Mainly about Certain Church Disorders
Factions. Immorality. Lawsuits. Meat Offered to Idols. Abuses of the Lord's Supper. False Apostles. Problems about Marriage. Disorderly Conduct of Assemblies. Woman's Part in the Church. Heresies about the Resurrection.
Commercial metropolis of Greece. Situated on the Isthmus of Greece, about 50 miles west of Athens. One of the largest, richest, and most important cities of the Roman Empire. Population, 400,000, surpassed only by Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. On the principal trade route of the Roman Empire. Through its harbors flowed the commerce of the world. "A renowned and voluptuous city, where the vices of East and West met." Here Paul stayed a year and a half, on his Second Missionary Journey, about A.D 52-53, and founded one of his greatest churches, right in the shadow of Athenian Philosophy.
Occasion of the letter
About three years after Paul had left Corinth, while he was in Ephesus, some 200 miles to the east, across the Agean Sea, doing the most marvelous work of all his marvelous life, a delegation of leaders of the Corinthian Church was sent to Ephesus to consult Paul about some very serious problems and disorders that had arisen in the
Church. Then it was that Paul wrote this Letter. He had written a previous Letter, now lost (5:9), possibly many of them. The two cities were on a busy trade route, with ships plying between constantly.
Date. Spring of A.D. 57, before Pentecost (16:8). He was planning to spend the following winter in Corinth (16:5-8), which he did (Acts 20:2, 3).
Chapter 1. Church Factions
In Corinth, as everywhere, except Jerusalem, Christians had no one great central meeting place. Church Buildings did not begin to be erected till 200 years later, when the age if Persecution began to ease. They met in Homes, or Hall, or wherever they could. There were multitudes of Christians in Corinth. Not one great congregation, but many small congregation, each under its own leadership. These, it seems, were developing into rival, competing units, rather than cooperating units, in the general cause of Christ, in the wicked city.
Some of the Greeks, in the fondness for Intellectual Speculation, end their Pride of Knowledge, were very boastful of their Philosophic interpretations of Christianity. And, in addition to this grouping of themselves around one Doctrine or another, they were rallying as partisans around one Leader or another. Thus the Church was split into
Factions, each trying to stamp Christ with its own little trademark, a practice which still prevails in frightful proportions.
Chapter 2. The Wisdom of God
The Knowledge Parry came in for the brunt of Paul's scathing rebuke. Corinth u.as close to Athens, where the atmosphere was dominated by egotists who paraded themselves as Philosophers. The spirit of Athens had penetrated the Church in Corinth.
Paul was a University man, the Outstanding Scholar of his generation. But Paul despised Pedantic Show of Learning. True Learning and True Scholarship should make us Humble, and more Broadminded toward the ignorant.
Chapter 3. Bigness of the Church
Their Philosophic Pretense was a sign of their Spiritual Infancy, produced Faction, tended to Destroy the Church (17), and resulted in nothing of Permanent Value (12-15). The Church is too big to become the Exclusive Nest of one group of such Partisans (21-23). Why not be big enough to see this?
Chapter 4. Paul's Self-Vindication
There must have been a very considerable group of Church Leaders, Paul's own converts, who, in Paul's absence, had become influential and self-important, and were trying to run away with the Church. They had become Haughty, Overbearing, and Boastful in their attitude toward Paul. Hence Paul's vindication of himself.
Chapter 5. The Case of Incest
One of them was openly cohabiting with his father's wife. And the Church, instead of administering discipline, u,'as proud of their Liberality in harboring such a person. Paul directed that he be delivered to Satan (5) that is, formally excommunicated from the
Church: for two purposes: one, to serve as an example, to keep the practice from spreading: the other, in hope of bringing the guilty party to Repentance. The case is referred to again in II Corinthians 2.
Chapter 6:1 -8. Lawsuits
Very unbecoming in followers of a religion of Brotherly Love to air their difficulties in Heathen Courts. Christians will be associated with God in the Final Judgment of the World; yet they were unable to settle their own quarrels (2-7), Why not be wilting to Suffer Wrong?
