Saturday, November 26, 2011

I Corinthians

The Corinthians were famous for their philosophy and logic. Many in the Corinthian church didn’t respect Paul because he didn’t use fancy rhetoric in his preaching.  The letter to the Corinthians was written in response to this and also in response to some problems the church at Corinth was having.

In I Corinthians 1:5, Paul states that in Christ they had been enriched in “all utterance and knowledge.”  Later in verse 17, Paul states, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.”  Note that Paul did baptize people. He just got done stating that he had baptized Crispus and Gaius – and later adds that he also baptized the household of Stephanas.* But he is stating that baptism was not his role. His role was to preach the gospel.
Paul goes on to describe the importance of true godly wisdom and how that differs from worldly wisdom. In chapters 2 and 3, he talks about the wisdom of the Spirit, wisdom in the apostolic ministry, wisdom in Christ’s church, and wisdom in spiritual fatherhood.

In chapter 8, Paul tackles a problem that was facing the Corinthians. In their culture, nearly all meat, wine, oil and wheat was offered to Zeus first. The best meat was served in the temples, and even in the marketplace, many of the food items had been offered to a god first before being brought to eh market. The Corinthians liked the meat, especially the meat in the temples, and so they reasoned it away – saying that it was okay to eat the meat because they didn’t believe in the idols.  And in addition to eating the meat offered to idols, they visited the temple prostitutes.

The Corinthians were implying that Paul was not smart enough to teach them. Paul essentially uses their own methods of argument against them.  He tells them that, even though they know that the idols are not real, if a new believer sees the church members eating at an idol’s temple, it may confuse them. The young believer may think that the church members actually believe in the idol and think it’s okay to worship in an idols’ temple.  Paul tells the Corinthians to avoid the idol’s temple, but instead to buy their meat at the marketplace. However, if someone at the marketplace tells them that the meat has been offered to idols, they should not eat it.  The same is true if a believer is invited to an unbeliever’s house for a meal.  They should go ahead and eat the meal without questioning it.  But if someone offers the information that the meat has been offered to idols, then they should abstain.

 *This passage reminds us that this is, after all, a letter, that was probably dictated.  Quite possible, the scribe, who might have been Luke, interrupted Pau at this point and said, “You also baptized the household of Stephanus,” so Paul added it.  Note also that this is yet another reference to an entire household being baptized, which quite probably included infants and children.) 


Paul was angry when he wrote the book of Galatians. When he visited the church at Galatia, he saw that they were being influenced by the Judiazers, who taught that the Gentiles had to be circumcised and keep the Jewish law if they were to become Christians. They also were questioning Paul’s authority as an apostle.

In most of Paul’s letters, he starts out with a greeting and talks about how thankful he is for the people he’s writing to. But Paul starts the letter to the Galatians by laying out the reason for his authority, since the Galatians were questioning his apostleship. Then he does say the traditional “Grace to you and peace,” but there are no other words of thanksgiving.  He immediately says, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel.” (Gal. 1:6). The Galatians were going along with the Judaizers so they wouldn’t be persecuted.

Paul packs a lot of information into this chapter. He says, in essence, “I outrank the Judaizers because I was taught by Jesus, like Peter, James and John.”  (The Judaizers claimed to have learned from Peter, James and John.)

In chapter 2 Paul relates how when he brought Titus, a Greek, with him on a missionary journey, that Titus was not compelled to be circumcised.  He also talks about a time when he opposed Peter to his face. Peter was eating with the Gentiles regularly.  This may have been referring to the Eucharist, since it was originally served at the Passover meal.  Paul also ate with the Gentile Christians. But then when certain men came to visit, Peter walked away from the Gentiles and ate only with the Jews. Peter was implying to the Gentiles that they should keep Kosher.  Paul confronted Peter about this and told him he was wrong.

In Galatians 2:16, Paul states that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  The works of the law he is referring to here are the Jewish law—keeping Kosher and being circumcised.  He is saying that if these things save you, then there is no nee dfor Christ.

In verse 20, where Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ,” he is alluding to baptism, since baptism is a way to identify with Christ in his death and resurrection.  (The Orthodox practice immersion for all, even infants.  In fact, they immerse three times – in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.)

Jesus is the fulfillment of Abraham.  In Gal. 3:6, Paul reminds the Galatians that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness before he was circumcised.

Several other times in the book of Galatians, Paul refers to the problems caused by the Judaizers:
  • 4:10: Observing days and months and seasons and years
  • 5:1: The yoke of slavery (Mosaic law)
  • 5:4: You have become estranged (severed) from Christ – graphic language that refers to circumcism)
  • 6:13: Even the Judaizers do not keep the whole law themselves.

Paul ends with a familiar greeting, but he is still disturbed about the beliefs about the Galatians.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Acts 15 (continued)

In my previous Bible study post, we talked about the first church council. The question was how to handle the new Gentile converts.  James responded that the church should request that they abstain from four things:
  1. Things polluted by idols,
  2. Sexual immorality
  3. Things strangled
  4. Blood

The people agreed with him. Why was his proposal so convincing?  He quoted from the book of Leviticus.  In Leviticus 17:1-9, God commands the Israelites to worship the one true God and not idols. Then in verse 10, God tells the Israelites not to eat blood. In verses 14-16 it describes how to treat animals that died naturally or were torn by wild animals (things strangled): they should wash their clothes, bathe in water and be unclean until evening.  Then in Leviticus 18:6 God speaks about sexual immorality, specifically incest.*

Here James repeats these four things, but in a different order. He is speaking from memory; so he starts with the first thing, then the last thing (often the easiest to remember) and then the two middle items. Note that when the church leaders write the letter to the Gentiles, they write the four items in the correct order.  Probably they consulted the law before writing the letter.

Judaizing was a big issue in the early church. The epistles to the Romans and Galatians were written to deal with this issue.  It later became less and less of an issue and was replaced by the problem of Gnosticism.

In Acts 16 we read how Paul left for his second missionary journey.  The purpose of the journey was to strengthen the churches and deliver the decisions of the council. He went to Galatia again and discovered that they were forcing the Gentiles to be circumcised and practice Jewish laws. His letter to the Galatians is a reaction to this.  (More on this in a future post.)

Then the Spirit told him to go to Macedonia.  Note that Luke was with them, because he says “we.”  Whenever  “we” is used, it is because Luke was accompanying them at that time.

Paul had to leave Thessalonica in the middle of the night, and so he was not able to finish catechizing them. In catechism, the last lessons taught are about the resurrection and future things.  Because Paul didn’t have a chance to finish teaching the Thessalonians, he wrote them a letter explaining the importance of the resurrection and also describing future events.  This letter is First Thessalonians. In reading this epistle, one would think that Paul was obsessed with the resurrection and future things. But it was just that he hadn’t finished teaching the Thessalonians and still needed to cover these last two subjects.

* Incest was a particular problem at this time. In the Roman Empire, there were no taboos against a man marrying his sister, stepmother, aunt, etc.  This offers an interesting insight into Christ’s response to a question about divorce.  In Mark and Luke, it records that Jesus says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.”  But in Matthew (which was written to the Jews) the phrase “except for immorality” is added.  (Matthew 5:32: “Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery.”)  I was told that this meant that a man could divorce his wife if she had been unfaithful.  However, in those times, when incest was common, it was necessary to make it clear that a husband and wife who were in an incestuous relationship were to be divorced.  I had never looked at this passage in that light.