The First Epistle to the Corinthians

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Context

Corinth was a cosmopolitan city situated in the narrowest part of Greece. It had harbours on both the east coast (Cenchrea, modern Kechries) and the west coast (Lechaion) [12 p.231–2], 4½ miles apart, and slaves pulled boats from one sea to the other on rollers. It was full of international traders and sailors, attracted by lucrative trade. It was also famous for prostitutes who offered opportunities of all kinds, to the extent that the city's name was used as slang for fornication.[1 p.2]

It appears from the letter that Paul had visited Corinth, as possibly had Apollos and Cephas. He then wrote a letter to the Corinthians which is now lost, and some travellers had passed between Corinth and Paul giving each news of the other.[2 p.23] He was not pleased at what he heard, and was prompted to write another letter which we now know as 1 Corinthians because it is the earliest of these letters that has survived.

It seems that nobody in the church in Corinth at this early date regulated the gatherings (11:33) nor took collections (16:2)[2 p.24]; it was a weakly led assembly of diverse people, with little Jewish influence.[1 p.3–4] The prevailing culture adopted the Greek view that spiritual things are eternal and important, but physical things are temporary and unimportant.[1 p.11] They valued spiritual ideas while accepting prostitution.

Author

Commentators do not dispute that St Paul wrote this letter[2 p.10], though he may not have written it all at once since it is a long document and he was probably busy. If it was composed piecemeal, perhaps at Ephesus, some inconsistency is not surprising[2 p.15] as well as a haphazard structure.

Bishop Hugh Montefiore saw in 1 Corinthians allusions to Hebrews (which was possibly written by Apollos who became a colleague of Paul) implying that both Paul and the Corinthians had already seen Hebrews. Paul wanted to help them interpret it, while being careful not to criticize its author.[2 p.9–10] Paul had founded the Corinthian church, but they were arrogant and critical of his instructions (1 Corinthians 4:3). Apollos's eloquence, which Paul lacked, resonated with their Greek thinking about divine wisdom.[1 p.6,8] Paul's policy of earning his missionary living by tent-making, rather than relying on charity, made him seem an ordinary person who had no right to tell them what to do (1 Corinthians 9:3f).[1 p.9]

The letters to the Corinthians are the only ones where Paul makes rules for holy living, such as dressing modestly; elsewhere the Holy Spirit could lead the converts to use their freedom to grow into living that pleased God. These rules are not in the form of rules for all time, but rather Christian principles applied to their specific situation (as shown, for example, by 1 Corinthians 7:26).

The letter uses terminology untypical of Paul, which he probably adopted in reply to questions from Corinth[1 p.106]. The entire letter from 7:1 onwards appears to be Paul's response to a letter from Corinth, dealing with their questions in turn (7:1, 7:25, 8:1, 8:2, 12:1, 16:1, 16:12).

Date

The chapter 1 Corinthians 8, responding to a question from Corinth, allows Christians to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols (as some meat had been, before it appeared in the shops, in those days[2 p.240]) provided their faith was strong enough to avoid them worshipping idols in so doing. This question and answer would not make sense if the exchange took place after James-the-Just's ruling of Acts 15:29. James was martyred in 61CE, so the events of Acts 15 must have taken place earlier, and 1 Corinthians must have been written earlier still. Barrett calculates that Paul arrived in Corinth about March 50CE and stayed until about September 51CE, moved to Ephesus (Acts 18:18), and wrote the epistle in late 53 or early 54CE[2 p.5]; Fee puts these events a year later[1 p.4]. Thus the letter was written twenty years after Jesus's death, resurrection and ascension at Jerusalem, when many eye-witnesses to those events were still alive. The lack of any comment about Jewish visitors trying to add customs such as circumcision to Christianity confirms an early date.[1 p.6] Fee reckons that 1 and 2 Thessalonians are still earlier, because their greetings sections are less adapted from the secular style to a Christian context.[1 p.28]

Structure

Themes appear and disappear unpredictably; therefore no one passage represents Paul's last word on a subject. In the background Paul is constantly trying to demonstrate authority over the Corinthian church.

Chapter

  1. Christianity is about sanctification (1:2) based on God's strength (1:8) revealed in weakness (1:22).
  2. Godly humility reveals God's power...
  3. ...but human frailty promotes itself; it is shown in jealousy, quarrelling (3:3) and craftiness (3:19)...
  4. ...so God's people should be humble, trustworthy, not judgemental, and hard-working.
  5. We should strive to live out the sanctity we are called to.
  6. We should be slow to judge fellow-Christians (4:5), but there are limits to what can be tolerated in the Christian community (5:12–13). This should not be decided in public courts; Christianity's reputation and God's glory are marred by public disunity.
  7. We should avoid temptation as a key strategy for achieving the sanctity to which we are called...
  8. ...and to avoid being distracted from God.
  9. Evangelists are worthy of respect and support, but too humble and dedicated to demand it.
  10. But above all we should fear God, whose holiness is devastating to sinners.
  11. Our behaviour in public worship should be particularly pure.
  12. Being united in Christ we should value and honour not only elders but also lesser members.
  13. We should follow Christ's example of pure, unselfish love...
  14. ...through careful application to everyday life...
  15. ...encouraged by our sure reward.
  16. Closing thoughts.

Commentary

1:1

To counter the Corinthian rebellion against his authority, Paul begins by stating his vocation. It appears that Sosthenes joins in the greeting but not the composition of the letter, unlike 1 & 2 Thessalonians.[1 p.30] In Acts 18:17 a Sosthenes who was chief ruler of the synagogue in Corinth was blamed for mishandling Paul's "heresy" against Judaism; perhaps he was sympathetic to Christianity.

1:2

In other letters Paul greets the leaders of the church; perhaps there were none here. Instead he says they are all sanctified, as he prepares to challenge their immoral behaviour. The phrase "call upon" implies that early Christian prayed to the risen Jesus.[2 p.33]

1:3

By wishing the letter's recipients grace and peace Paul combines the Greek and Jewish styles of greeting [2 p.34], avoiding being partisan. Jesus is co-regent with God, the source of all authority in the church.

1:4

Paul follows secular custom by adding a thanksgiving after the opening greetings.

1:5

By emphasising the spiritual wealth that the Corinthian church had received, Paul prepares the way for a call for them to be generous towards the poor. He gives thanks for the wealth that seemed important to them; his own priorities are different as shown by chapter 13 [2 p.36]. He makes it clear that the source of this this wealth and their spiritual gifts is God, leaving no place for boasting[1 p.38].

1:7

Perhaps Paul emphasises that they need nothing more so that they do not go chasing after Gnostic or similar ideas; verses 18f seem to confirm this, but see also comment on chapter 7 below. The problems in the Corinthian church are not the result of any lack of generosity on God's part.

1:8–9

Paul adapts the phrase "the day of the Lord" (e.g. Joel 1:15, referring to the time of the Last Judgment) to refer to Jesus. That day should hold no fear for Christians [2 p.39].

The corollary of this verse is that if we try to live without drawing on God's strength we will fall into sin.

1:10–13

The greetings and encouragements being complete, Paul takes the Corinthians to task for partisan attitudes, which he has discovered via people employed or related to Chloe about whom nothing is known. Perhaps Christians in a diverse population thought diverse religious allegiances normal; but the tribal slogans in verse 12 are a far cry from the creeds that declare our unity. Rather than attacking these leaders, Paul emphasises that they are united in their service of Christ, making divisions in their names inappropriate. See comment on 16:12.

The sudden mention of baptism in the midst of an argument about tribalism raises the possibility that the Corinthian Christians were claiming loyalty to those who had converted and baptised them [1 p.63]. However, we have no evidence for Cephas visiting Corinth yet he is mentioned, while Apollos did visit Corinth according to Acts 19:1 (though it is not clear when the letter was written relative to his visit) but is not mentioned.

