Monday, June 8, 2020



            1 Corinthians provides the most detailed example within the Pauline corpus of the way in which Paul applied his theological convictions to the practical issues facing the church. 1 Corinthians 1:10 begins the body of Paul’s letter and introduces, which runs from 1 Corinthians 1:10 to 6:20. This section contains Paul’s responses to the issues which he has heard about from “Chloe’s people” (1 Cor 1:11) and from other oral reports (1 Cor 5:1; cf. 16:15–18). In this first major section Paul also attempts to clear up the Corinthians’ misunderstanding of his earlier correspondence (1 Cor 5:9, 11). Beginning with 1 Corinthians 7:1, Paul turns his attention to the issues concerning which the Corinthians have recently written to Paul for clarification of his views and their implications. Paul’s treatment of these matters constitutes the second major section of the letter, which extends to 1 Corinthians 16:12. 

Issue on Leadership

In the first place, Paul deals with the causes of and the solution to the dissension and rivalry that has developed between some of the Corinthians based on their loyalty to various Christian leaders, including Paul himself (1 Cor 1:10–12). According to S. J. Hafemann the root of the problem was the Corinthian addiction to the power, prestige and pride represented in the Hellenistic rhetorical tradition, with its emphasis on the glory of human wisdom and attainment and its corresponding flagrant and flamboyant lifestyle.[1] B. Witherington also points out that self-promotion ran through every level of society: ‘Self-promotion had become an art form … People … lived within an honour–shame orientation. Corinth was a magnet for the socially ambitious … status-hungry people.’[2]  It is this Hellenistic “wisdom of the word” (1 Cor 1:17, 20, 26; 2:1; 3:19) that Paul combats by calling attention to the contrary “wisdom” and “power” of God as manifested first in the cross of Christ (1 Cor 1:18–25), then in the calling of the Corinthians themselves (1 Cor 1:26–31), and finally in the intentional nature of Paul’s own ministry and apostolic way of life (1 Cor 2:1–5; 4:1–13).

Yet since “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor 1:18; cf. 2:14), only those whose hearts have been transformed by the work of the Spirit will be able to accept the true wisdom and power of God as revealed in the gospel (1 Cor 1:20–24; 2:6–16). Paul therefore warns the Corinthians that their boasting in themselves and in their various spiritual leaders is a dangerous sign that the Spirit is not prevailing in their lives, since they are acting like those who are still “natural” or “unspiritual” (1 Cor 2:14–3:4). Should such an attitude and its behaviour continue, they too will thus find themselves under the judgment of God, who will destroy the wisdom of this world and all those who work to destroy the church as the temple of the Spirit, built on the foundation of the cross of Christ (1 Cor 1:19–20; 3:10–23). The Corinthians must consequently repent of their boasting, recognize that everything they have is a gift, and follow in the pattern of their own apostle, whose life of weakness and suffering manifests both the power of the kingdom of God and the reality of the cross (1 Cor 1:31; 2:3–5; 4:6–13, 14–21).

 On one side Paul guards against too high a view of those who serve as apostles or ministers. He asks, ‘What is Apollos? What is Paul?’ and answers, ‘Servants, through whom you came to faith’ (3:5). It is God, not ministers, who gives life and growth to the church (3:6). On the other side Paul equally rejects too low a view of ministers. They provide conditions (‘planting and watering’) through which God chooses to give growth (3:6–9a). Theirs is a shared ministry: although each has a distinctive task, under God they are fellow-workers (v. 9a) and are ‘one’ (v. 8a). They ‘build up’ the Christian community together, and the Day of Judgment will disclose whether their work has been solid, or ‘fire-proof’ (3:12–15).

 Apostleship, too, points away from the apostle’s own person to that to which the apostle bears witness, namely the crucified and raised Lord Christ. E. A. Castelli has argued that Paul’s call to imitate him as a model (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1) functions as a bid for power.[3] However, a different view, from Chrysostom and Calvin to J. A. Crafton urges that apostleship points away from the agent to that to which he bears witness. ‘While an agent calls attention to himself, an agency gives itself wholly to the task … and therefore points all attention away from itself’.[4] The context of 11:1 confirms this. It is precisely concern for the other, not for the self, on which the mimeµsis of Paul and especially of Christ consists. 9:1–23 is not a ‘defense of apostleship’, but an integral part of the argument of 8:1–11:1 which calls believers to forgo their ‘rights’ for the sake of ‘the other’. Apostles need to be witnesses of the resurrection (15:3–11) because apostolicity points away from the self to witness to Christ as crucified and resurrected.