Chapter 6:9-20. Immorality
Venus was the principal Deity of Corinth. Her Temple was one of the most magnificent buildings in the city. In it a thousand Priestesses, Public Prostitutes, were kept, at public expense, there always, always ready for Immoral Indulgence, as worship to their Goddess. Some of the Corinthian Christians, having been used to a
religion that Encouraged Immoral Living, were finding it a little hard to adapt themselves to their new religion which Prohibited Immoral Living. Paul had said, in discussing certain things, that All Things are Lawful (12). Some of them evidently were quoting this to justify their Promiscuous Sexual Indulgence. Paul positively states that it does not so apply; and positively, in unmistakable language, prohibits Christians from such Indulgences.
Chapter 7. Marriage
They had written asking if it was Legitimate for Christians to Marry. Strange, they were puffed up over the case of Incest (5:2), yet had scruples about Lawful Marriage. Paul advises Marriage for those who desire it. Paul himself was not married (8). Some think he may have been a Widower, end lost his wife while yer young: for two reasons: one, he Voted in the Sanhedrin (Acts 26:10), for which, it is said, Marriage was a necessary prerequisite: the other reason, this chapter seems to have been written by one who knew something of the intimacies of Married Life.
Chapter 8. Meat Sacrificed to Idols
There were many Gods in Greece, and much of the Meat offered for sale in public market places had first been offered in sacrifice to some Idol. The question at issue involved not only the eating of the meat, but the matter of participating in social functions of their Heathen friends, many of which functions were often accompanied
with Shameful Licentiousness. The matter is further discussed in 10:14-33.
Chapter 9. Pay for the Ministry
One of the objections which Paul's critics had brought against him was that he had taken no pay for his work in Corinth (II Corinthians 12:13), which, to their covetous minds, looked suspicious. Paul explains that he had a right to be supported at the expense of the Church (4-7). The Lord had definitely ordained that the Ministry
should be so supported ( 14). But, so far as is recorded, Paul took pay from no Church except Philippi. In Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica, he supported himself by working at his trade. It was his life principle, so far as he could, to Preach without pay (16-18). It
gave Paul great personal satisfaction to think that he was doing more than he had been commanded to do. Then, too, he did not want his example to be abused by false teachers whose main concern would be their Salary (II Corinthians 11:9-13).
Chapter 10:1 - 13. Danger of Falling
Paul had just spoken of exerting himself to the utmost, lest he should be a Castaway. Thar reminded him of the same danger to Christians generally. They had better take their Religion seriously. Most of those who were delivered out of Egypt never got to the
Promised Land. The Temptations that caused them to Fall by the wayside were very much the Same Temptations that the Corinthians were facing (7-8), Lustful Indulgence. If they would strive wholeheartedly, with resolute determination, to overcome, as he was doing (9:25-27), God's promise of protection is sure against any temptation (13).
Chapter 10:14-33. Meat Sacrificed to Idols
Continued from chapter 8. There he had stated the general principle of governing our conduct in such matters by the law of Brotherly Love. There are some things more important than meat. Here Paul forbids Christians to participate in Heathen Temple Festivals; but explains that, in buying Meat in the markets, it is not necessary to ask whether it had been sacrificed to an Idol (25), nor at a feast in a private home (27), but, if someone tells him it is Idol meat, to refrain.
Chapter 11:2-16. Woman's Part in Church
It was customary in Greek and Eastern cities for women to cover their heads in public, except women of immoral character. Corinth was full of temple prostitutes. Some of the Christian women, taking advantage of their new-found liberty in Christ, were making bold to lay aside their veils in Church meetings, which horrified those of
more modest type. They are here told not to defy public opinion as to what was considered proper in feminine decorum.
Men and women are of equal value in God's sight. But there are certain natural distinctions between women and men without which human society could not exist. Christian women, living in heathen society, should be cautious in their innovations, lest they bring reproach on their religion. It is bad generally when women become too
much like men. Angels (10), are onlookers in Christian worship.
