
A final word on this passage about our bodies being the temple
where God's Spirit dwells: Many Christians today apply this passage
in a number of ways that, however good, do not relate precisely to
Paul's intention. I have no quarrel with such applications. On the
other hand, the point Paul is making here should receive the pri-
mary application, one that is rarely picked up. Given the context in
which Paul made his statement, the primary application is this: What
we do with our bodies should be intimately connected to how our
actions affect other persons. Proper and improper relationships are
involved. Paul makes it clear that an improper relationship breaks
the union with God. As usual, his theology is very much oriented
toward the other person. We do what we do because of its statement
about others, because it is "beneficial" (1 Cor. 6: 12), because it mat-
ters to one for whom Christ died (8:11); it is not a theology that is
centered in selfl
The importance of this chapter is emphasized by the recurring
themes it has introduced. Four parts of 6:12 are developed later in
the letter. First, the issue of freedom and authority will come up in
more detail in 1 Corinthians 8-10, as well as in 1 Corinthians 11 , 14,
because behavior in public worship is affected by freedom and rights.
The slogan "All things are lawful " is an important part of
1 Corinthians 10. The importance of a Christian's behavior being
governed by the principle of being "beneficial" is a key theme in
1 Corinthians 8, 13,14. The fourth statement in 6:12, "I will not be
mastered by anything," is fully developed in 1 Corinthians 9.
Food (6: 13) comes up again in 1 Corinthians 8,10. The resurrec-
tion of Christ (6:14) occupies Paul 's longest discussion on any sub-
ject in 1 Corinthians 15 (fifty-eight verses). The church as the body
of Christ (6: 15) is amplified in 1 Corinthians 12. The sanctity of sex
(6:16) is clarified in 1 Corinthians 7. In fact, it is Paul's strong case
against prostitution in this section that probably led to the misun-
derstandings about intercourse within a marriage when one spouse
is an unbeliever. It is also in 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul makes it
plain he is not opposed to sex within marriage (see also R eb. 13 :4;
Eph. 5:21-32). These eight verses provide, therefore, a bird's-eye
view of most of the remaining chapters of 1 Corinthians.
Applying the Word
1 Corinthians 5, 6
1. In a church business meeting, one of the church members
wants an erring brother disfellowshiped. The member cites
Paul's words from 1 Corinthians 5 as justification: "Hand
this man over to Satan" (vs. 5) and "Expel the wicked person
from among you" (vs. 13). You and the rest of the church
believe the member is unjustifiably severe. How would you
proceed to show that Paul's words should not be used in
this manner?
2. Your non-Christian neighbor has just learned that your
church has disfellowshiped a "sinner." How would you
explain what had occurred after he asks you: "I thought
you told me your church welcomed sinners just as Jesus
accepted that woman caught in the act of adultery; what
is going on?"
3. Reflect on the manner in which you relate to church mem-
bers as compared to the way you relate to nonmembers. Is
there a difference? Should there be? Why?
4. Under what circumstances, if any, would you support the
action of one church member against another in a public
lawsuit? Or should Paul's words be religiously followed in
all circumstances today? Why, or why not?
Researching the Word
1. Consult the chapter on "Discipline" in the Ch"rch Manual
(ch. 13 in the 1995 ed.). How does the manuaI's discussion
of discipline of an erring member correlate with Paul's coun-
sel in 1 Corinthians 5? In a few paragraphs, discuss the ma-
jor concerns expressed in both documents? . ..
2. Using a concordance for the word leaven and a Bible dlct:1on-
ary for clues to your search on "leaven" and the "Feast of
Unleavened Bread" (which cannot be separated from the
word leavell), trace the history and purpose of both "unlea;-
ened" and "leaven" in the Bible. List the insights you gam
from this study.
Further Study of the Word
1. For a detailed discussion of 1 Corinthians 5, 6, see G. D.
Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 194-266.
2. For a well-researched article on litigation in the ancient world
as it relates to 1 Corinthians 6, seeJ. D. M. Derrett's article,
"Judgement and 1 Corinthians 6. " Althou.gh this
author uses Greek at times, an understandmg of the ongt-
nallanguage is not required to appreciate his points.
3. In his book, Sex in the Bible, 104-140, M. R. Cosby has a
good overview of Paul on the subject of sexuality over against
the setting of the Greco-Roman world. Cosby not only cov-
ers the setting for 1 Corinthians 5, 6 but also the problem of
prostitution in 1 Corinthians 10.
4. The entry "Lawsuit" in the Dictionary of Paul and His
teTS, 544-546, Hawthorne, et al. gives a brief but helpful diS-
cussion on the topic.
Marriage and
1 Corinthians 7
With 1 Corinthians 7, Paul begins answering six identifiable questions
that came to him in a letter, probably carried to him by an official delega-
tion (Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, 16: 7). These six questions can
be recognized by a phrase repeated by Paul within the letter. He introduces
the questions with the words: "Now about" (or, "now concerning" RSV),
the first of which is in 7:1: "Now for the matters you wrote about . .. " In
these six divisions, Paul takes up the following topics:
1. "Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to
marry" (7: 1).
2. "Now about virgins . . . " (7: 2 S).
3. "Now about food sacrificed to idols . .. " (8:1).
4. "Now about spiritual persons . .. " (mm'gin; (pneumatikoiJ) and
spiritual gifts (12: 1).
S. "Now "hout the collection for God's people . . . " (16:1).
6. "Now about our brother Apollos . .. (16:12).
The first four of these six divisions contain a large number of additional
questions. In this chapter our concern is with numbers 1 and 2-marriage
and a subdivision of marriage, virgins. These two questions are covered in
1 Corinthians 7. No doubt these two questions arose over a misunderstand-
ing of Paul's earlier counsels about sexual immorality in the "previous let-
ter" (S:9). You recall that sexual immorality was not only the content of his
''previous letter" (a letter that was lost or misplaced) referred to in 5:9 but
11 S
also the content of 1 Corinthians 5, 6, particularly the last half of
1 Corinthiam 6, where Paul talked about the problem of church members
going to prostitutes.
It is quite probable that what we have in 1 Corinthiam 5, 6 is a clarifi-
cation of the Corinthiam' misunderstanding of the ''previous'' letter. That
being the case, we can S'Urmise that Paul had written als& in that earlier
letter that union with a prostitute broke the union with Christ. It would
have been, then, S'Uch a statement which led some church me'mbers to incor-
rectly conclude that sexual union with an unbelieving spottse might also
break their union with Christ-the question dealt with in 1 Corinthiam
7. In fear of that dreadfitl possibility, the members at Corinth we"e argu-
ing about whether there should be sex between a husband and wife if one of
the married partners had not accepted Christianity. As we note below, those
who ask the question on this topic are probably in disagreement with their
fellow members who have the concern.
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 7
As you read this chapter again, observe the difference in the
tone of Paul's words compared to the tone in 1 Corinthians 1-
6. What do you detect? Make notations about your reactions to
the nature of his counsels. Look for the comments within the
first six chapters of 1 Corinthians that clearly show a tension
exists and then look for comments in 1 Corinthians 7 that show
that the discussion is not in a tension-laden setting.
1. Make a list of all the counsels within the chapter in which
both the liberties and the restrictions are identical for both
men and women. What does your list suggest to you about
Paul's sense of faitness?
2. Three verses in 1 Corinthians 7 indicate Paul felt a sense
of urgency. Find these verses and state in a few words what
the essence is of each. Then take some time to reflect on
the implications of this understanding on Paul's part for all
he writes in this chapter.
3. Because Paul's very first words in the chapter appear to be
negative toward sex, what do you find in the chapter that
would account for this? And what do you find in the chap-
ter that would indicate Paul has a healthy view of sex? Sum-
marize your conclusions in the notebook.
4. Given the larger context of 1 Corinthians 7 and the prob-
lem of sexual immorality in Corinth itself, what counsel
does Paul give to both husband and wife that would assist
them in any temptation to such immorality?
5. Paul tells us that some of his information is not from the
Lord but is his own opinion (vss. 6, 12, 25). On the other
hand, he tells us that some of his counsels are a "command
of the Lord" (vs. 10). These comments seem to suggest
that Paul is saying that his own opinions are actually "not
from the Lord" and therefore not as inspired. However,
the expression "command of the Lord," correctly under-
stood, gives us a different explanation. To get a fuller pic-
ture of what is occurring in these various expressions, use
your marginal references for verse 1 0 and look up the Gos-
pel passages referred to. In view of this search, what do
you find that would help explain the expression "command
of the Lord"?
6. Indicate the reasons Paul gives for couples to avoid getting
a divorce (vss. 10-17).
7. Enumerate all the benefits that come from having an un-
believing spouse remain with a Christian partner (vss. 14-
8. Beginning with verse 17, Paul repeatedly reminds the
church members to "remain in the situation" they are cur-
rently in. Make a brief tabulation of the examples Paul cites
through 7:24. What does your list suggest regarding Paul's
purpose for asking them to "remain in the situation"? What
does your list suggest to you on the overall theme of this
commentary about the essentials and nonessentials of
Christian living?
9. Paul takes up another of the Corinthian questions in verse
25 ("Now about virgins ... "). Carefully read the remaining
verses in this chapter and make a list of the persons Paul is
counseling. When you are done, check your list and see if
you find that Paul has not only addressed the question of
"virgins" but also almost every possible relotionship that
could exist for married and unmarried men and women!
10. Using your marginal references, find a passage in one of
Paul's other letters that carries essentially the same mes-
sage as verse 39. Look it up and compare the contexts. In
what way do the counsels of the two letters accomplish the
same point, and how, if any, do they differ?
Exploring the Word
Marriage and Its Responsibilities
I want to stress, as we take up tills often-misunderstood and
misapplied chapter, the importance of realizing that Paul is not
writing an essay on his views of marriage! He is, rather, answer-
ing the Corinthians' questions. That recognition makes his re-
marks easier to understand. It is even more imperative in 1
Corinthians 7 that we follow the "approach to the study" we set
for ourselves in the Introduction by asking "Why did Paul write
that?" Many statements that seem to be slanted or perplexing are
recognized as balanced and straightforward when we place Paul's
comments in the context of the questions he is answering for the
The two major questions asked by the Corinthians that Paul an-
swers in 1 Corinthians 7 are:
Should a Christian even get married? (vs. 1).
Should virgins (or single women) get married? (vs. 25).
The first question may actually be more specific; namely, is it per-
missible for a married person to have sex with an unbelieving spouse?
This is discussed below. In between his answers to these questions,
Paul writes about the way a Christian should li ve, whether married
or unmarried (vss. 17-24), and how marriage affects life in view of
the shortness of time (vss. 25-40). Before we proceed with the com-
mentary, however, let's first look at two related topics: equality in
the home and a new questi on Paul raises for us. The second topic is
covered in an ExC1trsus below.
Equality in the home
Tills is the only chapter of 1 Corintlllans (apart from Paul's conclud-
ing comments in the final chapter given in chapter 16) in which Paul is
involved in providing instruction without being on the defensive. Even
in the beautiful chapter on love (1 Cor. 13) Paul is in dialogue with his
opponents on the meaning of a spiritual person. But in tills chapter,
Paul is calmly taking up their questions on marriage in more of a
seminar-type setting. His tone and style are sort of, "Now, let's look at
your questions ... ," and he proceeds to examine all sides of the issues,
trying very hard to be fair to all possibilities.
In using tills style, we learn about Paul's sense of fairness. In this
section of the letter, Paul delineates restrictions and obligations for the
married couple; but it is often overlooked that the same privileges Paul
gives to the man, he gives to the woman, and the same restrictions he
places upon the women, he likewise places on the man. We cite the
instances here in wlllch identical instruction is given to both men and
women, so that the significance will be more evident:
1. Each is to fulfill marital duties (vs. 2).
2. Each person's body belongs to the other (vs. 4).
3. Neither is to deprive the other (vs. 5).
4. Neither one is to divorce (vss. 10-11).
5. Each is to stay with a spouse who is an unbeliever (vss. 12.13 );
and as a result, the unbelieving spouse may be saved (vs. 16) .
6. Neither is bound if an unbelieving spouse insists on leaving (vs.
7. Both are advised to "remain in the situation" in which they
were called (vs. 20); the man (vs. 24); virgins (vss. 25, 26).
8. Neither sins, however, if they do not remain in the situation
(vs. 28).
9. Both face distractions from the Lord if they marry (vss. 32-34).
First Corinthi ans 7, therefore, provides a good illustration of a
point Paul wi ll make later in his letter when he writes that both the
man and the woman need each other equally; one is not indepen-
dent of the other in any sense of the word (11 :11 , 12). Thus, as
1 Corinthians 7 makes clear, what appli es to one in the marriage
applies to the other. Paul's sentiments here resonate with Galatians
3:28, whi ch he wrote at about the same time. For the Christian,
gender issues cease to exist; for in Christ there is neither male nor
Excursus: Paul 's Understanding of the End ofTi11le and its
Relatiomhip to impiration
A new question Paul raises for us. T hree of Paul's comments in
I Corinthians 7 about the end of the world (vss. 26, 29, and 31) pose
a question for us Christians living twO millennia later in the stream
of time: How could an inspired Bible writer be so far off on the
timing of the Second Advent? The purpose of the Excursus is to an-
swer this question.
Obviously, the content of the letter is di ctated by the questions
the Corinthians themselves had asked. Equally obvious, it was Paul 's
sense of urgency that dictated the tone. As noted in the opening
comments on this chapter, our initial reaction to Paul's words might
be that Paul was in favor of a celibate life because of his belief that
the second coming ofjesus was imminent and that church members
therefore needed to be concerned with more serious matters (vss.
It is precisely at the point where Paul refers to the shortness of
time as a rationale for some of his recommendations (such as people
not having time to get married!) that our own questions legitimately
arise on the matter of an inspired writer not knowing a very impor-
tant bit of information. It is one thing to not know the hour; it is
quite another to not know the millennium.
Paul plainly tells us a number of times that his views on the sub-
ject of marriage are due to the shortness of time (vss. 26, 29, 31).
Much of what appears problematic to us in Paul's writings stem from
his statements on impending crises and the sense of urgency they
engender. Accordi ng to Paul 's own description, his day was a time of
serious social and economic difficulties-related, from his perspec-
tive, to the end of the world.
There is no question but that Paul thought, at this ti me in his li fe
(ca. 55 A.D.) , he would be alive at the Advent. He stated in
1 Thessalonians (4: 17-written ca. 51 A.D.), "we who are alive" wi ll
join those who are resurrected to meet the Lord in the air. It was
only at the very end of his life that he reali zed he would not be alive
but rather, would be a part of that group who would be resurrected.
He said, while in prison for the second and last time in Rome (ca. 67
A.D.), "I have fought the good fi ght, I have fini shed the race . ...
Now there is in store for me the crown of ri ghteousness, whi ch the
Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day" (2 Tim.
Christians today might feel a little uncomfortable about Paul be-
ing so far off on the timing of the Second Advent. But we should not
be. All New Testament writers believed that from the time of the
cross, history had entered into the time period called the "last days"
(Heb. 1:1-3; I Tim. 4:1; Rev. 12 , 13). Furthermore, no prophet at
any time in history is given all informati on on all topics. That is true
regardless of how important the topic is and regardl ess of how im-
portant the prophet is. Even Jesus said He did not know the hour of
His own return OvIatt. 24:36)!
Bible writers wrote within the framework of contemporary un-
derstandings, which means, of course, that the Bible writer's under-
standing of the era he knew so clearly might not be precisely the
same for another era; namely, our own. But in spite of such limita-
tions, God was able to convey truth to these writers of obvious im-
perfections. And why not? In eterni ty we shall discover that our own
so-call ed "enli ghtened" views will also turn out to be feeble repre-
sentations of reality' The Bible writers' theol ogical truths, there-
fore, transcended the inadequacies they may have had in areas of
medicine, science, cosmology, or whatever. Numerous examples
could be given. It is imperative that we recognize that the Bible writer
did not have a connection with God that precluded human frailty.
This acknowledgment of his limitations is vital.
The prophets, or Bible writers, were not superhuman as we are
inclined to make them. It is important for us to keep in mind rwo
significant points on this subject:
I. There is no way a prophet would ever be able to understand
some things. For example, how would the Holy Spirit get Paul to
understand the dangers of something as specific as tobacco when it
was not even known in his culture? It is for this reason we look for
principles, principles that transcend the humanity of the prophet
and that we can apply in every age. We remember, too, that Jesus
told His disciples there were many things He wanted to tell them,
but they simply were not ready Gohn 16: 12).
2. We probably make a mistake by having idealistic expectations
of a Bible writer, a prophet, or, dare we say, the Bible itself. The
Bible, for example, is the miraculous product of both the human and
the divine, but we have a tendency to leave out the human side of
the equation-even while acknowledging the elements of the cor-
rect proposition. Neither God nor His Word is on trial , nor need
they be defended just because human elements intrude, thereby pre-
venting the divine messages from perhaps reaching an ideal we have
sti pula ted for them beforehand.
So we continue, although inadvertently and with noble motiva-
tion, to put both God and the Bible/Bible writer on trial. If we ex-
pect a Bible writer to have full knowledge about every topic under
the sun, we not only create for ourselves many disappointments; we
actually put ourselves in the precarious position of possibly reject-
ing everything. If we make unrealistic demands on the text and the
authors of the text, if we expect perfection in content and language,
any new discoveries we might make that differ from our expecta-
tions (which were unrealistic at the outset) could shatter our faith,
and the consequences could be di sastrous. History records many
experi ences within the church in which this very tragedy has unfor-
Let the Bible writer be who he is-not some perfect, all-knowing
person, the creation of our own making. Our appreciation of God's
Word will actually increase when we do this. What Paul said about
the Second Coming is true. The fact that he did not have the time of
that coming correct does not alter the accuracy of his theology. Even
Paul said that the Lord would come as a thief in the night, and that
principle abides to this very hour (1 Thess. 5:2)! We now return to
the commentary.
Was Paul in favor of sex and marriage? (1 Cor. 7:1-5)
Paul 's very first words in 1 Corinthians 7 would suggest a nega-
tive answer to the question in the heading: "It is good for a man not
to have sex." The statement literally says it is good "not to touch"-a
euphemism for sexual intercourse. (The NlV translation, "not to
marry," is hi ghly interpretive; however, the NlV marginal reading is
excellent: "it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a
woman"). An initial response you and I might have to this statement
would be that Paul either favors celibacy or is opposed to sex.
But when we, in our imagination, go back to Corinth and put the
statement in its historical setting, we see possibilities for a different
conclusion. Let's do this together. As we shift our minds back to old
Corinth and become part of the church community, we hear some
of the members arguing along the following lines: "Paul, because
you told us that sex with a prostitute breaks the union berween the
believer and Christ [see 1 Cor. 6: 15, 16], some in our church say
that sex with an unbelieving spouse also breaks the union with Christ
in exactly the same way that sex with a prostitute does. You know,
Paul, they are actually concluding that in divided homes there should
be no sex. They can't be right, can they, Paul? Don't you think it is
OK for a couple to have sex even if one partner is an unbeliever?
Surely they are wrong [and they may have quoted Gen. 2:24 for
support]. Tell us, Paul, is it good or bad not to have sex?"
Paul's first words must have disappointed them. Paul replies, "It
is good not to have sex." But he then proceeds with a fuller answer
to their question, and in the fuller answer he agrees 100 percent
with his Corinthian questioners; namely, sex between a couple in
which only one is a believer is perfectly good (1 Cor 7: 1-15). But if
we take his first statement at face value, without taking time to first
discover the concern in Corinth, our reading might very well cause
Paul to look a little warped. We need to make this type of inquiry all
the way through I Corinthians 7'
Paul is positive about marriage
Even though Paul's answers to the Corinthians on marriage in
this chapter are governed by his world situation, he did not believe
that the nearness of the Advent meant persons should not marry.
On the contrary, when we look at his other letters, we see that Paul
is very positive about marriage (Eph. 5 :22-33; Col. 3: 18, 19; I Tim.
3:2,12; 5:14; see also Heb. 13:4). Even more significant, at the very
end of his life, when he knew he would die before the Advent, he
spoke in favor of marriage in opposition to a gnostic heresy at an-
other church.
In a letter he wrote to young Timothy, who was at the time
pastoring the church in Ephesus and who had members forbidding
marriage (I Tim. 4:1-3), he told the inexperienced minister and his
church that widows should marry and bear children in order to give
the enemy no ground (1 Tim. 5: 14)! This was, of course, very strong
anti-gnostic talk, and it shows us that in both cases, where Paul is
combating gnosticism, he is very much in favor of marriage. He ar-
gues that sexual abstinence may be good only in certain situations.
Marriage: an antidote to immorality (1 Cor. 7:2-5)
Paul, nevertheless, hastens to add, lest he again be misunderstood
by the Corinthians, "But since there is so much immorality [sexual
immorality, or "fornication"-porneia], each man should have his
own wife, and each woman her own husband" (vs. 2). As we have
observed, the prevalence of sexual immorality in Corinth was a no-
table characteristic of the city. It is commonly believed that at one
time the temple of Aphrodite in Corinth had 1,000 prostitutes in its
service. Even more serious, "In the temple of Aphrodite at Corinth,
porneia [fornication] was regarded as consecration" (Robertson and
Plummer 128). In such a setting, marriage as a means of avoiding
temptations was a real plus (vs. 5).
Avoiding immorality is not the only reason for marriage, but it is
a good one. The main purposes of marriage are love between two
persons and the preservation of the race (Gen. 1:28). The family
that is formed through a marriage is the basis of civilization. Paul's
concern here, though, is that a couple should avoid the possibility of
yielding to sexual temptations. One way to assure this, Paul writes,
is for the couple not to practice permanent abstention. He believes
that permanent abstention not only deprives the other partner of his
or her natural rights, it can actually lead to temptation. Therefore,
married couples should have normal sexual relations. Furthermore,
Paul reminds them that the body of the husband belongs to the wife
and the body of the wife belongs to the husband (1 Cor. 7 :4). "In
wedlock separate ownership of the person ceases" (Robertson and
Plummer, 134).
Having stated, then, the principles, Paul tells the Corinthians that
marital rights and obligations may be withheld for private devotions
by mutual consent and for a specified period of time (vs. 5). This is
particularly good advice if both partners are Christians. For Chris-
tians, when this special time for prayer is over, the husband and wife
are to come together again, otherwise Satan might succeed in tempt-
ing one or the other partner to have illicit sex. Paul's prohibition (vs.
5), "Do not deprive each other," is literally "Do not go on depriv-
ing," or "Stop depriving one another," which indicates there were
those in Corinth who were already practicing sexual abstinence within
the marriage.
Counsel as a "concession": Was the counsel inspired? (vs.6)
When Paul states that he gives his counsel as a "concession, not
as a command" (vs. 6), he had no idea he would create concern for
Christians in other ages on the subject of inspiration. There are three
other statements that have a bearing on the subject. In verse 10,
Paul writes, "To the married I give this command (not I, but the
Lord)." In verse 12, "To the rest I say this (1, not the Lord)." And, in
verse 25, "I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judg-
Many times I have heard church members use these references in
I Corinthians 7 to suggest that some scriptures may be more in-
spired than others or that some passages are not inspired at all. These
verses, however, have absolutely nothing to do with rhe subject of
In these four verses, where Paul states that the counsel he is giv-
ing is either his own or from the Lord, he seems to imply that what
he gives on his own is not from the Lord and therefore not as in-
spired as a command from God, if indeed it is inspired at all. But this
is not at all what is going on in these four statements. The advice
that Paul is giving "as a concession" belongs to the same category as
everything else he is saying. All his writings are equally inspired.
Why, then, does he make reference to the commands that come from
the Lord, as if other commands or instruction did not come from
the Lord?
The answer is quite simple. "From the Lord" is a reference to the
many teachings of Jesus that were well-known and in circulation. If
Paul knew of a teaching from Jesus that had bearing on his own
instruction, he would cite it and state that he knew of a "command
from the Lord." That is precisely what occurs in verse 10 on di-
vorce, where Paul knew of the teaching given by Jesus and which is
preserved for us in the Gospels. If Paul was not acquainted with any
record ofJesus' teaching on a subject that he was discussing, he sim-
ply acknowledged that fact by saying so. (See below on verse 10 un-
der "Command of the Lord" and also, later on, 11:23 and 15:3, where
this subject is given additional coverage.)
Counsels to the unmarried (7:7-9)
Wtu Paul unmarried? (vs. 7). Before Paul tells the unmarried that
it would be good for them to stay unmarried, he makes a reference
to his state as a gift (vs. 7). But it is not clear whether his marital
status, the gift, means he is not, and never has been, married or
whether he is married but does not have a problem of burning with
passion (vs. 9) by being separated. We know Paul did not have a wife
accompanying him on his missionary journeys (9:5) , but again, this
does not really tell us whether or not he actuall y had a wife-she
may have been left behind or may have been deceased.
Some students of the New Testament concl ude that Paul's words
"I cast my vote" (Acts 26: I 0), refer to a vote of the Sanhedrin. This
means, they argue, that Paul had to be marri ed, since marri age was a
requirement for Sanhedrin membership. On the other hand, if he
had been made a member of that body based on his prominent role
in persecuting Christians, he might not necessarily have been mar-
ried, in spite of the requirement. Although this question raises curi-
osity among many persons, it must remain unanswered, for there is
no way to know for sure.
Paul's marital statlls is a gift (i Cor. 7:7). We do know with cer-
tainty, however, that Paul considered his status (wi thout a wife-
however that is defined) as a gift and urges those who are unmarried
or widows, who presumably have the same "gift," to remain unmar-
ried (vs. 8). This advice to remain single, as we have noted, is due to
the crises in Paul's world (see vss. 26, 29, 31-35).
But, and this is an important "but," if a church member reali zes
that sexual desire is a controlling factor in his life, he should marry.
Marriage is obviously better than burning with passion (vs. 9)-which
could lead to the very immorality Paul is opposing. (A side note on
the word burn: Some transl ati ons see this word as a reference to
"burning" in hell. The context favors the metaphorical use: to "burn
with sexual passion.")
Reasons for not getting a divorce (vss. 10-17)
Paul now shifts his counsel to the married. He gives two impor-
tant reasons why the marri ed should not get a divorce:
It simply is not the right thing to do (vss. 10-13). This is in
harmony with the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels.
By staying together, there is a good chance that the unbeliev-
ing spouse will be won over (vss. 14-17).
As Paul takes up the issue of divorce (vss. 10, II ), he tells us this
time that the counsel is by command of the Lord. That is, as men-
tioned above, Paul makes a distinction between his own advice and
the advice he can cite from Jesus' teachings. Ifhe has specific infor-
mation on the subject about what Jesus taught, then he passes that
on as a command of the Lord.
Tbe command of the Lord on the subject (vs. 10). Pat' I teUs us that
Jesus commanded a wife not to separate from her husband and that
if she does, "she must remain unmarried ... . And a husband must
not divorce his wife" (vs. II). How would Paul know thatJ esus gave
the counsel he has just written? And what is Paul's source for Jesus'
instruction? If his information was from a Gospel account, it would
have been in its oral tradition stage, that is, in its prewritten form,
because the first Gospel, Mark, was not written earlier than 60 A.D.,
about five years after Paul is writing to the Corinthians. Paul could
very possibly have had access to the prewritten collection of Gospel
On the other hand, he could have received this information from
someone like Luke, who tells us himself that he had gathered infor-
mation about Jesus and His teachings (see Luke 1:1-4). We know,
too, that Luke traveled with Paul on many occasions (in Acts, Luke
often writes "we," referring to himself and Paul). It is also possible
that Paul learned this saying directly from one of the disciples dur-
ing his visit to Jerusalem (see Gal. I:1S, 19 and Acts 9:26-28). We
know, too, that Paul had access to accurate information about Jesus,
because he tells us specific instruction about the Lord's Supper and
the resurrection (I Cor. 11:1 7-23; 15: 1-3). We also know, from Acts
20:35, that Paul was indeed acquainted with at least some of Jesus'
The married are not to divorce; tbey are to be reconciled (I Cor. 7: 10, I I).
However Paul got his information, we do know that Jesus gave the
instructions that Paul quotes, and this is precisely what he means by
having some of his information by command of the Lord. In Matthew
(5 :22; 19:3-9), Mark (10:2-12), and Luke (16: IS),Jesus taught that mar-
ried persons were not to divorce. Paul applies Jesus' words to both sides
of the marriage: A woman is not to separate from her husband, and the
husband is notto divorce his wife (I Cor. 7:11).
Apparentl y separations were already occurring in Corinth, be-
cause Paul states that in those cases the wife is to either remain un-
married or be reconciled-his way of urging a couple to stay to-
gether, or to get back together if they had already separated. It is
unclear why Paul does not give similar counsel to men. And he does
not make an allowance for remarriage of the innocent party as Jesus
does by implication. But then, the problem facing the Corinthians
was a new one that had not come up in the time ofJesus; it was the
result of work among the Gentiles.
Reconciliation (vs. 11) is one of Paul's great words and is a powerful
word for Christians in any age, in any situation where there has been
some kind of alienation. Paul wants the same sort of reconciliation
in a fractured home that he wants us to have with God (2 Cor. 5:IS-
20; Rom. 5: 10). Clearly, for Paul the ideal is that marriage should
not be permanently disrupted. But if it is, reconciliation is the hoped-
for solution.
How to relate to an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor. 7:12-16)
In the next five verses, Paul adds instruction of his own to the
couples who are already married ("the rest, " vs. 12), in which only
one of the partners has become a Christian. If at all possible, they
should remain together. In fact, if the unbelieving partner is willing
to stay, the Christian is not to divorce (vss. 12, 13). Paul allows that
the unbelieving partner may not wish to keep the marriage intact,
and in this case, for the sake of peace, that partner may leave (vs. IS).
The situation in Corinth in which there were homes with a di-
vided religious loyalty would have been quite a natural one. Paul
had preached in Corinth for over a year and a half (see Acts IS:II,
IS), and there were converts whose spouses did not make the same
commitment to Christianity. Missionary activity no doubt contin-
ued after Paul left, for we know that Apollos preached in Corinth
(Acts 19:1; I Cor. 16:12). There even may have been mixed mar-
riages between new converts and those who were not Christians. It
is also possible that a couple became Christian only to have one give
it up.
We can be fairly sure that during his eighteen-month sojourn with
them, Paul had spoken to the Corinthians about the sacredness of
marriage (Eph. 4-6). Regardless of how much he may have said, it is
now clear that at Corinth, the problem had become acute-for some
of the unbeli evi ng partners were about to leave their Christian hus-
bands or wives.
The Corinthians want to know what should be done about this.
Paul's answer was that the Christian partner should no initia-
tive to end the marriage. If the non-Christian partner is willing to
stay in the marriage, then they are to stay together (1 Cor. 7: 12).
An I/nbearable situation (vs. IS). It is only when the unbelieving part-
ner insists on leaving, when it appears utterly hopeless, that Paul
gives his approval for separati on. In such a case, the Chri stian "is
not bound," and the call to "live in peace" becomes the controlling
factor (vs. 15). T he expression "is not bound" in the Greek is liter-
aUy "is not enslaved"-a theme that is important for Paul in this
letter. Unfortunately, the English word bound, while a correct trans-
lation, carri es the connotation of a binding legal agreement, whereas
Paul is using totally different imagery. The root word for the Greek
verb is the same as the word for "servant" or "slave."
So while Paul can talk about a person being "enslaved" to Christ
(vs. 22), that is not what he wants for the wife or husband in her or
his relationship to the other, even if the other is a Christian. Paul's
reference, then, to God's will that persons li ve in peace makes even
more sense, because God certainl y does not want a marriage situa-
tion in which there is enslavement. That in itself would be a contra-
diction of the marriage union (Eph. 5:22-30), and, in essence, not a
true marriage. Paul's peace priority, therefore, does not nullify the
vow taken by the couple; rather, it was the condi tion of enslavement
that nullified the vow. For Paul , the importance, once again, is the
value of each person whether male or female. "For God so loved the
world"-everyone, yes, both male and female Gohn 3: 16)!
The ideal , however, is clear: Stay together if at aU possible, not
only because the marriage bond is sacred in God's sight (even when
one partner is not a Christian) but also because there is a very good
chance that the consistent Christian life of the believer will win over
the spouse (1 Cor. 7: 16). In addition to this joyful possibili ty, staying
together provides, vicariously, God's blessing on the unbeli eving
spouse and the children; they are considered "sanctified" (vs. 14; see
Acts 2:38, 39), whi ch means there is no need for a divorce. As noted
in the discussion on 1 Corinthians 1: 1-3, the term sanctified does not
mean that the recipients are necessarily pure morally. It means that
there is a connecting link with God (see Acts 20:3 2).
"Remain in the situation" (7:17-24)
The idea that the Christi an holds on in the face of difficul ty (as in
the case of divided marriages) is something Paul beli eves should oc-
cur in all walks of life. He now makes a slight change in his writing
to expand that concept, saying that this is the rul e he lays "down in
all the churches" (vs. 17). The fact that it is a rule for all the churches
Paul established makes a statement to the Corinthians, not only about
the wide-range acceptance of the concept, but also about the extent
of Paul's authority.
There are three parts to the next section of 1 Corinthians 7 (vss.
17 -24) in which Paul advises the Corinthians to remain in the situa-
tion in which they find themselves. The outline looks like thi s:
Paul states first in verse 17: "Each one should retain the place
in life that the Lord assigned to him." This is followed by the
example of circumcision and noncircumcision (vss. 18-20) .
In verse 20, Paul writes: "Each one should remain in the
situation which he was in when God called him." His exampl e
this time is the status of the slave (vss. 21-23).
In verse 24, he summarizes the points he has just made in
numbers I and 2 with the words, "Brothers, each man, as
responsible to God, should remain in the si tuation God call ed
him to."
Paul 's illustrati on based on circumcision teaches two valuable les-
I. Paul first tells Christian Jews they should not try to obliterate
the physical evidence that they areJews, and that Christian Gentiles
should not give in to Jewish pressure to become "Jews" through cir-
cumcision (cf. Acts 15:1-5 and Gal. 5:1-3). Thus Paul moves Chris-
tianity above national and racial barriers. This is a powerful state-
ment for Paul to make-a man who himself was aJew and one who
had been a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23 :6; Phil. 3 :5)! Jews
remain Jews; Gentiles remain Gentiles; and the marvelous paradox
is that in Christ there is no longer a Jew and there is no longer a
Gentile! Paul put it so well in his beautiful exposition in Ephesians,
where he wrote that in Christ, where there were once two Gew and
Gentile), there is now only one new man (2:ll -18)! Another ex-
ample of reconciliation (2:16)!
2. In the second lesson, Paul is providing us more information on
what constitute the essentials and nonessentials of Christianity. The
Jewish religious leaders were inclined, as are religious leaders in ev-
ety age, to make a nonessential into an overwhelming litmus test.
For Paul, the issue of circumcision and uncircumcision is a nones-
sential (I Cor. 7:19; see also Rom. 2:25, 29; Gal. 5:6), but keeping
the commandments of God is an essential (1 Cor. 7:19; see John
14: 15; Rom. 7). We have already observed that the Cross is an es-
sential, the essential of all essentials (I Cor. 1-3) and that morality is
also an essential (I Cor. 5, 6). Here, Paul adds that "keeping God's
commandments" is an essential (7: 19). In the next section of the
commentary we discuss more essentials and nonessentials from Paul's
Even though Paul advises Christians to "remain in the situation"
(vs. 20) in which they were called, he still talks about improving the
situation (the possible conversion of the unbelieving spouse and
possible freedom for the slave), but his main point is that all Chris-
tians should be content with their individual lots in life.
There is nothing wrong with a Christian seeking to improve his
or her lot in life; it is, in fact, commendable. What is important is
that there is contentment all along the road. We need to keep in
mind that for all the promises Christians treasure, there is not one
assurance that we will be materially rich in this life. This is a matter
of individual responsibility (see Ps. 73; Acts 11:29; 20:35).
Regarding the situation for the slave, we know that slavery was
common in Paul's time, and it was a tremendous blessing for the
slave to receive freedom. Roman patricians often freed their slaves.