1:14–16

Recognising that by baptising some at Corinth he could have created special relationships and allegiances, Paul emphasises that he only baptised a few. Crispus may be the chief ruler of the synagogue in Corinth converted in Acts 18:8. Gaius may be the host of Paul and the church meetings in Corinth mentioned in Romans 16:23; it is believed that Paul wrote the letter to the Romans while staying in Gaius's house in Corinth.[1 p.62] Stephanus is mentioned again in 16:15–16, from which we learn that Stephanus was visiting Paul. It is possible therefore that when Paul dictated this verse the presence of Stephanus in the room reminded them that Paul had baptised Stephanus.

1:17–21

Paul's mission was to preach and found churches, and others could baptise and pastor the flock, cf. Ephesians 4:11. He believed that preaching the cross and relying on God's Holy Spirit to convince the hearers was a different and higher calling than oratory that relies on human eloquence (perhaps acknowledging the oratory of the author of Hebrews[2 p.9]). The Corinthians' rebellion against Paul's authority echoes the rebellion against God's command in the Garden of Eden; God's final victory involves destroying that rebellion, cf. Isaiah 19:12. The Corinthians' confidence in their own wisdom was an impediment to the Gospel, leading them to question not only Paul bet even God himself [1 p.72].

Verse 21 means that foolishness lies not in the delivery but the message itself[1 p.73]. Paul alleges that Greek wisdom failed to lead people to God; this contradicts Greek and Gnostic claims that their philosophy does lead one closer to God.[2 p.53–55]

1:22

This verse subtly sets the theme for the next chapter or so: Paul is addressing people who judged ideas in Greek and gnostic terms, looking for erudition. Paul devotes an entire section of the letter to explaining why his teaching is not like that. Today we might speak not of foolishness but of mystery.

1:23–25

The message of the cross is counter-cultural to both Jews and Greeks. Jesus's death on the cross as Messiah is a stumbling-block to the Jews, because the Messiah ought to be blessed but someone dying on a cross is cursed according to Deuteronomy 21:22–23. Fee suggests "fried ice" as a phrase that seems as absurd as "Christ crucified" to a Jew [1 p.75]. Jesus's death on the cross seems like utter defeat, so proclaiming it as victory seems nonsensical to gentiles. Perhaps mystery is fundamental to the defeat of evil; the forces of evil cooperated in Jesus's sacrifice, not realising how God would use it against them.

Behind this section lies an important truth, unsaid: the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross is central to the Christian Gospel; an uncomfortable truth, but not one that we can avoid.

1:26–28

God chose weakness and apparent folly, of which the Corinthian Christians are examples, to show his power; cf. Matthew 21:42.

1:29

Nobody should be proud before God, because (a) they were called by God, not the other way around; (b) the spread of the Gospel is not evidence of human skill in explaining it but the work of the Holy Spirit [1 p.94], and (c) nobody has the right to question the wisdom of the way God has decided to save us.[1 p.68]

1:30–31

In Christ is a phrase used frequently in the Epistles, where its meaning is related to the idea of a man's "seed" (offspring) in the Old Testament. Both speak of a godly inheritance. Hebrews 7:9 speaks of the Jews as having all come through the Exodus with Moses, because people then believed that in a man's body were the seeds of all his unborn children for all generations, so in a sense they were indeed there in the wilderness. The Jews of subsequent generations inherited the benefits of the Exodus as surely as if they had made the journey personally. They all needed that salvation, because looking back further they were all "in Adam" at the Fall (1 Corinthians 15:22). The New Testament term "in Christ" makes a similar claim for Christian salvation, except that the inheritance does not depend on biological inheritance but our adoption through faith as sons and daughters of God.

The reference to wisdom in this verse sounds like proclaiming Jesus as the personification or fulfilment of Sophia, the Greek concept of wisdom, but this is not correct.[1 p.68, 85f] As Job discovered, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Job 28:28).

Verse 31 paraphrases Jeremiah 9:23–24 LXX.[2 p.61]

2:1–5

In looking for human wisdom and oratory the Corinthians were clinging to the values of their culture. We should ask ourselves whether we fall into a comparable trap.

If Paul had convinced the Corinthians by human skill, their faith would rest on him and not God [2 p.66], and then they would be justified in saying "I follow Paul" as in 1:12.

Verse 3: the reference to weakness may indicate a physical defect [1 p.93], perhaps the "thorn in the flesh" mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:7.

2:6–13

Having said that God's wisdom is different from human wisdom, Paul now presents it as something to aspire to, using similar language to the claims of Gnosticism. Unfortunately this language has led some to seek from the Holy Spirit "deep secrets" or a "second blessing" version of Christianity, and those who think they have found it look down on other Christians [1 p.102, 120]. But verse 10 tells us that it is the Holy Spirit who searches the deep secrets of God; the best we can do is allow him to lead us.

The activity of the Holy Spirit within a person is revealed in their response to the Gospel, cf. John 3:18. The message that Jesus died on the cross to save us is a simple one; the Corinthians looked for deep truths to wrestle with mentally, but actually the task is to accept this simple fact. People with keen minds struggle to take something on trust, but that is what faith demands. God does not allow the intelligent or rich to have any advantage in getting to heaven, hence Matthew 13:13–14 which quotes Isaiah 6:9.

Verse 6: some commentators think the "princes" are demonic powers, but then verse 8 reminds us of the earthly powers who crucified Jesus. Perhaps the dichotomy is false, because earthly events were thought to be controlled by supernatural beings [2 p.72].

Verse 9: the source of the quotation is unclear[2 p.72].

2:14–16

The Corinthians apparently considered themselves spiritual, but Paul has now redefined the word to mean someone whose thoughts and judgments are guided by God; this theme is developed in chapter 12.

Verse 16 echoes Isaiah 40:13 LXX. These verses mention the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, but this letter was written too early for such ideas to be fully developed.[2 p.78]

3:1–4

This section should be read in conjunction with the definition he has just given in 1 Corinthians 2:14f for the term spiritual. Apparently Paul regards their mistaken concept of spirituality as the cause of their divisions (1:11f) and he now returns to that theme. In verse 3 he accuses them of not behaving spiritually at all.[1 p.123] Unfortunately his analogy of spiritual children who are not yet ready for solid food might lead them to seek deeper things — precisely the opposite of the point he made in 2:6–13. They need to seek deeper love and humility rather than deeper knowledge.

These verses imply an answer to the Corinthians' criticism that Paul's teaching lacked depth: he knows deeper wisdom, but judges them not ready to hear it. The situation is one of chicken-and-egg: the Corinthians want to hear deeper wisdom so that they may mature, while Paul wants them to mature in order to be ready to hear deeper things.

Verse 1: In Christ: see comment on 1:30.

3:5–8

The point of this section is to help the Corinthians to relate appropriately to those who teach and minister [1 p.128]. He implies that they are sent by God to tend his people, and so deserve some respect; but they are mere servants, and not to be idolised [2 p.84]. Their different approaches arise from the different tasks assigned to them by God. He makes this point by reference to Apollos only, as a colleague; his relationship with Cephas is more complicated (see Acts 15), and comparison with Christ is unthinkable [2 p.82].

Paul adopts gardening as a metaphor for Christian ministry. The minister looks for potential for fruiting and beauty, and then considers what conditions of light, water, pruning etc. are needed for the potential to be achieved; but if the crop does not mature, the minister is not necessarily to blame.

Verse 8: ministers should not regard the church as theirs; it is God's [1 p.135]. Workers are rewarded by the Lord for their work, but the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1–16) shows that the reward relates to quality of the work and not its quantity or results.

3:9–17

The metaphor changes from agriculture to construction as Paul challenges the Corinthians to reconsider what they are doing to their church. See Revelation 21:14 for precious stones making a good foundation (a metaphor for precious work; actually diamonds burn well) and 1 Peter 2:5–6 for our invitation to be part of this. Unfortunately we still try to bring secular wisdom into the church, and focus our Christianity on denominations and allegiances rather than Christ[1 p.155].

