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- 1 Corinthians
by Joseph Exell
1. Its early history:--Corinth was famous in every age of Greek history. In the stories which have come down from the so-called heroic times it is mentioned in connection with (Edipus and with Jason. Homer speaks of “wealthy Corinth.” Thucydides tells us that the Corinthians were early distinguished for naval architecture and enterprise, for commerce and for wealth. Strabo speaks of the dynasty of the Bacchiadae who ruled in Corinth and made profit by its merchandise for 200 years; and of Cypselus, who overthrew them in B.C. 655, whose wealth was attested by a large statue of beaten gold presented by him to the temple at Olympia. Under his son Periander, Corinth was the most prosperous of the commercial cities of Greece. For this Strabo accounts by the preference of the traders between Asia and Italy to carry their goods across the Isthmus rather than risk the great perils of sailing round the Peloponnese; and by the position of the Isthmus as the only route for merchandise between the peninsula and the mainland of Greece. The Corinthians thus commanded two streams of traffic, on both which they were able to impose toll: and their city was the best residence for the merchants who conducted the traffic. Strabo mentions also the Isthmian Festivals as a source of profit by bringing strangers to the city. As a proof, and means of increase, of the wealth of Corinth, he speaks of the temple of Aphrodite, which was served by a thousand sacred courtesans. This is sad proof that in Corinth abundance of material good had produced its frequent result of self-indulgence and gross sin. Strabo says that Corinth was also the chief home of painting and sculpture. We notice, however, that the wealth of Corinth, so conducive to the development of art, did little for intellectual development. Among the many great writers of ancient Greece no Corinthian is found. (Prof. Beet.)
2. In the time of Paul:--Corinth was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia, and the residence of the Roman pro-consul. In the time of the apostle it was, in fact, the metropolis of Greece, as Athens was its university. The old city was destroyed (B.C. 146) by the consul Mummius so completely that only a few temples and columns survived. It was in this conflagration that a mass of gold, silver, and bronze was melted, and ran together, accidentally forming the famous metallic compound--“Corinthian brass,” which the ancients valued above pure gold. About a century after Julius Caesar, noting the importance of the site both as a commercial port and a military position, built a new town on the ruins of the old, and peopled it with Italians, most of whom were freed-men. The city rapidly increased. The descendants of the Greek merchants and traders who, at the destruction of the ancient city, had fled to Delos and the neighbouring coasts, came back to their ancestral home; and many Jews flocked eagerly to a city where there was much business to be done, and from which Jerusalem was easily reached. Still, the Italians were the strongest, the ruling class. From this fact arose one chief characteristic of the place. It was Roman not Greek, democratic not aristocratic, in its habits, and held in itself the vices as well as the virtues of turbulent democracy. This fact tells on St. Paul’s letters. It was only in a democratic city such as Corinth that those meetings could have taken place in which every member of the Church exercised his gifts in a brawling unmannerly way, and without heeding rules of order and courtesy; it was only in such a community that the parties could have been formed which divided the Church--a community in which a crude sense of equality and independence led men first to jostle together confusedly, and then to combine in adverse factions. Another fact throws light on the Epistles. Corinth was also a commercial port. Its site was perhaps the finest in the ancient world. It stood on the Isthmus which connected North with South Greece, on the narrow tongue of land which divides the AEgaean and Ionian seas. The most prominent feature of the Isthmus was the “Acro-corinthus”--a stern, jugged, abrupt cone of rock which suddenly sweeps up to some two thousand feet above the level of the sea, and throws its long shadow half way down the Isthmus. Corinth stood on the northern base of this lofty formidable rock, on a small table-land of no great elevation, and spread downward and sideward, throwing out great roads which extended to the sea on either side of the Isthmus. These roads terminated each in a port--Cenchreae on the AEgean Sea, and Lechaeum on the Ionian Sea; the latter for the Italian, and the former for the Oriental commerce. The Isthmus between these two ports was only about three miles broad, and the light small ships of antiquity were often drawn across this narrow sandy space, and so transported from sea to sea. In the apostle’s time, the Emperor Nero made an unsuccessful attempt to cut a canal across, and thus facilitate the passage. In this happy situation Corinth soon rose to be one of the richest and greatest emporiums of the Roman Empire; all the traffic between North and South Greece passing along the Isthmus it commanded, and most of the seaborne traffic between Europe and Asia passing across it. From this fact arose another peculiarity of Corinth. Its aristocracy, its leading men, were not men of birth, but men of wealth; not manufacturers even, but merchants. They had not the settled dignity which ancient and honourable lineage ought to give, nor the trained intelligence and quick invention which fit the manufacturer for success. Mere commerce is apt to sink into routine. It produces nothing, but simply shifts productions from one place to another. Those who pursue this vocation often come to look at all things merely with an eye to their market price, to worship Mammon instead of God, to value profit above honour, and to account as of little worth the mental power, or moral virtue, or spiritual hope, which weighs nothing when put into their scales. And such men were many of the Corinthian merchants. Besides this worship of wealth, there were also the usual demoralising influences of a seaport. Men of all lands, of all faiths, of all morals and of none, met and jostled on the quays and in the streets of Corinth. Withdrawn for the time even from the restraints which the influences of home would set to them, they gave loose to their passions. Corinth became a synonym for vice. Licentiousness was dignified into worship; the temples, no less than the streets, swarmed with courtesans, more than a thousand of whom served as priestesses in a single temple devoted to the goddess Aphrodite. The stately but unhappy city became a hotbed of evil, in which every noxious weed, indigenous or transplanted, grew and throve; luxury and sensuality were stimulated by the gambling spirit of commerce, till Corinth became a proverb of corruption. (S. Cox, D. D.)
