An exegetical commentary on the Greek New TestamentPDF eBook
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Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian church from Ephesus where he had stayed for some years while on his third missionary journey. This letter is possibly his second letter to the church. There is some evidence that Paul has previously written to church with respect to some specific moral problems. Some commentators argue that this lost letter is actually woven into first Corinthians. Whether or not there was a previous letter, problems have arisen in the church and thus Paul writes to combat them. Paul received word of the troubles from two sources: first, from members of Chloe's household, visitors from Corinth to Ephesus; and second, from a letter written to Paul from the Corinthian Church.
The structure of 1 Corinthians
1. Introduction, 1:1-9
i] Greeting - Grace and peace from God, 1:1-3
ii] Thanksgiving - Longing for Christ's return, 1:4-9
You must get along with each other.
2. Proposition, 1:10
The unity of the church 1:10.
Argument Proper - divided loyalties
3. Maintaining unity in the church, 1:11-4:21
i] Divisions in the church, 1:11-17
ii] Secular reasoning and the gospel are mutually exclusive, 1:18-2:16
a) We preach Christ crucified, 1:18-25
b) God chose the weak, 1:26-31
c) The worth of Paul's weak preaching, 2:1-5
d) The hidden wisdom of God, 2:6-16
iii] The unifying power of a genuine Christian ministry, 3:1-23
a) A wisdom unsuitable for babies, 3:1-9
b) Carefully building a church, 3:10-17
c) We all belong to Jesus, 3:18-23
iv] Have regard for your apostle, 4:1-21
a) Stewards of God's mysteries, 4:1-5
b) The apostles as models of the wisdom of the cross, 4:6-13
c) An appeal to follow the example of their founding apostle, 4:14-21
4. Some moral issues affecting unity, 5:1-6:20
i] The case of incest, 5:1-13
ii] Lawsuits before heathen judges, 6:1-11
iii] Visiting prostitutes, 6:12-20
5. Celibacy, divorce and marriage, 7:1-40
i] Sex within marriage, 7:1-5
ii] Marriage, 7:6-9
iii] Divorcing an unbelieving partner, 7:10-16
iv] The principle: remain as you are, 7:17-24
v] Celibacy, 7:25-40
a) Singleness is preferable, but not required, 7:25-28
b) Authentic Christian living, 7:29-31
c) Relationships and anxiety, 7:32-35
d) Marriage is not sin, 7:36-40
6. Eating food offered to idols, 8:1-11:1
i] The issue of Food offered to idols, 8:1-13
ii] Paul's own example on privilege verses service, 9:1-18
iii] Proclaiming the good news, 9:19-23
iv] Run the race to get the prize, 9:24-27
v] Learn from Israel's experience in the wilderness, 10:1-13
vii] Idolatry and Christianity, 10:14-22
viii] Be imitators of Christ, 10:23-11:1
7. Two matters related to congregational worship, 11:2-34
i] Proper dress within the congregation, 11:2-16
ii] Divisions in the Lord's Supper, 11:17-34
8. Speaking in tongues, 12:1-14:40
i] The gifts of the Spirit, 12:1-11
ii] You are the body of Christ, 12:12-31
iii] The greatest gift - love, 13:1-13
iv] Tongues and prophecy compared, 14:1-19
v] The preference for prophecy, 14:20-25
vi] Regulations for public worship, 14:26-40
9. The resurrection, 15:1-58
i] The faith once delivered to the saints, 15:1-11
ii] Christ's resurrection - the source of our hope, 15:12-19
iii] Christ's rule, 15:20-28
iv] The consequences of a fraudulent resurrection, 15:29-34
v] The analogy of seeds and bodies, 15:35-44
vi] Made like Christ, 15:45-49
vii] Victory through Jesus Christ, 15:50-58
10. Final instructions, 16:1-12
The collection for the saints and travel itinerary, 16:1-12
Final words, 16:13-24
As is typical of Paul's letters, he follows the writing conventions of the time using a rhetorical form of argumentation. The most common form of rhetoric is found in judicial speeches of the time. The structure used in these courtroom speeches found its way into the speeches and writings of those who sought to persuade their audience. Although Corinthians is a letter with a from-whom to-whom beginning, and a personal conclusion, it is designed to be read to an audience, and as such it is an address / sermon which takes a rhetorical form, rather than a letter form:
Exordium. The opening element of a speech which serves as an affirmation of the audience, seeking to elicit a positive response. This element is evident in 1:1-9.
