1 Corinthians Chapter 1:1-17

We now return to Paul, where it all started. First Corinthians and Romans, are probably Paul’s two most-quoted, and most-read works. I think it will be easy to see why. These two works feel much more like well-considered, thought-out, composed pieces, rather than letters tossed off, possibly in anger as with the Galatians. As such, they are the fonts of much of Pauline theology. 1 Corinthians is most famous, of course, for the “love is patient…” section, which is among the most beautiful passages in the whole NT. But there so much more as well. So, let’s get started….

1 Παῦλος κλητὸς ἀπόστολος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ, καὶ Σωσθένης ὁ ἀδελφός,

Paul, called Apostle of Jesus the Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes the brother,

Apostle. I don’t know about anyone else, but to me, “apostle” means “The Twelve Apostles”. We discussed this in Mark, when Jesus called his followers, and again in Chapter 6 when he sent them (apostellein) out to preach and exorcise demons. In Mark. The Twelve were never referred to as “apostles”, let alone as “the apostles”. Honestly, this is really just a minor point, but it’s worth noting if only to serve as a sterling example of how popular notions can and do overtake the actual circumstances. This is the sort of misconception that was largely responsible for me undertaking this venture.

And he’s ‘called’ apostle. This is an annoying little phrase that really make interpreting anything extremely difficult. The problem is, it can have completely contradictory meanings: he is called one, but he isn’t really one; or he is called one, because he is one. Which is it? Is he complaining because people don’t respect him as one? Or believe that he shouldn’t have the title? Or is this just a literary quirk with no real significance? It’s the sort of thing that academics can argue over for centuries. Do we know Sosthenes from anywhere else? That’s a real question.

1 Paulus, vocatus apostolus Christi Iesu per voluntatem Dei, et Sosthenes frater,

2 τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ τῇ οὔσῃ ἐν Κορίνθῳ, ἡγιασμένοις ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, κλητοῖς ἁγίοις, σὺν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐπικαλουμένοις τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶνἸησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ, αὐτῶν καὶ ἡμῶν:

To the assembly of God that is being in Corinth, to those having been sanctified (lit = ‘made holy’) in Christ Jesus, to (those) called holy, with all those called in the name of our lord Jesus Christ in all places,  of theirs and our own (places).

Not much to say about this. Sort of a garden-variety greeting.

2 ecclesiae Dei, quae est Corinthi, sanctificatis in Christo Iesu, vocatis sanctis cum omnibus, qui invocant nomen Domini nostri Iesu Christi in omni loco ipsorum et nostro:

3 χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.

Grace to you, and the peace of God our father and the lord Jesus Christ.

First, we have “the Lord Jesus Christ” three times in three verses. Second, I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: if God is our father, as Paul says here, then we are all sons of God. This seems like such an (ahem) elementary piece of deduction, but it also seems completely lost on a lot of writers. Or perhaps I’m missing something?  I just read in Aslan how, by calling Jesus the Son of God, Paul thereby considered Jesus a literal son of God. IOW, ‘Son of God’ is not equal to ‘having God as our Father is not the same as being a Son of God’.

Now, even given the difference in the way the terms are used, I really don’t think Aslan is on solid ground when he makes this distinction between the way Paul uses the term vs Matthew uses the term. Honestly, what Aslan is describing sounds a lot more like a description of Herakles, who was a son of (a) god in a literal sense. But then, that’s sort of been my point, too.

Aslan does make the valid point that the NT was not written by Jews from Jerusalem, whose native language was Aramaic, but Jews from the Diaspora, whose native language was likely to have been Greek.  Speaking Greek, in a culturally Greek milieu gave access to different thought processes, ideas, and even analogies, synonyms & antonyms, etc. Think of it this way: a Muslim who grew up in a Westernized country like England, where they grew up speaking English which gave them access to the whole American cultural style would probably have some different perspectives than someone who grew up in a small city in Jordan and only spoke Arabic.

3 gratia vobis et pax a Deo Patre nostro et Domino Iesu Christo.

4 Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου πάντοτε περὶ ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῇ χάριτι τοῦ θεοῦ τῇ δοθείσῃ ὑμῖν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ,

I give thanks to my God always about you about (lit = “upon”) the favor of God which is given to you in Christ Jesus,

Εὐχαριστῶ…χάριτι τοῦ θεοῦ…Gratias…in gratia Dei…These are loaded and tricky words. They are the roots of “grace” (the Latin is virtually identical), but they have other meanings as well. The first use is pretty straightforward: Paul is giving thanks, which is a base meaning for the word in both Greek and Latin. It would be very easy–and perfectly accurate–to translate the second usage as ‘grace’, as in, ‘by the grace of God’.Another fine translation would be ‘by the gift of God’. When you throw in ‘by the favor’ of God, it becomes easier to see how we came up with the concept of ‘grace’ that we did.

From about the Third Century through the Reformation, arguments about God’s grace were a staple of theological discussions. There were categories devised, like ‘prevenient grace’, or ‘superabundant grace’ and more. As with Holy Spirit/sacred breath, or Baptist/dunker, the usage of the word led to the first term of each pair to mean something apart, something specific, and something special, as in, out of the ordinary. “Baptism” became a special word, reserved for a special, specific event, even though the base word in Greek is actually quite ordinary. I live on the East Coast of the US, where a franchise called “Dunkin’ Donuts” is ubiquitous; the idea of the “dunkin'” was that people dunked their doughnut into their coffee. So, imagine this as”Baptising Donuts” and you get a sense of the ordinariness of the underlying word. But Holy Spirit and Grace went even further. They became reified, turned into a thing, a noun with a very specific meaning. As such, it’s good to recall that, when Paul wrote these words, he did not mean “Holy Spirit” or “Grace”.

Please recall that I did write a separate entry on Grace.  https://commentingonthebible.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/grace/

Also, I just checked against my crib translations; mine is a little different than the others, mainly because I have kept mine more literal. Here we are, three verses back into Paul and we’ve already encountered a situation where the consensus translation–starting with the KJV–has drifted ever-so-slightly from the original. Please, don’t get me wrong: I do not hold myself as any sort of expert. My translation may not capture the spirit of the original as effectively as the others. My point is that I want to point out where these ‘driftings’ have occurred. The mass-produced translations are produced by people much, much more knowledgeable about Greek–especially NT Greek–than I am. What I offer, in effect, are fresh eyes. I do believe that biblical scholarship needs fresh eyes.

4 Gratias ago Deo meo semper pro vobis in gratia Dei, quae data est vobis in Christo Iesu,

5 ὅτι ἐν παντὶ ἐπλουτίσθητε ἐν αὐτῷ, ἐν παντὶ λόγῳ καὶ πάσῃ γνώσει,

that in all you have been made wealthy within it (“it” = “the love of God”), in all words and in all knowledge, 

At first glance, this strikes me as at least a bit odd for Paul. In other places, he is downright disdainful of “words and knowledge”; however,  this is, I think, rather a specialised type of words and knowledge, those that refer to the wisdom and knowledge of God.

5 quia in omnibus divites facti estis in illo, in omni verbo et in omni scientia,

6 καθὼς τὸ μαρτύριον τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐβεβαιώθη ἐν ὑμῖν, as the witness of Christ was confirmed in you

6 sicut testimonium Christi confirmatum est in vobis,

7 ὥστε ὑμᾶς μὴ ὑστερεῖσθαι ἐν μηδενὶ χαρίσματι, ἀπεκδεχομένους τὴν ἀποκάλυψιν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ:

so that you do not come last in any any begracing, waiting for the unhiding of our lord Jesus Christ;

These last few verses do not, I think, have any deep underlying meaning aside from the actual words themselves. Paul wants the assembly to be wise and understanding in the ways of God. The way it’s expressed is interesting: <<last in any begracing>>, but the implication and meaning are clear enough. Note that the word I translated as ‘unhiding’ is transliterated as “apocalypsin”; the root is clear enough. The Apocalypse of John in Latin becomes the Revelation to John. And “unhiding” is a pretty literal translation.

Here’s something interesting. The word I so clumsily translated as ‘begracing’ is rendered as ‘lacking no gift’, or ‘that you come behind in no gift’, or something such. The word is a verb, which is why I chose to put it across in such an inelegant manner. I’m not sure I retained anything extra from the original, except for the way this works. They are being…graced, or maybe blessed; not given a gift. It’s a very different process.

7 ita ut nihil vobis desit in ulla donatione, exspectantibus revelationem Domini nostri Iesu Christi;

8 ὃς καὶ βεβwαιώσει ὑμᾶς ἕως τέλους ἀνεγκλήτους ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ[Χριστοῦ].

And he who (“who” refers back to Jesus in V-6) confirms you blameless until the end in the day of our Lord Jesus [Christ ].

