Book Overview - 1 Corinthians
by Henry Alford
THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS
ITS AUTHORSHIP AND INTEGRITY
1. As far as I am aware, the first of these has never been doubted by any critic of note. Indeed he who would do so, must be prepared to dispute the historical truth of the character of St. Paul. For no more complete transcript of that character, as we find it set forth to us in the Acts, can be imagined, than that which we find in this and the second Epistle. Of this I shall speak further below (§ vii.).
2. But external testimonies to the Authorship are by no means wanting.
( α) Clement of Rome, in his Epistle to this very Church of Corinth, says, c. 47, p. 305 f.:— ἀναλάβετε τὴν ἐπιστολὴν τοῦ μακαρίου παύλου τοῦ ἀποστόλου. τί πρῶτον ὑμῖν ἐν ἀρχῇ εὐαγγελίου ἔγραψεν; ἐπʼ ἀληθείας πνευματικῶς ἐπέστειλεν ὑμῖν, περὶ αὐτοῦ τε καὶ κηφᾶ καὶ ἀπολλώ, διὰ τὸ καὶ τότε προσκλίσεις ὑμᾶς πεποιῆσθαι(38).
( β) Polycarp, ad Philippenses, c. 11, p. 1020:—“Qui autem ignorant judicium Domini? An nescimus, quia sancti mundum judicabunt(39)? sicut Paulus docet.”
( γ) Irenæus adv. Hær. iv. 27 (45). 3, p. 264:—“Et hoc autem apostolum in epistola quæ est ad Corinthios manifestissime ostendisse, dicentem: Nolo enim vos ignorare, fratres, quoniam patres nostri omnes sub nube fuerunt(40) &c.” And almost in the same words Cyprian, Testim. i. 4, citing the same passage.
( δ) Athenagoras, de resurrect. mort. 18, p. 331:— εὔδηλον παντὶ τὸ λειπόμενον, ὅτι δεῖ, κατὰ τὸν ἀπόστολον, τὸ φθαρτὸν τοῦτο καὶ διασκεδαστὸν ἐνδύσασθαι ἀφθαρσίαν(41), ἵνα κ. τ. λ.
( ε) Clement of Alexandria cites this epistle very frequently and explicitly: e.g. Pædag. i. 6 (33), p. 117 P.:— σαφέστατα γοῦν ὁ μακάριος παῦλος ἀπήλλαξεν ἡμᾶς τῆς ζητήσεως ἐν τῇ προτέρᾳ πρὸς κορινθίους ὧδέ πως γράφων· ἀδελφοί, μὴ παιδία γίνεσθε ταῖς φρεσὶν κ. τ. λ.(42)—And he proceeds to quote also 1 Corinthians 13:11, with πάλιν ὁ παῦλος λέγει.
( ζ) Tertullian de Præscript, adv. Hær. c. 33, vol. ii. p. 46,—“Paulus in prima ad Corinthios notat negatores et dubitatores resurrectionis.”
See Lardner: and Davidson’s Introd. vol. ii. p. 253 f., where more testimonies are given.
3. The integrity of this Epistle has not been disputed. The whole of it springs naturally out of the circumstances, and there are no difficulties arising from discontinuousness or change of style, as in some passages of the Epistle to the Romans.