But as Paul so eloquently states, when the slave is in Christ, he is
"the Lord's freedman" (1 Cor. 7:22)-that is true freedom. On the
other hand, "he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's
slave" (vs. 22). This clever little equation levels the playing field,
because, in Christ, everyone is both free and a slave!
As we have noted, the concepts of freedom and servanthood (slavery)
are important in Paul's theology. While freedom in the Lord means
freedom from the penalty of sin (2 Cor. 5 :21) and from Satan and his
kingdom (Col. 1:13), it also entails a new kind of slavety: We becomes
slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6: 18) and slaves of God (Rom. 6:22).
Paul realizes that life has a great deal of uncertainty. He did not
know, for example, whether an unbelieving spouse would be won
even if the couple did remain together. Nevertheless, as he tells all
the churches, "each one should retain the place in life the Lord as-
signed to hir., and to which God has called him" (1 Cor. 7:17; see
Eph. 5:21-6:9; Col. 3:1 8-4:1).
Paul shows us his own orientation to being content regardless of
life's fortunes or misfortunes in a number of his other letters. It is
good counsel for Christians in any age. Whether married or unmar-
ried, whether male or female, slave or free, everyone is equally blessed
in God's sight, even if it may not appear to be so (see, for example,
Gal. 3:28). (Paul's gnostic opponents would have applauded Paul's
statement to the Galatians that those in Christ are neither male nor
female, but Paul's point was that of equality in Christ, not the theol-
ogy of an immortal, genderless spirit.)
Paul also knows there are inequalities in society, and he would have
reversed them if he had had the power to do so. He takes the only step
he can take, and that is to tell the believers that their new status as
Christians has changed things, even if that fact is not always apparent.
In the meantime, until these inequalities will be turned around when
Christ returns (I Cor. 15:51-54), Christians should be contented. Paul
clearly does not want the Christian to be rebellious toward an unjust
society (Rom. 12:3; 13:1-7; I Cor. 12:4-11; 2 Cor. 10:13).
Counsel to the unmarried (1 Cor. 7:25-35)
In these verses Paul responds to the second written question asked
by the Corinthians ("Now about . .. ") . And even though Paul tells us
he is taking up their question on virgins ("Now about virgins .. . n
vs. 25), what follows in the next eleven verses is a fairly balanced
collection of counsels for both men and women, who may be mar-
ried or unmarried. An outline of these verses gives a clear picture of
who Paul is writing about and the circumstances that control his
Due to the present crisis (vs. 26) and to the shortness of time (vs.
l. Virgins, remain as you are (vss. 25, 26).
2. Married men and women (?), do not seek a divorce (vs. 27a).
3. Unmarried men, do not look for a wife (vs. 27b).
4. Unmarried men and women, if you do marry, you have not
sinned, but all face many ttoubles (vs. 28).
5. Married men, live as though you did not have a wife (vs. 29b).
6. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs (vs.
7. A married man is concerned about pleasing his wife (vs. 33).
8. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's
affairs (vs. 34a).
9. A married woman is concerned about pleasing her husband (vs.
From this outline it is evident that Paul is talking about the mar-
riage issue for both men and women and that his counsels are given
within a shadow of uncertainty about the end of the world. The
emphasis, then, in this counsel is simple: Remain married if you are
married; remain single if you are single. It is world conditions that
prompt Paul to advise everyone to remain in his or her present state
(vs. 26), for "this worl d in its present form is passing away" (vs. 31).
And because of Paul's own elaboration of the conditions, we need to
keep in mind that his recommendations here do not apply to all
times and all situations.
At the same time, Paul wants the Corinthians to know that if the
unmarri ed go ahead and get marri ed, even though he advises against
it, they have not sinned (vs. 28), but they do face many troubles, and
as married persons, they will not be able to do as much for the Lord
(vss. 32-34). In fact, he concl udes hi s advice on this subject by re-
mindi ng them that all he wants to do is help, "not to restrict" (vs.
The "as if not" counsels (vss. 29-32)
If it were not for the context, Paul's advice to men that "from now
on those who have wives should live as if they had none" (vs. 29)
would be a hard saying. But he is saying only that because the time
for doing the Lord's work is so short, married persons should live
for the Lord even in marriage. That is, they should live for the Lord
in much the same way as the one who does not marry lives for the
Lord (vss. 32, 34). The essence of all Paul's comments in verses 29-
31 should be understood in this light, the "as-if" life. If your life
presents an occasion for mourning, try to live beyond it; do not let it
get you down. If, on the other hand, your life brings happiness, do
not get wrapped up in it (vs. 30).
Of particular value to us today is his instruction on material pos-
sessions. If we have been blessed with the goods of this life, we need
to make certai n t hat such possessions do not absor b all our energies
or all our devotion. Remember, these things are not "for keeps" (vss.
30, 31). It is interesting that the word Paul uses in telling the
Corinthians he wants them "to be free from concern" (vs. 32) is the
same word Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount, when He said
He did not want us to be "anxious about the cares of life" (Matt.
Marri age is not a sin (1 Cor. 7:36-38)
It is quite obvious that Paul wou ld find it necessary to state
t hat marriage is not a sin because some in Corinth were thinking
it was' He shows his sensitivity to the unmarried woman in verses
36-38. He knows that long engagements can be a problem, for
obvious reasons. Therefore, he allows that in some situations a
couple should not delay in getting married. Furthermore, Paul is
conscious of a problem common throughout history and in most
cultures-the woman who is still not married after a certain age.
Societies differ as to when a woman may be toO old to marry, but
most societies seem to attach a stigma to a woman if she is still
unmarried at a given age, whatever that age might be in any par-
ticular society.
When Paul refers to actions toward a man's fiancee, which could
be construed as improper or if a fiancee is getting beyond marriage-
able age, the solution is simple: Get married (vs. 36). Paul insists
women be treated honorably, whether or not they become married.
If a situation seems to be unfair to an unmarried woman, and espe-
ciall y if she is passing her prime marriageable years, then the fiance
should go ahead and marry her. Obviously, this would not be a sin.
However, should a man decide there is no compelling need for
hi m to marry, he has also made a good decision (vs. 38), and Paul
states he has actually made the better decision. He is probably the
man who has control of his passions (vss. 7, 9).
What should a widow do? (vss. 39, 40)
In language reminiscent of Romans (7:2, 3), Paul draws this sec-
tion of his letter to a close: "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" (1 Cor. 7:39). Paul adds a statement that is not found in
Romans: The man the widow marries "must belong to the Lord"
(vs. 39).
It goes without saying that, for Paul, marriage is a lifelong union.
Paul surely was in harmony with the exception clause given by Jesus;
namely, sexual immorality is grounds for dissolving the marriage
(Matt. 19:9). Also, for both Jesus and Paul, death breaks the mar-
riage bond, and then a Christian is free to marry another Christi an
("he must belong to the Lord"). In harmony with everything Paul
has advised in this passage, he states that the woman wi ll be happier
if she remains unmarried (1 Cor. 7:40).
Paul's final statement, a rather modest one, "And I think that I
too have the Spi rit of God" (vs. 40), tells us two things:
He needs to counter a charge coming from the "super-
apostles" that he is not a spiritual man, not one of the
pneumotikoi (as they claimed they were).
His counsels that are not a "command of the Lord" are,
nevertheless, still inspired.
I personally believe Paul makes this statement for the first reason,
which will become more obvious in 1 Cori nthians 12-14.
Applying the Word
1 Corinthians 7:1-40
1. What should be my relationship toward a mixed marriage,
"mixed" either with regard to race or to religion?
2. Since Paul's counsel to remain single was due to world condi-
tions that pointed to the end of history, would not his counsel
be even more applicable today? How should I apply this in my
day, when conditions appear to be similar to those of Paul's day?
3. If you are married to a person who does not share your reli-
gious faith, what kinds of things could you do and say that
would make your spouse want to become a "believer"?
4. Is celibacy a spiritual gift in the same sense of the gifts listed
in 1 Corinthians 12? Explain your answer.
5. Should I apply Paul's words about an unbeliever to (1) a
Christian marrying a Christian of another denomination?
(2) a Christian marrying a non-Christian? (3) Both? Why?
Researching the Word
1. With the help of a concordance, look up the instruction Jesus
gave on divorce and compare it with Paul's advice. In what
ways do Jesus and Paul agree? In what way(s) are their in-
structions different?
2. It is evident from a reading of the inspired text that Bible writ-
ers were not fully informed on all aspects of a subject they
might be discussing. Paul actually did not know that the Sec-
ond Advent would be so far down the stream of time. Bible
writers wrote within the framework of contemporary under-
standings, but God was still able to convey truth to them in
spite of the limitations that accompany a particular age in his-
tory. Using Philippians 2:9-11 as an example, where Paul's com-
ments indicated he believed in a flat earth (heaven above, on
the earth, and under the earth), extract from these verses the
theological truth that rises above his inaccurate view of the
universe. Do the same for passages in the book of Revelation
that relate to the heavens and the earth. Do you have a new
appreciation of the text as you recognize that God is able to
convey His truth to us through human instruments whose view
of reality might not be up-to-date? Give reasons for your answer .
Further Study of the Word
1. In view of Paul's lack of information on the time of the Sec-
ond Advent, the following sources will be valuable for ex-
cellent discussions on the subject of the "delay": the Bible
Amplifier series on Peter and Jude, by R. M. Johnston, 167-
179. Also, a very helpful presentation on the "delay" is found
inJ. Paulien's book, What the Bible Says About the End- Time.
2. An excellent discussion of Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians
7 is given in Not Like the Gentiles: Marriage Rules in the Let-
ters of Paul, by O. L. Yarbrough, 89-122. (Although I dis-
agree with his position that sexual immorality was not as
prevalent as Paul states, his information is very good.)
3. An excellent essay on 1 Corinthians 7 (the Greek used by
the author will not deter an understanding and apprecia-
tion) is D. R. Cartlidge's" 1 Corinthians 7 as a Foundation
for a Christian Sex Ethic."
4. For a general overview of 1 Corinthians 7 that is presented
in the context of the non-Jewish world, see M. R. Cosby,
Sex in the Bible, 124-140.
1 Corinthians 8-11
Essentials and
In harmony with the overall theme of this commentary, the sub-
jects covered by Paul in I Corinthians 8-14 repeatedly speak to the
essentials and nonessentials of Christian living. The many individual
difficulties in Corinth to which Paul is responding in 1 Corinthians
8-14 are quite varied, but because we know Paul's opponents were
teaching a heresy that was based on "knowledge," all the problems
originate from that "knowledge" (gniisis), regardless of what the spe-
cific issue might be. Paul's counterarguments, on the other hand,
are embodied in one word, "Love."
In many respects, the title for Chapter Five ("Love Is Essential;
Knowledge Is Not") points clearly to what the larger issue is, not
only for Part Three (which covers I Cor. 8-11) but also for Part
Four (1 Cor. 12-14). This larger issue is "love" versus "knowledge."
Part Three, furthermore, is concerned with a subdivision of the love-
and-knowledge conflict, the issues of Chri stian "freedom" "rights"
, ,
and "authority"-all of which make up the content of 8: 1-11 :34.
Since Paul's position is that love defines knowledge, he also con-
cludes that knowledge apart from love cannot qualifY for the task of
defining Christian freedom'
In Chapter Five (i Cor. 8, 9), we look at two speci fic problems
di scussed by Paul: the problem of food sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8)
and the problem of defending his apostolic office (1 Cor. 9). Both
specific problems are merely the focal points around which the larger
question revolves: the relationship of the two powerful words, "love"
and "knowledge." Certainly, neither food in itself nor Paul's
apostleship is the biggest problem at Corinth-although the latter
comes close. In both cases, it is the struggle between Paul 's way of
love and the "super-apostles' " way of knowledge.
In Chapter Six (1 Cor. 10), we consider Paul's second discussion
on the problem of food. This time, however, Paul looks at the issue
as it related to the pagan temple and the pagan sacred meals. The
boldness shown by some of the Corinthians led him to warn them in
very strong terms. Their understanding of authority and freedom
was way off the mark, so much so that their behavior, parallel to that
of ancient Israel, ran the risk of serious consequences from God,
who "destroyed 23,000 [Israelites) in one day" (vs. 8).
In Chapter Seven (1 Cor. 11), our discussion revolves around a
subject Paul has already had to deal with: the abuse of authority and
freedom, only this time it is in the setting of public worship. In the
first half of 1 Corinthians 11 (vss. 1-16), we learn that Paul's oppo-
nents show total disrespect for angels. In the second half of
1 Corinthians 11 (vss. 17-34), we see these opponents demonstrat-
ing the same disrespect for the Christians' sacred meal (the Lord's
Supper), as well as showing more ill-treatment toward fellow church
Love Is Essential;
Knowledge Is Not
1 Corinthians 8, 9
As the chapter title indicates, this section of letter is about "love"
verS'llS "knowledge." The specific problem of food sacrificed to idols in
1 Corinthians 8 (vss. 1, 4, 10) and the specific problem of defense of
his apostolic office in 1 Corinthians 9 (vss. 1-27) opw the door for tts to see
the trite natllre of these terms.
First Corinthians 8
In one respect, 1 Corinthians 8 captures in just a handfltl of verses,
better than any other section of the letter, the primary strength and weak-
ness of the two opposing dynamics, love and knowledge. We see in this chap-
ter a sharp delineation of the differences between the two forces, both in
terms of definitions and in terms of an application.
The "super-apostles" extol knowledge; Paul promotes Christian love.
One is imperfect and will pass away; the other abides forever (1 Cor. 13-
where Palll amplifies the differences between love and knowledge). One
puffs up; the other builds up (8:1). Knowledge can cmtse a weak person to
be destroyed (vs. II), while love leads a penon to refitse to eat meat rather
than caltse a weak person to fall (vs. 13) .
For Paul, lave is to be the motivation for every action-this is essential.
Knowledge (which can even be harmfid) is inddental, and, therefore, a nones-
sential. It 1mtst always be controlled by love. Palll makes a parallel case between
love and knowledge so that jttst as wisdom must be defined by the Cross (l Cor.
1-3), so knowledge must be defined by lave. Knowledge cannot be isolated from
love, as Palll's opponents were advocating and actually practiting.
Paul establishes in this passage on food that the principle of love must be
the governing component in the use of knowledge, especially when it comes
to relating to another church member. Love also determines the of
the freedom that accompanies knowledge (8: 1-13). Thus, Interestmgly, It
was a controversy over food in the Corinthian church that affords us an
opportunity to see the characteristics of both knowledge and love.
First Corinthians 9
Paul demomtrates in his own life how love and trlte freedom operate
when it comes to a definition of authority (vss. 1-18). Because Paul did not
make use of his apostolic rights, his opponents touted his nonuse of authority
as proof that he really did not have authority! .
He informs the church he knows all about the polrcy that says: The one
who does the work is supported by those who receive the benefits of the work
(vss. 7-12). He acknowledges be did not take advantage of this right, but
that was not because he did not have the right to do so. Rather, Paul tells
them his independent action gave the greatest proof of his authority, for it
demonstrated his love for them. He did not take advantage of them but dId
all he could that he might gain even more for Christ (vss. 19-27).
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Please read again 1 Corinthians 8 in preparation for study,
keeping the chapter tide ("Love Is Essential; Knowledge Is
Not") in the forefront of your thinking.
1. Make two lists of words or phrases within the chapter, one
that demonstrates love and one that relates to knowledge.
What does your list tell you about Paul's thinking on the
two terms? Specifically, what does Paul say about knowl-
edge that relegates it to a secondary position? Look for the
comments that clearly indicate Paul's deep concern for
people over knowledge.
2. Discuss some possible reasons why a person in Corinth who
did not eat meat sacrificed to an idol would be considered
weak, especially when, in Daniel's case (Dan. 1 :8; 10:3), such
abstinence was a strength. A rereading of Romans 14 would
be helpful.
3. Indicate the reason for Paul's view that the knowledge that
"puffs up" (8:1) is damaging to others-even when that
knowledge is accurate. Be able to refer to Paul's specific
points on this matter.
4. How would you explain Paul's words that there is only one
God (vs. 4), when he states in the next verse that "indeed
there are many gods" (vs. 5)? Hint: read Deuteronomy 10:17;
Psalm 136:2, 3; Colossians 1:16; Ephesians 6:12; and Mat-
thew 12:43-45. Also, allow that in the ancient world termi-
nology differed.
5. What statement would you tum to in order to show that for
Paul neither meat-eating nor vegetarianism was an essen-
tial? What statements would you refer to that capture Paul's
overriding concern in such matters to be the welfare of oth-
ers? (See especially vss. 9-13.) Explain why Paul can argue
on the one hand that eating meat might be destructive for
one person (vss. 11-13), while for another person, eating
meat would be all right (vs. 8).
6. How would you show from verses 8 and 13 that eating meat
in itself is not Paul's concern?
Exploring the Word
Love Builds Up
This section begins with "Now about food sacrificed to idols" (vs.
1, emphasis supplied), which means, as we noted in the introduction
for I Corinthi ans 7, that Paul is answering questions given to him
by the delegation from Corinth. This is the third in the series of
such "Now about ... " questions (see also 7:1, 25; 12 :1; 16:1, 12).
In the expression "food sacrifi ced to idols" (8: 1, 4, 10), it is natu-
ral for us to think of "idolatry" in terms of an Old Testament prob-
lem for the children ofIsrael. However, throughout ancient history,
all the nations of the world were involved with idol worship and
pagan sacrifices in some form or another, and no class within Greco-
Roman society was exempt. In Corinth itself, there were many
temples and shrines, with places designated for eating the sacrificed
meat, all related to pagan festivals. A great deal of food (sometimes
translated "meat" because of its connection with sacrifices), was sacri-
ficed on the pagan altars. What happened to it after it was sacri-
The person who offered the sacrifice, along with friends, could
eat some of the sacrificed food in a temple "feast" (vs. 10; 10:25).
But the major allotment belonged to the temple priests. Some of it
was consumed on the altar; some was eaten by the priests; and some
(the leftovers) was sold in the meat market. The leftovers made up
the major proportion (Robertson, 157), and it was this meat, of
course, from which the controversy emanated in Corinth, as well as
in other Christian churches, such as the one in Rome (Rom. 14).
Obviously, after being sacrificed to idols, food that got shuttl ed
to the market ended up on the tables in homes. Newly converted
Christians often avoided purchasing meat that had been sacrificed,
because it reminded them of their former loyalty to pagan gods. To
the "weak" (I Cor. 8:9, 10), the meat had become spiritually defiled,
and eating it created a great deal of anxiety-which was understand-
able from their perspective. They feared that eating meat dedicated
to a god or gods they had forsaken was a sin against the Christian
God they had just accepted; in their eyes, it was a compromise to the
So, when they arrived in the marketplace to buy food, they would
ask the butcher if the meat had been sacrificed to honor some god.
The butcher, knowing that meat sacrificed to the gods was in the
greatest demand and was, therefore, always sold ahead of other meat,
would enthusiastically reply, "Oh yes, almost everything we sell has
been sacrificed to the gods!" To his chagrin, his words resulted in no
sale. Well, it did not take long for the butcher to catch on that these
new Christians were si mply not purchasing food sacrificed to an idol,
so he soon had a new sales pitch. When he saw a Christian approach-
ing, he knew instantly he had quite a bit of meat that had not been
sacrificed. He was not as smart as he thought he was, though, for he
went overboard in reversing his new sales pitch, as he reported, with
much satisfaction, to the prospective Christian buyer, "Oh no, most
of our meat is not sacrificed to the gods."
But the new Christians were not stupi d. They just as quickly caught
to thIS new lIne of the butcher's and concluded they could not trust
h1m. It was, therefore, far safer to avoid meat altogether and stick to
vegetables' These new Christians were, as a result, considered the
"weak" (vss. 7, 9; see also Rom. 14:2, where Paul refers to the weak
person who eats only vegetables) . They were weak because their con-
science would not allow them to eat meat sacrificed to gods that, to
use Paul's words, the "strong" knew did not exist (I Cor. 8:4-6).
Love versus knowledge (vss. 1-3)
Paul begins his discussion on love and knowledge by quoting an-
other slogan comIng from Corinth, "All of us possess knowledge"
(vs. 1, RSV). Some in Corinth were claiming their knowledge made
the eating of food sacrifi ced to idols an easy thing to do, because
they "knew" (as certainly every informed person should know) that
there is only one God, and that, therefore, the gods represented by
the 1dols sImply do not exist (vss. I, 4-6)' Paul concedes those points
stra1ghtway; he identifies with the ones who are sayi ng that "all of us
possess knowledge."
However, there is more to it than that, Paul states. Knowl edge-
which is different to each person-can be heady stuff and, when
m1sused, Paul says, can make a person puffed up-phltsioi5 (vs. 1).
And 1f knowledge makes a person "puffed up, " that person becomes
self-centered, while others are ignored. On the other hand, love is
prec1sely the opposite; it bui lds up, and by implicati on, definitely
conSIders the well-beIng of others' Love, therefore, is an absolute
necessity, for it takes the Christian beyond self to aid another (vs. 1).
There is one obvious lesson in thi s for us: We need to recognize
that none of us will ever know everything abour a subject, and that
regardl ess of how much we do know or how much education we
have or how much intelligence God gave us, we still know so very,
very little in the vast stream of divine knowledge. Our awareness of
this will make us both humble about what we do "know" and much
more willing to show respect toward others who may not know as
much as we do.
The most informed person on earth and the least informed per-
son are far closer together than is the wisest man in comparison
with God's knowledge! Sir Isaac Newton put it well when he said he
was only gathering pebbles on the shore of the ocean of truth
(Robertson, 13 8). Those who really know are those who love, not
those who think they know. We want to say with Paul, "Oh, the
depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How
unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 'Who
has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?'
'Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?' For from
him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory
forever! Amen" (Rom. 11:33-36). Ifwe, with Paul, could appreciate
such a God, we would garner many beneficial results in our dealings
with one another.
Since Paul told the Corinthians that they do not yet know, even if
they think they do (I Cor. 8:2), he anticipates their response to him,
which probably would be something like, "OK, Paul, if you are so
smart yourself, tell us, how do we know when we have true knowl-
edge?" Paul is ready and answers the question: "I'll tell you how.
The man who loves is the one who really knows" (vs. 3). (Thi s is my
translation based on the Greek text of the oldest Greek manuscript
in existence, a manuscript known as Papyrus 46. It belongs to the
best group of manuscripts preserved. However, it should be pointed
out that the NIV translation ["The man who loves God is known by
God"] is also based on manuscripts that belong to the best group.
The decision, therefore, is not an easy one. Either translation gives
us a good reading, but I believe the one offered above follows the
line of argument with clearer logic. That is, the reading offered here
fits the flow of ideas very naturally, whereas the NIV reading adds
words that redirect the discussion.)
True knowledge cannot be separated from love; it is defined by
love-something that was obviously not happenin,i for some church
members in Corinth. Governed by love, knowledge makes a differ-
ence in how one thinks and in how one relates to other persons. As
John wrote, if we do not love our fellow Christians, whom we have
seen, how can we say we love God, whom we have never seen?
(1 John 4:20). At Corinth, those claiming to know while not loving
did not know or love God'
Idols, one God, and knowledge about both (1 Cor. 8:4-6)
The argument coming out of Corinth was that the church mem-
bers had knowledge-and that knowledge was that the gods repre-
sented by idols simply did not exist (vs . 4). True, for the idol was
nothing more than a symbol of a god. The logic was flawless: If the
god behind the idol has no existence, the idol is nothing! Gentiles
who became Christians recognized this fact just as clearly as the Jews
did. Therefore, eating food sacrificed to an idol should not make
any difference. It was so simple: Such gods were not real; they had
no power (vs. 4; seePs. 115:4-7; 135:15-17;lsa. 44:12-20). There is
only one God (1 Cor. 8:4; see Deut. 6:4-9; I Kings 18:39; Isa. 45:5).
Do the gods exist or not? (vss. 4-7). Paul's next statement seems a
little difficult at first reading. After agreeing with the knowledge of
the Corinthians that the gods behind the idols do not exist, and that
there is only one God, he proceeds to write a statement that appears
to contradict what he has just stated. He writes, "Indeed there are
many 'gods' and many 'lords' " (vs. 5). How can there be no gods, on
the one hand, and "indeed ... many 'gods,' " on the other hand?
The answer is not complicated. Keeping in mind that Scripture
refers to God as "God of gods and Lord of lords" (see Deut. 10: 1 7;
Ps. 136:2, 3), these references themselves inform us that Bible writ-
ers all owed for some kind of power or powers that did not originate
with God. In the ancient world, it was widely believed that demons
dwelled in the rulers of men (a "demon" could be either good or
bad). In the New Testament, the word demon refers to both an in-
ferior deity and, most of the time, to an evil spirit. For Paul, demons
are spiritual forces of wickedness-"powers and principalities," who
are subordinate to God (Col. 1:16; Eph. 6:12) and are under the
control of Satan. This is similar to the Gospels' usage in Jesus' par-
able of the man who cleaned house but, failing to put something in
its place, had the one evil spirit replaced by seven worse than the
first (Matt. 12:43-45).
The gods Paul is referring to, therefore, are demons; they are
not, however, the gods represented by the idols-the major gods in
the Greco-Roman pantheon, such as Zeus and Jupiter. Thus, for
Paul, gods such as Zeus do not exist, but the "gods" understood as
demons do exist; Paul is therefore consistent.
The problem in Corinth, however, on the subject of gods and
demons is explained by Paul's next words, referring to the weak:
"But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed
to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been
sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled"
(I Cor. 8:7). At this srage in their Christianity, these members have
not been able to completely eliminate the emotional attachments
that stem from old habits. Meat offered to idols, for them, then, is
still toO much a vivid recollection of their past allegiance.
Freedom to be exercised in light of others (vss. 8-13)
Even the weak, in their abstinence, probably knew, from an intel-
lectual point of view, that there were no gods behind the idols. But
knowing that the gods may not exist from a logical point of view is
beside the point. As Paul said at the beginning of this chapter, "knowl-
edge puffs up" (vs. I), and therein lies the problem. There was no
sensitivity on the part of the informed. There was no sensitivity to
the fact that knowledge has to overcome long-standing, deeply in-
grained practices, the environment, prejudices, and fears. Only the
arrogant believe they are right and pursue their rightness at the ex-
pense of others. In every age, there are persons in the church who
believe their knowledge gives them the right to ride roughshod over
others. Paul wants the church to realize there is another side to the
No room for spiritual pride, whether rtrong or weak (vs. 8). Paul is
primarily counseling the strong in his next sratement, "But food does
not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no
better if we do" (vs. 8). But he may have the weak on his mind as
well, just as both the strong and the weak were in his counsels when
he wrote his letter to the Romans (see Rom. 14, where Paul explic-
itly admonishes both to stop judging the other).
His point is that the sacrificed food is in itself not the issue; it is a
nonessential. Such food cannot better or worsen our relationship
with God. Having, therefore, no spiritual value, the act of eating or
abstaining gives no one in Corinth the right to point the finger at
the other! "Paul here disposes of the pride of knowledge (the en-
lightened ones) and the pride of prejudice (the unenlightened). Each
was disposed to look down upon the other, the one in scorn of the
other's ignorance, the other in horror of the other's heresy and dar-
ing" (Robertson, 140).
The danger of freedom (l Cor. 8:9, 10). In the overview for
1 Corinthians 9 at the beginning of this chapter, we pointed out that
Paul's defense of his authority is definitely related to the issue of
freedom discussed in I Corinthians 8. English translations do not
allow us to see a useful connection for the topics of freedom and
authority. But notice this important point. In I Corinthians 8:9, where
the NN reads, "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your free-
dam ... ," the word translated "freedom" really means "authority"
(exousia)--the very same word Paul uses so many times in
1 Corinthians 9' The word points us to the heart of the problem:
gnostics believed their knowledge gave them an inordinate amount
of freedom/authority because of who they believed they were!
You recall the slogan repeated twice in 6: 12 (RSV), "All things are
lawful." This slogan, as noted, contains the verb form of exousia! It
was the "super-apostles' " knowledge that gave them the right
(exousia) to do anything they wanted; they were truly a bold and
arrogant group! But Paul insists that this freedom to act must be
done in deference to the other person. These same sentiments were
expressed, you recall, when Paul was telling the Corinthians that
even though their actions are lawful (exo!lsia), they must also be ben-
eficial (6:12). He does not want their freedom to become a stum-
bling block to the weak (8:9).
Paul now pictures how this could happen, and it is a scene that is
quite likely actually raking place in Corinth. The consequences are
disastrous. It goes like this: A weak church member happens to see
an informed (and possibly influential) person eating the food sacri-
ficed to an idol. (We could substitute any number of things in soci-
ety today for "food. ") The weak church member thinks, "Well, if
that knowledgeable person can do it, even though in my heart I don't
believe it's right, I am probably the one who is wrong." Becoming,
therefore, emboldened by the strong person's actions, the weak per-
son goes against conscience and does what he or she saw the strong
person doing (vs. 10).
The brother who is destroyed (vs. 11). Paul says the person who goes
against his or her conscience runs the risk of being destroyed (vs.
11). In what sense of the word is a person destroyed? There are two
obvious possibilities:
(1) After eating in the temple, the Christian might feel so much
guilt that he or she concludes that the act has irrevocably broken the
tie with God: "I've cut myself off with this terrible act-which I
knew I should not have done." As a result, the person turns away
from Christianity altogether, believing his situation is hopeless.
(2) The other possibility, and this seems to be the more likely
one, is that the Christian has set in motion a process of rationaliza-
tion that blunts the conscience, making it easier and easier to do
what once was considered wrong. There are some powerful lessons
for us in this experience. It is so easy to figure out ways to do things
we at one time thought were not right.
A double sin for the strong (vs. 12). If the weak are guilty of pride for
not doing the "bad" thing, then the strong are guilty on two counts.
Using the same message on judgment we find on Jesus' lips in Mat-
thew 25:40 ("Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of
these my brothers, you have done it to me"), Paul tells these "strong"
Christians, "You not only sin against the brother, you have sinned
against Christ" (1 Cor. 8:12, paraphrase). We do not know if Paul
was familiar with the words of Jesus, but we do know that Paul fully
understood a person's actions toward another Christian as being the
same as being done to the Lord. On the Damascus road, the Lord
asked Paul, "Why do you persecute me?" when Paul had been de-
voti ng intensive energies to persecuting Christiarr (Acts 9:5)!
Love f or the other person: cTiterion for all actions (vs. 13). In his final
words of 1 Corinthians 8, Paul says, "If what I eat causes my brother
to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again." There are rwo phrases in
this sentence that prove that the meat-eating in itself was a nones-
sential and something Paul was not opposed to: "If what I eat" and
"I will never eat meat again. " The "if" clause tells us that Paul may
or may not eat this type of food and that the important idea is the
impact the eating may have on another. How the other person is
affected is an essential for Paul. Likewise, the "again" (in "never eat
meat again") tells us Paul would stop doing something he was al -
ready doing on the grounds of the larger concern. He would choose
to be a vegetarian rather than exercise his right to eat what was law-
ful if that act was at the expense of someone else. Love for the other
person. Always, love for the other person!
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 9:1-27
Because of the overlapping subject matter in 1 Corinthians
8 and 10, and because 1 Corinthians 9 seems to be out of place,
read 1 Corinthians 8, 9, and 10 in one sitting.
1. As you proceed through the three chapters, <a) list the top-
ics common to any two or all three of these chapters and (b)
make notations as to how 1 Corinthians 9 ties into the two
chapters on either side of it (8 and 10). This is not an easy
assigrunent but will be considerably easier if you keep in
mind the previous discussions on the word exottsia-right,
authority, etc.-as they apply to both the issue of eating food
offered to idols and the issue of eating food in a pagan temple.
Where does love fit into the picture?
2. Read 1 Corinthians 9 again and jot down clues that show
that Paul's defense of his apostleship is a demonsttation both
of his authority and of love.
3. List the many arguments Paul uses to prove he knows all
about the rights of an apostle. Explain why he repeatedly
rejects the rights he has just proven are his (see, for example,
9:12, 15-18).
4. In 1 Corinthians 9:15-23, we have one of Paul's clearest defi-
nitions of ministry. Outline the elements of this view of min-
5. Discuss the lessons that can be gleaned from verses 24-27.
This is important for the transition to the message in
1 Corinthians 10.
Exploring the Word
"This Is My Defense"
Before looking at what is ahead in 9: 1-18, I want to say some-
thing about the relationship of 1 Corinthians 9 to its context. This
chapter appears to be just as much out of place as the section on
litigation appeared to be in the first half of 1 Corinthians 6. Paul has
just completed a discussion on food sacrificed to idols, and he con-
tinues that topic in I Corinthians 10. Why, then, right in the middle,
is there an entire chapter of twenty-seven verses on a defense of his
apostleship (including the kind of apostle he was)? But just as the
topic of litigation belongs where it is as a part of the larger problem
in 1 Corinthians 5, 6, so this discussion on the nature of Paul's min-
istry is definitely a part of the larger problem discussed in
I Corinthians 8-11.
In I Corinthians 8, the local church dispute over food sacrificed to
idols raised the larger issue of Christian freedom (exousia-see 6: I; 8:9).
Paul now expands the subject of freedom and rights (exollsia) to include
his apostolic authority (also exoltsia). The connection to the preceding
chapter lies in the fact that the Corinthians, as we observed, were claim-
ing that they were enlightened, they were knowledgeable-so much so,
in fact, they were free to do whatever they wanted. Their gnostic out-
look gave them rights/authority (exousia) to act in ways that were actu-
ally harmful to other church members (vss. II , 12).
Paul's major point in I Corinthians 9 is to l"('llind the church
members that he himself has many, many rights as a minister but
does not claim his rights (exousia), out of his love for the believers-
out of hi s desire to wi n them to Christ (vss. 12, 18-23). In this re-
spect, then, the content of I Corinthians 9 serves as Paul's personal
illustration of the principles he has advocated in I Corinthians 8.
The church members should also be willing to give up their rights
(exousia) just as he has done (9: 12, 15, 19). His first words, "Am I not
free?" (vs. I) are, therefore, a natural tie.
Paul is actually taking on two issues at the same time in
1 Corinthians 9-the meaning of freedom and ri ghts for the Chris-
tian, and a defense of his own apostolic office. In defending his min-
istry, he uses illustrations from his ministry that also serve to defend
his definitions of freedom and rights.
I hear Paul saying something like the following: "You argue tbat
your freedom gives you authority to do anything you want. The knowledge
you claim to possess that gave you tbis freedom is used to attack my creden-
tials (autbority) as an apostle. You have concluded, in fact, that if I "eally
were an apostle, I would bave taken advantage of the rights tbat belong to
an apostle wben he is ministering to a churcb. Because I did not use those
rights, you say you have proof that I am not a genuine apostle, and, fur-
thermore, for that reason, you do not need to pay attention to what I am
saying about Cbristian freedom and rigbts. Well, I bave two tbings to say
to you about this:
"First, I am free, and I also bave apostolic autbority. Second, regarding
your argument about tbe non1lse of my rights . .. " Paul goes on to enu-
merate the many privil eges he knows are his and then says, in es-
sence, "I refilSed the benefits tbat were mine by '7ght, not becazlSe I did not
believe tbey were mine for tbe asking, but because I did not want anyone to
be negatively affected by my actions. / am an apostle by God's will, not to see
bow many benefits I can get!"
The defense begins (vss. 1-3)
The first verse of I Corinthians 9 consists of four rhetorical ques-
tions in a row (paul asks more questi ons in I Corinthians 9 than he
does in any other chapter-seventeen questions in a chapter of
twenty-seven verses'): "Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I
not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the
Lord?" Poor Paul; he can't believe the reports being circulated about
him, and his questions are asked in order to counter their reports.
As we noted, his opponents obviously were saying that Paul was
neither free nor an apostle. These four questions all require a Yes
answer in the Greek syntax, so Paul is actually saying: "Of course, I
am free; of course, I am an apostle; of course, I have seen Jesus; of
course, you are the result of my work' " By demanding a Yes answer
to these questions (and Paul fully expects their tacit, affirmative ac-
knowledgment to each question), Paul accomplishes two things:
The vindica tion of his own ministry.