Population at this time probably about 400,000. Society of high culture, but in morals lax, even gross. Four classes of inhabitants--Jews, Italian freedmen, Greeks, and a motley population from the cities of the Levant.
1. Throughout the Roman province of Achaia “communities of scattered Israelites” had settled: these were mercantile guilds or firms. How did the Corinthian Jew receive the glad tidings of the Messiah from the lips of St. Paul? His heart hardened against the miracles of our Lord, he was still less impressed by the apostolic miracles: these carried no conviction to him whatsoever; he demanded signs from heaven (1 Corinthians 1:22); he reiterated with a new application the Jewish cry of scorn at the foot of the Cross, “If He be the (ascended) Christ, let Him now come down”--“He, the crucified Malefactor, a Messiah meet for our theocracy!” At such Hebrew sceptics the apostle in Corinth was compelled (Acts 18:6) to “shake out the folds of his cloak.” Converts among the Jews were few. Thus the first Epistle speaks to a church in which the Gentile element is much greater than the Jewish; not so other Pauline Epistles.
2. Εποικοι or settlers of the Julian colony were Italian descendants of the first founders from Caesar’s army, and had been now established in Corinth 103 years. They were termed Corinthienses. Most of them were freedmen.
3. The Greek inhabitants of Achaea were marked by intellectual restlessness and a feverish hankering after novelties. To this was added a ruinous egoism, which three centuries before had prevented Aratus from confederating disintegrated Hellas. Their egoism was as fuel ready laid for the torch of sectarianism. The more cultured of them also had a strong bent for subtle dialectic, which hindered them from seeing “the forest for trees.” A nicely adjusted scheme of philosophy charmed and dazzled: they had no eyes for aught beyond. How then did the Hellenic student of Aristotle or of Philo receive the preaching of St. Paul? His gaze fixed upon a fleeting wisdom that had no bearing upon man’s eternal welfare, he could not see the true wisdom for the false. When the moral logic of the Cross (1 Corinthians 1:18) was set before him, Where is the scheme, he loftily asked, in which this theory of the Cross can be inserted, as a part in the whole? It stands alone, a sun without a system, a thread without its woof: it is foolishness.
4. The mixed population of Corinth were merchants and sailors from Rome, from Macedonia, from Asia Minor, from Syria and Egypt, traders from the towns of Achaia, with the usual admixture of handicraftsmen and slaves always found in such a society; to such the simplicity of the apostle’s teaching would be welcome. (Canon Evans.)
II. Paul at Corinth.--In the course of his second missionary journey St. Paul passed from Athens to Corinth, and to the wealthy and luxurious inhabitants the visit must have seemed of the slightest importance: a solitary Eastern traveller, he would be at once lost in the constant ebb and flow of strangers crossing each other at the Isthmus. But by the apostle himself his visit was regarded as of supreme moment. At the time of his arrival there was a larger number of Jews in the city than usual, many of those who had been lately banished from Rome by the decree of Claudius (Acts 16:9-10) having taken refuge at Corinth. Among these were Aquila and Priscilla. In their house, always hospitably open to strangers (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19), Paul found a home, attaching himself to them because they were of the same craft with him. His first thought in this new city was to earn his bread and secure his independence by honest toil (2 Corinthians 11:9). Once fairly settled, we may suppose that he began to look about him. On the narrow neck of land which stretched between the two seas he would mark the level plain and broken gullies clothed with the stunted pine, from whose branches of emerald green were woven the garlands for the conquerors in the Isthmian Games, which he contrasts with the unfading “incorruptible crown” of the Christian combatant. In the eastern declivities of the Acrocorinthus he would observe the “stadium,” along which the runners raced with a speed and energy which St. Paul bids his converts imitate in the Christian race. On the outskirts of the city his eye would rest on the spacious amphitheatre, in which victims were thrown to the wild beasts, or gladiators fought to the death; and from which he probably drew his figures when he told his Corinthian converts how he had “fought with beasts at Ephesus,” and how, when pressed above measure with hardships and indignities, it seemed to him that he was “set forth as the last in the file of combatants appointed to death”--a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. About the city he would mark the temples and columns with their Corinthian capitals, which alone had survived the conflagration that destroyed the former city, and works of art wrought in that Corinthian brass into which gold and silver and bronze had melted and run; and hence, no doubt, he drew that magnificent illustration in chap. 3., in which he warns us that we build upon the one sure foundation, not “wood, hay, and stubble,” but “gold, silver, and costly marbles,” that so when “the day that is to be revealed in fire prove every man’s work” our work may “abide,” just as the precious metals and costly marbles of Corinth remained when all meaner edifices of wood and thatch had been swept away. Within the city, no doubt, he would also take note of the luxury and mammonism shown in the streets and markets, of the schools and gymnasia in which the Corinthians contracted their admiration for mere gifts of intellect and speech, and of those wicked temples in which licentious indulgences were hallowed by forms of worship. From Acts 18:1-28. we learn that on the Sabbath he was wont, when first he arrived in Corinth, to go up to the synagogue, and reason and persuade both with