FOR WHAT READERS IT WAS WRITTEN
1. “CORINTH (formerly Ephyre, Apollod. i. 9,—which afterwards was its poetic name, Ovid, Met. ii. 240. Virg. Georg. ii. 264. Propert. ii. 5. 1 al.) was a renowned, wealthy (Il. β. 570. Hor. ii. 16. Dio Chrysost. xxxvii. p. 464), and beautiful commercial city (Thuc. i. 13. Cic. rep. i. 4), and in the Roman times the capital of Achaia propria (Apul. Met. x. p. 239, Bipont), situated on the isthmus of the Peloponnese between the Ionian and Ægean seas (hence bimaris, Ovid, Met. v. 407; Hor. Od. i. 7. 2,— ἀμφιθάλασσος, διθάλασσος) and at the foot of a rock which bore the fortress Acrocorinthus (Strabo, viii. 379; Plut. vit. Arat. 16; Liv. xiv. 28),—forty stadia in circumference. It had two ports, of which the western (twelve stadia distant) was called Lechæon ( λέχαιον, Lechæum, Lecheæ, Plin. iv. 5), the eastern (seventy stadia distant) Kenchreæ (Strabo, viii. 380; Paus. ii. 2, 3; Liv. xxxii. 17; al.). The former was for the Italian, the latter for the Oriental commerce: so Strabo, l. c.: κεγχρεαὶ κώμη καὶ λιμὴν ἀπέχων τῆς πόλεως ὅσον ἑβδομήκοντα στάδια. τούτῳ μὲν χρῶνται πρὸς τοὺς ἐκ τῆς ἀσίας, πρὸς δὲ τοὺς ἐκ τῆς ἰταλίας τῷ λεχαίῳ. Arts and sciences flourished notably in Corinth (Pindar, Ol. xiii. 21; Herod. ii. 167; Plin. xxxiv. 3. xxxv. 5; Cic. Verr. ii. 19; Suet. Tiber. 34). The Corinthian plate was especially celebrated. But these advantages were accompanied by much wantonness, luxury, and gross corruption of morals (Athenæus, vii. 281. xiii. 543; Alciphr. iii. 60; Strabo, viii. 378; Eustath(43) Iliad β. p. 220). (These vices were increased by the periodical influx of visitors owing to the Isthmian games, and by the abandoned and unclean worship of Aphrodite, to whose temple more than a thousand priestesses of loose character were attached. See testimonials in Wetst.) The city (lumen totius Græciæ, Cic. Manil. 5) was taken, pillaged, and destroyed by L. Mummius (Flor. ii. 16; Liv. Epitome Iii.) in A.U.C. 608, 146 B.C. (cf. Plin. xxxiv. 3),—but re-established (as the colony Julia Corinthus) by Julius Cæsar, A.U.C. 710, B.C. 44,—and soon recovered its former splendour (Aristid. Or. 3, p. 23, ed. Jebb), and was accordingly in St. Paul’s time the seat of the Roman proconsul of Achaia (Acts 18:18). See, on the whole, Strabo, viii. 378 ff.; Paus. ii. 1 ff.” Winer, Realwörterbuch. An interesting description of the present remains of Corinth will be found in Leake’s Morea, vol. iii. ch. 28.
2. The Christian church at Corinth was founded by St. Paul on his first visit, related in Acts 18. (1–18). He spent there a year and a half, and his labours seem to have been rewarded with considerable success. His converts were for the most part Gentiles (1 Corinthians 12:2), but comprised also many Jews (Acts 18:8; see too ver. 5, and note); both however, though the Christian body at Corinth was numerous (Acts ib. 4, 8, 10), were principally from the poorer classes (1 Corinthians 1:26 ff.). To this Crispus the ruler of the synagogue (Acts 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:14) formed an exception, as also Erastus the chamberlain ( οἰκονόμος) of the city (Romans 16:23), and Gaius, whom the Apostle calls ὁ ξένος μου κ. ὅλης τῆς ἐκκλησίας. And we find traces of a considerable mixture of classes of society in the agapæ (1 Corinthians 11:22).
3. The method of the Apostle in preaching at Corinth is described by himself, 1 Corinthians 2:1 ff. He used great simplicity, declaring to them only the cross of Christ, without any adventitious helps of rhetoric or worldly wisdom. The opposition of the Jews had been to him a source of no ordinary anxiety: see the remarkable expression Acts 18:5, and note there. The situation likewise of his Gentile converts was full of danger. Surrounded by habits of gross immorality and intellectual pride, they were liable to be corrupted in their conduct, or tempted to despise the simplicity of their first teacher.
4. Of this latter there was the more risk, since the Apostle had been followed by one whose teaching might make his appear in their eyes meagre and scanty. Apollos is described in Acts 18:24 ff. as a learned Hellenist of Alexandria, mighty in the Scriptures, and fervent in zeal. And though by the honourable testimony there given(44) to his work at Corinth, it is evident that his doctrine was essentially the same with that of Paul, yet there is reason to think that there was difference enough in the outward character and expression of the two(45) to provoke comparison to the Apostle’s disadvantage, and attract the lovers of eloquence and philosophy rather to Apollos.
