This week, we’re all in one place, 1 Corinthians, which is a smorgasbord of interesting topics, conflict, and controversy. There is a lot to say, and as long as this is, I’ve left out plenty.
First, I’ve uploaded a copy of the rough text (link now fixed) from my presentation at the BYU Conference on the New Testament a few weeks ago, “Christian Accommodation at Corinth.” It’s adapted from one of the groundwork chapters in my Genesis book.
Second, some background from Jim Faulconer’s New Testament Made Harder–
The Church at Corinth was founded by Paul in AD 51, and this letter was probably written in the early spring of AD 57. Corinth had a reputation for debauchery in the ancient world, and it had that reputation in a world that was tolerant of sexual promiscuity of all kinds. Paul is responding to two things. He first takes up (1Co 1-6) reports from Chloe, a prominent sister in the congregation, about what is happening in Corinth. then in 1 Corinthians 7-15 he responds to a letter that the Corinthian members have written and sent to him with Stephan’s (1Co 16:17), asking him questions about marriage, eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols, how women should conduct themselves in Church, and so on.
Chloe is mentioned in 1Co 1:11, and it is “her people” who have made Paul aware of the problems.
Chloe’s “people” were presumably either family members, or slave or freed member employees of her household. The information they conveyed to Paul, who was in Ephesus, could have been delivered either by a letter from the Corinthians or by word of mouth. It is unclear whether Chloe’s people resided in Corinth or in Ephesus at the time. An Ephesian rather than a Corinthian base for the household of Chloe seems more probable since Paul probably would not have been so tactless as to identify his informants in remarks to their local Corinthian brothers and sisters. On the other hand, since Chloe herself is apparently known to the Corinthians, she and her people may well have lived in Corinth. But in view of the conjecture above, it is more likely that they resided in Ephesus where, probably as a person of means, Chloe ran a business which required sending emissaries to Corinth and resulted in her being acquainted with residents there.Chloe’s people were obviously Christian. But the same cannot be said with certainty about Chloe. It has been noted, however, that the Greek phrase describing her people as hoi tōn chloēs lit. “those of Chloe” contrasts with references to Christian members of other households, e.g., hoi ek tōn ʾAristoboulou, hoi ek tōn Narkissou lit. “those from (of) Aristobulus, those from (of) Narcissus” (Rom 16:10–11). The absence of the Gk preposition ʾek (from) in the phrase mentioning Chloe may imply that the whole of her household including Chloe was Christian. One can also surmise that Paul’s identification of his informants by using Chloe’s name could reflect some familiarity with her, perhaps acquired through business, but just as likely through membership in the Christian community. Chloe may well have been known to Paul as a believer along with her whole household. In that sense she would be reminiscent of Lydia of Philippi and, together with Lydia, might be cited as one type of woman who belonged to the Pauline communities: female heads of households and businesses, women thus accustomed to social leadership and decision-making roles.- “Chloe (Person),” Anchor Bible Dictionary
Chloe’s people bring to Paul’s awareness a host of problems at Corinth, bubbling to the surface, and nearly all of them offer parallels or direct application to problems in our own wards and families.
Now, as posted last week in my handout, we’re only getting one side of the conversation. We have to extrapolate from the letter Paul writes to figure out what the problems were. (Notably, this was not Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, according to 1Co 5:9). Among those problems discernible in these first ten chapters (and I can’t discuss all of them) are
- strong factions, of multiple kinds
- Personal one-upmanship, a strong sense of spiritual competition among the believers
- misuse of spiritual gifts
- Sexual immorality
- Suing other believers in secular courts
Paul also raises some interesting questions about the interplay of faith, experience, and intellect, and I want to start with that.
At this point, roughly 20+ years has passed since Saul/Paul encountered the glorious resurrected Jesus on the way to Damascus. Paul had previously persecuted believers in Jesus for their heresy of a crucified Messiah. As I explained last week, “to be crucified was seen as a mark of being cursed by God. Obviously you can’t have God’s chosen one simultaneously be cursed by God… yet Paul knew by spiritual experience that the crucified (cursed?) Jesus was also the resurrected, glorified, messianic Jesus.”
