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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 1

 

 

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Verses 1-9

1 Corinthians 1-4. The Parties in the Corinthian Church.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9. The epistle is sent in the joint names of Paul and Sosthenes, who may have been the ruler of the synagogue mentioned in Acts 18:17, but the name was common. He seems to have had no share in the composition of the letter. The salutation sets before the readers the holiness of their vocation and the brotherhood of the saints, both of which their conduct repudiated. In the thanksgiving which follows, the omission of qualities which ought to characterise a church is as significant as the inclusion of those mentioned. They were stronger in gifts than in graces, and even the gifts had their weak side, the church had in Bruce's phrase, "run to tongue," and plumed itself on its "knowledge." Yet Paul recognises that the Christian hope burns in them, and is confident that by Christ's help they will stand without impeachment (the term refers to status, not character) at the Judgment. This certainty that Christ will so establish them rests on the faithfulness of God, who in the call pledged Himself to the salvation of those who accepted it.


Verses 10-17

1 Corinthians 1:10-17. The Party Spirit in the Church.—Apparently Paul had only just heard of the parties, they were, therefore, a new development and not of long standing. He deals with them first, not as the gravest abuse, but because they were uppermost in his mind. The passage raises problems of great difficulty which cannot be solved with any certainty. In Greek cities party spirit often ran high alike in politics and in sport. Probably this lay at the root of the parties in the church, rather than any doctrinal difference; though a line of cleavage which was primarily personal might naturally bring with it an accentuation of doctrinal divergence which would have its effect in the grouping of the parties. The party of Paul held loyally by the founder of the community. The party of Apollos (Acts 18:24-28) had been captivated by the eloquence and perhaps the philosophic gift of the brilliant Alexandrian. Since both had worked in Corinth it has been argued that Peter also must have visited that city. In face of Paul's silence this is improbable. If his adherents had come into personal contact with him it would presumably have been in Palestine or on one of his mission journeys. They would pit him against Paul and Apollos as senior to both, the venerated leader of the apostolic band, the foremost representative of the mother church. They would insist on his claims as far outweighing those of Paul, who had never known Jesus and had been a bitter persecutor of the church.

The most difficult problem is that created by the reference to the Christ party. The Tubingen criticism took its rise in 1831 with F. C. Baur's famous article on "The Christ Party in Corinth." He virtually reduced the four parties to two, the Judaising called by the names of Peter and Christ, the anti-Judaising calling themselves after Paul or Apollos. Such a reduction contradicts the plain meaning of the text. Moreover, Baur's general scheme of early Church History has been universally abandoned. The proof that the Christ party was to be identified with Paul's Judaistic opponents rested mainly on 2 Corinthians 10:7; but this is too general to justify the inference, and Paul's opponents in 2 Cor. made higher claims than are implied in our passage. If a Judaistic faction had already been at work in the church, Paul must have fought it; his experience of the havoc such a faction would work was too bitter for him to neglect it. Yet we get no polemic against the Peter or Christ party on the score of any legalist propaganda. It has been held by some scholars (Schenkel, Godet, W. F. Slater, and Ltgert) that the Christ party made a distinction between Christ and Jesus similar to that made by Cerinthus (p. 916). Christ was the heavenly being who descended upon the man Jesus but left Him before His crucifixion. This view gains some support from the question, "Is Christ divided?" and the cry "Jesus Anathema," which may have been uttered in the Christian assemblies but which Paul says can be uttered by no one who speaks in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3*). There is no need to find this sense in either phrase. Such a tendency Paul would have attacked explicitly, for it cut at the root of his teaching. Whatever the Christ party was, its significance lay in the fact that it was an expression of party spirit: had it involved repudiation of the Crucified, Paul must have regarded it as displaying a much darker and more dangerous temper. None of the parties seems consciously to have renounced the Gospel. The view that there was no Christ party at all has been held in various forms. The only form which deserves attention is that which regards the words, "but I of Christ" as a gloss, written on the margin by some reader who wished to affirm the true Christian attitude. The difficulties, however, do not warrant recourse to so drastic a measure as the deletion of the words. Possibly the party consisted of those who had known Jesus during His earthly life, though we should perhaps have expected, "I of Jesus" rather than "I of Christ." Possibly their watchword expressed their dislike of the position accorded to human leaders, and disowned every leader but Christ. Since, however, this intrinsically sound attitude apparently falls under the same blame as the rest, they must have asserted their freedom from partisanship in a partisan way.

Paul appeals to them by the sacred name of their common Lord to cultivate unity and heal their divisions, that they may be harmonious in temper and opinion. He says this because he has learnt from Chloe's people that they are wrangling with each other, all boasting that they belong to this leader or that, Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ. Is Christ, who should be all, made one part out of four? Can Paul be treated as if he were the crucified Redeemer, into whose allegiance they had been baptized? Factious enthusiasm might have betrayed them into so profane an estimate of him who had baptized them. Well may he thank God that he has given them so little occasion! Crispus and Gaius were the only cases. Oh yes, he corrects himself, he baptized the household of Stephanas also, but he cannot recall any others. For it was not his mission to baptize (Apollos as a former disciple of John the Baptist may have laid stress on its administration by the teacher), that could be left to a subordinate for it needed no gift; Paul's apostolic function found its fit and congenial expression in preaching the Gospel. Brilliant preaching, however, probably called forth the special admiration felt for Apollos. Paul accordingly explains that the effective power of the Gospel does not lie in its eloquence or its philosophical presentation. These tend to empty it of its meaning since they distract attention from the central fact, the Cross of Christ. Indeed the Cross is just the contradiction of the world's wisdom.

