First Epistle Of Paul To The Corinthians
From Bible Encyclopedia
The First Epistle to the Corinthians is a book of the Bible in the New Testament. 1 Corinthians is a letter, or a conflation of several letters, from Paul of Tarsus and Sosthenes to the Christians of Corinth, Greece. It is one of the core group of Pauline epistles whose authenticity has never seriously been questioned. In fact, due to its early date (mid to late 50's) which predates all but the earliest dates for the Gospels, this text is often used to bolster the authenticity of the Gospels in terms of the historical proof of Jesus and the development of the early Christian beliefs. As many historians would generally agree, it is unlikely that legends or myths about individuals to develop over as short of a period as two decades, while many eyewitnesses would still be alive. Furthermore, ascribing Paul's conversion to Christianity to any earlier date additionally reduces the possibility for any significant legend development before Paul accepted the doctrine. Therefore, the brief comments Paul makes about Jesus's actual life and ministry carry notable historical weight.
Time and Place
It was written from Ephesus (16:8) about the time of the Passover in the third year of the apostle's sojourn there (Acts 19:10; Acts 20:31), and when he had formed the purpose to visit Macedonia and then return to Corinth (probably AD 57). The news which had reached him from Corinth, however, frustrated his plan.
The traditional subscription to the epistle, translated in the KJV, states that this epistle was written at Philippi, perhaps arising from a misinterpretation of 16:5, "For I do pass through Macedonia," as meaning, "I am passing through Macedonia." In 16:8 Paul declares his intention of staying in Ephesus until Pentecost.
The epistle may be divided into six parts.
- Salutation (1:1-9)
- Division in Corinth (1:10–4:21)
- Facts of division
- Causes of division
- Cure for division
- Immorality in Corinth (5:1–6:20)
- Discipline an Immoral Brother
- Resolving personal disputes
- Sexual purity
- Difficulties in Corinth (7:1–14:40)
- Christian liberty
- Doctrine of Resurrection (15:1-58)
- Closing (16:1-24)
He had heard of the abuses and contentions that had arisen among them: first from Apollos (Acts 19:1) and then from a letter they had written him on the subject, and also from some of the "household of Chloe," and from Stephanas and his two friends who had visited him (1:11; 16:17). (Since there was no regular postal service in the Roman Empire, some of those people probably brought the letter with them.) Paul thereupon wrote this letter, urging uniformity of belief ("that ye all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you," 1:10) and correcting the erroneous opinions that had sprung up among them, and remedying the many abuses and disorderly practices that prevailed. Titus and a brother whose name is not given were probably the bearers of the letter (2 Corinthians 2:13; 8:6, 16-18).
This epistle "shows the powerful self-control of the apostle in spite of his physical weakness, his distressed circumstances, his incessant troubles, and his emotional nature. It was written, he tells us, in bitter anguish, 'out of much affliction and pressure of heart . . . and with streaming eyes' (2 Corinthians 2:4); yet he restrained the expression of his feelings, and wrote with a dignity and holy calm which he thought most calculated to win back his erring children. It gives a vivid picture of the early church . . . It entirely dissipates the dream that the apostolic church was in an exceptional condition of holiness of life or purity of doctrine." The apostle in this epistle unfolds and applies great principles fitted to guide the church of all ages in dealing with the same and kindred evils in whatever form they may appear.
I. Authenticity of the Two Epistles
1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians and Romans, all belong to the period of Paul's third missionary journey. They are the most remarkable of his writings, and are usually distinguished as the four great or principal epistles; a distinction which not only is a tribute to their high originality and intrinsic worth, but also indicates the extremely favorable opinion which critics of almost all schools have held regarding their authenticity. Throughout the centuries the tradition has remained practically unbroken, that they contain the very pectus Paulinum, the mind and heart of the great apostle of the Gentiles, and preserve to the church an impregnable defense of historical Christianity. What has to be said of their genuineness applies almost equally to both.
