One of the implications of Bailey’s insisting on two audiences for this discourse is that he thinks that when Paul is referring to the mature, Paul is not talking about anyone in Corinth, but when he is talking about the immature he is. By the same token he thinks that the Corinthians have not received various spiritual gifts given by God to other Christians (p. 121). This, it has to be said, does not make sense of 1 Cor. 11-14 where actual instances of Corinthians prophesying, speaking in tongues etc. are dealt with as problems there. The problem is not that they do not have these gifts (notice Paul’s claim in 1 Cor. 14—I speak in tongues more than all of you ), the problem is that they misuse their gifts.
One of the places (p. 124) one can see the influence of Bailey’s knowledge of the Armenian, Syriac, and Coptic translations is in his discussion of 1 Cor. 3.1-4. He goes with their readings that places Paul in front of Apollos in the rhetorical questions. He argues that the rhetorical structure supports this decision. The problem is our earliest manuscript evidence does not support this view, and on top of that, we know that later scribes often smoothed out the rough edges found in earlier manuscripts, including creating more symmetry (in this case between 3.1 and 3.2). Here, Bailey’s knowledge does not much help him discern the likely earlier version of the text.
On pp. 128-29 methodological issues crop up. Bailey quotes a text from Qumran and one from the Mishnah, intimating that Paul may have known of said texts, or at least the ideas in them. He also suggests that Paul’s parable of the field and of the building reflect knowledge of Jesus’ parable of the sower and of the builders. Here are the problems with these conjectures: 1) the Mishnah is post- NT, and as for the tradition cited it is not tagged to a specific rabbi or teacher, and so we have no way of knowing whether the tradition even existed in Paul’s day; 2) in regard to Qumran, while some of their ideas may have been ‘in the air’ when Paul was a Pharisee in Jerusalem there distinctive, indeed particularistic sectarian teachings about themselves are unlikely to be cribbed by Paul for his own purposes. Paul as a Pharisee would have pretty severe problems with the theology at Qumran; 3) the brief Pauline metaphorical use of farmer and builder imagery says nothing about seeds which is the point of Jesus’ parable. Paul is talking process of ministry, Jesus is talking product and harvest. While I don’t object to the idea that Paul may have known some parables of Jesus, these metaphors are too universal and common, and the way Paul uses them too different from the way Jesus used them to suggest any sort of strong connection here. Paul is talking about planting and also the possibility of building shabbily or well on the foundation. At the end of Mt. 7 the parable is about the type of foundation built on. Not the about the super-structure. Bailey is full of interesting and creative ideas, but on closer inspection, many of them don’t seem the best way to read the evidence.
On pp. 134-35 Bailey is on more firm footing in his suggestion that Paul’s reference to precious metals, things being burned, building a new foundation for a temple, would have been a word on target for the Corinthians, who were famous for their bronze work, including making one of the 60 feet high doors in the temple which Josephus said was more impressive than the gold doors in the temple. And then too the Corinthian city had been destroyed by the Romans in 146 B.C. and begun to be rebuilt by Caesar in 44 B.C.
The most helpful of all his discussions thus far in the book is Bailey’s analysis of the various terms Paul uses for the leaders of the Corinthian church, namely himself and Apollos etc. (pp. 138ff). One misstep however is that he insists on the translation ‘coworkers for God’ but in fact the Greek has the simple genitive here. They are coworkers of God justs as they are called ambassadors of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Bailey suggests the translation of hupertai as assistants, and suggests Paul is using synagogue language here referring to the ‘hazzan’ that is the assistant to the synagogue leader, who in fact led the synagogue liturgy. This is possible. Paul does indeed have a hierarchial vision of church leadership though a good deal of it is transformed and even inverted when he calls leaders servants and the like. He contrasts Paul with some leaders today who are ‘quivering masses of availability’ (p. 142). But what does it mean to be a steward of God’s mysteries? Presumably he is referring to the unveiling or revealing of God’s amazing salvific plan to save the world through a crucified and risen Jesus. Bailey makes the interesting point that Biblical languages do not have a word for ‘honest’ or ‘honesty’. That’s an abstract idea, whereas the Biblical concept is ‘faithful’ not to an ideal but rather to a person. Paul says the steward must be found faithful, and of course the person in question is God. Paul is accountable to God. (p. 143). Yes Paul is prepared to use even sarcasm at the end of the first major argument in 1 Cor. 4 to try and shame the audience back into line, and he uses the imagery of the Roman triumph as well to suggest he lived under sentence of death being led around in a divinely orchestrated parade where others reviled and jeered at him. I think Bailey is right that Paul reveals some of the difficulties of being the apostle, and his feelings about those difficulties quite candidly at the end of this first major section in 1 Cor. 4, as though he were trying to shame the boasting Corinthians by displaying his shame and sorrows.