Jews and proselytes, apparently speaking at first only as a Jew to Jews, about the “mercy promised to their forefathers,” and the “oath sworn to Abraham.” But soon Timotheus and Silas follow him from Macedonia, and bring so good a report of the converts he has left there, that Paul is “pressed,” i.e., “straitened” in spirit. He cannot any longer speak simply as a Jew. He testifies to his astonished hearers that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of God. They break out into invective and blasphemy; and Paul stands up in the synagogue and shakes its dust from his robes, declaring that, since they will not hear him, he will henceforth “go to the Gentiles.” He had not far to go. Contiguous to the synagogue was the house of Justus, a proselyte, in which the apostle continued to preach to as many as would come to hear. Here his labours were greatly blessed. The household of Stephanas were his first-fruits in Achaia. Gaius, with whom Paul found a home on his next visit to the city, was another of his converts. Aquila and Priscilla too, with whom he now lived and worked, seem to have received his gospel. But of all his early converts, none appears to have been more warmly welcomed than Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, whom, on his profession of faith, Paul baptized with his own hands, as indeed, contrary to his usual practice, he had also baptized Gaius and the family of Stephanas. The congregation rapidly grew (Acts 18:8), and among this mixed and growing audience Paul “sat,” after the manner of the Rabbis, and taught with unabated fervour “the Cross of Christ.” Speaking not with enticing rhetorical words, but as one who heartily believed in the simple gospel facts, he won an easy victory over the outworn creeds of Paganism and Hebraism. Some of his converts were, we know, men of culture and wealth; but there were “not many mighty, not many noble, not many wise,” but mainly slaves and artisans. It would seem that while Paul was busy in his work, Gallio, the new pro-consul, arrived at Corinth. The Jews, anxious, if possible, to profit by a change in the administration, and encouraged, perhaps, by the compliant and gracious character of the pro-consul, accused Paul before him as a disturber of the religious faith and peace of the city. They seem to have hoped that Paul would be given up to them; and had Gallio been a governor of the stamp of Pilate, or Festus, or Felix, their hope would probably have been fulfilled. Happily he was a man of a nobler cast; and no sooner had he understood that the question before him was simply a question of “words and names” and the technicalities of the Hebrew faith, than, without permitting Paul to reply to the accusation, he drove Sosthenes and his abettors from the judgment-seat. This was a decision which carried great consequences with it. The whole city was on the alert to see what the new proconsul would do, and to gather some hints of the direction in which his sympathies would run. The Greeks interpret the decision as adverse to the Jews; they deliver Paul from the hands of his enemies; they rush upon Sosthenes and beat him, probably with the lictors’ rods, before the pro-consular chair. And “Gallio cared for none of these things.” Why should he? He is there to administer the justice of the State, not to control or patronise religion. How critical the occasion was we may infer from the fact that on all previous occasions Paul had left the cities in which the Jews persecuted him; and that to keep him at Corinth God sent him a vision (Acts 18:9-10). It was only because God cheered and strengthened him that Paul remained at Corinth, risking all the enmity of the Jews in order that he might gather much people of that wicked city into the pure fold of Christ. (S. Cox, D. D.)
III. Corinthian Church Life.--
1. The bright side:--It is Sabbath evening, but of course the heathen city knows of no Sabbath. The day’s work at the busy seaport is over, and the streets are thronged with gay revellers intent on a night of pleasure, for it is the wickedest city of that wicked ancient world. Hundreds of merchants and sailors from foreign parts are lounging about. The gay young Roman, who has come across to this Paris for a bout of dissipation, drives his light chariot through the streets If it is near the time of the annual games, there are groups of boxers, runners, charioteers, and wrestlers, surrounded by their admirers and discussing their chances of winning the coveted crowns. In the warm genial climate old and young are out of doors enjoying the evening hour, whilst the sun, going down over the Adriatic, is casting its golden light upon the palaces and temples of the wealthy city. Meantime the little company of Christians has been gathering from all directions to their place of worship; for it is the hour of their stated assembly. The place of meeting itself does not rise very clearly before our view. But at all events it is no gorgeous temple like those by which it is surrounded; it has not even the pretensions of the neighbouring synagogue. It may be a large room in a private house or the wareroom of some Christian merchant cleared for the occasion. Glance round the benches and look at the faces. You at once discern one marked distinction among them: some have the peculiar facial contour of the Jew, while the rest are Gentiles of various nationalities; and the latter are the majority. But look closer still and you notice another distinction: some wear the ring which denotes that they are free, while others are slaves; and the latter preponderate. Here and there among the Gentile members there is one with the regular features of the born Greek, perhaps shaded with the pale thoughtfulness of the philosopher or distinguished with the self-confidence of wealth; but not many great, not many mighty, not many noble are there; the majority belong to what in this pretentious city would be reckoned the foolish, the weak, the base, and despised things of this world; they