1 Corinthians

Commentary On 1 Corinthians

I. Introduction (1:1-9)

A. Opening Greetings (1:1-3)

This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Sosthenes.

2 I am writing to God's church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.

3 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

Notes

1:1 Paul. This lone first word opens the letter, the typical way Greek letters indicated their authors. This is the author's Greek name. Saul, his Jewish name, while probably still used by him personally, is not employed in his epistles or in Acts after he began his missionary journeys (Acts 13:9).

chosen. Gr., klētos [TG 2822, ZG 3105], used by Paul only in Romans (Rom 1:1, 6-7) and 1 Corinthians (1:1-2, 24), emphasizes his apostolic vocation by divine mandate, like that of an OT prophet.

apostle. Gr., apostolos [TG 652, ZG 693], used by Paul in 1 Corinthians more than in any other writing (10 times), refers to a messenger or ambassador sent out with a specific responsibility. Paul's apostolic call came not from the historic Jesus (as with the original Twelve) but from the risen Lord on the Damascus road (Acts 9:5; Gal 1:1-5, 11-16). The NT does not restrict the term to the Twelve Jesus chose to follow him in his ministry. Seventeen individuals are called apostles, adding Paul, James (Gal 1:19), Matthias (Acts 1:26), Barnabas (Acts 14:14), and Andronicus and Junia (Rom 16:7) to the original Twelve. Such people not only were eyewitnesses to the resurrection (Acts 1:22) but preached the gospel and founded Christian communities.

Christ Jesus. Some early mss, including , have "Jesus Christ." However, 46 and B are surely correct, since Paul rarely reverses the order of Jesus' names without "Lord" preceding them, as in 1:3.

brother. Gr., adelphos [TG 80, ZG 81]. In the plural, this word usually refers to both male and female believers. In the singular, as here, it is a way for Paul to convey his feelings of kinship for someone working with him as an associate (2 Cor 1:1; 2:13; 8:22).

1:2 church. Gr., ekklēsia [TG 1577, ZG 1711]. This word originally referred to assembled Greek citizens whom a crier had "called out" to attendance. This word was used in the LXX to refer to Israel gathered together as a community (e.g., Deut 4:10). In the NT, it came to be used mostly to designate the community of believers in a specific location, as it is here, and occasionally of the worldwide church (15:9; Eph 1:22).

made you holy. Paul uses the verb hagiazō [TG 37, ZG 39] more often in 1 Corinthians than in any of his other letters (four times). In Jewish contexts it refers to things or people who had been set apart for God's use, like the Temple, the priests, the altars, and the sacrifices.

the name. Gr., onoma [TG 3686, ZG 3950], which commonly designates the honor and integrity of an individual.

1:3 grace and peace. "Grace" (charis [TG 5485, ZG 5921]) derives from the standard Greek greeting, and "peace" (eirēnē [TG 1515, ZG 1645]) is the traditional Jewish greeting. Previously used together in intertestamental Jewish writings, the intercultural greeting is standard in the openings of nearly all Paul's letters, probably reflecting the multiracial composition of churches to whom he wrote. Theologically, grace constitutes the whole of God's activity in Christ, and peace the result of that activity on our behalf.

Commentary

Paul's opening to this letter is structured like most ancient Greek letters: naming the author and the recipient and offering a blessing. This is a pattern he follows in all his letters. His openings stand out by expanding these common features, as he does here. Whether consciously intended or not, these extras often tip off primary concerns elaborated in the course of the letter.

Paul's mention of himself as the author of the letter is expanded in two distinct ways. First, he emphasizes his divine calling to be an apostle. This was not unusual for him. He mentions being an apostle at the opening of most of his letters (except Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon). This often signals that his credibility as an apostle was under attack among the people to whom he wrote, as in Galatians or Colossians, but this is not always the case, as with Romans or 1 Timothy. However, since we do know that his apostolic status suffered a major attack by Corinthian believers within the context of 2 Corinthians and the "severe letter" and painful visit mentioned there, it is not overly presumptuous to think that preliminary problems along this line began to appear among the Corinthians previous to the writing of 1 Corinthians. Though not as obvious as in 2 Corinthians, a strong case can be made that subversion of Paul's apostleship was a major issue for 1 Corinthians, rising to the surface in 4:1-5 and 9:1-23.