Propositio. The proposition or thesis, usually found early in the speech. This is often expanded into a summary of proofs, the Partitio, although usually after a narrative element that provides background information. Paul seems to present his proposition / thesis in 1:10:
You must get along with each other.
Narratio. The provision of background information. Paul provides background information of the troubles facing the Corinthians in 1:11-17, namely divided loyalties. He backs this up with a personal defense / justification (Paul, "is a preacher of the gospel, not a baptizer", Garland. Note the strong apologetic evident in 3:10-4:21).
Digressio. The part of a speech which expands on particular elements of the thesis / proposition, or proofs. Paul deals with two such issues: "human wisdom and the wisdom of the cross are irreconcilable", Garland, 1:18-2:16; and the unifying affect of a genuine Christian ministry, 3:5-4:5.
Probatio. The body of the speech; this entails the rehetorical proofs and arguments in favor of the proposition, 5:1-15:58.
Paul then reverts to letter form with a conclusio: instructions, remarks, exhortations, and epistolary greetings, 16:1-24.
For a more detailed analysis of this approach see Witherington.
The date of this Epistle
Acts 18:1 tells us that Paul left Athens and came to Corinth as part of his third missionary journey. The date would be around AD 50, given that the Jews had been driven from Rome by Claudius in AD 49 and the Proconsul of Achaia, Gallio, administered the province from AD 52 to 53. Paul stayed with Aquila and Priscilla, working with them in their tent-making business, ministering in the local synagogue and later, when he had been expelled from the synagogue, in a home nearby. Despite increasing opposition from the Jewish community, Paul ministered on till around AD 52/53 when he moved on to Ephesus. Paul's ministry in Ephesus lasted for around three years and so this letter to the Corinthians was probably written somewhere around AD 55.
Paul first visited Corinth in around AD 50 on his second missionary journey, Acts 18:1-18. He stayed there about eighteen months. The city was an important trading centre in Achaia (Greece). Paul is the first to preach the gospel in the town and a small church forms around the new converts, cf., Acts 18.
On his third missionary journey Paul makes Ephesus his center of operations, staying there for over two years, AD 53-55. During his stay at Ephesus, Paul writes to the Corinthian church (the former letter, a letter which denounces fornication in the church, 1Cor.5:9f - This letter is now lost, although some argue that some of it is incorporated in 1 Corinthians. There is obviously strong resentment in the church because of Paul's words, cf., 1 Cor.1). While at Ephesus, Paul also undertook a quick visit to the church (the painful visit, 2Cor.13:2 - Paul is disturbed at the behavior of the new Christians, their fornication etc., and so he warns them of possible disciplinary action. Corinth was renowned for its immoral behavior and so the new Christians must have found it difficult to adapt to Biblical morality. This visit is not recorded in Acts). We really have no idea which was first, the former letter, or the painful visit, but together they stirred up a hornets nest and prompted Paul to change his plans to make Corinth his next port of call (probably his intention was to make Corinth his next base of operations).
On visiting Paul in Ephesus, Stephanus, Furtunatus etc., report on the continued trouble in the church, and also deliver a letter from the church asking certain questions. In response to the situation, Paul sends Timothy, his right-hand man, to visit the church. He then writes another letter (the harsh / severe letter, probably 1 Corinthians) and sends it off, most likely with Titus.
Within weeks of sending Titus, Timothy returns with a bad report as to the conditions in Corinth, so much so that Paul is not sure if he should have written 1 Corinthians to them.
