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1aCORINTHIANS: Written by Paul in early 53C.E. from Ephesus. This letter can be surnamed the "Gnostic" (hidden knowledge) one, because Paul invokes God's secret wisdom, the Spirit & hidden mysteries for understanding "Christ crucified" (for salvation).
After his arrival in the Asia Minor city, Paul realizes the Christian community of Corinth, which he founded during his stay there from late 50 to early 52, is divided and has partly rejected him.
Division among the Christians of Corinth:
During Paul's absence (from the spring of 52), some became followers of Apollos and of Cephas (Peter); others tried to integrate the "teaching" of the visitors, distancing themselves from the apostles/teachers: "I am of Christ".
1:10 ... Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?
He did baptize a few in his name, which apparently was objected.
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. 16 Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other.
The message of the cross:
The Corinthians were obviously having problems understanding it. Paul says it could not be grasped by human wisdom, but through the Spirit. That suggests Paul's explanation to the Corinthians (in the past) was not making (human) sense (anymore?).
17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest
the cross of Christ
should be made of no effect. 18 For
the message of the cross is foolishness
to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the
prudent." 20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through
did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of
the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of
God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For you see your calling, brethren, that
not many wise
according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame
the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. 30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from
["us" means 'inspired apostles', not eyewitnesses]
` and righteousness and sanctification and redemption; 31 that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the LORD."
2:1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God.
[and not the testimony of Jesus!]
` 2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
[a suggestion by Paul that he had not be telling it all, limiting his gospel to a few (crucial) elements]
` 3 I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 6 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.
[Here, "the rulers [Greek root 'archon'] of this age" have human wisdom. In 'Romans', "rulers" ('archon') are human authorities:
13:1b-7a "... the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, ... For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. ... For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, ..."]
` 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers ['archon'] of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
[allusion to an unspecified God's plan at work.
According to Paul, "this age" has only one godly entity "the god of this age" (2Co4:4), likely Satan (Ro16:20). Therefore, Paul thinks probably these "rulers" (plural) included humans, such as Pilate, representing the Roman emperor, and the chiefs priests, the highest Jewish authorities then. The next quote is (loosely) from Isaiah64:4, with significant alterations]
` 9 But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him."
Remarks: Paul mentions Jesus as "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God", hinting to the possibility of pre-existence. There is also a suggestion of a God's plan at work (2:8-9), but no explanation is given on it. And even if Jesus/Christ's crucifixion/cross is mentioned often, there is no allusion to a resurrection (likely because Cephas/Peter, who visited the community earlier, did not acknowledge it). Here, Paul's theology (and basis for it) appears to have been very minimalist. Furthermore, he attributed his initial success not to his (unpersuasive) words, but to the Spirit.
God's revelation through his Spirit:
The Spirit of God (through Paul and others) was the alleged teacher, but only to those who were spiritually inclined.
10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For "who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?" But we have the mind of Christ.
Remarks: the previous passage (1:10-16) appears, in part, to address the problems caused by Peter's visit to the Corinthians. In all likelihood, Peter had not seen a God's plan at work with Jesus' crucifixion. This is very much suggested by:
Mk8:31-33 "And He [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, "Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.""
Consequently, a very much restricted Paul admits that "Christ crucified" (and its implications) does not make human sense and requires the intervention of the Spirit of God for understanding. Then, Peter ("the natural man"? See note below) knew only Jesus, Paul and his spiritually-connected Christians know Christ!
Note: "Grk “natural person.” Cf. BDAG 1100 s.v. ψυχικός a, “an unspiritual pers., one who merely functions bodily, without being touched by the Spirit of God." NET Bible
Back to the division among the Christians
Obviously this is the main subject of the letter. It is also evident that many had flocked towards Apollos; and Paul is pleading to be considered at least on par with him. Also, Paul stresses the importance of his foundation (Jesus Christ), but has to admit that (mainly) Apollos and others (possibly local "prophets": see 1Th5:19-21, 1Co11:4-5, 12:7-8, 14:1,29-32,37) have been building on it, with various degrees of approval.
3:1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal [mortal, mere men]. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not carnal? 5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Remarks: Paul insists that his foundation is Jesus Christ and the only valid one. Other "foundations" available might have been John the Baptist, Apollos' teaching or Peter's testimony.
Various buildings (teaching), good or bad, will have different results in the Day of Judgment. It is obvious that the main Christian teaching was not coming from Paul. Here, it appears they would also be generated from each individual believer.
if anyone builds on this foundation
with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one's work will become clear; for
will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is.
["The concept of a ' 'final conflagration', [destruction by fire] ... occurs frequently in the Third Book of the Sibylline Oracles, as basically Jewish compilation dating about 140 B.C. The Jews appear to have adopted it from Gentiles sources (although there is a foregleam in Isa. 34.9-10), for it was held by Zeno and the Stoics and dominated the Roman-Oriental world from the first century B.C. until the third century C.E." The Dead Sea Scriptures, Third Revised and Enlarged Edition, Theodor H. Gaster (introduction p. 22)]
` 14 If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire [purgatory!]. 16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.
Remark: the Gentile Christians themselves have become the temple of God.
Back to (human) wisdom:
Again, it is stressed that human wisdom is not beneficial for a Christian.
18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, "He catch the wise in their own craftiness"; 20 and again, "The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile." 21 Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come; all are yours. 23 And you are Christ's, and Christ is God's [the Christians belong to Christ as Christ belongs to God. Christ is well below God!].
Paul does not want to be judged:
Paul is probably faring badly when compared with an eyewitness (Peter) or an excellent preacher (Apollos) and certainly does not want to be judged. Also their respective message (about mysteries of God!) seems to have been different (4:6). And Paul suggests he was supervising Apollos and his teaching, in order to prevent any major differences.
4:1 Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God. 6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. 7 For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
Remark: with 3:21-23, we can gather that Paul suggests his message is only a part of the whole:
Apollos' preaching (and Peter's testimony) would complement Paul's foundation. Paul does not want to be blamed for not revealing the whole thing.
A lyrical finale:
Paul is seen building up the Christians of Corinth. Also, Paul invokes his (fatherly) primacy over the Corinthians because he was the first one to bring them the good news.
8 You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us; and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you! 9 For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! 11 To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. 12 And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; 13 being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the off scouring of all things until now. 14 I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. 15 For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you, imitate me.
Getting close to the end, the travel plans:
Timothy is to be sent immediately to remind the believers of Paul's teachings. Paul is "threatening" to come soon also.
17 For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. 18 Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power. 20 For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power. 21 What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness? ...
Remark: Paul will not come shortly, but some two years later.