Chapter 11:17-34. The Lord's Supper
It seems that after the Pentecostal Community of Goods (Acts 2:44-45), ceased, the wealthier members of a Church would bring food to certain services, for a Love-Feast (Jude 12), to be held after the Communion, in which rich and poor joined.
This, in Corinth, is seems, had overshadowed the Lord's Supper. Those that brought the food ate it in their own clique, without waiting for the whole congregation to assemble.
Imitating the drunken revels of heathen peoples in their Idol Temples, Christians were thus making their Love-Feasts occasions for gluttony, losing sight entirely of the true significance of the Lord's Supper.
Chapter 12. Spiritual Gifts
Before the New Testament was completed, while it was in the process of being written, in certain places, and at certain times, God gave special Miraculous Manifestations of the Holy Spirit to help the Churches guide themselves in the Truth.
This was necessary, because the Apostles were few, the Churches far apart, the means of transportation and communication slow, no railroads, telegraphs or radios. Ideas could travel no faster than people could travel, the Churches everywhere overrun with false teachers making all kinds of false claims, and Churches had no
written records as to actual facts.
Apparently there had recently been a brilliant display of Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Corinth. One of these gifts was that of Speaking in Tongues, that is, in a Foreign Language, probably, as the Apostles did on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:8) This gift, whatever it was, was very popular with the Corinthians. They all wanted it. If a brother could get up in meeting, and speak right out in a language that his neighbors knew he had never studied, that would be plain evidence that he was under direct control of the Holy Spirit. And they would look up to him. Then, as now, some people went to Church for the honor they could get out of it for themselves.
The various gifts of the Spirit, some natural, some supernatural, as enumerated in 8-10, were Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, Healings, Miracles, Prophecy, Tongues, Interpreting of Tongues.
It is in a discussion of the Relative Value of these various gifts that the Love chapter is set.
Chapter 13. Love
The Premier Teaching of Christianity. An undying expression of Jesus' doctrine of Heavenly Love. More potent foi thi buiiding of the Church than any, or all, of the various manifestations of God's Power. Love, the Church's most effective weapon. Love, without which all the various Gifts of the Spirit are of no avail. Love, the Essence of God's Nature. Love, the Perfection of Human Character, Love, the most Powerful Ultimate Force in the Universe.
Even if I bestow all my goods to Feed the Poor, even if I give my body to be burned, if I Have Not Love, it Profits me Nothing (3). What a Thought-Provoking passage! The Gift of Speaking like an Angel, of Prophesying, of having All Knowledge, of Faith that Moves Mountains, of Charity to the last dollar, even Martyrdom, all of no use unless we have the Spirit of Christian LOVE. What a call to Self-Examination!
Chapter 14. Tongues and Prophesying
This chapter is a discussion of the Relative Value of Tongues and Prophesying, which seem to have been the two gifts most sought after.
"Prophecy" was teaching on a lofty plane. It is not "foretelling" so much as Prophesying, which ordinarily meant Predicting Future Events, here seems to mean Teaching by special aid of the Spirit. Ordinarily it was far more valuable than Speaking in Tongues, because everybody understood it.
Woman's Part in Church (33-40), continued from 11:2-16. Paul here forbids (34, 35), what he seems to allow in 11:5. There must have been some local circumstance, unknown to us, that gave point to these instructions-possibly some bold women unbecomingly putting themselves forward.
Chapter 15. The Resurrection
The fact that some of the Corinthian Church Leaders were already Denying the Resurrection (12), is an indication of the extent to which False Teaching, of the very Worst Kind, had crept into the Church.
Paul insists, in the strongest language of which he is capable, that Except for the Hope of Resurrection there is no excuse for the Existence of Christianity (13-19).
The Resurrection of'Jesus from the Dead was the one unvarying refrain of the Apostles. This 15th chapter of I Corinthians is the fullest discussion of it in the New Testament, In the meaning it gives to Human Life it is the most significant and grandest single chapter in the Bible.