The establishment of the proper use of authority and
freedom, the latter depending on the former.
It is plain from the statements Paul wrote in his letters that dur-
ing his public ministry he was intimately accustomed to challenges
to his apostolic office. We have already seen evidences in this letter,
especially in 1 Corinthians 4. But we know from 2 Corinthians 12: 11,
12, as well as in the current chapter, that it was a persistent thorn for
him (Gal. 1:1; 1:15-2:10).
Paul would like to deal with this thorn. He gives two reasons to
support the legitimacy of his ministry: His first argument is based
on his words, "Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" (l Cor. 9:1). A
minister could be an apostle only if he had witnessed the Resurrec-
tion (Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15), and Paul has seen the resurrected Lord
(l Cor. 9:1; 15:8; Acts 9:17, 27; see also the references in Acts re-
garding the Damascus Road event: Acts 9:1-9; 22:6-16; 26:12-18).
For Paul, it is not "I know wbat I have believed" but "I know wbo1lt I
have believed (2 Tim. 1:12, emphasis supplied).
Paul's second argument is that even though he might not be an
apostle in the eyes of some, surely the Corinthian church will bear
witness to his apostleship. "For you are the seal of my apostleship in
the Lord" (l Cor. 9:2). He tells the church, "My credentials are in
order; you are proof of the effectiveness of my ministry" (see 2 Cor.
3: 1-3). It is time for the church to stand up and be counted, time for
the church to make a statement to those who were sitting in judg-
ment of him (1 Cor. 9:3; see also 2:15; 4:3), for after all, the church
members are his seal. A seal in ancient times was far more common
than it is today. The final will and testament was sealed with seven
wax seals, and if any one of the seven was prematurely broken, so
was the legality of the document. The seal guaranteed authenticity,
and that is what Paul tells the Corinthians they are for him-the
authenticity of his ministry.
The rights of an apostle (1 Cor. 9:4-11)
In verses 4-11, Paul asks another set of rhetorical questions, this
time to let the Corinthians know that he knows about the rights he
has not used. As noted, his critics claimed Paul either did not know
about these rights or, if he did, had not used them because he was
aware he did not qualify. Either way, the opponents were arguing
that Paul's nonuse of rights proved he was not a true apostle. And by
so arguing, the "super-apostles" carty the day about the meaning of
Christian Ii Lerties.
Paul uses several arguments to counter the criticisms. He first
uses a common-sense, fair-play argument (vss. 5, 6) and then turns
to lessons drawn from ordinary life experiences-the soldier, the
farmer, and the shepherd (vs. 7).
One privilege belonging to Paul that he did not claim was church
support ("the right to food and drink" refers to daily provisions, vs.
4). He also had the right to have a wife supported (vs. 5). His oppo-
nents even used against him his personal labor as a tentmaker (vs. 6);
for most Greeks, manual labor was despised. As did all Jewish rab-
bis, though, Paul had learned how to support himself with his own
hands (4:12; Acts 18:2, 3).
Paul has at least two reasons for refusing any church support: (1)
In Paul's time both Jewish and pagan priests received many perks,
one of which was the right to eat the sacrificed meat that was appor-
tioned to them by religious law. This resulted in the priests having a
bad reputation for gorging themselves. Paul simply did not want to
be identified with the self-aggrandizement that was so common in
many religionists of the day. (2) Paul was a very independent person,
perhaps even too much so, for he would rather have starved than be
beholden to anyone-or to lose his grounds for boasting (1 Cor.
9: IS)!
Analogies and Scripture (vss. 7-11). Paul's use of three analogies
from everyday life and one from the Old Testament are intended to
make it abundantly clear that he is fully aware of his rights. He be-
gins to make his case by referring to the soldier. If a soldier in the
army does not have to provide his own necessities (vs. 7), should not
a soldier for the Lord also be exempt? He makes a similar argument
about the vineyard planter and shepherd (vs. 7). If a man who plants
vineyards gets to share in the fruits, why should not the man who
plants a church ("I planted, Apollos watered ... " 3:6)? If a shepherd
gets food from his flock, why should not the pastor get the same?
Paul then turns to an Old Testament text to show he is aware of
his rights. Using the Old Testament is always Paul's strongest sup-
port for any point he is trying to make, even if his audience may not
have fully appreciated it, as would sometimes be the case with a pre-
dominantly Gentile group such as at Corinth. He argues that an ox
that makes the threshing machine go around is not to be muzzled
(9:9; see Deut. 25:4). Even Gentile Christians would have under-
stood this principle about the ox treading out the grain. The reason
for the command that oxen were to eat as they did their work, Paul
says, is not just because God is concerned for the oxen (Matt. 6:26-
29), but because He wants to teach us a lesson about His concern for
us. The same lesson is true for the plowman and the thresher; they
get to share in the harvest (1 Cor. 9: 10).
From these examples, then, how could anyone refute Paul's con-
clusion: Just as a worker in the secular world shares in the results of
his labors, so a minister shares in his labors in the spiritual world (vs.
II)? This is, of course, a principle that applies to every age.
Rejecting the right of support (vss. 12-18)
In the next group of verses, we again see Paul making a good case
for the rights of an apostle. We have to ask why he keeps making
one strong argument after another, only to turn around and tell us
several times in the next few verses that he not only did not use
those very rights, he does not intend to! It is a psychological strength
to his overall argument about his authority and Christian liberties.
"If others have this right of support from you," Paul asks, "shouldn't
we have it all the more?" (vs. 12). Once again, the question calls for a Yes
answer. However, these rights are not used, lest such use "hinder the
gospel of Christ" (vs. 12). He now makes a case for rights from the
religious life of both Jews and pagans: Persons who "work in the temple
get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in
what is offered on the altar" (vs. 13). It is payment for their work.
The same is true for the preacher of the gospel (vs. 14). Jesus
Himself told the disciples in their first gospel mission to expect sup-
port, "for the laborer deserves his food" (Matt. 10: 10, RSV). Even if
the Corinthians had not understood Paul's use of the Old Testament
(Lev. 7:28-36; 18:8-20), they would have appreciated what he was
saying from the practices in pagan temples.
"I have not used any of these rights" (1 Cor. 9: 15). Once again, an-
other statement about not using what was rightfully his! In the first
place, Paul had to preach. He had no choice; he was "compelled" to
do so (vs. 16; see also Acts 26:16-18). On the other hand, by not
accepting pay for his preaching, he had the reward of knowing he
had preached the good news without pay; and that was also grounds
for boasting, which boast, as noted above, he was not going to have
taken from him under any circumstances (1 Cor. 9: 15, 17 -18)!
That is, if Paul had accepted any kind of financial assistance, his
preaching would have been merely the fulfillment of his commis-
sion. Paul's refusal of help proves that his ministry to them is not
based on rights (exousia) but is a selfless ministry (that of a slave) that
has only the Corinthians in mind' And it is this characteristic of his
ministry that shows up in the next few verses.
I Make Myself a Slave to Everyone
A good subheading for this section (vss. 19-23) would be Paul's words
that indicate the overarching motive for all of his ministry; namely, to
win as many as possible (vs. 22). Becoming a slave was, therefore, noth-
ing compared to his burning desire to win others to Christ' In verses
15-24 we get one of our clearest pictures of Paul's concept of ministry,
particularly in terms of his key words: slave and win to Christ. A look at
his view of ministry reveals the following features:
(I) Ministry is a duty. Paul did not choose the work; God chose
him (vs. 16; see also 1:1).
(2) Ministry is a privilege. He did not work for any monetary ben-
efits (9: 17, 18). It was a simple matter of loving his work. Pay was
secondary. We all probably know at least a little of what Paul felt. I
tell srudents, for example, what a tremendous blessing that I get paid
for srudying and teaching God's Word I
(3) Ministry is a reward. "My reward," Paul wrote to the
Corinthians, is "in preaching the gospel" and seeing someone won
to Christ (vs. 18). For us, all work should be a rewarding ministry-
something that helps others. It is similar to Albert Schweitzer's tes-
timony about his medical work. He said his reward was hearing a
patient awake from surgery and say, "It doesn't hurt anymore!" It is
the reward my wife receives from one of her former academy sru-
dents who reports back to her about a college writing class, telling
her that he or she got the highest grade in class, "thanks to you!"
(4) Ministry is slavery. Being a servant or slave for Christ, as we
have noted, is a frequently occurring theme in Paul's writings, and a
crucial one in I Corinthians. He ties slavery once again to freedom.
His paradox goes, "I am free from all men, but I have enslaved my-
self to all " (vs. 19). Paul literally says, "I brought myself under bond-
age," a voluntary bondage, to be sure, and always for the purpose of
winning more to Christ (vss. 20-22).
(5) Ministry is to "become all things to all men" (vs. 22). Contrary
to what I have heard some say, this testimony from Paul does not
mean he was a vacillator, an unprincipled man, a chameleon, or a
fence-sitter. Paul knew how to get close to people, to walk in their
shoes. It is impossible to win someone to Christ if we do not know
how to get near them, to identify with them. Sometimes it takes
work. He knew how to reach people where they are. Let's take a
closer look at the meaning of this awesome statement to see pre-
cisely what Paul meant by it.
To the J ews I became like a J ew (vss. 19-20). "To those under the law
I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the
law)" (vs. 20). Paul was, of course, himself aJew and was not ashamed
of it (Acts 18:18; 21:26). While he was free from the law as a means
of salvation, he knew the value of communicating with those who
still thought the way he once had thought (Phil. 2:4-6; Gal. 4:21).
He knew how to present the gospel to them without compromising
anything that was genuinely important-something we would re-
gard, agreeing with the theme of this commentary, as an essential.
But more than that, at times Paul acrually participated in various
Jewish riruals he no longer believed in. TheseJewish practices, how-
ever, belonged to his nonessential category of dos and don'ts. For
example, he did what Jewish law required in having Timothy cir-
cumcised (Acts 16:3). He observed a Nazarite vow (Acts 18:18), and
he deliberately observed a Jewish custom for the sole purpose of
avoiding trouble (21 :20-26). He did these things even though he
"was not under the law," but rather, that he might "win [the Jews]
those under the law" (I Cor. 9:20).
To those not having the law (vs. 21). Obviously Paul has the pagan
world in mind here, those outside the Mosaic law (Rom. 2:12, 14).
He made attempts to establish common ground, as, for example, he
did on Mars Hill (Acts 17:23). He took bold action against the Jew-
ish Christians who wanted all Gentiles to first become Jews before
becoming Christians (Gal. 2:11-21). On the other hand, he does not
want anyone to misunderstand him, so he quickly adds, "though I
am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law" (i Cor. 9:21).
The expression "Christ's law" no doubt is an example of Paul 's
use of the common Jewish view of human history in which the final
2,000-year period was known as the time when the Messiah would
set up a new law ("Christ's law"). TheJ ews divided history into three
periods of 2,000 years each. The first period was from Creation to
the giving of the law. The second 2,000-year period was from the
time of the law (of Moses) to the time of Messiah. At the beginning
of the third 2,000-year era, the Messiah would corne and establish
new laws. Paul apparently used this scheme in Romans when he talked
about death reigning from Adam to Moses (Rom. 5:14) and in his
use of the expression "Christ's law" in Galatians 6:2, as well as here
in 1 Corinthians 9:21. The concept of a new law being established
when the Messiah came is supported even in the words of Jesus,
recorded in the fourth Gospel: "A new commandment I give to you"
Oohn 13:34; see also 1 John 2:8).
To the weak I became weak (1 Cor. 9:22, 23). We saw both wbo Paul
has in mind by the weak and exactly what he means by becoming
one of them, in 1 Corinthians 8 (vss. 9-12; see also 4:10; 2 Cor.
12:10; 13:4,9). This statement in particular must have had a little
sting to it, simply because it was the total disregard for the weak on
the part of the influential troublemakers that prompted Paul to write
this entire section. In a sense, this is his major point, the climax in
his appeal to the enlightened to live by the principle of love on be-
half of the unenlightened. "Do you see," he might be saying to them,
"why I minister the way I do? Why caring for people is more impor-
tant than asserting one's rights?" Paul gave up his rights and his
freedoms for the sake of the weak, but more, he has relinquished all
his rights and become "all things to all men so that by all possible
means I might save some" (1 Cor. 9:22), and "for the sake of the
gospel" (vs. 23). What a truly remarkable minister!
I Beat My Body and Make It My Slave
Conclusion to 1 Corinthians 8 and 9. The final paragraph of
1 Corinthians 9 (vss. 24-27) is actually the beginning of his discus-
sion found in 1 Corinthians 10. As Paul writes about the qualities
that made him such an extraordinary minister, he also reveals his
thinking on larger subjects: the view of reality and the place of min-
istry within this view. In the heading for this concluding section,
both the words body and slave are very instructive. Because the gnostics
had no regard for the body, Paul tells us the body is not only impor-
tant, it must be controlled. It must be controlled to the extent that it
can be considered a slave-the very word Paul continually uses to
describe his role as an authentic minister! In this final section of
1 Corinthians 9, Paul makes a veiled warning to his gnostic oppo-
nents about the importance of discipline and self-a 'nia!. It is a mes-
sage that in many respects applies to everything he has written since
he introduced the problem of sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 5
(except for 1 Cor. 7). Loose living, no discipline whatsoever, and no
denying of bodily desires were becoming a way of life for some in
the Corinthian church. That was true whether the issue was immo-
rality and litigation among church members (1 Cor. 5, 6), or food
sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8). It continues to be a problem that Paul
will write about in the next two chapters (1 Cor. 10, 11).
The Corinthians wanted to take the easy and self-centered way.
Paul begins to deal with this attitude by a reference to the Isthmian
games that were played every other year in Corinth-games second
only to the Olympic games in importance. If an athlete would go
into strict training (self-control in diet and rigorous bodily disci-
pline) to participate, with the hope of being the only winner, and
with a reward of a wreath that withered within a few days, how much
more the Christian should be willing to discipline the body when all
can be winners, and winners for eternity (9:25)!
In these few verses, along with a few other verses within
1 Corinthians 9, Paul gives us a glimpse of his entire outlook on life.
(1) Life is one long struggle; it is not a life in which you can do
anything you please (vss. 12-15,26).
(2) Christians need to have a goal, or several goals (vss. 26, 27). Per-
sons who know where they are going find life much more rewarding.
Aimlessness, drifting from one thing to another, looking for ways to rid
ourselves of boredom-this is nor the abundant life and only opens the
door to an emphasis on pleasure-seeking and selfishness.
(3) T he goal needs to be one of value, one that makes a contribu-
tion to others, particularly those numbered among the weak (vss.
19-23). A purely self-centered goal will leave an emptiness. Goals
should make others look at us and think, "I am missing something if
I do not have a goal that fulfills in the same way." That should be
our testimony to the Christian life. I know individuals who are mis-
erable when they see other people enjoying life, and they conclude,
sadly, that the joyous persons must be doing something wrong in
order to be so happy!
(4) In order to win in this struggle, one must use discipline and
practice self-deni al (vss. 24-27). Di scipline of the body is important,
not onl y because of the inaccurate gnostic thinlcing about the body
that Paul wants to correct but because for Paul, the condition of the
body affects the spiritual condition and, in fact, affects the final judg-
ment (2 Cor. 5: 10). How well we know today that physical unfitness
often leads to spiritual and mental lethargy.
In his final words of the chapter, Paul once more makes use of the
slavery image. This time he says he beats his body and makes it his
slave-he does not want to be di squalified in the end on the basis of
improper treatment of the body. Paul hopes his gnosti c fri ends (or
enemi es?) get the point.
The issue about eating food sacrifi ced to idols (1 Cor. 8) revealed
that the larger concern, for Paul , wi thin the Corinthi an church, was
a concern about one's attitude toward a fell ow church member. It
was the failure to understand the importance of love that led the
influential "super-apostles" to operate solely on the basis of knowl-
edge. The "super-apostles" had persuaded many in the church that
their knowl edge provided them with freedoms that totall y ignored a
fell ow member. Paul's antagonists beli eved they were such high and
mi ghty individuals (as the knowl edge or gn6sis informed them) that
they could not only disregard their fellow church members who were
weak (1 Cor. 8); they could tell Paul, the founder of the church, that
his authori ty was worthl ess. This was parti cul arly true in their minds
because, for them, Paul's nonuse of his ri ghts was proof that in actu-
ali ty he did not have apostoli c ri ghts (1 Cor. 9).
Obvi ously, Paul had to deal with both of these misconceptions,
and in so doing, he gave us some good examples of what is essential
and what is not. In the next chapter of this commentary, we will turn
to related aspects of this same struggle between love and knowl-
edge. In 1 Corinthians 10, the problem of food sacrifi ced to idols is
again di scussed. But this time it is in connecti on with pagan sacred
meals. Paul will deal with the aberrations of the Corinthi ans on the
Christi ans' sacred meal in I Corinthi ans II.
Applying the Word
1 Corinthians 8, 9
1. What are some circumstances in my own church commu-
nity that could be likened to the one in Corinth ("weak" and
"strong"), and where do I fit in? How does Paul's counsel
suggest I should respond?
2. List some things from everyday life that may not be hannful in
themselves but require careful thought and caution before be-
ing done because of our Christian concern for others.
3. Under what sort of circumstances should Paul's principle (not
becoming a stumbling block to a weak church member) be ig-
nored-as in the case of the person who has what many would
consider an oversensitive conscience? What are some examples
that would illustrate how we should draw the line?
4. Regarding Paul's words about being a slave to everyone, how
should we apply this to the poor, the unwed mother, ad-
dicts, and the elderly in our midst today?
5. Take time to reflect on rights you have that you are willing to
relinquish for others, which means, of course, a relinquish-
ment for Christ. List the results of your reflection. Then ask
yourself, "Why should I be willing to give them up?" Try to
give deeply meaningful answers-answers that will affect your
life tomorrow, not something that simply sounds good and can
be easily shuttled to the side in the near future.
Researching the Word
1. Paul repeatedly states in his writings that he, as a minister,
is a slave, a servant. Using a concordance, look up the words
slave and servant in Paul's letters that relate to ministry. What
picture is given of Paul in these references, a man we de-
scribe as one of the most powerful ministers who ever lived?
What do your findings say about how we should define min-
istry today?
2. Study the laws on food voted at the Jerusalem Council for
Gentile converts (Acts 15), and then compare 1 Corinthians
8 and Galatians 2 with the Council's decisions. What pic-
ture emerges? What conclusions do you infer from this pic-
ture that would contribute to an understanding of Christian
principles in our time? If you have time, you would profit
from the entry "Food offered to idols and Jewish food laws"
in the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Hawthorne, et al.,
306-310 .
Further Study of the Word
1. For a discussion of Paul's central point in 1 Corinthians 8-
10 and how it has been misapplied, see J. C. Brunt, "Re-
jected, Ignored, or Misunderstood? The Fate of Paul's Ap-
proach to the Problem of Food Offered to Idols in Early
Christianity. "
2. For a discussion on Paul's statements about being all things
to all men (1 Cor. 9:19-23), see G. D. Fee, The First Epistle
to the Corinthians, 422-433.
3. The chapter "Called to Reach a Higher Standard," in The
Acts of the Apostles (309-317), provides excellent insights on
Paul's statements about the Christian life being compared
to a race (1 Cor. 9:24-27), as well as on other subjects cov-
ered in 1 Corinthians 9.
4. A very well researched essay (and admittedly on the "heavy
side") by J. Murphy-O' Connor, "Food and Spiritual Gifts,"
provides important insights into issues Paul was facing with
opponents and their slogans.
"Do All to the
Glory of God"
1 Corinthians 10:1- 11:1
A number of topics occur in this chapter that Paul has discussed already:
idols and food offered to idols (1 Cor. 8), sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5, 6),
and the slogan of the "super-apostles": All things are permissible (1 Cor.
6). The most important new topic centers around the Supper, which
Paul will return to in the next chapter (1 Cor. 11:17-34).
In the first un ve'rses of 1 Corinthians 10, Paul recalls at length a series
of sad experiences in history; he does so for the purpose of warning
the Corinthians about the serious consequences they may face if they con-
tinue to pursue their present course. Based on the points of failure he has
cited in history, we know what shortcomings Paul is worried about
for the Corinthians: idolatry, sexual immorality, testing the Lord, and
It is obvious that in 1 Corinthians 10, idolatry is the primary concern-
the idolatry of participating in a sacred meal within a pagan temple, a
participation with demons. This is a serious abuse of the Lord's Supper and
is likened to the problem of prostitution (1 Cor. 6), about which Paul uses
the same language. He has said that prostitution severed the union with
Christ and that the Corinthians should ''flee sexual immorality" (vs. 18).
Eating a sacred meal in a pagan temple also severs the union with Christ,
and Paul says the same thing about it, "Flee idolatry" (10: 14).
Once again we get further insights into the essence of the gnostic heresy.
The knowledge (gnosis) that gave the Corinthians their notions of self
exaltation appear in all the topics discussed in this chapter. In partictllar,
after claiming they could do anything they want because of who they are
(''All things are permissible" or "lawful," RSV), the boldness they exen on
the subject of the pagan temple meal elicits response, ''Are we stron-
ger than the Lord?" (vs. 22). Unfortunately, they probably would have
said to Paul, "Back off, man; you are again showing your lack of knowl-
edge. "
In the final section of the chapter, Paul repeats counsel he gave in
1 Corinthiam 8 on how to relate to meat-market food and the question of
conscience, but this time with some additional imights. The amazing con-
clusion to all of this is once again a statement about Paul as a minister. It is
an appeal to do everything to glory. And the motive? "So that they
may be saved" (vs. 33)!
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 10:1-11:1
In preparation for study, read 1 Corinthians 8 again in order
to refresh your thinking about the subject of "food sacrificed
to idols." As you then read 1 Corinthians 10, update any notes
on the similarities and differences you may have made earlier
between 1 Corinthians 8, 9, and 10 (Getting Into the Word,
number 1, for 1 Cor. 9:1-27).
1. If you could sum up Paul's central message in 1 Corinthians
10 using just one of the verses, or part of a verse, which
verse would you choose? Why does your choice win out over
the other strong possibilities?
2. There are three major sections within 1 Corinthians 10 (vss.
1-13; vss. 14-22; and vss. 23-33). Write a brief paragraph on
each of these sections, summarizing the main points, and
then indicate how they are tied together.
3. In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul wrote that there is nothing wrong in
eating food sacrificed to an idol, but his words in verses 20,
21 of this chapter unequivocally prohibit eating the same
food. Based on the contexts of the two passages, what
explanation(s) would you give for Paul's dif<erent counsels
on food sacrificed to idols?
4. What is the major argument Paul makes for his strong re-
striction to the Corinthians that they are not to eat food
offered to idols in a pagan temple?
5. After Paul makes his typical appeal to be concerned about
the "other man's conscience" (vs. 29), he adds a statement
that seems to be contradictory: "Why should my freedom
be judged by another's conscience?" What possible expla-
nation would you give for this second comment? Hint: Ask
the question, "Why did Paul write that?" That is, could Paul
possibly be answering his critics here?
Exploring the Word
Israel's &ample: A Warning
The first section of I Corinthians 10 is centered around tragic events
in Israel's his:ory ('Iss. 1-13). Paul begins the chapter with the words,
"For I do not want you to be ignorant" (literally, "without knowledge"-
withoutgniisis), and when Paul begins with those words, he is preparing
to make a very important statement (vs. I; see Rom. 1:13; I Thess.
4:13). Also, the first word "for" (a conjunction) makes the chapter an
automatic continuation of I Corinthians 9. It would be helpful, in fact,
to read the last four verses of I Corinthians 9 (vss. 24-27) as an intro-
duction to Paul's next comments about Israel's wilderness experience.
These final four verses of I Corinthians 9 introduce the theme that is
found in the first section of I Corinthians 10 about the seriousness of
life, about discipline. In those verses, you recall, Paul wrote, "Therefore
I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man
beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that ... I
myself will not be disqualified" (9:26, 27). This is precisely what Paul
wants to illustrate in I Corinthians 10 about Israel.
God was not pleased with most ofIsraei (vss. 1-5)
Having already given a warning to the Corinthians in
I Corinthians 9, he now reinforces the importance of it by telling
the sad story of Israel's experience in the wilderness. How much
better off those years would have been for Israel had they also disci-
plined themselves' Rather, they chose to follow a pattern of living
that was not only aimless; it disqualified them from entering the
Promised Land (see 9:26, 27)! And what a tragedy, an unnecessary
one! Are you listening, dear friends in Corinth?
Israel had been miraculously delivered from Egypt, had success-
fully passed through the Red Sea (l 0: 1, 2, their "baptism"; see Exod.
14:22,29), were sheltered under the cloud of God's protection and
leadership (1 Cor. 10:1-4; see Exod. 13:21,22; 14:19; Num. 9:15-
23; 14:14; Deut. 1:33; Ps. 78:14), and were, as the language shows,
united with God. From Paul 's perspective, "baptism" should have
implied Israel's submission. Instead, their action blatantly violated
the notion of submission when they made the golden calf (Exod.
The manna is spiritual food because of its supernatural character
(1 Cor. 10:3; see Exod. 16:13ff; 17:1-7; Num. 20:2-11; 21:16) and
because it represented the "Bread of Life" Gohn 6:35). (When Jesus
would not allow the crowds to make Him king, the crowd turned on
Him and compared His feeding of the 5,000 from the lunch of a boy
as nothing compared to the miracle of Moses, who got his bread
from heaven! John 6:31-35.) In spite of all these blessings, however,
most of the Israelites displeased God and "their bodies were scat-
tered over the desert" (l Cor. 10:5; see Heb. 3:17-19). Only Caleb
and Joshua entered Canaan (Num. 14:30-32; Josh. I: 1-2).
The four sins ofIsrael (1 Cor. 10:6-11)
After Paul tells the Corinthians that most of Israel died in the
desert, he tells them "these things occurred as examples to keep us
from setting our hearts on evil things as they did" (vs. 6) and pro-
ceeds to mention four evil things: idolatry (vs. 7), sexual immorality
(vs. 8-"fornication"), testing the Lord (vs. 9), and grumbling (vs.
10). These four sins had devastating results, so Paul repeats in verse
II that "These things happened to them as examples and were writ-
ten down as warnings for us."
Since Paul 's major concern in 1 Corinthians; ') is idolatry, the
first of the four sins, we need not say a whole lot about the other
examples taken from Israel's history. The second of the four sins,
sexual immorality, occupied Paul 's attention in I Corinthians 5, 6.
We discuss the third sin, testing the Lord, below, because it is re-
lated to idolatry. The fourth sin, grumbling, may be important to
Paul in view of the complaints coming out of Corinth about him! In
any case, the reference to grumbling relates to Israel's grumbling
agai nst the Lord at Kadesh-Barnea, where Israelites said they would
have preferred to die in Egypt or in the desert (Num. 14:2).
Two of these four sins, idolatry and sexual immorality, are very
serious acts and often occurred simultaneously in Israel's history.
We know idolatry was currently practiced in the Corinthian church,
because Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 7 literally read: "Do not go on
being idolaters." So this was not something Paul was warning them
about in terms of some future idolatrous acts. There is no specific
reference in the Old Testament to sexual immorality in the idola-
trous festival witnessed by Moses after he came down from Mt. Sinai.
But the people were eating, drinking, and dancing around the golden
calf (Exod. 32:1-6, 18ff), and it may well be that the food they ate
had been offered in some way to the idol (golden calf), as was the
case in I Corinthians 8 where Paul discussed food sacrificed to idols.
But in connection with the second Old Testament reference to
Israel's idolatry, Baal worship, we read idolatry and sexual immoral-
ity went hand in hand and caused the death of 23,000 on that very
day (10:7,8; see Num. 25:1-9). Numbers gives a total of 24,000, so
it is possible Paul was quoting from memory and missed the count.
Scrolls were not easy to carry around or to read. On the other hand,
the count in Numbers may have included 23,000 on one day and
another 1,000 sometime thereafter. We should also keep in mind
that neither literary rules of that time nor a practical definition of
inspiration requires a first-century writer to be as concerned about
precision as authors often are in modern times.
Testing the Lord (1 Cor. 10:9)
Having stated that idolatry is the main subject of this section of
the letter, Paul next mentions testing of the Lord. The Corinthians
were brazenly testing the Lord in their idolatrous acts in exactly the
same way ancient Israel tested the Lord in connection with their
idolatry. In both cases, the idolatrous acts call for an amazing amount
of boldness and defiance. We want to look closer at these aspects of
Corinthian misbehavior.
It is the idolatry of eating a sacred meal in a pagan temple that
Paul discusses at length in verses 14-22 and was first mentioned in
I Corinthians 8:10. Only gnostic boldness would allow a Corinthian
church member to be involved in so many flagrant sins and still test
the Lord (10:9). Paul repeats a similar warning at the conclusion of
his next section when he asks the church members if they are actu-
ally trying to make the Lord jealous, thinking they are stronger than
the Lord (vs. 22)' But, hopefully, they pay serious attention to the
examples Paul gives from Israel's history.
The lessons to learn from Israel's tragedies (vss. 7-13)
Tbinkofit, one tragedy after another: three thousand died on the
day "the people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in
pagan revelry" (vs. 7), another 23,000 died when they committed
sexual immorality (vs. 8), some "were killed by snakes" for testing
the Lord (vs. 9), and we are told that those who grumbled were killed
by the destroying angel (vs. 10). What solemn examples' "Warnings
for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come" (vs. 11).
Just a few chapters earlier, Paul gave his counsels on marriage in
light of the shortness of time. Here, he warns the Corinthians about
their actions both with regard to consequences and with regard to
the fact that they were living in the time of the "fulfillment of the
ages" (vs. II). Christ's death and resurrection began the time of ful-
fillment when all that God had been doing through all previous ages
comes to its fruition in the Messiah and covers the time from the
first advent to the Second Advent. In Hebrews, Jesus' appearance at
the first advent is called the "end of the ages" (9:26).
For us today, testing is a part of the Christian's experience. And
while discussing the subject of temptation, Paul gives the promise
that has always been a source of encouragement for Christians. "No
temptation has seized you except what is common :'0 man. And God
is faithfu l; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.
But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you
can stand up under it" (I Cor. 10:13). Although temptation itself is
not a si n, it is far too easy to yield to the temptation, as most Chris-
tians know from experience. This promise assures us that the temp-
will not be beyond our ability to cope when we look to God,
who IS, Paul tells us again, "faithful" (vs. 13). And since God allows
the temptation as a means of purifying us Games 1: 12), it is good to
know that He will always be right there to provide a way of escape,
for our faithful God enables us to resist.
Flee From Idolatry
In I Corinthians 10:14-22, Paul develops his admonition on the
sin of idolatry, first mentioned in verse 7. As noted, idolatry is the
biggest problem of I Corinthians 10. Here, as in 1 Corinthians 8,
the issue is "food sacrificed to idols," but this time it is more than
eating a meat-market purchase. In I Corinthians 8, Paul referred to
eati ng such food trom the meat market as a nonessential (it is what
one does with regard to another person that is essential, you recall).
Ho,:ever, eating this same sacrificed food in a pagan temple is strictly
forbidden, and we know from Paul's strong language that he would
call this prohibition an essential. He uses the same expressions and
theology here as he did on the subject of prostitution in I Corinthians
6, where his stand on sexual morality was also an essential.
The Christians' sacred meal versus the pagans'
sacred meals (10:16-21)
It is not difficult to understand why Paul has strong feelings on
the subject. The meals in a pagan temple are the sacred meals to
demons and are, therefore, the direct opposite of the Christians'
sacred meal, the Lord's Supper. Because each meal symbolizes union
either with demons or with the Lord, a person cannot participate in
both; he has to choose (vs. 21).
"Flee from idolatry" (vs. 14) is directed not only to those who had
a strong conscience and who were knowledgeable but also to the
weak, who might be tempted to follow the example of the strong.
Paul appeals to their better judgment, "I speak to sensible people;
judge for yourselves what I say" (vs. 15) and then writes about the
symbols of the Lord's Supper (vss. 16, 17).
The occasion at which Jesus inaugurated the Lord's Supper was
the Jewish Passover (Matt. 26: 17-30; Mark 14: 12-26; Luke 22:7-23;
John 13:21-30). The "cup of blessing" (here, "cup of thanksgiving,"
1 Cor. 10:16) was the technical term for the third cup drunk at the
Jewish Passover. When a person drank from this cup, Paul describes
the act as a "participation in the blood of Christ" (vs. 16), but the
blood should in no way be taken literally. The word participation
comes from a word that means "to have fellowship." Those who
from time to time have insisted that this cup contains, in some way
or another, the actual blood ofJesus need to keep in mind that at the
time Jesus established the institution, He had not yet shed His IYWn
blood. Furthermore, the purpose of the Lord's Supper is a memorial
service; that is, a time for remembering Him, not drinking His ac-
tual blood (1 Cor. 11:25).
After repeating the same concept about the broken bread as he
did the cup, namely, it is a participation in the body of Christ, Paul
adds a statement that he develops in 1 Corinthians 12: "Because
there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body" (10:17). This
language is used in the marriage ceremony and conveys the same
powerful imagery of sacred union (1 Cor. 6: 17, 18).
Before Paul makes his decisive case against the counterfeit of the
Lord's Supper-the pagan meal with its own cup, the cup of de-
mons-he first adds what seems to be a parenthetical statement to
strengthen his position. He adds a reference to the meaning of sac-
rifices in Israel and in the pagan world: "Do not those who eat the
sacrifices participate in the altar?" (10: 18). That is, the Israelites who
offered sacrifices had a spiritual participation in the altar (Lev. 7: 15;
8:31; Deut. 12:17, 18); they had fellowship with God at His altar.
"Don't you see," Paul asks, "the same is true when pagans sacrifice,
only they sacrifice to demons" (I Cor. 10:20, 21), and, therefore,
they have a spiritual participation with demons.
As he did in I Corinthians 8, Paul denies that idol actually has
meaning in itself, for no god is really behind the idol (l 0: 19); but we
do, nevertheless, have a problem. As a matter of fact, we have a very
serious problem, because demons (not gods) were the objects of idol
worship (vs. 20). The Corinthians are warned that if they eat meat
sacrificed to idols, they should not eat it at the pagan temple feasts,
for to do so is to become "participants with demons" (vs. 20).
The bold-acting persons in Corinth, those who acted as though they
had nothing to fear, need to realize, Paul writes, that "You cannot drink
the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in
both the Lord's table and the table of demons (vs. 21, emphasis sup-
plied). When Paul speaks of "the Lord's table," he uses a term the
Corinthians would associate with the tables used for the pagan meals.
Having come out of paganism, they would have been familiar with invi-
tations to a pagan table meal such as the one quoted here that has been
preserved in ancient papyri texts regarding the god Sarapis: "Chairemon
invites you to dine at the table of the lord Sarapis in the Sarapeion, to-
morrow the 15th, at 9 o'clock" (Deissmann, New Light, 83; see also
Murphy-O'Connor, St. Paul's Crmnth, 164).
Christians simply cannot participate in a meal at the table of the
pagan god and the table of the Lord at the same time! Paul senses
that the Corinthians are aware of this but could care less, given their
lofty self-understanding. So Paul puts it to them even more directly:
"Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than
he?" (vs. 22). Paul no doubt has another experience ofIsrael in mind
with these rwo questions. Referring to the insolence of Israel and
God's reason for punishing them, we read in Deuteronomy, "They
have stirred me to jealousy with what is no god; they have provoked
me with their idols" (32:21, RSV; see Exod. 20:5; Ps. 78:58). Paul
leaves no question in the minds of the church members: God does
not accept a mixed allegiance. This is essential.
Freedom Has Limits: "Do It All for the Glory of God"
Paul begins this discussion (1 Cor. 10:23-11: 1) by repeating the
slogan we first encountered in 1 Corinthians 6: 12, "Everything is
permissible," and adds, "but not everything is beneficial" (10:23).
He uses precisely the same words as we find in 6: 12 even though the
NIV uses "constructive" instead of "beneficial" (vs. 23). The word
for "beneficial" and "constructive" (the same word in Greek) is similar
to another word Paul frequently used to convey the same idea: "build
up. " This word appears over and over again in 1 Corinthians 14. In
all these references, we are again reminded how much Paul was con-
cerned that every action of the Christian should have the well-being
of the other person in mind. His very next words bear this out: "No-
body should seek his own good, but the good of others" (10:24)-
this is essential for Paul.