1. External Evidence
The two epistles have a conspicuous place in the most ancient lists of Pauline writings. In the Muratorian Fragment (circa 170) they stand at the head of the nine epistles addressed to churches, and are declared to have been written to forbid heretical schism (primum omnium Corinthiis schisma haeresis intredicens); and in Marcion's Apostolicon (circa 140) they stand second to Gal. They are also clearly attested in the most important writings of the subapostolic age, e.g. by Clement of Rome (circa 95), generally regarded as the friend of the apostle mentioned in Philippians 4:3; Ignatius (Ad Ephes., chapter xviii, second decade of 2nd century); Polycarp (chapters ii, vi, xi, first half of 2nd century), a disciple of John; and Justin Martyr (born at close of let century); while the Gnostic Ophites (2nd century) were clearly familiar with both epistles (compare Westcott, Canon, passim, and Index II; also Charteris, Canonicity, 222-224, where most of the original passages are brought together). The witness of Clement is of the highest importance. Ere the close of the let century he himself wrote a letter to the Corinthians, in which (chapter xlvii, Lightfoot's edition, 144) he made a direct appeal to the authority of 1 Cor: “Take up the letter of Paul the blessed apostle; what did he write to you first in the beginning of the gospel? Verily he gave you spiritual direction regarding himself, Cephas, and Apollos, for even then you were dividing yourselves into parties.” It would be impossible to desire more explicit external testimony.
2. Internal Evidence
Within themselves both epistles are replete with marks of genuineness. They are palpitating human documents, with the ring of reality from first to last. They admirably harmonize with the independent narrative of Acts; in the words of Schleiermacher (Einltg., 148), “The whole fits together and completes itself perfectly, and yet each of the documents follows its own course, and the data contained in the one cannot be borrowed from those of the other.” Complex and difficult as the subjects and circumstances sometimes are, and varying as the moods of the writer are in dealing with them, there is a naturalness that compels assent to his good faith. The very difficulty created for a modern reader by the incomplete and allusive character of some of the references is itself a mark of genuineness rather than the opposite; just what would most likely be the ease in a free and intimate correspondence between those who understood one another in the presence of immediate facts which needed no careful particularization; but what would almost as certainly have been avoided in a fictitious composition. Indeed a modicum of literary sense suffices to forbid classification among the pseudepigrapha. To take but a few instances from many, it is impossible to read such passages as those conveying the remonstrance in 1 Cor 9, the alternations of anxiety and relief in connection with the meeting of Titus in 2 Cor 2 and 7, or the ever-memorable passage which begins at 2 Corinthians 11:24 of the same epistle: “Of the Jews five times received I,” ere, without feeling that the hypothesis of fiction becomes an absurdity. No man ever wrote out of the heart if this writer did not. The truth is that theory of pseudonymity leaves far more difficulties behind it than any it is supposed to solve. The unknown and unnamable literary prodigy of the 2nd century, who in the most daring and artistic manner gloried in the fanciful creation of those minute and life-like details which have imprinted themselves indelibly on the memory and imagination of mankind, cannot be regarded as other than a chimera. No one knows where or when he lived, or in what shape or form. But if the writings are the undoubted rescripts of fact, to whose life and personality do they fit themselves more exquisitely than to those of the man whose name stands at their head, and whose compositions they claim to be? They suit beyond compare the apostle of the missionary journeys, the tender, eager, indomitable “prisoner of the Lord,” and no other. No other that has even been suggested is more than the mere shadow of a name, and no two writers have as yet seriously agreed even as to the shadow. The pertinent series of questions with which Godet (Intro to New Testament; Studies on the Epistles, 305) concludes his remarks on the genuineness may well be repeated: “What use was it to explain at length in the 2nd century a change in a plan of the journey, which, supposing it was real, had interest only for those whom the promised visit of the apostle personally concerned? When the author speaks of five hundred persons who had seen the risen Christ, of whom the most part were still alive at the time when he was writing, is he telling his readers a mere story that would resemble a bad joke? What was the use of discussing at length and giving detailed rules on the exercise of the glossolalia at a time when that gift no longer existed, so to say, in the church? Why make the apostle say: 'We who shall be alive (at the moment of the Parousia)' at a time when everyone knew that he was long dead? In fine, what church would have received without opposition into its archives, as an epistle of the apostle, half a century after his death, a letter unknown till then, and filled with reproaches most severe and humiliating to it?”