are slaves, whose ancestors did not breathe the pellucid air of Greece, but roamed in savage hordes on the banks of the Danube or the Don. But observe one thing besides on all the faces present--the terrible traces of their past life. In a modern Christian congregation one sees in the faces on every hand that peculiar cast of feature which Christian nurture, inherited through many centuries, has produced; and it is only here and there that a face may be seen in whose lines the tale is written of debauchery or crime. But in this Corinthian congregation these awful hieroglyphics are everywhere. “Know ye not,” Paul writes to them, “that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you.” Look at that tall, sallow-faced Greek; he has wallowed in the mire of Circe’s swine-pens. Look at that low-browed Scythian slave; he has been a pickpocket and a jail-bird. Look at that thin-nosed, sharp-eyed Jew; he has been a Shylock, cutting his pound of flesh from the gilded youth of Corinth. Yet there has been a great change. Another story besides the tale of sin is written on these countenances. “But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” Listen, they are singing; it is the fortieth Psalm: “He took me from the fearful pit and from the miry clay.” What pathos they throw into the words, what joy overspreads their faces! They know themselves to be monuments of free grace and dying love. But suppose them now all gathered. There was this difference between their services and ours, that instead of one man conducting them, all were at liberty to contribute their part. There may have been a leader or chairman; but one member might read a portion of Scripture, another offer prayer, a third deliver an address, a fourth raise a hymn, and so on. Nor does there seem to have been any fixed order in which the different parts of the service occurred; any member might rise and lead away the company into praise or prayer or meditation, as he felt prompted. This peculiarity was due to another great difference between them and us. The members were endowed with very extraordinary gifts. Some of them had the power of working miracles, such as the healing of the sick. Others possessed a strange gift called the gift of tongues. It is not quite clear what it was; but it seems to have been a kind of tranced utterance, in which the speaker poured out an impassioned rhapsody by which his religious feeling received both expression and exaltation. Some of those who possessed this gift were not able to tell others the meaning of what they were saying, while others had this additional power; and there were those who, though not speaking with tongues themselves, were able to interpret what the inspired speakers were saying. Then, again, there were members who possessed the gift of prophecy--a gift of impassioned eloquence, whose effects were sometimes marvellous: when an unbeliever entered the assembly and listened to the prophets, he was seized with uncontrollable emotion, the sins of his past life rose up before him, and, falling on his face, he confessed that God was among them of a truth. Other members exercised gifts more like those we are ourselves acquainted with, such as the gift of teaching or the gift of management. After the services just described were over, the members sat down together to a love-feast, which was wound up with the breaking of bread in the Lord’s Supper; and then, after a fraternal kiss, they departed to their homes. It was a memorable scene, radiant with brotherly love and alive with outbreaking spiritual power. As the Christians wended their way homewards through the careless groups of the heathen city, they were conscious of having experienced that which eye had not seen nor ear heard. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
2. The dark side and its lessons:--The picture presented in this Epistle is by no means an ideal of excellence. Indeed, it dispels rudely a pleasant dream that the early Christians were a pattern of purity and love. Transported to their midst we find not love and order and maturity, but spiritual childishness, a universal spirit of faction, blind self-conceit, resolute opposition to the great and loving apostle, and gross sin. Yet these imperfect Christians Patti recognises as brethren in Christ, justified and sanctified, the living temple of God, and a living letter evidently written by Christ with the Spirit of God through the agency of Paul, and therefore to him a source of thankfulness to God. This warns us not to treat at worthless imperfect forms of Christianity; and not to shut out men, and still less churches, from the family of God because of imperfections or inconsistencies. Human nature is a strange mixture. Churches with bad men in their chief places have often contained true followers of Christ. And underlying much that is unchristlike there has often been genuine though infantile Christian life. There are both tares among the wheat and among many tares wheat which will be garnered in the eternal harvest. This picture of an early Church dissipates fears for the churches of to-day. Possibly Paul trembled when he thought how soon these children in the faith would be left orphans in a wicked and stormy world. Certainly, had we stood by his side and seen the feebleness of the soldiers of the Cross and the divisions in their camp, and thought that to them alone must soon be committed the royal banner and all the interests of the kingdom of God on earth, we should have feared that the Church itself would net long survive the departure of its founders. But the feeble Christianity of that day overspread the Roman Empire, overthrew the gods of Greece, and became the religion of the civilised world. In view of this triumph we cannot fear, as some seem to do, that the Christianity of our day will be ruined by the imperfections and disorders prevalent here or there. For underneath weakness, or even disease, in the body of Christ there breathes immortal life. (Prof: Beet.)