Verse 11: In Matthew 16:18 (which was yet to be written, but the saying might have circulated orally) Jesus said that Peter was the rock on which the church would be founded, but this must not divert Christians from focussing on Jesus.[2 p.87]

Verse 12f: the hay etc. may be a reference to errors that the Corinthians are introducing, spoiling the excellent foundation of the apostles.[1 p.138] The fire refers to the final judgment when what is unfit will be removed leaving what will survive to eternity.[1 p.142]

Verse 15: Paul foresaw a reward that we can earn in addition to salvation. Escaping through fire does not imply purgatory, but presents a vivid image of someone escaping from a burning building but having to leave their possessions behind [1 p.144].

Verse 16: a temple is a meeting-place between humanity and God. The temple is singular, meaning the church, rather than individual Christians.[2 p.90]

3:18–23

True wisdom recognises our qualities as gifts from God, the source of all wisdom, and who understands everything. Among his gifts God gives ministers to serve the church, commissioned by Christ, who was in turn commissioned by the Father (John 10:21).

4:1–5

Having established that Christians should accept God's unworldly wisdom and acknowledge that they are God's servants, Paul applies it first to himself. As he does so, he implicitly rebukes the Corinthians for judging him (cf. Matthew 7:1): as Christians they should respect Christ's servants (cf. Mark 12), rather than judge them. All human judgments will be superseded by God's Final Judgment, which will present many surprises (Matthew 19:30).

In verse 3 he anticipates the potential criticism that he is "blowing his own trumpet" which invalidates his argument; so he claims not to judge himself [1 p.161].

His argument does not deal with the Corinthians' duty to judge the credentials of those who claim to be God's servants (Matthew 7:15–16). But they should judge him not against worldly criteria such as rhetoric and physical appearance, but his effectiveness in serving God's interests [1 p.160]. And (verse 5) how can they assess the fruit of his work before it has reached maturity? [1 p.163]

The theme of judging is developed further in 5:12–13 and Chapter 6.

4:6

Paul summarises his argument so far. The various metaphors have been illustrations of the relationships between the Corinthians and the apostles, and between a Christian and God. There is no room for pride in either case.[2 p.107]

4:7

Paul goes on to ask the Corinthians whether they regard themselves as special in some way, in that they take it upon themselves to sit in judgment on everyone else. And yet, everything they know about Christianity and every personal quality is a gift of God, not earned, and so not a matter for boasting. Their behaviour is like that of Adam and Eve who questioned God's command regarding the forbidden fruit[1 p.170].

4:8

This verse is dripping in sarcasm.

4:9–13

Paul makes a sharp contrast between the way the Corinthians seem to regard themselves and the reality of his ministry. The commitment that he demonstrated might prompt us to review the commitment we demonstrate. The use of the word "spectacle" is a reminder that in those days Christians were sometimes martyred publicly in the arena for the entertainment of the crowd. All Christians are called to follow Christ's self-sacrifice, probably by costly service rather than death[1 p.165–6]. In Christ: see comment on 1:30.

4:14–21

Paul argues that his sufferings demonstrate his commitment to the churches, and by implication the importance of his message to them. Consequently they should pay attention to his words and follow his example [1 p.186]. In Christ: see comment on 1:30.

5:1–2

The letter now focusses on a specific issue in which the Corinthians are not following Paul's teaching and example. Paul preached the end of the law and new freedom in Christ (e.g. Galatians 5:1). It seems the Corinthians took this freedom to unexpected extremes, ignoring the other side of the coin (Galatians 5:13). The woman might not be the man's mother, because his father might have had several wives, but ancient morality such as Leviticus 18:8 forbids it just the same [1 p.200]. She was probably not a Christian, because Paul's condemnation is aimed at the man only [1 p.201].

The fact that the church apparently allowed this situation to continue and become widely known implies weak leadership, or perhaps the Corinthians' arrogance in the face of leadership[1 p.195], so Paul threatens to come in person, to instil discipline (4:21).

The Corinthians' reaction to this situation could imply a still deeper problem: they were not allowing the Holy Spirit to guide them away from secular morality towards godliness[1 p.203].

5:3–5

Paul is making a judgment, acting as Jesus's personal representative who has power to pass judgment and determine a sentence. The exact meaning of that sentence is unclear to us, though Paul expects the Corinthians to agree to it in the context of a meeting, as in verse 13 [2 p.124,133], and it may be that Paul expects God to act decisively (cf. Matthew 18:18). Calvin thought the man would be excluded from the church, having to return to the culture in which Satan reigns, in the hope that he would eventually be saved[2 p.126].

5:6–8

The remainder of this chapter is about the church's response to the immorality in their midst. The text implies that they not only accept it, but celebrate it.

Paul is concerned that impurity might spread through the church like yeast through a lump of dough. The Jews ate bread made without yeast at Passover, when sacrificial lambs were killed. Though it originated from necessity (Exodus 12:34, 39) the idea grew up that yeast symbolized spiritual impurity. Paul urges the Corinthians to celebrate a metaphorical passover featuring Jesus's sacrifice with ethical purity, as befits God's children.

This passage shows that though the teaching in the New Testament epistles is largely contextual, it calls Christians to be different from their cultural context.[1 p.219]

5:9–13

Paul wants the Corinthians to be in the world, but not worldly, like a light shining in the darkness. In this context, he is using the word "world" to mean everything outside the church, as if that meant everything that does not acknowledge Jesus's kingship. The question in verse 12 about whether they judge those within the church is often taken to be rhetorical, but need not be so given their uncritical acceptance of immoral behaviour in their midst. And yet they apparently sit in judgment over Paul!

Verse 11: in a culture where wine was the staple drink, drunkenness was regarded as normal, and was only looked down on when it led to other sins. Perhaps Paul refers to habitual or notorious drunken behaviour.[1 p.225]

Verse 13 quotes Deuteronomy 17:7, and it is clear from the context there that the excommunication must be done by the whole assembly [2 p.133].

The themes of judging and separation are developed further in the next chapter.

5:12–13

See comment on 4:1–5. There is tension between Paul's instructions here and Jesus's advice in Matthew 7:1.

6

Paul now develops the theme of judging, which arose in 4:5 and 5:12–13. Christians should be able to settle disputes without going to secular courts (1–6) and there should be no cause for lawsuits between them anyway (7f) [2 p.135]. Thus both the one who defrauded a fellow-Christian and the victim who went to law are at fault [1 p.229].

6:1

Paul does not mean that secular courts are biased, but that the judges there are not justified by Christ[2 p.135].

6:2

Verse 2 quotes Daniel 7:22 LXX, and cf. Revelation 20:4.

6:6

Concern about the reputation of the Gospel appears also in Titus 2:5.

6:7–11

These verses are not addressed to "you" singular, that is, the individual plaintiff or defendant, but to "you" plural; the whole church is tainted by its acceptance of the actions of these people [1 p.239]. By going to court to get justice they are not following the example of Jesus who suffered for us without defending himself [1 p.241].

Would we "rather be defrauded"? Compare the lawsuit between believers in Corinth with the Christians having all things in common in Acts 2:44.

6:9–10

cf. Proverbs 6:16–19, Revelation 21:8. These verses take up again the theme of 5:9–13 and echo Psalm 101:7–8. Though we are saved, if we act immorally then our union with Christ is damaged, like a marriage damaged by unfaithfulness (verse 16). The meaning of some of the behaviours in this list is unclear [1 p.244].

Paul warns us to be careful not to miss out (9:15–10:12, Colossians 1:23). Though "none can pluck us from his hand" we can nevertheless fall away and be lost [1 p.239] and 9:15–27 implies that any Christian can lose their salvation. We cannot rest on our laurels and say "once saved, always saved"; see Romans 11:21, 1 Thessalonians 3:5, Hebrews 3:12, Hebrews 5:4–6, 2 Peter 2:21 and 2 Peter 3:17. In 10:1–6 he argues that the Exodus should act as a warning to us in this respect.

6:11

The mention of washing should remind the Corinthian Christians of their baptism.