Paul stresses the divine origin of his apostleship in a way comparable only to Galatians and Romans. In other letters he mentions both the "will of God" and "apostle of Christ" (Eph 1:1; Col 1:1; 1 Tim 1:1; 2 Tim 1:1), but only here does he insert the word "chosen" (also used in Rom 1:1) immediately after his name, making the first three words of the letter "Paul, chosen apostle." He desired his readers' first and lasting impression to be that his role as their apostle was not just a title for him or even something he sought. Rather, he was compelled by God himself to enter God's service (bringing to mind Acts 9:1-5 and Gal 1:13-17). In 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10, he will recount for the Corinthians that his life as an apostle was not filled with glory and honor but with suffering and pain (as predicted in Acts 9:16) like the life of Christ himself, whose message he has doggedly brought to Gentiles like the Corinthians. It is not without design that Paul will emphasize in the very next verse that the Corinthians are also "chosen" themselves ("chosen, holy") not for an easy life but for one which must struggle against the forces of the world.

Paul was first and foremost an "apostle of Christ," a commissioned messenger of the gospel sent especially to the Gentiles. Simultaneously, he viewed his apostolic life as occurring within God's overarching providence. Thus, he says he is an apostle "by the will of God." God himself was not merely the agent but also the compelling cause of his vocation to serve Christ rather than to oppose Christ and persecute his followers, as Paul once thought God wanted.

Paul's second expansion of his name adds "our brother Sosthenes." Paul often added the names of working companions who were with him at the time of writing (e.g., 2 Cor 1:1). Though some maintain that this means Sosthenes had a role in writing the letter (Murphy-O'Connor 1993), this does not fit with Paul's normal intention of including names at the beginning of a letter (Garland 2003:26). The intriguing mention of Sosthenes as "our brother" could be because he is the same man who failed to make the case against Paul and Christianity to Gallio in the days when Paul originally brought the gospel to Corinth (Acts 18:14-18). Could he have become a Christian since then and afterward begun serving with Paul in Ephesus? Calvin (1960:17) thought the identity was certain, but most today assert no more than that this is probable (Garland 2003:26; Hays 1997:15).

Paul's expansion on the addressees of this letter in 1:2 is more elaborate than usual. It underscores God's expectation for the Corinthian believers to view their assembly as God's special, holy people, like Israel of old. This can be seen first in Paul's designating them "God's church," a term he normally uses to identify the worldwide church (10:32; 11:22; 15:9; Gal 1:13). The Corinthians were God's people "in Corinth," a vital part of God's new work to bring "all people everywhere" into relationship with him through Christ. Their commission mirrors Paul's own, and so they are "called" like Paul was.

Second, encouragement for the Corinthians to view themselves as God's holy people can also be seen in Paul's double emphasis on their holiness. They are both "called" holy and "made" holy, having been summoned and prepared to function as God's people. They are separate from other people yet are entrusted with a mission to enable others to join God's people by calling "on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul's desire for the Corinthian believers to live as a holy community encompasses this epistle, even if the precise words are not used in each context.

Paul intentionally invoked the words of Joel 2:32, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." God was now assembling his new covenant people from city to city around the world, including Corinth. The rallying cry voiced the name "Jesus Christ," who is now "Lord." He shares the title "Lord" with God because he has completed God's mission to save all people through his death on the cross. Both the worldwide church and its local representation in the Corinthian believers as God's people serve "their Lord and ours" and swear their allegiance to him. Indeed, it is "by means of Christ" that each one then and now enters into God's people, uniting with Christ and the church in baptism (Conzelmann 1975:21-23) and confessing Christ as Lord (Rom 6:1-7; 10:9).

Paul's blessing in 1:3 is a standard part of his introductions, appearing word for word in Romans 1:7, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, and Philippians 1:2. This formula's coordinated appeal to both God and Christ exemplifies the Christian belief, well established by Paul's day, that the two govern with equal power. The risen Christ stands at the right hand of the Father administrating his rule (Acts 7:56; Eph 1:10; Phil 1:5-11; Col 1:15-20). Thus, to invoke both is fitting. Attributing fatherhood to God and lordship to Christ is a typical way of distinguishing their functions. Jesus himself encouraged his followers to address God as Father (Matt 6:9), not because he is either male or female, but because he is the Creator and Provider for humanity, as well as for each individual. Addressing Jesus as Lord honors his resurrection, our devotion to him, and his cause to redeem every person from the bondage of sin.

B. Thanksgiving (1:4-9)

4 I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. 5 Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. 6 This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. 7 Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. 9 God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Notes

1:4 I always thank. This follows the typical pattern of Greek letter writing by initiating a "thanksgiving" section following the opening of the letter. Paul did this in all of his letters except Galatians, where the thanksgiving section was replaced by a stern rebuke.

my God. Gr., theos mou [TG 2316/1473, ZG 2536/1609]. Though missing from the normally reliable B and 9, the "my" (mou) should be retained due to the widespread manuscript evidence. The NIV and RSV leave it untranslated, while NASB, ESV, and TEV have "my God."

gracious gifts. Simply "grace" (charis [TG 5485, ZG 5921]) in Greek, this is a dominant word in Paul's theological vocabulary. Though not employed as much as in Romans (24 times) or even in 2 Corinthians (18 times), its use in 1 Corinthians (10 times) is still significant. Paul's use of the word is wide-ranging; he even employed it to refer to the collection of money (16:3; 2 Cor 8:4, 6, 19). However, it is at the heart of his gospel—often pitted against law—blending together both the undeserved kindness of God for humanity as well as the expression of God's love in the decisive saving act of Christ on the cross. Here, it is the fount from which the spiritual gifts flow.

you belong to Christ. This is a two-word prepositional phrase in Greek (en Christō [TG 5547, ZG 5986]); it is Paul's most common, shorthand term for distinguishing a believer's total identification with Christ from a person who is outside of Christ. The term "Christ" occurs a surprising five times in 1:4-9.

1:5 God has enriched your church. In Greek the verb is passive (eploutisthēte [TG 4148, ZG 4457], "you have been enriched"). The NLT interprets this as a divine passive, meaning that God is assumed as the active agent, and makes the agent explicit. The verb's tense (aorist) communicates that this action has already taken place. The word and its cognates normally denote the accumulation of material wealth (Luke 18:25; 1 Tim 6:17), though Paul uses it here and elsewhere (2 Cor 6:10) to refer to spiritual wealth. The verb communicates that the recipients are "you," plural; NLT clarifies the limits of who is included with "your church."

eloquent words. This is a singular, lit., "word" (logos [TG 3056, ZG 3364]), which can refer literally to an actual word but also to a collection of written words or to a collection of oral words. The NLT interprets it in the latter sense. Speech contests were part of the biannual Isthmian Games in Corinth (Keener 1993:454). The addition of "eloquent" by the NLT may add a hint of sarcasm (in view of Paul's later criticism of the Corinthians' overvaluing the finely spoken words of public speakers) that Paul does not intend this early in the letter since these words are stated as gifts of God.

knowledge. Gr., gnōsis [TG 1108, ZG 1194]. This word appears 10 times in 1 Corinthians, far more than in any other letter of Paul. The accumulation of knowledge was a valuable human ambition in the Greek world. The appearance of this word here and elsewhere in 1 Corinthians prompted earlier scholars to propose that Paul combated a form of Gnosticism in Corinthians. Since the idea of offering special, "secret" knowledge about the nature of Christ to initiates is not documented earlier than the second century, current scholarship does not connect formal Gnosticism with Corinth (Schmithals 1971; Thiselton 2000:92-93; R. Wilson 1972-1973), though some less sophisticated, early type of Gnosticism may be a factor.

1:6 This. A few scholars lobby for kathōs [TG 2531, ZG 2777] to be taken in its normal sense of comparison and translated "just as" (Orr and Walther 1976:40; Soards 1999:25). However, this seems forced in this context compared to taking it as an explanation of how the gifts function (Robertson and Plummer 1911:6; Thiselton 2000:94).

confirms... is true. Gr., bebaioō [TG 950, ZG 1011], which is an aorist passive. This word is often associated with verifying the truth of a person's word and is highly appropriate in conjunction with testimony.

what I told you about Christ. This accurately renders "the testimony of Christ" (to marturion tou christou [TG 5547, ZG 5986]) as an objective genitive. It spells out what is implied in Paul's statement—that he had in mind his own personal witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ delivered when he was in Corinth with them. The word marturion [TG 3142, ZG 3457], originally a legal term, is commonly used in reference to the gospel in the NT (Acts 4:33; 23:11) and in later centuries to honor Christians who chose to be executed rather than deny Christ.

1:7 spiritual gift. Gr., charisma [TG 5486, ZG 5922]. This is not the same word translated "gracious gifts" in 1:4. Charisma refers to a favor or a free gift. Nearly exclusive to Paul's writings in the NT, his use of it is concentrated in 1 Corinthians (seven times) and Romans (six times) and always refers to special abilities provided by the Holy Spirit to Christians as a blessing for the Christian community. He will have much to say about this in ch 12.

the return. Gr., apokalupsis [TG 602, ZG 637], usually translated "revelation." This word was used by Paul to refer to special revelation of knowledge from God as a spiritual gift (14:6, 26; 2 Cor 12:1, 7), revelation of the gospel in particular to him (Rom 16:25; Gal 1:12; Eph 3:3), revelation of action he should take (Gal 2:2), and the great revelation of judgment against sinners (Rom 2:5; 8:19). As in 2 Thess 1:7 (also 1 Pet 1:7, 13; 4:13), Paul uses it here in association with the idea of the return of Christ.

1:8 will keep you strong. From bebaioō [TG 950, ZG 1011], which is the same word translated "confirms" in 1:6. The NLT (also NIV) is consistent with the implications of the word.

end. Gr., telos [TG 5056, ZG 5465]. This refers to the accomplishment or completion of a goal.

free from all blame. Gr., anenklētos [TG 410, ZG 441], a legal term denoting blamelessness, having no hint of accusability.

when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. Lit., "in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ." The phrase "day of the Lord" was formulaic in the OT prophets for God coming in judgment (Isa 13:6, 9; Jer 25:33; Ezek 7:10; 13:5; Joel 2:1; 3:14; Amos 5:18, 20; Obad 1:15; Zeph 1:7, 14; Mal 4:1). So now in the NT, the return of Christ signals his appropriation of God's role as eschatological judge over humanity (2 Cor 1:14; Phil 1:6, 10; 2:16; 1 Thess 5:2).

Lord Jesus Christ. Like most versions, the NLT retains "Christ," following the vast majority of textual witnesses, including . It is notably missing in 46 and B. If the original excluded it, a scribe could have added it to conform to 1:7 (Comfort 2008:484).

1:9 he is faithful. The word pistos [TG 4103, ZG 4412] refers to a person who is trustworthy in character, who can be believed. God has demonstrated his trustworthiness throughout the pages of Scripture, in keeping his end of the covenant with Israel even when they did not and in bringing to fruition his plan to save humanity through Jesus Christ.

invited. This passive form of "call" (kaleō [TG 2564, ZG 2813]) can mean "invite" as the NLT translates it. However, it has a much broader, theological connotation in the NT and in Paul's writings than the English word "invite" allows. For Paul, all believers have been called, with the implication that God not only has invited each one with the Good News, but that they have accepted the invitation and have come into his family, his people, the church. In ch 7 (7:15, 17, 18 [twice], 20, 21, 22 [twice], 24) he uses this term to refer to the precise point of a believer's conversion.

partnership. Gr., koinōnia [TG 2842, ZG 3126], which refers to people holding things in common. For Greek philosophers this kind of brotherhood bonding was foundational to their Utopian dreams. However, for Paul this was never rooted in mere human solidarity but through kinship created by the common dependence believers have on Christ for salvation. In fact, the only other uses of this word in 1 Corinthians are in the context of the Lord's Supper (10:16 [twice]). Demonstrating its lexical fluidity for Paul, it refers to the collecting of offering money in 2 Cor 8:4; 9:13.

Commentary

Paul's thanksgiving sections typically offer a preview of key themes to arise later. In 1:4-9, Paul first employs words that will return in force, like "gracious gifts" (charis [TG 5485, ZG 5921]), "eloquent words" (logos [TG 3056, ZG 3364]), "knowledge" (gnōsis [TG 1108, ZG 1194]), "spiritual gift" (charisma [TG 5486, ZG 5922]), and "partnership" (koinonia [TG 2842, ZG 3126]). Though Paul announces these ideas in positive terms, he will harshly criticize the Corinthians for their incorrect perspective on these matters.

