1 Corinthians

The "Missing" letter from the Corinthians to Paul

1 CORINTHIANS 7 Before composing 1 Corinthians Paul received information about the Corinthian church. He mentioned personal reports"from Chloe's household" (1Co 1:11) and spoke of a letter from the Corinthians that Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus had probably delivered (7:1). No copies of this missing letter apparently remain extant, but it likely included questions about marriage, food sacrificed to idols, worship, resurrection, Paul's collection for Jerusalem relief, and Apollos. Paul answered the Corinthian believers' questions on each of these matters, utilizing the phrases"Now for ..." or"Now about" when taking up a new topic (v. 1; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1,12). In some cases it is unclear whether Paul was quoting the Corinthians' own statements in order to correct them (7:1b; 8:1b) or whether these phrases reflect his own teaching.

As an apostle responsible for the care of churches spread across the Roman Empire,' Paul no doubt carried on a lively correspondence with those churches throughout his career.2 When we recognize that his letters were not written as abstract theological treatises but often as responses to specific problems within the context of specific church situations, we can better understand the lessons these letters contain. It is pointless to speculate on the possible significance of finding one of Paul's lost letters. The chances of this happening are minuscule, and the canon of the New Testament, at any rate, is closed.

Temple Restaurants and Food Sacrificed to Idols

1 CORINTHIANS 8 In many ancient cultures people routinely sacrificed animals to their gods and then ate the meat. In the Greco-Roman world temples would often contain dining areas in which groups of people could feast together. The temple of Asclepius at Corinth, for example, had three dining rooms, each with space for 11 guests on couches lining the walls. It is uncertain whether these particular dining rooms were in use during Paul's day, but some such arrangement seems to have been behind Paul's discussion in 1 Corinthians 8-10. Corinth also included a temple for the goddess Demeter and her daughter Kore, as well as sanctuaries associated with Egyptian gods and Roman emperors.' Although meals at these shrines were often more social occasions than religious ceremonies, no one could deny that there was in them a religious element.The presence of a Christian at a meal associated with such a pagan context was repugnant to Paul.

Excess meat from the temples may have found its way to the market. If such meat, which may or may not have been associated with idol worship, was presented to a believer in someone else's home, Paul permitted the Christian to eat it. If, however, the host openly declared that the meat had come from a pagan shrine, the believer was to abstain for the sake of "weaker" brothers, whose consciences might still be sensitive to idolatrous practices.

The Love feast

1 CORINTHIANS 11 Sharing meals together was a crucial part of early church life. Jesus set an example by welcoming to the table fellowship all who would come. The early church continued this practice and members often met together in people's homes to share food (e.g., Ac 2:42). Certain Jewish and Greco-Roman religious associations also met for common meals,' and at times behavior at pagan communal meals could be extremely disorderly. For Christians, however, the shared meal was such a powerful emblem of their love in Christ that it came to be called a "love feast" (Greek agape; lit.,"a love").The word is used in this manner in the New Testament only in Jude 12.

Jesus also instituted the Eucharist (or "Lord's Supper"),and it is difficult to ascertain the relationship between the Eucharist and the "love feast."Were they one and the same or two different events? The most likely answer is that in the early church no firm distinction was made between the two. The Eucharist was probably celebrated in the context of a church meal, just as the first Eucharist was commemorated in the context of a Passover supper. It soon became evident, however, that it was unwise to combine the two (1 Co 11:20 —21:"When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat,for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk." In later centuries the Lord's Supper was separated from the common meal, and the tradition of the "love feast" began to disappear.

Tongue-Speaking in Christian and Pagan Worship

1 CORINTHIANS 12 Speaking in tongues was a recognized part of the life of the early church. In Acts 2 tongues are identified as foreign languages understood by the various pilgrims in Jerusalem. In 1 Corinthians, however, it is unclear whether tongues were unlearned foreign languages, angelic languages or inarticulate groanings"that words cannot express" (Ro 8:26).Whatever the case may have been, Paul desired that tongues be translated so that all present might benefit.