The next major subsection of 1 Corinthians, as Bailey sees it is 1 Cor. 4.17-7.40 and focuses mainly on sexual morality (p. 155). The problem with this is, that it ignores altogether the major signal that something different is happening at 7.1ff. namely Paul is at that juncture responding to things which were written to him— questions and the like in writing. In the end, it appears that Bailey himself is trapped in his own ring structure straight jacket, and then too, as the header for this section of his book intimates, Bailey views this ‘essay’ as he calls it, as topically harmonious. One of the points he makes about structure is that Paul will begin an essay with a statement of ‘tradition’ followed by a statement of the problem. In the case of 1 Cor. 4.17, there is no reference per se to Christian tradition at all, unlike for example what we find at the beginning of 1 Cor. 15 where we have technical language about the passing on of Christian tradition. Here, by contrast we have a reference only to ‘my ways in Christ’ which Timothy is sent to remind the Corinthians about. This has to do with praxis as much as anything—not Christian tradition about theology or ethics. Furthermore, it is much more natural in view of the gar clause at the outset of 1 Cor. 4.17 to see these opening verses as going with what precedes them, not what follows. 5.1 is a more natural starting point for a new rhetorical unit. The main reason Bailey thinks otherwise, is because he believes Paul is following a uniform structure of reference to tradition then statement of the problem. But 1 Cor. 4.17ff. favors no such assumption.
Bailey however trots out additional support for his conclusion that 4.16 should be divided from 4.17, rather than seeing the latter as a further statement of the former about imitating the ways of Paul as he imitates Christ. He appeals to to Arabic commentators and Syriac and Coptic versions to support a break at this juncture. To further bolster his point, Bailey argues that 5.3 ‘absent in the body, but present in spirit’ is a reference to Paul’s intent to come their way, supporting what has just been said, namely that he is sending Timothy to explain his ways. Paul does threaten the possibility of coming in 4.18, but 5.3 is surely not a further development of that idea. To the contrary, it is a statement of his present bodily absence from them, and therefore, he can only be present with them in spirit. That is surely different from ‘I may come soon in the flesh’. While we are at it… since Bailey makes so much of this, there is no reference to church tradition in 1.17 or 1.6 either. That section does not begin with a reference to church tradition involving theology or ethics. Rather the practices of baptism and preaching are mentioned in passing after a reference to the ‘testimony about Christ’. A testimony is not a tradition. The structure perceived by Bailey at the beginning of the ‘five essays’ does not in fact exist.
In regard to 5.1, Bailey may well have a point in translating it ‘everyone is reporting’ rather than ‘it is actually reported’ (using holos ). Here (see p. 162) the Middle Eastern versions of the text may have it right. The point is, Paul is hearing this horror story about incest from multiple sources. The discussion of how Paul wants incest to be handled is handled well by Bailey. He is right in stressing that Paul wants the church as a whole to exercise church discipline in Corinth, and not to wait for him, not least because whoever was dissatisfied with the outcome could blame Paul. Secondly, Bailey is right that individual sexual conduction not merely reflects poorly on the community but infects and affects that community in terms of its sanctification or holiness. Thirdly, the discipline is meant not merely to restore moral order to the community but ultimately to save the individual in question. It is not punitive. Lastly, Bailey is right that it is not clear what it means to say ‘turn this over to Satan’. This matter? This person? It’s not clear. Bailey aptly (p. 167) cites the story from early Jewish lore of the men who were on a boat, each with their own berth. One man decides to take out a drill and drill a hole in the bottom of the boat beneath him. The others ask ‘What are you doing?’ and he in essence tells them its his spot, so mind their own business, and why are they asking. To this, comes the retort “because if you do that, the whole boat will fill up with water, and we will all sink.” (Midrash Rabbah Lev. 1-19). Exactly, the sin of the individual taints and affects the community, and it should be dealt with by the community.