5. We discover very plain signs of an influence antagonistic to the Apostle having been at work in Corinth. Teachers had come, of Jewish extraction (2 Corinthians 11:22), bringing with them letters of recommendation from other churches (2 Corinthians 3:1), and had built on the foundation laid by Paul (1 Corinthians 3:10-18; 2 Corinthians 10:13-18) a worthless building, on which they prided themselves. These teachers gave out themselves for Apostles (2 Corinthians 11:5; 2 Corinthians 11:13), rejecting the apostleship of Paul (1 Corinthians 9:2; 2 Corinthians 10:7-8), encouraging disobedience to his commands (2 Corinthians 10:1; 2 Corinthians 10:6), and disparaging in every way his character, and work for the Gospel (see for the former, 2 Corinthians 4:1-2 ff.; 2 Corinthians 5:11 ff., and notes in both places: for the latter, 2 Corinthians 11:16 to 2 Corinthians 12:12). It is probable, as De Wette suggests, that these persons were excited to greater rage against Paul, by the contents of the first Epistle; for we find the plainest mention of them in the second. But their practices had commenced before, and traces of them are very evident in ch. 9 of this Epistle.
6. The ground taken by these persons, as regarded their Jewish position, is manifest from these Epistles. They did not, as the false teachers among the Galatians, insist on circumcision and keeping the law: for not a word occurs on that question, nor a hint which can be construed as pointing to it. Some think that they kept back this point in a church consisting principally of Gentiles, and contented themselves with first setting aside the authority and influence of Paul. But I should rather believe them to have looked on this question as closed, and to have carried on more a negative than a positive warfare with the Apostle, upholding, as against him, the authority of the regularly constituted Twelve, and of Peter as the Apostle of the circumcision, and impugning Paul as an interloper and innovator, and no autoptic witness of the events of the Gospel history: as not daring to prove his apostleship by claiming sustenance from the Christian churches, or by leading about a wife, as the other Apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas. What their positive teaching had been, it is difficult to decide, except that, although founded on a recognition of Jesus the Christ, it was of an inconsistent and unsubstantial kind, and such as would not stand in the coming day of fiery trial (1 Corinthians 3:11 ff.).
7. That some of these teachers may have described themselves as peculiarly belonging to Christ, is a priori very probable. St. Paul had had no connexion with our Lord while He lived and taught on earth. His Christian life and apostolic calling began at so late a period, that those who had seen the Lord on earth might claim a superiority over him. And this is all that seems to be meant by the ἐγὼ δὲ χριστοῦ of 1 Corinthians 1:12, especially if we compare it with 2 Corinthians 10:7 ff., the only other passage where the expression is alluded to. There certainly persons are pointed out, who boasted themselves in some peculiar connexion with Christ which, it was presumed, Paul had not; and were ignorant that the weapons of the apostolic warfare were not carnal, but spiritual.
8. It would also be natural that some should avow themselves the followers of Paul himself, and set perhaps an undue value on him as God’s appointed minister among them, forgetting that all ministers were but God’s servants for their benefit.
9. It will be seen from the foregoing remarks, as well as from the notes, that I do not believe these tendencies to have developed themselves into distinctly marked parties, either before the writing of our Epistle or at any other time. In the Epistle of Clement of Rome, written some years after, we find the same contentious spirit blamed (c. 47, p. 308), but it appears that by that time its ground was altogether different: we have no traces of the Paul-party, or Apollos-party, or Cephas-party, or Christ-party: ecclesiastical insubordination and ambition were then the faults of the Corinthian church.
10. Much ingenuity and labour has been spent in Germany on the four supposed distinct parties at Corinth, and the most eminent theologians have endeavoured, with very different results, to allot to each its definite place in tenets and practice. I refer the student for a complete account of the principal theories, to Dr. Davidson’s Introduction, vol. ii. p. 224 ff., and Conybeare and Howson’s Life of St. Paul, vol. i. chap. 13.:—and for separate expositions, to Neander, Pfl. u. Leit., 4th edn. pp. 375–397: Olshausen, Bibl. Comm. iii. 475 ff.: Schaff, Gesch. d. christlichen Kirche, § 64: Stanley, Epistle to the Corinthians, Introduction.
WITH WHAT OBJECT IT WAS WRITTEN
1. The object of writing this Epistle was twofold. The Apostle had been applied to by the Corinthians to advise them on matters connected with their practice in the relations of life (ch. 1 Corinthians 7:1), and with their liberty of action as regarded meats offered to idols (ch. 8–10); they had apparently also referred to him the question whether their women should be veiled in the public assemblies of the church (ch. 1 Corinthians 11:3-16): and had laid before him some difficulties respecting the exercise of spiritual gifts (ch. 12–14). He had enjoined them to make a collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem: and they had requested directions, how this might best be done (ch. 1 Corinthians 16:1 ff.).