6:12

"All things are lawful to me" appears to be a Corinthian slogan which interpreted Paul's teaching about Christian freedom in the light of Greek ideas that the body is temporary but the soul is eternal [1 p.251].

Romans 2:17 indicates that when Paul speaks of "the law" he means the Law of Moses. Not being "under the law" (1 Corinthians 9:20) does not mean that all actions are equally good. Though we are no longer under the law, we should be suspicious of any logic that appears to justify breaking the law. Jesus said he no longer calls us servants but friends (John 15:15). The change is not in what we do, but why we do it. Jesus also said that he had not come to abolish the Law (Matthew 5:17), so God's will has not changed, but now we should be able to understand why it is so. We obey not out of blind obedience but because we love the Father, we understand his reasoning, and we know his objectives (e.g. Isaiah 61, Micah 6). This idea is repeated in 1 Corinthians 10:23.

Also, Christians should be free (Galatians 5:1) so anything that tends to enslave us is contrary to the Gospel. The Corinthians seemed enslaved to their desires. In Romans 8:5–7 Paul enlarges this idea, saying that anything worldly that restricts a Christian is opposed to the lordship (to which we yield voluntarily, not by force) of God over that Christian. Everything must eventually accept God's lordship (Ephesians 1:10).

6:13

Paul has the difficult task of making a consistent argument that covers the variety of situations that arise in everyday Corinth. How can he allow the eating of meat that had been sacrificed to idols (Chapter 8), while forbidding visits to prostitutes (verse 16)?

He apparently sees food as a tool for building up one's body, and the stomach as a tool for receiving it, while the body is a tool for doing God's will. The present physical universe is destined by God for destruction, which means that its destiny has nothing in common with that of Christians. By letting our physical urges lead to indecency we divert ourselves away from doing God's will. Our minds are meant to control our bodies, not the other way round.

6:14

Christians are destined for resurrection with Christ, who after his resurrection showed a curious mixture of spiritual and physical capabilities; he seemed to be able to appear and disappear at will, or perhaps to walk through doors and walls (Luke 24:36), yet he could also be touched (John 20:27) and could eat food (Luke 24:43). In all these respects he showed freedom from the limitations of our earthly existence, reinforcing that our destiny is freedom (verse 12 again).

6:15

The idea of unity with Christ fits in with being baptized into Christ (verse 3). By speaking of bodily resurrection, Paul is arguing against Greek ideas of a temporary body and a permanent soul.

6:16

"One flesh" quotes Genesis 2:24, which pre-dates the Law of Moses, so the Corinthians, being "not under the law", should heed it. Jesus quoted the same verse in Matthew 19:5 and Paul used it in Ephesians 5:31. C S Lewis[11] said "one flesh" means "a single organism" and compared the concept with a violin and bow representing one instrument, or a key and a lock, neither of which is complete without the other.

By implication, Paul is teaching that the Hebrew scriptures still offer valid ethical guidance, otherwise he would not base his arguments on them. Presumably he could have appealed to the Greek philosophers if he thought that appropriate, but he d21:20 01/12/2018id not do so. Matthew 5:17 supports this approach, though we do not know whether this teaching had reached the Corinthians.

6:17

The text invites a comparison between sexual union and our union with Christ. Such an analogy (if that is what it is) may mean that Christians should regard themselves as married to Christ.

6:18

Paul is convinced that fornication damages the participants, perhaps because this unity is then pulled apart again and again until we are torn and scarred. And the Corinthians seem to need to hear this said in very straightforward terms.

6:19

cf. Matthew 21:12. Paul seems to be using a pagan concept of a place where a god dwells, which is therefore sacred, and not available for anything unseemly. There must have been many such temples in Corinth at the time. There seems to be a parallel between Paul's teaching here and Jesus's in Mark 2:21 which emphasizes that Godly and worldly practices do not fit together.

6:20

Paul regards a Christian as God's possession, having been purchased by Christ. This possibly draws on the concept of a slave market, which would be familiar to his readers, equating the payment to a duty to adopt the objectives and standards of the new master. In particular, a Christian should glorify God by what they do. He does not spell it out in full here, but the idea seems to be the same as in 1 Corinthians 6:7 which implies that not only does submission to a secular court mean that non-Christians are given authority over the lives of Christians (verse 12's theme of freedom again) but also the need for outside help in settling disputes implies that Christianity is powerless to give its followers peace (promised in 1 Corinthians 7:15, and see also Matthew 5:9) or even everyday wisdom.

7

A recurring theme in this book is "be content"; perhaps Paul regarded Corinth as a grasping society. One who was called to Christ as a slave, or single, or married, etc., should not think that Christianity demands any change in their state. Paul says that to be free is better than slavery, and that it is best to choose celibacy, but not all have the "gift" of celibate freedom. See Deuteronomy 24:1, Matthew 19:7, Mark 10:4.

7:1

The second half of this verse appears to quote the letter from Corinth [2 p.154]. Greek ideas that physical things such as our bodies are temporary led some to asceticism which frustrated their spouses, while others, possibly the affected spouses, argued that it allowed extra-marital relations.[1 p.274]

7:2

Paul qualifies their slogan[2 p.159], refusing to promote asceticism as an end in itself... [1 p.276]

7:3–11

...especially in the context of a marriage, recognising human weakness. This reference to symmetrical conjugal rights would be regarded as radical stuff at the time.

7:5

This verse unexpectedly uses the language of fraud, as did 6:8, suggesting that in Paul's mind there is a connection between the court case and the sexual immorality.[1 p.281] Paul apparently saw marriage as a contract, which is consistent with the parallels in the marriage service between marriage and the covenant between Christians and God.

7:8

The word "unmarried" probably arises from the lack of the word "widower" in ancient Greek.[1 p.281] This is not a divine command via Paul to celibacy, as 1 Corinthians 7:25 says.

7:9

"Burn" may refer to consuming passion rather than the fires of hell.[1 p.289]

7:10

cf. Mark 10:9; since this letter predates the Gospels, the strict teaching against divorce here, which Paul claims comes from Jesus, supports Mark's strict account as opposed to Matthew's more lenient one in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. [2 p.162]

7:12–16

All marriages should be honoured, but those uniting a believer with an unbeliever are bound to involve an element of strain. It is hard devote oneself to God while united with somebody who does not.

Verse 16 makes it clear that verse 14 cannot mean that the unbelieving partner is saved by virtue of being married to a believer; it must mean that the union is sanctified (perhaps refuting a Corinthian idea that a mixed marriage and the children of it were polluted[1 p.300]), and (verse 16) while the couple remain together, there remains hope that the unbelieving partner will be converted [2 p.164].

7:17–40

Paul now generalises his thoughts. Christianity does not demand that the single should marry, or vice-versa; or that the uncircumcised should be circumcised, or vice versa; or that the slave should be freed, or vice versa. This advice was partly based on the belief (verse 29) that these things were all temporary because the end of the world was imminent (Matthew 24:34). But he does not address more recent concerns such as remarriage after divorce [1 p.306].

In verse 36 "his virgin" may cover the case of an engaged couple[2 p.184], and is an exception to his advice in verse 27 that the unmarried would do well not to marry. Verse 39 shows that "levirate marriage" does not apply to Christians[2 p.186].

8:1

The puzzling reference to knowledge may quote a Corinthian question concerning meat, probably raised in the lost letter. In those days most meat was sacrificed to idols before it appeared in the shops, and Jews refused it because it broke their laws on idolatry, payment of tithes, and the way the animal was killed. This puzzled the Corinthians because it conflicted with the Gnostic's belief that knowledge (gnosis) allowed one to rise above such details.[2 p.188]

8:2–5

Gnostics regarded themselves as superior to other mortals by virtue of their knowledge. But Christianity is open to all, even those of low intellect. We admit that God is beyond the understanding of anyone; all are equal before him. Christianity is not about knowledge but love[1 p.363] (verses 1 & 3, and chapter 13).

