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- 1 Corinthians
by William Baxter Godbey
PROLOGUE TO VOLUME 4
This volume is destined to prove transcendently interesting, containing the two Corinthian and Galatian epistles, the latter revealing a diversity of complicated problems, connected with the fallen churches and the carnal self-seeking ministry of the present age, and the former going down into the profoundest depths of Pauline theology and soaring to the loftiest altitudes of the transfiguration glory, broadening out into the vastest latitudes which girdle the globe with a thousand complicated problems connected with practical life, simultaneously reaching forward into the most illimitable longitudes, both retrospectively and prospectively encompassing the entire curriculum of the mediatorial reign from its primary inauguration in Heaven, to its grand finale when the Mediatorial King shall sit upon the throne of final judgment, and wind up the momentous affairs of His earthly proconsulship, and return the kingdom back to God, who shall be “all in all” during the flight of eternal ages. Thus that parenthesis in eternity called “time” having run its course and verified its mission is now numbered with the bygone ages of eternity, while the events of the celestial universe fall in line with the ceaseless cycles of eternity, moving contemporaneously with the existence of the Almighty.
Paul having been miraculously convicted on the road and gloriously converted under the ministry of Ananias in Damascus; then wonderfully sanctified in Arabia when God “was pleased to reveal His Son in” him, having revealed His Son to him on his way to Damascus; now gloriously saved and sanctified, and thus harmonized experimentally with the apostles, goes up to Jerusalem, tells his experience, claims his apostleship, is fully recognized and preaches boldly in the Hellenistic synagogues, endeavoring to undo all of his bad work opposing Stephen the first martyr, until the brethren find it necessary to escort him away to save his life, leading him to Caesarea and sending him home to Tarsus up in Cilicia. There he remains an unknown period faithfully preaching, we doubt not, in Cilicia, Phrygia, Galatia and perhaps other countries, till Barnabas goes after him about A. D.
43-5 and brings him to Antioch to help them in their Syrian gospel field. While preaching at Antioch the Holy Ghost tells the church to send away Barnabas and Paul on a great evangelistic tour, in which they travel through many Asiatic states, also taking Cyprus, the nativity of Barnabas, into their field of labor, God wonderfully owning and blessing this first great evangelistic tour into the Gentile world. Eventually Barnabas and Paul became too efficient judiciously to be fully utilized in the same preaching band, each one being abundantly competent to lead an expedition. Then the Lord providentially separates them; Barnabas taking his nephew Mark (and doubtless others soon after) goes away evangelizing, pursuant to the Divine leadership. Meanwhile Paul, taking Silas, Luke and Timothy, sets out on another evangelistic tour whithersoever the Lord may lead him. Having traversed many Asiatic states the Holy Ghost forbids him to preach in Asia from the simple fact that He wants him now to leave the continent of his nativity, where Adam and Eve were created and all the patriarchs and prophets had lived and died, and where our Savior was born, preached His gospel, died for a guilty world and ascended up to Heaven. This is a great new departure in the life of Paul and his comrades. Hence they hesitate to leave Asia, waiting for clear confirmations of the Divine guidance. Pursuant to the heavenly leadership, they travel westward to Troas on the sea-coast. There all incertitude as to the Divine leadership is dissipated by the notable nightly vision of a Macedonian man standing on the heights of Europe far away beyond the dark deep sea, calling them to a land they had never seen and which their fathers had never known. Unhesitatingly they look out for a ship, embark for Europe, in due time landing at Neapolis, travel a dozen miles into the interior, reaching Philippi, the Roman capital of Macedonia, where they find their first open door to preach the European gospel to the children of Japheth, the ancestor of the white races, in a private Jewish synagogue conducted by Lydia and other Jewish women, thus founding the first Christian church in Europe, the alma mater of all the European and American churches. Having suffered terribly at the hands of the mob and witnessed the earthquake deliverance, they proceed southward one hundred miles to Thessalonica, the metropolis of Southern Macedonia. There Paul remains three weeks witnessing the mighty works of God, but forced to fly for his life, leaving Timothy to perpetuate the work. Traveling south fifty- seven miles he finds a synagogue of extraordinarily pious Jews at Berea, where instead of dividing over the new doctrine, i. e., the Christhood of Jesus, they unanimously fall in line to the infinite joy of the apostle, who pretty soon finds it necessary again to retreat from his enemies, who had come from Thessalonica, leaving Silas and Timothy (who had followed on) to prosecute the work. Now the brethren escort Paul, accompanied by Luke, far down south to Athens, the celebrated capital of Greece, where poetry, philosophy, oratory, the fine arts and military genius shone with a brilliancy eclipsing all the world beside. No city on the globe was so adorned with the finest marble temples, shrines, altars and statues erected to the gods of all the earth, with whom the Greeks had become acquainted when they conquered the world under the leadership of their own Alexander. They wanted to appropriate all the gods in the universe, so they would certainly be on the safe side. Now Paul spends all the week in the Forum preaching to the thronging multitudes, and the Sabbath in the Jewish synagogue. As Athens stood at the head of the educational world, they had the most learned council in the whole earth, assembled on the lofty heights of the Areopagus overlooking the city. This grave assembly consisted of philosophers, orators, scholars, poets, artists, geniuses and heroes. As Athens aspired to be the world’s umpire, everything new and strange in literature, philosophy and religion was relegated to this magnanimous synod. Ere long the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers, hearing Paul in the Forum, lead him up the heights of the Areopagus and place him in the midst of this cultured conclave, who now request him to deliver the new and strange doctrines which he had been preaching in the Forum. Very judiciously though conscientiously he courts their favor in his introductory: “I perceive that you are very religious” [not “too superstitious,” as E.V.], thus complimenting them, as they prided themselves in the worship of all the