Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/1 Corinthians/Chapter 1
First Corinthians 1 is the introduction to one of Paul's letter to the city of Corinth. As such, it contains Paul's usual greeting followed by a blessing and then the beginning of the body of the letter. The body starts out with the topic of divisions in the church, which apparently was becoming a problem in Corinth. Following this, Paul leads into his next topic about wisdom and God.
I am Paul, a man called by God to spread the word of Jesus Christ, writing with Sosthenes to the church of Corinth, and to all followers of Jesus Christ.
It is my hope that God grants you with grace and peace. I thank Him for the gift of Christ for you. Through him you have been blessed in speech and knowledge, even as word of him was first spoken to you. You will be fully prepared for anything until he comes again, and when he does, you will be blameless. Surely, God makes things possible through his Son.
I urge you all that you all to agree and be united in cause. Have completely the same mind as each other. I've heard that you are arguing amongst each other, saying, "I follow Paul," "I follow Peter," "I follow Apollos," or even "I follow Christ." Did I go onto a cross for you? Shall we baptize in my name? Is Christ in that many parts? Thank Goodness that I only baptized two of you, and a household. Had I done otherwise, many of you could claim that you were baptized in my name, rather than in Christ. I didn't come to baptize, only to spread the word of Christ Jesus.
The news of the crucifixion is to those who are hopeless in their actions. It is for people who think they have the answers. Wasn't it said that "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and make the cleverness of the clever seem silly." Hasn't God made the wisdom of the teacher and the scholar seem silly? Hasn't He made common sense seem not so common?
The world did not find God through its wisdom, which God has taken advantage of, and has acted through the foolishness that has been spread around. The Jews sought signs, and the Greeks were looking for wisdom, but both can see the way through Christ, which contradicts both. Even the most foolish thing of God is beyond anything we can possibly understand.
Think about the world. There are few strong, smart, or in power. But God confuses this whole system by having the most simple things become the most powerful. These simple things put those smart, strong, and noble to shame. No one should be able to claim power before God, no one can choose their place before him, no one can brag. It is only in Him that you are wise, and only in Christ that you will be righteous, sanctified, and redeemed. If you will boast, boast about the Lord.
Influence and message
This passage has had a major effect on Christianity through time. From this chapter, Paul is known to have practiced baptism, but cautiously. This chapter has also long been cited as an argument against different denominations. Paul speaks very clearly that all Christians should be in a single agreement or decision of belief. Paul also sets standards in dealing with problems in the church. When introducing an issue, he delicately brings it up, thanking them for what they are doing right first. He also chooses to not take claim for anything he has done, constantly reminding his audience that everything he does is through Christ.
His message in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians is one of unity and humility. He speaks harshly against the idea of any sort of division in the church. He also exhorts the readers to not get caught up in human ideals and values. Things that his audience hold in high regard (many in the modern world do this as well) such as wisdom, knowledge, and eloquence, Paul reverses reminding them that true power and salvation can only come in the message of Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians is entirely letter in genre
Old Testament passages are quoted in verses 19 and 31.
Introduction and General Overivew
This was a letter written by the apostle Paul to the church in the city of Corinth. Corinth was a major Greek port city boasting thousands of people. As such, it had several classes of people similar to any major United States city today. As heirs of Greek culture, philosophers and people of eloquence were held in the highest regard. They had a strong appreciation for learning and wisdom. As a large city, (perhaps some 100,000 people) sin was rampant and temptations for worldly pleasures were strong. As a port city, large groups of diverse people were in close proximity creating conflict in values (MacDonald). First Corinthians was probably Paul's second letter to the church in Corinth as cited in 1 Cor. 5:9.
Mentioned People in Chapter 1
Paul: The author of this letter. Paul was a teacher of the Jewish law known as Saul before his conversion. See Acts 9:1-17.
Sosthenes: may have been Co-author of First Corinthians. Probably the ruler of a Jewish synagogue found in Acts 18:17.
Apollos: Eloquent speaker who preached in Corinth. People gravitated towards him because of his style.
Chloe: Possibly a noble businesswoman in Ephesus or Corinth. Member of the Corinthian Church. (Keener)
Crispus and Gaius: Possibly noblemen in the church as reflected by Latin (Roman) names. (Keener)
Stephanas: Believer, person of some monitary means. (Keener)
Verse by Verse Commentary
(All verses will be shown above their respective commentary as translated by the New International Version)
Verse 1: Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
Letters in antiquity usually begin with this standard greeting from A to B. This verse is closely linked with the two following verses and should be read as a single sentence (Ellingworth). Paul writes this with a man known as Sosthenes, who could be the same as the preacher mentioned in Acts 18:17. It is unknown if Paul wrote this with Sosthenes with him or if Sosthenes simply agreed with the message. In either case, the mentioning of a second person was to give him additional merit in his message (Faussett).
Verse 2: To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ - their Lord and ours:
Paul could have taken worldly credit here, as he founded the church on his first visit. He chooses not to and instead pushes for a reminder of what their focus should be, Jesus (Hindson). Paul also reminds us that no place is to immoral for God to work in, and that sanctification is possible by daily Christian action (MacDonald).
Verse 3: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is a direct repetition of Romans 1:7b. The word "grace" as used here was somewhat of a standard greeting between Greeks, though the exact meaning of the word has been lost over time (Ellingworth). This is analogous to our word "goodbye" - literally a shortened version of "God be with ye" but that meaning has been lost to time as well. Some scholars believe that the phrase Paul uses is a reminder that grace is the source of the message, and peace is the result (Faussett). Additionally, by placing Jesus in the same breath as God the Father, Paul is affirming his divinity (Hindson).
Thanksgiving: Vss 1:4-9
Verse 4: I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus
It should be noted here that the word always is an obvious exaggeration. While Paul would have been praying for this church, this was not the only thing that he had been doing (Ellingworth). This phrase is the beginning of thanksgiving that Paul traditionally puts at the beginning of his letters. The purpose here is to remind them that God is still at work in them, despite the sin that he is about to remind them of. He is saying something nice about them so that they might listen to his next words better (Keener).
Verse 5: For in him you have been enriched in every way - in all your speaking and in your knowledge
This is furthering the idea of flattery introduced in verse 4. Paul praises them for having spiritual gifts; it means that God is at work in their lives (Ellingworth). He calls to attention some of the major topics he is about to talk about, speech and knowledge.
Verse 6: because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.
It was by the preaching to the Corinthians that the spiritual gifts flourished. Through the spoken word, they gained faith, and through the faith, they gained their gifts, especially those of speaking and of abundant knowledge (spiritual knowledge) (MacDonald).
Verse 7: Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.
This is a general statement that the Corinthians do have spiritual gifts. However, Paul is still flattering the Corinthians so he will have an easier time breaking his harsh words to them shortly. The possession of the gifts is not a sign in itself that they are doing the work of God. The fruits of the Spirit are the results of having the Spirit (MacDonald).
Verse 8: He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Despite all of the problems in the church in question, Paul still has hope for them. He makes clear that it is not their efforts, but God's will that keeps them active and strong. He expresses confidence that with all the work God has done to start a church amidst the sin, God will not let the church fail (MacDonald).
Verse 9: God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
The word "fellowship" here would have been an odd word to the Greek people. Until this point, if they had been worshiping any god, it was more about a ritual performed to appease their god. With Christianity introduced, the idea of an intimate relationship with God is revolutionary (Keener). "Faithful" here follows this idea, as it is not like the faithful used to call a dog or a servant. This is a reminder of the fulfilling of promises to God's people (Ellingworth).
Divisions in the Church: Vss 1:10-17
Verse 10: I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.
The phrase "by the name of" had great power in this time period. Messengers from the imperial government were often sent out "in the name of" the ruler. The messenger was to be given exactly the same authority that the ruler himself would have been endowed. Paul uses this to pressure for his point that the Corinthians should be of one thought, or mind, or decision. The point here is not to stay as one large collection of people meeting for worship, but to act as one body with perfect agreement in what they believe (Ellingworth). It is implied that only by all calling themselves disciples of Christ, not of a particular man, would they be able to have this unity (MacDonald).
Verse 11: My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.
Paul is using tact to introduce his knowledge of their dissension to the Corinthians. By not directly naming his source, he is doing the equivalent of the English phrase, "a little bird told me" (Ellingworth).
Verse 12: What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos", another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."
It is important to not that Paul does not take the opportunity to flatter himself. He calls those that claim allegiance to him just as guilty as those who stood behind the more eloquent Apollos (Faussett). The last claim of "I follow Christ" seems an odd fit among these, as this is what Paul's goal is for them to say. What is probably implied here is that these people are saying that they alone are the followers of Christ, which excludes some of their Christian brethren, creating the divisions Paul is talking about (MacDonald).
Verse 13: Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?
Paul is starting to use the classic debating technique of reducing the opposition's position to something that looks unquestionably ridiculous. The sarcasm used here is undeniably present, and the obvious answer to all of these questions is "no" (Keener).
Verse 14: I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius
This is probably Paul making an aside to himself. It would probably be better grouped with verse 15 and possibly 16 as a single verse (Ellingworth).
Verse 15: so no one can say that you were baptized in my name.
Paul reminds the reader that the sole purpose of a Christian leads back to Christ, as opposed to man (MacDonald).
Verse 16: (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.)
This verse is very uncommon to find by itself, as it is a side note Paul makes to himself (Ellingworth). However, through history, this is sometimes taken to command infant baptism. The reasoning behind this is that the household probably contained infants or children and that they were baptized as well. This is unlikely as Paul's intention (Faussett).
Verse 17: For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel - not with words of wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied its power.
Paul makes several points here. First, he reminds the reader that the message of the gospel is not in the rhetoric or eloquence of the words; it is in the power of the cross. The Greeks had a great appreciators of wisdom and this idea of a savior on a cross seems like foolishness, yet Paul argues it is the wisdom. Another point here is that Paul recognizes baptism, but does not say that the power is in the act of baptism. He recognized his purpose was to preach, not to perform rituals (MacDonald).
Christ the Wisdom and Power of God: Vss 1:18-2:5
Verse 18: For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Paul brings up an important point for Christians here. He reminds the readers that there is only two ways to see the cross, as foolishness or as a saving power. This emphasizes that Christians have a need to see the world in black and white. Nothing in the gospel appeals to the pride or knowledge, which the Corinthians had great love for. Paul reminds them that the real power in the world is found in the cross (MacDonald). Additionally, the foolishness here would be more blatant to the readers of the time as crucifixion was considered one of the more shameful methods of execution. Paul writes of God's power in turning the least likely actions into the most powerful effects (Keener).
Verse 19: For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."
This is a quotation of Isaiah 29:14. The context of that verse is particularly important to the understanding of this passage. In Isaiah's time, the nation of Judah had just made an alliance with Egypt in preparation for the coming invasion of Sennacherib, rather than rely on the power of God to protect them. Great kings in the past sought the way of God and ended victoriously, where the kings who sought the ways of man historically lost. The king of this time, Hezekiah, submitted to the way of God and won the battle. This verse reminds the readers that sometimes the methods that appear wisest, prudent, or even obvious can often be wrong in the eyes of God. The power of God is superior to all Earthly ways (MacDonald).
Verse 20: Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?
Some translations use the word "scribe" instead of "scholar." The two words are roughly interchangeable. The word "world" here refers to all people rather than the Earth (Ellingworth).
Verse 21: For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
The message in this verse is highly important to the readers, to the Corinthians no more than to the modern Christian. This is a reminder that no one can find God by their own power. Human knowledge and understanding never reveals God, despite innumerable philosophers, scholars, and teachers through the ages. Only in the word of the gospel may humans find salvation (MacDonald).
Verse 22: Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
This is a reiteration of the previous verse. Paul brings up specific examples of humans looking for God in something other than the cross. The Jewish were shown 10 plagues leading them out of Egypt and this still was not enough to convince them forever of God's love (Ellingworth).
Verse 23: but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles,
The act of preaching of Christ's sacrifice turns out to be one of the most influential events in history. It is from this that the permanent church of Christianity is established (Faussett). This looks like extreme nonsense to the Jews and Greeks/Gentiles alike, the story of the death of a man labeled as a heretic and criminal to the state (MacDonald).
Verse 24: but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Note should be made of Paul's word choice here. He uses the phrase "those whom God has called" against the more modern term "Christian." Though unintentional, Paul reminds the reader of the original definition of Christianity.
Verse 25: For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
This should be read very delicately. Paul is not saying that God is foolish or weak. He is pointing out the irony of the situation. What sometimes looks like the weakest or most foolish acts of God is beyond what man can comprehend. Beyond that, even these acts are wiser and stronger than anything man can produce.
Verse 26: Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many of you were influential; not many were of noble birth.
As a reminder, the society of that day was highly hierarchical. It was a society where one's place was determined by how noble one was at birth. Worldly standards don't apply to God though (Ellingworth). Also, Paul says "not many" as opposed to "not any." This slight change in wording creates room for everyone, though Jesus teaches that it is more difficult for the rich to enter heaven. God often passes by who humans view as the most likely to be his instruments (MacDonald).
Verse 27: But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
This refers to some of the stranger actions of God that resulted in some of the most influential events in Jewish and Christian history. Jericho's walls fell by marching around the city with horns, Gideon's army was victorious when God reduced their number, Samson defeated armies with a jawbone as a weapon, Jesus fed multitudes with a small number of loaves of bread and a few fish (MacDonald).
Verse 28: He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nillify the things that are,
It is from and in the lowest, most hated, most despised things that God creates hope (MacDonald).
Verse 29: so that no one may boast before him.
Boast here may be better understood as trying to appear better than someone else. In God's presence especially, this reversal of society destroys attempts to shine by example (Ellingworth).
Verse 30: It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
Christ here is personified as wisdom. As basic definitions, righteousness is making things right by the power of God through Christ. Sanctification is making something holy, or setting it apart. Redemption is being set free from the bonds of sin. (Ellingworth).
Verse 31: Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."
This is a quotation of Jeremiah 9:24. The wording is awkward for understanding however, it would probably be better understood as, "Let him who boasts, boast as a result of what has been done for us" (Ellingworth). Alternatively, "Let him who boasts, boast in having and understanding of God" (Keener).
Revelation: Greek word for revelation that is used in the passage Galatians 1:12 is ἀποκάλυψις other than the book of Revelation, which is all apocalyptic imagery seeing as it is an apocalyptic book; however, the revelation that Paul refers to is more along the lines of recognizing God in Christ. “The Christ hymn that opens the Gospel of John (Jn 1:1-18) sounds the keynote when it portrays Christ as God’s Word of revelation, in whom people recognized God’s glory (dictionary of bib. Imagery).” The Old Testament refers more to The God who appears. After the fall of man God appears or speaks only to reveal his purpose to his people. There are many times in the Old Testament where God reveals himself, his revelation, through nature. For example there is Moses and the burning bush, God appeared to Job in a whirlwind. He has also revealed himself to people in dreams (dictionary bib). And so on are ways that God gave revelation in the Old Testament.
History:Paul and Galatia
Galatia/place and people:
The Galatian people were a tribe with Celtic origin that migrated from Europe in the third century BCE (NIB). And settled in what is now Ankara, in 25 BCE Augustus created the Provincia Galatia which is what expanded the Galatian’s territory. Nobody is certain where the Galatians churches were that Paul wrote to. They could have been in the areas of ethnic Galatians (north Galatia) or in the Roman provincial Galatia (south Galatia) (NIB). The Roman province at that time was a large area of central Asia Minor, present day Turkey, the Galatia land stretched to the cities of Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, these cities have been mentioned in the books of Acts stating that Paul and Barnabas had done missionary work there. Yet, Paul does not mention any towns or cities in the letter, making it difficult to find where the churches of Galatia were. Likewise we do not know how many churches there were (NIB). People are trying to find the connection between Luke’s narratives in Acts to Pauls letters. If they were directed to South Galatia and their churches that were founded during his “first missionary journey” then it would go with Acts 13-14, or if it was for North Galatia they would have been founded during his “second missionary journey” would go with Acts 16:6. Knowing where the letters were intended does not change the translation or its meaning; however, it brings the uncertainty of dating the letters.
Why paul may have written the letter:
Since the author states he is the apostle Paul and no other piece of information from within this document or from early church tradition has questioned that it is a Pauline authorship. In the first chapters of his letter Paul tells them about his call from the road to Damascus to when he was writing the letter to them. (Interpretation) Seeing as Paul addressed the letter to “the Churches” implies that it was written as a circular letter and was meant to be read in different churches in Galatia. This could explain why he does not state any specific cities or towns (NIB). In previous letters the way Paul greats the churches also hint to why he wrote the letter. An example is in 1 Corinthians he greats and emphasizes that they are “sanctified in Christ Jesus” as the letter goes on we learn he is writing them about sanctification and using their spiritual gifts (NIB). Following this pattern in Galatians Paul greats by stating that he is an apostle and sent by God and not men. This could go to mean that Paul was defending his status as an apostle, because of questions or accusations (NIB). It was also common for Paul to give thanks to God for the church to which he is writing after his greetings, he does not do this in his letter to the Galatian churches. He dives in with his disappointment with them. The churches in Galatia have departed from the fundamentals, which are God’s grace because of Jesus. They had “deserted” him. Paul has a good relationship with the churches in Galatia. While he was there they received him warmly and welcomed him with open arms and listened to what he had to say.(interpretation) when he writes to them he reminds them of before when the spirit was actively present in their believing community and when there were miracles that were done. They had lost sight of this because of other missionaries who came in and tried to force the Jewish law onto the gentiles. Paul was surprised that they would so easily be persuaded. “…to submit to circumcision is to turn one’s back on the freedom given in Christ in favor of a rite which no longer has relevance and can only lead back to slavery (interpretation).” The tradition of circumcision can be traced back to Gods covenant with Abraham Genesis 17:10-14 “This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. (Gen 17:10 NASB) the passage goes on to talk about how even his servants and so on are to be circumcised. This was a way for the people of God to be set apart. When Jesus came and died a new covenant was made. As Jesus stated at the last supper when he has the disciples drink the wine he says “and he said to them, ‘this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. (Mark 14:24 NASB)” after this new covenant many came to believe that circumcision was no longer necessary. By the Galatians thinking that they need to be circumcised in order to go to heaven worried Paul about what other things they may have heard and started to follow. Also when Paul writes he is writing with many emotions and intensity. He does not hide his feelings of frustration (Interpreters).
Ellingworth, Paul; Hatton, Howard. 1 Corinthians: a translator's handbook on Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Rev. ed. New York: United Bible Societies. 1995. Retrieved with Logos 3.0
Faussett, A.R. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA. 1997. Retrieved with Logos 3.0
Hindson, Edward; Knoll, Woodrow. The K.J.V Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers. 1994. Retrieved with Logos 3.0
Keener, C.S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Rom. 16:27-1 Cor 1:31). Downer's Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 1993. Retrieved with Logos 3.0
MacDonald, William. Believers Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers. 1995. Retrieved with Logos 3.0
The New Interpreters Bible. XI. Nashville Tenneesse: Abingdon Press, 2000. Print.
Ryken, Leland, James Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1998. Print.
Cousar, Charles. Interpretation a biblical commentary for teaching and preaching. 36. Lousville: John Knox Press, 1982. Print.