Troubles then develop in Ephesus (Acts 19) and so Paul is forced to leave. After traveling to Troas and then to Macedonia, he meets Titus who gives his report on how the church is fairing:
• Paul's apostolic position in the church is recognized (2Cor.7:7);
• Appropriate action has been taken against the offender, 1Cor.5 (2Cor.7:12);
• The actual criticisms against Paul were clarified. a) Inconsistency - he said he would visit them but he didn't; b) Lowly impression;
• A growing anti-Pauline sentiment is evident in the church, most likely promoted by the presence of members of the circumcision party;
• Some unconfessed immorality needs correction;
• The collection of money for the Jewish Christians in Palestine is moving ahead, but very slowly.
Paul then penned his third letter to the church (2 Corinthians), which is carried to Corinth by Titus with instructions to sort out the problems in the church and facilitate the collection for the poor in Palestine.
In the winter /autumn of AD 55, Paul evangelizes Macedonia and Illyricum and then moves back through Macadonia to Greece, Acts 20:2-3. On reaching Corinth, Paul sets up base camp for some three months, probably early AD 56. It is then Paul is able to deal with any lingering problems, particularly the opposition group lead by the Judaizers. It is within this context that Paul pens his general letter to the Romans.
In the spring of AD 56, Paul's travel plans are disrupted and so he is forced to travel again through Macadonia on his return trip to Jerusalem where he is arrested and sent for trial to Rome.
This reconstruction of Paul's visits and his letters to Corinth is but one of a number of possibilities. Paul's second visit to Corinth may be before or after the lost letter , or even between 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. This visit is not reported in Acts so we are unsure when Paul made the visit, cf., 2Cor.13:2. We are also unsure what letter Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 2:4, 7:8. Is it the lost letter, cf., 1Cor.5:9, or 1 Corinthians, or even the last four chapters of 2 Corinthians? These notes presume that the painful / harsh letter is 1 Corinthians.
The troubles in the Corinthian fellowship
1. It seems that the church had divided into separate groups, or parties, which were fighting with each other. The divisions in the church seem to have developed around prominent personalities. Two, three, or even four different groups are suggested by commentators:
• The Paul group, those who recognize the authority of the church's founding apostle.
• The Apollos group. Apollos came to Corinth after Paul and may be the source of the secular / Greek wisdom that Paul identifies as a problem in the church. These are possibly the libertines - anything goes. It should though be noted that Paul makes no criticism of Apollos and so it is likely that he is not personally leading the "Apollos" group.
• The Peter group. Barrett argues that Peter visited Corinth and that the Peter group is made up of his converts and probably consists of those with a Jewish background. See Barnett for his assessment of this group.
• The "Christ" group. There are numerous suggestions as to the make-up of this group, but the best seems to be that it consists of ultra-orthodox Jewish believers, probably members of the circumcision party / judaizers. Clearly there are "nomists" in the congregation who are into "doing" rather than "receiving". Nomism (nomistic / pietistic Christianity), the heresy promoted by the members of the circumcision party (the judaizers), is the belief that, although it is true that a person is justified (set right before God, judged covenant compliant) on the basis of Christ's faithfulness ("faith of Christ") appropriated through faith, it is also true that law-obedience ("works of the law" - obedience to the law of Moses) is essential to restrain sin and shape holiness (sanctify) for the full appropriation of God's promised blessings (the promised blessings of the Abrahamic covenant = life = the gift of the holy Spirit, etc.,).
Paul: FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS = WORKS
Nomists: FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS + WORKS = BLESSINGS
It is unclear whether the personalities identified by Paul (other than "Christ") are the actual leaders of the different groups, or whether Paul just uses these names as examples. In the final analysis, it does seem likely that they are just examples used by Paul so as not to name the individuals concerned, and so not "shame" them, 4:6, 14. So, there is a pro-Paul group who recognize Paul as their apostle, but there are other groups which oppose Paul's ministry. These divisions in the church are damaging fellowship.