The good of others means that personal freedom and rights must
always be subservient to the interests of others (see also 8:1; 13:5;
15:2; Rom. 14:7; Gal 6:2; Phil. 2:1-4). Paul hopes that his continual
reference to a concern for others will successfully redirect the think-
ing in Corinth, that it will defeat the gnostic theology and its total
engrossment with self.
In these two verses (1 Cor. 10:23,24), Paul makes his points about
looking after the interest of others in three ways, points that speak
eloquently even to us today: (1) Rights must take second place to the
interests and well-being of others. Because something is permissible,
such as food sacrificed to idols, does not mean it will always be a
benefit to others, regardless of how much knowledge we have, even
when that knowledge is true. Christians, Paul is saying, must not
put rights at the top of the list. I remember when our children were
small and my wife and I decided not to watch a particular comedy
on television. The program was clearly in the permissible category
for adults. But because some of the script could have been misun-
derstood by the children, we elected not to watch the program, thus
putting our children's good ahead of our rights.
(2) Closely related to the first point is Paul's second: Because some-
thing is permissible does not mean that it builds up. Paul will argue
very effectively in 1 Corinthians 14 that although tongues are a le-
gitimate gift, even one he himself possesses, in public worship it
does not build up.
(3) Christians should actively seek ways to do good for somebody
else. What a powerful directive for all of life! I think, for example, of
the wedding ceremony. I am sure many pastors have given counsel
to a couple that both husband and wife should always search for
ways to do good things for each other in the marriage, things that
will strengthen the bonds of marriage. These words from Paul give
us such a good motto for every Christian. Seek not your own good, but
the good of others. This counsel, put into practice, results in incred-
ible blessings and happiness to the participant. It is the certain cure
for all social ills'
How to respond to a weak person's advice (10:27-30)
The "other" person Paul has in mind in the next few verses is a
church member who observes another church member getting ready
to eat food sacrificed to an idol in an unbeliever's home-a perfectly
proper thing to do. Accepting the invitation for this meal was an
appropriate and good act for three reasons.
(1) As Paul established in 1 Corinthians 8, the meat sold in the
marketplace did not have spiritual significance-there are no gods
behind the idols.
(2) Paul assumes the Christian who goes into the unbeliever's home
to eat anything set on the table would eat the food, simply because
they would be able to acknowledge that: "The earth is the Lord's
and everything in it" (10:26-an Old Testament quotation from Ps.
24: 1 used as a Jewish blessing at mealtimes).
(3) Most importantly, the action of accepting the invitation from
the unbeliever was an excellent way to win the person to Christ.
Christians today who decline invitations to eat in an "unbeliever's"
home or who decline an invitation to attend church in an "outsider's"
church or curtly turn away a Jehovah's Witness who knocks at the
door miss golden opportunities. But worse, they may be demon-
strating a self-righteousness that is not only counterproductive to
the Christianity they happen to profess, it places them in the unen-
viable category of "goats" in the parable Jesus gave on the judgment
(Matt. 25:31-46).
We have made a good case, based on Paul's thinking, for attend-
ing the meal given by the unbeliever. But Paul gives us more infor-
mation about the uncertainty coming from Corinth. As in the ear-
lier discussion on how to relate to the weak (I Cor. 8: 7 -13), so also
in this setting: The weak must be kept in mind. In the case Paul now
descri bes, the person who observes is the weak brother. This weak
brother is worried, fearing that his fellow church member is un-
aware of what he is about to do. He now offers advice to his brother,
perhaps even whispers, "This has been offered in sacrifice" (10:28).
The informed brother listens, sympathetically, to his weak brother's
advice. The more knowledgeable brother should respond, accord-
ing to Paul, by not eating. This counsel, consistent with his advice
in 1 Corinthians 8, is, "both for the sake of the man who told you
and for conscience' sake"-the conscience of the one who told you
In the home, prior to eating, the information from the "weak"
person to the "strong" person creates a dilemma for the strong
brother. He must either curtail his personal liberty in the interest of
the weak brother-the way of love-or pursue the "knowledgeable"
way and be a gentleman in the presence of his guest. Paul advocates
the course that favors the weak individual, assuming that he will be
able to explain, if necessary, to the host at another time.
My freedom versus the weak person's conscience (vss. 28-30)
After having made his case for respecting the weak man's con-
science, Paul then seems to assert himself in a manner that contra-
dicts all he has said. "For why should my freedom be judged by
another's conscience?" (vs. 29). Further, he strengthens this appar-
ent contradiction by his next words, "If I take part in the meal with
thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank
God for?" (vs. 30). What is going on here? Has Paul stated that
there is a limit to how far another person's conscience can dictate
one's own actions? Is there a point at which we would have to disre-
gard a person with an overly sensitive conscience? Unfortunately,
Paul does not address this last issue-even though it would have
been very helpful for all Christians to have an answer to this. Then
what do his words mean?
In showing that Paul does not contradict his fundamental view on
looking after the interest of others, we need to keep the complete
picture in mind. That is, we cannot overlook the other half of the
conversation-the half that tells us what the thinking of Paul's op-
ponents is on the topic. Thus, the words that seem to contradict the
innermost soul of Paul's regard for others make sense when the other
side of the dialogue is considered.
The full picture goes something like the following: Paul firstiden-
tified with the strong person (meaning he is knowl edgeable), who is
given the invitation to eat in the unbeliever's home-where it is per-
fectly all right to eat the food offered. Then he identifies with the
weak brother (who is not knowledgeable), who would be injured if
the sacrificed meat were eaten. We now need to interject the think-
ing that is going on in the minds of Paul's opponents. He anticipates
that they are criticizing him for not standing up for his rights. It is
their line of thought to which Paul 's next words apply.
Thus, when we read the next words: "For why should my free-
dom be judged by another's conscience? . . . why am I denounced ... ?"
(vss. 29, 30), we are reading Paul's response to his critics, not a re-
versal of his concern for the weak person. Although his critics' words
are not avai lable to us, we can construct with a fair amount of cer-
tainty that, as the informed, they were pointing to Paul's actions on
behalf of the weak as another evidence he was not free. Paul's words,
then, declare that choosing not to eat is still an exercise of rights
(exousia); he does not want any flak about it!
"That they may be saved" (10:31-11:1)
The title given to Chapter Six is the summation of this part of
Paul's letter, "Do it all for the glory of God" (vs. 31), and the motive
is "that as many as possible may be saved" (vs. 33). These two prin-
ciples thoroughly control Paul 's ministry. They must be every
Christian's goal in all aspects of life (Col. 3: 17; 1 Pet. 4: 11).
Living to give God glory so that others may be won to Him. This is the
same theology we find in Jesus' two great commandments-love God
and love your neighbor (Matt. 22:37-39). "Do not cause anyone to
stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God " (1 Cor. 10:32).
In these words Paul takes in all persons outside the church and ev-
eryone within it' There can be no curtailment of these Christian
principles. It is easy at times for us to ei ther brush aside the "out-
sider," or, on the other hand, to disregard or to take for granted a
member of the spiritual fami ly. How much I appreciate Paul for his
next words: "even as I try to please everybody in every way" (vs. 33).
In no way does he mean that he will compromise the truths of the
gospel in order to please everybody (9: 19-23). Rather, as he goes on
to say, "I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that
they may be saved!" This is Paul 's passion, this is what rul es his very
being, and it is what makes it possible for him to make his final ap-
peal on the topic: "Follow my example, as 1 foll ow the example of
Christ" 11:1).
Applying the Word
1 Corinthians 10:1-11:1
1. The history oflsrael offers many examples of good things to
do and of bad things to avoid (for example, the good and bad
things mentioned in 10:1-11). What can Ilearn from Israel's
history that will benefit me personally?
2. When I participate in the Lord's Supper, am I at the same
time participating in any kind of action or artitude that would
make the celebration of the Lord's Supper a mockery? (vss.
3. Do I sometimes "test" the Lord by doing things that I be-
lieve, in my innermost self, are not wholesome to my Chris-
tian experience? (vs. 9). If Yes, what should I do about it?
What are the dangers of not doing anything about it?
4. According to God's promise, we will never be tempted be-
yond our ability, by His grace (or "way of escape"), to over-
come (vs. 13). What does it mean, then, when I do not over-
come? What should I do about such an experience?
5. Since idolatry was such a serious matter in both ancient Is-
rael and at Corinth, what would you say might be compara-
bly serious issues that would come under the umbrella of
idolatry for Christians living in modern times?
6. Paul 's words are to eat "whatever is put before you without
raising questions" (vs. 27); should I conclude, then, that eat-
ing anything, as a guest, is perfectly OK, so long as I am
thankful? (vss. 25, 26, 30). Why?
7. How should I relate to a fellow church member whose con-
science is overly sensitive, so much so that almost every-
thing I do is considered to be offensive? I do not want to
cause this person to stumble, and yet, if I allow the person
to dictate my behavior, as Paul advocates in 1 Corinthians 8
and 10, I would not be able to live a normal Christian life.
What should 1 do about my fellow member who seems to go
to extremes, and could, in effect, seek a control over me
that is not wholesome?
8. Am 1 consciously trying to do what Paul counseled when he
said, "Do it all for the glory of God" (vs. 31)? What should
(or should not) be included in this amazing admonition?
Researching the Word
1. The first two commandments, found in Exodus 20:3-5, state:
"You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make
for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that
is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is
in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to
them or serve them" (RSV). In order to fully appreciate the
significance of these commandments, use a concordance and
look up all the references to "idols" and "idolatry" ,vith the
objective of discovering how important the theological view
is of God as the only God and as the Creator. Also, find the
passages on idolatry that are associated with sexual immo-
rality. What do your findings suggest?
2. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul uses the term spiritual for a num-
ber of incidents in Israel's Exodus and wilderness experi-
ences. For example: food, drink, and Rock (Christ)-mean-
ing that these physical objects were a means of grace to God's
people and that Christ was the true bread and drink to come.
Study John 4:14; 6:30-65 and see whether John was making
the same point. Does Paul intend to point to the preexis-
tence of Christ in these comments? Check the following Old
Testament references regarding the importance of the "rock"
at the following locations: Rephidim (Exod. 17:6); Kadesh
(Num. 20:11); and by the well of Beer (Num. 21:16) .
Further Study of the Word
1. For a detailed study of 1 Corinthians 10, see G. D. Fee, The
First Epistle to the Corinthians, 441-491.
2. You will appreciate Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 8 and
10 much more if you read the entries in a Bible dictionary
on "pagan meals" or "sacred meals."
3. A very well-written article by A. J. Bandstra, "Interpreta-
tion in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11," discusses Paul's use of the
Old Testament in these verses. He gives a good explanation
as to why New Testament writers such as Paul could legiti-
mately use the Old Testament in ways we would not today.
Essentials and Nonessentials
in Worship
1 Corinthians 11 :2-34
The two problems Paul deals with in 1 Corinthians 11 are both related
to public worship, and both are tied to issues Paul has already dealt with in
I Corinthians 8-1 I . In I I :2- 1 6, he considers the problem of Corinthian
1vomen attending worship services in an unconventional manner; namely,
with tbeir heads uncovered. In I I : I 7-34, Pa1l1 deals with tbe serious abuse
of the Lord's Supper on the part of the Corinthians.
First Corinthians I I is a continuation of issues that began with Paul 's
"Now about .. . " statement in 8:1. First Corinthians 11, therefore, should
be read along with I Corinthians 8-10. Although many commentators
believe that Paul has begun an entirely new section with 1 Corinthians II
and tend either to treat the chapter as a separate unit or tie it to
I Corinthians 12-14 (where it does share a common setting, public wor-
ship), there are at least two reasons for keeping this chapter with the three
preceding ones (I Cor. 8-10). First, Paul has been making his own divi-
sions with the introductory expression "Now about . . . ," and he himself
does not introduce the next topic with this phrase until we get to
1 Corinthians 12: 1. Second, the same arrogance and boldness Paul faced in
I Corinthians 8-10 lie at the heart of the two problems in I Corinthians
The gnostic view of reality underscores both problems in 1 Corinthians
1 I. The fim problem about the wearing of the veil fo, WO?1len in public
worship (vss. 2-16) was the result of the gnostic view that women were not
different from men. The second proble?,lt, the disrespect manifested in Corinth
for the Lord's Supper (vss. 17-34), was the result of the gnostics' disregard
10" o"hodox Christian thinking about the meaning of the Lord's b"oken
body and spilled blood, both symbolized in the emblems used in the sacred
meal. To the gnostics, the emblems were another reminder of the physical
(nonspirit) world.
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Before you begin the conunentary, read 1 Corinthians 11:2-
16 again. Read the questions and then read the passage one
more time.
1. As Paul makes his case against the nontraditional practice of
women attending public worship unveiled, list the different
arguments he uses in verses 2-16. Which do you consider to
be his strongest arguments? Why? Do you think some of his
reasoning is cultural? Give reasons for your answer.
2. In this section of 1 Corinthians 11, Paul clearly states a point
about the equality of women. Which verses make this point?
What precisely is his point, and how would you relate it to
Galatians 3:28?
3. List what you believe are principles that can be derived from
1 Corinthians 11:2-16 that Christians can use' in any age.
Exploring the Word
Maintaining the Traditions
In these fifteen verses (11:2-16), Paul tackles the problem of
Corinthian women attending worship services with their heads uncov-
ered--clearly an unorthodox practice. He cites traditional Christian
practices as his first point of attack (vs. 2). He then goes on to reiterate
that hierarchical order (as in God, Christ, male, female) is good (vss. 3,
7 -9) because it establishes the differences between the sexes-a differ-
ence ordained by God that the gnostics thought wa, a huge mistake.
Paul's third point is a cultural one: Women who did nOt cover
their heads during religious exercises were looked on as immoral
(vss. 4-6). His fourth point can be summed up by stating that the act
of a woman covering her head in the presence of the angels gave to
the woman herself authority (vs. 10). Point five, one often overlooked,
states that both sexes are interdependent and equal (vss. 11, 12).
Paul's sixth point is simply an appeal to common sense and propri-
ety (vss. 13-15). He concludes the discussion returning full circle to
his original point: the importance of tradition (vs. 16). The &cursus
at the end of this section probes the implications for contemporary
readers, such as: What do Paul 's arguments have to do with our un-
derstanding of, and application to, such things as the gender issue,
use of power within the church hierarchy, and equali ty?
T hree possible lines of interpretation
This section of Paul 's letter has long been the source of many
different interpretations and applications. Before we look at Paul's
response to the bold and innovative worship practice introduced in
Corinth, we first need to menti on the three major ways this passage
has been interpreted. The three are:
Literal counsels.
Only pri nciples.
Largely cultural descriptions and a principle(s) .
We explai n them here briefly:
1. Paul's instruction is to be taken literally and is important for alt ages
and all cult/ms. This view holds that Paul's counsel is not constrained
by historical or cultural boundaries. Because Paul has referred in
verses 7 -9 to the order of creation (an act that is timeless in its mean-
ing), we have a clue that hi s advice here is not to be restricted to his
time or cul ture. Thus, in every age, women should cover their heads
in publi c worship to show their proper position in relation to men.
Several students in a class I taught in the seminary in Zaokski, Rus-
sia, told me they knew of churches where the women still covered
their heads in church.
When it comes to describing what constitutes the covering, some
believe that in modern times the wearing of a hat is an acceptable
substitute for the veil. A third possible meaning for the covering,
held by some New Testament scholars, is that Paul was simply tell-
ing the Corinthian women to wear their hair naturally; that is, as a
woman and not as a man-see point number 6 below for the mean-
ing of "natural."
2. Pau.l's instruction contains principles for all ages and cultures. This
view holds that wearing the veil in itself is no longer required for
modern times. On the other hand, the principle in the passage re-
quires wives to always show respect for their husbands by submit-
ting to their authority, just as man submits to Christ's authority. Man,
who was created first, is to have authority over his wife (see I Tim.
2: 11-14). Since the wife was made out of his body (Gen. 2:21 -24) to
be his helper and companion (vs. 20), she is to honor her husband by
submitting to him as her head ( I Cor. II: 3).
3. Paul's instruction is related to his cultztre and is only partially dealing
with principles. Tills view holds that Paul's counsel reflects social views
of that time that are cultural in nature and, therefore, with one ex-
ception, does not apply to the church in our time. The exception, to
be taken from this passage, is found in verses II , 12, where Paul
emphasizes equality and mutual dependence between men and
women who are in the Lord (see point number 5 below and Gal.
3:28; I Pet. 3:7). This viewpoint coincides with Paul's counsels in
I Corinthians 7, where, as we noted, everything he says about a
woman, he says about a man.
Six-Point Argument
Paul sets down six points in verses 2- 16 in making his case against
the new and unacceptable practice in Corinth. Each of his points is
related to the concept of what is proper in light of tradition, cus-
toms, respect, nature, and common sense. The veil itself was a non-
essential for Paul. The wearing of the veil by a woman is important
to Paul for one reason only. The statement that was being made by
not wearing the veil was the important issue for Daul because this
action symbolized the false gnostic theology about the nature of
mankind and the place of the Cross. Therefore, any attempt to un-
derstand this passage today requires that we first know what was
goi ng on in Corinth in the early to mid '50s A.D. What was the
situation in ancient Corinth that opened the door for this alteration
of the traditional dress for women in public worship?
Review of the setting at Corinth
The background information on gnosticism is given in the Intro-
duction, and here we will review only a few pertinent points. You
recall, the "knowledge" that brought the gnostics their salvation was
the view that they were part of the divine, spiritual from all eternity.
Furthermore, everything connected with the material world (the
opposite of the spirit world) was considered evil. The implications
derived from this concept of "spiritual versus physical" are impor-
tant for understanding this chapter. Keep in mind, the gnostics be-
lieved the following about "reality":
The creation of male and female, a wholesome and natural
feature of a good God's creation according to the Genesis
record (1:27, 31), was, for the gnostics, the byproduct of an
inferior development within the cosmos.
The physical being, therefore, was of no value, and further,
the physical nature actually hindered the gnostic in realizing
hi s or her true spiritual (immortal) identity.
Gender distinctions should thus be ignored-male and female
belong to the world of fallenness.
The woman was no different from the male-both had the
same divine spark.
In some gnostic systems, it was the God of the Old Testament
who was actually the evil god responsible for the existence of every-
thing evi l, primarily because He created the material world, includ-
ing mankind, as in "male and female, created he them" (vs. 27).
As we pointed out in the Introduction, we do not know precisely
how advanced the gnostic thinking was at Corinth; but the prob-
lems in the Corinthian church reflect, at least in part, this gnostic
attitude toward gender distinctions. It is important to realize, there-
fore, that the subject of this passage is a concern over proper behav-
ior in public worship insofar as this behavior negated a basic Chris-
tian understanding of creation and redemption. That is, Paul is not
in any sense of the word addressing the issue of mal,,-female rela-
tionships, as his words are so often applied in our day.
1. The importance of tradition (1 Cor. 11:2, 16)
Paul begins and ends his case against this new practice with an
appeal to the traditions already established in all the churches. The
first reference is in the expression "holding to the teachings" (vs. 2).
Paul uses a word that is a technical term for something that is handed
on from one to another (usually translated as "tradition"). The thing
handed on may be bad (Matt. 15:2ff.), even contrary to the will of
God (Mark 7 :8ff.), or it may be entirely good, as it is here. In his
concluding appeal to the Corinthians on this subject, Paul wrote,
"We have no other practice- nor do the churches of God" (I Cor.
11: 16). As in the previous section, Paul wants everything to be done
to the glory of God (10:31).
His concern for tradition may appear to us some two thousand
years later to be a little peculiar, and perhaps even a little illogical.
For example, have you ever wondered why, on the one hand, it is
considered a sign of reverence among most Christians for a man to
remove his hat or cap when prayer is bei ng offered (or when a man
is inside a church), when, on the other hand, within Judaism (from
which Christianity sprang), that very same action (the removal of a
hat or cap) is considered a sign of irreverence? When I take students
to visit the Western Wall in Old Jerusalem on a Friday evening,
where devout Jews are welcoming the beginning of the Sabbath, I
remind them in advance that the men, not women, must have their
heads covered before entering the area near the Wall-which is just
the opposite to what most of them are accustomed.
Usually, in places where a man is required to remove his hat, a
woman may leave her hat on during prayer without being consid-
ered irreverent. Customs can be a little strange at times; and yet,
whether we are conscious of the origin of a custom or not, in some
cases we continue to practice the custom because of what it symbol-
izes. And so the important point for us is that we must first under-
stand Paul 's counsels in their original setting, not in ours-for Paul ,
obviously, knew nothing about our cultural outlook or the value sys-
tem centered around our own religious ethos.
2. The importance of hierarchy (11:3,7-9)
I have combined verse 3 with verses 7-9 because in both places
Paul deals with the place of hierarchy. "The head of every man is
Christ, and the head of the woman is man [the Greek word is the
same for both ' man' and 'husband'], and the head of Christ is God"
(vs. 3). Many studies have been done in recent years on the term
"head. " There are some New Testament scholars who have argued
that the word head should be understood as "source" (as in "source
of the river"). If we were to make use of the definition "source"
(instead of "head"), verse 3 would go as follows (translation by Robin
Scroggs, 298. with the bracketed explanation added):
I want you to know that
every man's source is Christ,
the source of woman is man, [i.e., woman came pI Adams rib]
the source of Christ is God.
As attractive and persuasive as the studies may be in making the
case for the use of "source" for the Greek word head, we must, in the
final analysis, rely on the passages written by Paul himself for a defini-
tion. Elsewhere in Paul's writings, he uses the word head in the sense
of authority, not source (see Eph. 1: 21,22; 5:22, 23; and Col. 1:18),
and that is probably what he intends here.
It was this gnostic understanding of reality (that is, only the spirit!
spiritual aspects are important) that influenced some women within
the Corinthian congregation to challenge conventional worship cus-
toms. According to the gnostics, a woman who wore a veil was unin-
formed about the negative aspects of the distinctions between male
and female. As we shall see, for them, the respect that is shown for
angels (1 Cor. 11: 10) in the wearing of a veil was pure nonsense. Not
only did gnostic women, along with the men, consider themselves
equal or superior to angels; the gnosti c Christians in Corinth, as we
noted in 10:22, behaved in such an audacious manner that Paul asked
them, you recall , if they thought they were stronger than the Lord!
Paul gives a sequence of rank: a head and a subject who acknowl-
edges the superiority of that head. Why he does this, though, is inci-
sive. What is done so often in contemporary applications is to use
the words for our context, not Paul's! What we must keep in mind is
that Paul wants to show that violations of social practices in his day
by a woman who wished to defy the distinctions of gender were
unacceptable for a Christian.
Given the setting at Corinth, it is clear that because Paul wished
to emphasize in this passage the order of authority and administra-
tion in the divine arrangement of things (man is under Christ's au-
thority, Christ is under God's authority, so the woman is under her
husband's authority), the Corinthian woman should not be trying to
show her authority by having her head uncovered, particularly when
the show of authority represented a heretical stance. (See the com-
mentary below on 1 Cor. 15:24-28 for a discussion on the meaning
of "Christ is under God's authority.")
Let us illustrate how Corinth's siruation would apply in our time
by taking an Adventist church in the United States during the 1940s.
We will assume, for this illustration, a small church in California
that decides on its own that the policy of not wearing wedding rings
is absurd. In this little church, a majority of the men and women
decide that the church's stand is totally unacceptable. As a result, the
women begin wearing wedding rings. During the 1940s, such an act
would have been considered, legitimately, rebellious. A minority of
the members are alarmed and write to the conference office, asking
for help. A powerful conference leader (such as Paul was in days
long ago) writes a letter to the church and uses the very arguments
that were used in the 1940s, including the use of 1 Peter 3:3, a pas-
sage used until the late 1980s to support the nonwearing of a ring!
This conference leader even goes so far as to remind the little Cali-
fornia church of rebels that "none of the other d .'Jrches in the Pa-
cific Union Conference practi ce this custom, and that is another
reason you cannot either."
The lesson for us is clear: If something as significant as a reversal
of the church's position on a major policy could occur within the
time span of a generation or two, how much more understanding we
should be about changing a custom from Paul's time! The wedding
ring policy also happens to be an example of the world church legiti-
mately holding two different positions, both of which were endorsed
by Ellen White. European Adventists wore wedding rings and Ameri-
can Adventists did not. There are many such examples within the
church through the Christian cenruries. They reinforce for us that
indeed the Scriprures were given "for practical purposes" (White,
Selected Messages, 1 :20), and with this basic principle in mind, we will
see our way more clearly through the "problem" passages.
First Corinthians 11 :7-9 have a very unpleasant ring to the West-
ern mind, particularly since the late twentieth cenrury: The woman
is the glory of man and was created for him, and not the other way
around. But !t is crucial that we keep in mind, and this cannot be
overstated, that Paul, as a product of his own environment, is mak-
ing this argument, not to put woman down, but to counter the gnostic
position. In fact, one could argue from a logical point of view that
since the creation of the woman is the final act of Creation her ,
creation is the crown and climax of all creation!
3. The matter of honor (vss. 4-6)
When Paul writes that "Every man who prays or prophesies with his
head covered dishonors his head" (vs . 4), he uses the word head in two
ways. The first use of head in this verse refers to man's physical head; the
second use probably refers to his spiritual Head (Christ). When a man
prayed or prophesied with his head (his own physical head) covered, he
displayed his dishonor toward Christ (his spiritual Head).
At the same time, Paul states that a woman who prays or proph-
esies in public worship with her head uncovered dishonors her head,
so much so that it is the same as having her head shaved (vs. 5). And
since it was shameful for a woman to have her head shaved, she should
have her head properly covered (vs. 6). When a woman removed her
head covering in public, be that a veil or her own long hair, she was
sending a message that said she was one of the following:
A person of loose morals and sexual promiscuity.
A person who had been publicly disgraced because of some
shameful act.
A person who was openly flaunting her independence (in this
case, to support a heretical interpretation of human existence).
The information we have about the conditions in Corinth at the
time Paul was writing his letters strongly points to the third option.
The total picture, however, is important for understanding the sig-
nificance attached to the tradition.
4. "Because of the angels" (vs. 10)
This reason has been the center of all sorts of debate. The debate
has revolved around two parts of the verse. First, Who are these
angels? Second, What does "a sign of authority on her head" (vs. 10)
mean? We first look at the question about the identity of angels.
Some have argued that Paul believed the vei l would protect women
from evil angels (such as those referred to in Gen. 6: I ff., who cohabited
with women). A far better understanding of this text would be that these
are holy angels, who themselves veil their faces in the presence of God
(Isa. 6:2). Furthermore, since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at
Qumran, we have specific information about the very conservative Jew-
ish group who went out into the wilderness to prepare the way for the
Lord-the Essenes. We now know worshipers at Qwnran believed holy
angels attended their services and that respect for them was vital, so
much so that persons with a physical defect of any kind could not attend
the sacred assembly (H. Neil Richardson, 120). Another reason for be-
lieving the angels referred to here are holy angels is that it is evident
from other New Testament passages that angels are interested in the
Christian's salvation (see I Tim. 5 :21 and especially I Pet. I: 1 0).
The second question about the meaning of "the sign of authority on
her head" (1 Cor. II: 10) is more difficult. In Paul's time, among the
Greeks and Romans, both men and women remained bareheaded in
public prayer. In Judaism and early Christiani ty, it was customary for
women to veil their heads in the public worship setting. This was done
out of respect for the angels who were present at worship assemblies. It
was this established tradition that some women were tossing aside.
In the Greek, the text of verse 10 reads literally, "therefore, a woman
ought to have authority on her head, because of the angels." The word
for "authority" is the same word we have discussed many times: exollsia!
Elsewhere in I Corinthians, the word exoll.ria means the right or free-
dom to act (see 7:37; 8:9; 9:4, 5,6, 12, 18; see also Rom. 9:21; Rev.
22: 14). This is, no doubt, the use of the word here. Why is this observa-
tion important? When we recall that this word has been used so many
times in I Corinthians in the context of the gnostic claims for their
rights, freedom, and authority, we are able to connect the expression
authority (exollsia) on her bead with the gnostic view. Paul is countering
the gnostic meaning they have attached to the nonwearing of the veil!
Gnostic women were proving they had authority by not covering their
heads. Paul responds: It is precisely the opposite.
The question, then, is: How does the woman have "authority on
her head" by the wearing of a veil? This is particularly important in
view of the fact that we have already indicated that the phrase be-
calise of the angels refers to having respect for hol y angels. The most
natural meaning would be that a woman has authority, the freedom
to act (in this case, participate in public worship), simply by foll ow-
ing proper decorum. If she brazenly refuses to foll ow the conven-
tional custom, she would be forfeiting the very authority she is at-
tempting to claim for herself by tossing the custom aside'
Paul's conclusion is that a woman did have authority by having the
proper head covering and did not have authority by the maverick action
of the Corinthian women. The woman, by wearing a veil, thus had
authority to act (participate in worship) and showed, at the same time,
her respect for the authority or position of the angels. As we have noted,
respect for angels was nOt important for gnostic-thinking worshipers.
5. The message that goes beyond Paul's day (11:11, 12)
In Paul's six-point argument against the thinking and practice
going on in Corinth, we now look at the two verses that, without
question, address the gender issue in terms that transcend time and
culrure-verses II and 12. "In the Lord, however, woman IS not
independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as
woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But every-
thing comes from God. " Each sex is incomplete apart from the other;
they are equal and mutually dependent. The crucial phrase. for Paul
is "in the Lord" (vs. II ). T his is where Paul finds the solunon of all
problems. The phrase also makes it clear that Paul does not
anyone to mistakenly conclude that he is arguing for the subJecnon
of women. Thus, even as Paul attacks the theology of the gnostics
on contemporary understandings (tradition), he still maintains the
newly stated and overarching principle within Christianity of equal-
i ty in Christ.
6. Appeal to common sense (vss. 13-15)
Just before Paul completes the discussion by making his second
appeal to tradition, he adds one final argument. This time he ap-
peals to the Corinthians to maintain gender distinctions on the baSIS
of one's ordinary understanding of nature. "Judge for yourselves,"
Paul says, "Is it proper ... ?" (vs. 13). The Corinthians should rec-
ognize that women are not to pray with their heads as
men do. Why? It is obvious that men with short haIr are dlsnn-
guished from women with long hair. Surely you would agree, Paul
writes, that a man who has long hair is disgraced, and a woman WIth
long hair has it to her glory (vss. 14, 15). . .
Wanting the Corinthi ans to be conscious of how theIr acnons
would appear to others as proper, Paul reinforces his argument WIth
an appeal to nature itself. Nature teaches us, according to Paul, what
is proper and what is improper on this matter! One's innate sense of
propriety, apart from custom, should settle the question (the word
nature is the same word used in Rom. 2: 14).
The clinching argument (1 Cor. 11:16)
Using a word that is found only here in the 1 ew Testament, Paul
concludes that if anyone wants to be "contentious," that is, fond of
strife, such a person, in today's language, is out of luck. "No other
church does it this way, and neither are we going to at Corinth'"
Paul thus ends the argument that may not have been persuasive to
all his readers. In fact, he ends on a note that mi ght not sit too well
wi th persons who would consider the argument "Everybody does it
this way" to be flawed logic. Paul would have no doubt agreed with
such a response. But for him, doing what he considered to be the
best for the Christi an community might not always depend on pure
Apart from the strength or weakness of anyone of the six argu-
ments Paul has made (and there is no doubt he was struggling in his
attempt to counter his opponents) and apart from the cultural set-
ting of ancient Corinth, there are some principles we can glean from
these verses that are helpful to Christians in every age. We mention
I. The man ano the woman are equal human beings (vs. 12). In
the Christian community, each Christian should treat everyone with
mutual respect and admiration.
2. As equal human beings, men and women are still distinct sexes
who have special functi ons and positions.
3. As individuals and in corporate worship, Christians should re-
late to one another with a unity that allows for administrative subor-
dination, without respect to gender or to the notion of superiority.
4. As befits a God of order, worship must be peaceful and orderly
(see comments on I Cor. 14).
Excursus: Subordination and Equality of Women
In current discussions, I Corinthians II :2 -16 is one of the pas-
sages used by persons who discuss the role of women in church lead-
ership positions. Paul himself taught both a social subordinati on and
a religious equality-views that are incompatible by definition. The
evidence for Paul's positions is found, side-by-side, in I Corinthians
II. Even though it may not be a very attractive conclusion, the simple
fact is that Paul did not call for some of the changes that we have
deemed appropriate and "Christian" in our time. Women and slaves
were both to remain in the subordinate role (regarding slaves, see
Eph. 6:5; Col. 3:22; Titus 2:9).
In the first century, therefore, equality "in Christ" and the sub-
ordination of slaves and women in society did not create an insur-
mountable tension for Paul or his readers. The concepts of subordi-
nation and equality existed side by side without any sense of contra-
diction. It was their world, not ours. We must keep in mind that the
text does not always directly address our specific contemporary needs.
It is inevitable, too, that our questions arc often different from their
questions; therefore, it is important that we do not try to force the
biblical passages to address questions for which they were never in-
tended. We also need to keep in mind that Paul , while arguing that
women and slaves are equal "in Christ," was actually making a case
for the equality of Gentiles with Jews. In other words, Gentiles also
get to be considered equal "in Christ" (Gal. 3:28). We look for the
principles, and in doing so, we keep in the forefront of our thinking
that Bible authors cannot be removed from their own worldview.
It might be helpful to observe an example of this dynamic closer
to our own time. One of the foremost American spokesmen for free-
dom for all was a fanner president of the United States, Thomas
Jefferson. As a product of his time, he could not fully sense the real-
ity that would prevail in a later age, for while promoting freedom
for all, he was the owner of many slaves and was known to have
treated them harshly at times-something we would argue today to
be completely incongruous to the principles he was espousing' This
is just one further illustration of the importance of trying to under-
stand how a person, as the product of his or her time, is inconsistent
according to our "enlightened gnosis." Because every generation be-
lieves it is far more advanced than those who have preceded it, we
need to be both more respectful of our predecessors and more humble
about who we are.
When there is an apparent conflict of understanding over the text,
we correctly look for the principle in order to make a judgment. In
the case of women, the statements that point to full equality are
dearly not cultural, whereas those passages that speak of subordina-
tion are much more likely to be a product of the first-century soci-
ety, as was the slavery issue. We need to keep in mind that in the
creation of man and woman, the text states that God created both in
His image. Sin led to a different model. The new creation "in Christ"
(Gal. 3:28) leads back to the ideal that existed before sin.
I believe that the ideal that existed prior to the entrance of sin
(namely, equality between male and female) remains a valid objec-
tive even after sin. To argue that since sin is still with us, we need to
conti nue with the less than ideal is a weak position. We would not
accept that argument about Christian growth (namely, "since I have
a sinful nature, sinning is acceptable"). Our goal as Christians should
be a constant movement toward the very best in human existence
and not to use sin as a reason for holding to an inequality. The fact
that our world is imperfect does not justify an unqualified adher-
ence to selected views of an ancient society. Furthermore, we need
to be cognizant of the fact that we ourselves have inconsistently re-
tained some tncient views and rejected others!
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
In conjunction with your reading of this passage on the Lord's
Supper, go back and read again the verses on the pagan meals
in 1 Corinthians 10 (vss. 14-33).
1. In 11:17-21, what evaluation does Paul give of the current
practice of the Lord's Supper? What comments of Paul in
these verses would you point to that suggest that the same
divisions we observed in 1:11, 12 are prevalent here as well?
Given what we know about the gnostic theology of the physi-
cal world, which was, of course, very negative, indicate how
this theology would relate to an abuse of the Lord's Supper.
Hint: Consider what the emblems represent.
2. Explain what steps Paul took to redirect the Corinthians'
thinking from a partylike atmosphere to one that captures
the true meaning of the Supper? What words did Paul use
that would have, in your judgment, made the Corinthians
realize the error of their partylike attitude? Why do you think
his words would have been persuasive for you, had you been
a member of that community of long ago?