For Jews then, a crucified Messiah was not just counter-intuitive, but an oxymoron, self-contradictory. The Complete Jewish Bible translates 1Co 1:23 expansively-
we go on proclaiming a Messiah executed on a stake as a criminal! To Jews this is an obstacle, and to Greeks it is nonsense;
So when Paul encounters Jesus, he knows two contradictory things that he cannot resolve: 1, that Jesus is divine, resurrected, God’s son, the Messiah. 2, that Jesus was crucified as a criminal, “hung on a tree”, and cursed by God, as the Torah said. Jesus gives him no way to reconcile these two, and Paul is left trying to work out how to make these contradictory things mesh on his own, pitting spiritual experience against intellect and traditional understanding. Paul, several scholars point out, likely suffered through a good bit of cognitive dissonance.
since Paul was a Jew zealous for Torah, he had, above all, to resolve the cognitive dissonance between belief in a crucified, cursed Messiah as Lord, and in the words of Torah, which were “holy, just, and good” (Rom. 7:12).- Luke Timothy Johnson and Todd C. Penner, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, Rev. ed., 265.
In the short and perhaps medium term, Paul chooses to follow his experience over his intellect; he apparently doesn’t wait until he can resolve everything in his mind before proclaiming Jesus. Nevertheless, his intellect does not rest, and he is eventually able to reconcile these two things. (Again, see my discussion of Galatians 3:13 for how Paul apparently works it out.)
This experience affects Paul’s missionary presentation. Paul understands that true conversion must be based, ultimately, upon spiritual experience and the power of God, not on logical human argument, which reveals, perhaps, the intellectual weakness or irrationality of the Gospel. (It’s designed that way.)
My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:4-5 NRSV)
Similarly, the “natural man” (KJV), “unbeliever” (NET), “person without the Spirit” (NIV), or “Those who are unspiritual” (NRSV) “do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:14 NRSV)
The question of balancing faith and intellect has been around for an awfully long time, and Paul models it a bit for us. Brigham Young had some interesting things to say about human argument, faith, and spirit. I’ll quote some here, the rest (and a few more from President Eyring) are in this old Institute Handout of mine on Faith, Reason, Wisdom, and Argument.
Many receive the Gospel because they know it is true; they are convinced in their judgment that it is true; strong argument overpowers them, and they are rationally compelled to admit the Gospel to be true upon fair reasoning. They yield to it, and obey its first principles, but never seek to be enlightened by the power of the Holy Ghost; such ones frequently step out of the way.-Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 85.
Debate and argument have not that saving effect that has testifying to the truth as the Lord reveals it to the Elder by the Spirit. I think you will all agree with me in this; at least, such is my experience. I do not wish to be understood as throwing a straw in the way of the Elders storing their minds with all the arguments they can gather to urge in defense of their religion, nor do I wish to hinder them in the least from learning all they can with regard to religions and governments. The more knowledge the Elders have the better. (JD 8:53)-Discourses Of Brigham Young, p. 330
So let’s be clear. Knowledge, wisdom, and logical argument are great and helpful and we should learn all we can. But that should not be our ultimate source of personal conviction, that should not be all there is in our personal lamps. If so, what happens when we encounter something that simply doesn’t make sense? Strong contradiction, that we cannot reconcile easily, like Paul? Paul’s answer, Brigham Young’s answer, I think, would be, keep using your intellect, and you’ll reconcile it eventually. Live with that “cognitive dissonance” and figure it out. In the meantime, stick with your spiritual experiences. And if you haven’t had any spiritual experiences, seek them.
We should not always expect that things will make sense instantly, easily, or conform to our traditions and assumptions. One last quote from brother Brigham (which I’m adapting slightly, see the original for context), with his characteristic bluntness and perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek –
I will now say… to the Elders who leave the body of the Church [who] thought that all the cats and kittens were let out of the bag when [the Church] published the Revelation concerning the plurality of wives: it was thought there was no other cat to let out. But allow me to tell you… you may expect an eternity of cats, that have not yet escaped from the bag. Bless your souls, there is no end to them, for if there is not one thing, there will always be another. – JD 1:188
We have a lot to learn.
Factions– The Corinthians are divided up multiple ways and at each others throats. They’re beginning to fall into different camps and allegiances, e.g. 1:12
“I’m in Paul’s camp,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I’m a Peter man” or “well I belong to Christ” (my loose paraphrase.)
Back in the 1950’s, some LDS would describe themselves as “McKay men” or “Clark men” depending on who resonated more, in the First Presidency. Today we sometimes have discussions about favorite (and, um, less favorite?) Apostles. Imagine members of a ward publicly squaring off against each other over similar issues.