3. Consent of Criticism
One is not surprised, therefore, that even the radical criticism of the 19th century cordially accepted the Corinthian epistles and their companions in the great group. The men who founded that criticism were under no conceivable constraint in such a conclusion, save the constraint of obvious and incontrovertible fact. The Tübingen school, which doubted or denied the authenticity of all the rest of the epistles, frankly acknowledged the genuineness of these. This also became the general verdict of the “critical” school which followed that of Tübingen, and which, in many branches, has included the names of the leading German scholars to this day. F.C. Baur's language (Paul, I, 246) was: “There has never been the slightest suspicion of unauthenticity cast on these four epistles, and they bear so incontestably the character of Pauline originality, that there is no conceivable ground for the assertion of critical doubts in their case.” Renan (St. Paul, Introduction, V) was equally emphatic: “They are incontestable, and uncontested.”
4. Ultra-Radical Attack (Dutch School)
Reference, however, must be made to the ultra-radical attack which has gathered some adherents, especially among Dutch scholars, during the last 25 years. As early as 1792 Evanson, a retired English clergyman, rejected Rome on the ground that, according to Acts, no church existed in Rome in Paul's day. Bruno Bauer (1850-51-52) made a more sweeping attack, relegating the whole of the four principal epistles to the close of the 2nd century. His views received little attention, until, in 1886 onward, they were taken up and extended by a series of writers in Holland, Pierson and Naber, and Loman, followed rapidly by Steck of Bern, Volter of Amsterdam, and above all by Van Manen of Leyden. According to these writers, with slight modifications of view among themselves, it is very doubtful if Paul or Christ ever really existed; if they did, legend has long since made itself master of their personalities, and in every case what borders on the supernatural is to be taken as the criterion of the legendary. The epistles were written in the 1st quarter of the 2nd century, and as Paul, so far as he was known, was believed to be a reformer of anti-Judaic sympathies, he was chosen as the patron of the movement, and the writings were published in his name. The aim of the whole series was to further the interests of a supposed circle of clever and elevated men, who, partly imbued with Hebrew ideals, and partly with the speculations of Greek and Alexandrian philosophy, desired the spread of a universalistic Christianity and true Gnosis. For this end they perceived it necessary that Jewish legalism should be neutralized, and that the narrow national element should be expelled from the Messianic idea. Hence, the epistles The principles on which the main contentions of the critics are based may be reduced to two:
- (1) that there are relations in the epistles so difficult to understand that, since we cannot properly understand them, the epistles are not trustworthy; and
- (2) that the religious and ecclesiastical development is so great that not merely 20 or 30 years, but 70 or 80 more, are required, if we are to be able rationally to conceive it: to accept the situation at an earlier date is simply to accept what cannot possibly have been.
It is manifest that on such principles it is possible to establish what one will, and that any historical literature might be proved untrustworthy, and reshaped according to the subjective idiosyncrasies of the critic. The underlying theory of intellectual development is too rigid, and is quite oblivious of the shocks it receives from actual facts, by the advent in history from time to time of powerful, compelling, and creative personalities, who rather mould their age than are moulded by it. None have poured greater ridicule on this “pseudo-Kritik” than the representatives of the advanced school in Germany whom it rather expected to carry with it, and against whom it complains bitterly that they do not take it seriously. On the whole the vagaries of the Dutch school have rather confirmed than shaken belief in these epistles; and one may freely accept Ramsay's view (HDB, I, 484) as expressing the modern mind regarding them, namely, that they are “the unimpeached and unassailable nucleus of admitted Pauline writings.” (Reference to the following will give a sufficiently adequate idea of the Dutch criticism and the replies that have been made to it: Van Manen, EB, article “Paul,” and Expository Times, IX, 205, 257, 314; Knowling, Witness of the Epistles; Clemen, Einheitlichkeit der p. B.; Sanday and Headlam, Romans, ICC; Godet, Jülicher and Zahn, in their Introductions; Schmiedel and Lipsius in the Hand-Commentar.)