As Bailey points out (p. 173) it is intriguing that in 3.10-17 Paul draws on an eschatological sanction, saying that believers will be judged on Judgment day, as will all, but here in 1 Cor. 5, he says believers will be judges of the world and of angels at the eschaton. Both things are true. Paul uses the latter argument to stress that Christians should avoid going to pagan courts to settle matters with other Christians. Bailey may be right that Paul is reminding them of what happened when the synagogue took him to court—- it was dismissed. For Christians, going to secular court is already admitting defeat in the attempt to sort things out brother to brother or sister to sister. It should be settled in house before the community starts to smell like an outhouse. Paul uses the analogy of bad leaven in dough, infecting the whole thing, and the problem it is, it affects Christ as well who is not merely at the heart of the Eucharist, as the Passover lamb (here alone mentioned in Paul) but is the head of the body.
One of the notable features of this book is its failure to interact with any Pauline scholarship after Thiselton’s commentary, which was written in the 1990s and published in 2000. Granted, Bailey is basically plowing his own furrow, and taking an independent literary, and sometimes exegetical line. He does not intend to make this book a dialogue with other scholars, which in itself is alright. The problem is, the discussion of 1 Corinthians has in many ways moved on, and not merely passed him by, but has shown that various of his views and positions are passé, even shown to be wrong in some cases (take for example his quoting approvingly (pp. 184-85) of Bultmann’s dictum a person does not have a body, he is a body (soma), a view rendered obsolete by R. Gundry’s detailed study of soma in Paul and in the NT many years ago.
One of the areas where this is clearest is Bailey’s all too Lutheran pitting of Law vs. Grace (see pp. 177-81) at various junctures in the book. This despite the fact that Bailey makes these sorts of remarks in conjuncture with the very text where Paul discusses behaviors, including various sexual behaviors, that can exclude a Christians from inheriting the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6), he suggests that the Law of Christ doesn’t really involving keeping Laws or commandments because ‘all things are lawful’ for the Christian. But this is not Paul’s view at all. Paul repudiates this quote from some Corinthian and instead talks about the Law of Christ which involves commandments of Jesus, apostolic commandments and some portions of the OT Law reaffirmed (see Gal. 6).
The freedom the Spirit gives Christians in Christ is a freedom to avoid sin and to obey God and the failure to do so can not merely affect one’s current sanctification level (and so one’s present salvation which is to be worked out with fear and trembling) but Paul quite specifically in this very text stresses that such sinful behavior persisted in amounts to a Christian committing moral apostasy, and so not entering God’s final Kingdom. Clearly Paul believed that misconduct by Christians could lead to their exclusion from the final Kingdom. Thus, the warnings to all the Corinthians are not mere posturing or idle threats. They reflect a real concern about a real possibility.
Bailey is certainly correct that Paul is concerned about the “dehumanizing of sex that takes place when it is turned into a form of entertainment and made parallel to food. Paul is rejecting the view that says ‘I feel hungry—I eat. I feel sexual desire—I engage in sex.” (p. 185). Paul would have been equally irate about the objectifying of women or men as sex objects instead the appreciating of them as sexual persons, either male or female, persons created in the image of God who should not be degraded, downgraded, or trivialized by some kind of intense focus and dwelling on their anatomical features or physical form.
One thing that is noticeable about pp. 175-195 is that since it involves a rehash of a much earlier article Bailey wrote, it has more quotes and footnotes from scholars writing in the 1970s and before. Much of the rest of the book does not engage with the scholarly discussion of the text, and so portions of the book like this tend to stand out.
The discussion of 1 Cor. 7 (pp. 196ff.) once again brings to the fore Bailey’s use of various Middle Eastern translations as a guide to what the original text may have said, but in this case they do not speak with one voice (is the quote in 7.1 a statement or a question) and in the end Bailey agrees with most modern commentators that Paul is quoting a statement of the Corinthians, who were more ascetic in outlook. In other words, it doesn’t really add much to the discussion or shed any fresh light on it. But Bailey (pp. 200-203) goes on to rightly contrast Paul’s statement about equal conjugal rights of husband and wife in a marriage, which as he says, is remarkable in a first century writer in a patriarchal culture, with what is said in Midrash Rabbah on Gen. 20.8-18 where the husband clear has more rights than the wife, and is said to incur less penalties than the wife for refusing to give the partner their conjugal rights.