1 Corinthians 1:11. Paul had not learnt of the factions from the deputation sent by the Church (1 Corinthians 16:17 f.) but from another source. Chloe was presumably a business woman (not necessarily herself a Christian), probably settled in Ephesus, who had sent slaves to Corinth; these were Christians, and on their return brought back the unpleasant news. If they had belonged to Corinth, Paul would hardly have exposed them to reprisals by this disclosure.

1 Corinthians 1:13. Is Christ divided? a question not an exclamation (mg.), but the verb does not here mean "dismembered," torn asunder by the factions, each securing a part, but made a part instead of the whole, degraded to the level of Paul, Apollos, and Cephas.—The last clause implies that baptism was into the name of Jesus, the earliest form.

1 Corinthians 1:16. The oversight in 1 Corinthians 1:14, corrected in 1 Corinthians 1:16, negatives any idea of mechanical inspiration. It would be profane to suppose that the Holy Spirit could inadvertently make a misstatement in one sentence and correct it in the next. Stephanas was with Paul (1 Corinthians 16:17) and may have noticed the omission as Paul dictated. Had Paul been writing, he would have made the necessary insertion in 1 Corinthians 1:14.


Verses 18-31

1 Corinthians 1:18 to 1 Corinthians 2:5. The Cross, Folly to the World, is the Power and Wisdom of God.—Paul now explains and justifies 1 Corinthians 1:17 b, which to Greek readers must have sounded strange, almost a defiant paradox. The story of the Cross is folly to those who are in the way of ruin, but it attests itself in our experience to us, who are in the way of salvation, as the power of God. And this is in harmony with Scripture. For God's wise purpose ordained that the world's wisdom should be unable to know Him. There is an effective contrast between Divine and human wisdom. The world seeks through its wisdom to know God, but God's wisdom checkmates the world's wisdom and thwarts its aspirations, since He has planned that man shall know Him through the Gospel, which seems arrant folly to human wisdom. It is here precisely as with the quest for righteousness. God shut up all unto disobedience that through the Cross He might have mercy on all (Romans 11:32). He shut up all to ignorance that through the Cross He might illuminate all. "The intellectual was as signal as the moral defeat," "God's sovereign grace rescues man's bankrupt wisdom" (Findlay). For it is a characteristic of Jews to seek after signs, of Greeks to seek after wisdom. Our preaching of Christ crucified, Paul says, is to Jews a stumbling-block for the Law pronounces a curse on him who is hanged (Deuteronomy 21:23), and thus the mode of death negatives for the Jew the claim of Jesus to Messiahship, while to Greeks it is just mad. But we know them to be wrong, we who are called of God; for our experience proves that this message embodies both the power and the wisdom of God. Folly and weakness, yes; but that folly of God which is wiser, that weakness of His which is stronger than men. Among the called are his readers, who form an excellent illustration, an illustration all the more welcome to Paul that it serves to abate their unwholesome conceit. They number very few wise according to the world's estimate, or people with civic standing, or high birth. The folly of the Gospel is clear from this that God proclaimed it to fools, people of no account, belonging to the lower orders, such as most of themselves. He deliberately chose the foolish, the weak, the base, the contemptible, the things that count for nothing, to bring to nought the world's substantial realities, so that no flesh should boast before Him. But from Him they derive their being in Christ, who became in His Incarnation Divine Wisdom for us, manifesting itself as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so that He alone deserves the glory. And when he came to Corinth Paul acted on the same principle. It was with no eloquence or philosophy that he unfolded the mystery of redemption. He had decided not to know anything beyond Jesus Christ, and Him as crucified. And corresponding to the folly of the matter was the weakness of the manner, ineffective, timid, anxious, without persuasive power or philosophical presentation. Yet his preaching was endowed with convincing force, because God imparted His Divine Spirit and energy to it, with the intent that their faith should repose not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1:19. The quotation is from Isaiah 29:14, where the politicians who are planning an Egyptian alliance are denounced; "reject" is substituted for "conceal" under the influence of Psalms 32:10.

1 Corinthians 1:20. From Isaiah 33:18 and perhaps Isaiah 19:12.

1 Corinthians 1:23. Probably no doctrine of a suffering Messiah had been developed in Judaism so early as Paul's day; the doctrine of a crucified Messiah could not possibly have been. That such a doctrine was formulated, and such a fact as the crucifixion asserted, is a decisive proof of the historical existence and crucifixion of Jesus (p. 814.).

1 Corinthians 1:30. Read mg.

1 Corinthians 2:1. mystery: i.e. God's eternal counsel of redemption, long concealed but now revealed. Many prefer mg. "testimony," which is better attested, especially as "mystery" may have been suggested by 1 Corinthians 2:7. It is, however, neither clear nor very satisfactory in sense, and may have been suggested by 1 Corinthians 1:6.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/1-corinthians-1.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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