II. Text of 1 and 2 Corinthians
Integrity of 1 Corinthians
The text of both epistles comes to us in the most ancient VSS, the Syriac (Peshito), the Old Latin, and the Egyptian all of which were in very early use, undoubtedly by the 3rd century. It is complete in the great Greek uncials: Codex Sinaiticus (original scribe) and a later scribe, 4th century), Codex Vaticanus (B, 4th century), Codex Alexandrinus (A, 5th century, minus two verses, 2 Corinthians 4:13; 2 Corinthians 12:7), and very nearly complete in Codex Ephraemi (C, 5th century), and in the Greek-Latin Claromontanus (D, 6th century); as well as in numerous cursives. In both cases the original has been well preserved, and no exegetical difficulties of high importance are presented. (Reference should be made to the Introduction in Sanday and Headlam's Romans, ICC (1896), where section 7 gives valuable information concerning the text, not only of Roman, but of the Pauline epistles generally; also to the recent edition (Oxford, 1910), New Testament Graecae, by Souter, where the various readings of the text used in the Revised Version (British and American) (1881) are conveniently exhibited.) On the whole the text of 1 Cor flows on consistently, only at times, in a characteristic fashion, winding back upon itself, and few serious criticisms are made on its unity, although the case is different in this respect with its companion epistle Some writers, on insufficient grounds, believe that 1 Corinthians contains relics of a previous epistle (compare 1 Corinthians 5:9), e.g. in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24; 9:1-10:22; 15:1-55. III. Paul's Previous Relations with Corinth
1. Corinth in 55 AD
When, in the course of his 2nd missionary journey, Paul left Athens (Acts 18:1), he sailed westward to Cenchrea, and entered Corinth “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3). He was doubtless alone, although Silas and Timothy afterward joined him (Acts 18:5; 2 Corinthians 1:19). The ancient city of Corinth had been utterly laid in ruins when Rome subjugated Greece in the middle of the 2nd century BC. But in the year 46 bc Caesar had caused it to be rebuilt and colonized in the Roman manner, and during the century that had elapsed it had prospered and grown enormously. Its population at this time has been estimated at between 600,000 and 700,000, by far the larger portion of whom were slaves. Its magnificent harbors, Cenchrea and Lechaeum, opening to the commerce of East and West, were crowded with ships, and its streets with travelers and merchants from almost every country under heaven. Even in that old pagan world the reputation of the city was bad; it has been compared (Baring-Gould, Study of St. Paul, 241) to an amalgam of new-market, Chicago and Paris, and probably it contained the worst features of each. At night it was made hideous by the brawls and lewd songs of drunken revelry. In the daytime its markets and squares swarmed with Jewish peddlers, foreign traders, sailors, soldiers, athletes in training, boxers, wrestlers, charioteers, racing-men, betting-men, courtesans, slaves, idlers and parasites of every description. The corrupting worship of Aphrodite, with its hordes of hieródouloi, was dominant, and all over the Greek-Roman world, “to behave as a Corinthian” was a proverbial synonym for leading a low, shameless and immoral life. Very naturally such a polluted and idolatrous environment accounts for much that has to be recorded of the semi-pagan and imperfect life of many of the early converts.
2. Founding of the Church
Paul was himself the founder of the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:6, 1 Corinthians 3:10). Entering the city with anxiety, and yet with almost audacious hopefulness, he determined to know nothing among its people save Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Undoubtedly he was conscious that the mission of the Cross here approached its crisis. If it could abide here, it could abide anywhere. At first he confined himself to working quietly at his trade, and cultivating the friendship of Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2 f); then he opened his campaign in the synagogue where he persuaded both Jews and Greeks, and ultimately, when opposition became violent, carried it on in the house of Titus Justus, a proselyte. He made deep impressions, and gradually gathered round him a number who were received into the faith (Acts 18:7, Acts 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:14-16). The converts were drawn largely but not entirely from the lower or servile classes (1 Corinthians 1:26; 1 Corinthians 7:21); they included Crispus and Sosthenes, rulers of the synagogue, Gaius, and Stephanas with his household, “the firstfruits of Achaia” (1 Corinthians 16:15). He regarded himself joyfully as the father of this community (1 Corinthians 4:14, 1 Corinthians 4:15), every member of which seemed to him like his own child.