Other factions, or overlapping factions, include the issue of Jew vs non-Jew Torah problem (becoming very familiar to us at this point), as well as trying to get the non-Jews to understand a new world-view.
Once again, Paul is faced with the task of explaining to the Corinthian Christians a basically Jewish and Christian view of the world which he wants them to accept in place of the half-pagan, half-Christian view they hold at the moment- Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 45.
Another faction was class-based (and this will become important next week, when we discuss the Lord’s Supper in chapter 11) Paul points out to them that “not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (1:26, NRSV), which implies that a few of them were, wise (educated?), powerful, or of noble birth.
With that background in mind, ask yourself whether we see anything like this in the Church today. What causes our divisions? Why aren’t those divisions relatively harmless? (Compare D&C 98:76-101). Is it relevant that the word heresy comes from a Greek word that means “division”?
If we don’t have such divisions, must we all be exactly alike? What is the difference between a difference between us, and a difference among us?”- Faulconer, New Testament Made Harder
My ward in Chicago was very diverse. In many ways, it seemed in many ways like Paul’s Corinth placed in Chicago, 2000 years later. How do we bridge the personal gap in such a ward? Different people will have different needs and different comfort levels. How do we prevent differences from becoming factions? How should we react to assumptions or judgments people make about us that may be well-meaning but wrong? And how do we avoid giving offense as we approach others who may be very different than we are?
Milk and meat–
We often talk about and misunderstand this passage. First off, “meat” in the KJV means “solid food” as opposed to, well, meat: Beef, pork, carne. (This is why the “meat offering” in the Old Testament is strangely vegetarian. It’s a “food” offering.) When we connect this phrase to Paul’s repeated use of “children” or “infants” especially in 3:1, the metaphor is clear. Grow up, Paul says. Milk is for babies and toddlers. I want to feed you solid food, but you can’t handle it yet.
the Corinthians themselves aren’t ready for it! Paul shakes his head over them. They may have supposed, listening to the letter as it is read out in their assembly, that he is talking about them as the ‘spiritual’ ones, but he isn’t. Picking up his earlier comment about people being ‘grown-up’ or ‘mature’ (2:6), he uses the language many teachers of his day employed to explain the difference between those who were ready for serious teaching and those who were still at the infancy stage. When he had been with them before, he explains, he only taught them the basics: milk, not meat. He may be answering the charge that his teaching had been very basic; the other teachers who’d come in after him had been much more exciting, much deeper, much more gratifying to the Corinthian eagerness for social and spiritual status and pride …
… which only goes to show, Paul concludes, that you are still babies, even now (3:1–2)! You are driven by all-too-human p 32 impulses. Here again Paul uses words which are difficult to translate, but which mean, more or less, ‘living on the basis of your created and corruptible nature alone’ (verse 1), and ‘living as people determined to make that created and corruptible nature alone your guide and rule’ (verse 3). There is, in fact, a very subtle shift from ‘merely human’ (2:14) to ‘all too obviously human’ (3:1), to ‘very determinedly only-human’ (i.e. actually resisting the spirit, not merely showing no evidence of it) (3:3). Paul is not suggesting that each of these words refers to a different level of Christian (or sub-Christian) experience, or to a different type of person. He is insisting that all of them alike are ‘unspiritual’—and that the Corinthian church, insofar as it is indulging in personality cults, is showing strong evidence of exactly that. This is why he hadn’t been able to give them stronger, deeper, richer teaching; they weren’t ready for it, and their present factional fighting shows that they still aren’t.
What words might Paul use for today’s church? For your own church?- Wright, Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians, 31–32.
To continue the metaphor, milk before solid food is obviously a necessity; you don’t feed a baby steak, or they’ll choke. But we must, somewhere, grow up and eat solid food. We are not meant to drink milk forever and consume nothing else. I had a conversation recently with someone who had been on several Church writing committees in recent decades who told me they were instructed to write for the “average member of the Church.” Statistically, that meant someone who had been in the Church less than five years, with a 9th grade education. Does that describe your Gospel Doctrine class? Your Institute class? Your family? If not, it’s time to step up the game, and start adding solid food to the menu. I do not mean talking about “Deep doctrine” (which usually means “weird rumors of stuff”) nor of dropping discussions of faith, repentance, baptism, etc. But a class on the Word of Wisdom, for example, should not proceed like a missionary discussion, nor ask questions a primary child could answer. “Milk before meat” is too often used as a way of avoiding gray areas, hard questions, or challenging thought. It is “milk before meat,” not “milk and never meat.” Otherwise, you’ll be a spiritually stunted child.
