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Posts Tagged ‘1 Corinthians’

1 Corinthians & Acts

As I’m studying the BIble, I find it helpful to tie together different sections of the Bible to show how the writings complement each other. With Paul, it’s good to go back to Acts as you read his letters and see if there may be any helpful information that Acts provides. So, in Luke’s account of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19), you learn that Ephesus has a strong community dedicated to the cult and magic. When you read Ephesians, you notice that Paul, more than any other letter of his, uses language of our victory in Christ in the “heavenlies” and strong language of “spiritual warfare” (Eph 6:12-20). No coincidence. 

I’ve noticed a few parallels between its account of Paul’s ministry in Corinth (Acts 18) and Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians, some are minor, some helpful.

1. Acts 18:3 says that Paul worked in Corinth as a tentmaker, which fits with his account that he worked rather than have the Corinthians “pay his way” (1 Cor 4:12; 9:6, 18- see also 1 Thess 2:9- this seems to have been Paul’s modus operandi).

2. Acts 18:5-6 notes that Paul’s ministry to the Jews in the synagogues was largely unsuccessful, so much so that he declared “from now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Sure enough, it seems reasonably obvious that Paul’s Corinthian audience is mostly Gentile.

3. Luke tells us that “Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized” (18:8). Paul mentions baptizing Crispus in 1 Cor 1:14.

4. While Paul was in Corinth, “the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attach and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). It isn’t a stretch to assume, then, that Paul was afraid. In Paul’s own words, “I came to you in weakness with great and trembling” (1 Cor 2:3).

5. Luke also records the beating of Sosthenes, another synagogue leader, at the hands of an angry mob (18:17). He was, presumably, a believer, and eventual “cowriter” (using that term loosely) of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1:1- I wonder if he left Corinth because of the beating?).

6. Finally, after they all leave Corinth, Priscilla and Aquilla, Paul’s coworkers, meet Apollos in Ephesus. Luke tells us “He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures…and he spoke with great fervor” (Acts 18:24-25), who was then taught more thoroughly by Priscilla and Aquilla. After this, Apollos ministered in Achaia and Corinth (Achaia is the overall region where Corinth was located) and “vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate” (18:28).

Interestingly, this seems to have caused some unintended problems within the church at Corinth. We learn that some chose to follow Apollos, while some chose to follow others (1 Cor 1:12). It seems that some of the Corinthians had rejected Paul on the basis of his lack of “wisdom” and “eloquence” (1 Cor 1:18-2:16; see also 2 Cor 10:10). Could it be that after experiencing Apollos’ rhetorical abilities and his knowledge that some had placed Apollos higher on the “spiritual” scale than Paul? It would seem that their love for wisdom and persuasive rhetoric would certainly make this possible, if not probable (1 Cor 1:22; 2:1-5). Of course, Paul doesn’t blame Apollos; he was, after all, doing his job of watering the seed that Paul had laid down (3:6). And it’s clear that Apollos was no longer in Corinth when this letter was written (16:12), so the divisions probably happened after his departure.

None of these 6 points, mind you, are necessarily crucial to understanding Paul’s letter. In fact, it seems to me that numbers 3 and 5 are purely incidental, number 1 confirms what we already know in other letters, number 2 gives us a good understanding why Paul’s audience in this letter seems so Gentile (and also confirms what we know from other letters- he was the apostle to the Gentiles, after all), and numbers 4 (on Paul’s fear) and 6 (on Apollos’ abilities) give us some interesting background that proves to be more helpful- especially the last point.

Note: this is a slightly revisted version of an older post.
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Westminster Bookstore is having a short (1 week) sale on Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner’s 1 Corinthians commentary in the Pillar series.  Ciampa, as some of you know, was one of my NT profs at Gordon-Conwell, and I’m sure this commentary is very good (along with the 12 million other very good commentary on 1 Corinthians).  I first read this at Nick’s blog, so click the link to his blog, then from there click the link to Westminster Bookstore.  If you purchase it after clicking on Nick’s link, he’ll get a kickback or something.  Help a brother out.

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I don’t highlight forthcoming books very often, but when a couple of my former professors are coming out with good ones, I feel the need to jump in (and when I’m having trouble coming up with other blogging ideas).