2. Problems have also developed in the church as a consequence of an uncontrolled esoteric spirituality. The church is rife with members claiming the "gift of speaking in tongues." This "gift" is used to such an extent that the meetings have become a shambles. Spirituality, expressed in extraordinary religious signs and miracles, has produced a number of disastrous by-products:
• The ministry of Paul is now under a cloud for his is not a power ministry. Spiritual qualifications are being assessed on the basis of the dynamism of a person's oratory, etc.:
• The church is divided - party-spirit dominated;
• As already noted, the meetings are a shambles. The Word ministry is being subsumed in the fervor of religious ecstasy;
• An unhealthy asceticism has emerged in the congregation and this is probably contributing to the immorality of some members;
• The emphasis on the "spiritual" has encouraged a lax view of personal righteousness;
3. Issues concerning the business of living with one foot in heaven and the other on earth. These "lifestyle" issues were raised in the letter addressed to Paul, eg., eating meat offered to idols.
4. A problem has developed in the church concerning the resurrection. Some members have come to the view that "there is no resurrection of the dead.''
I appeal to you brothers and sisters that you agree with one another and that there be no divisions amongst you.
When I came to you, I did not set about forming my own party, ("baptizing") but rather preached the gospel. I know you criticize my gospel because of its simplicity, ("weak") and indeed, it is simple. Yet, the gospel I preach contains great depths of wisdom which the Spirit reveals to many. Yet, while I was with you I only gave you the simple basis ("milk") because you were fleshly, but it was a valid basis and those who intend to build on it, must be careful how they build. Therefore, you should regard me ("us" ie., the apostolic witness) as a faithful servant of Christ and not judge me.
You, the Apollos group, regard yourselves as distinct from your other brethren, yet you are no different. It is true you have spiritual gifts, yet these are gifts from God. Therefore why do you boast. You think you are so great and yet here we are, the true apostles, facing trials and tribulations every day.
What I have said to you is as a father, and I am your father because I founded you in the gospel.
It is reported to me that a man is living with his father's wife. Remove him from amongst you. Such behaviour affects the fellowship of the congregation and this is why I told you before, not to associate with immoral people. I was not referring to non-Christians, but rather to members of the congregation.
I hear that you take each other to court before heathen judges. Do you not know that you will judge angels, therefore lay the matter before the congregation.
On the issue of immorality, you people who proclaim total freedom in matters of the flesh say that "all things are lawful", yet is it lawful to sin? He who sins is a slave to sin, yet I am a servant of Christ and will not be enslaved to anything. You also say "Food is meant for the stomach", that is, our sexual desires are there to be used and satisfied, yet this does not give you license to act in an immoral way. To join yourself to a prostitute is to make one flesh out of the two, thus you become one with rebellious sin. You end up sinning against yourself, the temple of the Holy Spirit, for which Christ died.
I suppose it is good for a man not to touch a woman, yet we were not really designed that way, so it's best to get married and thus not sin. My personal advice is to remain in the state you're in, whether married or single, because the end, with its tribulation, is near, yet the person who marries has not failed in any way.
As for the issue of eating meat offered to idols; the principle is to act according to love and not just knowledge. Therefore, in eating such meat you may know that there is no God associated with it, yet your action may cause a brother to stumble, therefore the action was not according to love. For example, as an apostle, I have rights of financial support from you. To take it is correct and scriptural, yet I forbear this action so as to allow no obstacle to prevent the gospel and thus bring salvation to many. This is acting according to love. Although I am free from all men, I have become their slave. You want to be careful of your actions. The Israelites, as God's chosen people, fell in the wilderness. You might think you are secure, but watch out. Therefore, shun this worship of idols, for in some sense you are associating with demons when you link with pagan idolatry.
Do then what is for your neighbour's good ("act in love"). If there is a chance of leading a person astray, don't be in it. This is how I act; I set out to be right in everyone's eyes so that I may save many.
With regard the proper dress-rules for worship. A woman should wear a veil within the church to hide her natural (human) beauty and thus not distract members from their act of worship. Men should also dress appropriately.