IV. The First Epistle to the Corinthians.--
1. Its date and occasion:--The apostle’s sojourn at Ephesus is drawing to a close. Easter is approaching (58 a.d.), and he expects to stay in the Asiatic capital until Pentecost (1 Corinthians 5:8; 1 Corinthians 16:8-9). After Pentecost he proposes travelling to Macedonia, then coming on to Corinth and spending the ensuing winter there (1 Corinthians 16:1-9), after that setting out to Jerusalem. Meanwhile he has sent Timothy in his place with Erastus (1 Corinthians 4:17; Acts 19:22). But it was possible he might be hindered or delayed (1 Corinthians 16:10); and so indeed it turned out. For in the Second Epistle, which Paul writes from Macedonia with Timothy by his side (chap. 1:1), not a word is said of Timothy’s mission (contrast with this 1 Thessalonians 3:6-8); St. Paul’s mind is full of Titus’ report of the state of affairs at Corinth (1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 7:5-16). Clearly it was Titus who actually went to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17), to report to him on the condition of the Church and the effect of the Epistle, and to expedite the collection for Jerusalem (2Co 9:2; 1 Corinthians 16:1-6; cf. Romans 15:25-29; Acts 24:17; Galatians 2:10; Galatians 6:7-10). We are told in 2 Corinthians 8:6 that Titus took a special interest in this work of charity, arising perhaps from the fact that he had been with Paul at Jerusalem some years before (Galatians 2:1). Previous to the despatch of the First Epistle there had been a good deal of communication between St. Paul and Corinth. From 2 Corinthians 12:14; 2 Corinthians 13:1-2 (“This third time I am coming”), we infer that he had himself visited the Corinthian Church not very long ago, when he was grieved at the conduct of its members (2 Corinthians 12:20-21). It is possible that we have a hint of the time of this visit in 2 Corinthians 9:2, where the words “a year ago,” perhaps indicate the summer or autumn of 57 as the date of his excursion from Ephesus. He took no judicial action against the offenders at the time, contenting himself with hearing “the word of those that were putted up” (chap. 4:19), and warning them of the punishment that would ensue if on his return in the next spring he found them unrepentant (2 Corinthians 13:2). This forbearance some of his opponents put down to weakness on his part--an impression that; he fears may be aggravated by the present delay in his coming, and which in both Epistles he earnestly strives to remove (1Co 4:18-21; 2 Corinthians 1:17-24; 2 Corinthians 2:1), promising his defiers, who asked for “a proof of Christ speaking in him” (2 Corinthians 13:2-3), that their wish would shortly be gratified. Not only had St. Paul been in Corinth before, but had also written to the Church, probably in consequence of his visit (1 Corinthians 5:9). It is conjectured that we have, after all, a paragraph of the earlier lost letter in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 2 Corinthians 7:1, that has somehow slipped into this place. This passage very much interrupts the connection of thought where we find it in 2 Corinthians, and it is well suited to the purpose of the missing letter. The Corinthians received this, but had not as yet acted upon it. The doubt raised as to its meaning supplied a reason for delay. In explaining this by letter to the apostle they addressed to him at the same time a number of inquiries, with which he deals consecutively in chaps, 7--12. Three esteemed members of the Corinthian Church, Stephanas, Fortunatus, Achaians, came to Ephesus, seemingly as a deputation, bringing with them the above letter, and Wishful to assure the anxious apostle as to the feeling of the Corinthians towards him (1 Corinthians 16:17-18). Unfortunately, about the same time he heard from another source, “by those of the house of Chloe” (chap. 1:11), tidings which revived his worst fears. The strifes he had witnessed with so much sorrow had broken out still more violently; indeed, they threatened to bring about the speedy disruption of the Church. Amid the general rivalry and confusion four separate factions were distinguished. There were the Judaists--destined to play an important part in the later development of affairs--who said, “I am of Cephas.” The Apollos party boasted themselves men of culture and philosophic breadth; they missed in the apostle’s discourse the “excellency of speech and of wisdom” with which Apollos had gratified them (1 Corinthians 2:1; 2 Corinthians 11:6). Nor did Paul lack vigorous asserters of his superiority, men devoted to evangelic faith and freedom, whose championship, however, was maintained with a party spirit highly distasteful to him. There was even a Christian party, as jealous and disputatious as the rest, who set themselves above their brethren in claiming to be the true followers of Jesus, disparaging all other names and all other earthly authority in the pride of saying, “I am of Christ” (verse 12). Amongst the cases of immorality that had occurred in this Church (2 Corinthians 12:21), there was one of an especially infamous nature, respecting which St. Paul has now received information that leaves no room for doubt as to the facts (1 Corinthians 5:1). He demands indignantly a prompt and summary judgment of the case, so that before the approaching passover the Church may be purged of the profligate’s defiling presence (1 Corinthians 5:3-13). This case of discipline was a crucial matter. Had the Corinthians refused obedience the apostle would feel that he had lost all authority over them, and that his work at Corinth was ruined. Looking at matters in this light we can understand the conflicting emotions under which the apostle wrote this letter, and the intense anxiety with which he awaited its result (2 Corinthians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 2:12-13; 2 Corinthians 7:5-9). When the danger was over he allowed expression to these feelings of distress. In the First Epistle he bears himself with perfect self-control, with the calm and firm courage of the pilot at the height of the storm. Chap. 5. was, in effect, Paul’s ultimatum to Corinth. (Prof. Findlay.)
2. Its genuineness:--
(1) It is found in all Greek MSS. of Paul’s Epistles, and in the Latin, Syriac, Egyptian, Gothic, Armenian, and Ethiopia versions.
(2) It is quoted by the following Fathers: Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Polycarp, and Clement of Rome. We find, therefore, that it was well known and accepted both by friends and foes before a.d. 200 in places so far apart as Carthage, Egypt, and Gaul; and that it was referred to by three writers born before a.d. 100, and was appealed to within the lifetime probably of some who had seen the apostle in a public letter from the Church at Rome to that at Corinth as having been written to the latter Church by Paul.