2. These enquiries would have elicited at all events an answer from St. Paul. But there were other and even more weighty reasons why an Epistle should be sent to them just now from their father in the faith. Intelligence had been brought him by the family of Chloe (ch. 1 Corinthians 1:11) of their contentious spirit. From the same, or from other sources, he had learned the occurrence among them of a gross case of incest, in which the delinquent was upheld in impunity by the church (ch. 1 Corinthians 5:1 ff.). He had further understood that the Christian brethren were in the habit of carrying their disputes before heathen tribunals (ch. 1 Corinthians 6:1 ff.). And it had been represented to him that there were irregularities requiring reprehension in their manner of celebrating the Agapæ, which indeed they had so abused, that they could now be no longer called the Supper of the Lord. Such were their weighty errors in practice: and among these it would have been hardly possible that Christian doctrine should remain sound. So far was this from being the case, that some among them had even gone to the length of denying the Resurrection itself. Against these he triumphantly argues in ch. 15.
3. It has been questioned whether St. Paul had the defence of his own apostolic authority in view in this Epistle. The answer must certainly be in the affirmative; We cannot read chapters 4 and 9 without perceiving this. At the same time, it is most probable that the hostility of the false teachers had not yet assumed the definite force of personal slander and disparagement,—or not so prominently and notoriously as afterwards. That which is the primary subject of the 2nd Epistle, is but incidentally touched on here. But we plainly see that his authority had been already impugned (see especially ch. 1 Corinthians 4:17-21), and his apostleship questioned (ch. 1 Corinthians 9:1-2).
OF THE NUMBER OF EPISTLES WRITTEN BY PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS
1. If we were left to infer a priori, it would be exceedingly probable that an Epistle had been sent to the Corinthians before this, which we call the first. It appears from ch. 1 Corinthians 16:1 that they wanted some directions as to the method of making “the collection for the saints.” We may ask,—when enjoined and how? If by the Apostle in person, the directions would doubtless have been asked for and given at the time. It would seem then to follow, that a command to make the collection had been sent them either by some messenger, or in an epistle.
2. The uncertainty, however, which would rest upon this inference, is removed by the express words of the Apostle himself. In ch. 1 Corinthians 5:9 he says, ἔγραψα ὑμῖν ἐν τῇ ἐπιστολῇ, μὴ συναναμίγνυσθαι πόρνοις. In my note on those words, I have endeavoured to shew that the only meaning which in their context they will legitimately bear, is, that this command, not to associate with fornicators, was contained in a previous Epistle to them, which has not been preserved to us. Those who maintain that the reference is to the present Epistle, have never been able to produce a passage bearing the slightest resemblance to the command mentioned(46).
3. The opinions of Commentators on this point have been strangely warped by a notion conceived a priori, that it would be wrong to suppose any apostolic Epistle to have been lost. Those who regard, not preconceived theories, but the facts and analogies of the case, will rather come to the conclusion that very many have been lost. The Epistle to Philemon, for example, is the only one remaining to us of a class, which if we take into account the affectionate disposition of St. Paul, and the frequency of intercourse between the metropolis and the provinces, must have been numerous during his captivity in Rome. We find him also declaring, 1 Corinthians 16:3 (see note there), his intention of giving recommendatory letters, if necessary, to the bearers of the collection from Corinth to Jerusalem: from which proposal we may safely infer that on other occasions, he was in the habit of writing such Epistles to individuals or to churches. To imagine that every writing of an inspired Apostle must necessarily have been preserved to us, is as absurd as it would be to imagine that all his sayings must necessarily have been recorded. The Providence of God, which has preserved so many precious portions both of one and the other, has also allowed many, perhaps equally precious, of both, to pass into oblivion.
4. The time of writing this lost Epistle is fixed, by the history, between Paul’s leaving Corinth Acts 18:18, and the sending of our present Epistle. But we shall be able to approximate nearer, when we have discussed the question of the Apostle’s visits to Corinth(47).
5. Its contents may be in some measure surmised from the data furnished in our two canonical Epistles.
He had in it given them a command, μὴ συναναμίγνυσθαι πόρνοις, which being taken by them in too strict and literal a sense, and on that account perhaps overlooked, as impossible to be observed, is explained in its true sense by him, 1 Corinthians 5:9-12.