Issue on Exercising the Apostolic Authority

 Another issue in which Paul responds by exercising his own authority with the cooperation and consent of the Corinthian church. He disciplines the man who is living with his father’s wife with excommunication for the sake of his ultimate restoration (1 Cor 5:3–5). Paul then proceeds to make it clear that one’s new position in and worship of Christ demand a corresponding purity and separation, not from the world, but within the world (1 Cor 5:6–13), since “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9).[5]

Issue on Going to Secular Court

 In the midst of this discussion, Paul addresses the fact that the Corinthian are taking their disputes to the secular courts for arbitration. The issue of taking a fellow-believer to law most probably presupposes a social situation in which local civil magistrates could readily be influenced by networks of patronage, or the socially ‘strong’. Hence the ethical issue in 6:1–11 turns not on going to law as such, but more probably on manipulation on the part of the socially ‘strong’ to exploit more vulnerable fellow-believers.[6] Here too the Corinthians’ spirituality ought to equip them to express God’s wisdom, rather than allowing them to capitulate to the world, especially when they are being equipped as God’s people to share in God’s ultimate judgment of the world (1 Cor 6:1–6). And in the event that no settlement can be reached, those who are spiritual ought to be willing and able to suffer wrong unjustly for the sake of Christ (1 Cor 6:7–8).

Issue on Morality and Freedom 

In the 6th chapter Paul deals how to use Christian freedom in practical life. In 6:12 contains a quotation from Corinth: ‘I have the right to do anything – I am no longer under the law as a new creation.’ Paul does not deny the ‘freedom’ of the gospel outright, but he seriously qualifies and redefines what such freedom entails. It is precisely not ‘autonomy’, freedom to choose what I want to do. Paul first explains that indulgent freedom begins to exercise ‘rights over me.’ One clear limit-situation is that of a sexual relation with a prostitute. This is incompatible with the very union with Christ which allegedly provided the supposed ground for ‘freedom’ (6:16–17). There is no ‘autonomy’ for the purchased slave of Christ (6:20). Christ has the care of the believer’s conduct in the public domain: the believer is no longer his or her own master. Freedom is always to be qualified in the light of what promotes the gospel (9:19–23) and what serves the well-being of the other (8:2–13; 10:23–11:1; 13:1–13).

Issue on Marriage and Celibacy

In 1 Corinthians 7:1–40 Paul discusses the issue of marriage and celibacy. Here he is mindful of the tensions and anxieties caused by living in an evil age between the first and second comings of Christ (1 Cor 7:25–35), and of the God-given physical and emotional needs and desires of his people (1 Cor 7:1–5, 36–38). The basis of Paul’s instruction is once again the determinative role that the calling and gifting of God play in one’s life (cf. 1 Cor 7:15, 17–24 with 1:26–31). And here again, though Paul himself prefers being single as the way of life most suited to serving God (cf. 1 Cor 7:8, 32–34, 38), the goal is to live, whether married, widowed or single, in the kind of devotion to the Lord that corresponds to God’s work in one’s life and reflects God’s character (cf. 1 Cor 7:19–20, 35).

 Some Scholars relate chapter 7 to Stoic-Cynic views of what is ‘beneficial’ in a given context. A. C. Wire argues from a feminist perspective that Paul seeks to restrict the power and freedom of women by placing them in the private domain of the home.[7] This does not cohere well, however, with Paul’s acceptance of women’s role in proclamation or ‘prophecy’ (11:5). According to Witherington, here ‘Paul’s attempt to reform the patriarchal approach to marriage and singleness.’[8] While Rosner underlines the major point that in line with OT traditions Paul gives priority both to ‘contentment in one’s life-situation’ and to a positive view of the physical order as part of ‘the goodness of creation.’[9]

Issue on Eating Food Offered to the Idols

In 1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1 Paul confronts the problems that have arisen due to the fact that the more knowledgeable within the church are eating food which has been sacrificed in a pagan temple. These individuals have come to understand that idols do not actually exist (1 Cor 8:4–6). But their behaviour has become a stumbling block for those who do not yet share this understanding, defiling their weaker consciences and destroying their faith (1 Cor 8:7, 9, 11–12). The translation and meaning of Gk. syneideµsis remains controversial. Does it mean ‘conscience’ or ‘self-awareness? According to Gardner ‘those “weak in their conscience” were people who … felt insecure … Their weakness was not in moral decision-making [but] weakness in self-awareness.’[10] Paul considers such disregard for the disposition of others, based on one’s own rights and knowledge, to be a sin not only against them but against Christ himself. Those who truly know God and are known by him will employ their freedom and knowledge for the sake of building up others in their faith, even when this entails denying one’s own legitimate rights as a believer (1 Cor 8:1–3; 13). This is the “love that builds up,” rather than knowledge alone, which merely “makes one arrogant” (1 Cor 8:1).