Temple of God-
We often quote 1Co 3:16- 17, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” Note, however, the plural pronouns used there, ye. (Paying close attention to pronouns is part of reading closely.)
Here, Paul is telling the Corinthians that they, collectively, are the temple of God. They are where God’s spirit dwells. If one of them defiles that collection of people, that group or church, it’s trouble. Ward unity is a serious thing. Now, the usual interpretation that the body is a temple that we should not defile is actually found later on. In connection with Paul’s discussion of sexuality and marriage, Paul says
Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your [singular] body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:18-20 NRS)
Here Paul gets into several ideas, but one is atonement-connected, that you were bought with a price, that is, you were redeemed. Redeem is an economic word. In brief, we sell ourselves into slavery through sin. Jesus, as our divine kinsman, buys us back out of slavery and sets us free, he redeems us. (I’ve got an article coming out about that sometime in the next year.) Consequently, we are not our own. (Cf. 1Co 7:23, 2Pe 2:1,
So body=temple, yes, but let’s use the right scripture to get there.
Sexuality at Corinth and Atonement
Paul has to regulate several questions of a sexual nature. Apparently, some of the Corinthians are arguing that the body is nothing, so it’s not an issue to visit prostitutes. Another Corinthian is living in a sexual relationship with his step-mother. (5:1-5) Others are wondering if they should get married at all, and whether sex is ever allowable even within marriage.
Throughout chapters 5-7 where Paul discusses these issues, he apparently quotes the Corinthians several times. The KJV does not make this clear, e.g. 6:12-13
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. (NRSV)
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” (1 Cor. 7:1 NRSV)
Paul treats each of these cases. In the case of the prostitutes, he quotes Genesis. If you are part of the body of Christ, but are becoming “one flesh” with a prostitute, you’re uniting Christ with a prostitute! And this is not right. (Chapter 6, esp. 15-17)
In the case of the man with his step-mother… Paul gives a real face-palm. Wright translates 5:1-5,
Everybody’s talking about the sex scandal that’s going on in your community, not least because it’s a kind of immorality that even the pagans don’t practise! Fancy—a man taking his father’s wife! 2 And you’re puffed up! Why aren’t you in mourning? Why aren’t you getting rid of the person who’s done such a thing?
Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians, 54.
He goes on to say, while
the world of ancient Greece and Rome seemed extremely lax on sexual morality; but it still had its limits. There were taboos. In most towns and villages people would know that, however ‘normal’ it was to engage in immoral behaviour with prostitutes, or at the orgiastic festivals at some shrines and temples, there were lines drawn in social behaviour and you stepped across them at your peril.
Hence Paul’s horror in this passage: the church in Corinth was openly tolerating a situation that no self-respecting pagan would have permitted. A man was living with his own stepmother, presumably his father’s second wife. How this situation had arisen we don’t know. But it seems that the church had connived at it. The leaders were ‘puffed up’, convinced (like some amoral ‘moralists’ today) that they had now passed beyond ‘good and evil’ into a world where absolutely anything could be done.
This raises two issues for us. We shall be looking at the first from various angles over the next three chapters as Paul moves from one topic to another, mostly involving questions of sex, with the question being: where are the lines to be drawn, and how do we know? The second, which is highlighted dramatically in this passage, is: what kind of discipline is appropriate in cases of severe misbehaviour? What Paul says here is so sharp and striking that we need to stand back, take a deep breath, and see what’s going on.
As we do so, we notice that he says the church is ‘puffed up’ about the situation—actually proud to be part of a community that has been able to leave behind the normal constraints that even Corinthian society (notorious for its moral laxity) would have observed. This tells us that the question at stake here isn’t just an isolated moral question. Paul sees it as a further aspect of the issue he’s been dealing with throughout the letter so far, the problem that came to a head in chapter 4: some of the local leaders have become proud, and are behaving more like sophists than Christian teachers. In particular—and this, too, we shall meet frequently—they are supposing that throwing moral caution to the winds is a sign of how spiritually grown-up they are, how important their new faith and Christian status is. They have left behind, they think, not only the old world of pagan belief but the interlocked world of pagan taboos. They have come of age. – Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians , 55–56.