8:6

Paul takes a Jewish statement about God and inserts a new clause about Jesus, which many see as a clear statement that he thought Jesus was God. The phrase "one God and one Lord" occurs in many of the Epistles, not only those written by Paul, so it seems to have been the usual way of declaring belief in Jesus's divinity before the concept of the Holy Trinity was developed.

8:7–13

Paul urges loving pragmatism: you are free (Jesus declared all foods clean in Mark 7:18–19) but consider the effect of your freedom on others. See also Romans chapter 14. Paul allowed Christians who were secure in their faith to eat food sacrificed to idols, and (verse 10) could even imagine them doing so in a pagan temple. The questions of eating in pagan temples and eating sacrificed meat at home need to be dealt with separately in chapter 10, but first in chapter 9 he asserts his authority to decide such matters.

Paul's liberal ruling here, repeated in 10:19 and 10:23–11:1, seems to be the start of a controversy. He was eventually over-ruled by the senior apostles as recorded in Acts 15:28–29, cf Revelation 2:14–20.

9:1–14

"Have I not seen the Lord?" indicates that Paul's encounter on the Damascus road was with Jesus (Acts 9:5) and his commission is as valid as that of the other apostles who experienced Jesus's earthly ministry, and the results of his ministry as tangible.[1 p.395] Those commissioned personally by the risen Jesus can preach his resurrection from their own experience — but did Barnabas fit this description [2 p.200,204]?

Verse 9: God cares about oxen, but in Matthew 10:31 Jesus valued humans above sparrows.

Paul spends 14 verses explaining why he deserves the Corinthians' support...

9:15–27

...followed by 13 verses explaining why he does not claim it (but see 16:4–8). The point is not that an apostle should be paid, but that apostles bend over backwards to avoid hindering the Gospel. Perhaps he wanted to show that salvation is God's free gift; in a similar way we are suspicious of evangelists who ask for our money.

Verses 19–22 recall that his behaviour in Corinth was inconsistent, and perhaps this chapter responds to a challenge that his example was not a clear one, and not fitting for an apostle.[1 p.393] He tries to explain his behaviour, not only to clarify his teaching, but also to confirm his authority.

9:24–25

Paul chose sporting analogies that his audience, living near the birthplace of the Olympic Games, would be able to understand.

9:27

Paul reckoned that not even he could look on his salvation as something already guaranteed — see comment on 6:9–10 above. This theme is developed in the next chapter.

10:1

Apparently some people at Corinth thought that the Christian sacraments protected them in a magical way from other influences, to the extent that they could continue to attend pagan worship without being defiled.[2 p.220] "Our fathers" indicates that the Corinthians read the Old Testament and could see the events in it as precursors to Christianity.[1 p.444]

10:2

The strange phrase "baptised into Moses" gives us some insight into what "baptised into Christ" might mean. The concept seems to involve exercising faith and endurance while following a leader and thereby becoming part of the people of God.

10:3–11

Paul uses passages from the Exodus (crossing the sea without drowning as a prototype baptism, and eating manna as a prototype eucharist) to show the danger in over-reliance on the sacraments.[1 p.442] The Hebrews were miraculously sustained by God, yet most perished (Numbers 14:22–23).[3] Verse 7 refers to Exodus 32:6 (where the people ate in the presence of a pagan idol, the Golden Calf[1 p.454]); verse 8 appears to refer to Numbers 25:1–9, but the details do not tally exactly; verse 9 refers to Numbers 21:6; verse 10 is less easily identified.[2 p.224f]

Zechariah 3:8 implies, and verses 6 and 11 affirm, that the Old Testament can be seen as a lived-out allegory of spiritual life. [1 p.452,458]

10:12–13

This warning comes with a promise: it is always possible to avoid falling, because God does not allow us to be tested beyond our strength. We are guaranteed a means of escape, but there is no guarantee that we will be sensible enough to take it. Escape might require inaction (if we are tempted to be too hasty) or action (to avoid a tempting environment such as the pagan temples in ancient Corinth). cf. Numbers 21:7, James 1:13.

10:14–22

The opening sentence "flee from idolatry" might allow visiting the pagan temple, and even eating there, while being careful not to think in terms of a pagan god being present; but verse 21 makes it clear that The Lord's Supper must replace, not supplement, pagan meals. Holy Communion must not be taken lightly, which is why mainstream churches require believers to achieve a degree of understanding before receiving it. "A sacrament not only points to God's grace; it is also a sign that grace is present".[4]

The text does not claim that the bread and wine are Jesus's body and blood; instead Paul draws a parallel with pagan temple meals where participants saw themselves as eating in the presence of their god [1 p.467], so verse 16 emphasises fellowship with Jesus.

Perhaps Paul mentions the wine before the bread so that he can develop the theme of the body.[2 p.233] Verse 17 is the only place in the New Testament where the bread is interpreted, and Paul focuses on the church as the body of Christ. When we share one loaf, we become "companions" in the literal sense; as well as fellowship with Jesus we have fellowship with each other, and we show that we belong in the mystical body of Christ.[1 p.469] This idea is developed in 11:17f.

In verses 20–21 Paul reaches a conclusion: the Corinthians were wrong in claiming that pagan gods are nothing, and that visiting their temples presented no danger. These gods are actually demons (Psalm 96:5), and Christians should have nothing to do with them.[1 p.471f]

10:23– 11:1

Paul now turns to the question of meat bought for in the market (verse 25 AV uses the old word "shambles" for a meat market) for consumption at home. Christians might have such meat in their own homes, or might be presented with it at a dinner party with pagans present. He starts by reiterating the principles in 1 Corinthians 6:12 but goes on in verse 24 to consider the effect on others, as well as on the individual. A Christian may eat anything (Luke 10:8) provided nobody is harmed by it.

Verse 28 might seem to imply that Paul is ruled by his host's beliefs, but verse 29 narrow this rule to say that he will refuse food if he is told that by eating it he would participate in his host's idol worship.

Verses 10:29–11:1 show that Paul faced criticism for his flexible approach, so he explains that he was consistently following his own principles, which he commends. See the comments on 8:7‐13.

11:2–16

Paul now turns to three ways in which the worship at Corinth is inappropriate: the dress of participants (11:1–16), the treatment of the poor (11:17–34), and speaking in tongues (chapters 12–14).[1 p.491] Verse 2 indicates that the Corinthians have preserved accurate teaching, but their practices leave much to be desired.

Paul's argument in verses 3–16 assumes that men and women should acknowledge their differences by dressing differently. The word "head" needs to be interpreted carefully: as well as the literal meaning, sometimes the New Testament uses it to mean authority and power, as many have assumed here, or a source, like the head of a river.[5 p.95] The text avoids saying that the man is the lord of the woman, implying that Paul refers instead to Eve being formed from Adam's rib (Genesis 2:22).[2 p.248] (Jews thought that all of humanity was in a real sense within Adam when he was formed sinless and when he became a sinner, as if all the individual sperm that would beget his descendants were within his body. In a parallel sense Christians are "in Christ" by adoption (Galatians 2:20). Man (Adam) is the source of woman (Eve) [1 p.503].

He infers from this in verse 7 that the glorious qualities of a woman reflect well on Adam; the potential for her glory was hidden in him (or should we say, in it; some Jews argued that Adam must have been a hermaphrodite before Eve was formed [2 p.248]).

Verse 3 looks even further back, regarding Jesus as the agent of God in creation (cf. Colossians 1:15) and thus the source of all life including Adam[2 p.248]. Verse 10 may refer to Genesis 6:1–4.

The remainder of Paul's argument is "notoriously obscure"[2 p.253] and one wonders whether the Corinthians understood its Jewish references. Verse 13 seems to treat covering the head in public as a social norm, though verse 14 implies that Paul thinks some deeper natural law is at work (the word hair is not in the Greek of verse 14.[1 p.506]) Perhaps a woman having her head uncovered in public had connotations associated with prostitution; we should beware using our freedom in ways that send the wrong signals to others, which would develop the theme of 10:23–11:1 [6 p.70].