The expression "I always thank my God" (1:4) refers to Paul's custom in his personal prayer life to include prayer for the various churches in his orbit, churches he had a hand in planting and which continued to fall under his pastoral care. His prayers for the Corinthians focused on how God demonstrated his benevolence in their lives in ways they could see and experience since they became Christians. So, "grace" (NLT, "gracious gifts") here does not focus simply on God's mercy to accept sinners into a saving relationship with him through Christ. Rather, grace envelops the whole of believers' lives, manifesting itself in observable activities in the life of the church. The expression "he has given you" (1:4) underscores the truth that God is the great benefactor in believers' lives. The precondition for receiving the benefits of God's grace is "now that you belong to Christ Jesus," that is, by confessing Christ and entering into his corporate body, the church, through baptism (Rom 6:3; 10:6).

In 1:5, Paul provides evidence for the presence of God's grace that he is sure the Corinthians had observed. He reemphasizes that this has happened because they are "in him" (NLT, "through him"), meaning they are connected to Christ and, through him, to the Christian community and the pipeline of God's bountiful spiritual blessings. He chooses two blessings, speech and knowledge, to showcase. No doubt he is looking ahead to his criticisms of the Corinthians' less-than-acceptable approach to both of these. In chapter 2 he will chastise them for confusing rhetorically well-crafted speeches with knowledge, and in chapters 11-13 he will criticize their practice of elevating the spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues and special knowledge over the supreme gift of love. His mention of these two here, however, is not tongue-in-cheek, for he genuinely believes these two to be real gifts God provides the church, even if they are misunderstood or abused (Soards 1999:25). Paul's emphatic repetition of "all" three times in this short verse (NLT, "every," "all," "all") emphasizes the overabundance of God's riches, more than enough to supply the church's needs.

In 1:6, Paul explains how the Corinthians' demonstration of speech and knowledge relates to being recipients of God's gracious gifts (1:4). They function as tangible evidence that the gospel Paul preached to them is in fact the true gospel, fully sanctioned by God. (This is a bigger issue in Galatians and addressed more fully there, but it is never far from Paul's concern.) Why else would God pour out his gifts of speech and knowledge on them? This confirmation of God's grace occurred primarily within them as a group, meaning they could see that speech and knowledge from God was manifested when they were congregated.

In 1:7, Paul places the reality of the spiritual gifts in the context of eschatology. As a result of being "enriched" (1:5), the Corinthians had everything they needed to thrive until Christ returns in eschatological splendor and judgment. The NLT appropriately puts in the positive what Paul actually says in the negative (NET, "so that you do not lack in any spiritual gift"), gauging that this verse falls under the umbrella of the positive language of 1:5 (Fee 1987:42). Since "you" is plural, Paul's perspective continues to be corporate. It is the spiritual needs of the church that will be satisfied by the spiritual gifts God supplies its members, a principle he will elaborate in chapters 12-14. The spiritual gifts help the church wait for the Lord expectantly because they occur as an overture or foretaste of the things to come, just as the miracles of Jesus demonstrated that the messianic age had arrived with his presence.

Paul acknowledges in 1:8 that remaining true to the gospel to the end might seem difficult, but the Corinthians would receive divine aid. The source of this help is interpreted as either God or Christ. The immediate proximity of Jesus Christ to the relative pronoun (hos [TG 3739, ZG 4005], "he") favors him as the referent (Thiselton 2000:101). Although some make a strong case that "God" (from 1:4) remains the primary agent throughout this paragraph through the repeated divine passives (Fee 1987:44; Soards 1999:27), Paul's emphasis that they will be (lit.) "confirmed blameless" indicates that it is the testimony of Christ, the content of the gospel (1:6), that is foremost in mind. People cannot be made blameless apart from God's grace, but it is Christ's death on the cross for humanity's sins that makes them blameless when they believe in Christ and continue to do so until he returns. The repetition here and in 1:7 of the title "Lord" with "Jesus Christ" emphasizes both his resurrection and his role as sovereign judge in light of his eschatological return.

The ultimate confirmation of the reality of salvation at Christ's return, Paul affirms in 1:9, is the proven character of God himself. Paul can testify to God's faithfulness from his own experience. Knowledge of God's character is certainly obtainable from reading his interactions with Israel in Jewish Scripture, but it was also experienced by the Corinthians in the gifts of words and knowledge they had seen working in their midst. In fact, it was God who made possible what they already had, even before the return of Christ.