(3) Its contents are such as no forger would dare to write; and such as would certainly prevent its acceptance by the Church at Corinth except on evidence which forbad all doubt. It abounds in severest condemnation of irregularities, vice, and heresy, which no contemporary forger would dare to record in a letter for which he sought acceptance as written by Paul; nor would any Church accept, without careful scrutiny, so public a monument of its degradation.
(4) Our study of the Epistle will assure us that it came from a man of vast mental power, of intense earnestness, and of the highest moral grandeur. Now the contents are such as must be either genuine or written with an intent to deceive. Can we conceive a man able to write such a letter perpetrating a forgery in order to hide his own name in oblivion? Nay, more; no man could do it. For the tone of reality throughout these Epistles is too clear to be simulated. The living picture here presented can be no other than a genuine reflection of actual life. And that it is such, will be strongly confirmed by our comparison of the Acts. So abundant and unquestionable is this various evidence that in all ages it has been accepted as genuine, both by those who share and those who trample under foot the earnest faith of the great apostle. (Prof. Beet.)
3. Its composition:--It was written, with the exception of the last few lines, by an amanuensis; not in Paul’s name alone, but in that of Sosthenes also--whether the successor of Crispus, as president of the Corinthian synagogue (Acts 18:17), or another of the same name cannot be determined. There is Paul himself, now about sixty years of age, and bearing in the pallor and feebleness of his frame traces (Galatians 6:17; 2 Corinthians 11:27; 2 Corinthians 4:10) of his constant and recent hardships; his eyes at times streaming with grief and indignation (2 Corinthians 2:4): the scribe catching the words from his lips and recording them on the scroll of parchment or papyrus (2 John 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:13) which lay before him. Possibly Sosthenes was himself the scribe; and if so, we may conceive him not only transcribing, but bearing his part in the Epistle, at times with signs of acquiescence and approbation, at times, it may be, interposing to remind the apostle of some forgotten fact, as of the baptism of the household of Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:16), or of some possible misapprehension of what he had dictated. (Dean Stanley.)
4. Its importance:--
(1) Paul’s relation to the Church in Corinth was in some respects peculiar. Be was not only its founder, but he continued in the closest relation to it. It excited his solicitude, called for the wisest management, tried his patience and forbearance, rewarded him at times by signal evidence of affection and obedience, and filled him with hopes of its extended and healthful influence. His love for that Church was therefore of special intensity. It was analogous to that of a father for a promising son beset with temptations, whose character combined great excellences with great defects. The Epistles to the Corinthians, therefore, reveal to us more of the personal character of the apostle than any of his other letters. They show him to us as a man, as a pastor, as a counsellor, as in conflict not only with heretics, but with personal enemies. They reveal his wisdom, his zeal, his forbearance, his liberality of principle and practice in all matters of indifference, his strictness in all matters of right and wrong, his humility, and perhaps, above all, his unwearied activity and wonderful endurance.
(2) These Epistles show more clearly than any other portion of the New Testament Christianity in conflict with heathenism. We see what method Paul adopted in founding the Church in the midst of a refined and corrupt people; how he answered questions of conscience arising out of the relations of Christians to the heathen around them. The cases may never occur again, but the principles involved in their decision are of perpetual obligation, and serve as lights to the Church in all ages. Principles relating to Church discipline, to social relations and intercourse, to public worship, the nature of the Church, and of the sacraments, are here unfolded, not in an abstract form, so much as in their application. These Epistles, therefore, in reference to all practical measures in the establishment of the Church among the heathen, and in its conduct in Christian lands, are among the most important portions of the Word of God. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
5. Its style, tone, and contents:--
(1) Style and tone. In chap. 1. a quiet and dignified assertion of his own apostolic authority, which had been called in question by the Hebraizing party, followed by a courteous salutation, leads to a brief exordium, which is kindly in tone, and winning even. Then the sore subject of partisanship is introduced easily and without obtrusiveness: “I am assured by Chloe’s friends that there are contentions among you.” After this the style and tone kindle into a fiery vehemence: “What? has the Christ been made a share? The Christ reduced from a whole to a part? Was then Paul crucified for you? was Apollos? was Cephas? Say not that.” This fiery vehemence rolls on through the first chapter in an emphatic terseness that brings out to the reader’s view bright elevations only, leaving dark the connecting depressions. One aim of a commentary is to throw light, if possible, on the sunken depressions. Again, when he comes to deal with human philosophy, St. Paul speaks out boldly, even contemptuously and in scathing antithesis more than once: “the world’s wise are God’s fools, and the world’s fools are God’s wise.” Nor can we wonder at this, for it is from the serene summits of his own “superabundant revelations” in the philosophy of Christianity (for he insists that the Cross of Christ is the nucleus and centre of a profound philosophy of Redemption, planned in heaven prior to Creation itself), it is from this lofty level of a transcendental knowledge that the apostle looks down with pity and with a holy scorn upon men’s intellectual methods and scientific labours to solve life’s riddle. Hence with pious contempt he thunders down upon the sophist and the Rabbi, upon the sapient Greek and the stolid Jew, “Where is wiseman? where is scribe? Has not God proved the world’s wisdom futile? silly? reduced to an absurdity all its irrelevant philosophies?” No compromise here. Or what can be more incisive than the sharp contrasts blended with a polished irony in 1 Corinthians 1:27-28? “A foolish thing of God is wiser than all mankind! A weak thing of God is stronger than all mankind!” Or again, the world’s simpletons, the world’s nonentities, the world’s weaklings and baselings (i.e., elements deemed such by the world)the chosen things, the very elements of God’s selection for the kingdom, while the scientists and the potentates and the entities (as St. Paul calls the somebodies) are often, not always, just what God’s selective wisdom in its march through the world looks at, and passes by and leaves behind. These cosmic eminences are generally among the rejectanei. Another conspicuous feature of this Epistle is the Pauline irony: certain passages ring with indignant sarcasm.