IV. Date of the Epistle
After a sojourn of eighteen months (Acts 18:11) in this fruitful field, Paul departed, most probably in the year 52 (compare Turner, article “Chron. New Testament,” HDB, I, 422ff), and, having visited Jerusalem and returned to Asia Minor (third journey), established himself for a period of between two and three years (trietía, Acts 20:31) in Ephesus (Acts 18:18 onward). It was during his stay there that his epistle was written, either in the spring (pre-Pentecost, 1 Corinthians 16:8) of the year in which he left, 55; or, if that does not give sufficient interval for a visit and a letter to Corinth, which there is considerable ground for believing intervened between 1 Cor and the departure from Ephesus, then in the spring of the preceding year, 54. This would give ample time for the conjectured events, and there is no insuperable reason against it. Pauline chronology is a subject by itself, but the suggested dates for the departure from Ephesus, and for the writing of 1 Corinthians, really fluctuate between the years 53 and 57. Harnack (Gesch. der altchrist. Litt., II; Die ChronZ., I) and McGiffert (Apos Age) adopt the earlier date; Ramsay (St. Paul the Traveler), 56; Lightfoot (Bib. Essays) and Zahn (Einl.), 57; Turner (ut supra), 55. Many regard 57 as too late, but Robertson (HDB, I, 485-86) still adheres to it.
V. Occasion of the Epistle
1. A Previous Letter
After Paul's departure from Corinth, events moved rapidly, and far from satisfactorily. He was quite cognizant of them. The distance from Ephesus was not great - about eight days' journey by sea - and in the constant coming and going between the cities news of what was transpiring must frequently have come to his ears. Members of the household of Chloe are distinctly mentioned (1 Corinthians 1:11) as having brought tidings of the contentions that prevailed, and there were no doubt other informants. Paul was so concerned by what he heard that he sent Timothy on a conciliatory mission with many commendations (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10 f), although the present epistle probably reached Corinth first. He had also felt impelled, in a letter (1 Corinthians 5:9) which is now lost, to send earnest warning against companying with the immoral. Moreover, Apollos, after excellent work in Corinth, had come to Ephesus, and was received as a brother by the apostle (1 Corinthians 3:5, 1 Corinthians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 16:12). Equally welcome was a deputation consisting of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus (1 Corinthians 16:17), from whom the fullest information could be gained, and who were the probable bearers of a letter from the church of Corinth itself (1 Corinthians 7:1), appealing for advice and direction on a number of points.
2. Letter from Corinth
This letter has not been preserved, but it was evidently the immediate occasion of our epistle, and its tenor is clearly indicated by the nature of the apostle's reply. (The letter, professing to be this letter to Paul, and its companion, professing to be Paul's own lost letter just referred to, which deal with Gnostic heresies, and were for long accepted by the Syrian and Armenian churches, are manifestly apocryphal. (Compare Stanley's Corinthians, Appendix; Harnack's Gesch. der altchrist. Litt., I, 37-39, and II, 506-8; Zahn, Einleitung., I, 183-249; Sanday, Encyclopedia Biblica, I, 906-7.) If there be any relic in existence of Paul's previous letter, it is possibly to be found in the passage 2 Cor 6:14 through 7:1; at all events that passage may be regarded as reminiscent of its style and message.) So that 1 Corinthians is no bow drawn at a venture. It treats of a fully understood, and, on the whole, of a most unhappy situation. The church had broken into factions, and was distracted by party cries. Some of its members were living openly immoral lives, and discipline was practically in abeyance. Others had quarrels over which they dragged one another into the heathen courts. Great differences of opinion had also arisen with regard to marriage and the social relations generally; with regard to banquets and the eating of food offered to idols; with regard to the behavior of women in the assemblies, to the Lord's Supper and the love-feasts, to the use and value of spiritual gifts, and with regard to the hope of the resurrection. The apostle was filled with grief and indignation, which the too complacent tone of the Corinthians only intensified. They discussed questions in a lofty, intellectual way, without seeming to perceive their real drift, or the life and spirit which lay imperiled at their heart. Resisting the impulse to visit them “with a rod” (1 Corinthians 4:21), the apostle wrote the present epistle, and dispatched it, if not by the hands of Stephanas and his comrades, most probably by the hands of Titus.