Paul is not arguing against women participating in worship; verse 5 accepts that they do. Nor is he saying that men naturally have authority over women[1 p.503]. Drane[3 p.389f] discusses Paul's attitudes to race, gender, slavery etc., and the background of Gnosticism with a tendency to exploitation of men by women.

11:17–22

Paul continues to tackle disorder in worship at Corinth, now focussing on the Lord's Supper. In 10:17 he said that participating in one loaf made them one body; it follows that disunity here is inappropriate[1 p.531]. The reported disunity (verse 18) means that they have not understood, or acted on, what the Lord's Supper is about (verses 19–22). It seems from verse 19 that the shared loaf was in addition to each eating their own food. See comments on 10:14–22.

The Corinthians probably regarded the Lord's Supper like a cultic meal of fellowship with a god, conducted in a rich person's house rather than a temple. It was impractical for the whole church to eat in the dining room, so some had principal seats (the rich host and close friends?) and others (the poor?) making do outside in the courtyard.[1 p.533] Brown suggests that the Lord's Supper followed a full meal, but the social norms of the day made it awkward for slaves and masters to eat together, so only those of the host's social class were invited to the meal[1 p.68]. This denied their unity in Christ (Galatians 3:26–28) and failed to show Christian love. Paul does not prohibit the Lord's Supper taking the form of a "bring and share" meal; the problem is the lack of sharing3[1 p.541]

"I partly believe it" in verse 18 reminds us to be careful how we act on hearsay, because a report we hear may be biased or inaccurate.

11:23–25

This is reckoned to be the earliest written account of the Lord's Supper. The word translated "betrayed" means literally "handed over"; it must refer Judas's betrayal (not Pilate's sentence of death, because while that was happening Jesus had no opportunity to institute the Lord's Supper). "Received of the Lord" means received teaching about Jesus, rather than direct revelation[2 p.265].

These verses parallel Matthew 26:26–27, Mark 14:22–23, and Luke 22:17–19, which differ in details. The two parts differ: the body (verse 24) represents Jesus's "self" — a reminder that the New Covenant is based on self-sacrifice, while drinking a cup (verse 25) traditionally signified identifying with those who shared it with you, so accepting it means accepting the Covenant, and identifying ourselves with the whole church, right back to the Apostles. This difference makes the bread and wine together point to communion between the individual and Jesus, and the individual and other Christians.

Jesus saying "this is my body" about a loaf, which was then consumed by the disciples, means that he is longer visible, but present in his followers.

Verse 25 does not say the wine is Jesus's blood (drinking blood was a pagan practice, shunned by Jews[2 p.268]) but a connection is implied by verse 27. The reference to the cup "after supper" suggests that this was the 4th cup of the Passover meal; but Luke 22 mentions two cups.

Verse 26 mentions Jesus's return in triumph, which is relevant because the celebration will then transfer from the Lord's Supper to a heavenly banquet[2 p.272].

By mentioning the New Covenant, Jesus drew a distinction between this cup and the Old Covenant blood sacrifices which it superseded. The Lord's Supper is a new Passover Meal, celebrating a new freedom[2 p.267].

11:26–32

These verses could be read before communion as a warning. The Corinthians did not think about Jesus's death when they celebrated the Lord's Supper; their self-indulgence shows that they did not identify with Jesus sacrificing himself for others, nor with the fellowship of the shared loaf in 10:37 [1 p.564]. In fact, verse 27 identifies them with those who crucified Jesus[1 p.561] in that they are hurting Christ's body on earth, the church[1 p.564].

The connection with illnesses and death in verse 30 sounds implausible, but is comparable with the fate of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. It is not a matter of punishment of guilty individuals[1 p.565], but a sign of the injury suffered by the church as a whole.

11:33–34

Here we have the start of the mutation of the Lord's Supper from a communal meal to a regulated ritual. In order to avoid the abuses found at Corinth, the Lord's Supper must be separated from satisfying individual appetites. All Christians must be treated equally.

12

This chapter contains teaching to address the problem of spiritual immaturity mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3:1f. Taking the chapter as a whole it appears that some Corinthians were proud of their spiritual gifts[2 p.278] — and pride is a sin. Paul's argument also implies that Christians should not emulate or envy each other, but expect and value differences.

12:1–3

The opening words imply that Paul thought the Corinthians ignorant, probably in response to their claimed knowledge. Percussion instruments are a good analogy for speaking unintelligible words, because they are both determined by outside influence. People commonly imagine that they are quite free to determine their own fate, but actually neither pagans nor Christians are free from external influence. We reveal which influence we are responding to by our words and actions, cf. Matthew 7:16. Speaking in strange tongues raises the problem that being unintelligible it cannot be tested to check its source and soundness, unless a reliable interpretation is given, as called for in verses 28–30.

Verse 3 is noteworthy as one of the earliest signs that the three persons of the Trinity were recognised, though without our current theological framework[1 p.588]. There is tension between v.3 and Galatians 3:13 which depends on Deuteronomy 21:23. Jesus might be considered cursed from the time when his crucifixion became inevitable, but not when viewed from a cosmic perspective. Those who claimed otherwise might be false teachers, cf. 1 John 4:1.

12:4–7

cf. Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11–16, 1 Peter 4:10–11. Every Christian manifests the presence of the Holy Spirit (v.7) but it does not follow that every Christian receives spiritual gifts (v.8f); it depends on how you define them, which Paul does not do here, because his purpose is to show that diversity is right and proper [1 p.589–90].

12:8–10

There is another list of gifts (or roles) in this chapter at verse 28.

The Spirit's distribution of gifts (and hence roles) is dynamic, specific and purposeful, cf. Genesis 1:11–12. The fact that you were not equipped to fill a certain role last week does not mean that you are still unable to do it this week; conversely the gifts may not be permanent, but could be taken away when their moment has passed. Faith (verse 9) might enable someone to pray effectively for miracles (verse 10) [2 p.285]. Hughes[7 p.54] says that the list does not include evangelism, because these are gifts for building up God's people.

Paul mentions wisdom (v.8) as just one element of God's armoury, to place the Corinthians' search for it in context: it is not the only manifestation of the Spirit, and we should value wisdom that comes from God rather than people[1 p.591–2].

Faith (v.9): cf. 13:2.

12:11

The phrase concerning God distributing spiritual gifts as he pleases echoes the distribution of the tongues of fire at Pentecost (Acts 2:3).

12:12–27

Paul counters pride in the dramatic spiritual gifts by emphasising the equal value of invisible or undeveloped gifts. He uses a metaphor that was common in his day. Diversity is not the same as disunity; indeed, unity means little without it.[1 p.601–2] Verse 13 uses confusing metaphors; the Holy Spirit is both around and within the Christian.

12:28

This is a quick summary rather than a full list, as shown by the compression of speaking and interpreting tongues (verse 10) into one item. cf. Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12:8–10, Ephesians 4:11–16, 1 Peter 4:10–11. The order seems to be based on the sequence that leads to the founding of a church in a place such as Corinth, but it has the effect of giving Paul the apostle authority over the Corinthian prophets[1 p.711]. The list of gifts includes people (apostles and prophets) so these are not gifts to people, but gifts through people to the church. This idea seems to derive from what Jesus said in Luke 11:49. The role of the prophets is different from that of the Old Testament Judges. See also verse 31.

"Helping" may mean the work of a Deacon, cf. Acts 6.

12:29–30

No gift is found in every Christian. We may also infer that no Christian has every gift[2 p.296] (which might lead to boasting); nobody is good at everything. Consequently diversity is an essential attribute of a fully functional Christian community.

12:31

The fact that Paul tells us to desire the greater gifts implies that the Corinthians were seeking lower ones, perhaps tongues in particular, and considering those who did not speak in tongues as second class. It also implies that no Christian receives them all; we have different characters and different roles to fulfil.

Paul seems to value the gifts in the order given in verse 28, that is, being an Apostle or Prophet is highly honourable, and speaking in tongues is more inconsequential than being an administrator — see 1 Corinthians 14:26. It seems therefore that he is grading the gifts according to their usefulness to the church[1 p.616].