The Corinthians really have not grasped the proper worldview yet. It’s not simply a question of sexual immorality or chastity. The Law is gone, they have become spiritual beings (so they think), so what does the body matter?
Lastly, Paul’s advice seems strongly colored by his own worldview (and he admits this.) Paul says that marriage is fine and good, and within marriage, husband and wife should have sex regularly.
The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Cor. 7:3-5 NRS)
Paul has a healthy Jewish sense of sexuality and marriage. V. 3 can easily be misunderstood, especially with the KJV’s “due benevolence.” It’s clearly sexual.
“The husband should give his wife what she is entitled to in the marriage relationship, and the wife should do the same for her husband.” ( Complete Jewish Bible)
“A husband should give to his wife her sexual rights, and likewise a wife to her husband.” (1 Cor. 7:3 NET)
“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.” (1 Cor. 7:3 NIV)
(Lots could be said here, I think. I’m not sure we have a healthy view of sexuality in the Church today.)
However, Paul goes on to say “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. “(1 Cor. 7:8 NRS) Paul is apparently either celibate or widowed (and it’s worthless to argue over which). Paul connects this advice, which he repeats, to an impending crisis.
25 Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion… I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that. I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; (1 Cor. 7:25-29 NRS)
Recall our discussion about the Thessalonians, and Paul’s apocalyptic view that Jesus would be returning soon. It is likely, in my view, that Paul is saying “given that the end is soon, it’s better to stay single than to marry and have kids.” Why? Well, for one thing, note Jesus concern in Matthew 24, the so-called Little Apocalypse- At that coming time,
those in Judea must flee to the mountains; the one on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. (Matt. 24:16-21 NRS)
If you have a family, it’s harder to flee to places of safety. And, Paul says elsewhere, your mind is on your family, instead of on the things of God.
Obviously, Paul was wrong here. Let’s not have any bones about it. The end of the world did not come in Paul’s day, and those who married and had children were not swallowed up in apocalyptic happenings. Paul clearly says he’s giving his opinion, it’s just that his opinion was canonized. I’ll save the discussion of the nature of scripture and prophets for another day
To conclude this section on a highly applicable note, Paul gives us “a sin list” which seems particularly unbalanced and harsh. Does he really equate these things?
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers– none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 6:9-10 NRS)
It is monumentally important that we continue reading! Paul’s voice softens.
And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:11 NRS)
Repentance, change, is the thing! What we are does not matter so much as what we are striving to become through the grace of God’s son, and what we will be. When we teach about commandments, laws, etc, we also must teach Atonement.
In chapter 8, Paul spends a good bit of time on meat sacrificed to idols in pagan temples. There’s a good article by Ben Witherington on Idol Meat and why it was so important. Obviously not going to say much about it, but worth reading.
Church Leaders and money
Paul, as you might recall, had been charged with raising donations for the Church in Jerusalem, which was trying (at least for a time) to live with “all things in common.” Consequently, they were dirt poor, and needed support from other Churches. Paul has been trying to gather money for a donation, and it’s been tricky navigating his personal support, different churches, and different cultural expectations. Here in chapter 9, he lays out multiple scriptural and logical reasons why Church leaders have a right to depend on their congregations for their financial support. (See esp. v.6-12). BUT, he says in 12, he hasn’t drawn upon this right.
I bring this up because we have this idea that God’s true church never pays its leaders. We get that idea from the Book of Mormon, but Paul even quotes Jesus that those who teach the gospel professionally should be supported by it. (It’s possible to read the KJV otherwise, but that’s due to the KJV language. In context its clear.)
We sometimes say we have an unpaid clergy, but that’s not entirely true. In the church in the 1800s, for example, Bishops and Stake Presidents received some funds from paid tithing. And even today, Apostles receive a living stipend. President Hinckley said in General Conference, “the living allowances given the General Authorities, which are very modest in comparison with executive compensation in industry and the professions, come from [the Church’s] business income and not from the tithing of the people.”
It’s better to say we have a non-professional clergy; you can’t choose it as a job or profession. (There’s a meme in there, “I didn’t choose the Apostle life. The Apostle life chose me.”) Sometimes I think that’s really a double-edged sword, as it certainly can have a downside. As a faithful LDS friend quipped, “with unpaid clergy, you sometimes get what you pay for.”
Lastly, as always, you can support this site and my research by making Amazon purchases through this link, or through Paypal links at the bottom of the About page. You can get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader.