Monday, July 19, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: 1 Corinthians 8-12

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 8-12.

Chapter 8

  • This chapter starts a discussion that will go through the next few chapters about the eating of food sacrificed to idols. Fee suggests that the issue at stake has less to do with the food itself, and more to do with the issue of going to pagan temples, which is where such food not only came from, but indeed was often served at.  The idea is that the Gentile Christians had probably gone to cultic gatherings which served such food regularly all their lives, and the question came up as to whether or not attending such gatherings was still permissible.  While the food may not be anything important of itself (see verse 8), the attendance at a pagan temple would have been a far more serious issue.1
  • Verses 1-3 - Whether the Corinthians are actually correct or not (about the importance of the fact that the food has been sacrificed to idols... or about eating at pagan temples), they've missed the point because they are not acting out of love or concern for how those who do not think about these issues as they do might react.
  • Verse 9 - Perhaps the Corinthians are similar to so much of modern American culture today, in that the rights of the individual are being emphasized (indeed, this seems especially true in American Evangelicalism).  Paul does not seem to dispute these "rights" per se, but he definitely places them in a secondary position underneath care for "the weak."
Chapter 9
  • Verses 1-18 - Paul seems to be responding to a challenge to his apostolic authority (presumably raised in the letter he got from the Corithians to which he is responding by writing what we have come to know as 1 Corinthians).  Although he ultimately does not seek payment for his own labors (demonstrating his behavior as an example of how people should be willing to lay down their rights for the sake of others, as he argued the Corinthians should do at the end of chapter 8), he makes a very strong case for why people in ministerial work ought (generally) to be paid.
  • Verses 24-27 - Even if Christians are no longer bound by "the Law," Paul clearly intends that people should excersise self-disicipline, and behave in a way consistent with living as the people of God.
Chapter 10
  • Verses 1-10 - Paul cites examples from the Old Testament to demonstrate that others who had been chosen by God (i.e., the Israelites) nevertheless failed to "win the prize" by their misbehavior.  Of note, in verse 8, Paul seems to be referencing Numbers 25:1-9, but if so, the question of why he cites 23,000 who died (rather than 24,000, as in that passage) is unresolved.  In any event, it seems likely that Paul's reference to sexual immorality here is intended to refer fairly specifically to sexual behavior that took place within the pagan temples.2
  • Verse 18-22 - It is these verses in particular that lead one to think that Paul is arguing against participating in pagan temple practice vs. simply eating food that has been sacrificed to idols.
  • Verse 23-31 - Paul ties up some loose ends.  Although participating in the pagan temple is warned against, eating the food itself (as it is sold in the marketplace later) is permissible.  But if someone makes an issue of it, then don't eat it.  Again, put the needs of others first.
Chapter 11
  • Verses 1-16 - A long passage on prophecy and head-covering that has often been used to subordinate women.  It bears noting that Paul has nothing negative to say about the fact that women were prophecying.  He's just particularly concerned that they keep their heads covered.  Here's a bit from Fee:
  • Although various Christan groups have fostered the practice of some sort of head covering for women in the assembled church, the difficulties with the practice are obvious.  For Paul the issue was directly tied to a cultural shame that scarcely prevails in most cultures today.  Furthermore, we simply do not know what the practice was that they were abusing.  Thus literal "obedience" to the text is often merely symbolic. Unfortunately, the symbol that tends to be reinforced is the subordination of women, which is hardly Paul's point.  Furthermore, it would seem that in cultures where women's heads are seldom covered, the enforcement of such in the church turns Paul's point on its head.  In any case, the fact that Paul's own argument is so tied to cultural norms suggests that literal obedience is not mandatory for obedience to God's Word.3
  • Verse 14: "Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him," - It is probably worth noting that men who took a Nazirte vow (including, if Acts 18:18 is any indication, Paul himself) would have had long hair, and this was a part of one's commitment to God. How might this fact make one rethink traditional interpretations of this passage?
  • Verses 17-22 - At least one of the problems with how the Corinthian Church was practicing the Lord's Supper was that they were not treating their poor with respect as equals.  I imagine that this is an ongoing problem for our churches.
Chapter 12
  • Verses 1-31a - Paul seems to be responding to another issue in the Corinthian church, perhaps called to his attention in the letter they sent him.  While he's writing to them about gifts of the Spirit in a fairly generic sense, it seems that he's doing so because they've been unduly focused on a single gift in particular: that of speaking in tongues.4  As has been the case with other issues the Corinthians have been having, it's not so much that speaking in tongues is bad (it's not), but that the Corinthians seem to be lacking in perspective and balance. 
  • Verse 31b - This really belongs with the beginning of chapter 13.  We'll deal with that next week....

1See Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Eerdmans, 1987, pp. 359-361.
2See Fee, pp. 454-455.
3Fee, p. 512.
4Fee, p. 571.

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