Daily Devotion Text

May 29, 2017

1 Corinthians 1

By carmenhsu In 1 Corinthians, Devotion Text with Comments Off on 1 Corinthians 1
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A Study Through the Book of 1 Corinthian

The first word of 1 Corinthians states that Paul is its author. There is no good reason to doubt this. The theological concerns of the letter, the energy of its style, its vocabulary, and its historical connections with the other Pauline letters and Acts mark it as Pauline. The traditional title of the letter means that it is the first of two canonical letters by Paul to the Corinthians, not that it was Paul’s first letter to them (see 5:9).

Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from the city of Ephesus in the Roman province of Asia (16:8, 19) sometime before the final day of Pentecost (16:8; cf. Lev. 23:11, 15), and therefore in the spring. It is unclear whether this was the spring of A.D. 53, 54, or 55. He wrote, in any case, near the end of his three-year ministry in Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:5–9; cf. Acts 19:21–22).[1]

First Corinthians is the most difficult of the New Testament letters to summarize, because Paul deals in turn with no less than eleven different issues, sometimes in a length similar to some of his shorter letters (2 Thessalonians, Titus). Some items (on divisions and on wisdom, 1:10-4:21; on incest, 5:1-13; on litigation, 6:1-11; and on going to prostitutes, 6:12-20) are in direct response to reports from members of Chloe’s household (1:11, probably an Ephesian Christian whose servants have been in Corinth on business). This may very well be true of the head covering of women in 11:2-16 as well and is almost certainly true of the Lord’s Table correctives in 11:17-34.

The rest is in response to the Corinthians’ letter to him mentioned in 7:1, where he starts by taking up the question of sex and marriage (7:1-24). At 7:25 the formula “Now about [virgins]” occurs, repeated in 8:1 (“Now about food sacrificed to idols”); 12:1 (“Now about spiritual gifts”); 16:1 (“Now about the collection”); and 16:12 (“Now about our brother Apollos”). Most of these are in direct response to behavior that is being embraced by some or most of the believers in Corinth; in each case Paul is correcting them, not informing them about things they do not yet know (notice how often he prods them with “Don’t you know…” where the implication is that they do in fact know; see 3:16; 5:6; 6:2, 3, 9, 15, 16, 19; 9:13, 24). The only issue raised that is not behavioral is the bodily resurrection of believers in chapter 15, and here Paul specifically says that “some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead” (v. 12).

There is a degree of logic to the overall arrangement. He begins with matters reported to him (1:10-6:20), starting with the basic issue of divisions—within the community itself, but primarily over against Paul—before picking up other forms of breakdown in community relationships (incest, litigation, prostitution). Beginning at 7:1, he takes up issues from their letter, very likely in the order they occur. But when he comes to a couple of matters dealing with worship (attending idol feasts and the abuse of tongues), he inserts two other matters of worship that he has information about (head coverings and abuse of the Lord’s Table). He puts the issue of the resurrection at the end of his response to Spirit giftings, because it probably reflects the false theology (or spirituality) that is responsible for the Corinthians’ attitudes on most of the other issues as well. He concludes with more practical matters in chapter 16.[2]

[1] ESV: Study Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2008. 2187.

[2] Fee, Gordon D, and Douglas K. Stuart. How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2002. 324-325.


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