One of the odder discussions of Bailey comes in his dealing (pp. 204-08) with the crux interpretum of 1 Cor. 7 discussion about the mixed marriage between a pagan spouse and a Christian. Bailey wants to translate sodzo in the rhetorical questions ‘keep’ as in ‘Wife how do you know if you will keep your husband?’ (and vice versa). He does so because according to Bailey ‘only God saves’. Paul however certainly believed God used him and his preaching to save other people and there is no reason he could not have believed a wife could be the instrument of God in the salvation of her family. Furthermore, Paul seems to believe that a believing person has the opposite effect to that of a defiling on their spouse. He says the unbelieving spouse is sanctified, or consecrated or made holy by the ‘holy’ member of the family, or otherwise their children would be unclean. Bailey is write that Jesus, and Paul as well reverses the Jewish notion of defilement in a text like this. Far from a Christian being defiled by their pagan spouse, the influence goes in the other and positive direction. It is safe to say that Paul, like Jesus, had a broader view of how salvation and sanctification can and does work than the Reformers thought.
On pp. 214-15, Bailey argues that the language of calling in 1 Cor. 7.21 has to do with the calling of God, and not to a socio-economic position or station in life. This is correct (see the monograph of Scott Bartchy on 1 Cor. 7.21). As Bailey rightly stresses (p. 215) “if all the other occurrences of the feminine noun ‘call’ in the New Testament refer to ‘the call of God’ and not to a person’s state or condition in life, then surely the clear preference is to read verses 20 and 24 as also referring to God’s call.” Bailey suggests that this important text implies that there is no sacred culture, and therefore it’s not necessary for Jews to cease being Jews, or Gentile to become Jews to be part of the body of Christ. Indeed, unlike with Islam, there is also no sacred language. While the OT was written in Hebrew, the writers in the NT have no problems using Greek, and even a Greek translation of the OT—the LXX. (see p. 217). On p. 219, Bailey in effect suggests that it was not an option for Paul to criticize slavery in a public document like 1 Corinthians, as it could fall into the hands of anyone. He suggests Paul pushes the envelope as far as he can here, but he also reassures the slave who is trapped in a situation, that God can still use them there. In other words, Paul’s pastoral instincts knew that if he publicly opposed slavery in a document like this, he would not only endanger himself, but also the lives of his converts, some of whom were slaves. He would be guilt of fomenting sedition of a particular sort. Paul wisely chose not to go this route. I think this is basically correct, and it needs to also be borne in mind that Paul also believes that all these earthly institutions, including both slavery and marriage, are part of the form of this world that is passing away. In other words “slavery is an evil system, yet the call of God can be heard and obeyed within it.” (p. 220). The story of Bailey and his family living through the bombings and chaos of Beirut for ten years between 1975-91 told on this same page is moving. His point is that the calling and ministry of God went on, in spite of the fallen activities such as war and the tainted institutions that surrounded them.
Unfortunately, like many Bailey translated 1 Cor. 7.29 as ‘the time is short’ and then concludes that Paul thought the return of Christ was imminent, hence his advice in this paragraph. This however is incorrect. The Greek says ‘the time has been shortened (by something that has already happened), and the form of this world is already passing away’.
There is nothing here about the future coming of Christ shortening the time at all. It is the already extant Christ event and the eschatological things it set in motion including the pouring out of God’s eschatological Spirit, that has been the game changer. In Paul’s view, life has already changed since Jesus came, and therefore Christians must sit loosely with the institutions of this world including the institution of marriage. They should live ‘as if not’ says Paul. Let those who buy, ‘buy as if they were not owners or possessors’. ‘Earthly goods are a trust, not a possession’ (Bailey quoting Plummer). On p. 223, Bailey confirms his belief that Paul got the imminent return of Christ wrong, he believed wrongly about its timing. But this text does not support such a conclusion, as Paul does not talk here about ‘the time being short’. He talks about what has already set the millennium clock ticking, the past Christ event. On p. 225 Bailey chooses to punt on deciding who ‘a man and his virgin’ refers to (whether a young man and his fiancé, or a father and his virgin daughter). Surely this is not as difficult as he seems to figure out, because Paul is surely not talking about a father behaving inappropriately with his own daughter here.