 To support his point Paul illustrates this principle of love by pointing to his own decision to support himself financially while in Corinth (1 Cor 9:1–27). Although the Corinthians accepted Paul as an apostle (1 Cor 9:1–2), others criticized him for not exercising his legitimate apostolic right to financial support (1 Cor 9:3–14;) even when this meant much undue hardship and suffering on Paul’s part (cf. 1 Cor 4:11–13). Paul’s answer is that he has given up his rights as an apostle for the sake of the progress of the gospel and for the reward God has promised for such acts of love (1 Cor 9:15–18). Paul thus makes himself “a slave to all, that [he] might win the more” (1 Cor 9:19) even though he is free to do as it is appropriate in Christ. This is the training in love that all must engage in, who, like Paul, are called to persevere in self-control in order to pursue the prize of the gospel (1 Cor 9:23–27).

 In chapter ten Paul goes on to warn the Corinthians of what will happen if they too fail to persevere in love, and misuse their knowledge and experience as an excuse for continual immorality and evil (cf. 1 Cor 10:11–12). Like Israel in the wilderness, they will be destroyed (1 Cor 10:1–10). Indeed, God has provided a way of escape from overwhelming temptation, so that there is no excuse for not enduring in the love that is produced by genuine faith (1 Cor 10:13). As an example of this Paul gives theological parameters and practical advice for dealing with the temptation to partake of food offered to idols. This temptation was common among the Corinthians in general, for whom it was a common social practice to eat in the precincts of a pagan temple.[11] But Paul warns of the inherent spiritual dangers, arguing that even if an idol is “nothing,” those who partook of food offered to idols were partaking of the table of demons (1 Cor 10:14–30). Finally, Paul returns once again to his own apostolic lifestyle of not seeking his own advantage but living to please others for Christ’s sake (1 Cor 10:31–32). Here too this is an example for the Corinthians themselves, calling them once more to be “imitators” of him, as he is of Christ (1 Cor 11:1; cf. 4:16;).

Issue on the Lord Supper

        Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:17-32 was directed against wrong practices that developed in the Corinthian church. The basic problem appears to have arisen out of tensions in the church between the poor and the rich. Theissen points out that the richer members came early and ate and drank copiously before the arrival of the poorer members who would have brought much scantier fare with them.[12] This ideal picture of the Lord’s Supper was rather badly disfigured by the misdemeanours occurring in Corinth. This social scandal, according to Paul, made it impossible for a true Lord’s Supper to take place (11:20). Paul interprets such behaviour as a violation of the very essence of the institution of the Lord’s Supper (11:27). The intent of the salvatory Christ event—which is captured in the “for you” in the saying over the bread, and the notion of covenant in the saying over the cup—are thereby perverted. Here Paul develops the theological significance of the Supper on the basis of the tradition. He emphasizes that the “many” who share in the one loaf at the supper are “one body” in virtue of doing so. Paul sees that those who share in the blood and the body of Jesus are thereby brought into a unity with one another where social distinctions cannot be allowed to exist

Issue on ‘Head Covering’ in Worship

Another issue that Paul deals in this section is that the relationship between men and women in worship as expressed in the cultural practice of women wearing veils (1 Cor 11:2–16). Modern interpreters have often fastened on the single word head (Gk kephaleµ) and debated what Paul meant when he called the husband the wife’s “head.” Some scholars have argued that the term means “authority” or “boss”; the Hebrew for “head” (roµ<sû) could mean this, and occasionally kephaleµ means this in the Septuagint. Other scholars have disputed this meaning, noting that the translators usually bent over backward to avoid translating the Hebrew roµ<sû with the Greek term kephaleµ; kephaleµ does not normally mean “authority” or “boss” in Greek. These latter scholars often argue for the meaning “source,” which it does mean in some texts. Scholars favoring the “authority” meaning, however, respond that “source” is an even rarer meaning of kephaleµ in the Septuagint than “authority.” Both groups of scholars are undoubtedly right in what they affirm but may fall short in what they deny; the term sometimes means “source” and sometimes means “authority,” at least in “Jewish Greek” influenced by the rhythms of the Septuagint[13]