The Fruit of the Spirit differs from the Gifts of the Spirit. Fruit appears automatically wherever there is life and sufficient maturity, though it varies in quantity and ripeness. Gifts come in various kinds, all of which are undeserved, and can be rejected or neglected.

13:1–2

These verses rebuke a church that desired these things, but was not being loving — a rebuke delivered in love, one assumes! cf. Matthew 22:23–40. Augustine of Hippo said that the key to life is "Love God, and do what you like". If you love God you will not do things he hates, things that are wrong (see James). As a test, read 1 Corinthians 13 replacing "love" by "I".

The AV speaks of Charity throughout this chapter, suggesting that the original Greek speaks of Caritas; but actually Paul uses the word Agape, which is about fellow-feeling within a family or fellowship cf.John 13:35.

Loving our neighbour shows God's character more clearly than words can ever do. The things that are "nothing" are activities that a computer or robot may soon be able to do. Being fully human demands more. Paul knew what he was talking about: he had once been like that himself. Saul persecuted the church (Acts 8) before meeting the risen Jesus on the Damascus Road (Acts 9). As a pharisee, he persecuted those he considered ungodly. He was righteous in his own eyes, but failed to show the character of God.

13:3

cf. Mark 10:21; these things may be worthless without love, but valuable with it. "Boast" is more probably what Paul meant than "burn".[1 p.634–5]

13:5

The word often translated "rude" means "indecent" rather than "cheeky".

13:7

See comment on Matthew 18:22.

13:8–11

The time when prophecy will cease is when we know fully. This might be compared with the breaking of the seals on the scroll in Revelation 5:1–4; the seals hold back God's judgment until the time comes for the seals to be broken and the prophecies carried out. Prophecy is then no longer needed.

By comparing spiritual development with our phyhsical development, Paul conveys that the high ideals of this chapter are not acquired overnight, but over a many years.

13:12

Paul seems to be thinking of the view in a mirror, like the reflection in the side panel of a car, rather than seen through a bottle. Corinth made the best bronze mirrors in Paul's time, so the point is that even the best mirror falls short of seeing directly[1 p.648]. The Greek phrases imply a parallel with God's relationship with Moses in Numbers 12:8 [2 p.307].

13:13

The greatest is love because faith (belief in matters that cannot yet be proved) and hope (that the best is yet to come, in heaven) are irrelevant in heaven's eternity, while love remains because it is the nature of God, who needs no faith nor hope [2 p.311].

14:1–23

In Paul's mind, greatness equates to effective extension of God's kingdom. What is said in tongues in Christian assembly ought to be interpreted so that all may understand and benefit from it. It is surprising that he says nothing about judging the validity of what is said in tongues; perhaps he expects that this will follow when the message is understood, as in v.24 and 29 concerning prophecy.

There are signs in this chapter that unbelievers could be welcomed into church meetings.

14:14–20

Paul accepts that speaking in strange tongues is a valid form of prayer, but v.19 implies that its rightful place is private devotions rather than public worship[1 p.658] cf. the diverse languages in Acts 2:9 which led to understanding, a reversal of the curse following the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:7) where proliferation of languages led to confusion. Speaking in tongues builds up one person (v.4) while interpretation or prophecy builds up many, and so are better.

14:21

Paul alludes to Isaiah 28:11–12, where speech in a foreign tongue was ignored[1 p.680].

14:23

The worship in Corinth might become so spontaneous as to be chaotic[1 p.684] cf. v.33.

14:24–25

It appears that the Corinthians understand how to use prophecy in worship, so they ought to be able to understand how to use other gifts similarly.

14:26–33

These instructions might not be suitable for general application, because they address specific faults in the worship at Corinth. But the principle remains that what happens in worship should glorify God and edify his people. Ainsworth[8 p.69] says (in connection with services for children, though the principle can be applied more widely) that "instruction as to what one is doing is important to dispel thoughts of superstition or ideas of magic". Verse 28 implies that certain individuals were known to have the gift of interpretation, so if they were absent there should be no speaking in tongues.

14:34–35

A peculiar symbol appears beside this passage in the Greek Codex Vaticanus which some interpreters suggest means that it was not in the original text[10] and others draw similar conclusions for textual reasons, noting that the argument flows better without it, and that it contradicts 11:2–16 which says how a woman should speak in church[1 p.699f]. It seems inconceivable that Paul would describe how women should speak in church in chapter 11 only to ban it altogether in chapter 14.

Paul expected women to speak, but not improperly, perhaps citing Genesis 3:16 [2 p.330]. These verses can be seen as developing the theme of v.28 which tells those who speak in tongues to know when to speak and when to keep quiet. Green[5 p.95] suggests that the women, excluded from education by their culture, would tend to ask their husbands to explain things as the service progressed, causing a distraction; that is why Paul addresses this point specifically to wives rather than to women in general, and says they should ask their husbands when they get home. Gnosticism, which was popular, allowed women to exploit men[3 p.389f]. It is possible that when a man prophesied his wife might tell the church whether she thought it was divinely inspired or not, in a way that seemed improper[1 p.704]; a heated argument in church might follow[2 p.332].

14:36–40

The tone of v.36 indicates that the Corinthians were arrogant and dismissive of Paul's commands, or perhaps ignoring the orderly traditions of other congregations[2 p.333]; Paul responds by claiming the authority of the Lord[1 p.710]. Verse 40 sums up the chapter, indicating the end of a section of the argument.

15

Some in the Corinthian church denied the resurrection of the dead; Paul responds by arguing that without resurrection, Christianity is futile[2 p.335f]. The chapter comprises three sections: verses 1–11 remind the Corinthians that belief in Christ's resurrection unites all Christians, and was preached to them; verses 12–34 argue that Christ was raised from the dead, so others can be raised also; and verses 35–58 describe what will occur[1 p.714].

15:3

The phrase "Christ died for our sins" indicates substitutionary atonement, which is consistent with a Christian interpretation of Isaiah 53:4, though the Jews interpret it differently. Apparently Christians have interpreted Isaiah 53 as messianic from a very early date, suggesting that the idea comes from Jesus himself.[1 p.724]

15:4

Jesus promised that (a) he would be buried and rise on the third day (Matthew 16:21), and (b) he would give us eternal life (John 3:15). He demonstrated (a) so we believe (b).

It is not clear which scriptures Paul had in mind[2 p.338f] though Isaiah 53 may be one, and "the sign of Jonah" (Matthew 16:4) implies the third day (Jonah 1:17) [1 p.727–8].

15:5–7

The witnesses cited here all saw Jesus raised with a physical body, and a Christian is someone who believes their testimony[1 p.719]. No women are named in the list, implying that Paul aimed to show that the resurrection is a fact capable of being proved in a court of law (where women's testimony was at that time unacceptable) rather than a hypothesis. Cephas is listed first because he was known to the Corinthians[2 p.341] (1:12).

15:8–9

The words "born" and "least" might refer to puns or nicknames based on Paul's name, because Paulus means "little one". [1 p.733]

15:17

Paul (and others) preached that Christ died for our sins, and was raised (vv.3–4); if the preaching was erroneous, and there is no resurrection, there is also no atonement. [1 p.743]

15:18–22

In Christ: see comment on 1:30.

15:19

The hope of heaven is a key aspect of the Christian faith, but there are present benefits too; atonement of our sins (v.17) gives us reconciliation with God now. [1 p.745]

15:20–23

By comparing Christ with Adam, Paul indicates that he death and resurrection of Jesus have brought about a new order of things, the dawn of a new age. The age of Adam condemned us all to a brief mortal life; the age of Jesus offers eternal life. [1 p.750f]

15:24

is based on Psalm 110:1 and Psalm 8:6.

15:26

cf. Revelation 20:14. Resurrection is a feature of the new age of v.20–23, though resurrection will become unnecessary when death itself is defeated [1 p.756–7].

15:27–28

The reference is to Psalm 8:6. God will eventually emerge supreme over everything.