Some argue that there were parallels to tongue-speaking in the pagan world, but these supposed correspondences can be misleading. It is true that other cultures knew of -various sorts of ecstatic speech,which could sometimes include either unintelligible speech or foreign words and phrases. Some pagan rites (with the aid of alcohol or drugs) worked people into a state of delirium. At pagan oracles, ecstatic priestesses sometimes delivered messages purported to be from gods. People would describe these priestesses as "rav-ing," but that usually referred to the fact that their meaning was obscure. A pagan oracle might have been delivered in everyday Greek, but its meaning might still have been puzzling or confusing, even to a Greek-speaking audience. The words were understandable, but their message was unclear.

A famous example concerns the legend of Croesus, king of Lydia, who sought the advice of the oracle at Delphi regarding whether or not he should wage war against Persia) He was told that if he did, a great kingdom would fall. Croesus attacked, believing that the oracle was signifying his own victory, but he was defeated and his own kingdom fell.Thus, although the priestess at Delphi may have spoken in an ecstatic manner, the real issue was the ambiguity of her message. This form of ecstatic speech must be distinguished from the Christian practice, in which the unknown tongue would evidently be immediately translated into speech understood by the congregation. Of course, the unrestrained use of tongues in worship may at times have resembled the rantings of pagan worshipers. This may have accounted for Paul's concern in 1 Corinthians 14:23, where he pointed out that an unbeliever might enter the service and hear uninterpreted tongues and "say that you are out of your mind."

The Role of Women in Religious Life in the Greco-Roman World

1 CORINTHIANS 14 The religious activities of women in the Greco-Roman world spanned a wide range and exhibited enormous diversity. Some mystery cults included ecstatic, orgiastic worship in which women played a prominent role, and priestesses were common in the worship of Greek goddesses.' Some religious festivals in Greece were exclusively for women; an example is the Thesmophoria, which honored the goddess Demeter.The Bacchae, a play by the Greek poet Euripides (fifth

century B.c.), tells of frenzied religious celebration of the god Dionysus by women who followed his cult., Other pagan religions created space for significant sexual expression during religious festivals, and fertility cults employed women for the purpose of ritual or sacred prostitution. On the other hand, within Judaism women's access to the inner courts of the Jerusalem temple was restricted, and scholars debate whether the synagogues of the time displayed gender segregation.

In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul provided guidelines for orderly worship, including some instructions specifically addressing the activities of women in worship (vv.33-35). Evidence from Corinth' reveals that the city contained several temples to Aphrodite and Apollo, and Paul's readers would have been familiar with these and with other cults that were widespread in the Greco-Roman world.

Baptism for Dead

1 CORINTHIANS 15 Numerous proposals have been offered for the meaning of "baptized for the dead" in 1 Corinthians 15:29. Every theory has some problems, but some are more plausible than others:

    • One explanation holds that Paul was alluding to some form of"proxy baptism" (an individual being baptized to secure the salvation of ancestors, relatives or friends who had died without Christ). There is no indication in this text, however, that Corinthians were being baptized for their ancestors or for other dead pagans—and no evidence that this was ever practiced in the early church.

    • Some suggest that the term refers to baptism for believers who had died unbaptized; others that it may have been some ritual rooted in a superstitious belief that baptism itself had almost magical, life-giving powers. The Corinthian believers may have been influenced by a local cult of the dead at Corinth.On the other hand, if such a pagan background were behind this practice, we would expect Paul to have voiced his disapproval.

    • Still others propose that the phrase actually means "baptized in the place of the dead" in the sense of taking the place of Christian martyrs who had lost their lives for the faith. This kind of baptism would thus have been a rite whereby a living believer symbolically took the place of his or her fallen brother or sister.This interpretation has some support in the context, since Paul immediately spoke in the following verses (vv. 30 — 32)1 of his own endurance of persecution.