1 Corinthians (2)


Collins, Raymond.  First Corinthians.  Part of the Sacra Pagina Series edited by Daniel J. Harrington S.J..   Liturgical Press.  Collegeville, MN.  1999.

Fitzmyer, Joseph.  First Corinthians.  Part of the Anchor Yale Bible series edited by William F. Albright and David Noel Freedman.  Yale University Press.  New Haven CT.  2008.

Gorman, Michael J.  Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters.  Eerdmans Publishing Co..   Grand Rapids, MI.  2004

Hays, Richard B..  First Corinthians.  Part of the Interpretation series edited by James. L. Mays.   John Knox Press.  Louisville.  1997.

Quast, Kevin.  Reading the Corinthian Correspondence: An Introduction.  Paulist.  New York, NY.  1994.

The Bible Today.   Volume 48, Number 5.  September/October 2010 issue.  Edited by Donald Senior, CP.   Biblical Update: Lessons from the Corinthian Correspondence includes articles by Vincent Branick,  John Gillman,  and Florence Morgan Gillman.



Hays p. 147:  There were four models in the culture of the times for how Paul might support himself:

·         he could charge a fee for his teaching (Sophist philosophers did this)

·         he could be supported by a wealthy patron

·         he could beg on the street (Cynic philosophers, St. Francis later)

·         he could work at a trade and accept the reduced time and status that this implied.

Paul chose the fourth option, the first two were the leading choices of others.

Paul opens with four direct rhetorical questions – a strong use of rhetorical skills.  He may not have been a powerful speaker but he did know how to debate, to present, to write!  This appears at first to be an insertion or a digression – but Paul goes on to argue that just as he has given up his rights (as an apostle), the Corinthians should follow his example and give up their rights to eat the meat offered to idols if it scandalizes some in the community.

Collins p. 331: “Paul’s exercise of a trade to support himself as he evangelized seems to have been exceptional in the early Christian movement.  His practice was not always appreciated and may even have merited for Paul the accusation that he had demeaned himself to the level of a slave(1Cor. 9:19).”

Paul is free – but for the sake of proclaiming  the gospel he gives up his freedoms.  Is it too much to ask that they do the same in a small thing?  Are they trying hard to live the gospel as he is (as a runner racing to win)?   Here and throughout the letter Paul demonstrates to the people how important the cross / sacrifice of Jesus for others is the core of the Christian life – and putting it into practice in the choices that are made every day.


Colllins p. 364:  Paul opens chapter 10 with an example of Jewish “midrash” (Hebrew for teaching) – a written exploration and interpretation of the meaning of a biblical text, in this case the Book of  Numbers.  Underneath the surface he is also referring to the “golden calf” episode – the primary OT example of idolatry (subtly making his points with the Corinthians regarding meat for idols).

All the Israelites were “saved” – yet some perished.  All of the Corinthians are “saved” – yet some will perish.   Throughout the chapter there is a contrast made between “all” and “some/most”.

Paul then refers to the unity created by Eucharist in the community – again making a lack of concern for those who are weaker in faith a scandal.  Beside all of that – we cannot serve two masters.  Here Paul seems to be saying something more clearly and more sharply – don’t eat the meat offered to idols.    Collins suggests that the difference is that earlier it had to do with meat in the market place offered to idols, while here later the reference is to actually participating in the pagan rituals.  Other authors think this dichotomy is due to two different letters of Paul having been edited into one letter.

Hays pp 159,160: “Paul’s use of Israel’s story is crucial to his case: the God with whom we have to do, he insists, is not merely some abstract divine principle that sets us free from polytheistic superstition.  The God with whom we have to do is the God of Israel, a jealous God who sternly condemns idol-worship and punishes all who dare to dabble in it.”

Fitzmyer p. 391: “We recognize the ‘one body’ in the one loaf that we break and the purpose of Jesus’ death, which is to summon all those who share in consuming that one loaf to unity in and with Christ.”


New topic in the letter – how the Corinthians are behaving when they gather for Eucharist.  Specific problems addressed – hair styles and the way they eat.  One of substance, the other not so much.

A number of scholars (not the heavy hitters) have argued that the part of this chapter dealing with women / hair are not really from Paul, were woven into the text later by another hand.  Collins notes that there are NO copies of the letter  without these verses and therefore does not accept this approach.  Collins p. 394: “Paul was urging the community to avoid contentiousness.”