15:29

Apparently the dead were sometimes baptised during their funerals, if they had not already been baptised [2 p.363]. This practice is not known from any other source [1 p.772], but could arise if baptism was delayed until near death, for fear of falling away between being baptised and dying; if the person died unexpectedly, baptism during the funeral was the only remaining option. Alternatively Paul might mean, baptism of those who are on their death-beds, as good as dead [1 p.766]. But this was futile if there is no hope for the dead.

15:30–32

The phrase about eating and drinking echoes Isaiah 22:13 [2 p.366–7] as well as contemporary Greek moral teaching [1 p.772]. Hedonism is a logical approach to life if there is nothing to be gained by trying to please God. Paul's own behaviour demonstrated that he was willing to suffer now in order to obtain a better future.

The reference to wild animals should not be taken literally. Paul's Roman citizenship should have protected him from such a fate [1 p.771] and if not, someone condemned to be thrown to the lions or similar automatically lost their Roman citizenship, yet Paul was able to assert his citizenship at the end of his ministry in Acts 22:25.

15:33

This is said to be the only quotation from a non-scriptural source in all the genuine surviving writings of Paul: it is from a lost Greek comedy called "Thais" by Menander [2 p.367]. Paul urges the Corinthian Christians to reject those whose beliefs are sub-Christian.

15:34

The word translated "awake" actually means "sober up" and challenges the Corinthians to live in a way that makes a sharp contrast with the hedonism of verse 32 [1 p.774].

15:35–43

Perhaps the Corinthians ridiculed the idea of corpses being resurrected back to life [1 p.775]. By calling them ignorant fools, Paul attacks their claimed knowledge [2 p.368]. One should not imagine a re-animated rotting corpse, but a glorious new body that cannot rot [1 p.776].

15:44

Paul describes the resurrection body as a spiritual thing rather than a physical thing. We should not think that this idea belittles the resurrection; Jesus was apparently able to walk through walls or eat fish at will (Luke 24:36–43), in other words to relate to matter or not, so the resurrection body is greater than a purely physical one.

15:45–49

This seems to contradict teaching elsewhere that Jesus's resurrection body was physical; or does Paul imagine the spiritual as including the physical? The existence of the "second Adam" shows that there is a second chance with God. "Earth" or "dust": cf. Genesis 2:7. The idea of a "spiritual body" would seem like a contradiction in terms to Greeks, who were used to philosophers contrasting the physical with the spiritual [1 p.785–6].

15:50

Neither a living natural human nor the corpse of a dead person can gain heaven[2 p.379]. It is necessary to receive a new kind of body to go there[1 p.714].

15:51–52

This change happens when believers die (for which "sleep" is a euphemism) except for those still alive when Jesus returns[2 p.380] which Paul expected within the lifetime of his generation[2 p.381]. Mention of a mystery should pique the curiosity of the Corinthians, whose culture sought hidden knowledge.

15:53–54

cf. Isaiah 25:8, Revelation 20:14. Paul implies that the Corinthians cannot yet be mature spiritual beings, as they thought; that will not happen until they die, or Jesus returns [1 p.790–1, 801].

15:55

"Death has lost its sting" (cf. Hosea 13:14); we still die, but the experience is different.

15:56

cf. Genesis 3:24. Traditional Jewish logic held that God requires the law; so righteousness is keeping the law, and sin is deviating from the law. (This ignores the possibility that God requires different things of us, so that there are individual definitions of sin.) Perhaps Paul took the view that any other requirement from God is another law, so sin is always failure to keep some sort of law. Law makes abstract morality tangible.

15:58

The Corinthians should not be swayed by people who deny resurrection, but should retain their hope in their reward in heaven, and start living consistently with that hope; "for Paul correct theology always leads to proper behaviour" [1 p.797].

16:1–2

Paul is careful to make it clear that what he asks of the Corinthians is no different from what he asks of other churches.

The reference to the first day of the week may indicate that the routine of Christians gathering to worship on Sunday was already established [1 p.814].

"As God hath prospered him": the New Testament replaces the comfortable certainties of the Old Covenant with a flexible approach that demands that each individual considers their own response. The Old Covenant promised prosperity in "a land flowing with milk and honey", subject to fixed offerings and tithes, but the New Testament gives no such promise of wealth. St Paul "knew how to be abased" in Christian service, and how to abound (Philippians 4:12). Charles Wesley set himself an allowance of £68 per annum to live on, and gave away the rest, even when his income exceeded the allowance by a huge margin. These verses challenge every Christian to give according to their situation.

16:3

Paul wanted representatives of the Corinthian church to accompany their gift to Jerusalem; they could help keep it safe on the journey, and confirm afterwards that it arrived safely [1 p.815]. The matter of the gift is developed further in 2 Corinthians 8–9.

16:4–8

Comparison with other epistles indicates that Paul's travel plans, which verse 3 suggests were intended to provide an opportunity to take a gift to the poor in Jerusalem, did not work out as stated here [1 p.818].

Verse 6 invites support for his next journey; they heard the Gospel free of charge (see comment on 9:15–27), but should support his outreach to others.

16:9

When God shows us an open door (Acts 12:10, 2 Corinthians 2:12, Colossians 4:3, Revelation 3:7–8, Revelation 4:1) it is for going through; otherwise there is no reason for him to show it.

16:10–11

If Paul could not come in person, he might send a member of his team, but these verses suggest that he was concerned at the reception they might receive in Corinth[1 p.821].

16:12

It appears that Paul did not hold Apollos responsible for the partisan attitudes at Corinth (1:12) and saw no harm in him making another visit.

16:15–16

See comment on 1:14–16 where Stephanus is discussed. He seems to be a natural and faithful leader but his leadership was not fully accepted.

16:17

It is assumed that these three men had brought a letter from Corinth to Paul, and would return with his reply [1 p.827].

16:19

Priscilla (a variant of Prisca, as Sue is a variant of Susan)[12 p.228] and Aquila were Jews who Paul met in Corinth in Acts 18:2, after Claudius evicted all Jews from Rome. Apparently they had moved to Ephesus and hosted a church there while Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. She was commended to the church in Rome as a deacon and patron in Romans 16:1–2. They then hosted a church in Rome (Romans 16:3–5), possibly when the political situation there eased, and they finally appear in 2 Timothy 4:19. They seem to have been both wealthy and committed. [1 p.835] [2 p.395]

See also Appendix 1 People: Prisca.

16:24

In Christ: see comment on 1:30.

Abbreviations

AV: Authorized "King James" Version of the Bible

Cor.: Corinthians

CE: Year number in the Christian Era, equivalent to AD (Anno Domini)

cf.: Latin confer meaning compare

f: and following

LXX : Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew scriptures by 70 scholars from Hebrew to Greek. It was widely used in the Greek-speaking world of the New Testament.

SPCK: Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge

References:

  1. Fee, G D The First Epistle to the Corinthians Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987
  2. Barrett, C K A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians London: Black's New Testament Commentaries, 2nd edition 1971
  3. Drane, John Introducing the New Testament Oxford: Lion, 1986 & 1999
  4. Carr, W Handbook of Pastoral Studies London: SPCK, 1997
  5. Green, Michael Freed to Serve London: Word, 1983
  6. Kuhrt, Gordon An Introduction to Christian Ministry London: Church House, 2000
  7. Hughes, Selwyn Discovering your place in the Body of Christ London: Word, 1983
  8. Ainsworth-Smith, Ian and Speck, Peter Letting go — Caring for the dying and bereaved London: SPCK, 1982
  9. New Scientist 5 February 2005 p.34
  10. "Pauline text on women an addition, suggests scholar" Church Times 29 September 2017 p.10, referencing Dr Philip Barton Payne in www.cambridge.org/core/journals/new-testament-studies
  11. Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity (Glasgow: Fontana 1952 & London: Fount, 1977) p.93
  12. Paula Gooder Phoebe London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2018
  13. Brown, R An Introduction to the New Testament New York: Doubleday, 1997

© David Billin 2002–2019