Monday, July 26, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: 1 Corinthians 13-16 and 2 Corinthians 1

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through 1 Corinthians, chapters 13-16 and 2 Corinthians, chapter 1.

Chapter 13

  • This chapter is often referred to as "the love chapter," and for good reason.  It contains one of the most complete yet concise descriptions, not only of what love is but also of what love looks like in tangible terms, found anywhere in the Bible.  Unfortunately, we tend to look at this chapter in isolation, and not as part of the larger context in which it appears (a problem compounded by the fact that so much of that context was last week).  Does thinking of this chapter as coming right on the heels of the one before it change what you think of in regards to what Paul is saying?
Chapter 14
  • Verse 2 - I find it interesting that Paul's description of "tongues" here is rather different than the phenomenon described in Acts.  In Acts, people spoke in languages that other people, who spoke different native languages, could understand.  Here, Paul is describing something that no other human understands. but God understands.
  • Verses 22-23 - I'm a bit confused here.  First, Paul says "tongues... are a sign... for unbelievers," and then he says "if... everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?" (with the following verses making clear that this is indeed a bad thing)  This seems contradictory.  What am I missing?
  • Verses 34-35 - One of the more infamous passages against women speaking in churches.  There is actually some doubt as to whether Paul wrote these particular verses, in part because the verses appear in another location (at the end of the chapter) in some manuscripts.1  I don't see any reason to cast doubt on the authenticity of the passage as a means of arguing against the traditional interpretation of it against women in church ministry.  There's plenty of reason to suggest that it doesn't really mean such a total prohibition against women, even if we accept that Paul wrote these words as an original part of 1 Corinthians.  The fact that Paul was concerned to emphasize that women prophesying (thus, not being silent!) should do so with their heads covered, just a few chapters earlier in this same book, should be more than sufficient to note that Paul wasn't really suggesting silence for all women in the Corinthian church (let alone everywhere else in the Christian world).  Many traditionalists will no doubt rebut that Paul is here talking about ministerial office, and not prophesy, but there is nothing in this context to indicate such office is in Paul's mind.  One would think that believers so intent on following the "plain meaning" of Scripture would recognize such an absence!  Also somewhat bizarre is the question of what "law" is being referred to in verse 34.  As Fee points out, there is no passage of the law (that is, the Old Testament) that says what this verse says!2
Chapter 15
  • Although the Corinthian believers seem to understand and believe in the resurrection of Christ himself, they seem not to have made the (necessary, at least to Paul) connection from there to belief in bodily resurrection for believers in Christ.3  Why does Paul consider this connection so necessary, and how is it that the Corinthians seem to have been unusual (at least, at the time) in their difficulty to grasp it?
Chapter 16
  • Verses 10-11 - Paul seems concerned for Timothy's well-being.  Why is Paul so concerned?  What does he think might happen to Timothy while visiting the Corinthians?  Why would they "treat him with contempt"?
  • Verse 12 - What's up with Apollos?  It seems that the Corinthians have requested his return (implied by the "now about" clause), and that Paul has also encouraged Apollos to go, but Apollos is resisting this suggestion, at least for now.  Why should Apollos not want to go?4
2 Corinthians
Chapter 1
  • Verses 8-11 - Paul's obviously had a hard time of it lately.  I wonder if these difficulties are ones that we know about (such as related in the book of Acts), or if his comments here relate to an unrecorded incident.
  • Verses 15-17 - Apparently the plans that Paul announced at the end of the previous letter fell through.
  • Verse 23 - Paul suggests that his failure to visit Corinth wasn't simply that he was kept from going because of some schedule conflict, but that he in fact made a decision not to go at that time.  Why did Paul make such a decision, and how could he argue that it was "to spare" the Corinthians?  I guess we'll have to wait until next week for more details.

1Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1987, p. 699.
2Fee, p. 707.  Fee notes that "Gen. 3:16 is often appealed to, but that text does not say what is here argued."
3See Fee, pp. 713-714.
4In Fee, p. 824, it is noted that the Greek is less certain than the TNIV translation implies about exactly who was "unwilling" that Apollos go to Corinth. It may have been that God was unwilling for Apollos to go at this time.

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