3. Make notes of the expressions in this passage that show that
Paul is very much concerned with the social issues in the
church, especially those that are related to simple econom-
4. Explain why Paul's words about taking part in the Lord's
Supper in an "unworthy manner" (vs. 27) do not have any-
thing to do with our own personal worthiness. Be able to
refer to specific statements by Paul that refer to "manner."
5. Explain what Paul means when he writes that the person
who eats and drinks "without recognizing the body of the
Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself" (vs. 29). What
was happening in Corinth in their observance of the Supper
that caused Paul to make this statement? What would you
point to in verse 33 that corresponds with Paul's overall the-
ology-and that would resolve -the problem at Corinth?
The Supper
Paul discusses the subject of the Lord's Supper from three per-
spectives: (I) When the church assembles to celebrate the Lord's
Supper, they make a mockery of it (vss. 17-22); (2) In an attempt to
redirect the church toward a correct understanding of the meaning
for the Supper, Paul reminds them of the original setting in which
the Lord instituted it (vss. 23-26); and (3) The church is warned
about the consequences of individuals taking part in an unaccept-
able manner (vss. 27-34).
Despising the church and humiliating others (vss. 17-22)
In contrast to the praise Paul gave the Corinthians in 11:2, he
takes up the second topic of 1 Corinthians 11 (stat lng with vs. 17)
with the words, "I have no praise for you. " In the previous chapter
(I Cor. 10) Paul had strong words for the Corinthians about their
participation in pagan sacred meals, and now he takes up their abuse
of the Christians' sacred meal, the Lord's Supper. Prior to the actual
Communion service, early Christians often celebrated an agape (love)
feast (see Jude 12). It is this love feast in Corinth that disturbs Paul
so much. The meal was something like a present-day church pot-
luck, eaten in conjunction with the Communion service. In good
Greek style they brought plenty of food-the rich bringing more
than the poor. This part of the process was good.
However, Paul reports he has heard that there are "divisions"
among them (in 1 Cor. 1:11, the word is literally strife or schism).
Paul allows that the problem may not be as widespread as he was
being led to believe ("and to some extent I believe it," 11:18), but
the form of the Greek word suggests that Paul "keeps on hearing"
the reports. Furthermore, the problem is quite serious. The church's
behavior was degrading to those who were poor and created an en-
tirely wrong atmosphere for the Communion service (see vs. 20).
Paul shows that "differences" (our transliterated word: heresies)
may be necessary in order to show who has God's approval (vs. 19).
The selfish behavior of some at Corinth leads Paul to tell them that
what they are celebrating is not the Lord's Supper (vs. 20). Their
gluttony and haughtiness toward the poor destroyed any possible
spiritual meaning. "One remains hungry, another gets drunk" (vs.
21). This type of disgusting conduct was not even approved in a
heathen supper club. "Hungry poor meeting intoxicated rich, atwhat
was supposed to be a supper of the Lord" (Robertson and Plummer,
On the night our Lord was betrayed (vss. 23-26)
In order to get the Corinthians to realize how seriously wrong
their actions were, Paul takes the church members back to the night
Jesus instituted the Supper. What a difference from that special oc-
casion in the life ofJesus and what is now going on in Corinth! The
Lord's Supper had been anything but a time of hilarity and selfish-
ness. And Paul wants them to know that what he is telling them is
reliable information-it has been "handed down" (the same word
used in 11:2 for "tradition" and the same process; see also 15:3,4).
On that night, the Supper was celebrated in connection with the
Passover (Matt. 26: 17-29; Luke 22:7-20).Jesus gave "thanks" (I Cor.
II :24--0ur transliterated word: Eucharist), as was the Jewish prac-
tice at a meal. And just as the Feast of Passover commemorated the
Exodus (Exod. 12:14), so also the Lord's Supper commemorated
Christ's death. The brealcing of the bread was symbolic of Christ's
broken body (Isa. 53:5). This bread that Christ was holding in His
hand was a symbol representing His body (see similar usage in John
10:7; I Cor. 10:4).
After the bread, Jesus took the cup (I Cor. 11:25). The phrase
after 51lppe1' in verse 25 means, as in the Gospels, "after the Passover
Supper." The word cup symbolizes the covenant in Jesus' blood (Luke
22 :20; seeJ er. 31 :31-34). It is, according to the words of Jesus, a new
covenant, the fulfillment of the covenant promises of God in the
Old Testament. We are not told how often the ceremony should
occur, only "whenever you eat . . . and drink"-and that it is to be
continued to Jesus' second coming (I Cor. II :26). By the use of this
symbol, God signifies the gift of salvation for His people, covenanted
for by the shedding ofJesus' blood . .
Warning to those who ignore the meaning of the
service (vss. 27-34)
The warning Paul gave to those who were celebrating the Supper
"unworthily" (vss. 27, 29, KJV) has caused concern for many Chris-
tians. As an eleven-year-old growing up in San Luis Obispo, Cali-
fornia, and attending the small Adventist church my mother had
joined a few years earlier, I would observe the adults participating in
the Communion service, and I thought I would never be able to take
part in the service, simply because I believed the text in I Corinthians
would prevent me from doing so. I thought the text meant that a
person had to be worthy, and if unworthy, participation would make
one a terrible person, guilty of profaning the body and blood of Jesus.
It was only years later that I learned that my worthiness had noth-
ing to do with the text! No one is ever worthy. The t,xt is not tallcing
about our worthiness but about whether or not the way in which we
participate is worthy. Paul does not say or even imply that we must
be worthy to partake of the Lord's Supper. It is a question of the
worthy manner of celebration, not of the worthy participant (vs. 27).
The problem at Corinth was the way, or manner, in which they cel-
ebrated the Lord's Supper; the members were coming to the table in
an irreverent way. It was important, from Paul's point of view, that
members should test themselves. What were their motives? An ex-
amination of their motives would have precluded the disgraceful
behavior going on at Corinth.
Given the gnostic orientation about the physical world, it is not
surprising they would not appreciate the significance of an institu-
tion centered around a "broken body" and "spilled blood." Both
"body" and "blood" had no value whatsoever for them. Why did
they even make a pretense of celebrating the Lord's Supper if they
had no respect for the basic symbols of the service? We know from
gnostic documents written later in early Christianity that gnostics
were very adept at using traditional practices and terminology in
totall y new ways.
Paul's words in verses 28 and 29 focus on the body of the Lord.
Paul advised members to examine themselves for the sole purpose
of guarding against eating and drinlcing in a manner that would re-
sult in a detrimental judgment of themselves-which could happen
through not recognizing the importance of the Supper that com-
memorates the death of Christ. "For anyone who eats and drinks
without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment
on himself" (vs. 29). The word for "recognizing" in the verse makes
it absolutely clear that one cannot participate in the Communion
service by omitting the "body" of the Lord.
T he blessing of being judged (vss. 30-34)
"Judgment" is not ordinarily associated with "blessing." We so
often react with uneasiness when the word judgment is mentioned.
Paul's words in this final section of I Corinthi ans II offer us a very
positive perspective, one we need to keep in mind. After referring to
those who "have fallen asleep" (vs. 3D-an expression for death in
the New Testament), Paul reminds the church that if they were a
little more careful in judging themselves, that is, in being more careful
about what they do, they would not have to worry about coming
"under judgment" (vs. 31).
So far as the siruation at Corinth was concerned, Paul's purpose
for counseling the members to self-examination is to make sure they
will celebrate the Lord's Supper wi th their hearts in the right place.
Furthermore, Paul adds, God's judgment is for our benefit, not our
detriment: "When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disci-
plined so that we will not be condemned with the world" (vs. 32; see
Heb. 12:5). The Corinthians would avoid a negative judgment by
simply looki ng after one another (I Cor. 11 :33). Again, we find Paul
revealing his true ministerial character: Look after the needs of oth-
ers (10:24; Eph. 4:29; Phil. 2:3, 4; see John 5:3; Acts 17:1 6) '
Paul concludes his advice wi th these words: "If anyone is hungry,
he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not
result in judgment. And when I come I wi ll give further directions"
(I Cor. 11:34). In other words, a person's behavior toward other
persons is what determines judgment-precisely the same viewpoint
given by Jesus in Matthew 25 :4lff. It is interesting to note that from
Paul's point of view the church had. other irregularities concerning
the Lord's Supper that needed his attention, but the seriousness of
the problem as he has addressed it makes the other aspects minor-
something he can deal with later.
Applying the Word
1 Corinthians 11:2-34
1. You are on a General Conference conunittee as a consultant
representing lay persons. The issue is a concern from one
of the world divisions where head covering for women in
public worship is considered very important. The leader of
this division is asking for advice because some of the mem-
bers in his field are refusing to cover their heads. What coun-
sel would you give?
2. In the church you attend, an intense discussion has begun
?ver the o.f many of the teenagers, who are wearing
mappropnate attire-from the perspective of the older mem-
bers. Some church members do not believe it is a problem.
Other members believe it is a serious problem, and they
quote Paul, "Is it proper ... ?" and "Does not the very na-
ture of things . .. ?" What would be your reaction to both
sides of the debate?
3. Both the ideas of "remembrance" and "proclamation" (vss.
25,26) are meaningful parts of the Lord's Supper. How would
you explain to a non-Christian friend how your own partici-
pation involves "remembrance" and "proclamation"?
4. Because we have so little information about how and when
the Lord's Supper is to be celebrated, indicate how you would
go about establishing guidelines for both the "how" and the
"when." What do you like about the procedures used in your
own church, and how do you think they might be improved,
if at all?
5. Several families in your church believe their children should .
be taking part in the Lord's Supper for the same reasons
they take part in all aspects of the worship program without
full understanding of what they are doing. The pastor asks
you to serve on a special conunittee to make a recommen-
dation to the church board. What would be your personal
recommendation? For what reasons?
Researching the Word
1. Look up the words Passover and Feast of Tabernacles in a
concordance. Considering these references, including the
surrounding verses that point to purpose, make notes about
the features and significance of these institutions. These
observations will assist you in understanding the value of
the Christian institution of the Lord's Supper. What aspects
of each would appear to be relevant for today? What aspects
of the Passover and Feast of Tabernacles are contained in
the Lord's Supper? Consulting a Bible dictionary on these
tenns will help you understand the significance of the an-
cient institutions.
2. Examine all the passages on the Lord's Supper and compare
them with one another, including the one in 1 Corinthians
11:23-26. What similarities and differences do you find
within the records (Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; and es-
pecially Luke 22:17-20)? What do Ephesians 2:12 and He-
brews 8-10 tell us about the relationship of the Supper to
the sacrificial system?
Further Study of the Word
1. See the chapter "In Remembrance of Me" in The Desire of
Ages for a moving description of the institution of the Lord's
Supper, 652-661.
2. For a detailed commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, see
G. D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 531-569.
3 . For a discussion on the way gnostics used the traditional
New Testament material with their own slant, see Robert
McL. Wilson's Gnosis and the New Testament, 60-84.
1 Corinthians 12-14
The Guiding Essential
for Christian Living
In mese three chapters of 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14, Paul has one
major point to make, one he has already made (see Chapter Five on
1 Cor. 8): True spirituality is defined by love, not by knowledge, and
especially not by tongues. At Corinm, many church members were claim-
ing to be spiritual persons (me pneu1Ilatikoi we discussed at some length
in me commentary on 1 Cor. 2, 3), and this claim to be a spiritual per-
son was anomer cause for division in me church, primarily because of
me bold claims me gnostics were making about meir identity.
As we have noted many times mus far, me troublemakers in Corinth
had placed a great deal of emphasis on wisdom and knowledge. Love, it
seems, was a foreign word to mem. The gnostics not only believed mey
had me inside track on true knowledge; meir "knowledge" led mem to
believe mat, as pneu1Illltikoi, mey were superior to all omers. They cited,
as proof of meir being spiritual, meir use of tongues.
In Chapter Eight (! Cor. 12, 13), we examine Paul's definition of
a spiritual person (1 Cor. 12) and his indication as to how true spirit-
uality is demonstrated by love (! Cor. 13). In Chapter Nine, we look
at Paul's rather lengmy evaluation of me gnostics' haughty claims
about tongues, meir proof mat mey were pneu1Ilatikoi (1 Cor. 14).
S piri tuali ty
1 Corinthians 12, 13
With 1 Corinthians 7, Paul took up the first issue the Corinthiam had
written to him, "Now for the matters you wrote about . .. (vs. 1). " With
1 Corinthians 12, Paul begins disctLssing the last major matter the church
members had written to him about. This time the issue concerm spiritual
persons (pneumatikoi). Paul wishes to make it abundantly clear that the
gnostics' claims to be pneumatikoi is off-base on several counts. In
1 Corinthiam 12, Paul first indicates that a person who is spiritual will
acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, not "Jesus be cursed" (vs. 3). He then
points out that ' the Spirit manifests Himself in many different ways to
different persons-but it is still always "the same Spirit" (vss. 4-11). Us-
ing examples from the interrelationships of various parts of the human
body, Paul thenar-gues how each member of the church, regardless of whether
weak or strong, is indispemable (vss. 12-30).
Urging the Corinthiam to desire the greater gifts, Paul adds, "And
now I will show you the most excellent way" (vs. 31) and proceeds to write
the well-known chapter on love (1 Cor: 13). He eloquently points out that
love, as a way of life, is not only superior to the gnostics' tongues, their
wisdom, and their knowledge but that love also does not allow for' their
arrogance, rudeness, and boasting--characteristics that come from their
belief that they are pneumatikoi.
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 12: 1-31
It would be a valuable exercise to read again all three chap-
ters (1 Cor. 12, 13, and 14) that belong to Part Four before you
begin the study of 1 Corinthians 12. In terms of understanding
both Paul's concerns and those of church members, these three
chapters in 1 Corinthians must be studied as a unit.
1. Make notations of themes and terms from your reading of
these three chapters which show that 1 Cor. 12-14 belong
together. Specifically, what would you point to in the fol-
lowing verses that show that all three chapters belong to-
gether: 12:31; 13:1; and 14:1?
2. Complete the assignment on the topic of "gifts" you began
in Chapter One and continued in Chapter Three (Getting
Into the Word sections, numbers 6 and 5, respectively). Make
a list of references from 1 Corinthians 12 that show that
being spiritual is a gift. Observe how Paul makes his case
that all gifts, not just spirituality, are provided by God. You
want to observe that spirituality is not inherently a part of
the believer. What conclusions has this particular exercise
led you to draw regarding the question of whether one re-
ceives spirituality as a gift or whether one could claim that
he or she was spiritual (a spirit being-nonphysical) from all
3. In the comments for 1 Corinthians 12:1,mytranslationreads
"spiritual persons" rather than "spiritual gifts" (NIV) . As
you read the passage, make notes that would indicate the
reasons for one translation andlor the other. Since this sec-
tion of Paul's letter (1 Cor. 12-14) begins, in my opinion,
with "spiritual persons," turn to the end of the section and
read 1 Corinthians 14:37. Explain how this concluding verse
to the topic would support the translation "spiritual per-
sons" in 1 Corinthians 12:1.
4. Read 1 Corinthians 2:12-15 and 3:1-4 again with the COn-
tent of 1 Corinthians 12 in mind. What ideas are in these
earlier references that provide help for understanding this
chapter, particularly with regard to the translation options
of "spiritual persons" and "spiritual gifts"?
5. At Corinth there were church members who were saying
that because they were plle1l11lotikoi (spiritual persons), they
could say, "Jesus be cursed" (vs. 3). List the essential ingre-
dients of Paul's test as to who really is a spiritual person.
(Hint: the use of "Jesus" in both clauses is very important.)
6. List the expressions in this chapter that show that even on
the topic of the "spiritual," Paul has the interests of the other
person at heart.
7. Make a list of the gifts given in verses 8-10 and in verses 28-
30. Now compare the two lists. What similarities do you
find with regard to both content and order? What would
you point to that indicates Paul is definitely concerned ,vith
the topic of tongues in 1 Corinthians 12, a topic he will dis-
cuss later in 1 Corinthians 14?
Exploring the Word
Spiritual Persons and Spiritual Gifts
In the first eleven verses, Paul gives the Corinthi ans an important
test for being able to determine who is and who is not a spiritual
person. He makes it cl ear that spirituality is not restricted to just
one kind of manifestation, for the Spirit gives all kinds of gifts to
different persons. Furthermore, the Spirit is the responsible agent
for di stributing the gifts. Persons do not have any gifts solely on
their own, let alone the possibility of being spiritual persons on their
own- as the gnosti cs had taught.
In verses 12-27, Paul demonstrates from the human body how
important each member is. Each part of the body has an important
function but cannot exist on its own. The body is unity in diversity.
In the final section of 1 Corinthi ans 12 (vss. 28-30), Paul gi ves us a
list of gifted persons again. He also ends this list as he did in verses
8-10 with tongues-showing his intention of developing the topi c
of tongues in greater detail (I Cor. 14). The final verse (vs. 31) is
actually an introduction to I Corinthians 13.
Only the Holy Spirit Can Make a Person "Spiritual"
In the first section of I Corinthians 12 (vss. I-II), Paul begins by
establishing the fact that all people are not alike. Each person has
his or her own gift, and each person has been given the gift by the
one Spirit.
"Now about spiritual persons ... " (vss. 1-2)
Paul tells the Corinthians in the first verse, "I do not want you to
be ignorant" (literally, "without knowledge"-without gnosis). He
wants them to have knowledge about spiritual persons. Who is a
spiritual person? Before we look at Paul's answer, we need to explain
why my translation ("spiritual persons") in verse I differs from most
English translations, including the NIV's ("spiritual gifts").
Looking at this verse in the Greek, we would read, "Now con-
cerning the spiritual, brothers . ... " This shows that we need to
supply a word following "spiritual." Just as in most languages, we
often leave off a noun because it is understood. For example, "I'll
meet you on the third"-meaning "third day of the month." The
question for translators, then, is: What word do we supply following
the adjective "spiritual"? The best way to answer the question is to
ask another question: What noun did Paul's readers asS'ltme belonged
there as naturally as we would know that "day" followed "third"?
I propose that the word to be supplied, and the one Paul 's readers
would have naturally understood, is persom. Is this an arbitrary addi-
tion or a change to Scripture? No. In this verse, the word spiritual
(pnelt1Jlatikol) is in a form that allows for three possibilities, all gram-
matically correct:
1. "spiritual women" (obviously a feminine word in Greek gram-
2. "spiritual gifts" (a neuter word in Greek grammar).
3. "spiritual persons" (a masculine word in Greek grammar).
Although most English translations have chosen "spiritual gifts"
(option number 2), I have chosen "spiritual persons" (option num-
ber 3) because, in my judgment, it much more accurately deals with
the point Paul is endeavoring to make. Here are three reasons why I
have chosen the word persons:
1. The entire thrust of this letter has been to deal with trouble-
makers who have claimed to be spiritual persons (pnemllatikol) who
are above sin, have no time for the Cross, are arrogant and boastful,
have no regard for others as they exhibit their freedom or authority
(exollsia), and use their knowledge to defy ordinary Christian prin-
ciples. Using our study method of asking: "Why did Paul say that?"
the most obvious reason would be to look at what has been said
elsewhere in the letter. "Spi ritual persons" fits this criterion; "spiri-
tual gifts" does not.
2. Although Paul does indeed speak about "spiritual gifts" in this
chapter, it is always in the context of the persons who possess the
various kinds of gifts, not the gifts themselves. The emphasis, there-
fore, is on the person who possesses the gift. (A corollary to this
point is the fact that it is the Spirit who bestows the gifts-one does
not have spirituality without the bestowal.) This is very clear when
the text is read in the Greek. Let me share with you how the word
person stands out in the original text. Observe that over and over
again Paul is talking about persons.
Give close attention to the italicized words, which agree gram-
matically with the word I have supplied in brackets. Irwould be help-
ful to follow along with the NIV text, where the words represented
by the ellipses are given; the important point is that we notice that
Paul is indeed writing about persons (rather than gifts). Beginning
with his first words in the chapter:
Verse 1: "Now about spiritual persom, brothers, I do not want
you to be ignorant."
Verse 3: "Therefore I tell you that no one [person] who is speak-
ing by the Spirit ... , and no one [person] can say, 'Jesus is
Lord. ' "
Verse 7: "Now to each one [person] the manifestation . .. "
Verse 8: "To one [person] there is given through the ... , to
another [person] the message of knowledge."
Verse 9: "To another [person] faith . .. , to another [person]
ft " gl s ...
Verse 10: "To another [person] miraculous powers, to another
[person] prophecy, to another [person] distinguishing between
spirits, to another [person] speaking ... , still another [person]
the interpretation ... "
Verse 11: "He [the Spirit] gives them [gifts] to each one
[person], just as he determines."
It is true, of course, that after Paul has referred to the "person,"
he mentions the "gift" the person possesses. My point, however, is
that the emphasis is on persons rather than gifts. This leads to our
next important proof.
3. As noted, 1 Corinthians 12- 14 belong together. Because Paul's
words at the beginning of this section (vs. 1) announce his subject, "Now
about spiritual [here we supply a word: either gifts or persons] .. . ," it
becomes extremely significant that in the conclusion of this discus-
sion in 1 Corinthians 14 he makes the following statement, "If any-
body thinks that he is a prophet, or [a] spiritual person, he should
acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the
Lord" (1 Cor. 14:3 7, emphasis supplied; see 2:15 and 3:1 where the
construction is the same; see also 14:37 in RSV). Thus, Paul con-
cludes this section by summarizing his counsels on the question raised
by the church in the first place (vs. 1), namely, the question about
spiritual persons. There is no ambiguity about the Greek word in
1 Corinthians 14:37; it is "spiritual person." It is natural, therefore,
to conclude that the word we supply in 1 Corinthians 12 : 1 is also in
agreement with the word that comes at the end of his presentation:
"persons" (rather than "gifts").
Why is this important for our understanding of the Corinthian
letter? Paul's opponents had claimed that they themselves were
pneumatikoi ("spiritual persons"), that their spirituality was not some-
thing they had received as a gift, but was, rather, theirs intrinsically
on the basis of their existence! In fact, Paul reminds them that even
they did not always believe they were eternally spirit beings, for when
they were pagans, they had been influenced and even led astray by
idols that could not even speak (vs. 2; see also Ps. 95:5-7; 1 Cor.
10: 19, 20). Their new claim to be a spiritual person must now be
understood to still be a gift. We will observe that throughout
1 Corinthians 12 Paul refers to what God or the Spirit does for the
Christian, not what the Christian is able to do alone.
The test for knowing a spiritual person (vs. 3)
This heading needs to be connected to the above discussion about
supplying the word persons instead of gifts. Paul is indeed answering
their question ("Now concerning spiritual persons ... "). Paul tells
the Corinthians how one may know with certainty who the true spirit-
ual persons (pneumatikot) are. He literally states, as he does several
times in the letter: "Therefore I make know1I [the verb form of g71Osis]
to you" (vs. 3, emphasis supplied). What follows surely must be un-
precedented within Christian ranks. He writes that he wants to make
known to them "that no one [person] who is speaking by the Spirit
of God says, 'Jesus be cursed,' and no one [person] can say, 'Jesus is
Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit" (vs. 3).
We ask ourselves: What lies behind these two statements? Fol-
lowing the procedure we have used many times (Paul wrote every-
thing for a reason), let us take a closer look at the church in Corinth.
We realize first of all that at Corinth there were church members
who were boasting that they were spiritual persons because they could
say, "Jesus be cursed." T his was, along with speaking in tongues,
their proof of spirituality. This seems incredible to us. To curse
Jesus-how could they still claim to be Christians? But their proof,
according to Paul, is completely wrong. The real test of spirituality
is precisely the opposite, because the person who is truly spiritual is
going to say, "Jesus is Lord."
We still have not answered the question, though, as to why such a
test for knowing who was spiritual was even necessary. The answer
is not complicated, even though it may seem on the wild side for
modern-day Christians. For the gnostics, J esus (a man with a physi-
cal nature) was one person, and Christ (God possessing a spiritual
nature) was a completely different person. As we have observed a
number of times, gnostics did not have any regard whatsoever for
anything from the material world. This is why, as noted, they had no
concern about such matters as sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5,6), or for
the emblems that represented the broken body of the Lord (I Cor.
It is also important to keep in mind that the gnostic heresy of
denying the physical nature of Jesus, or simply Jesus because He was
identified as someone with a body ("flesh"), was not an exclusively
Corinthian problem. We know from several other New Testament
passages that gnostics made a sharp distinction between Jesus and
Christ-they were two beings, not one and the same person. As
noted, Jesus was a man, and Christ was a god. Observe then, that the
disciple John deals with both of these heretical concepts. In his Gos-
pel, he reminds his readers that Jesus came in the flesh ("The Word
became flesh and made his dwelling among us" John 1:14). Even
more important, however, is the fact thatJohn actually told the church
how they could identify the antichrist. We read this explicit test in
1 John: "Who is the liar? It is the /nan who denies that Jesus is the
Christ. Such a man is the anti christ" (2:22). John also wrote the fol-
lowing important words about being able to recognize God's Spirit,
the true Spirit, not a person who claimed to be one of the pneu11zatikoi:
"This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that
acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.
This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming
and even now is already in the world" (4:2, 3). In this passage, the
mere acknowledgment of Jesus and Jesus alone is crucial. And one
final testimony from 1 John: "Many deceivers, who do not acknowl-
edge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the
world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist" (2 John
1:7; note Paul's words from 2 Cor. 11:13: "For such men are false
apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ").
These are powerful testimonies that tell us that the gnostics, who
denied that Jesus and Christ are one and the same person and that
this person, Jesus Christ, has come in the flesh, were the deceivers
and the antichrist'
It is very interesting that in a letter written by a famous church
fa ther (Origen) around 235 A.D. (obviously considerably later than
the time of Paul's epistle) we are told of gnostics who "admit no one
to their fellowship who has not first cursed Jesus" (Schmithals, 128).
Paul has already answered a big portion of the Corinthian con-
cern with these two tests of 1 Corinthians 12:3. The concern goes
something like this: "Paul, we have in our midst those who claim they
are spj,it'llal persom, and they cite two bits of evidence. First, they say that
one proof of their claim is that they can curse the man J estlS. Second, they
say the other proof is that they speak in tongues." Thus, given what we
know was going on in Corinth, I believe Paul's response goes some-
thing like this in 1 Corinthians 12 : "Now concerning spiritual persons,
I do not want you to be without knowledge. With regard to the proof that
some the ... at Corinth are supporting the notion that tbey are spiritual (by
saying 7esus be cursed,), I would simply say no person speaking by the
Spirit could ever say that. As a matter of fact, if a person is speaking by the
Spirit, that person will make a powerful testimony about Jesus, the man,
by saying 7estIS is Lord. ' As to their second 'proof,' speaking in tongues, let
me explain how the Spirit works in manifestations within a Christian
community; tben I will spend more time to discuss tongues separately. "
The comments that I want to make in the following paragraphs,
therefore, are an answer in somewhat greater detail to the response
above. The foll owing explanation would be clearer, of course, if we
knew exactly what the opponents were saying in their half of the
conversation. Before we proceed with Paul's more detailed response,
we need to make a brief comment about the important testimony,
"Jesus is Lord." This was a powerful statement in Paul's time. The
word Lord was the word used in the Greek Old Testament for God
the Father. Furthermore, the word Lord was used freely by the Ro-
mans for the emperor. Inscriptions and papyri apply the term to
Roman emperors, particularly to Nero, a contemporary of Paul's,
and probably the emperor who had Paul killed. Inscriptions from all
over the Roman Empire have been found that read: "Nero is Lord"
(Deissmann, Light, 349-354). Early in the second century A. D., a
foll ower of the disciple J ohn, Polycarp, was martyred because he
refused to say, "Caesar is Lord." Christians in the early centuri es
took very seriously the expression Jes'lls is Lord. We now turn to the
more detailed response I believe Paul made to the expressed
by some of the Corinthians.
Same Spirit, same Lord, same God (vss. 5, 6)
As Paul continues his argument against the false understandings
coming out of Corinth, he mentions that there are many gifts, all
different: "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.
T here are different kinds of service, but the same Lord" (vss. 4, 5).
When we ask why Paul makes this point, we must conclude that in
Corinth some were saying there was only one gift. It becomes clear,
as we follow Paul, that the one gift, from the point of view of his
opponents, is tongues. This becomes more clear in the discussion
As a matter of fact, Paul tells them, there is more to this ques-
tion. "There are different kinds of working," and, equally impor-
tant, "The same God works all of them in all men" (vs. 6). Per-
haps, indirectly, Paul has stated that just as there is diversity within
the Trinity, there is also unity: same Spirit, same Lord, same God
(vss. 4-6), and it is this same unity with diversity that Paul wants
for the Corinthians. For Paul, the clearest indication that God's
Spirit has produced the desired unity will show up in the fruits of
the Spirit. His excellent words to the church in Galatia would
have been very appropriate for the facti ous church in Corinth,
and is, of course, excellent for the church in every age: "But the
fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, good-
ness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things
there is no law. Those who belong to Chri st Jesus have crucified
the sinful nature with its passions and desi res. Since we li ve by
the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become
concei ted, provoking and envying each other" (Gal. 5:22-26; see
also John 7:3 7-39).
"To each one [person] , and to another
[person] . .. " (1 Cor. 12:7-11)
As Paul begins his discussion on the diversity of the Spirit's op-
eration withi n different persons, he tells us, as we would expect, that
"the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good" (vs.
7). Paul always has the good of the members at heart. This was plain
in 1 Corinthians 8, 9, and 11 and becomes very evident in the next
two chapters (1 Cor. 13, 14). Thus, the list of spiritual manifesta-
tions are to be understood primarily in terms of benefiting others.
It is usuall y the case that in lists such as the ones given in
1 Corinthians 12 (vss. 8- 10 and vss. 28-30), the most important gift
is listed firs t, on down to the least important one. We know from
what follows in Paul's comments that he intends to discuss in detail
the last-menti oned gift: tongues. And that discussion actually be-
gins in I Corinthi ans 13, where Paul mentions tongues first-his
new subject (see below). In I Corinthians 12, therefore, Paul begins
wi th those who have the "message of wisdom," then those who have
the "message of knowledge," on through the list until he ends with
those who have the gift of "tongues" (vss. 8- I 0).
Mentioning "wisdom" and "knowledge" at the head of the list is
signifi cant for two reasons. First, apart from the fact that it coi n-
cides with the list given later in 1 Corinthians 12, it is these two
words, as we have already seen, that form such an important back-
ground to all that is going on in Corinth at the time, particularly in
terms of the claims being made by Paul's opponents about their own
wisdom and knowledge. And second, these two words are connected
both to the word message and to the instrument of the Spirit (vs. 8).
Contrary to the viewpoint of the troublemakers in Cori nth, wisdom
and knowledge cannot be separated from the proclamation of the
gospel- the "testimony" delivered to them by Paul (1:6; 2: 1) or from
the work of tlle Spirit. Again, contrary to his opponents' view, the
work of the Spirit is separate from an innate spirit being (who re-
quires no outside help).
Paul continues with his list, ending with a total of nine manifesta-
ti ons of the Spirit's work (vss. 8-10). In this li st delineating the Spirit'S
work with persons, we have the foll owing different gifts: "to an-
other [person] faith ... , to another gifts of healing ... , to another
miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another di sti nguishing
between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,
and to still another the interpretation of tongues." Every one of these
manifestations of the Spirit is intended to build up the members, all
of the members. The church members themselves were not to use
the gifts selfishly, and certainly nOt in a way that suggested that their
particular gift was superior to another member's gift. Clearly, at
Corinth, there were members who were misapplying both these con-
cepts. Paul concludes this section of his comments with a statement
that once again reminds the Corinthians that it is God's Spirit who
makes the final determination, not those who thought they had all
knowledge: "All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and
he gives them to each one, just as he determines" (vs. 11).
"The Body Is a Unit, [With] Many Parts"
This heading is taken directly from verse 12. (If Paul were taking
a course in writing today, he would no doubt be told that he gets an
"A" grade for a good topical sentence.) Everything Paul writes in
verses 12-30, which takes us to the end of 1 Corinthians 12, is con-
cerned with his attempt to show that just as the body has many parts,
each of which cannot function when isolated from the rest of the
body, so it is true for the body of church members. Paul also repeats
the concept that the body is a unity with many parts (vs. 12), almost
word for word, in verses 14 and 20.
An analogy of the human body (vss. 14-24)
Paul now makes a very effective parallel with the church collec-
tively being compared to the parts of the human body. The com-
parison was not original with Paul. Many ancient writers had made
a similar point. For example, Socrates (400 years earlier) had pointed
out how absurd it would be if feet and hands should work against
one another when God made them to cooperate (Xen., Mem. II. iii .
18). Many other authors, both before and after Paul , made refer-
ence to Socrates's statement. One prominent persc'1, Seneca, a godly
man who was the philosophic director in the court of the vile Em-
peror Nero, and thus a contemporary of Paul 's, also alludes to it
(Robertson and Plummer, 277). The Corinthians would therefore
readily understand Paul 's words, "If the foot should say, ' Because I
am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for that
reason cease to be part of the body" (vs. 15).
Paul continues this line of logic by mentioning the purpose of the
eye and ear and nose (vss. 16, 17). The point is that God is in charge:
"But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of
them, just as he wanted them to be" (vs. 18). In conclusion, Paul
repeats the words he began with in this section: "There are many
parts, but one body" (vs. 20).
The eye, the hand, the head, the feet-none can say that they are
independent (vs. 21)' The very weakest members, contrary to the gnostic
outlook, are indispensable; and, furthermore, tlle parts that we think
are less honorable, we treat with special honor. For example, the vital
organs (such as the heart, the kidneys, the lungs, the liver, and the stom-
ach) are not visible, but life cannot exist without them! And the parts
that are wlpresentable, namely, the sex organs, are treated with special
modesty. As Paul puts it, "Our presentable pans need no special treat-
ment" (vs. 24). Paul rejects the idea that matter is evil. His picture of the
body is in hannony with the Judaic view; namely, that the body is the
temple of God's Spirit (1 Cor. 6: 19).
Concern for each other (12:25-27)
We cannot fail to miss the most dominant characteristic of Paul's
great mission, the goal of his ministry, which is concern for others,
whether they are weak or strong. He does not want anything to di s-
rupt this overriding concern he has for every singl e person. This,
once again, is reflected in his words: "so that there should be no
division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for
each other" (vs. 25). For, to use his words, "If one part suffers, every
part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it"
(vs. 26). This concept was poignantly caprured in the words of the
eminent British poet,John Donne, who wrote the well-known words
in 1624: "No man is an island, entire of itself. "
The English words suffers with in verse 26 translate the Greek
word for "sympathize" which was a medical term used by the fa-
mous Hippocrates. Plato wrote that the body of citizens "feels the
hurt" in the same way the whole body feels a hurt finger (Republic, V;
462). Similarly, when we enjoy a good meal or hear good news, the
entire body "rejoices." With beautiful words of assurance, Paul con-
cludes this part of the topic by telling the Corinthians, "Now you
are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it" (vs. 27).
God's appointments vary from person to person (vss. 28-30)
As Paul winds down his discussion on the wide variety of the Spirit's
operations within the church body, he again writes about the gifts
that God has given to the church, and he gives another list that dif-
fers from the first one (vss. 8-10). In this list, Paul mentions three
gifted persons who are also in his Ephesians list (Eph. 4:11). The
three gifted persons are: the apostles and prophets, who were the
foundation of the church (Eph 2:20), and teachers, who were associ-
ated with the pastoral office (Eph. 4: 11; 1 Tim. 3 :2).
Although Paul believes that each gift is extremely important, as he
illustrated in his analogy of the human body (1 Cor. 12: 12-1 7), he also
considered some gifts to be more important. To use his own words, in
verse 31, he speaks of the "greater gifts." The most important gifts, as
noted above in the comments on verses 8-10, are listed first. This rank-
ing is indicated by Paul's own words: "And in the church God has ap-
pointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers
of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others,
those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds
of tongues" (vs. 28, emphasis supplied). These words, first, second, etc.
show that Paul views the gift of tongues to be the least important. This
point will be developed in 1 Corinthians 14.