The Resurrection of Jesus from the Dead was a Fact attested by Actual Witnesses who had Seen Jesus Alive after His Resurrection. Paul himself personally had seen Him. There is no other explanation to the phenomenon of Paul's life. The occurrence
on the road to Damascus was no hallucination. Jesus Himself was actually there.
Besides a number of Appearances to the Apostles, singly, or in groups, Jesus had Appeared to a Crowd of 500 People at one time. It had been 27 years, and more than half of these 500 were still living (6). It must have been a Reality. A crowd of People would not just Imagine the same thing.
The disciples at first were Slow to Believe that Jesus had Risen from the Dead. But when they were finally convinced that it was a Fact that Jesus had Actually Burst the Bonds of Death, and had Com6 Out of the Grave Alive, it put such e New Meaning into Life that nothing else seemed worthwhile. They Knew the Resurrection of Jesus to be a Fact. Believed it even Unto Death. And they went up and down the highways of the Roman Empire telling the Story of it with such Earnestness and Sincerity that Unnumbered Thousands Believed It even Unto Death.
The Resurrection of Jesus from the Dead is the One Most Important and Best Established Fact in All History.
And the story of it has come down to us through the centuries Beautifying Human Life with the Halo of Immortality: making us to Feel Sure that because He Lived Again We Too Shall Live: making our hearts to thrill with the thought that we are Immortal: that we have begun an Existence that Shall Never End: that nothing can harm us: that Death is merely an incident in passing from one phase of existence to another: that whether Here or There we are His, doing the thing He has for us to do: that millions of ages after the sun has grown cold we ourselves shall still be Young in the Eternities of God.
The one most exhilarating thing in the whole range of Human Experience is the Thought that we are Immortal, that we Cannot Die, that whatever may happen to the body, We Ourselves shall Live on and on and on and on. And we have this feeling made Sure in our Hearts because Jesus Rose from the Dead.
If this story of Jesus is True, life is Beautiful, life is Glorious, looking down a vista that Shall Never End.
If this story of Jesus should turn out to be a Myth, then the mystery of existence is an unsolved riddle, and for humanity there is nothing left but the blankness and blackness of Eternal Despair.
But by all the laws of Historic Evidence it is a True Story. Christ was. Christ Is. A Living Person. With His people, in Guiding and Protecting Power, leading them on to the day of their Own Glorious Resurrection.
Christ's Mediatorial Reign (23-28). Here is a glimpse through successive Future Ages into the Endless End of things, when Christ's Mediatorial work shall have been finished, and God's Created Universe shall have entered its final stage.
Baptized for the Dead (29). This seems to mean Vicarious Baptism, that is, Baptism for a dead friend. But there is no other Bible reference to such a practice, and no evidence that it existed in the Apostolic Church. Perhaps a better translation would be "Baptized in Hope of Resurrection."
Resurrection of the Body (35-58). Our hope is not merely Immortality of the Spirit, but actual Resurrection of the Body. New Testament teaching is very plain on this (Romans 8:23; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Corinthians 5:4). It will not be the same corrupt earthy Body, but a Spiritual Body partaking of the nature of God's own Heavenly Glory.
Chapter 16. Personal Matters
The Collection (1-4). This for poor saints in Jerusalem (II Corinthians 8:10). Order of Galatia (1), is not mentioned in Galatian Epistle. He must have written them another Letter, not preserved. First Day of the Week (2), was the established Day for Christian Worship (Acts 20:7).
Paul's Plans (5-9). This was Spring A.D. 57, before Pentecost (8). He spent Summer in Macedonia, from whence; he wrote II Corinthians. Got to Corinth in the Fall Wintered there. Wrote Romans. Following Spring set out for Jerusalem.
Apollos (12). Probably they had asked him to come to Corinth, but he refused to go at the time, no doubt, because certain Corinthians were determined to make him a Party Leader.
My Own Hand (21). Sosthemes, a Corinthian, who had gone to Ephesus, probably wrote this Epistle, at Paul's dictation (1:1; Acts 18:17). Then Paul signed it with his own hand (21), and added "Maranatha" (22), which means "O Lord, Come"