Monday, January 27, 2014

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 Bible Study

Written for the 10 am Bible Study at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Orlando FL.


1 Corinthians 1:18-31  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters:[a] not many of you were wise by human standards,[b] not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one[c] might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in[d] the Lord.”


  1. 1 Corinthians 1:26 Gk brothers
  2. 1 Corinthians 1:26 Gk according to the flesh
  3. 1 Corinthians 1:29 Gk no flesh
  4. 1 Corinthians 1:31 Or of

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

I can’t help it, but when I come across the word “fool” or the word “foolishness,”  I think of Mr. T in the old A Team television shows.  He would always say, “What you talking ‘bout, fool?”  And in one of the Rocky movies, Mr. T played the opponent who talked about how he “Pitied the fool” who would go up against him.
So I’ve seen that term as a comic term.  But in the Bible, it was a very negative and strong word.

The fool is lacking in sense and intelligence.
Paul makes frequent ironic reference to foolishness, particularly in 1 and 2 Corinthians. Human understanding erroneously takes God's wisdom to be foolishness and God's strength to be weakness since God's actions do not fit human reason or expectation. Indeed, from a worldly perspective God uses the foolish thing and calls the foolish person.

19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.

This is a quotation from Isaiah 29:14.

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

BOTH to cultured Greeks and to pious Jews, Christianity sounded like absolute foolishness.

Paul begins by making free use of two quotations from Isaiah (29:14, 33:18) to show how mere human wisdom is bound to fail. He cites the undeniable fact that, for all its wisdom, the world had never found God and was still blindly searching for the Lord. That very search was designed by God to demonstrate our own helplessness.  We cannot find God, until God reaches out to us.

To the Jews, that message was a stumbling-block. There were two reasons.
First, for Jews it was absurd that someone who had died on a cross could possibly be God’s chosen one. In fact, the Jews had a law in Dt 21:23 that said, ‘Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse’
To a Jew, the crucifixion, did not only fail to prove Jesus was the Son of God, the crucifixion disproved.

It may seem difficult to understand, but, even with Isaiah 53 before their eyes, the Jews had never dreamt of a suffering Messiah. The cross, to the Jews, was and is a barrier to belief in Jesus.

Secondly, the Jews were looking for divine signs. They were desperate for the kind of Messiah they wanted, not the kind of Messiah God was sending.

At the time Paul was writing, there were lots and lots of false Messiahs.

All of them had various rates of success in tricking and deceiving the people into accepting them by the promise of wonders.

In AD 45, a man called Theudas persuaded thousands of people to leave their jobs and their homes and follow him out to the Jordan.  He promised that he would command the Jordan to divide and he would lead them across without getting their feet wet.

In AD 54, a man from Egypt arrived in Jerusalem.  Another Messiah.  He convinced  30,000 people to follow him out to the Mount of Olives by promising that, at his word of command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down.

That was the kind of thing that the Jews were looking for.

In Jesus, they saw one who was meek and lowly, one who deliberately avoided the spectacular, one who served and who ended on a cross – and it seemed to them an impossible picture of the chosen one of God.

To the Greeks, the message was also foolishness. Again - two reasons

First - In Greek thought, the first characteristic of God was apatheia. Sounds like our word “apathy” but it means more than not caring, it means the complete inability to feel.

That word means more than apathy; it means total inability to feel.

The Greeks believed that if God can feel emotions, such as joy or sorrow, happiness or grief, anger or love, it meant that God was too human and not divine.

A God who suffered was to the Greeks a contradiction in terms. 

They went further. Plutarch, who was a great historian and philosopher, declared that it was an insult to God to even involve him in human affairs. God, he believed, was completely detached from humanity’s concerns.

St Augustine, was a very great scholar long before he became a Christian.  He said that in his studies of Greek philosophers he found parallels to almost all the teaching of Christianity; except in one respect - he never found: ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ 

Celsus, who attacked the Christian faith towards the end of the second century AD.  He had this to say: ‘God is good and beautiful and happy and is in that which is most beautiful and best. If then “He descends to men” it involves change for him, and change from good to bad, from beautiful to ugly, from happiness to unhappiness, from what is best to what is worst. Who would choose such a change? For mortality it is only nature to alter and be changed; but for the immortal to abide the same forever. God would never accept such a change.’

To any thinking Greek, the idea of “God incarnate” was a total impossibility.

Secondly, the Greeks sought wisdom.

Originally, the Greek word for wisdom, sophist, meant a wise man in the good sense; but it came to mean a person with a clever mind and quick tongue.  It meant a person who would spend endless hours discussing hairsplitting trivial matters.  Wisdom, became less the subject of truth, and more the showing off of one’s ability to debate. 

28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

PAUL glories in the fact that, for the most part, the Church was composed of the most straightforward and humble people. However, it is not true that the early church was made up only of slaves.

In the New Testament we see that people from the highest ranks of society were Christians.

There was Dionysius at Athens (Acts 17:34).  He was a judge.

Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Crete (Acts 13:6–12).

There were the noble ladies at Thessalonica and Beroca (Acts 17:4, 2)

Erastus was a city treasurer, probably of Corinth (Romans 16:23).

In the time of Nero, Pomponia Graecina, the wife of Plautius, the conqueror of Britain, was martyred for her Christianity.

But it remains true that the great mass of Christians were ordinary and humble men and women.

Somewhere about the year AD 178, Celsus wrote one of the most bitter attacks upon Christianity that was ever written. Ironically, what he was critical of was really what was so appealing to Christianity, especially to the ordinary people that he ridiculed. He declared that the Christian point of view was:

‘Let no cultured person draw near,
none wise, none sensible;
for all that kind of thing we count evil;
but if any man is ignorant, if any is lacking in sense and culture,
if any is a fool let him come boldly.’
Elsewhere he said of the Christians, ‘We see them in their own houses,
wool-dressers, cobblers and fullers [people who clean clothes],
the most uneducated and vulgar persons.’

30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The quotation with which Paul finishes this passage is from Jeremiah 9:23–4. Rudolf Bultmann, a theologian, said that the one basic sin is self-assertion, or the desire for recognition. It is only when we realize that we can do nothing, and that God can and will do everything that real faith begins.

It is the amazing fact of life that it is the people who realize their own weakness and their own lack of wisdom who in the end are strong and wise. It is the fact of experience that those who think that they can take on life all by themselves are certain in the end to meet with disaster.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 - Bible Study

 This study was prepared for the Women's 10 am Wednesday Bible Study at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Orlando FL, by the Rev. Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh.


1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Last week we looked at verses 1-9 of chapter one of 1 Corinthians.  Paul now gets to the work at hand and begins with verse 10 to address the first of many problems in the church of God in Corinth – divisions and schisms.  He starts off this way:

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,

The literal translation of that verse is “I appeal to you, brothers,” and sisters is not included.  But translating the Bible is difficult – you are translating words AND meaning. 

Even today some English speakers will say “Man” instead of “humanity,” but they certainly do not mean “male only” when they say that.

And Paul is expressing a thought that is being conveyed to everyone in the church, not just the men.

This phrase “brothers” or – “Brothers and sisters” -- is used twice in our reading, but it is used many times in Paul’s letters.

64 times in all of his letters. 

He uses the phrase 20 times in I Corinthians – twice as many times as he does in Romans, and far more than he does in the rest of his books.

Theodore Beza, the sixteenth-century Calvinist commentator, said, ‘In that (phrase) there lies hidden an argument.’ By the very use of the word “brothers”, Paul does two things.

First, he softens the rebuke which is given, so that he comes across not in any threatening way, but as from one who has no other emotion than love.

Second, it should have shown them how wrong their dissensions and divisions were.  They were not just people who gathered together, they were brothers and sisters.  They were family.  They should live in mutual love.

Paul is trying to bring these divided people together by helping them remember that they are one family.

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

            Last week we pointed out that Paul uses the name Jesus Christ ten times in the first ten verses of this book.  He is trying to resolve conflict by helping all sides understand that they share a common focus point – Christ.  It is when we take our eyes off Christ that we become distracted and let divisions arise.

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

Paul uses similar language about being of one mind many times:

Philippians 1:27
Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel,

Philippians 2:2
make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

In Romans 15:6:
Be of  one mind and one mouth glorify God,

In 2 Corinthians 13:11:

Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.

The concept here of being “of one mind” is not the same as being “of one opinion.” 

If that was the case, Paul would have pulled together the lists of things that each group was teaching and would have said HERE IS THE TRUTH, forget the rest.  But no, he does not go into any detail about the divisions, other than to say, there were divisions and people were using labels for the different groups.  And that was all that was important.  There was no other issue other than – you are family.  Act like it.  Be brothers and sisters.

Being of the same opinion is not necessary.  In fact, it is impossible.  But having the same mind means being united in Christ, focused on Christ, and spiritually holding hands together.

11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.

PAUL begins the task of mending the situation which had arisen in the church at Corinth. He was writing from Ephesus. Christian slaves who belonged to the establishment of a lady called Chloe had had occasion to visit Corinth, and they had come back with a sorry tale of dissension and disunity.

Who is Chloe?  Who knows?  We know nothing of her except what we read here.  In fact, I get the feeling that Chloe might have been unknown to Paul and to the Corinthians.  She is not described as “Chloe” but rather as “a lady called Chloe.” 