Brian Rosner and Roy Ciampa, the latter being one of my NT professors, are coming out with a commentary on 1 Corinthians in the Pillar series (Eerdmans) (Mark Heath already mentioned this one here).  These two already worked together on the 1 Corinthians portion of the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.  Rosner has previously published in the area of Pauline ethics in 1 Corinthians 5-7, so I suspect we’ll get some good stuff here.  Ciampa’s doctoral work (under Rosner, I believe) was in the area of the use of the OT in Galatians, so I’m sure there’ll be helpful insights in that area in 1 Corinthians.  Ciampa also has done a lot of translation work in Portugal, and heads up Gordon-Conwell’s new DMin program on Bible Translation.  When I studied under him he utilized insights from linguistics, especially in the area of Semantic Structure Analysis.  The word on the street (where there’s always commentary buzz) is that this commentary will have a stronger focus on the Jewish background to the letter, which can be a weakness in other commentaries. 

I have no doubt this will be a fine commentary, I just wonder if it’ll be used as widely as it could, considering there are already many excellent 1 Corinthians commentaries out there (Fee, Thiselton, Garland, Hays- not to mention Witherington, Barrett, Fitzmyer, Blomberg, Keener, and probably more that I’m forgetting).  There are few biblical books with as many good options to choose from.  Nonetheless, people eat new commentaries up, and the Pillar series is one of the finest available, so I’m sure it’ll do well.

Another book I’m looking forward to is John Jefferson Davis’ (known as “Jack Davis” on campus) book on worship, Worship and the Reality of God (IVP).  Davis has been teaching Systematic Theology and Ethics at Gordon-Conwell (I took him for the latter) since the mid-70’s.  If there’s one thing I can say about him, it’s that he’s influenced by an interesting mix of traditions and theological persuasions.  He’s firmly Reformed.  Paedobaptist.  Ordained PCUSA, attended an Orthodox Presbyterian Church when I was at seminary, now serves at an Episcopalian church (which makes me want to have a discussion with him on ecclesiology).  He’s an Egalitarian regarding women’s roles in ministry.  Firmly believes in the continuation of the spiritual gifts.  He’s also a Postmillennialist.  He is a strong advocate for large families and vocal opponent of abortion.  He has also lamented evangelicals’ poor track record regarding their theology of creation and is ecological implications (see this essay [pdf] from the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society) and updated his popular book, Evangelical Ethics, to include a chapter on that subject.  He has a background in science (I want to say it was Physics, but my memory could be wrong), writing and lecturing extensively on the intersection of science and faith.

My point is this: you don’t really know what you’re going to get.  If I get a chance to read this (it’s due about the same time as Pierce Baby #2, so that’s a big if) I bet I’ll be pumping my fist in agreement (what, you don’t do that when you read?) in one chapter, and shaking my head in the next.  I like to read those kinds of books.  At any rate, I’m excited for it’s release.

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A final word needs to be said about the considerable importance of this letter to today’s church.  The cosmopolitan character of the city and church, the strident individualism that emerges in so many of their behavioral aberrations, the arrogance that attends their understanding of spirituality, the accommodation of the gospel to the surrounding culture in so many ways- these and many other features of the Corinthian church are but mirrors held up before the church of today.  Likewise the need for discipleship modeled after the ‘weakness’ of Christ (4:9-13), for love to rule over all (13:1-13), for edification to be the aim of worship (14:1-33), for sexual immorality to be seen for what it is (5:1-13; 6:12-20), for the expectation of marriages to be permanent (7:1-40)- these and many others are every bit as relevant to us as to those to whom they were first spoken.

Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT, pp19-20.

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Special thanks to Robert of Yale University Press for a review copy of this book.

Joseph Fitzmyer has long been one of the most well known Roman Catholic Bible scholars, writing on subjects ranging from the Dead Sea Scrolls to a few highly regarded commentaries in the Anchor Series (Luke, Acts, Romans, and Philemon).  Added to these commentaries is his latest work, a commentary on 1 Corinthians.  I’m not sure how long he’s been writing books, but according to his Wikipedia page he was ordained in 1938!