Paul assumes he has made his position clear: A person is not intrinsi-
cally spiritual, and there is not just one manifestation of the Spirit. But
with one last rhetorical flourish, he asks the following questions, all of
which call for a No answer in Greek syntax: "Are all apostles? Are all
prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of
healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?" (12:29, 30). "Of
course not" is the expected answer to each question.
The final verse in 1 Corinthians 12 forms a natural tie to
1 Corinthians 13: "But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I
will show you the most excellent way" (12: 31).
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
This short chapter should be memorized!
1. As you read again 1 Corinthians 13, make a list of terms that
shows a close tie to the chapters on each side of it (1 Cor. 12
and 14). Give several reasons why Paul mentions tongues in
his very first sentence.
2. Read 1 Corinthians 2:1 again. Indicate points of connection
between Paul's reference to the tongues of angels and his
earlier discussion on the eloquence of speech.
3. Make a list of the characteristics of Paul's opponents that
are found in verses 4-7. Indicate experiences from Corinth
in which the undesirable elements have surfaced.
4. List the gifts that Paul states will pass away and those that
will remain. Based on what you have read thus far in this
Corinthian letter, what insights do you gain by looking at
the gifts that will pass away? If you have time, use a concor-
dance to look up the three gifts that remain. What do you
find about these gifts that help you understand why Paul
singled them out as the grand finalists?
Exploring the Word
"The Most Excellent Way"
Paul begins this beautiful chapter by boldly stating that regard-
less of what gifts one might possess, even if those gifts are awesome,
without love, the gifts are zero' It is indisputable: Love is both su-
peri or and necessary (vss. 1-3). He then describes the essential char-
acteristics oflove-how love affects our behavior, particularly in re-
lating to other persons (vss. 4-7).
"Love is forever" is covered in verse 8. Love is the most perma-
nent thing we know-for it is, after all, who God is. From verse 9 to
the end of this short chapter, Paul discusses growth, the movement
toward a Christian maturity that will result in our being fully known
throughout eternity (vss. 9-13).
The setting
We have pointed out that I Corinthians 12-14 belong together as
a unit. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul discussed spiritual persons and their
various gifts, and in I Corinthians 14, Paul goes into further detail
about the one gift he has intended to discuss from the beginning:
tongues. But right in the middle of these rwo chapters is his elo-
quent discourse on love. What is the connection, we might ask, with
the content of the rwo surrounding chapters and this one on love?
In answering this question, we need to keep rwo points in the
forefront of our thinking. First, as we have observed many times,
Paul's opponents have stressed knowledge at the expense oflove (8: 1).
This knowledge made them believe they were spiritual persons from
all eternity, and, furthermore, led to grossly immoral practices and
an attitude of arrogance and boastfulness. Second, the gnostics
pointed to their ability to speak in tongues as proof of their superi-
ority-even as proof of being spiritual persons. All of these elements
appear in I Corinthians 13. It is not an accident that we have this
chapter occurring at this place in the letter. The reader will recog-
nize many familiar terms and themes.
Love is above everything (vss. 1-3)
The last verse of 1 Corinthians 12 either belongs with this chap-
ter, or better, there should be no chapter division between
I Corinthians 12 and 13 : "But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And
now I will show you the most excellent way" (12:31, emphasis sup-
plied). Love is, of course, the "most excellent way." Probably Paul
does not intend love to be considered a gift. Rather, love is a char-
acteristic that belongs to all Christians, regardless of the particular
gift or gifts one might possess. That is, love is the "fruit of the Spirit"
that Paul wrote about in Galatians 5 (vss. 22, 23), rather than a "gift
of the Spirit." When the Christian demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit,
all, or any, of the gifts become meaningful, and only then. That is
the message of I Corinthians 13.
Love. All through history, persons have written on the subject of
love, including the great Greek thinker, Plato (Symposium). But Paul
surpassed them all in this outstanding composition. I almost hesi-
tate to begin dissecting the passage-we run the risk of causing the
verses to lose their power and beauty. How can one say it better?
Fortunately, we need not say a great deal about the chapter: The
words make the crucial points on their own.
"Intellect was worshiped in Greece, and power in Rome; but where
did St. Paul learn the surpassing beauty of love?" (Robertson and
Plummer, 286). Most Christians today are familiar with the three
different words used for love:
Phi/os: the love we refer to as friendship or brotherly love, as
in the city of brotherly love: Philadelphia.
Eros: the love that is erotic in nature.
Agape: the love that is the highest form of all love-the word
used in this chapter.
Agape is a love that exists even for the unlovable; it is the love that
Christ manifested for us on the cross (see John 13:34, 35; 1 John
3: 16). It is a love that refers to the deep and abiding affection of God
and Christ for each other Gohn 15: 10; 17:26). It is the love that God
has for us (1 John 4:9). Also, it is the love Christians have in their
relationship with one another Gohn 13:34, 35).
Paul begins his forceful presentation by likening his ability to speak
as angels, stating that when love is absent, "I am only a resounding gong
or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor. 13:1). Why, one might ask, did Paul use
tongues for his first point of comparison? This is an example of men-
tioning a gift first because it is the one Paul has in mind for a more
detailed discussion (in 1 Cor. 14). Tongues was a practice obviously given
a great deal of emphasis by some of the Corinthians. Thus, right in the
first verse Paul mentions tongues, and we immediately have a natural
tie between the two chapters that exist on each side of 1 Corinthians 13.
You recall that tongues was the last-mentioned gift in both lists of
1 Corinthians 12 (vss. 8-10 and vss. 28-30), and tongues is, of course,
the subject of 1 Corinthians 14.
In his first statement about the ability to speak, not only the vari-
ous tongues of human beings but even the tongues used by angels,
he probably had no thought about being able to speak an angel's
language. He wants to make it clear, though, that even the language
of an angel is nothing if love is absent. And for the gnostics, who
placed such a grea t emphasis on the eloquence of speech (1 Cor.
1:17-2:4), Paul again has the gnostics in mind with this comment.
The "resounding gong," used in the temple worship, was made of
brass, the earliest metal that men learned to use. Interestingly, the
Greek word for "resounding" is our transliterated word echoing. Paul's
reference to the ability to "fathom all mysteries and all knowledge"
(vs. 2) was a clear allusion to the claims being made by the gnostics.
Even faith, a concept that was very important to Paul, and giving
away to the poor everything one might possess (vs. 2), is also of no
value if there is no love. It is not clear whether Paul had the gnostics
in mind when he wrote about surrendering the body-we do know
that they would have no doubt applauded any act that brought the
body to an end. In Corinth, though, the demise of the body was
done through loose not in a martyr's act.
Paul is not condemning any of these important gifts. He is simply
stating that love is superior to them and essential to them. For with-
out love, Paul wrote, "I am nothing" (vs. 2), and "I gain nothing"
(vs. 3). To provide the force of Paul 's meaning for "nothing" in these
two statements, today he would be saying something like: "Without
love, I am an absolute zero; I gain absolute zero!"
Love is the answer (vss. 4-7)
In the next four verses, Paul mentions what love is from a positive
point of view (vss. 4a and 6b-7) and what love is not (vss. 4b-6a). As
Paul begins his discussion on the characteristics flf love, his very
first words were extremely appropriate for the Corinthians, "Love is
patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not
proud" (vs. 4). Some in the church had shown impatience with other
members, especially in their behavior at the celebration of the Lord's
Supper (1 Cor. 11:18-22); kindness was obviously absent in the as-
serti on of their rights in the presence of the weaker members
(1 Cor. 8). Paul's word for "patience" means to have feelings for a long
and his word for "kindness" also includes the idea of being
The comment about envy may have been directed to the mem-
bers in the church who looked upon the self-assured gnostics, wish-
ing they could have some of the confidence the gnostics exuded. As
to boasting and being proud, we have already seen how often the
gnostics manifested their boastful and proud manners (literally,
"puffed up" from phusioo; see the comments on 1 Cor. 4:6; 5:2; 8: 1).
Everything Paul writes in the next verse was also obviously di-
rected at gnostic ways of acting, particularly because the points all
speak to how we relate to one another-a skill that was seriously
deficient in the lives of Paul's self-centered opponents. His words
are powerful. "[Love] is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not eas-
ily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs" (13:5). Rudeness, as a
direct opposite of the kindness mentioned in the preceding verse,
would again be descriptive of the actions of some Corinthians at the
celebration of the Lord's Supper (11:18-22). A great deal of heart-
ache would be avoided today if these words governed all we do. Imag-
ine, for example, how often a relationship goes downhill because a
person keeps a record of the wrongs of the other person. We find in
this verse, as well as in the next two verses, another evidence of Paul's
concern for the interests of others (see also 1 Cor. 8:13; 10:24,33).
As we saw in a most explicit manner, there were some in Corinth
who took great delight in their evil behavior (1 Cor. 5, 6); but, as
Paul wrote, "Love does not delight in evil but rejoi ces with the truth"
(13:6). Furthermore, love is totally oriented toward the other per-
son, for "it always protects, always trusts, always hopes [the idea is:
optimistic], always perseveres" (vs. 7). The translation "protects"
carries the concept of the roof over a house, and in this sense, love
covers and protects; to use Peter's words, love covers a multitude of
sins (1 Pet. 4:8). Love covers the faults of others rather than delight-
ing in them (1 Cor. 13:7). May God grant to each of us the ability to
live this kind of life, for truly, it is the "most excellent way" (12:31).
Love is forever (13:8)
Paul next states that "love never fails" (vs. 8), and he does this by
using a word that means "to fall. " That is, love never falls-it sur-
vives everything. T he same cannot be said about prophecies, tongues,
or knowledge (vs. 8). We know from the next twO verses why these
three will cease: They are imperfect and partial (vss. 9, 10). Paul is
going to be more positive about prophecy in the next chapter when
he talks about the superior features of prophecy as compared to
tongues. Regarding knowledge, he stated earli er in his letter that
" 'knowledge' puffs up, but love builds up" (8: 1, RSV).
Love is our future (13:9-13)
In addition to other deficiencies related to knowledge, Paul makes
another statement about knowledge, a statement that would have
troubled his opponents. Paul's statement that "we know in part" (vs.
9) clearly was directed at the gnostics, who believed they had full
knowledge already by virtue of who they were. Both knowledge and
prophecy are imperfect, "but when perfection comes, the imperfect
disappears" (vs. 10). Neither knowledge nor prophecy will be needed
"when perfection comes." Presumably, this will be at the time our
Lord will wipe away all tears and make all things new (see Rev. 21).
When Paul refers to the changes that occur as we grow into adult-
hood, he is not saying that the thinking and speech of children are
unimportant or unreal. He merely wishes to say that the child's ex-
perience is still immature. "When I was a child, I talked like a child,
I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man,
I put childish ways behind me" (1 Cor. 13:11). This is an effective
point for Christians in any age about making claims for full knowl-
edge, but it was particularly important for the Corinthians who were
making claims for which they had no justification. Only in heaven
will we be able to talk about a truly mature undersnnding. And even
in that perfect environment, we will continue to learn, continually
face new and exciting horizons. In the meantime, let us be humble
about what we "know."
When we keep in mind that in ancient times a mirror was pol-
ished metal, Paul's metaphor of the mirror and what we are capable
of seeing in our present, imperfect state becomes quite vivid: "Now
we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to
face . Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully
known" (vs. 12). Paul's expression, in the Greek, essentially states
that what we see in a mirror is an enigma (transliterated Greek word).
Of all that we know about gifts and qualities in life, Paul has made
it clear that some pass away because they will not be needed. When
we look at his last statement in I Corinthians 13, it is important to
observe that Paul makes a significant point about faith, hope, and
love that is in direct contrast with all other things he has mentioned.
"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest
of these is love" (vs. 13). These three are forever. And of these three
that extend into eternity, love is the greatest simply because love is
necessary for both faith and hope.
Applying the Word
1 Corinthians 12, 13
1. Referring in 1 Corinthians 12 to the various gifts that per-
sons possess, discuss the viewpoints that exist in your church
as to whom the spiritual gifts are for: (a) church pastors and
other religious leaders, (b) all believers (converted or un-
converted), or (c) only those who need them.
2. In your congregation there are a few persons whose belief
that they do not have any significant gifts is an excuse for
not being involved in any kind of church responsibilities.
How could you or others help these members realize the
importance of nurturing even the smallest gift?
3. Identify what you believe are your own gifts and then ask
yourself if you are utilizing them to the fullest extent. What
about the gifts of your church family? Is the church as a
whole taking full advantage of its gifts? If not, how can you
help improve the situation, making certain that everything
you do is perceived by others as constructive?
4. Regarding Paul's definition oflove in 1 Corinthians 13, dis-
cuss how you might respond to one of the m;lIions in the
world today who believe that love is mere sentimentality.
How would you counter the notion that the Christians' God
of love is not just an indulgent father who constantly for-
gives and forgets the rebellious acts of his children, never
holding them responsible for their acts? How would
1 Corinthians help you in this discussion.
5. Examine your own religious experience. How do "faith, hope,
and love" show up in your thinking, in your experience? Do
you have more of one than the other? Explain how it is pos-
sible or impossible to have one without the other.
6. Make a list of all the positive characteristics oflove given by
Paul and then check this list against your own life. Do the
same for the negative characteristics. If you find, for example,
that you are rude at times, what can you do about it?
7. In a group setting, go around the circle asking each person
to contribute a completion to: "Love is ... " Do this for
specific places, such as, "In the home, love is ... "
8. Think of the most unlovable person you know. Consider
ways that you can show love to this person, reflecting on the
benefits that will come to you, even if you do not get results
with the unlovable one.
9. Are there some "childish" things I do from time to time?
What can be done about it, and what benefits would result?
Researching the Word
1. There are many different lists of spiritual gifts in the New
Testament, particularly in the writings ofPau!' Locate these
lists (the use of cross-referencing is a simple way) and write
down the gifts given in each list in the order they are given.
Compare both the gifts mentioned and the order. What do
you find regarding: rank, order, gifts that reoccur, those given
only once, and the setting? Now process these findings into
a biblical view of spiritual gifts by writing out your conclu-
sions. You may want to compare your findings with entries
on spiritual gifts in a Bible dictionary or Bible encyclopedia.
2. With a concordance, look up in other books of the Bible the
words Paul used in 1 Corinthians 13 to describe love. Add
to this the words used in Galatians 5:22 describing the fruits
of the Spirit. Your study should yield a rewarding set of simi-
larities and a beneficial insight into the character of God.
Further Study of the Word
1. To broaden your understanding of the biblical teachings on
love, turn to a Bible dictionary and read the entry on "love."
2. For a detailed discussion on 1 Corinthians 12, see G. D.
Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 569-625.
3. For a very good discussion on the subject oflove in the New
Testament, see P. Perkins' Love Commands in the New Testa-
Evaluation of Gifts
and True Spirituality
1 Corinthians 14
In this chapter, Paul concludes the topic he began in 1 Corinthians 12,
"Now about spiritual persons . . . . " As noted, there were Corinthians who
had decided that their use of tongues gave them proof of being a spirit (or
spiritual) person. They had also stated that Paul was not a spirit person
because he did not speak in tongues (which opinion he counters in 14:6, 15,
Paul has already contended that spirituality is not confined to tongues.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul made it clear that there are many gifts, and
tongues is only one of them; they are all important. He followed the disms-
sion on the diversity of gifts with his discussion on love, in which he made it
clear that without love, persons, whatever gifts they may have, are nothing
(13:2, 3). In fact, in this chapter Paul will actually argue that the gift of
tongues, a gift some Corinthians enthusiastically endorsed, is not nearly as
valuable as the gift of prophecy. He establishes this point by following an
approach to ministry we have seen so often in Paul, and that is: The gifts
are to benefit others, and the more they benefit others, the greater the gift
It is prophecy that builds up the church, whereas tongues only builds up the
person who has the experience (14:2-5, 9, 23-25). And unless there is an
interpreter of tongues, such an experience not only fails to edify others; it
turns out to be dim,ptive. This, of course, is not acceptable, because God is
a God of order (vss. 33, 40).
In the first major section of 1 Corinthians 14 (vss. 1-25), Paul writes
that it is the gift of prophecy that both edifies the church (believers) and is
effective in ministering to those outside the church In the
second and last major section (vss. 26-40), Paul writes about the additional
importance of worshiping in an orderly manner. The manifestation of
tongues at Corinth did not contribute to this important aspect of worship.
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 14:1-25
This is a difficult chapter and should be read slowly. Before
you begin the Exploring the Word section, read the chapter
and then read it a second time after you have read the follow-
ing questions:
1. From the first twenty-five verses of 1 Corinthians 14, list
the reasons Paul gives for the superiority of prophecy over
2. In the list you made for question number 1, one of the rea-
sons you probably wrote is that prophecy edifies. Quickly
read through all of 1 Corinthians 14 again, counting the
number of times Paul uses the concept of edification. What
does this tell us about his overall purpose for opposing the
tongues experience of the enthusiastic Corinthians?
3. Explain the circumstances under which Paul would approve
the use of tongues.
4. In verses 1-25, make notations about the place of intelligi-
bility in judging tongues. Note in particular the statements
that strongly support the view that the tongues experience
in Corinth was primarily a gift for personal benefit rather
than for the entire congregation-in light of the intelligibil-
ity factor.
5. List the verses (within vss. 1-25) that indicate that Paul was
accused of not being spiritual because he did not have the
gift of tongues. Look for statements from Paul about his
own use of the gift that would show that Paul intended to
disagree with their unstated criticism.
6. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul repeatedly tells the Corinthians
that they should aspire to possessing the gift of prophecy.
We do not ordinarily think of church members possessing
this gift in the same sense an inspired author possessed the
gift. Using a concordance, look up the words prophecy and
prophesy. How are these words used throughout the New
Testament? Indicate the underlying definition of this gift
and indicate what the various possibilities are for understand-
ing the term to have more than one level of application or
Exploring the Word
Prophecy: The Gift That Edifies
When Paul speaks in this section of "the gift of prophecy," he is
not referring necessarily to an utterance inspired by God nor to a
knowledge of the future given to an individual by God. The person
possessing the gift of prophecy mayor may not be "inspired" by
God in the sense that the Bible writers were inspired. In I Corinthians
14, the gift of prophecy refers to an exhortation that communicates
a clear message to its hearers. In this major section (vss. 1-25), Paul
first establishes that the gift of prophecy is superior to the gift of
tongues (vss. 1-5). The problem with tongues, Paul writes, is that
they are unintelligible, and if no one knows what you are saying,
"you will just be speaking into the air" (vs. 9). Mter Paul points out
that even the person who speaks in tongues does not know what is
being said (vs. 14), he makes it clear in the next few verses (vss. 13-
20) that the goal of utterances in worship, even if only with five
words that are intelligible (vs. 19), should be to eli cit thanksgiving
(vss. 16, 17). Furthermore, even the unbelievers will not be edified
by tongues, but when you prophesy, then the unbelievers will be
able to testify that "God is really among you'" (vss. 25).
The setting
This chapter in I Corinthians, which has proven to be very con-
troversial for Christians in modern times, must te studied in the
context of the two preceding chapters (I Cor. 12 and 13). And, of
course, even the three chapters (1 Cor. 12- 14) must also be inter-
preted in li ght of the overall situation at Corinth. And when we put
Paul's words in I Corinthians 14 into the larger picture of the entire
letter, we can appreciate even more clearly his point in countering
his opponents' claims about the superiority of tongues.
Thus, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul contests his opponents' claims
regarding the value of tongues. He not only disagrees with their
claims about the superiority of tongues (as he makes clear in I Cor.
12 and 13) he reinforces his position by repeatedly referring to the
importance of the edification of all members, as evidenced by the
gift of prophecy-something tongues did not do in Corinth. Paul
had to remind the Corinthians that if they were going to insist on
speaking in tongues, they needed to also have the gift of interpreta-
tion (14:5, 13), for only in this way could tongues be of value for
everyone. The procedures they were following, as Paul saw it, were
very self-oriented, even to the point of creating confusion. Paul thus
found it necessary to mention three instances in which the church
should keep silence, all for the sake of keeping order (vss. 28, 30,
Therefore, when Paul wrote, "For God is not a God of disorder
(vs. 33), his major concern was to counter the newly formulated
gnostic theology that all owed women to participate in public wor-
ship in a highly unconventional manner. When we keep in mind
that the gnostic women considered themselves to be no different
from the men (see comments on I Cor. 11:2-16), it is easy to under-
stand that in public worship they were exerting themselves in a very
fearless manner-in a way that was onl y adding to the confusion
that tongues had already caused. Paul finds himself having to ask
them specificall y to keep their inquiries until they got home (14:3 5).
Their bold actions must have been almost incredible, given the preva-
lent viewpoint of the time. We need to keep in mind, therefore, that
it was Paul's deep concern about the gnostic-oriented heresy in the
first place tha t led him to speak out this way toward the women.
Thus, his words are an anti-gnostic polemic rather than an anti-
female polemic. His personal attitude probably would have been more
along the lines of I Corinthians II: II , 12 and Galatians 3:28, where
he stresses equality between the sexes. (See the Rr:curslts at the end
of the commentary on I Corinthians 11 , Chapter Seven.)
He who prophesies is greater (14:1-5)
Paul 's very first words in 1 Corinthians 14 contain three important
points. His words are: "Fo/Iuw the way oflove and eagerly desire spiritual
gifts, especially the gift of prophecy" (vs. 1, emphasis supplied).
1. The italicized verbs tell us much about the relationship of love
to gifts. The significance lies in the force of the two verbs. The verb
follow involves action, whereas desire does not necessarily involve
physical action. The verb follow, in its more literal form, means to
"pursue"; and when a person pursues something, there is physical
involvement, such as running after someone. Thus, Paul is telling us
that the way of love is something we need to be very actively in-
volved in-actions ra ther than mere thinlcing.
On the other hand, the verb Paul uses for "gifts" is "eagerly de-
sire." Desire is an act of the mind. And while it is true that Paul
wants his readers to desire with eagerness, desiring something is still
an act of the mind and is more passive in nature. When we say that
spiritual gifts are more passive in nature, we mean that, according to
Paul , we are not in charge of what gifts we may have- that is the
work of the Spirit (see 1 Cor. 12). On the other hand, the admoni-
tion to follow (pursue) the most excellent way (love) applies to all
Christians (12:31 and 14:1). Thus, in these two verbs of! Corinthians
14: 1, we are able to once again recognize the importance Paul places
on the way of love. We are to pursue it. Important, too, is the fact
that Paul refers to love as a "way." You recall that when he intro-
duced love in the last verse of [ Corinthians [2, he also used the
word way: "the most excellent way" (1 Cor. [2:3 I). Tbis leads us to
our second important point from [4: I.
2. In an earlier discussion, it was mentioned that Paul probably
does not view love as a gift of the Spirit but rather, as the fruit of the
Spirit. This is borne out by this verse, where Paul has once again
referred to love as a "way" and then proceeds to advise the church to
desire spiritual gifts, where gifts are separated from "the way oflove."
Love, then, is the way in which spiritual gifts ultimately have value,
especially in terms of the gift of prophecy. That is to say, to be mean-
ingful , the gifts must operate in the context of Christian love.
3. The third important point that Paul makes in this first verse is
that the specific gift the Corinthians should eagerly desire is the gift
of prophecy. It is this gift that Paul will exalt throughout [ Corinthians
I 4, and he does this by showing that it is prophecy that edifies the
church-something tongues cannot do unless there is an interpreter
Having said this about the gift of prophecy, Paul begins immedi-
ately to make his case for the gift. His first support for prophecy is
made at the expense of the gift of tongues, and it makes prophecy all
the more important: "For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not
speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters
mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to men
for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort" (vss. 2, 3).
Thus, his first argument in favor of prophecy is that it speaks to men,
rather than to God. It becomes clear, however, as we would expect, that
speaking to God is not the problem. One would hope, in fact, that each
Christian would do more of this. The problem of speaking to God, and
only to God, is that it is an experience that has no benefit for anyone else
(vs. 2; see Rom. 8:26). If the person is speaking only to God, unless it is
interpreted, only God understands it. Not even the person speaking
knows what has been said (see vss. [4- [7).
So, Paul states, the first difficulty with tongues is that after one
has spoken in tongues, "no one understands him," since the person
has spoken "only to God" (vs. 2). What a difference, then, with the
person who prophesies: This person edifies the church in a most
tangible way: through "strengthening, encouragement and comfort"
(vs. 3). These are obviously beautiful acts, and acts that relate to
other persons
The word for "comfort" in this verse is a tremen-
dously dynamic word in the New Testament. Due to its adaptability
of interpretation, it can be translated in many ways, all depending
on the need. Because it literally means "called to the side of" for the
purpose of helping with any need, it is the word used for the Holy
Spirit many times in the New Testament-the translation depen-
dent on the "need." For example, in the case of general needs, the
word for the Holy Spirit is translated CozmseioreJohn 14:16,26; 15:26;
16:7); in the case of the need for a legal defense for the sinner, the
word for the Holy Spirit is translated Advocate (I John 2:1). What-
ever the need, the Holy Spirit is there to help!
Paul comes right back to the importance of edification by stating
in very direct terms: "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but
he who prophesies edifies the church" (1 Cor. 14:4). As noted, this
edification of the speaker of tongues does not involve the mind, be-
cause the speaker does not understand what he has said. It is strictly
an emotional edification. It may well be that this personal experi-
ence has resulted in a deeper commitment to the Lord, a deeper
appreciation of love; but it is, nevertheless, of value for only one
person, not the members as a body.
Thus, this statement in verse 4 is both the "headline" and the "con-
clusion" of the whole matter. It comes right down to one simple ques-
tion: Is the Corinthian church member promoting self (tongues) or oth-
ers (prophecy)? And Paul gives us his answer over and over again in this
chapter as to which is the right choice, and it is explicit in his next state-
ment: "He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues"
(vs. 5). This certainly makes sense frpm Paul's perspective; he has al-
ready stated that the gifts are "given for the common good" (1 Cor.
12:7) and are to be governed by the principles of love (1 Cor. 13).
We should not overlook the fact that in this comment by Paul we
know he was not opposed to speaking in tongues, because in the
statement that the person "who speaks in prophecy is greater," we
are told that the gift of tongues, if practiced properly, is a legitimate
gift-but simply not the greater gift. Paul 's overriding concern for
the entire church body shows up even in the statements in which he
makes a positive judgment about tongues. If, and only if, someone
can interpret the utterances are tongues acceptable, because the in-
terpretation then makes it possible for others to be edified (I4:5).
Unless you speak intelligible words (vss. 6-12)
Comprehension is very important for Paul, especiall y in corpo-
rate worship. And in the next few verses, Paul begirs to make a prac-
tical case for the value of prophecy-the gift related to an edifi ca-
tion that is based on comprehension. He does this indirectly through
several illustrations. Pointing out that tongues has no value unless it
results in bringing "some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or
word of instruction" (vs. 6), he turns to a common-sense analogy
with the notes that come from musical instruments. "Even in the
case of lifel ess things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp,
how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a
distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear
call , who will get ready for battle?" (vss. 7, 8). The NIV translation,
"sound a clear call," is a reference to the military trumpet call, in
which an unclear call would be li kened to "beating the air," as in
1 Corinthians 9:26. It would mean, in today's language, "talking to
the wind"-and that could have devastating effects in the case of a
military bugle call. Greeks would be acquainted with the use of the
trumpet for battle signals (see Homer's Iliad, 18.219), and the Jews
would be familiar with the use of the ram's horn for a call to battle
(Num. 10:9; losh. 6:4, 9). The message of the notes, whether of a
bugle or a ram's horn, must be understood.
Is "tongues" a foreign language? (1 Cor: 14:9-11)
"So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your
tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be
speaking into the air" (vs. 9, emphasis supplied). Modern-day read-
ers will no doubt continue the debate over the question whether the
tongues experience at Corinth was a foreign language gift (as on the
Day of Pentecost, see Acts 2) or an ecstatic-utterance gift.
Paul's very next statement is extremely important for understand-
ing his own definition of tongues-a foreign language or an ecstatic
utterance? Let us note carefully his next statement: "Undoubtedly
there are all sorts of [foreign] languages in the world, yet none of
them [foreign languages] is without meaning" (1 Cor. 14:10). The
phrase without meaning is the key. Because Paul has stated that for-
eign languages do indeed have meaning and that tongues do not
have meaning, we are no longer in the dark as to what Paul was
describing in Corinth.
Only when someone has the gift of interpretation (vss. 5, 13,28)
can we talk about meaning for tongues; but then, that is a separate
gift (vss. 5, 13). Foreign languages, on the other hand, always have
meaning, even when there is no interpretation. It is true that the
only person who may know the meaning is the speaker, but then, the
speaker, as an absolute minimum, knows the meaning! When speak-
ing in tongues, the speaker himself does not know the meaning-his
mind is "unfruitful" (vs. 14), and even the speaker needs someone to
interpret his own spiritual experience' If we had no other statement
in 1 Corinthi ans 14 as to whether the gift of tongues was a foreign
language or strictly a spiritual, emotional experience, we would have
the answer in this verse.
This becomes even more evident by a literal analysis of verse 11:
"If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is sayjng, I am
a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me." The word
for "foreigner" is our word for barbarian. It goes back to the Egyp-
tians, who called anyone who did not speak their language a "barba-
rous"-which is derived from what seemed to them nothing more
than the sound of a series of "bar-bars." The impact of this is quite
easily recognized if one should say "bar-bar" repeatedly. T he Greeks
took the word "bar-bar-ian" and used it for everyone who was igno-
rant of the Greek language and culture, dividing mankind into ei-
ther Hellenes (Greeks) or Barbarians. Thus, when a person spoke in
tongues at Corinth, it was the equivalent to, but not the same as,
sayjng a series of bar-bars, or nothing but gibberish. This would be
similar to the musical instrument playj ng one note over and over
again. In order for the tune to be understood and appreciated, the
notes need to have variety (no monotones) and be intelligently ar-
ranged (vs. 7). Paul concl udes this part of the topic with, "So it is
with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in
gifts that build up the church" (vs. 12).
"Amen" to your thanksgiving (vss. 13-20)
One way, Paul writes, that you wi ll excel in gifts that build up is to
assure that what is spoken is understood, for in this way a listener
will be able to say "Amen"-whi ch means in Enghh, "Let it be so"
(vs. 16). T his obviously cannot occur when tongues are spoken, not
even for the one speaking in tongues (vs. 13), unless one interprets.
An important insight about the tongues experience is given when
Paul states that the person who prays in a tongue is sayjng a prayer
in the person's spirit but not in the mind. "For ifI pray in a tongue,
my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful" (vs. 14).
In the expression my mind is unfruitful, "mind" is a reference to a
person's intellect, the faculty involved in rational thought processes.
Therefore, Paul states that in the prayer of tongues, the mind does
not intelligently share in the blessing of the person's spirit. This
coincides with the point made above: Foreign languages have mean-
ing, at least, for the one who is speaking, while the one who speaks
in a tongue does not know the meaning of his or her own words. So,
even though there may be a deeply personal and individual spiritual
benefit from speaking in tongues as experienced in Corinth, the in-
tellect (mind) of the speaker does not benefit. Prayer, though, is an
intelligent exercise of the mind. Paul would like the Corinthians to
have the full blessing, that is, "I will pray with my spirit, but I will
also pray with my mind," and likewise with singing (vs. 15). Only
then will the "giving thanks" edify the other person (vs. 17).
Paul interjects at this point a statement about his own use of
tongues, an obvious allusion to a criticism coming from Corinth
that Paul was not a spiritual person because he did not speak in
tongues. Paul's answer to this unvoiced criticism: "I thank God that
I speak in tongues more than all of you" (vs.l8, see also 1 Cor. 7:40
where Paul wrote, "And I think I have the Spirit"). But, having made
this startling announcement, Paul returns to his basic theme of pre-
ferring intelligent participation among all the members to a strictly
emotional one that benefited just one person (again, another com-
ment that helps us identify the definition of the tongues experience
at Corinth): "But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible
words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue" (vs.
19}-which implies, of course, that the words spoken "i n a tongue"
do not "instruct." It is time, Paul writes, for you to stop thinking like
children and start thinking like adults (vs. 20). Thinking is a good
exercise, even in worship (see Heb. 5: 11-14).
Tongues are not for unbelievers (1 Cor. 14:21-25) .
Continuing his case against the Corinthian form of the gIft of
tongues, Paul now writes about the ineffectiveness of tongues in
missionary outreach-something that did not apply to the Acts form
of the gift where the gift of tongues was very effective (see Acts 2:3,
8, 47). If an unbeliever should happen to pass a worship service in
which tongues are being spoken, the unbeliever will think the con-
gregation is "out of its mind" (I Cor. 14:2 3)--simply because he will
not understand whatis being said (unlike those who heard the apostles
at Pentecost).
But this section (vss. 21-25) contains an apparent contradiction.
We want to look at two passages that seem to say precisely the oppo-
site about the benefits of tongues on unbelievers. Paul's first state-
ment, in verse 22, indicates that tongues are indeed for unbelievers:
"Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers;
prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers." But in the
very next verse, Paul states the foll owing: "So if the whole church
comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do
not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that
you are out of your mind?" (vs. 23). Our question is an obvious one:
How can tongues, on the one hand, be a "sign for unbelievers" (vs.
22), when, on the other hand, these same tongues would cause un-
believers to think the person speaking in tongues was out of his mind?
The answer to this question lies in a correct understanding of
verse 21, where we read these important words: "In the Law it is
written: 'Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of
foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not
listen to me,' says the Lord" (vs. 21). How, one might ask, does Paul's
quoting from Isaiah (28: 11, 12) give us a solution to the question
This experience in Israel's Old Testament history is important for
Paul because it is another example of how tongues do not work:
Tongues did not work in ancient Israel. Paul wants to draw a paral-
lelism between the use of tongues in Israel's history (where tongues
did not work for unbelievers) and the use of tongues in Corinth
where it also did not work for unbeli evers. In order to explain Paul's
apparent contradiction, we must recognize that this lesson from
Israel's history accounts for the wording of 1 Corinthians 14:22,23.
In the days of the Assyrians, Israel did not benefit from the inva-
sion of Assyrians (the people identified as the ones with "strange
tongues"), either because they themselves, Israel, were the unbeliev-
ers who did not learn their lesson from the strange tongues of the
Assyrians or because Paul is referring to the Assyrians as the unbe-
lievers. Either way, tongues did not work'
Because this is a rather complex explanation, I want to offer two
different paraphrases of the text-one that interprets the unbeliev-
ers to be Israel and one that interprets the unbelievers to be the
Assyrians. Since Paul's words do not agree 100 percent with either
the Hebrew Old Testament or the Greek Old Testament Gohanson,
181, 182), it is not possible to say with certainty which identification
of unbeli evers was in Paul's mind. But this is not a serious issue, for
either possibility makes Paul's point about the ineffectiveness of
tongues, and both options lead to precisely this conclusion. And,
more importantly, both possibilities eliminate the seeming contra-
diction. Here are the two options:
1. Unbelievers = Israel. "In the Law it is written: 'Through men of
strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners [the Assyrians] I
wi ll speak to this people [Israel, the unbelievers], but even then they
[Israel, because they are "unbeli evers"] will not listen to me,' says
the Lord" (vs. 21). Verse 22: "Tongues, then, are a sign, not for be-
lievers [true Israel] but for unbelievers [in Israel]; prophecy, how-
ever, is for believers, not for unbelievers." Result: Tongues do not
work because Israel did not listen.
2. Unbelieven = "people of s/:1'ange lips"-the Assyrians. If, however,
the unbeli evers are considered to be the Assyrians, verses 21 and 22
would be paraphrased in this way: "In the Law it is written: 'Through
men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners [the
Assyrians who are also the "unbelievers"] I \vill speak to this people
[Israel], but even then they [Israel] will not li sten to me, ' says the
Lord" (vs. 21). Verse: 22: "Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believ-
ers [Israel] but [used by] the unbelievers [the Assyrians]; prophecy,
however, is for beli evers, not for unbelievers." The result with this
option is the same: Tongues do not work.
