I will be using the work of Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, for much of this study on the letter to Corinth
Monday, June 16, Chapter 7
Paul opens this chapter describing a marriage all Christians must strive for. In verse 7, he adds that all should imitate him, but he knows most cannot resist the temptation. This one verse has been the source of mountains of debate, yet it is not difficult.
Most Jewish men and women married by age 19 and those not married were considered almost outcasts—except for one highly esteemed group. A man who became the disciple of a rabbi put off marriage for years, even for life. He was to follow his master and imitate him in every way.
Paul was a disciple of Hillel, so followed the practice of not marrying. We do not know if Jesus was a disciple of a rabbi, but it is entirely possible that he was set aside for God’s service, having the same result. In those cases, celibacy was the norm. Paul understands that few people can resist the temptations of the opposite sex, so he advised marriage. He was one of the few Apostles who were not married.
There is evidence in Paul’s writings that he may have been married and is now a widower. If that is the case, he would have married sometime after the Damascus road Revelation.
Verse 1 in the Greek presents a compelling problem of translation because we cannot determine if Paul is asking a question or making a statement. Ancient Greek did not use punctuation marks. The Greek reads like this in a literal English translation: Now concerning things of which you wrote, good for a man a woman not to touch. There are translations from a thousand years ago that make it a question, much like The Message. Now, getting down to the questions you asked in your letter to me. First, Is it a good thing to have sexual relations?
This verse is central to the decision of the Roman Catholic Church that priests be celibate, but it was not always so. It was 1139 before the Church first ruled that priests should not marry, but it was not uniformly enforced until the Council of Trent in 1563 in response to the Protestant Revolution. Not that the Pope listens to me, but I think they made a serious mistake regarding this passage of Paul’s letter.
Please note that Paul calls for equal treatment of men and women.
On the question of divorce, Paul follows the teaching of Jesus; divorce is not in God’s plan. Two Christians who practice true agape love should never have need of divorce. That is the bull’s eye, but we do not always hit the mark in our lives and Paul understands that.
Paul was more concerned with the unequally yoked. Christians married to non-Christians should stay married only if the spouse has no problem with practicing the faith and raising the children in the faith. Paul was probably thinking of Timothy.
Verses 17-24 seem out of place at first glance, but Paul is simply expanding his position. Paul believed that Jesus would return in a few years at most, well before he died. He preached to people to prepare themselves for the end times. We have the benefit of knowing that his estimate was a little bit off. Still, what he says is as true for us as it was for the Corinthians and every other Christian since then.
Becoming a follower of Jesus does not mean giving up this world. It does mean giving up the things in this world that separate us from God. Stay where you are in the world, but become a Christian in that place. I read an account of an American submarine in WWII that sank in Japanese waters. The survivors were put into prison where one guard spoke one night through the door in halting English, I am a Christian. He could do nothing else, but he could do that. That is what Paul means. That Japanese soldier did his duty, but tried to do it as a Christian.
Verses 36-38 are difficult to translate from the Greek, but the meaning is clear. Paul may have spoken about a man choosing to marry a women other than the one he was engaged to, or about a man choosing a husband for his daughter. Either way, it is not a problem. In Paul’s opinion, it is better not to marry.
Tuesday, June 17, Chapter 8
Chapter 8 is short and simple.
There were at least a dozen pagan temples in Corinth, and they sacrificed animals in their worship. As a fund-raising project, they sold the meat on the open market. Many of the new Greek Christians were used to buying and eating that meat, so they wanted to know if it defiled them. Paul said no.
First though, you do not go to the temple and participate in the service. You might go to the ‘back door’ to buy the meat, but stay away from the services.
Today Paul might comment on bars, casinos, strip clubs, etc. What would he have to say? For the most part, get your food where you can without participating in the pagan rituals. I think that would leave out the strip clubs. Casinos, I am not sure. My problem is that they only pay 60%, meaning the one person who wins $10,000 gets that money from all the people who lost a total of $16,667. Games of chance are built on losers.
The issue of a stumbling block is the second part of this chapter. If by eating meat from the temples someone else comes to believe the temples are good, that is a stumbling block. As long as people around me know and believe the same thing, there is no harm in eating the meat.
We cannot say for sure that Paul ever ate pork, but it is clear that he ate meals with people who served pork. He may have avoided that dish. More to the point, he never condemned anyone who at pork. When he was with Jews who observed the strict food rules, he did so as well.