Fitzmyer’s strength is detailed exegesis- lexical analysis, grammatical discussions, historical concerns, etc.  This doesn’t make for the most exciting commentary, but the fact remains that few scholars can write a genuinely engaging commentary.  His attention to detail, especially of the Greek text, gives him some unique insight into some of the rhetorical devices used by Paul.  As far as the content of 1 Corinthians, I’ll give a quick rundown of some of Fitzmyer’s insights:

On the divisions within the Corinthian church mentioned in chapters 1-4 (p52)- “Paul’s initial preaching of that gospel in Roman Corinth resulted in his making a considerable number of converts there.  When other preachers came, such as Apollos and perhaps Cephas, the original Corinthian Christians heard the same gospel preached in other forms, which seems to have distracted them gradually from the nucleus of the gospel message.  So Paul is concerned to recall them to that fundamental message of the cross and of the risen Christ, and of the role of his Spirit in their lives.”

The lawsuits of 6:1-11 are not referring to specific cases Paul has in mind (p248), though Fitzmyer does not really offer another view for why Paul has to write this section.  Paul’s strong words against homosexual activities in 6:10 do not refer simply abuses in homosexual relationships, but any form of same sex relationships (p256-258).  He also includes a short but helpful discussion of slavery and the Christian life in chapter 7, which isn’t surprising given his previous commentary on Philemon (p306).

Chapters 8-10 shows “that Paul seeks to persuade those who possess knowledge to adopt his policy of not using their very ‘right’ to consume such idol meat even in temple banquets” (p332).  Regarding the passage about women covering their heads in chapter 11, Fitzmyer encourages the reader to keep in mind that Paul is only talking about the community gathering in worship, not addressing concerns about “the inferiority of women, women’s ministry, the role of women in the church, or even about the ordination of women” (p405-407).  The head covering is a veil, not a woman’s hair. In his discussion about the Lord’s Supper Fitzmyer may make some Protestants uncomfortable with his use of the term “Real Presence.”  He also includes a helpful discussion of the historical evidence for Jesus celebrating the Last Supper with his disciples and how Paul’s discussion in chapter 11 fits with that event (p430).

In chapters 12-14 “Paul is reacting against some Corinthian Christians who are vaunting one gift over another (especially speaking in tongues as the main gift of the Spirit), and in order to counteract that, he is seeking to put all pneumatika, ‘spiritual things,’ especially the endowments of the Spirit, in a proper perspective” (p454).  As for specific questions some might have in these chapters: “‘prophecy’ has to be understood as a Spirit-inspired dynamic and effective preaching of the Scriptures and the gospel” (p467; on 12:10, also noting 14:1, 3-6, 24, 29, 31).  Discerning of spirits (12:10) is not about interpreting prophecy, rather “is a term for evaluation” (p468).  “The perfect” of 13:10 has nothing to do with the completion of the canon, but is eschatological (p498).  Love is more important than the gifts “because it is the mark not only of eternity, but of the present as well” (p503).  Fitzmyer differentiates between the prophet in 14:29 and the one receiving revelation in 14:30 (p526, despite the fact that Paul returns to prophets in vv31-32).  The phrase “as in all the churches of the saints” in 14:33b belongs with what precedes it rather than what follows to avoid the repetition with “in the churches” in v34 (p527).  The verses in 14:34-36 are not a later addition, despite the best attempts at some scholars to argue so.  Rather (surprisingly), vv34-35 are a quotation of the Corinthian church and v36 is Paul’s objection (p530).

In chapter 15, Paul “seeks to demonstrate to them that belief in the resurrection of Christ, which he assumes they still hold, and the conduct of a life lived in Christian faith inevitably imply a belief in the resurrection of the dead” (p558).  Paul is arguing against those who deny the bodily resurrection of believers (with Hays, Fee, and others) as opposed to him arguing against Corinthians who believed the resurrection had already happened (p559-560).  So, “Paul is affirming not only the certainty of Christ’s resurrection, but also Christ’s resurrection as the guarantee of the futurity and certainty of the resurrection of the dead” (p568).  ‘The analogies (of vv36-41) do not prove the resurrection of the dead, but they provide the first step of a plausible mode of understanding it, and they are drawn from ordinary everyday experience” (p586).  The “‘spiritual body’ must mean a human body as transformed by God through Christ for a new mode of existence, under the influence of Pneuma, ‘Holy Spirit'” (p596).