She is not from Corinth, but she had the opportunity to visit Corinth and she saw what was happening.

Visitors are often able to see things that members of a church cannot. 

I’ve had visitors point out to me so many obvious things – the telephone number is not in the bulletin, or there is an announcement that can’t be understood by visitors because the writer assumes everyone knows what Cookie Sunday is, or the American Flag is on the wrong side of the Sanctuary.

Chloe has this ability to see the Corinthian Christians as an outsider and she picks up on the fact that this church has problems.  She reported it to Paul.

12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”

It is interesting that Paul does not say, “I follow Paul” or “I follow Apollos.”  He says, “I belong to Paul/Apollos, etc.” 

To belong to someone meant that you followed them, but also that there was a commitment that communicated a sense of great devotion.  Ownership in fact. 

1)      There were those who claimed to belong to Paul, and this is where Paul starts.  It is helpful for him to start with those who claim to belong to Paul, because it defuses a situation better than if he started with those who claimed to belong to someone else.  Who were the people who said they belong to Paul?  Paul doesn’t say, because essentially, the issue is there are to be no divisions – but while Paul is not concerned about it, it is interesting for us to ask, who were the people who said they belong to Paul?  No doubt this was mainly a Gentile party. Paul had always preached the gospel of Christian freedom – of grace not law.  Paul opened the church to the gentiles.  It is most likely that this party was attempting to turn liberty into license and was using their new-found Christianity as an excuse to do as they desired. It is possible that these people had had forgotten that they were saved --  not to be free to sin, but to be free not to sin.

2)      There was the party who claimed to belong to Apollos. There is a brief character sketch of Apollos in Acts 18:24.

Acts 18:24-28

24 Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.

            Apollos had a long friendship with Paul – and in Paul’s letter to Titus he tells the reader to hurry up and get Apollos to come visit him.

Alexandria was a center of education and intellectual activity. The scholars there made a science of allegorizing the Scriptures and they loved to find the most obscure meanings for the simplest passages.

Let me give an example of the kind of thing they did.

The Epistle of Barnabas, an Alexandrian work, argues from a comparison of Genesis 14:14 and 18:23 that Abraham had a household of 318 people whom he circumcised.

The Greek for 18 – the Greeks used letters as symbols for numbers – is iota followed by eta, which are the first two letters of the name Jesus; and the Greek for 300 is the letter tau, which is the shape of the cross; therefore the scholars of Alexandria, who loved to find these obscure meanings in the Scripture, believed that this incident was foretelling the crucifixion of Jesus on his cross!

Yes – it is a bit of a stretch! 

But Alexandria was a city that loved that sort of thing. 

They were also enthusiasts for philosophy.  They were in fact the people who intellectualized Christianity. Those who claimed to belong to Apollos were, perhaps, the intellectuals who were fast turning Christianity into a philosophy rather than a faith and religion.

3)      There were those who claimed to belong to Cephas. Cephas is the Jewish form of Peter’s name. These were probably Jewish Christians.  In all likelihood, they wanted to maintain the tradition of the law and sought to teach that Christians must still observe the Jewish law. They were legalists who loved the law, and, by so doing, belittled grace.

4)      There were those who claimed to belong to Christ. This may be one of two things. (a) There was absolutely no punctuation in Greek manuscripts and no space whatever between the words. This statement may well not describe a party at all. It may be the comment of Paul himself. Perhaps we ought to punctuate like this: ‘I am of Paul; I am of Apollos; I am of Cephas – but I belong to Christ.’ It may well be that this is Paul’s own comment on the whole wretched situation. (b) If that is not so and this does describe a party, they must have been a small and rigid sect who claimed that they were the only true Christians in Corinth. Their real fault was not in saying that they belonged to Christ, but in acting as if Christ belonged to them. It may well describe a little, intolerant, self-righteous group.

13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
            I love these people who are named in the Bible as being Christians – but we know next to nothing about them.  They were just ordinary Christians, who happened to be named by Paul, who loved to mention people by name.

            Crispus?  This is all we know for sure, but there is a strong tradition that he became a bishop and was martyred for the faith.

            Gaius?  Same thing.

            Here is an interesting thing that the Alexandrians would have loved.  Crispus and Gaius were both names of Roman emperors – doesn’t really mean anything, but interesting.

            Stephanas – He is mentioned in these verses, and also at the end of the letter in chapter 16:

15 Now, brothers and sisters, you know that members of the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints; 16 I urge you to put yourselves at the service of such people, and of everyone who works and toils with them. 17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence; 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. So give recognition to such persons.

And finally, there is this passage that we end with:

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Throughout all of the conflicts and shortcomings of the Corinthians that Paul will continue to address here, staying focused on the cross and the power of God is more important than being focused on human leaders or divisive groups.