1. General Character
In its general character the epistle is a strenuous writing, masterly in its restraint in dealing with opposition, firm in its grasp of ethical and spiritual principles, and wise and faithful in their application. It is calm, full of reasoning, clear and balanced in judgment; very varied in its lights and shadows, in its kindness, its gravity, its irony. It moves with firm tread among the commonest themes, but also rises easily into the loftiest spheres of thought and vision, breaking again and again into passages of glowing and rhythmical eloquence. It rebukes error, exposes and condemns sin, solves doubts, upholds and encourages faith, and all in a spirit of the utmost tenderness and love, full of grace and truth. It is broad in its outlook, penetrating in its insight, unending in its interest and application.
2. Order and Division
It is also very orderly in its arrangement, so that it is not difficult to follow the writer as he advances from point to point. Weizsäcker (Apos Age, I, 324-25) suggestively distinguishes the matter into
- (1) subjects introduced by the letter from Corinth, and
- (2) those on which Paul had obtained information otherwise.
He includes three main topics in the first class: marriage, meat offered to idols and spiritual gifts (there is a fourth - the logia or collection, 1 Corinthians 16:1); six in the second class: the factions, the case of incest, the lawsuits, the free customs of the women, the abuse connected with the Supper and the denial of the resurrection. It is useful, however, to adhere to the sequence of the epistle In broadly outlining the subject-matter we may make a threefold division:
- (1) chapters 1 through 6;
- (2) chapters 7 through 10; and
- (3) chapter 11 through end.
(1) 1 Corinthians 1 Through 6
After salutation, in which he associates Sosthenes with himself, and thanksgiving for the grace given to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:1-9), Paul immediately begins (1 Corinthians 1:10-13) to refer to the internal divisions among them, and to the unworthy and misguided party cries that had arisen. (Many theories have been formed as to the exact significance of the so-called “Christus-party,” a party whose danger becomes more obvious in 2 Cor. Compare Meyer-Heinrici, Comm., 8th edition; Godet, Intro, 250ff; Stanley, Cor, 29-30; Farrar, Paul, chapter xxxi; Pfleiderer, Paulinism, II, 28-31; Weiss, Intro, I, 259-65; Weizsäcker, Apos Age, I, 325-33, and 354ff. Weizsäcker holds that the name indicates exclusive relation to an authority, while Baur and Pfleiderer argue that it was a party watchword (virtually Petrine) taken to bring out the apostolic inferiority of Paul. On the other hand a few scholars maintain that the name does not, strictly speaking, indicate a party at all but rather designates those who were disgusted at the display of all party spirit, and with whom Paul was in hearty sympathy. See McGiffert, Apos Age, 295-97.) After denouncing this petty partisanship, Paul offers an elaborate defense of his own ministry, declaring the power and wisdom of God in the gospel of the Cross (1:14 through 2:16), returning in chapter 3 to the spirit of faction, showing its absurdity and narrowness in face of the fullness of the Christian heritage in “all things” that belong to them as belonging to Christ; and once more defending his ministry in chapter 4, making a touching appeal to his readers as his “beloved children,” whom he had begotten through the gospel. In chapter 5 he deals with the case of a notorious offender, guilty of incest, whom they unworthily harbor in their midst, and in the name of Christ demands that they should expel him from the church, pointing out at the same time that it is against the countenancing of immorality within the church membership that he specially warns, and had previously warned in his former epistle Ch 6 deals with the shamefulness of Christian brethren haling one another to the heathen courts, and not rather seeking the settlement of their differences within themselves; reverting once more in the closing verses to the subject of unchastity, which irrepressibly haunts him as he thinks of them.