(2) Contents. Three trustworthy members of the Corinthian Church came to Ephesus bearing a letter from the Pauline and largest party, begging a solution of divers questions on marriage, on the veiling of women m assemblies, on sacrificial feasts, on spiritual gifts. The apostle, who had been informed of the disorders and divisions in the mother Church, replies to these questions seriatim. He also rebukes their contentious spirit, their acquiescence in a gross case of immorality unpunished, their appealing to heathen tribunals, their irregularities in the manner of celebrating the Eucharist and the Love-feasts, the denial by some of the resurrection itself. (Canon Evans.)
6. Its relation to the gospel history, as evidencing its truth in onnection with the other Epistles. Note--
(1) The allusions to the sayings of Christ. There are only two occasions on which our Lord’s authority is directly quoted-- 1Co 7:10; 1 Corinthians 9:4. Evidently referring in the one case to Matthew 5:32; Mark 10:11; Luke 16:18; and in the other to Luke 10:4; Luke 10:7; Matthew 10:9-10. To these we may add 1 Corinthians 14:37, which, like Acts 20:35, is lost. Four other passages, from their likeness of expression, may seem to have been derived from our Lord’s teaching-- 1Co 4:2, cf. Luke 6:28; 1Co 6:2, c.f. Luke 22:30; 1Co 7:35, cf. Luke 10:39-40; 1Co 13:2, cf. Matthew 17:20. But note, first, that their want of exact agreement implies that at the time the Gospels were not in existence. Secondly, that this discrepancy of form, combined with an unquestionable likeness of spirit, agrees with discrepancies of a similar kind in the gospels themselves; and when contrasted with the total dissimilarity of such isolated sayings as are ascribed to Christ by Irenaeus, show that the atmosphere, so to speak, of the gospel history extended beyond the limits of its existing records, and that within that atmosphere the apostle was included. Thirdly, the manner in which the apostle refers to these sayings proves the undisputed claim which they have already established, not only in his own mind, but in that of the whole Church. He quotes the sentence of Christ as that from which there was to be no appeal (1 Corinthians 7:10). Already the Lord’s words had become the law of the Christian society.
(2) The references to the particular acts of the life of Christ. To the earlier events the references are few. First, those to the Nativity (Romans 1:3; Galatians 4:4) illustrate the stress laid by the evangelists on the lineage of David (Luke 2:23; Matthew 1:1); on the announcement of His birth. (Luke 2:4; Matthew 1:23), and on the ritual observances which immediately followed (Luke 2:21-24). Secondly, there is no detailed allusion to the ministry or miracles of Christ. To the general manner, however, of our Lord’s mode of life there is one strong testimony which agrees perfectly with the fact and the spirit of the gospel narratives (2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:7). Thirdly, it is in the closing scenes of our Lord’s life that the apostle’s allusions centre. His “gospel” began with the sufferings of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3), and the main subject of his preaching in Corinth and Galatia was the Cross (1 Corinthians 1:17-18; Galatians 3:1). The distinct allusions to His sufferings arc few but precise (Hebrews 5:7; 1 Timothy 6:13). But the most definite and exact agreement is that which in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 contains the earliest written account of the Lord’s Supper, and which but for the confusions of the Corinthian Church would have remained unrecorded. The resurrection, like the death of Christ, is the subject of numerous allusions. In 1 Corinthians 15:4-7 we have the account of five appearances after the resurrection besides the one to himself, the general character of which remarkably opens with that of the gospel narratives. Some of the instances given are identical in both; but the appearance to James, agreeing as it does with the rejected gospel to the Hebrews, indicates an independent source for the apostle’s statement. The appearance to Peter is also to be noticed especially, as an example of an incident to which allusion is made in Luke 24:34, which here only receives its explanation. Paul’s mention of the appearance to the five hundred exemplifies that he, writing nearer the time, makes a fuller statement than is to be found in the later accounts--the reverse of what is usually supposed to take place in fictitious` narratives. The final result of the comparison thus shows that thirty years after the event, there must have existed a belief in the gospel story of the resurrection much as we have it now. As regards the ascension, in the early Epistles, as in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John, all reference to it is omitted, as though it were a mere accompaniment of the resurrection. But in the later Epistles, as in Luke and Acts, it is prominently brought forward (Ephesians 1:20; Ephesians 2:6; Eph 4:8; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 10:20; Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 9:24). The coincidence may be ascribed to the fact that the ascension (as in Acts 1:9-11) was regarded rather as part of the life of the Church (of which the later Epistles treat) than of Christ Himself. It is to be noted that these detailed references agree mostly with the Gospel of Luke, which points to the conclusion that the author of that Gospel was the companion of Paul.