gods. “Passing through and seeing your devotions” [ i. e., temples, shrines, altars and statues of the different Grecian gods], “I observe also a temple erected to the ‘Unknown God’; whom you ignorantly worship Him, declare I unto you” i. e., I find you have thought enough of this God to build Him a temple, though you are not acquainted with Him. I am happy to say that I am acquainted with Him, and it is my good pleasure to tell you about Him.” All this delighted the Athenian philosophers; but when Paul goes on to tell them that this “Unknown God” is the only true God in all the world, and that he “does not dwell in temples made with hands, neither does he need anything,” and that all of these other great Grecian gods, in the erection of whose magnificent marble temples they have expended multiplied millions of dollars, are all fictions of the imagination, this sorely displeases them. Then when he tells them that all of the dead people from the beginning of the world are going to rise again and live forever the good in infinite bliss and the bad in misery ineffable they become totally disgusted, and reject his new doctrine as utterly false and untenable. This winds up his ministry at the world’s literary metropolis. There was too much learning for him to succeed at Athens. Knowledge is power, whether for good or evil. Hence the importance of saving people before you educate them, from the simple fact that their education is a citadel of power, whether for good or evil. With the wicked this strong fortress is occupied by Satan, who must be ousted before the soul can be saved. Hence it is easier to convert a hundred illiterate sinners than one learned infidel. From Athens Paul travels on southwest, arriving at Corinth, I know, in the fall of 52
A. D., and remaining until the spring of 54 A. D., in these eighteen months building up the largest and most gifted church of his ministry; thus his greatest success following his most signal defeat at Athens. Corinth stood on a beautiful fertile plain lying immediately south of the Isthmus of Corinth connecting Achaia with the mainland of Greece, and separating the Ionian Sea on the west from the Aegean Sea on the east, thus through these two seas commanding the commerce of the known world. Besides, Corinth was the metropolis of all Southern Greece, nestling amid the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Ionian and Aegean seas, with the innumerable islands of the Grecian Archipelago lying near by. So the commerce of all this fertile and accessible region, blessed with a semitropical climate and abounding in a vast variety of luscious fruits, poured its commercial resources into Corinth, thus building it up into one of the first cities of the age, really the “Paris” of the ancient world, the exponent of style and fashion, the emporium of the fine arts, literature and commerce of all Southern Greece. As every ancient city was located in view of military security, Corinth was built on that beautiful fertile plain lying between two seas and at the base of the Acro-Corinthus, a huge precipitous mountain five miles in compass, rearing its lofty height and looking down upon the magnificent city.
Many of the fortifications on this mountain are still standing, conspicuous afar. When the Roman Empire was conquered by the Goths, Huns and Vandals in the fifth century, Corinth, like Athens and other magnificent cities in the sunny south, was captured and spoilated by the barbarians, many of the more valuable specimens of the fine arts having ere this been transported to Rome. During the Dark Ages the spoilations continued until the former magnificence almost utterly disappeared. Since the independence of Greece over the Turks (1832), Athens has progressed from seven thousand to a hundred and fourteen thousand, and been beautifully and substantially rebuilt after the style of an American city. Unfortunately, the railroad missed the site of old Corinth three miles, running along over the isthmus and on the bank of the Ionian Sea, where new Corinth is now a rapidly growing city, the old site being utterly abandoned, except a dirty village of about fifty houses hugging the base of the Acro-Corinthus and occupied by the peasantry. When I was there in 1895 the great plain on which the magnificent city stood in Paul’s day was all a wheat field, the golden grain everywhere waving and ready for the harvest. When Paul arrived in Corinth, evidently discouraged by his signal defeat at Athens, he resumes his old trade, a very valuable one in time east, where millions of people spend their lives in tents, never living in a house, i. e., that of manufacturing tents out of goat’s hair, which was both abundant and cheap, as Greece, like Palestine, swarms with goats; Aquila and Priscilla, faithful Jews, having been driven from Rome by the imperial edict, and being tentmakers also, falling in with Paul and Luke, prosecuting their mechanical arts in partnership, which fortunately resulted in their glorious conversion in the Christhood of Jesus, their happy sanctification and call of God to preach the everlasting gospel. Meanwhile Timothy and Silas are prosecuting the work up in Macedonia, and traveling on over Paul’s track to join him in the south, where going through the week making tents and preaching every Sabbath in the Jewish synagogue, God greatly encourages him in a nightly vision, in which he stands over him and exhorts him to be courageous and preach the Word, that He will protect him from all his enemies, as he has much people in that great city. Those people had not yet been converted, but God knew they would be. Hence anticipatively he speaks of them as His own. When Silas and Timothy arrive, the conflict in the synagogue has well nigh culminated, and very soon the outbreak supervenes, the synagogue dividing, Crispus, the chief ruler, and many others going with Paul, and doubtless the majority rejecting him and driving him out of the synagogue. The reader must learn to give no attention to the postscripts in E.V., as they are all spurious, e. g., the one appended to this epistle saying that it was written at Philippi, whereas we learn from the eighth verse of the sixteenth chapter that it was written in Ephesus over in Asia along about Easter, being finished and sent away before Pentecost, which was early in June. Hence, Ephesus was the place and the spring of A. D 57 the time, and Stephanus, Fortunatus and Achaicus the bearers. Paul had been absent from Europe three years, having left Corinth in the spring of 54, after eighteen months constant labor, building up that great and powerful church. Of course, his departure was a matter of necessity in order to look after the work in Asia, which at that time was very extensive and scattered over many different countries. You must remember that Paul had no steam engine to carry him forty miles an hour. By sea he was dependent on the wind and the waves.