It also contained, in all probability, an announcement of a plan of visiting them on his way to Macedonia, and again on his return from Macedonia (2 Corinthians 1:15-16), which he changed in consequence of the news heard from Chloe’s household (1 Corinthians 16:5-7), for which alteration he was accused of lightness of purpose ( ἐλαφρία, 2 Corinthians 1:17).
We may safely say also (see above) that it contained a command to make a collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem. Further than this we cannot with any safety surmise.
It was evidently a short letter, containing perhaps little or nothing more than the above announcement and injunctions, given probably in the pithy and sententious manner so common with the Apostle(48).
OF THE NUMBER OF VISITS MADE BY PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS
1. The controversy on this point will be cut very short, if the interpretation given in the notes of 2 Corinthians 12:14; 2 Corinthians 13:1, be assumed as correct:—and, as I have there maintained, I believe that neither the words nor the context will admit any other. The Apostle had paid two visits to Corinth before the sending of that, and consequently of this Epistle.
2. The difficulty in this inference, which has led Commentators to adopt an unnatural rendering of the above passages, is, that but one visit is recorded, viz. that in Acts 18:1 ff. For both Epistles were written before the second visit in Acts 20:2-3. (Compare Acts 19 with 1 Corinthians 16:8, and 2 Corinthians 9:2 with Acts 20:1-2.)
3. But manifestly, the history of St. Paul’s apostolic career in the Acts is very fragmentary and imperfect. Long and important journeys are dismissed in a few words(49): some, e.g. that to Arabia, and the missionary tour in Syria and Cilicia, Galatians 1:21 ff., not being even mentioned. No notice is taken of the foundation of the churches of Galatia, unless the cursory mention of Acts 16:6, be taken as such:—and of the copious catalogue of perils undergone by him in Acts 11:24 ff., but few can be identified in the history. That a journey to Corinth should have escaped mention, where more extensive journeys and more important events have been omitted or slightly touched on, would not be at all improbable.
4. Such a journey must of course be inserted between Acts 18:18, when his first visit to Corinth ended, and Acts 20:2, when the second Epistle was sent from Macedonia. But these limits are further narrowed by the history itself. From Acts 18:18 to Acts 19:9, when we find the Apostle established at Ephesus, is evidently a continuous narrative. And as plainly, no visit took place between the sending of the first and second Epistle, as is decisively proved by 2 Corinthians 1:15-23. Now the first Epistle was sent from Ephesus, in the early part of the year in which he left that city, 1 Corinthians 16:8. So that our terminus a quo is the settling at Ephesus, Acts 19:10, and our terminus ad quem the spring preceding the departure from Ephesus, Acts 20:1. During this time, a visit to Corinth took place.
5. Let us see whether any hints of his own throw light on this necessary inference. In 2 Corinthians 11:25 we read τρὶς ἐναυάγησα, and this in a description of his apostolic labours: so that we must not go back beyond his conversion for any of these shipwrecks. Now his recorded voyages are these: (1) From Cæsarea to Tarsus, Acts 9:30. (2) Possibly, from Tarsus to Antioch, Acts 11:25; but more probably this was a land-journey. (3) From Seleucia to Cyprus, Acts 13:4. (4) From Paphos to Perga, Acts 13:13. (5) From Attalia to Antioch, Acto_14:26. (6) From Troas to Philippi, Acts 16:11-12. (7) From Macedonia to Athens, Acts 17:14-15. (8) From Kenchreæ to Ephesus, Acts 18:18-19. (9) From Ephesus to Cæsarea, ib. Acts 18:21-22. (10) From Ephesus to Macedonia, Acts 20:1. Of these, it is certain that no shipwreck took place during (6), for it is minutely detailed: it is extremely improbable that any took place during (3), (4), and (5), as the account of the first missionary tour is circumstantial and precise. The same may be said of (7), in which the words οἱ δὲ καθιστάνοντες τὸν παῦλον ἤγαγον ἕως ἀθηνῶν will scarcely admit of such an interruption. It is hardly probable that any shipwreck took place in those voyages the purpose of which is described as being at once attained, to which class belong (8) and (9), and, if it is to be counted as a voyage, (2). The two left, of which we have absolutely no account given, are (1) and (10). It is quite possible that he may have been shipwrecked on both these occasions, and such an assumption with regard to (10) would suggest another interpretation of the difficult allusion, 2 Corinthians 1:8-10. But even assuming this, more voyages seem to be required to account for three shipwrecks. It is true that the evidence thus acquired is very slight—but however trifling, it is at least in favour of, and not against, the hypothesis of an unrecorded visit to Corinth.