Regardless of who Paul intended to be identified as the unbeliev-
ers in his quotation from Isaiah regarding Israel's history, he still
wishes to say that tongues do not work in getting a positive response
from unbelievers, whether "for" unbelievers (Israel), or "by" unbe-
lievers (the Assyrians). There is, therefore, no contradiction in his
statements about the value of tongues for unbelievers.
As we have seen many times in Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he
is continually interested in putting the best foot forward. And in this
instance, he has used an Old Testament passage to support his evalu-
ation of tongues and prophecy. His lesson is important for all time:
How do we most effectively reach unbelievers? His answer for the
Corinthians: through prophecy. "But if an unbeliever or someone
who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying,
he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by
all" (vs. 24). It is through comprehensible prophecy that a positive
effect is had on the unbelievers. It is through prophecy that the un-
believer will make the all-important acknowledgment: "God is re-
ally among you" (vs. 25).
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 14:26-40
1. In the section covering verses 26-40, find statements by Paul
about order and silence that would help explain Paul's coun-
sel in verse 34 that "women should keep silence." Applying
the information you now have about the gnostics, list sev-
eral reasons why Paul would have instructed women spe-
cifically to keep silence.
2. Paul's instruction in 14:34 states that women "must be in
submission." The words submit, submitting, subject and sub-
jection all come from the same Greek word. (In modern trans-
lations, subordination and submissio11 are also English words
used for this same Greek word.) Furthermore, this Greek
word is translated in the KJV as "under obedience," and
"under" his feet. Look these words up in a concordance.
What picture emerges from your study of these terms? Tabu-
late your results and discover Paul's theology of submission.
Tie together your results with the earlier discussion on "sub-
ordination" versus "equaJjty" regarding women (see num-
ber 2 under Getting Into the Word for 1 Corinthians 11:2-
16 and the Excursus for this passage).
Exploring the Word
God Is a God of Order
Now that Paul has addressed the question about the value of
tongues and prophecy so far as unbelievers are concerned, he shifts
the direction of his concern to the impact that tongues have on the
total worship service. Thus, in this final section of 1 Corinthians
(14:26-40), there are two weighty issues that Paul covers, and the
second issue is the complement of the first:
Paul's concern for proper order in the public worship service .
The role of women insofar as the proper order is affected.
Procedures for men and women (vss. 26-33)
In the first part of the final section (vss. 26-33), Paul once again
reminds the Corinthians that regardless of what aspect of worship
they are involved in (singing, teaching, revelations, tongues, or the
interpretation of tongues), "All of these must be done for the strengtb-
ening of the church" (vs. 26, emphasis supplied). But what Paul says
about how this should be accomplished ("Procedures for men and
women") is vitally important, for it has a direct bearing on our un-
derstanding of a more difficult problem regarding women in the
next section: "Procedures for women only" (vss. 33-35).
In verses 27-30, for the sake of order and to avoid confusion, Paul
places five restrictions on worshipers. The first three apply to speak-
ing in tongues (vss. 27, 28) and the last two apply to prophesying
(vss. 29, 30):
There should never be more than three speakers.
Only one person should speak at a time.
There must be an interpreter available-if not, the person
should keep silence.
"Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should
weigh carefully what is said."
The first speaker should keep silence if a revelation comes to
someone else.
In verse 31, when Paul writes that "you can all prophesy in turn,"
the phrase in turn again shows Paul's concern for order. His words
"You can all prophesy" tell us that Paul is using the word prophesy in
a considerably different way from the ordinary understanding of the
word-where it is generally associated with an inspired writer along
the lines of 1 Timothy 3: 14-17. And, Paul states, there should be a
check on the accuracy of the prophetic speeches: "The spirits of
prophets are su bject to the control of prophets" (1 Cor. 14:32). The
use of the word prophesy here clearly refers to providing a spiritually
edifying message for the church members. He summarizes this part
of his discussion with another appeal to order: "For God is not a
God of disorder but of peace" (vs. 33a).
Procedures for women only (vss. 33b-35)
Paul continues making his case for maintaining order in the church
worship services by a specifi c message for women. He begins by
referring to the standard practices of all the churches ("tradition"),
just as he did in 1 Corinthi ans 11 :2, 16 where he also spoke about
the way the gnostic women were behaving: "As in all the congrega-
tions of the saints" (14:33b). Traditional approaches to worship were
important to Paul , particularly if the innovation being introduced
into a church smacked of heresy, as it did in this case.
His specific counsel to the women come in these words: "As in all
the congregations of the saints, W0111e7l sbould remain silent in the
ehurebes. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as
the Law says" (vs. 34, emphasis supplied). We comment on both the
italicized aspects of the topic.
This verse has artracted a considerable amount of controversy
through the centuries, including our own. Unfortunately, much of
the discussion has distorted two basic issues: One is Paul's specific
concern about order in the use of tongues, and the second is Paul's
basic attitude toward submission.
Keeping silence. Women are told to keep silence, but silence with
regard to what? Tongues? Prophesying? Asking questions of their
husbands? Possibly even being so bold as to contradict their hus-
bands in a male-oriented culture? Or any kind of speaking? When
we recall that Paul has made it clear that women were already legiti-
mately participating in public worship by praying and prophesying
(so long as their heads were covered, 1 Cor. 11 :5), we know that
there are other unexpressed concerns in these verses beyond merely
keeping silence. Given the orientation of the gnostic women in
Corinth, who were already defying traditional worship practices, as
we noted in 1 Corinthians 11, it was quite a simple matter for the
gnostic women to express themselves in a manner considered by
Paul to be excessive. And this was particularly more objectionable in
view of the overaU confusion that the tongues experience was caus-
ing in the first place, totally apart from the gender issue.
It is somewhat puzzling that Paul's comments about women keep-
ing silence have been isolated from the larger concern: The public
worship experience is to be done in an orderly fashion without any
sort of confusion (because that is the way God Himself operates).
The moment we place the instruction for women in the larger set-
ting, we get a completely different message. Why is this the case?
Paul has advised silence in two other si tuations-which we looked
at above. These other references are highly instructive. That is, the
command for women to keep silence in verse 34 is not an isolated
command. It is a natural question to ask why the two commands to
keep silence in the previous section (vss. 26-33) have not drawn the
same attention as the command that is directed only to women in
this section (vss. 34, 3 5)! These other two commands to keep silence
alter the overall impression we gain from the passage and help us see
what Paul's real objective was.
In order to make the desired impact regarding Paul's words within
this chapter, let us read the twO passages. In the first passage, verse
28: "But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep sllence
in church and speak to himself and to God" (RSV). In the second
passage, verse 30: "If a revelation is made to another sitting by, let
the first be silent" (RSV). The remarkable fact is that in both of
these passages the one told to be silent is masculine in gender
verse 28 both the word for "interpreter" and the word each one (one
, .
word in Greek) are masculine gender. Furthermore, lO verse 30,
where we read "the first speaker should stop," the words for "the
first speaker" are also masculine in gender, and the word for "stop"
is "keep silence." The original language uses exactly the same con-
struction for calling for silence in all three verses (vss. 28, 30, and
34). Even when we allow that the use of the masculine gender in the
first two instances might be gender inclusive, that is, the masculine
words include both male and female (as is so often the case in the
biblical references), the point is not affected: Men are still being
asked to keep silence! This observation alone shows that Paul has
not singled out women (that is, only women), to keep silence:
When we look at the total picture, and when we keep lO rrund the
two other verses in which Paul called for silence, the instruction for
women to keep silence is much easier to understand. We also ob-
serve that in this section, Paul again, as we have come to expect,
makes a statement about the impact of ministry for the benefit of
others: "For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be
instructed and encouraged" (vs. 31).
Because the tongues experience in itself was leading to confusion,
the context seems to favor the view that the involvement of women,
especially gnostic women, who mi ght be exerting their new-found
rights, was contributing to the disorder in a manner qUite out ofllOe
with the traditional roles of women in public. This was the same
attitude that showed up in the nonwearing of veils (II :2-26). Coupled
with this is the fact that many scholars believe that the synagogue
custom (men and women were separated during public services) may
have been followed in Corinth, even though it was largely a Gentile
Christian community. If that was the case, any verbal exchanges would
have obviously been disrupting.
"Women . .. mltst be in submission" (vs. 34). Paul also states that
women are to be in submission to their husbands. In the Western
world today, this counsel is difficult. We do not claim to have all the
answers in this commentary, but we do want to make two points on
the matter of submission.
1. First, it is just as serious a mistake to apply the concept of sub-
mission solely to women as it is to apply the command to keep si-
lence solely to women. For Paul, every Christian, both male and
female, slave and free, is to possess the attitude of submission, sub-
jection, and subordination (these words all come from the same Greek
word). Two clear examples of this in Paul's writings are Ephesians
5:21: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" and
1 Corinthians 15:24-28, which is discussed in this commentary in
Chapter Ten.
2. Some Christians today cite as still binding the part of the text
that calls for the submission (or, subjection) of women while con-
cluding at the same time that the very same passage that calls for
women to "kp.ep silence" is not binding. We all need to be aware of
the fact that we tend to use the Scriptures to support a view that we
subscribe to, and then, in those cases where we do not follow the
counsel, we conclude: "It was a cultural matter." What is obvious for
all Christians in all countries is that we need to be thoughtful to-
ward one another on all issues, such as this one, that relate to our
own world, in which the answers are not as clear-cut as we might
wish. The bottom line for Paul, is clear: Every Christian, not just
slaves and women, is to have the attitude of submission, as noted
above. An acknowledgment of this principle puts us in a healthier
position to dialogue on the topic at a much more accurate and pro-
ductive level.
Disgraceful behavior (1 Cor. 14:35). When Paul told the women at
Corinth that they should save their inquiries until they got home,
he added this helpful comment: "For it is disgraceful for a woman to
speak in the church" (vs. 35). Most Christians today do not believe
that a woman who speaks in church is doing a disgraceful thing.
Thus, the word disgracefi,l tells us a tremendous amount about Paul's
overall instruction. Disgracefitl is a word that must obviously be de-
fined by a particular social order, since we know that for us, it is not
disgraceful. It is the kind of word that we readily associate with a
given locale and a given time period. It is a word that allows for an
interpretation that does not necessarily apply in every conceivable
set of circumstances. Many examples could be given. At Corinth
("as in all the churches," vs. 33 b, RSV), it was indeed disgraceful for
a woman to speak in church. Therefore, a woman who acted boldly,
as she was doing in this case (vs. 35), was actually showing disre-
spect, and in such a case, she should keep si lence.
The important thing for us is that we acknowledge that whatever
the disgraceful act was must be defined by persons whose own age
and culture dictate the answer. That is, our evaluation has to take
into account their accepted social Ours may be completely
different. Once we have identified with the Christians of the first
century A.D., we really do not have the right (exousia) to pass a nega-
tive judgment on their practices. We were not there. They set their
own standards, their own sense of proper decorum. The same holds
true in our day.
Furthermore, when we recall that Paul has made it clear that
women were already legitimately participating in public worship by
praying and prophesying (so long as their heads were covered, 11:5),
we know that there are other unexpressed concerns in these verses.
It is these concerns behind the scenes that make this passage, when
isolated, clifficult and even appear to contradict his earlier comments.
This is another example of the importance of asking, Why did Paul
say that?
We would conclude, then, that Paul's purpose was not to address
the issue of sexual equality or even to define the role of women.
Rather, his major concern was to counter the false theology that had
come into Corinth, and in so doing, he formulates his counsels in
the context of establishing an orderly way of worship (14:40). And
that context must be, has to be, the social context in which Paul
wrote, not ours. If we could fully capture that original setting, con-
trary to what has so often been concluded by persons long removed
from the original setting, we might actually draw the conclusion
that Paul was making a strong case for women. Fe'r, whether in line
with our approach or not, from his point of view, he was arguing for
the women, and he did this by stati ng that a woman's femininity
must not be disgraced by her attempts, in the church, to assume the
role of a first-century man. Only in eternity will we have the proper
understanding of all that went on. Let us, in the time of our sojourn,
be gracious toward our predecessors in exactly the same way we would
like later generations to be toward us. It seems to me that Christians
in every age must be as generous, as gracious, toward others as God
Himself always is toward us. How can we do less? We cannot'
Paul's direct challenge (vss. 36-40)
In the last few verses of this chapter, Paul challenges the
Corinthi ans, who apparently were sayi ng that they had the "knowl-
edge" (gnosis) to make the decisions that resulted in their new ap-
proach. The challenge is stated in these words: "Did the word of
God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?"
(vs. 36). Paul continues the challenge by stating that "If anybody
thinks he is a prophet or spirituall y gifted [literally, a spiritual per-
son], let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's
command" (vs. 37). No one should counter Paul's position lightly,
for what he writes "is the Lord's command" (vs. 37).
Because it would be only natural that either the prophet or the
one with the gift of rongues or the woman who was upsetting the
service by her brazen participation would resent his words, Paul
quickly claims inspiration for his position, adding the warning, "If
he [anyone of the three persons addressed] ignores this, he himself
wi ll be ignored" (vs. 38). By our standards, the tone is abrupt. But
there is no equivocation from Paul's point of view: Anyone who ig-
nores his counsel will be ignored, not only by Paul and the churches
but probably by the Lord. "Therefore, my brothers, be eager to
prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues" (vs. 39).]ust make
sure, Paul tells them as he counters the false theology at Corinth,
that everything is done in "a fitting and orderly way" (vs. 40), a valu-
able counsel for churches in every age. He is not opposed to tongues
per se; he simply wants to set the Corinthians straight about their
misguided activities.
From the very beginning of this section of his letter (J Cor. 12-
14), Paul has wanted to show that the claims made by his opponents
to be spiritual persons cannot be substantiated on the ground of
thei r speaking in tongues. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul made it clear
that being a spiri tual person means that a wide vari ety of gifts will be
evident, each extremely important, and that the various gifts all come
from one and the same Spirit. Tongues was only one gift.
In 1 Corinthi ans 13, Paul eloquently pointed out that the more
excell ent way-love-is to govern all manifestations of the different
gifts. In other words, love for others controls our Christi an identi ty,
not the claim to have one gift over another. In 1 Corinthians 14,
Paul continues this theme of using our gifts for the benefit of oth-
ers. He does this by specifically singling out prophecy as an example
of a gi ft that is ori ented toward others.
T hus, throughout 1 Corinthians 14 Paul downpl ays the legiti-
mate gift of tongues because in the form they were used at Corinth,
they did not edi fy the body of beli evers (whi ch, incidentally, was not
the case at Pentecost where everyone present benefited from the
gift of tongues). .
In conclusion, I share with you my personal response to a Chris-
ti an charismati c who cites 1 Corinthians as support for his or her
position. If the person (an acknowledged charismati c) claims any
kind of spiritual superiori ty on the basis of his or her gift of tongues,
that person would be in direct opposition to Paul 's counsels. De-
pending on my relati onship, or how well I know the person, I may
or may not discuss 1 Corinthi ans 14. I would, however, seek an op-
portuni ty to talk. If, however, a person comes to me and states some-
thing like the foll owing: "I certainly wish I had the gift of teaching
God gave to you. The onl y gift I have is the least of the spiritual
gifts-tongues," I would have no grounds for denying the legiti-
macy of that person's claim. I accept the testimony. Concluding, as
some Christians do, that the person is under satanic influence woul d
be a seri ous mistake. We must relate to these individuals in precisely
the same way Paul did.
Applying the Word
1 Corinthians 14
1. A Christian neighbor asks you to attend a charismatic church
service. How would you respond? Why?
2. Several members of your church have become convinced
they should speak in tongues. They are unhappy about the
pastor's counsel that they should keep the tongues experi-
ence at home. How would you relate to these members?
How would you show support either for the pastor's posi-
tion or for the church members who want to have the tongues
experience in the church?
3. If an unbeliever walked into your church during a worship
service, would the unbeliever be inclined toward becoming
a believer? Give reasons for either a Yes, a No, or a "un-
known" answer.
4. Make a list of the ways you believe your relationship to other
church members this past week has contributed to their
edification. If your list is short or blank, ask yourself: What
are some ways I can help build up someone else? Also, what
are the personal benefits that come to me when I am in-
volved in building up someone else?
Researching the Word
1. Study all the passages in the New Testament that refer to
the gift oftongues (Acts: 2:1-12; 10:44-48; 19:1-7; consider
also Mark 16:14-18). Place these passages side by side with
1 Corinthians 14 for the purpose of analysis. Indicate the
similarities and the differences within the passages and write
down your conclusions. If possible, have several other per-
sons do the same study and then get together to discuss
your conclusions, either as a midweek study-prayer group
or as a home study group.
2. In view of Paul's major concern in 1 Corinthians 14 that
everything in public worship be done to benefit the body of
believers as a whole, including the possibility of winning an
unbeliever, use a concordance and a Bible dictionary to tackle
the large but rewarding task of purting together a biblical
view of worship activities that benefit other church mem-
bers and might win the unbeliever. Look up such words as:
edify (and related words), neighbor, brother, others (particu-
larly in the context of their "interests"), Gentile, unbeliever,
witnessing, etc. Let your imagination expand on this.
Further Study of the Word
1. For a discussion by an Adventist on the mearungof"tongues"
as an ecstatic experience, see W. Richardson, Speaking in
Tongues: Is It Still the Gift of the Spirit?
2 . For a discussion on the meaning of tongues by a charis-
matic, whose views coincide with this commentary and also
the study referred to in number 1, see G. D. Fee, The First
Epistle to the Corinthians, 653-713.
3. For a general overview of "tongues" in the New Testament,
see "Glossolalia" in Paul Among Jews and Gentiles, by K.
4. A very well reasoned testimony by a woman who grappled
with the Pauline statements about women is the article by
c.]. Westphal, "Coming Home."
1 Corinthians 15, 16
the Essential Basis
of Hope
We now come to the last major part of this commentary. The strong
defense of the resurrection is the crucial subject in this final part (1 Cor.
15). For practical purposes, we have included Paul's brief concluding
chapter (l Cor. 16) in this section of the commentary. Thus, in Chapter
Ten we look at Paul's defense of the resurrection (l Cor. 15), and in
Chapter Eleven (l Cor. 16) we look at his closing comments of the
letter, although they are unrelated to the topic of the resurrection.
When Paul began his letter to the Corinthians, he addressed the
most important subject withi n the letter: the place of the Cross-
the heart of Paul's gospel (1 Cor. 1-3). It was clearly the one theo-
logical topic around which his entire letter would be constructed
for it was his opponents' interpretation of the Cross that led to all
the behavioral problems we have discussed since those early chap-
ters. And now, interestingly, as Paul comes to the end of his letter,
he once again discusses a purely theological topic-a topi c intimately
related to the first theological topic, the Cross. Death on the cross,
and now, the resurrection from the grave. What a glori ous climax!
Two absolute essentials for every Christian.
T he doctrine of the resurrection, both of Jesus and of the righ-
teous at the end of history, is an immensely important one. None of
the other major reli gions of the world holds this significant teach-
ing. It, above all other Christian teachings, makes Christianity unique.
It also provides a great deal of hope for all believers, something of
which the non-Christian is deprived.
Defense of the
1 Corinthians 15
At this point in our study of Paul's letter to the Corinthians, it should be
rather obvious why some in Corinth would deny the resurrection. Gnostics
wanted nothing to do with the body. Throughout 1 Corinthians 15, Paul
uses the word body in several different arguments in his defense of this
fundamental doctrine of the Christian church.
There is no discussion of the resurrection in all the New Testament that
is as detailed and persuasive as this one in 1 Corinthians 15. This is an
instance in which the difficulties created by the troublemakers in Corinth
turn out to be a blessing, for had there been no denial of the resurrection,
we would not have had this informative discussion by Paul (see vs. 12) .
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 15:1-34
Take time to read this chapter again. It is the longest chap-
ter in the letter. It is, as a matter of interest, the longest chap-
ter in any of Paul's letters.
1. List and explain Paul's proofs of the resurrection in verses
2. Given what we know about the gnostic disdain for the hu-
man body, indicate several reasons why Paul's testimony in
verses 5-8 about the appearances of Jesus is more meaning-
ful than just an ordinary report.
3. In verses 13-19, Paul writes about the negative results of
denying the resurrection. List these results.
4. Explain the steps Paul writes about in discussing the pro-
cess of the resurrection (vss. 20-24).
5. Indicate the significance of the statement in verse 28 that
ends, "so that God may be all in aiL" What do the ideas in
verses 24-28 tell us about the significance of the incarna-
tion and the plan of salvation?
6. In 15:29-32, Paul is using a rhetorical device to make his
point. What is this method? Explain how his comments on
baptism for the dead (vs. 29) fit into his argument.
Exploring the Word
The Gospel: "Christ Died . .. and TfOs Raised"
In all the previous questions for which the Corinthians had asked
Paul to give his opinion (the issues introduced by "Now about . .. "),
we were able to trace the source of the concern. In this case, we do
not know with certainty how Paul learned of the problem of some
Corinthians, the gnostics, denying the resurrection.
Paul begins the chapter with a reminder that he had preached to
them the very gospel he is getting ready to defend, a gospel they had
received, and further, one they had even taken a stand for (vs. I). It
was an important proclamation, for as Paul stated in very clear terms:
"By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I
preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain" (vs. 2). The
Corinthians were not to take li ghtly the importance of Paul's words:
"Hold firmly"-there is no excuse for giving up or equivocating on
a message they had once joyfully received (Heb. 3: 14).
In the first section of the chapter, I Corinthians IS: 1-11, Paul
offers two kinds of proofs of the resurrection. He then discusses a
variety of topics-first, eight negative resul ts of denying the resur-
rection (vss. 13-19); second, an explanation about how the resurrec-
tion can occur and the significance of the resurrection (vss. 20-28);
third, how logic disproves his opponents' denial of the resurrection
(vss. 29-32); and fourth, the gnostics' view of the resurrection as
their basis for excusing sin (vss. 33, 34).
In the last major section of 1 Corinthians 15 (vss. 35- 58), Paul's
remarks cover a wide range of aspects concerning the resurrected
body; but one thing is established without any question whatsoever:
There will indeed be a body in the resurrection!
Proof of the Resurrection
The first thing Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15 is to offer proof of
the resurrection (vss. 1-11). Not only had the Corinthians accepted
the message from Paul at the very beginning of his ministry in
Corinth; it was a message, Paul tells them, "on which you have taken
your stand" (vs. 1). In the original language, the verb for "taking a
stand" conveys a sense of permanence that is hard to capture in En-
gli sh. Paul tells them, in the fullest sense of the verb, that they bad
taken a stand in tbe past, and that stand was still being made. It would
be helpful to mention here that when Paul uses the verb for "resur-
rect" in 1 Corinthians 15, he uses this same tense, with the same
function. Thus, with regard to the resurrection, Paul is saying two
things at once: The act was completed in the past, and yet its effect
is sti ll present. Paul wants to emphasize the present reality of the
historical fact of the resurrection!
In verses 3 -11, he offers incontrovertible proof for the resurrection,
proof that is of "first importance" (vs. 2). The evidence is from two
sources: the testimony of the Scriptures and the testimony of eyewit-
nesses. It is information that he received from the early Christian church.
He uses the same important teclmical term for tradition that we dis-
cussed for 1 Corinthians 11 :23. He is telling the Corinthians that he did
not originate the content of this gospel, nor did the gospel come di-
rectly from the Lord-his source was other Christians.
Proof number 1: "According to the Scriptures" (15:3, 4)
We want to make two points regarding these two verses. We want
to discuss the meaning of the expression "according to the Scrip-
tures," and we want to comment on the content of this phrase. Paul
tells the Corinthians that, according to the Scriptures, "Christ died
for our sins" (vs. 2), and also, according to the Scriptures, "he was
buried, that he was raised on the third day" (vs. 3).
The meaning implied in these words, "according to the Scrip-
tures," was very important for the early Christians. A considerable
amount of writing was done in the first and second centuries A.D. to
prove that what had happened in Christianity was all in accordance
with the Old Testament. The precedent was set by Jesus Himself in
the Emmaus incident. Jesus told the two followers that everything
that had happened in the last few days was all according to the Scrip-
tures (Luke 22:37; 24:25). Furthermore, Peter himself in his preach-
ing at Pentecost made it clear that all that had occurred was accord-
ing to Scripture (Acts 2:25-27; 3:35). Paul made the same point (Acts
13:24f.; 17:3; see Rom. 1:2ff.). Here in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4, Paul
probably had two Old Testament passages in mind: Isaiah 53:5, 6,
11 and Psalm 16:8-1l.
When we turn to the content of this scriptural message, four points
are mentioned as part of the gospel that Paul preached. The four
points that Paul makes are all related to what happened toJesus: He
died, was buried, has been raised, and has appeared (15:3, 4). The
words has been raised is another example of the past perfect tense,
which means: "Jesus has definitely been raised, and is still risen."
The permanence of the Resurrection is thereby conveyed.
The time of the Resurrection, "on the third day," was an impor-
tant part of the information handed down to Paul (vs. 4). Some Chris-
tians today take the expression found in Matthew (12:40) regarding
the parallel with Jonah, who was in the belly of the whale for three
days and three nights, as proof that Jesus was crucified on Wednes-
day. Only then, they claim, does the record of the Resurrection on
the first day of the week make sense. What is overlooked in this
interpretation, though, is that in Judaism, any part of a day was
counted as a day, which means that part of Friday, all of the Sabbath,
and part of Sunday would have been considered three days. We should
keep in mind, too, that one way the Jews referred to a day was to call
it "evening and morning"-as in the Creation ;'rcord ("and there
was evening, and there was morning-the first day" [Gen. 1 :5]). Thus,
the passage in Matthew where Jesus spoke of being in the grave for
"three days and three nights, just asJonah was in the belly of a whale
three days and three nights," was simply another way of saying "three
days, " and, therefore, is not a problem.
Proof number 2: A large number of eyewitnesses
(1 Cor. 15:5-8)
In his second proof, Paul verifies the truth of Christ's resurrec-
tion by citing eyewitnesses, including himself (vss. 4-11). In ordi-
nary reporting, we would conclude that the eyewitnesses are attest-
ing to the Resurrection. That is the case here as well, but Paul is
telling us much more than would ordinarily be understood by these
words. The gnostics, by their denial of a resurrection of anything
physical, believed that a physical resurrection was a total impossibil-
ity-not even scientifically possible, to use a modern expression. Paul
will address the how of the resurrection in verses 35-57, but here we
want to emphasize the reality of a visible resurrected Lord. We know
that some gnostics claimed they did believe in a resurrection, but
their resurrection was interpreted to be the event when persons re-
alized they were a part of the divine. See, for example, 2 Timothy
2:18, where the gnostics argued the "resurrection was already past."
Thus, if a gnostic did believe in a resurrection, his interpretation
would not have viewed the Resurrection as an act that included a
visible entity. Thus, the statement that Jesus actually appeared is
critically significant! .
Paul mentions six resurrection appearances. He first mentions
Peter and then the "Twelve" (1 Cor. 15:5; see Luke 24:36ff.; and
John 20: 19ff.). The word Twelve is a group designation rather than
an actual count, because we know that Judas was no longer a part of
the "Twelve," and on this occasion Thomas was not there either
Oohn 20: 19-24).
Paul surely intends to impress upon the Corinthians that Jesus
was indeed resurrected when he refers to Jesus' appearance before a
gathering of five hundred, a sizable group-how could so many be
wrong?-and by the added comment, "most of whom are still Ii v-
ing," in case someone wanted to seeksome verification (1 Cor. 15:6).
(This particular appearance probably occurred in Galilee, about
twenty-five years earlier; see Matt. 28: 10, 16.)
Paul next mentions an appearance to James, the half-brother of
Jesus, and "then to all the apostles" (1 Cor. 15: 7) . We are fairly cer-
tain that the two disciples with the name James Games the son of
Zebedee and James the son of Alphaeus) would have been included
with the list of the "Twelve" found in Matthew (10:2-4) . The fact
that James, the half-brother, had not believed in Christ prior to the
Resurrection Gohn 7:5; see Matt. 13:55) would make this witness
even more meaningful. We know that]ames joined the apostles af-
terward (Acts I: 14) and was one of the chief spokespersons at the
Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:13).
"And last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born"
(1 Cor. 15:8). Paul is no doubt referring to his Damascus Road ex-
perience (Acts 9:1-8), meaning that Jesus appeared to Paul after the
Ascension. Because he was not one of the original group of apostles,
his apostleship did not occur in the normal manner.
Paul's testimony of his own unworthiness (1 Cor. 15 :9-11). Paul's ref-
erence to his own encounter with the resurrected Lord prompts him
to speak of the tremendous gratitude he has in his heart for God's
amazing grace. "For I am the least of the apostles and do not even
deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of
God" (vs. 9). Paul believed that God's matchless grace was avai lable
for everyone, although all are unworthy (Rom. 3:10-18), but he never
did forgive himself for having persecuted the church of God, con-
sidering himself the chief of sinners right up to the end of his life
(1 Tim. 1: 15; see also Eph. 3:8, where he calls himself"less than the
least of all God's people"). We know that Paul's reference to perse-
cuting the church of God was viewed as persecuting Christ (Acts
9:4, 5). Every time this recollection swept over him, it was like a
horrible nightmare.
Having acknowledged the grace of God in his life, Paul states
that the grace "was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all
of them" (1 Cor. 15:10). How true. All one needs to do is read Acts
and the many epistles he himself wrote. TremenJous accomplish-
ments-he never faltered in his commitment and dedication to the
Lord he had once persecuted. He now reminds the Corinthians again,
just as he did in verse I, that they themselves had believed what had
been preached-your acceptance of the gospel is a matter of record
(vs. II).
The Content of Preaching
Paul picks up on his last point about their acceptance of the gos-
pel he had originally preached to them, so that in the next section
(vss. 12-34) he elaborates on the fact that the church has already
accepted the truth that Christ has been raised from the dead. His
first question is based on their previous stand: "How can some of
you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? " (vs. 12). It is im-
portant to note here that Paul has stated that some in the church ,
not all, say there is no resurrection. In the next seven verses Paul ,
lists eight negative results that come from a denial of the resurrec-
tion (vss. 13-19).
Eight resul ts of denying the resurrection (vss. 13-19)
1. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has
been raised (vs. 13). With clear logic, Paul tells the Corinthians that
their denial of the doctrine of the resurrection is impossible if what
he said in verses 1 and 11 about their acceptance of Christ's resur-
rection holds true. Point: Since you accepted the view that Christ
was resurrected, you have to conclude there is a resurrection' This
reason is repeated again in verse 16.
2. "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless" (vs.
14). Anyone who really knew Paul would pick up on the strength of
this point about his preaching.
3. "If Christ has not been raised ... your faith is useless"( vs. 14).
This is repeated, almost in the same sense, in the first part of verse
17. (See below under point 5.)
4. "More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about
God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the
dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised" (vs . 15).
5. In verse 17, Paul makes a statement about faith similar to the
one in verse 14, but the adjectives are quite different. "If Christ has
not been raised, your faith is futile" (rather than "useless" in result
number 3). The word for "futile" is stronger than "useless." The
latter carries the connotation of being in vain, whereas the word for
"futile" means to be devoid of truth.
6. Verse 17 reads as follows, with the italicized portion of the verse
being the sixth unfortunate result of denying the resurrection: "And
if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your
sins" (vs. 17}-an even more devastating picture, particularly for those
who had already died.
7. "Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost" (vs.
18). Paul will pick up on this later when he asks them about the logic
of their behavior in being baptized on behalf of the dead if there is
no resurrection (vs. 29). His comment about the dead being lost if
they deny the resurrection was bound to have a profound effect on
8. His last negative result is filled with pathos. "If only for this life
we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men" (vs.
19). It is, Paul tells them, hope in Christ that makes hope such a
powerful Christian concept. But if hope does not extend beyond
this life, then we are to be pitied more than everyone else, including
the gnostics who were arguing that immorality had no bearing on
immortality. Paul has skillfully connected morality to immortality. He
will say much more about "immortality" below.
The process and significance of Christ's resurrection (vss. 20-29)
The process (vss. 20-24). Building on the assumption on which the
Corinthians have agreed to as a minimum-that Christ was resur-
rected (vss. I, ll)-Paul tells them that they must now accept the
natural extension of that argument. The argument is structured syl-
logistically as follows:
Premise I: Since you have assented to the resurrection of Christ
Premise 2: And since Christ is the "firstfruits" (vs. 20)
Premise 3: And since death came by one man
Cone/usion: Therefore, the resurrection can occur for others by
one man, Christ (vs. 21). Adam's impact on human history is cited as
his proof (vs. 22).
We do not know how thoroughly Paul had explained to them the
Old Testament concept of the first sheaves of the harvest that were
offered to the Lord (see Lev. 23: 10, II, 17, 20), but we do know that
he used the concept here to support the idea that the first sheaves
were a harvest that preceded, and pointed toward, the main harvest.
Christ's resurrection, therefore, was a guarantee that a larger resur-
rection harvest was coming.
The eternal significance of Christ's role (1 Cor. 15:24-28). Another
heading for this section could very easily be; "Eternally second place,"
and this will become clear in the following comments. Paul may not
have known that his next few statements (in which he shows how
Christ's attitude of submission stands in stark contrast to the haugh-
tiness of the troublemakers) would give us one of the most amazing
and powerful declarations ever made about the plan of salvation.
Certainly, Christians in our day seem to have overlooked the impact
of this message. My own attention to the importance of these six
verses came in a family worship service in 1970, in our home one
Friday evening in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
Our ten-year-old son, Scott, walked into the living room just be-
fore the family assembled. "Dad, can I ask you a few questions?" He
then asked; "Did Jesus know before He came to this earth that He
was going to 'make it'?"
"Yes," I replied, "but He did not know it while He was on earth."
Finding this answer unsatisfactory, my son continued, "Is it true
that He was one of us [i .e., a human being] for just thirty years?"
Again, I replied Yes.
His next question, by the tone in his voice, indicated where he
was headed. "When He went back to heaven, was everything just
like it was before He came to earth?"
Again, I replied Yes.
Back came his quick response; "It doesn't seem to me, then, that
it was such a big deal. "
Wow! How do you explain to a ten-year-old that if our Lord had
become "one of us" for just an instant, it would have been a demon-
stration of love completely incomprehensible. It was then that I
turned to the verses we are now considering, verses 24-28. Read
them again before you go further in the commentary.
I hope you picked up the significance of Paul's words in light
of Scott's questions. If you did, you will have noted that Paul told
the Corinthians that Jesus did not take "second place" just for
the short time he was on earth; but rather, after all things have
been subjected to Jesus at the end of history, he then will subject
himself to God for all eternity (vss. 24-28). Not just a fleeting
second, not just a mere thirty years or so, bitt for all eternity' No
greater love can be described! Paul tried to capture this in his
comments to the Pllllippians in his appeal to them to stop seek-
ing first place (Phil. 2: 1-8). This is my translation of Paul 's con-
cluding verse on this topic to the Corinthians, and it is completely
in harmony with the Greek grammar and syntax: "When he Uesus]
has done this, then the Son will subject himself to him [God]
who put everything under him Ue sus], so that God may be all in
all" (vs. 28). Because the Greek allows for the translation to state
thatJesus initiated the act of submission or that God initiated the
act, translations differ. The NIV and the RSV, for example, choose
the passive voice, which means the action is done to Christ. This
choice, I believe, causes the force of Paul's words to be lost, and
therefore, I have translated the passage showing that the action is
done by Christ's own choice, not something out of His control!
This agrees completely with Paul's statement in Philippians, where
it is clear that Jesus initiates the action: "Christ ... did not count
equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself'
(Phil. 2:5 -7, RSV) . The theology here is clearly showing that Jesus
Himself takes the initiative. Amazing love!
A voluntary second place position for all eternity' Exclamation
points cannot begin to capture the depth of meaning in these
verses. No wonder we will spend all eternity studying the majes-
tic plan of our salvation and never, never fully grasp all that has
been done for us'
Paul's use of logic (1 Cor. 15:29-32)
The first verse in this short section has been the source of many
debates. Whatever could Paul have been saying in his reference to
baptisms on behalf of the dead (vs. 29)? Verse 29 reads: "Now if
there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the
dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for
them?" Unfortunately, Paul does not say anything else about the
practice going on in Corinth. Three of the possible interpretations
of this problematic passage include, according to the NIV Notes: (I)
"Living believers were being baptized for believers who died before
they were baptized, so that they too, in a sense, would not miss out
on baptism." (2) "Christians were being baptized in anticipation of
the resurrection of the dead." (3) "New converts were being bap-
tized to fill the ranks of Christians who had died." I personally be-
lieve the answer is much more simple than any of these three com-
monly proposed explanations.