There’s obviously more than could be said of this commentary.  Of interest to probably no one but me, this commentary did not receive the imprimatur of the Catholic church, unlike some of his previous commentaries (including his Romans one, which has been noted to sound more Reformed than Catholic).  Was this because of the change in publisher?  Was there something in this commentary that caused this?  Did he not seek this?

Often times the flow of the Anchor commentaries is tough to follow, coming across as a bunch of disjointed notes on the text.  Fitzmyer is better than some others I’ve read because he takes full advantage of the “comments” section before his notes to summarize the passage.  In these sections, he is able to achieve a good balance in interacting with other scholars and giving his own outlook.

For those who are doing detailed work in 1 Corinthians, Fitzmyer will prove to be a strong resource to consult.  For the pastor, he may not be as much help as other commentaries, notably Fee, Garland and Hays.  The problem is this: there are so many excellent commentaries on 1 Corinthians already.  I count Fee, Thiselton and Hays as the best, and Garland is as highly regarded as these by many I trust (but I haven’t used it much).  And I haven’t even mentioned Barrett, Witherington, Blomberg, Collins, Keener, Thiselton’s shorter commentary and so on.  Oh, and let’s not forget the forthcoming commentaries by Rosner/Ciampa, Ellis, Winter… you get the idea.  I guess my point is that we don’t need more commentaries on 1 Corinthians.

So where does Fitzmyer fit among the fray?  This commentary is in the top half of the ones I mentioned.  He’s different enough from the evangelical offerings to give a different viewpoint, but isn’t so different that an evangelical wouldn’t benefit from him.  As far as comparing this to his other commentaries, I still think his Luke and Philemon commentaries make a stronger contribution to those respective books.  Again, you can’t really fault Fitzmyer for this, since 1 Corinthians has been one of the most examined letters in the Bible (or probably in the ancient world).  Thus, there is little new, but much good in Fitzmyer’s commentary on 1 Corinthians and he ought to be commended for another fine work.

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One of the confusing things for many Christians is figuring out what to do with Old Testament laws, specifically those ones that seem completely distant to our culture.  Can we apply them to our lives in our cultural context?

The way I see it, the best way to learn to apply OT laws is to see how the NT writers apply OT laws.  So, let’s take Deuteronomy 25:4 and see what Paul does with it.  Deuteronomy 25:4 states, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”  That seems distant enough for most of us, especially those of us who live in the city and haven’t ever seen an ox.

But Paul applies this to his own day in his letter to the Corinthians, a bunch of city folk themselves.  In 1 Corinthians 9:9-10, Paul writes, “For it is written in the Law of Moses: ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’  Is it about oxen that God is concerned?  Sure he says this for us, doesn’t he?  Yes, this was written for us, because when farmers plow and tresh, they should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.”

So what does Paul do with Deuteronomy 25:4?  I see two main things.  First, he applies the principle behind the law to his situation.  The principle is fairly straight forward: the ox deserves to eat the grain it is “treading out” (I’ll admit, I don’t really know what that looks like, but I understand the point).  The ox deserves to be “paid” for its work.  In the same way, Paul argues, the minister deserves to be paid for his work (though if you read on Paul explains why he passes up this right).

Second, Paul uses a “lesser-to-greater” argument.  If this is true of an ox, how much more true is it of people, who are greater than oxen?  This reminds us that the laws of the OT are not exhaustive, but paradigmatic.  What is true of the ox is true of the horse, the dog, the person, etc.

So how does this teach us to apply OT laws?  We look for the principle behind the law itself, not limiting the law to the specific wording alone.  The principle is what we are applying to our context.

Douglas Stuart makes this point in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth when discussing the command to build a parapet around the roof of your house (Deut 22:8).  On page 169 he states,

The Bible contains all sorts of commands that God wants us to know about, which are not directed toward us personally.  If we are not concered about building parapets around the roof of our houses (Deut 22:8), we should nonetheless delight in a God who cared that houseguests not fall off a roof with which they were unfamiliar, and therefore he taught his people to build their houses with that sort of love for neighbor in mind.

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