(2) 1 Corinthians 7 Through 10
In 1 Corinthians 7 he begins to reply to two of the matters on which the church had expressly consulted him in its ep., and which he usually induces by the phrase peri de, “now concerning.” The first of these bears (chapter 7) upon celibacy and marriage, including the case of “mixed” marriage. These questions he treats quite frankly, yet with delicacy and circumspection, always careful to distinguish between what he has received as the direct word of the Lord, and what he only delivers as his own opinion, the utterance of his own sanctified common-sense, yet to which the good spirit within him gives weight. The second matter on which advice was solicited, questions regarding eidōlóthuta, meats offered to idols, he discusses in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, recurring to it again in chapter 10 to end. The scruples and casuistries involved he handles with excellent wisdom, and lays down a rule for the Christian conscience of a far-reaching kind, happily expressed: “All things are lawful; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful; but not all things edify. Let no man seek his own, but each his neighbor's good” (1 Corinthians 10:23, 1 Corinthians 10:14). By lifting their differences into the purer atmosphere of love and duty, he causes them to dissolve away. Chapter 9 contains another notable defense of his apostleship, in which he asserts the principle that the Christian ministry has a claim for its support on those to whom it ministers, although in his own case he deliberately waived his right, that no challenge on such a matter should be possible among them. The earlier portion of chapter 10 contains a reference to Jewish idolatry and sacramental abuse, in order that the evils that resulted might point a moral, and act as a solemn warning to Christians in relation to their own rites.
(3) 1 Corinthians 11 Through 16
The third section deals with certain errors and defects that had crept into the inner life and observances of the church, also with further matters on which the Corinthians sought guidance, namely, spiritual gifts and the collection for the saints. 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 has regard to the deportment of women and their veiling in church, a matter which seems to have occasioned some difficulty, and which Paul deals with in a manner quite his own; passing thereafter to treat of graver and more disorderly affairs, gross abuses in the form of gluttony and drunkenness at the Lord's Supper, which leads him, after severe censure, to make his classic reference to that sacred ordinance (1 Corinthians 11:20 to end). Chapter 12 sets forth the diversity, yet true unity, of spiritual gifts, and the confusion and jealousy to which a false conception of them inevitably leads, obscuring that “most excellent way,” the love which transcends them all, which never faileth, the greatest of the Christian graces, whose praise he chants in language of surpassing beauty (1 Corinthians 13:1-13). He strives also, in the following chapter, to correct the disorder arising from the abuse of the gift of tongues, many desiring to speak at once, and many speaking only a vain babble which no one could understand, thinking themselves thereby highly gifted. It is not edifying: “I had rather,” he declares, “speak five words with my understanding, that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Corinthians 14:19). Thereafter follows the immortal chapter on the resurrection, which he had learned that some denied (1 Corinthians 15:12). He anchors the faith to the resurrection of Christ as historic fact, abundantly attested (1 Corinthians 12:3-8), shows how all-essential it is to the Christian hope (1 Corinthians 12:13-19), and then proceeds by reasoning and analogy to brush aside certain naturalistic objections to the great doctrine, “then they that are Christ's, at his coming” (1 Corinthians 12:23), when this mortal shall have put on immortality, and death be swallowed up in victory (verse 54). The closing chapter gives directions as to the collection for the saints in Jerusalem, on which his heart was deeply set, and in which he hoped the Corinthians would bear a worthy share. He promises to visit them, and even to tarry the winter with them. He then makes a series of tender personal references, and so brings the great epistle to a close.
VII. Distinguishing Features
It will be seen that there are passages in the epistle of great doctrinal and historical importance, especially with reference to the Person of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist and the Resurrection; also many that illuminate the nature of the religious meetings and services of the early church (compare particularly on these, Weizsäcker, Apos Age, II, 246ff). A lurid light is cast on many of the errors and evils that not unnaturally still clung to those who were just emerging from paganism, and much allowance has to be made for the Corinthian environment. The thoroughness with which the apostle pursues the difficulties raised into their relations and details, and the wide scope of matters which he subjects to Christian scrutiny and criterion, are also significant. Manifestly he regarded the gospel as come to fill, not a part, but the whole, of life; to supply principles that follow the believers to their homes, to the most secluded sanctum there, out again to the world, to the market-place, the place of amusement, of temptation, of service, of trial, of worship and prayer; and all in harmony with knowing nothing “save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” For Paul regards that not as a restriction, but as a large and expansive principle. He sets the cross on an eminence so high that its shadow covers the whole activities of human life.