Collins p. 396: “Paul’s rhetorical argument is constructed on the basis of a pun.  He plays on the multiple meanings of “head”.”   He uses a number of words here which occur nowhere else in the NT.

Some in antiquity argued for never cutting the hair, others for frequently cutting it – for both men and women.  Others argued about shaving or not.   Wealthy women had the time and the slaves needed for elaborate hairdos, while poor women did not.  Greek philosophers agreed that men should not pay too much attention to their hair – fearing that it would become a vanity.

Collins p. 399:  “What Paul has written in 11:2-16 is to be seen in the light of this contemporary discussion.  With Epictetus he shares the diatribal style and its rhetorical questions.  With Musonius Rufus he cites authoritative dicta (for Paul these are the words of Scripture).  With philosophers like Philo he writes about nature.  The philosophers appeal to the gods and speak about the way humans are born.  That kind of discourse leads a Jewish Christian author like Paul to speak of creation.  That men should be men and women should be women, and should look like what they are, is something important to all the authors.  Their fear is homosexuality and pederasty.”

Collins p. 401: Jewish tradition required that men, and c ertainly  priests, pray with heads covered during worship services (Ex. 28:36-40, Ezek 44: 18-20).  The Roman and the Jewish practice was that men should pray with their heads covered; the traditional Greek custom was that men pray with heads uncovered.  Within this context it may be a clash of customs that is the real issue in 11:2-16”.

Suppose that some folks in our parish began to wear tuxedos and ball gowns to mass on Sunday – and argued that everyone should do the same given the extraordinary mystery we celebrate?  Or that others went to the opposite extreme, wearing their skimpiest bathing suits only – arguing that the physical body does not really matter?  And, remember our arguments in the 70’s over men’s hair?

Collins p. 404: “The purpose of his argument is not to reaffirm gender differences, nor is it to affirm the subordination of women to men.  Rather Paul seeks to promote the good order of the Christian assembly at worship and to ensure that the meaning of this assembly at worship and to ensure that the meaning of this assembly is not wantonly misconstrued by outsiders and unbelievers.”

Collins points out p. 418 that the extraordinary social mix of the early church, particularly in Corinth, created problems with the Eucharistic meal for them.  Men and women, free and slave, Jew and Gentile, folks from other cultures etc.   In Roman culture men and women could eat together, in Greek they ate separately.  The wealthy could come early, slaves would arrive only later, when their masters allowed them to go.  In the meantime the wealthy would have eaten their fill and drunk to excess.  Or be served inferior foods.   The difference between first class and economy on an airplane???????

Citing many examples from secular literature Collins notes on p. 421: “The situation that developed when the Christians of Corinth came together for what they presumed to be the Lord’s supper (11:20) seems not to have been so different from the situation of other Hellenistic groups of people who came together for a potluck dinner.”

Paul in 11:23-26 provides the oldest account of the Last Supper.  (He is writing approx. 51 AD, he establishes that this tradition was given to him and predates his letter.)  Note that Paul does not say that it was a Passover meal.

Florence Morgan Gillman (Bible Today) p. 269: “The passage also reflects that along with their ritual sharing of the bread and the cup there was both ordinary eating and drinking going on.  Scholars continue to debate whether the Eucharistic breaking of the bread and drinking of the cup were already by this time joined together as a ritual at the end of the common meal or whether the breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup were separated by the full meal.”

Collins p. 428: “To remember God’s saving events in the past was to remember God himself.  To remember God was to remind God about something.  Reminding God about something past makes prior salvific  events foundational for salvation in the present and enables those who participate in a cultic activity to share in the effects of the salvific  events that are remembered.  In Jewish tradition the annual celebration of Passover was a reminiscence event.   So, too, were the Sabbath…”

CHAPTERS  12, 13, 14

Chapters 12, 13, 14 are another unit – this one centered on “spiritual gifts”.  The body (12), the importance of love as the foundation for community of the body (13), gifts for building up the body (14).

Collins p. 442: the emphasis on the problems created by speaking in tongues makes it evident that this was the root of the problem in Corinth.  It was a status symbol there?

Collins p. 445: “All the baptized are pneumatics.   Paul rejects pneumatic  elitism out of hand by affirming that all who utter the baptismal confession have the Holy Spirit.”  (Jesus is Lord.)

Vincent Branick (Bible Today) p. 257: “In these thoughts Paul was tying into the teachings of Jesus about servant leadership.  If you really want to be first and most important, be last and the servant of all (Mark 10:42-44).  Paul had tried to live and work this way, as he insisted earlier in this letter.”

