Monday, July 12, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: 1 Corinthians 3-7

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 3-7.

Chapter 3

  • Verse 1-4: Although Paul is clearly concerned that the Corinthians are engaging in behavior that needs to change, it is worth noting that he is in no sense calling either their status as Christians nor their eternal destiny into question.1 (But see chapter 6 below)
  • Verse 10-15: I read these verses, and am reminded of my drama instructor in college, who argued that, if a Christian is engaging in any kind of work (be it drama or whatever), it is to be done to the Lord, and thus anything less than an effort toward excellence is not good enough.
Chapter 4
  • Verse 6: "Do not go beyond what is written." - I have no idea where this saying comes from.  It doesn't appear to be a quotation from another part of scripture.  Fee doesn't help much, only acknowledging that this part is "notoriously difficult."2 We have only the context in which the saying appears here.
  • Verses 8-10 - Obviously, Paul is not above the use of sarcasm.
  • Verses 18-20 - However badly the Corinthians have been behaving, they must have had some respect for Paul, or else the threat (if that is the right word) of his coming to see them would have no weight.
Chapter 5
  • Verses 1-5 - Although Paul is concerned with the behavor of the man living with his own step-mother, Paul's concern is less with him than with the church's response to the situation.3 Paul clearly never intends for the church to turn a blind eye to (at least this kind of?) sexual sin.
  • Verse 9 - Paul here and elsewhere advocates against sexual immorality.  Unfortunately for us, the term is never precisely defined (as if Paul felt that it was self-evident).  From this particular context, we can glean that incest was in mind.  More on the topic of sexual immorality later....
  • Verses 9-13 - Paul does clarify that he is not suggesting that we should not refuse to associate with people generally for engaging in what we would consider sinful behavior (as such would be impossible), but that we are not to accept this behavior from those would call themselves a member of the Christian community.  Paul references a line that pops up multiple times in Deuteronomy as support for this seemingly harsh teaching.  However we attempt to reconcile this teaching with Matthew 7:1-5, it must certainly be acknowledged that the modern church tends to do the opposite of what Paul is advocating.  We judge the outside world all the time, while often turning a blind eye to the persistent sins of those within the Christian community.4
Chapter 6
  • Verse 5 - Paul may have not intended to shame his readers before, but he seems not to mind it here.
  • Verses 9-11 - Paul's tone here is a bit different than in chapter 3.  Verse 9-10 would seem to argue that some in his audience are indeed in danger of not inheriting the kingdom (perhaps as if to say "Christians just don't act like that!"), but in verse 11 Paul then reminds them that they are indeed justified in Christ.
  • Verse 10 - Specifically, Paul mentions the sexually immoral (and other sexual-related sins) in the list of those who will not inherit the kingdom.  Indeed, the existence of three sexual-type sins (two of which are of disputed meaning due to the Greek words being rare or difficult to precisely define5) in the same list after sexual immorality has been named can be taken as evidence that the term is more limited in scope than might otherwise be assumed.
  • Verses 12-13 - Referencing what appear to be a pair of "Corinthian theological slogan(s),"6 Paul continues his comments against sexual immorality. 
  • Verses 15-17 - Whatever else is to be meant by "sexual immorality," Paul seems to be including prostitution in its definition.
Chapter 7
  • Verse 1 - Although Paul is only now explicitly responding to matters that the Corinthian church had written him about previously, it seems clear by what follows that they had written him about issues of sexual ethics, which no doubt is why Paul has focused so much on this topic already.
  • The instructions Paul gives in the 40 verses of this chapter are difficult to comment on quickly.  Fee devotes 90 pages to covering it all!7 It's really beyond the scope of this blog to do it all justice, and I've written too much already for most of my readers to digest in one reading, so I won't even try on this section. Suffice it to say, Paul considers proper sexual conduct important.

1See Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1987, p. 128.
2Fee, p. 166.
3See Fee, pp. 194-195.
4See Fee, pp. 227-228.
5See Fee, pp. 243-244, for a more detailed summary of the Greek words μαλακοι and αρσενοκοιται.
6Fee, p. 251. See also p. 254.
7Specifically, pp. 266-356.

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