1. Party Spirit
Three broad outstanding features of a practical kind may be recognized. The first is the earnest warning it conveys against a factious spirit as inimical to the Christian life. The Corinthians were imbued with the party spirit of Greek democracy, and were infected also by the sporting spirit of the great games that entered so largely into their existence. They transferred these things to the church. They listened to their teachers with itching ears, not as men who wished to learn, but as partisans who sought occasion either to applaud or to condemn. Paul recognizes that, though they are not dividing on deep things of the faith, they are giving way to “schisms” of a pettier and perhaps even more perilous kind, that appeal to the lowest elements in human nature, that cause scandal in the eyes of men and inflict grievous wounds on the Body of Christ. In combating this spirit he takes occasion to go below the surface, and to reveal the foundations of true Christian unity. That must simply be “in Christ.” And this is true even if the divergence should be on higher and graver things. Any unity in such a case, still possible to cherish, must be a unity in Christ. None can be unchurched who build on Him; none severed from the true and catholic faith, who confess with their lips and testify with their lives that He is Lord.
2. Christian Conscience
The epistle also renders a high ethical service in the rules it lays down for the guidance of the Christian conscience. In matters where the issue is clearly one of the great imperatives, the conflict need never be protracted. An earnest man will see his way. But beyond these, or not easily reducible to them, there are many matters that cause perplexity and doubt. Questions arise regarding things that do not seem to be wrong in themselves, yet whose abuse or the offense they give to others, may well cause debate. Meat offered to idols, and then brought to table, was a stumbling-block to many Corinthian Christians. They said: “If we eat, it is consenting to idolatry; we dare not partake.” But there were some who rose to a higher level. They perceived that this was a groundless scruple, for an idol is nothing at all, and the meat is not affected by the superstition. Accordingly, their higher and more rational view gave them liberty and left their conscience free. But was this really all that they had to consider? Some say: “Certainly”; and Paul acknowledges that this is undoubtedly the law of individual freedom. But it is not the final answer. There has not entered into it a consideration of the mind of Christ. Christian liberty must be willing to subject itself to the law of love. Granted that a neighbor is often short-sighted and over-scrupulous, and that it would be good neither for him nor for others to suffer him to become a moral dictator; yet we are not quite relieved. The brother may be weak, but the very claim of his weakness may be strong. We may not ride over his scruples roughshod. To do so would be to put ourselves wrong even more seriously. And if the matter is one that is manifestly fraught with peril to him, conscience may be roused to say, as the apostle says: “Wherefore, if meat maketh my brother to stumble, I will eat no flesh for evermore.”
3. Power of the Cross
A third notable feature of the epistle is its exaltation of the cross of Christ as the power and wisdom of God unto salvation. It was the force that began to move and unsettle, to lift and change from its base, the life of that old heathen world. It was neither Paul, nor Apollos, nor Cephas who accomplished that colossal task, but the preaching of the crucified Christ. The Christianity of Corinth and of Europe began with the gospel of Calvary and the open tomb. It can never with impunity draw away from these central facts. The river broadens and deepens as it flows, but it is never possible for it to sever itself from the living fountain from which it springs.
The following writers will be found most important and helpful:
1. On Matters of Introduction (Both Epistles)
Holtzmann, Weiss, Hausrath, Harnack, Pfleiderer, Godet, Weizsäcker, Jülicher, Zahn, Salmon, Knowling, McGiffert, J. H. Kennedy, Ramsay, Sabatier, Farrar, Dobschütz, Robertson (Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes)), Sanday (Encyclopaedia Biblica), Plummer (DB), Ropes (Encyclopedia Brittanica, 11th edition). 2. Commentaries and Lectures (on 1 Corinthians or Both)
Meyer-Heinrici, Godet, T. C. Edwards, Hodge, Beet, Ellicott, Schmiedel (Hand-Comm.), Evans (Speakers' Commentary), Farrar (Pulpit Commentary), Lightfoot (chapters i through vii in Biblical Ess.), Lias (Cambridge Greek Testament), McFadyen, F. W. Robertson, Findlay (Expos. Greek Test.); and on 2 Corinthians alone: Klöpper, Waite (Speakers' Comm.), Denney (Expos. Bible), Bernard (Expos. Greek Test.).
3. Ancient Writers and Special Articles
For ancient writers and special articles, the list at close of Plummer's article in Smith, Dictionary of the Bible should be consulted.