By the way, I hear that there are divisions amongst you in the Lord's Supper. Some are hungry, some are drunk. Christ instituted the Lord's Supper so that we, as a group, may express our faith in his sacrificial death for us, with the result of an increased bond of fellowship. Therefore, when you participate in, even promote such unloving behavior, you spurn what Christ did for you at Calvary. Thus, examine yourselves as to your relationship with your brothers and sisters, seeking to maintain a bond of fellowship, especially at the Lord's Supper.
Now concerning speaking in tongues. When you were pagans you were involved in much tongue-speaking, but now that you are Christians the type of activities which have value have changed. eg., a state of powerful spiritual ecstasy does not, of itself, possess great worth, particularly if Christ is consequently defamed.
There are for us a variety of spiritual gifts, the important ones concern the proclamation of truth, while the least important are of an esoteric nature. These gifts have been given to the individual members of the congregation by the Holy Spirit. Each is important in its own right and therefore those who have one type of gift must not think theirs is the only type. There are many gifts of ministry, with the least important often being the most overt. This gives balance to the range of gifts in the church and therefore encourages unity in the fellowship.
You Corinthians are one body and as such have within the church numerous ministries, the greatest being the teaching ministries, while the least being tongues. You are not all one type. You are different and thus should express this fact in a range of ministries within the church. Above all, desire the higher gifts.
It is easy to think that if you have a gift you are complete, yet in fact, gifts are nothing without love. In eternity, gifts will not be needed, while love will remain. Love does not allow the festering of pride, etc., which can flow from an over-emphasis on gifts. Therefore, let love be your aim, and as well, desire the higher gift of prophesy.
Tongues are really of little value, they don't edify and have, in the past, had a bad history. In fact, unintelligible words from God are usually a sign of his judgement. Tongues are also very disturbing to non-Christians, while prophesy edifies and convicts the non-Christian.
If you must use tongues, make sure you can interpret what you are saying.
Well then, when you do come together, limit tongues and make sure there is an interpreter. Organize those who are to prophesy, always making your aim the edification of the congregation.
I hear that some doubts have developed with regard the resurrection, yet this is one of the basic truths of the gospel. Christ himself has visibly risen from the dead and is with his Father. At this very moment he is establishing his kingdom. In the coming day, when everything is realized in Christ, all believers will rise from the dead to meet him.
Some ask, "How is the body risen?" Well, it is like a grain of wheat which goes into to the earth, but which comes forth in a totally different character. So it will be for us. As for those who are alive at Christ's coming, they will be changed in an instant.
Paul concludes his letter with reference to the collection for the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. He then covers a number of personal requests and finally, he gives his final greetings.
Commentaries - I Corinthians
Barnett, BST, 1985. Barnett, FOB, 2000. Barrett, Black's, 1971. Belleville, Word, 2007. B&L, Brookins and Longenecker, HGT, 2016. Bruce, NCB, 1971. Caudill, Broadman Press, 1983. Collins, Sacra Pagina, 2000. Conzelmann, Hermeneia, 1975. Evans, Clarendon, 1930. Fee, NICNT, 1987. Findlay, EGT, 1918. Fitzmyer, Anchor, 2008. Garland, BECNT, 2003. Goudge, Westminster, 1913. Grosheide, NICNT, 1983, Replaced. Hays, Interpretation, 1997. Hering, Epworth, 1962, translation. Horsley, Abingdon, 1998. Jackman, LS, 2004. Keener, NCBC, 2005. Lightfoot (ch. 1-7). Lilas, CGTSC, 1889. Moffatt, MNTC, 1938. Morris, Tyndale, 2nd. ed. 1985, Replaced. Naylor, EPSC, 2002. Oropeza, NCC, 2017. Orr, Anchor, 1976, Replaced. Parry, CGTSC, 2nd. ed. 1937. Pfitzner, ChiRho, 1982. Prior, BST, 1985. Ruef, Penguin, 1971. R&P, Robertson and Plummer, ICC, 1914. Schreiner, Tyndale, 2018. Simon, Torch, 1959. Taylor, NAC, 2014. Talbert, Reading, 1987. Thiselton, NIGTC, 2000. Thrall, CBC, 1965. Witherington, SRC, 1995.