6. The nature of the visit may be gathered in some measure from extant hints. It was one made ἐν λύπῃ, 2 Corinthians 2:1, where see note: why, we might well suppose, but are not left to conjecture: for he tells them (2 Corinthians 13:2 and note) that during it he warned them, that if he came again, he would not spare (the sinners among them); and 2 Corinthians 12:21, there is a hint given that God had, on this occasion, humbled him among them. It was a visit unpleasant in the process and in recollection: perhaps very short, and as sad as short: in which he seems merely to have thrown out solemn warnings of the consequences of a future visit of apostolic severity if the abuses were persisted in,—and possibly to have received insult from some among them on account of such warnings.
7. If we enquire what sort of sin had occasioned the visit, the answer seems to be furnished by 2 Corinthians 12:21, μὴ πάλιν ἐλθόντος μου ταπεινώσει με ὁ θεός μου πρὸς ὑμᾶς, καὶ πενθήσω πολλοὺς τῶν προημαρτηκότων καὶ μὴ μετανοησάντων ἐπὶ τῇ ἀκαθαρσίᾳ καὶ πορνείᾳ καὶ ἀσελγείᾳ ᾗ ἔπραξαν. It was probably on account of these, the besetting sins of the place, that his second visit had been made in grief; it was to abstain from these sins and the company of those who committed them, that he had enjoined them in his lost Epistle: and accordingly, while we find in our first Epistle detailed notice of the special case of sin which he had recently heard of as occurring among them, the subject of πορνεία is alluded to (1 Corinthians 6:12-20) only in a summary way, and in one which shews that he is rather replying to an excuse set up after rebuke in the matter, than introducing it for the first time.
AT WHAT PLACE AND TIME THIS EPISTLE WAS WRITTEN
1. The place of writing it is pointed out in ch. 1 Corinthians 16:8,— ἐπιμενῶ δὲ ἐν ἐφέσῳ ἕως τῆς πεντηκοστῆς, to have been EPHESUS.
A mistaken rendering of the words (ib. ver. 5) ΄ακεδονίαν γὰρ διέρχομαι, as if they signified ‘for I am passing through Macedonia,’—led probably to the subscription in the rec. and our English Bibles, ἐγράφη ἀπὸ φιλίππων. But the idea has never been seriously entertained.
2. The above notice from ch. 1 Corinthians 16:8 also shews, that at the time of writing, the Apostle intended to quit Ephesus after Pentecost of that year. And on connecting this with Acts 19, 20, it appears (see notes, and chronological table in Prolegg. to Acts) that he really did leave Ephesus about Pentecost in the year 57. We may assume therefore (as we have no ground for supposing that he referred to a previous year and afterwards changed his purpose) that the Epistle was written in the former part of the year 57.
3. It will be seen by my notes on 1 Corinthians 5:7, that I cannot see in the words καθώς ἐστε ἄζυμοι any allusion to the fact of the days of unleavened bread being then present. I have endeavoured to shew that external probability, as well as spiritual analogy, is against the idea that St. Paul would have so expressed himself. But there still is no reason, why the nearness or presence of that season may not have suggested to him the whole train of thought there occurring,—especially when we know independently that he was writing during the former part of the year.
4. It is almost certain then that the Epistle was written before Pentecost, A.D. 57: and probable, that somewhat about Easter was the exact time.
5. The Apostle had at this time already sent off Timotheus and Erastus to Macedonia (cf. Acts 19:22, and 1 Corinthians 4:17), the former (1 Cor. ib.) with the intention of his proceeding on to Corinth, if possible (1 Corinthians 16:10), and preparing the way for his own apostolic visit (1 Corinthians 4:17). Possibly also his mission had reference to the collection for the saints at Jerusalem (see 2 Corinthians 8, and 2 Corinthians 12:18); but the language used is ambiguous, and we cannot pronounce positively that Timotheus reached Corinth on this journey. (See below, ch. iv § ii. 4.)
6. The Epistle is addressed in the name of Sosthenes ὁ ἀδελφός, as well as in that of the Apostle. It is hardly possible that this Sosthenes should be the same as the person of that name mentioned Acts 18:17(50): see note there. The conjectures respecting him I have given on 1 Corinthians 1:1. He bears no part in the Epistle itself, any more than Timotheus in 2 Cor.: the Apostle, after mentioning him, immediately proceeds εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου.