(3) The allusions to the character of Christ. First, His greatness (1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Corinthians 15:45; 2Co 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:19, &c. &c.). We are so familiar with the sound of these words that we rarely think of their vastness, complexity, and freshness as employed in their first application to an actual individual man. Yet the image of Christ in the Gospels will be by all confessed to approach more nearly to Paul’s description than any other appearance in human history. Secondly, His wisdom (1Co 1:30, cf. Colossians 2:3; Ephesians 1:17). This is not the attribute which a zealous convert would necessarily think of applying to the founder of his religion. It is so applied by the apostle, and we see from the Gospels that his application of it cannot be questioned. Thirdly, His truth (Romans 9:1; Ephesians 4:21; 2 Corinthians 1:20). The apostle’s words are a faithful echo of John 8:32; John 14:6; John 18:37, and of Christ’s “Verily, verily.” Fourthly, His freedom. The apostle urges on his converts the freedom of the doctrine he preached and its contrast to the narrowness and concealment of the Jewish law, and tells them that they must attain this freedom through “the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:1; 2 Corinthians 4:10). We turn to the Gospels and find in their representation of Christ this very freedom--the sacrifice of the letter to the spirit, and the encouragement of openness and sincerity. Fifthly, His toleration (Romans 15:1; Rom 15:3; 1 Corinthians 10:32-33; 1 Corinthians 11:1). We cannot overlook our Lord’s constant though not universal acquiescence in the forms of the Mosaic law, and His condescension to human weakness and narrowness which runs through the whole texture of the gospel story. Sixthly, His gentleness (2 Corinthians 10:1). Seventhly, His love. Chap. 13. is a portrait of Christ and of no other. (Dean Stanley.)
7. Its relation to philosophy, criticism, and theology:--The Epistle to a remarkable degree combines modern questions and ancient methods. It touches on several of the points around which the battle of Christianity in our day is fought--the person of Christ, the supernatural element in the Church and in the Christian character, miracles, casuistry, and the resurrection. But the apostle’s statements on these and kindred topics are not conceived in the modem spirit. They are not tentative and deductive, but idealistic. He has fundamental ideas, which he, like Christ, does not attempt to prove. It is only when he raises a superstructure of truths on this foundation that discussion begins. If the reader rejects the assumptions as mystical unreason, the apostle’s entire doctrinal system must be unintelligible to him, except as the allegorical part of practical exhortation. We have no safe ground, it is true, for the inference that Paul formulated a purely philosophical system which might be applied to the solution of all religious problems as they arose. But a thoughtful reader of his Epistles will have no difficulty to discover the bent of his mind, even when it acts most freely. He is ever seeking the one in the many; and when he has found it, the unifying principles assumes in his eyes an objectiveness of character and becomes a real cosmical factor. His search for unity was partly the half-conscious yearning of a profound intellect that remained to the end more or less a stranger to the conflict of the later Greek schools, partly it embodied the spirit of the age, which felt the reaction against scepticism and faced the ever recurring question of dualism from the side of religion. Such a philosophy, however latent, could not fail to give birth to a very pronounced theology. In that theology a conspicuous place would be assigned to such ideas as lend themselves to the gathering of many particulars under general principles. The apostle’s system of religious thought lay at the farthest distance from empiricism and individualism. The principle that no thought can be admitted except on the express warrant of consciousness is modern. ‘The source of Paul’s ideas is revelation--an outward revelation of certain essential facts, and an inward revelation of the principles involved in them to the spiritual man. Those facts and principles centre in Christ. The Christ of Paul is at once the historical Jesus and the risen Lord in heaven. His fundamental philosophical assumptions would be accredited to his mind by their spiritual influence, their practical use, their consistency with his moral convictions, and their readiness to fit into the revelations which he believed himself to have received of God-concerning the person of Christ and the meaning and power of His life, death, and resurrection. Plato’s ideas “dwell in heaven.” If they were on earth they would be individual and therefore imperfect. Similarly in Paul’s teaching the Christ lives a heavenly life. He is spiritual, supernatural, absolute. What is of the earth is earthy, and what is of the flesh is flesh. By regarding the second Adam, not as a mere Adam or earthly man, but as a quickening Spirit and as the second Man from heaven, the apostle finds place for the identification of Christ with the ideally and absolutely good. We admit that to the Greek conception that religion is the criterion of truth, we must add the Hebrew conception of religion involving a moral law, the consciousness of sin, and the felt necessity of an atonement. The spiritual man is before all things a saved man. The Christ of heaven is the crucified Saviour. The gospel calls on men to repent and believe. But it is precisely in the union of a salvation through an atonement and salvation unto spirituality that the peculiar greatness of St. Paul’s representation of Christianity lies. What corresponds most nearly in his teaching to the modern conception of consciousness as lest of truth is faith; for it combines trust in God’s mercy and a realisation of Christ as a perfect ideal. Faith is both the cry of the terror-stricken sinner for pity and the eye of the spiritual man that can look at the sun without blinking; and it is the one and the other because it unites the soul to Christ, who is at once the Saviour and the example. (Principal Edwards.)
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24