Always think about what you are doing. What effect does it have on people around you? What effect does it have on you? Are you closer to God? Are others closer to God?
Wednesday, June 18, Chapter 9
Paul now brings the fight to himself. I also am free. These are the rights that are mine; in verses 11-12, Paul says he should be paid for his labor. But we did not use this right. Why? Because I will preach the Gospel regardless of what you may give to me. I work only for Jesus; he will pay me. You cannot control what I say because I do not work for you.
In the first verse of this chapter, Paul reminds us that he saw Jesus and had a conversation with him. He saw Jesus the same way Peter saw Jesus. This still happens today in the Middle East with people who are open to such things. I quote again from Ken Bailey: Over the last two decades literally thousands of Middle Easterners have had encounters with Jesus both in their dreams and during their waking hours. Within the last year I have met two Christian leaders, one a Turk and the other a Sudanese, both of whom came to faith in Jesus through personal encounters with him. One of them was on a pilgrimage when Jesus appeared to him in the middle of the day. The other was awakened by Jesus in the night on three occasions.
But a visit by Jesus is not enough to make someone an Apostle. Most of the 500 mentioned by Paul in Acts 15:6 did not become Apostles. Each of us has our own unique purpose. If it is to clean the church toilets before Sunday, clean them as if Jesus were coming.
Paul was called by Jesus to preach the Gospel, and he chose to do it while paying his own way.
In verses 19-23, Paul outlines how he is able to reach out to others. Ken Bailey again: After spending forty-seven years in the Arab world, and after acquiring the ability to lecture in four kinds of Arabic, I never said to my Arabic-speaking friends, “We Arabs.” Knowing where that un-crossable line is drawn is a critical piece of acquired awareness. As regards lifestyle Paul can live as “one under the Torah”, and he can live as “one not under the Torah”. But in regard to his identity, he knows that he cannot become a Gentile, and he plays no games with his readers.
We are all familiar with the Olympics originating in Greece, but there were other games as well. One, the Isthmian Games, was held in Corinth every two years. It was a sports crazy city, so Paul made use of that to close the chapter.
Thursday, June 19, Chapter 10
To begin this chapter, Paul returns to the Exodus. He taught the people in Corinth all about the Exodus because it is the story of the Messiah. We should never read about Moses without seeing Jesus. As the Hebrews left Egypt, they followed the Cloud of the Presence; they were baptized in the Red Sea as the Egyptians were sacrificed for their salvation; they ate the bread from heaven, the bread that was the Messiah; and they drank from the life-giving waters that was the Messiah.
But, and you Corinthians need to take this warning to heart, God killed nearly all of them for their immorality. So if you think you are standing firm….
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too….
There were in Corinth and are now in America a lot of Burger King Christians. But we cannot have it our way; it must be God’s way.
Verse 28 presents us with a different lesson to that of freedom. If I go to a house to eat and the host says the food was presented to a god as a sacrifice, I should not eat it, for the other man’s conscience. Paul is saying that I chose not to eat out of love and respect for the other man. He has been sensitive enough to warn me of the meat’s origin so I will respond in kind. The meat will not hurt me.
I had an experience along those lines in 1996 when I spent a week with our exchange student and her parents. On the first day, Chao and her mother took me to a small shop and ordered fish head soup. It is the traditional dish served to honored guests. I partially insulted my hosts by not sucking the eyes out of the heads; I let Chao do that for me. I took advantage of my freedom not to eat something I thought might gag me. Chao was happy. When they were able to visit us a few years later, we returned the favor with fried chicken and mashed potatoes.
Friday, June 20, Chapter 11
Typical of this letter, Paul praises the Corinthians in verse 2, but turns right away to criticism. An important concept appears in verse 2 that we need to know. Paul received the teachings and he gives the teachings to the Corinthians. That is the process upon which Judaism and Christianity are built. It is important to know how the teacher received the lessons. Paul learned first from the great rabbi Hillel, then from Jesus directly. We can trust Paul
Today it can be a bit more difficult to decide whom to trust. I want to learn from someone who has studied the Word and teaches in accordance to what I already know from the Bible. For example, I reject anyone who teaches that Jesus hates people. A careful reading of the Gospels answers that question.