7. It is uncertain, who were the bearers of the Epistle: but perhaps the common subscription is right in assigning that office to Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus. For they are mentioned as being present with the Apostle (1 Corinthians 16:17) from Corinth: and as an injunction is given (ib. 18) that they should be honourably regarded by the Corinthians, it is highly probable that they were intending to return.
MATTER AND STYLE
1. As might have been expected from the occasion of writing, the matter of this epistle is very various. It is admirably characterized by Mr. Conybeare, in Conybeare and Howson’s Life and Epistles of St. Paul, vol. ii. p. 28 (2nd edn.):—
“This letter is, in its contents, the most diversified of all St. Paul’s Epistles: and in proportion to the variety of its topics, is the depth of its interest for ourselves. For by it we are introduced as it were behind the scenes of the apostolic Church, and its minutest features are revealed to us under the light of daily life. We see the picture of a Christian congregation as it met for worship in some upper chamber, such as the house of Aquila or of Gaius could furnish. We see that these seasons of pure devotion were not unalloyed by human vanity and excitement: yet, on the other hand, we behold the heathen auditor pierced to the heart by the inspired eloquence of the Christian prophets, the secrets of his conscience laid bare to him, and himself constrained to fall down on his face and worship God: we hear the fervent thanksgiving echoed by the unanimous Amen: we see the administration of the Holy Communion terminating the feast of love. Again, we become familiar with the perplexities of domestic life, the corrupting proximity of heathen immorality, the lingering superstition, the rash speculation, the lawless perversion of Christian liberty: we witness the strife of theological factions, the party names, the sectarian animosities. We perceive the difficulty of the task imposed upon the Apostle, who must guard from so many perils, and guide through so many difficulties, his children in the faith, whom else he had begotten in vain: and we learn to appreciate more fully the magnitude of that laborious responsibility under which he describes himself as almost ready to sink, ‘the care of all the churches.’
“But while we rejoice that so many details of the deepest historical interest have been preserved to us by this Epistle, let us not forget to thank God, who so inspired His Apostle, that in his answers to questions of transitory interest he has laid down principles of eternal obligation. Let us trace with gratitude the providence of Him, who ‘out of darkness calls up light;’ by whose mercy it was provided, that the unchastity of the Corinthians should occasion the sacred laws of moral purity to be established for ever through the Christian world;—that their denial of the resurrection should cause those words to be recorded whereon reposes, as upon a rock that cannot be shaken, our sure and certain hope of immortality.”
2. In style, this Epistle ranks perhaps the foremost of all as to sublimity, and earnest and impassioned eloquence. Of the former, the description of the simplicity of the Gospel in ch. 2,—the concluding apostrophe of ch. 3 (ver. 16—end),—the same in ch. 6 (ver. 9—end),—the reminiscence of the shortness of the time, ch. 1 Corinthians 7:29-31,—the whole argument in ch. 15,—are examples unsurpassed in Scripture itself: and of the latter, ch. 1 Corinthians 4:8-15, and the whole of ch. 9; while the panegyric of Love, in ch. 13, stands, a pure and perfect gem, perhaps the noblest assemblage of beautiful thoughts in beautiful language extant in this our world. About the whole Epistle there is a character of lofty and sustained solemnity,—an absence of tortuousness of construction, and an apologetic plainness, which contrast remarkably with the personal portions of the second Epistle.
3. No Epistle raises in us a higher estimate of the varied and wonderful gifts with which God was pleased to endow the man whom He selected for the Apostle of the Gentile world: or shews us how large a portion of the Spirit, who worketh in each man severally as He will, was given to him for our edification. The depths of the spiritual, the moral, the intellectual, the physical world are open to him. He summons to his aid the analogies of nature. He enters minutely into the varieties of human infirmity and prejudice. He draws warning from the history of the chosen people: example, from the Isthmian foot-race. He refers an apparently trifling question of costume to the first great proprieties and relations of Creation and Redemption. He praises, reproves, exhorts, and teaches. Where he strikes, he heals. His large heart holding all, where he has grieved any, he grieves likewise; where it is in his power to give joy, he first overflows with joy himself. We may form some idea from this Epistle better perhaps than from any one other,—because this embraces the widest range of topics,—what marvellous power such a man must have had to persuade, to rebuke, to attract and fasten the affections of men.
the Second Week of Lent