Overland he habitually traveled a pedestrian. Hence these three years were occupied in his constant peregrinations “confirming the churches,” i. e., getting them sanctified and established. The end for which he wrote this and the second epistle was to correct many serious abuses and some obnoxious heresies which had crept. in since he left. You must remember that the larger per cent of the Corinthian membership were Gentiles, having been so recently converted out of heathenism, that the material was somewhat gross and crude. There were also very many Jews in the Corinthian church. It was really a mammoth mongrel of all nationalities, who as well as the Jews had concentrated at this great Grecian metropolis. They were with few exceptions, very poor, belonging to the lower class of society and converted out of the slums, Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, Gains, “the host of Paul and the whole church,” and Erastus, the chamberlain of the city, being about the only exceptions. This great metropolis was a magnetic center of population, the most accessible by sea in the known world, and hence a rendezvous of all nationalities. When Paul went away, A. D. 54, very soon the great and eloquent Apollos arrived, God wonderfully blessing his labors while he sojourned with them, doubtless a considerable time. Peter, the senior of the original twelve, had also been there preaching, much to their edification. Doubtless many other true gospel preachers had been there. Yet you must remember that Satan is the great counterfeiter. In that day as in all ages his counterfeits superabound. There had even been false apostles there (2 Corinthians 11:13). Some of these preachers had ventured to inveigh against Paul, calling in question his apostolical authority, pronouncing him an innovator and an interloper, because he was not one of the original twelve, but came in afterward; the same holding up Peter as a true apostle, invested with the legitimate apostolical authority. So had they infringed upon Paul’s influence, even impeaching his apostolical authority and denouncing him as a counterfeit, that he found it necessary to condescend to the very unpleasant duty of defending his apostolical rights, privileges and authority. Besides, some of them had fallen into gross sin, and were tolerated by the church, and others were inflated with spiritual pride seriously detrimental. Having heard of these troubles while in Asia, Paul avails himself of these epistolary communications to correct them, much preferring to do this unpleasant work while absent, hoping that they would repent and get right before his arrival, when, of course, he would be compelled to excommunicate a lot of them. Hence he wrote this letter at Ephesus, not only sending it to them, but sending Timothy, his favorite preacher, Titus and others to preach to them, and do their utmost to correct the heresies, reform the vices and restore the irregularities before his arrival. Passing over the Aegean Sea to Macedonia early in the summer, where he received the report of the brethren returning from Corinth, he also wrote the second epistle, very probably at Berea, going down in person late in the fall. The effect of these epistles was really charming, producing such reformations and reclamations among them, of course augmented by the preaching of Timothy and Titus, whom Paul had sent, that when he arrived he was felicitously relieved of all the unpleasant disciplinary duties which he had sorrowfully anticipated when he wrote the letters. We must remember that this first epistle is really not the first, number one having been lost (chapter 1 Corinthians 5:9). When we consider the literary, as well as the ministerial, character of Paul, we doubt not but he wrote innumerable personal letters like that to Philemon, nearly all of which have perished. In Colossians he refers to the epistle he wrote to the Laodiceans, which has never been found. Doubtless this first lost letter to the Corinthians was a small communication like that to Philemon.
This epistle has always stood at the very front not only of the books constituting the Bible, but the Pauline letters. Chapters 1, 2, 3, 12, 13, 14 and 15 let you down into depths of inspired truth where the whole soul is lost in unutterable bewilderment, and lift you up into altitudes beyond the ultima thule where farthest planets roll and glorified intelligences wing their flight; at the same time they broaden out into latitudes too magnitudinous for the conception of the boldest imagination, and lead you forward into longitudes only commensurate with the flight of time and the cycles of eternity; while the interim chapters (4-11) gives you a comprehensive summary of all the relations, duties and responsibilities incident to life, individual, domestic, matrimonial, social, ecclesiastical and civil. Truly this epistle is a grand epitome of the whole Bible, focalized and concentrated.
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30