Starting in verse 3 Paul begins to deal with a problem plaguing the Corinthian Church, that of public behavior of men and women. Paul consistently preached that all were equal before God and Christ. He has not changed that message here. He is dealing with a situation peculiar to Corinth; the congregation includes an even mix of Jews, Greeks, Romans, wealthy, poor, slave, and free. With that mix came many different customs: Jewish men covered their heads for prayer, Greeks did not, Romans did, slaves often had their heads shaved (women too) and uncovered.
How to deal with it? Paul begins with the basics, men came before women, Christ before men, God before Christ. This is right out of Genesis. This position is based on the Greek word, kefale; for the Hebrew word Rosh. Both words refer to the head of a person, to having authority over others, or as being the source or beginning of something. For example: Rosh Hashanah is the first day of the new year of the Jewish calendar; it is the head of the year, the beginning.
A misunderstanding of the Genesis account has led many people astray. They read that woman was made from man, and conclude that man is more important. If that logic is used then animals are more important than man and plants more important than animals, etc. If we reverse the logic to say the most important was created last, that would be women. The first creation story in Chapter one puts a damper on the whole misguided notion. Verse 27 of that chapter has man and woman created together in the image of God.
Galatians 3:26-28 makes Paul’s position very clear. It is the teaching of the early church that he is passing on to the Churches of the Province of Galatia; equality in Christ.
As the church spread over the next eight centuries women continued to hold prominent positions in the churches of some regions, less so in others. The Church of Rome began a campaign about that time to reduce the influence of women in the church. It took centuries and not a few wars to achieve the goal. The women of Ireland were particularly stubborn in giving up their status as equals before Christ.
In our current text Paul gets right to the prophets, men and woman. Stop there. Women prophets tells us a great deal about the church as Paul saw it and as Jesus intended it. When Paul lists the parts of the human body prophets rank with Apostles and teachers.
Women held every position of leadership in churches throughout the Mediterranean. Paul names women in roughly equal numbers in his letters. Kenneth Bailey: From the book of Acts we know that Greek women of high standing were attracted to the preaching of Paul. Such women would not have been attracted to a movement that did not treat them as equals. The church in Philippi met in the house of Lydia, a seller of purple cloth. One of the two ports for the city of Corinth was Cenchrea. The church there was led by Phoebe who is called a deacon and a leader. While in Corinth Paul lived with Aquila and Priscilla. Priscilla was a “professor of theology,” who, with her husband, taught the famous Apollos. Living with this prominent Christian couple for eighteen months, and having them as personal friends, it is impossible to imagine Paul writing a letter to the Corinthians that would demean Priscilla.
All Paul says is, women cover your heads when you preach, teach, and prophesies. Show some courtesy to those who believe you should do so. I know it is not necessary, but think of others.
In verse 6 Paul gives women prophets another option, shave your heads. He extends that in verses 14-15 by suggesting for a woman to cut off her long hair, she would be imitating men and that is not good. Let women be women and men men.
In verse 16 Paul concludes the instructions with the statement that this is the practice in most of the churches, so do the same to save yourselves a lot of trouble.
Verses 9-10 contain the Greek word dia four times. It is often translated as for in verse 9, but because in verse 10. If Paul intended to use a different word in verse 9, there are at least two that would better serve. The literal Greek translation is: For not was created man because of the woman, but woman because of the man. Because of this ought the woman authority to have on the head because of the angels.
Moving on: Paul has heard about problems with the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in Corinth. When you assemble, there are divisions and quarrels. Those of you do not have to work (the rich) show up early and go ahead and eat and drink so that there is nothing left for the poor and the slaves. What is more, you end up drunk and a shame to the name of Jesus.
The practice of eating full meals for the Sacrament continued for several centuries with the same problems reoccurring, until the Roman Church banned the meals.
With verse 23 Jesus gives us the oldest account of how to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Last Supper, Holy Eucharist (the word means thanksgiving). I remember that I used the verses 23-28 in services years ago, so I checked the Bible I used then, and it is all underlined in red. It is the main reference for denominations everywhere.
Verse 27 is serious. I must approach the table with love for Christ. It would be better to pass it by than profane His Sacrifice. Eating the Eucharist with less than a perfect heart if the norm, however. Jesus understands our needs and our troubles and will overlook our weaknesses. Still, we need to try to be as judgmental of ourselves as we are of others.
Be righteous and do good.