Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Now, about 1 Corinthians…. Did you know …?

By Roy Ciampa, PhD
Associate Professor of New Testament

Having recently completed the one of the longest commentaries on 1 Corinthians in history, and being in the midst of a short adult class on the letter at church, I’m thinking about some things that many people don’t know about the letter or its interpretation. For example, did you know …
1 Corinthians has much to say to the modern world. No book in the New Testament, even Paul’s letter to the Romans, does more to explain the grace of God, the lordship of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit. The contribution of the letter to the practical knowledge of God is immense. Not only is its ethics searching and rigorous, but its theology, especially of the cross, announces the end of the world as we know it. In addition to supplying concrete answers to many problems which have comparable manifestations today, on subjects as diverse as leadership, preaching, pluralism, sexuality, and worship, 1 Corinthians models how to approach the complexity of Christian living with the resources of the Old Testament and the example and teaching of Jesus. Above all, it shows the importance of asking, How does the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which envelop the letter in chapters 1 and 15, teach us to live? [Ciampa and Rosner, First Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 1]
Did you know that Paul’s repeated phrase “do you not know” (1 Cor. 6:2-3, 9, 15-16, 19; 9:24) usually communicates an implied rebuke (indicating that they should have already known and not needed Paul’s reminder), unlike my following list of “did you know” questions (which raise issues that I expect many readers may not have already known)? Did you know that the vices listed in 5:11 share an OT background with the quote from Deuteronomy in 5:13? Did you know (re: 1 Cor. 6:19) that in the Roman world sexual immorality only counted as “adultery” if it entailed sex with a married woman (married men engaging in relations with unmarried women were not legally considered adulterers)? Did you know that Paul is not talking about “homosexuals” in 6:19 (that most of same-sex acts would have been done by married men who were having sex with their wives [and perhaps other women as well])? Did you know, regarding the euphemism of “touching” which shows up in 7:1 (translated “marry” by an older version of the NIV and “have sexual relations” by most recent English translations), that men and women didn’t “touch” each other, but that “touching” was a unilateral act – what a man did to the object of his sexual desire (contrast the mutuality repeatedly reinforced in Paul’s teaching in 7:2-5) and that the euphemism was not used of normal sex within marriage, but of various other kinds of sexual relations?
Did you know that the issue discussed in 1 Corinthians 8-10 is not the same as that in Acts 10:11-11:9 (in 1 Corinthians Paul is dealing with food that has been offered to idols [where association with idolatry is the key issue] while Acts 10 discusses the issue of “clean” and “unclean” foods [categories of animals expounded in Leviticus 11 and presupposed in Genesis 7])? Did you know that in 11:2-16, despite an introduction that seems to imply a gender heirarchy, no distinction is made in the passage between the ministries of men and of women (the conclusion is that both men and women will pray and prophesy as long as they are properly attired)? Did you know that Paul considers the gift of prophesy essential to the wellbeing of the church (and that the gift is present and operating even in churches that do not believe in it)? Did you know that the spiritual/natural dichotomy found in 15:44-46 is not the same as a material/immaterial or physical/non-physical dichotomy (the later is a modern conception foreign to Paul’s thought)?
Did you know that Rosner and I argue that 1 Corinthians is “Paul’s attempt to tell the church of God in Corinth that they are part of the fulfillment of the Old Testament expectation of worldwide worship of the God of Israel, and as God’s eschatological temple they must act in a manner appropriate to their pure and holy status by becoming unified, shunning pagan vices, and glorifying God in obedience to the lordship of Jesus Christ” (page 52)? Did you know you could learn more about all these and many other issues in the recently published Pillar New Testament Commentary?
May God lead us, through a growing understanding and assimilation of the message of 1 Corinthians, ever more deeply into the wisdom and power of God in Christ (1:24) that we might flee sexual immorality (6:18) and idolatry (10:14) and glorify God with our bodies (6:20) and in all that we do (10:31), until that day when all things are fully renewed and He is all in all (15:28)!

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