The heart of Paul’s writing here is that the various gifts of the spirit are given to individuals in the community, not for their own benefit, but for the growth and well-being of the whole community.  Everyone in the community has something to contribute, has some gift from the spirit and  no one has all the gifts – therefore let no one be  too full of themselves.

Gorman p. 272: “Not only are feelings of inferiority or superiority inappropriate, but in the church the apparently ‘weaker’ members are actually ‘indispensable,’ and the ‘less honorable … les respectable’ ones are treated with greater honor and respect.”    Would that this were so!!!!

Paul is not the first or last to use the body as a symbol or type for the community.  It was common to do so  in Roman and Greek thought.  Paul, however, attributes the unity of the community and the functions to the Spirit.

Despite our common modern choice of the love chapter at weddings, Paul is not describing romantic love.  He is describing how members of the community must treat one another.

Collins p. 501: “Like all spiritual gifts the gift of tongues should be useful for the church.  If it is to be beneficial it must be accompanied by the gift of the interpretation of tongues.”

With regard to “women be silent” Collins notes p. 513: “Some commentators suggest that there may have been some blurring of the distinction between domestic and community roles among the Christian women of Corinth, women assuming a role in the assembly that was normally theirs as wife and mother simply because the assembly took place at home.  If this were the situation, Paul would be reminding the Christians at Corinth that their gathering really enjoyed the character of a public assembly.  Roles that were appropriate at home should not be indiscriminately brought into a Christian assembly …”

Collins actually adopts a reading that would have the “be silent” command be another slogan Paul is quoting from the Corinthians – which Paul disagrees with!   He notes that Paul concludes this section saying  that the Word of God originates with God – not with men or women.  And gender does not determine who prophesies.


new topic – resurrection of the dead being denied by some in the community.

John Gillman (Bible Today) p. 261: “The message of the cross and belief in resurrection are twin pillars of Paul’s theology elaborated in First Corinthians, yet neither has always made much sense to outsiders, as illustrated by two examples, one ancient and the other contemporary.  In the second century the message of the cross was mocked as utter folly in a graffito depicting a Christian worshipping a crucified figure, human with the head of an ass, attached to a cross.  Critics in the Roman world labeled the practice of worshipping a crucified person a pernicious superstition, calling it sheer madness.  And regarding belief in a bodily resurrection, a significant number today, as polls show, view this with skepticism or deny the claim outright.”

Gorman p. 278: “Chapter 15 is Paul’s exploration  of the  implications,  for this life and the next, of Christ’s bodily resurrection as the ‘first fruits’ of believers’ bodily resurrection.  Jesus’ resurrection vindicates his death and guarantees the ultimate defeat of the powers of sin and death; it therefore also insures the validity and value of believers’ cruciform existence until the parousia and / or their own resurrection.  This chapter, in other words, is the foundation o f the entire letter.”

Hays p. 253: “Paul insists that the fundamental logic of Christian proclamation demands belief in the resurrection of the dad; there, Christian hope necessarily affirms rather than rejects the body.  To proclaim the resurrection of Christ is to declare God’s triumph over death and therefore the meaningfulness of embodied life.  That is why, according to Paul, our future hope must be for a transformed body in the resurrection, not an escape from the embodied state.”

This chapter constitutes an overview of the preaching of the early church.

Fitzmyer on p. 541 finds a pre-Pauline foundation: that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according the Scriptures, that he appeared to Cephas.    Note that neither this kerygma / proclamation nor Paul mentions an empty tomb.   Gillman notes that our Eucharistic acclamation (Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again) is quite ancient.

Collins p. 557:  In the middle of the chapter Paul references “baptism for the sake of the dead”.  It appears that in Corinth, and only in Corinth, in these early times, those who had recently died were invoked in some sort of baptism-like ritual.    Another view is that the reference is to those who waited until they were on their deathbeds to be baptized (common later, not so much earlier) – in this view Paul is being ironic, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, why do they want baptism?”



Collins p. 586: “The collection for the holy ones in Jerusalem was also a profound ecclesial gesture, a concrete expression of communion among the churches.  Beyond that it was an expression of the debt of gratitude that the churches of the Pauline mission owed to the mother church in Jerusalem. …”

Paul establishes by the collection and more that ALL Christians are united by baptism and faith in Jesus – we are not really separated by congregation, by distance, by doctrine, or anything else.   This would not have been a given just 10 or 20 years after the death of Jesus!  In some ways it is still not a given today.



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