The question is what sense should be attributed to the term in 1 Corinthians 11:3? According to Keener Paul engages the issues with which his congregation is struggling, including gender issues from the culture. He also upholds the importance of the Christian family and church unity; further, while providing arguments for propriety of dress to keep the church unified, he seeks to persuade the woman who hears his letter read in the church to keep these arguments in mind without questioning her right to dress as she will (1 Cor 11:10), a far cry from stronger arguments elsewhere in the letter (1 Cor 4:18–5:5; 11:29–34). Perhaps most significant for our discussion, however, is what he omits: Paul nowhere in this text subordinates the woman, failing even to touch on that issue. While Aline Roselle’s research on the Roman world, reveals that in Roman society ‘one sees only the face’ of women. She further says that, who are ‘respectable’; that is, ‘A veil or hood constituted a warning: it signified that the wearer was a respectable woman’ who was not to be approached by men.[14]

Issue on Exercising Spiritual Gifts

Paul’s first reference to the Spirit of God in this epistle occurs in the context of a need for divine disclosure: ‘God revealed these things to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches out everything, even the depths of God’s own self’ (Gkta batheµ tou theou, 2:10). Paul takes pains to explain that this is no mere immanent spirit which animates the world in a Stoic sense, but ‘the Spirit who issues from God’ (Gk. to pneuma to ek tou theou, 2:12). The gift of the Spirit entails ceasing to live ‘on an entirely human level’ (2:14). Indeed the Corinthian self-congratulatory claim to be ‘people of the Spirit’ (3:1) is invalidated by their involvement in ‘jealousy and strife’ and ‘behaving like any merely human person’ (Gk. sarkikoi, 3:3). The Christian community is corporately the holy shrine of God among whom ‘the Spirit of God dwells’ (3:16). Similarly the Spirit indwells the individual ‘body’ i.e. our public, everyday life (6:19).

The opening of 12:1–14:40 on the agency of the Holy Spirit in prompting the confession ‘Jesus is Lord’ (12:3) is fundamental. The gifts of the Spirit serve diverse means for a single end: to make visible the lordship of Jesus Christ as crucified and raised, and to build up the whole community. Since all gifts come from the same Spirit, these should not manifest self-contradiction (in time or place), or serve mere self-affirmation. ‘Different apportioning of gifts “serve” the same Spirit … the same Lord … the same God’ (12:4–6). Paul clearly places these gifts in a ‘Trinitarian’ frame: they are not even to bring ‘the Spirit’ into prominence, but to serve God in Christ through the Spirit. The criterion of authenticity is the ‘common advantage’ (Gk. to sympheron), not of an elite group but of all believers (12:7). Hence gifts which relate to speech (prophetic speech, tongue-speaking) must constitute intelligible communicative events or else should be reserved for a context outside public worship (14:13–17). An unintelligible utterance in a tongue is addressed not to fellow-believers but to God (14:1; cf. Rom. 8:26). There is no evidence in 12:1–14:40 that Paul regarded speaking in tongues as a kind of coded message to the congregation. Presumably its ‘building’ or ‘common advantage’ when tongues were put into plain speech (14:13) consisted in their facilitating a depth of corporate praise or prayer prompted by a heart welling up with deep yearnings, passion or visionary insight.

 In a public context utterance must be articulated, i.e. involve mental reflection (14:14–21). Strange sounds put other believers in the position of feeling like outsiders rather than ‘at home’, as if tongues gave a sign of their status as unbelievers, like Israel exiled under judgment (14:22). By contrast prophetic speech may include straightforward proclamation or preaching. It can convict and convert the outsider (14:24–25), just as it can build up the believing community by comfort or exhortation, or encouragement (14:3–4).

Issue on Resurrection

Having begun by grounding his opening section in the cross of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 1:18–25), Paul now concludes his application of theological truths to practical problems by dealing in 1 Corinthians 15:1–58 with the surety and nature of the future resurrection in view of the resurrection of Christ. Paul first calls attention in 1 Corinthians 15:1–5 to the death and resurrection of Christ as the centre point of the gospel, which Paul had received as the common tradition of the church and then passed on to the Corinthians as the basis of their salvation. This is the earliest account we have of the contours of the early Christian message and its historical evidence. Paul then supplements this evidence with the recital of Christ’s further resurrection appearances. He concludes with his own experience of the resurrected Christ and its consequences for his life as the “least of the apostles” (1 Cor 15:9–11).

