Letters of Paul

1 Corinthians

Divisions of Corinth – Study Guide

1 Corinthians 1:1-2:16: Divisions at Corinth: Spirit and Wisdom

In reading any of Paul’s letters, it is useful to take a moment to attend to what Paul says in his initial greetings (1:1-3). Paul introduces himself, as “an apostle of Christ Jesus,” hinting at an issue in his relationship with his Corinthian community, what his status was and what it meant to be an “apostle” of Christ. We shall hear more about these issues in this and the next session of our study.

Paul goes on to greet his congregation as those who have been “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” In this seemingly innocuous phrase Paul at once celebrates what he believes has taken place in Corinth. His preaching and the Corinthians acceptance of it has led to a change in their status. Once they were “profane” Gentiles, outside the orbit of a relationship with God. Now they stand in such a relationship and it is worth celebrating. It may be, however, that one of the problems that Paul is confronting in this community is an excessive celebration of person spiritual experience and relationship with God. His next phrase, “called to be saints” introduces a hint that there remains an important element of moral responsibility in his gospel message to the Corinthians. The verse summarizes much of the argument of the whole text: “Yes,” says Paul, “something significant has happened to you in your encounter with Christ, but, No, you are not perfect. You are called to be something special. Act on that calling!”

Paul often offers a little prayer of thanks at the beginning of his letters, imitating a custom in contemporary Greek letter writing. In this thanksgiving (1:4-9) he continues to develop the balance that he struck in the greeting. The Corinthians have been blessed, “enriched,” with all sorts of “speech and knowledge.” They have learned and experienced something very special, and have received “spiritual gifts.” With that prayer of thanks, comes a prayer for “strengthening” (1:9).

After the prayer comes some indication of the problem on the table (1:10-16). The community is apparently divided, with different factions pledging allegiance to one or another preacher and teacher (including Christ! v. 12). Information about these divisions has apparently been brought to Paul by “Chloe’s people” (v. 11), perhaps slaves or freedmen of a well-to-do woman in Corinth.

In response to these divisions in Corinth, Paul issues a fundamental challenge: Think about Christ crucified. That is where true wisdom resides (1:18-25). Paul recognizes that what he is saying, that the touchstone of enlightenment is the corpse of condemned criminal, is likely to be rejected and derided (1:23), but he goes ahead and makes that claim. The cross of Christ is somehow the criterion by which other claims to meaning and value are to be judged.

From such a dramatic challenge Paul returns to the concrete situation of his audience (1:26-31). Some, but certainly not all, are people of means or status. His reference to issues of social status may point to some of the factors that caused divisions in the community.

Paul makes his fundamental moves in the first chapter, challenging his audience to think about who they are in the light of their belief in Christ. In his next chapter (2:1-16), Paul develops these thoughts in a positive way, claiming that Christ crucified is indeed the “wisdom of God,” hidden from all eternity (2:7), that in Christ something is revealed that had long been hidden (2:9). The strong contrast between divine revelation and human expectation hints at an issue that Paul will address more concretely in later chapters, how a community of believers relates to a world with very different expectations and assumptions.

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Take notes on this lesson

2 Notes

  1. Adrian Bruder

    Paul – Apollos – Cephas
    1. People are attaching to the gifts and graces that these people have. Like denominations.
    “Paul is inventing church as he goes along.”
    Apollos (from Alexandria?) – Alexandria and he is known for his eloquence. Alexandria is known for its seeking of wisdom.

    Spirituality – Interpreting or understanding scripture in a more exalted way.
    Issues with the Gifts and Wisdom that people have.

    Chloe’s people have brought him some news. Sending news to Paul at Ephesus.
    I. Divisions
    a. Who baptized them/ who they follow
    i. Paul
    ii. Apollos
    iii. Cephas (Peter)
    b. The church seeking Wisdom
    i. The wisdom of the World is counter to the wisdom of God.
    ii. GOS’s wisdom and discernment topple the wisdom and discernment of the World.
    iii. GOD’s foolishness and weakness are stronger than anything the World can produce.
    GOD will never be outdone, if there is GODLY Wisdom in man, it is from God and it will point to GOD, if there is discernment in man, it is from GOD and it will point to GOD. Why should GOD give His wisdom or His discernment to man if it will not be used to glorify Him? Why are these people seeking so desperately wisdom and discernment?
    The crux is JESUS, and wisdom and discernment come from GOD. I would assume that whoever gets those gifts get those gifts because they serve both: 1) GOD’s purpose [and] 2) Will always give GOD glory.
    If those two points aren’t being established, why would GOD lend his wisdom and discernment to those who seek it? What is their subconscious desire for obtaining it? (Their “heart of hearts”?)
    Let the one who boast, boast IN THE LORD…
    If GOD gives his wisdom and discernment to the powerful, will people believe it came from GOD?
    Will the person who is powerful think it was his all along?
    II. Paul makes it clear his focus is JESUS; his crucifixion, resurrection, and return.
    a. The spirit will save; not intellectual arguments and beautiful prose.
    III. According to Paul the SPIRIT is searching EVERYTHING even GOD.
    a. Q: in 1Corinthians 2:10 it says the SPIRIT searches everything, even the depths of GOD. If they spirit is GOD, why would it need to search. Doesn’t it know itself??
    i. I can see how the spirit helps humans understand the thought of GOD, does it search to be able to translate? Is the spirit working as a divine translator?
    b. Q: 1Corinthians 2:15-16 seems like it could be used very dangerously by someone to automatically shut down conversations about beliefs and interpretations. Any comments? What is the rubric for determine if someone is “spiritual” or not? Fruit? This seems like it could be dangerous to back up someone’s understanding absolutely.

  2. Alfred B. Holt

    The apostle Paul was not inventing Christianity like modern denominations. Paul was teaching and acting on a tradition that had been handed down. This is why Paul states in 1 Cor. 11:23 “For I received of the Lord that which I also delivered unto you (KJV). Paul had received the tradition of not only the Lord’s Supper but his entire message. This why Paul warned the ekklesia in Galatia not to receive another message other than which he had preached (Gal 1:6-8).