What is important here is that we follow the total flow of Paul's
argument. He makes three points in verses 29-32, each of which is
an argument based on logic, and no more than that. This means,
then, that the statement on baptism for the dead must be read in
light of his three points of logic, not in terms of his approval or
disapproval of a theological point. From this perspective, then, the
reference to baptism on behalf of the dead is no longer a point of
theological discussion. Once we see that, we then discuss Paul 's logic,
not his theology. From this verse alone, the theological element re-
mains obscure, and, thus, for clarity on the theological aspect of the
topic, we need to turn to other portions of Scripture.
Given this explanation, how does Paul's overall logical argument
go? He makes three points that he considers to be logical proofs of
his defense of the resurrection.
I. The first point of logic is regarding the baptism for the dead
(vs. 29), which reads: "Now if there is no resurrection, what will
those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at
all, why are people baptized for them?" (vs. 29). It is extremely im-
portant to keep in mind that here Paul is not approving or disap-
proving the practice itself; he is simply showing that their particular
practice does nOt make good sense if they deny the resurrection.
Nothing more. That is, their practice is illogical based on their
nonbelief. And this is the full impact of this message, even though
we might wish today that it was clearer. It belongs to Paul's sequence
of logic, not his theological view of baptism and the dead. We now
look at his next two points.
2. The second point of "logic" relates to the question of endangering
oneself. Point of logic: Why would a person risk life if there were no
resurrection? (vss. 30, 31; see 2 Cor. II :23-29). Paul is no doubt think-
ing of his present circumstances in his case (Acts 19; 2 Cor. 1:3 -10).
3. Paul's third appeal to logic is similar to number 2. "If I fought
wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained?
If the dead are not raised, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we
die' " (vs. 32). This quotation, used as a conclusion by Paul, is found
in Isaiah: "And behold, joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing
sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine. 'Let us eat and drink, for to-
morrow we die.' " (Isa. 22:13, RSV).
We might as well ignore all propriety, all morality, anything de-
cent, if there is no resurrection. The gnostics probably agreed whole-
heartedly with the sentiments of the Isaiah quotation. We do not
know with certainty whether Paul's comment about "fighting with
wild beasts in Ephesus" (vs. 32) should be taken literally or figura-
tively. Probably, though, because he was a Roman citizen (see Acts
22 :25-29; 23 :27), it is unlikely that he would have literally under-
gone such an experience. No doubt, Paul's enemies in Ephesus were
as ravaging wi ld beasts. His point is simply: Why go through all this
suffering if there is no hope of a resurrection'
Sin is excused by the gnostic view of resurrection
(1 Cor. 15:33, 34)
Paul now shifts from arguments based on logic to an argument based
on common sense; he supportS his position by quoting from the Greek
poet Menander: "Bad company corrupts good character" (vs. 33). This
is particularly appropriate for a church that was endorsing immoral be-
havior. The gnostics' denial of the resurrection was an integral part of
their view that sin was not relevant, a part of their vie'v that loose living
was perfectly acceptable simply because the fact that the body suffered
from loose living was a good result-the sooner the body was destroyed,
whether through loose living or through death, the better.
Paul tells them, "Come back to your senses as you ought, and
stop smnmg; for there are some who are ignorant of God-I say this
to your shame" (vs. 34). This admonition is even more direct when
we note that Paul has literally told them tl,at there are some who do
not have knowledge (gnosis) of God.
Just as Paul 's opponents had no time for the Cross (I Cor. 1-3),
even more so were they opposed to a body that had been crucified
coming back into existence via a resurrection. Up to this point in
1 Corinthians 15 in his defense of the resurrection of Christ, Paul
has made his case on the basis of two important proofs (Scripture
and eyewItnesses; 15:1-1 I) and on the basis of logic (15:29-32). In-
terspersed with these arguments against those in the church who
were denying any kind of resurrection of a body, Paul reminds the
Corinthians of the unfortunate consequences that come from deny-
ing the resurrection (15: 13 -19).
In this first section of I Corinthians 15, in a context in which Paul
takes readers from Christ's resurrection to exaltation, he gives us
one of hIS most remarkable theological insights in all the Bible about
heaven's love for us in the plan of salvation. For after the resurrec-
tion and subsequent exaltation, our Lord submits Himself to the
Father as eternity is ushered in (l5:24-28)-and these comments
obviously are a penetrating rebuke to his proud-hearted adversaries.
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 15:35-58
l. As Paul tells the Corinthians about how the resurrection
can take place, explain his way of showing that a sinful
body, that has obviously deteriorated, can be resurrected
from the grave (vss. 36-41).
2. Paul proceeds to show that even in the resurrection we will
still have a body. List the references within verses 42-49 that
show that Paul believes the resurrected spiritual body is still
a body. Why is this important for Paul?
3. Paul told the Corinthians he was going to re"eal a "mys-
tery" (vs. 51). Make a note on the contents of the "mystery"
(vss. 51-54).
4. Explain the relationship between Paul's terms: death, sin,
and the law (vss. 55-57).
Exploring the Word
There Will Still Be a Body.'
In this last major section of his discussion on the resurrection
(vss. 35-57), Paul responds to the Corinthian argument that said
that the resurrection of a body is not only senseless; it is also impos-
sible. "Can you imagine," they no doubt asked with incredulity, "how
a decayed body could ever come forth from the grave? Tell us, you
who believe in such a preposterous notion, how this is supposed to
happen? In fact, it is ridiculous that our present mortal, sinful bod-
ies should exist again by an act of resurrection!" Their questions and
observations point to wbat has always been the great objection to
the resurrection of the body.
Enter Paul. He lets the Corinthians know he is aware of their
thinking: "But someone may ask, 'How are the dead raised? With
what kind of body will they come?' "(vs. 3 5). In the following verses,
Paul does more than answer their question as to how the process is
possible; most importantly, he reveals to us the vital point, that no
matter how anyone in the Corinthian church might interpret the
resurrection, there will still be a body! Over and over again, this is
his major point. Notice, therefore, that regardless of the particular
process he may be describing to make his point, whether a body may
change its shape or even its nature, for Paul, the fundamental point
is: The body does not cease to exist. This is the point Paul insists on
throughout the discussion simply because his adversaries had argued
the exact opposite.
The resurrection likened to nature and the universe
In the next section, verses 36-41, the first words Paul writes are a
mild attack on the knowledge of his opponents. Knowledgeable per-
sons should know the answer; the very persons who were claiming
to be the most informed turn out to be uninformed: "How foolish'
What you sow does not COme to life unless it dies" (vs. 36). Thus,
even death equals life. Paul now uses four analogies to establish his
1. Resurrection body compared to plant life (vss. 36-38). Plants do not
become plants until the seed has been sown, and for all appearances,
has died in the ground. "When you sow, you do not plant the body
that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.
But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of
seed he gives its own body" (vss. 37, 38). When the plant comes
forth from the ground, it is different from the seed, to be sure, but it
is nevertheless a genuinely new body.
2. Bodies have different kinds of flesh (vs. 39). "All flesh is not the
same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds an-
other and fish another" (vs. 39). There may be many similarities
within the animal world, but each species is different: man, animals,
birds, and fish.
3. Heavenly and earthly bodies are different (vs. 40). Now that Paul
has shown that there are differences in the bodies here on earth he
reminds the Corinthians there are also differences in the heav;ns.
"There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but
the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of
the earthly bodies is another" (vs. 40).
4. Heavenly bodies differ from other heavenly bodies (vs. 41). Mter
Paul refers to the differing splendors between the earthly and heav-
enly bodies, he points out that there are even differences among the
heavenly bodies: "The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon an-
other and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor"
But all Paul's comments are used for making a strong case for the
existence of a resurrected body, one that does not have to be the
same as our present sinful ones. This is precisely the point he wants
to make now: Although the natural body of flesh and blood will dis-
appear, there will still be a body, a spiritual one.
The natural body versus the spiritual body (vss. 42-49)
Paul's specific argument in the next verses (vss. 42-49) is all about
the word body. It is important to note at this stage of the discussion
that the word for "body" is always the same word in 1 Corinthians
15, and it always means body, a real entity, visible to our eyesight. It
is not an abstract concept; it is an organism. It is, in fact, the word
soma, as in our "psychosomatic." That is, there is a natural soma and
a spiritual sOma; and the irrefutable conclusion is: A soma (body) will
definitely exist in eternity! The gnostics were not going to get by in
arguing that in the resurrection there would be no sOma (body). Paul
agrees that there will not be a natural soma, but that is not the full
picture. There will indeed still be a sOma-a spiritual one.
Therefore, Paul acknowledges that the natural body, the one that
went into the grave, is perishable, but in the resurrection, that perish-
able body becomes an imperishable body, a spiritual one (vss. 42-44). As
the NIV commentators wrote: "God will take a perishable, dishonor-
able, weak (and sinful) body-'a natural body' characterized by sin-
and in the resurrection make it an imperishable, glorious, powerful body.
'Spiritual body' does not mean a nonmaterial body the analogies, a
physical one similar to the present natural body organizationally, but radi-
cally different in that it will be imperishable, glorious and powerful, fit
to live eternally with God. There is continuity, but there is also change"
(NIV Notes, emphasis supplied).
The First Adam and Second Adam illustrate the same point (vss. 45-
49). Paul now uses the first Adam as an example of the "natural body"
and Christ, the second Adam, as a representative of the "spiritual
body" concept. "So it is wrirten: 'The first man Adam became a liv-
ing being'; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not
come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual" (vss. 45, 46).
Then in referring to Adam's body as coming fron. the dust of the
ground (that is, he was a man from the earth; vs. 47; see Gen. 2:7),
Paul makes the connection to the second Adam, Christ, who is iden-
tified as the "man from heaven" (1 Cor. 15:47). (Also, in Romans
5:12-19, Paul called Christ the Second Adam.)
What follows next is a beautiful extension of Paul's thinking in
this section: Just as we are identified with the natural Adam in this
life, we shall be identified with the spiritual Adam in the resurrec-
tion. These are Paul's words: "As was the earthly man, so are those
who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are
those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of
the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven"
(vss. 48, 49). Christ, the second Adam, the "man from heaven," the
one who became one of us by taking a human body, received a glori-
fied, spiritual body at his resurrection. That is exactly what God's
people will receive when they receive the spiritual body.
In order to clarify as much as possible just how the designation
"spiritual body" should be understood, we turn toJesus' own words,
the words of the resurrected Jesus during His appearance to His
disciples in Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. "Why are
you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my
hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit
has not flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Luke 24:38, 39,
RSV) .
This passage from Luke, quoting Jesus' own words about Him-
self, that He could be touched, not only bears out the New Testa-
ment viewpoint that the resurrected body is a visible being; it clari-
fies how a "spiritual body," although no longer a "natural body," is
still a body. This appears a little complicated simply because a natu-
ral body is not completely natural and a spiritual body is nOt com-
pletely spiritual. That is, even our natural bodies are related to the
spiritual, and our future spiritual bodies will include an identity that
is associated with substance. Jesus' words demonstrate the point. This
is another example of the importance of entering into the thinking
of the original audience.
This concept of a natural and spiritual body combined is similar
to the one Paul presented in Romans 6, where he wrote these dy-
namic words: "Do you not know that all of us who have been bap-
tized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were bur-
ied therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was
raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk
in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death
like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like
his" (vss. 3-5, RSV). And as we observed in our comments above on
the appearance ofjesus to His disciples (Luke 24:38, 39), the resur-
rected body of Jesus was very real.
The necessity of a transfonnation of bodies
From here to the end of the chapter (I Cor. 15:50-58), Paul ac-
complishes two objectives. The first is his clear instruction that in
eternity, the bodies we will have will be different. The second objec-
tive is to once again announce that we are definitely going to have
bodies in eternity; being "different" does not mean that we should
do away with the notion of "body."
He begins immediately with his first point: Our bodies will be
different: "I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot
inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the
imperishable" (vs. 50). We have already noted that the words flesh
and blood refer to the "natural" or "earthly" man and do not in any
way counter the point Paul wants to make about having a body, a
"spiritual body," in eternity. The words flesh and blood, as we will see
in the next few verses, are another way of referring to the perishable
and the mortal. Paul has in mind our sinful natures, corrupt and
weak through and through.
The promises contained in the "mystery" (vss. 51-54).Just before Paul
writes his eloquent conclusion, he tells his readers to pay close at-
tention; he is going to reveal a mystery. He announces that knowl-
edge has not given them adequate insights on a topic they have seri-
ously misunderstood. Paul intends to set the record straight. In so
doing, he writes that he will give the answer to a mystery. Notice, in
the following verses (vss. 51-54), the italicized words that refer to
the important elements of the mystery. Paul wrote: "Listen, I tell
you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-in
a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trum-
pet wi ll sound, the dead will be "aised imperishable, and we will be
changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable,
and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been
clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then
the saying that is written will come true: 'Death bas been swallowedllp
in victory' " (vss. 50-54, emphasis supplied).
In these few verses, we readily discover what Paul considered to
be the "mystery." It has four parts (the italicized words within the
verses cited above):
I. Not everyone will be dead at the time of the coming of the Lord (vs.
51). Regarding his explanation of the "mystery," even though Paul
did not know whether he or any of his contemporaries would be
living at the coming of the Lord, the truth of his statement still stands,
and that is: Some of God's people will be alive at the Advent, when-
ever tha t magnificent event OCCurs (see 1 Thess. 4: 13 -18 and the
ExCltrsus in Chapter Four on I Corinthians 7).
2. We will ;e changed-stated twice (I Cor. 15:51, 52). The change
that will occur, Paul tells us, will happen "in a flash" (vs. 52). The
word for "flash" is the Greek word atom. For him, that was the short-
est possible time period that language could convey. Even in mod-
ern times, before we knew about protons and electrons, there was
nothing smaller than an atom. And although science has marched
on, for Paul, the "flash" of time for the glorious change to take place
was indeed the time that could not be made shorter!
As we try to capture the meaning of Paul's terminology, several
points come to mind at his reference to the last trumpet call. The
most obvious conclusion would be that he had in mind the message
of the final gathering of the elect (Matt. 24:31) or of the seventh
trumpet of Revelation 1 I :15-both refer to the same event of earth's
final moments (Rev 19:11-16; 20:1-6).
3. The dead will rise imperisbable and immortal (1 Cor. 15 :52 -54). Those
bodies that had returned to the dust of the earth in death because they
were indeed perishable and mortal now rise as imperishable and im-
mortal bodies. Paul makes it extremely clear in these verses that immor-
tality comes at the time of the resurrection, not at the time of death!
Paul, therefore, unequivocally states that at the time we become
immortal we will have bodies. Bodies that wi ll never again die, bod-
ies that will never again perish in any sense of the word, simply be-
cause they are imperi shable, and immortal. God Himself has prom-
ised that at that time there will be no more death, in fact, not even
any tears or sorrow (Rev. 21 :4). This is the next point Paul makes.
4. Death is swallowed up (I Cor. 15 :54). Mter Paul states this mov-
ing statement of victory, he quotes two Old Testament passages,
" 'Where, 0 death, is your victory? Where, 0 death, is your sting?' "
(vs. 55; see Isa. 25:8 and Hos. 13:14). The obvious answer is, of course,
they are forever ended'
In I Corinthians 15:53, 54, Paul uses an extremely important ex-
pression when he refers to what will happen to our perishable na-
tures, and the key word is clothed. The perishable and the mortal will
be clothed with the imperishable and with immortality. Why is this
such an important word? In contemporary J ewish thinking, the idea
of being clothed was tantamount to being alive, to have existence,
and existence meant having a body. That is, on the other side of the
equation, if a person was "uncl othed" or "naked," it was the same as
not having a body, and therefore, not having an existence' In other
words, Paul has stated in very direct terms that in eternity a person
will be clothed by having a body' This was a direct arrack on the
gnostic position, which held that in eternity there would be no body.
Death, sin, and the law (vss. 55-57)
As Paul moves to the grand climax of the narrative, to the ultimate
victory statement, he indicates what the intimate relationship is between
death, sin, and the place of Gods law. Because "death has been swal-
lowed up in victory" (vs. 54), it has lost the "sting" (vs. 55) that came as
a result of Adam's sin (Rom. 5:12). "'Where, 0 death, is your victory'
Where, 0 death, is your sting?'" (I Cor. 15:55). Sin swept away eternal
life, but the resurrection of Christ guaranteed the full restoration of
eternal life in our own resurrection. Sin had its power because the law
gave it that power. "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the
law" (vs. 56). It is the law that both reveals and condemns sin (Rom.
4:15; 5:20; 6:14; 7; Gal. 2: 16; 3:1-5:4).
"But thanks be to God' He gives us the victory through our Lord
Jesus Christ" (vs. 57). The final triumph, the final , glorious, and
wonderful victory, all because of God's great love to us: the gift aohn
3: 16) and power of God (Rom. l:l6, 17; 7:25). And then, in his last
words on this topic, Paul appeals to the church to "stand firm. Let
nothing move you" (1 Cor. 15:58) away from the truth of this great
resurrection doctrine. And one of the best ways to keep your think-
ing straight, the best way to overcome doubt: "Always give your-
selves full y to the work of the Lord, because you know that your
labor in the Lord is not in vain" (vs. 58).
Applying the Word
1 Corinthians 15
1. A loved one has just died. What would you find in
1 Corinthians 15 that would help you deal with this great loss?
2. You have a Christian friend who believes that the dead im-
mediately go to heaven or hell. What references in
1 Corinthians 15 (as well as elsewhere in Scripture) would
you turn to in order to offer the same consolation (or dread)
that they derive from their understanding of humans in
3. Explain the consequences of keeping the concept of "resur-
rection" in the forefront of your thinking.
4. Reflect on the ways you have shared your own hope in the
resurrection with persons who have just lost a loved one. If
your list of ways is on the short side, take time to consider
things you could do and say the next time you are in the
company of a bereaved person.
Researching the Word
1. With the assistance of a concordance, look up all the refer-
ences to "resurrection." What does your study reveal? What
do these passages do for you in terms of your own hope in
the next life? Keep in mind that the actual tenn resurrection
may not occur. For example, be alert to statements such as
the one made by Job: "And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my
own eyes-I, and not another" (19:26, 27a). Most references
will come from the New Testament.
2. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 15 that immortality is
experienced by the Christian at the resurrection and not
before. In view of the large number of Christian groups who
believe that immortality is experienced at death, use your
concordance to find the tenns soul, im11tortality, and death.
Read also the SDA Bible Dictionary entries on these tenns.
Further Study of the Word
1. A stirring account of the resurrection of our Lord is given in
The Desire of Ages, "The Lord Is Risen," 779-787.
2. For a rather remarkable scholarly testimony on the nature
of the soul and death, see the famous scholar O. Cullmann's
I11t11tortality of the Soul, or, Resurrection of the Dead?
3. For a detailed discussion of 1 Corinthians 15, see G. D. Fee,
The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 713-809.
1 Corinthians 16
In Paul's concluding chapter of this letter to the Corinthians, he takes up
a numb"" of nontheological and nonbehavioral matters. He tells us, too,
that the first topic is one they have asked him abollt, for he begins with the
characteristic words, "Now about . . . ," and names the concern: the
collection of money for the needy church members in J erusalem (vss. 1-4).
He then takes up a new topic-his missionary travel plans (vss. 5-11).
In verses 12-18, Paul refers to the final question he has been asked by
the Corinthian delegation: "Now about . . . " and finishes the sentence with
"our brother Apollos ... " (vs.12). The last five verses (vss. 19-24) consist
of greetings and farewells.
Getting Into the Word
1 Corinthians 16:1-24
Before you look at the following questions, read 1 Corinthians
16 through once again, and as you read, observe the variety of
topics Paul discusses in this concluding chapter,
L Write a one-sentence summary about the content of each of
the following passages: verses 1-4, verses 5-11, verses 12-
18, and verses 19-24.
2. Using a concordance or marginal references, find out what
Paul was referring to when he said "Do what I told the
Galatian churches to do" (vs. 1).
3. In light of 1:11-13, explain why Apollos was unwilling to
return to Corinth, even at Paul's urging (vs. 12).
4. Read 1 Corinthians 7:1 again. Now read 1 Corinthians 16:17.
What is the probable connection?
5. Aquila and Priscilla are mentioned often by Paul (see vs.
19). Using a concordance, look up "Aquila" and "Priscilla"
and make notes about Paul's relationship with them and
about their roles in the new Christian movement.
Exploring the Word
Concluding Matters
The collection for God's people (vss. 1-4)
The poor church members in Jerusalem (vss. 1-3). Mter Paul tells the
Corinthians that he is going to take up their question to him about
the collection for "God's people," who are in Jerusalem (vs. 3), he
says that they should do what he "told the Galatian churches to do"
(vs. I). We know ftom 2 Corinthians 8, 9 about Paul's instructions
to the Galatians, who, along with churches from other lands, con-
tributed money to the church at Jerusalem. We cannot be certain
why some of the Christians in Jerusalem were poor at this time
(around 55 A.D.), but there are three possible explanations. The
plight of the Christians in Jerusalem may have been due to:
I. The famine referred to in Acts 11:28, 29. That famine was in
49 A.D., some five or six years earlier than Paul's letter to the
2. The result of an overgenerous spirit of the community's shar-
ing of property. That is, they may have enthusiastically given away
their property and goods to the extent that they left themselves with-
out any economic base. This would have been in harmony with the
attitude of sharing in the early church referred to in Acts (2:44, 45;
4:34, 35).
3. The persecution of the Jerusalem Christians by mainstream
Judaism, as referred to in Acts 8:1: "And Saul was there, giving ap-
proval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against
the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered
throughout Judea and Samaria." Members of the orthodox Jewish
community, in their opposition to the newly formed Christian Jew-
ish community, no doubt set up a system of ostraci zing the offshoots.
This made it extremely difficult for the new Christians to survive.
This possibility seems to have been the most likely reason for the
Jewish Christians' economic problems. It is, of course, possible that
the poverty of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem was due to all three
sets of circumstances. Whatever the cause, we know that they in-
deed were in need, and Paul's concern for them, as would be ex-
pected, tells us about his great love for others.
At the time he founded the church, Paul had talked to the
Corinthians about the needs among God's people in Jerusalem, just
as he did again in his last recorded letter to them (2 Cor. 8, 9-very
important chapters on the subject). The contribution for the poor
in Jerusalem was an ongoing concern for Paul. In his letter to the
church at Rcme, written shortly after this letter to the Corinthians,
he mentioned the subject again: "For Macedonia and Achaia were
pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in
Jerusalem" (Rom. 15:26). Corinth was the church in Achaia.
Planned giving (1 Cor. 16:2, 3). In what seems to be the forerun-
ner for planned giving in our churches today, Paul sets forth a col-
lection system that called for regular amounts to be set aside on the
first day of the week-an amount that should correspond with the
member's blessings (see 2 Cor. 8:12, where Paul gives similar in-
struction). The passage is used incorrectly by some to support a
change from Sabbath worship to Sunday worship. There is nothing
within the passage to suggest such, and the question is quickly re-
solved by looking at the many New Testament passages in which
Sabbath worship is stated very clearly (see, for example, Acts 13:14,
42,44; 15:21; 18:4).
Paul's counsel on planned giving was to avoid anyone having to
make a hasty decision at the time of collection. Furthermore, con-
cerned about possible suspicion that church members might have
about him, Paul arranged for the money to be handled by messen-
gers approved by the Corinthians themselves (1 Cor. 16: 3).
Paul does not let us know why he might take a trip to Jerusalem
(vs. 4). It could be that he has some business to take care of there
(Acts 21: 17 -19), or he might simply want to be in Jerusalem at the
time the gift was delivered. Whatever his reason for possibly mak-
ing the trip, he says that ifhe should go, approved messengers would
accompany him (1 Cor. 16:4). We learn in Acts that he indeed did
make the trip (Acts 20: 16).
Paul's travel plans (1 Cor. 16:5-11)
Paul wants the Corinthians to know he intends to visit them (vs. 5).
This reminder is important in view of our discussion in Chapter Two
regarding Paul's statement that he was "sending Timothy" to them (4: 17)
and the fact that Paul's opponents thought he was personally afraid of
them. He now emphasizes that their perception is inaccurate: He was
indeed going to come in person! After he leaves Ephesus, from where
he is writing this letter to them (16:8), he will go through Macedonia,
no doubt to visit churches he established on the same missionary jour-
ney during which he founded the church at Corinth. These churches
would include Philippi and others in northern Greece.
Paul thought he might stay the winter with them (vs. 6), and the
record of Paul's travels in the book of Acts tells us this is indeed what
took place (Acts 19:21; 20:1, 2). At this point in his letter he makes a
very interesting comment: He tells them they might be of some help
when it came time for him to leave them (1 Cor. 16:6). The reason
his remark is interesting is because it is so different from his earlier
statements in the letter about not accepting help from them (see
especially 9:7-12). Apparently, in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul's strong re-
fusals to use his rights by accepting help were aimed at countering
the criticisms of his opponents rather than the fact that he was too
proud to accept help.
Paul tells the Corinthians that his work in Ephesus was not com-
pleted, particularly since "a great door for effective work has opened to
me" (16:9), so he wrote, "I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost" (vs.
8). A note of interest is interjected here about Paul's plans. Even though
Paul was detennined to stay in Ephesus in spite of those "who oppose
me" (vs. 9), we know from the book of Acts that Demetrius, a craftsman
of silver figurines of the goddess Artemis (Acts 19:23-27), made an up-
roar which forced Paul to make a hasty depatture from Ephesus (Acts
20: 1). And this, in spite of his good intentions!
Now back to 1 Corinthians. "Until Pentecost" meant that Paul
would stay in Ephesus until some time in the spring. He then planned
on visiting Macedonia for a prolonged stay- until or through the
summer-and finally arrive in Corinth for the winter (16:6).
In the last two verses of this section (vss. 10, 11), Paul asks the
Corinthians to make sure the young and timid Timothy "has noth-
ing to fear" while he is with them, "for he is carrying on the work of
the Lord, just as I am" (vs. 10). Paul had good reason to be a little
worried about Timothy. In his earlier reference to sending Timothy
(4: 17 -21), he spoke about the church's arrogance "as if I were not
coming to you. But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is
wi lling, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people
are talking, but what power they have" (vss. 18, 19).
Timothy was an important part of Paul's ministry, so much so
that we want to mention briefly his involvement in Paul's own mis-
sionary activities. Timothy had been with Paul for several years, doing
an effective ministry (Acts 16: 1-3). Paul had developed an apprecia-
tion for his young companion, probably because he was a hard worker,
unassuming, and very loyal. It is only natural, then, that he would
feel a little concern for Timothy. Paul knew that persons were in-
clined to take advantage of Timothy's youth (1 Tim. 4: 12), but the
difficulty for Timothy was that he actually was a timid person
(2 Tim. 1 :7). Paul expresses his hopes that the Corinthians will treat
Timothy fairly by seeing that all his needs are supplied.
According to Acts 19:22, Paul sent Timothy and Erastus into
Macedonia, and from there Timothy was to go on to Corinth (1 Cor.
4: 17). Traveling with Timothy was Erastus, who was the "city trea-
surer," from Corinth, who had accepted Christ (Rom. 16:23).
Apollos and other workers (1 Cor. 16:12-18)
With 1 Corinthians 16: 12, we have come to the last concern the
Corinthians had mentioned, a very helpful one for us as we try to
understand the issues in I Corinthians I --4 dealing with the factions
within the church ( I: II, 12). This concern begins as did all the oth-
ers, "Now about ... ," and goes on to say "our brother Apollos"
What follows is very important with regard to the emphasis Paul
gave to apostolic unity (see Chapters One and 1\vo). As we pointed
out, Paul would have nothing to do with the talk going on in Corinth
about "I follow Apollos" or "I follow Paul" (1: 12). As far as Paul was
concerned, both he and Apollos were on the same team (1:12; see
Chapter Two). Paul's statement here in I Corinthians 16 clearly in-
dicates that Paul believed Apollos felt the same way he did about
apostolic unity. Apollos simply did not want to go back to Corinth
and be involved in a divisive setting, even though there were per-
sons who were putting Apollos at the head of the list: "I follow
Apollos" (1: 12). Apollos' unwillingness to make another visit at this
time demonstrates his own altruistic approach to ministry, and it
surely was something Paul appreciated, showing up in his comment
that Apollos would come at the right opportunity (16: 12).
Typical admonitions from Paul (vss. 13, 14). "Be on your guard; stand
firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong" (vs. 13), Paul ad-
monishes in much the same way he did in his other letters (see, for
example, Rom. 16: 17 -19; 1 Thess. 5: 12-22). Characteristic counsel
also comes in his next words: "Do everything in love" (1 Cor. 16: 14).
The loyalty of Stephan as, FortllnatZls, and Achaiclls (vss. IS-IS). Paul
now turns his attention to the ministry of others in the church, spe-
cifically, his first converts in Achaia (which would be Corinth)-
"the household of Stephanas" (vs. 15; see I: 16; Acts 17:34). Paul's
comments in these verses no doubt are intended to guarantee the
smooth running of a church that seems to be strongly inclined to be
difficult. He asks the church to submit themselves to Stephanas and
his household-an obviously difficult request for a church that was
coming closer and closer to being dominated by arrogant and ag-
gressive spokespersons who viewed the notion of submission as thor-
oughly unacceptable.
Why did Paul request the Corinthians to submit to Stephanas?
Stephanas and his family had set an example of doing good works,
and Paul wanted the church to follow that example. In I Corinthians,
Stephanas is mentioned in two places: in 1:16 and in 16:17. It is
evident from Paul's reference that this was a generous and helpful
family who gave valuable assistance to the saints who needed it (the
poor and needy). This is the consistent Christian life that will al-
ways result in the greatest dividends of Christian living.
A characteristic of a healthy church family is the presence of per-
sons who are not too proud to submit themselves to the authority of
others. Too often in the church today we expect others to submit, as
it were, without any inclination to do so ourselves. The word for
"submit," incidently, is the same word Paul used in I Corinthians 14
of women (vs. 34), and it is the same word he used in I Corinthians
IS of Christ (vs. 2S).
Greetings and farewells (1 Cor. 16:19-24)
As Paul comes to the close of this letter, he concludes with several
greetings: "The churches in the province of Asia send you greet-
ings. Aqui la and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does
the church that meets at their house" (vs. 19). The "province of Asia"
would be western Turkey, and the main church he has in mind would
be the church in Ephesus. According to Acts 19, the gospel had spread
all over the province (19: 10) . Paul probably intended the churches
at Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis to be included in his greeting
(Col. 4:13-16; see Rev. 2, 3).
The Corinthians were certain to appreciate greetings from Aquila
and Priscilla, who had helped Paul establish the church (Acts IS:2).
These two nad been with Paul when he left Corinth (Acts IS: IS),
and since the church in Ephesus was meeting in their home (1 Cor.
16:19), they were probably with him then. Holding church in
someone's home was a common practice at a time when the syna-
gogues were no longer accessible and the church did not have money
for separate meeting places (see Rom. 16:3-5; Philem. 2).
The greeting with a "holy kiss" that is mentioned in this letter, as
well as in three other letters Paul wrote (I Thess. 5:26; Rom. 16:16;
2 Cor. 13: 12; see also I Pet. 5: 14) was a practice among church mem-
bers to show Christian affection and was not exchanged with the
opposite sex. Men kissed men, and women kissed women. In the
ancient East, the kiss of respect and friendship was customary; this
is still the custom in the Middle East and in some European coun-
Before Paul writes his benediction, he makes two short comments.
The first one is: "I, Paul, write this greeting in m: ' own hand"
(1 Cor. 16:21). He made a similar statement in several of his letters
(2 Thess. 3:17; Col. 4: 18; Philem. 19), and the remark applies only
to the greeting itself, not the entire letter, which was written by some-
one else as Paul dictated (Rom. 16:22).
The second brief was a final reminder to the trouble-
makers at Corinth: "If anyone does not love the Lord-a curse be
on him" (1 Cor. 16:22). It seems like a harsh statement to make at
the very end of his letter, especially since he has been conciliatory in
most of his closing words. He may have in mind the persons who
were claiming to be pneumatikoi (spirimal persons) on the basis of
their curse ofJesus (12:3)-the words are the same.
But then he quickly mrns to a wonderfully powerful statement:
Marana tha-two Aramaic words used often in the early church, and
now again in our time, that mean: "Come, 0 Lord!" (16: 22). And
then, similar to the way he ended several of his letters, this great
missionary wrote the following words to a church he loved dearly, in
spite of the grief they had caused him: "The grace of the Lord Jesus
be with you. My love to all of you in Christ J esus. Amen" (vss. 23,
Conclusion to 1 Corinthians
Paul's letter to the young and troublesome church members in
old Corinth has demonstrated as no other letter in the New Testa-
ment the tremendous value ofliving the Christian life with one simple
motto: Love for others is to govern all we do. Just as Jesus said of the
two great commandments, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt.
22 :39), Paul repeatedly points out the extremely important prin-
ciple of caring for others more than asserting our own rights, even if
our rights are indeed right. Love defines knowledge, even 100 per-
cent correct knowledge; love defines rights and authority, behavior
in church worship, in our dealings on issues of conflict, what we eat
and do not eat, etc. Love is the essential of Christian living.
Paul himself, the great defender of the cross of Christ, exempli-
fied his preaching in his life. Truly, he gave us good counsel when he
said "Imitate me. " "Do it all for the glory of God." "I have become
all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some"
(1 Cor. 4: 16; 10:31; 9:22).
Applying the Word
1 Corinthians 16
1. Make a list of ways you could save money that could then be
used for others. Then make another list of the practical re-
sults that could happen for you, or your family, from sys-
tematically putting aside money for good causes. Do you
generally plan your giving, or do you normally give sponta-
neously? Why?
2. In verse 13, Paul wrote that the members should "Be on
your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be
strong." How would you apply each one of those counsels
to your own life? How does his next request in verse 13 help
you in your application of the command: "Do everything in
love" (vs. 14)?
3. If Paul were to visit your church today and say essentially
the same things as he did in 1 Corinthians 16, what would
you appreciate the most? What might bother you the most?
Explain your answer.
4. Explain your own feelings on the subject of submitting your-
self to others in the church.
s. After you have associated with others, indicate the ways in
which you sense that they are refreshed because of your pres-
6. What do you believe Paul would say today for Christian greet-
ings? Do you think he would still use the method of a "holy
kiss"? Or do you think he would say something like Phillips'
modern English translation: "A hearty handshake all
around"? Give reasons for your response .
Researching the Word
1. Collecting funds for the poor in Jerusalem is referred to a
number of times by Paul in his letters. The poverty inJerusa-
lem indicates that for Christians the famed city was not far-
ing well. Using a concordance, look up the references to
Jerusalem outside the Gospels. Look for indications that
show the role of the city within the early Christian church.
Compare your findings with the following passages in the
Gospels: Matthew 28, Mark 16 (along with Mark 14:28 re-
garding Galilee), Luke 24, and John 20.
2. Paul's counsel on planned giving (1 Cor. 16:2) is important
for us today. The Old Testament, however, largely refers to
freewill offerings. Find the passages in the Old Testament
that refer to freewill offerings. (Use the word freewill in con-
nection with "offering" to make your search easier.) Ran-
domly select other references on the word offering, such as
burnt (there are many of these), votive, etc. Do any of your
passages suggest "planning" for the offerings? What lessons
are to be learned from your search?
Further Study of the Word
1. For a detailed discussion of the various topics discussed in
1 Corinthians 16, see G. D. Fee, The Epistle to the First
Corinthians, 809-840.
2. As Paul does in many of his letters, he makes reference to
persons who have assisted him in his ministry. The entry
"Co-workers" in the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters,
Hawthorne, et a1., gives a very helpful discussion on the topic.