 In turning his attention to the Corinthians, Paul draws out a threefold significance from the fact of Christ’s resurrection. First, no one can conclude that there is no resurrection from the dead (1 Cor 15:12–19, 29–34). Second, Christ’s resurrection is the “first fruits” of what will happen to all “in Christ” at his second coming when God’s “final enemy” death is destroyed and all authorities are put back under subjection to the reign of God. Hence, contrary to the Corinthians’ belief that they were already experiencing the fullness of the resurrection age to come in their own current life of the Spirit (i.e., their “over-realized eschatology”), the final resurrection is by no means merely an experience of spiritual power and gifting in the present (1 Cor 15:20–28). Rather, it is a qualitatively different bodily existence which can only be gained through the granting of a new, resurrected and spiritual body (1 Cor 15:35–56). Third, believers now live “between” the two resurrections, Christ’s and their own. They live in the midst of an age which is still evil, but which can be endured and overcome by the sure confidence that Christ’s resurrection experience and victory over death as the “last Adam” will be shared by them because they are “in Christ” (1 Cor 15:42–54). The practical implication of this hope is that the believer is encouraged to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).

    In short, Paul's pastoral mind is visible in this letter through his exhortation that the believers to work for unity and the benefits of others but not for selfish gain. The letter as a whole, he emphasizes the importance of love in ministry and practical life.   


End Notes

[1] S.J. Hafemann, “Letter to Corinthians,” in Dictionary of Paul & his Letters, Edited by G.F.Hawthorne,  R.P.Martin, and Daniel.G.R, (England: Intervarsity Press, 1998),164.

[2] B.Witherington, Conflict and Community,(1995), cited by A. C. Thiselton, “Letter to the Corinthians” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Edited by A.T. Desmond and B. S. Rosner, (Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press, 2000), 298.

 [3] E. A. Castelli, Imitating Paul (1991) Cited by Thiselton, Op cit., 298.  

[4] J. A. Crafton, The Agency of the Apostle (1991), ibid, 299.

[5]Hafemann, Op. cit., 165.

[6] Thiselton, Op cit., 299.    

[7] A. C. Wire, The Corinthian Women Prophets,(1990), cited by  Thiselton, Op cit., 299.    

[8] Witherington, ibid,300.

[9] B. S. Rosner, Paul, Scripture and Ethics: A Study of 1 Cor. 5–7 (1994), ibid.,300.

[10]P. D. Gardner, The Gifts of God and the Authentication of a Christian, (1994), cited by Thiselton, Op cit.300.

[11] Hafemann, Op. cit, 166.

[12] Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982O), 91

[13] C. S. Keener, “Man and Women” in  Dictionary of Paul & his Letters, Edited by G.F.Hawthorne,  R.P.Martin, and Daniel.G.R, (England: Intervarsity Press, 1998),585-86.

[14] A. Rouselle, “Body politics in ancient Rome” (1992), cited by Thiselton, Op cit, 302.


Barrett, C.K. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.

Dunn, J D G. Theology of Apostle Paul. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.

Fitzmyer, J A. “Pauline Theology.” in NJBC. Edited by R E Brown. Bangalore: TPI, 2004.

Hafemann, S.J. “Letter to Corinthians.” in Dictionary of Paul & his Letter. Edited by G.F.Hawthorne.  R.P.Martin and Daniel.G.R. England: Intervarsity Press, 1998.

Keener, C.S. “Man and Women.” in  Dictionary of Paul & his Letters. Edited by G.F.Hawthorne. R.P.Martin and Daniel.G.R.England: Intervarsity Press, 1998.

--------. Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage & Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul. M.A: Hendrickson, 1992.

Marshall, I.M. “Lord Supper.” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Edited by G.F.Hawthorne. R.P.Martin. and Daniel.G.R. England: Intervarsity Press, 1998.

Meeks, W.A. The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul. New Haven: Yale Univ, 1983.

Theissen, G. The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982.

Thiselton, A.C. “Letter to the Corinthians.” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by A.T. Desmond and B. S. Rosner. Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press, 2000.


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