…the end, in the day of our Lord…  This is, I believe, a reference to the return of Jesus, mentioned by Paul in 1 Thessalonians as we saw. This sort of comment makes me really have to go back and re-think all of my thoughts about Jesus as an apocalyptic preacher. When I read Mark, I honestly did not feel like that was Jesus’ underlying message. Granted, I seemed to ‘find’ it in the way the chapters were structured, with a wonder being worked, followed–or concluded by–some indication of how the order was changing and the kingdom was coming about.  But there wasn’t the slightest hint about Jesus showing up on a cloud; at least, not until it pops up abruptly, and without any real prelude, in Chapter 8.

But then, Chapter 8 is when we get begin the transition from the Wonder Worker to the Christ. And Paul is in the Christ tradition…. Bottom line, it seems, is that the idea of the kingdom evolved, or morphed, or changed into the idea of Jesus returning in glory. I haven’t devised a theory on this, but I’m working on it. We can see that Paul firmly believes it will be happening, and that it will be happening soon. Where did he get this idea? Remember, Paul was dead by the time Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed. He is not writing post-facto ‘predictions’; he sees this, legitimately, as a future event.

But why? Does it have anything to do with Jesus being a revolutionary? I tend to doubt it.  But the point is, within 20/30 years, the idea of an earthly Christ, which is the only kind of Christ that existed in the Jewish tradition, had been replaced by a heavenly Christ, and a heavenly kingdom.  BTW: “blameless” << ἀνεγκλήτους >> is only found in Paul. Why only in Paul? I mean, the idea is pretty clearly wrapped up with the Day of the Lord, which presumably means the Parousia.At this time, those ‘blameless’, that is, those not mired in sin, will likely gain the eternal life promised in Galatians 6:8. I believe this is what it means, although there is no certainty in this.

This is an inference rather than a stated fact, and we always have to be aware that an inference is just that. Too often inferences get treated as if they were established facts, becoming the foundation for all sorts of lofty theories. Such theories are liable to come crashing down once the faulty foundation inevitably cracks. But, given the context of Galatians, I believe this inference is fairly solid.

Now, why is this only found in Paul? That Paul has a particular word that he uses, as opposed to a different word used by someone else is not particularly noteworthy. Vocabulary tends to be idiosyncratic, which helps determine whether  a particular work is by a particular author. But what about the concept? The closest parallel in Mark, IMO, is at the end of Chapter 9, when Jesus is admonishing his listeners to mutilate and/or maim themselves by chopping of hands, or gouging out eyes if they cause you to sin.

And note again, that this parallel comes in what I’m calling the Christ half of Mark, Chapters 8-15. I don’t think this is a coincidence. The Wonder Worker talked about repenting–at least, he mentioned it once or twice–but it’s the Christ who seems to be concerned with the ramifications of not repenting, because it’s the Christ who talks about Life, and Eternal Life. So does Paul. And how far are we to take “blameless”? Does that really mean perfect? Or is there a bit of hyperbole involved? At this point, it is difficult to say. The question is whether Paul actually expected the followers of Jesus to be completely blameless–completely without sin–which is, of course, impossible. 

Or is it? Now, over the long haul, yes, of course it’s impossible. But if Jesus was expected momentarily, then maybe not. And maybe we have to stop to consider what they would have considered ‘sin’. Fornication, murder, false witness (which is a very specialised form of lying; minor fibs really don’t count under this category), sorcery….these are the sorts of things we find in “sin lists”. And, of course, there are the commandments: the first three about God, the last seven about our neighbor: don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t covet, don’t commit adultery….Having grown up in the Roman tradition, there was a clever–and convenient–distinction between venial and mortal sins. Venial sins were the petty ones, the ones that we truly can’t avoid for more than an hour or two at a time. But they were not soul-threatening. Mortal sins–which included skipping Mass on Sunday–were a ‘you’re damned to Hell’ from the moment you commit them till the moment you confess them. Maybe it’s these sins about which Paul is admonishing his congregation? I haven’t murdered anyone lately (or ever); I haven’t stolen anything (well, maybe a few pencils from the office), I haven’t given false witness during any legal proceedings…maybe I’m good? That’s pretty close to blameless….

The point of my self-confession is that these sorts of statements had to be worked out over the course of centuries. The traditions of the early church that eventually ossified into the Roman Rite as practised in the Late Middle Ages evolved, exactly because of statements like this. What does “blameless” mean? Sounds like it could be taken as “perfection”, which is an impossible goal. So does that mean we’re damned the moment we cross the line? That’s why we need a way of doing penance, of being penitent, of repenting our sins, which was eventually elevated to sacramental status to allow the imparting of Grace. These statements that are less than precise, IOW, required litigating in the court of the evolving Church.

A lot of comment over a dozen-and-a-quarter words.

8 qui et confirmabit vos usque ad finem sine crimine in die Domini nostri Iesu Christi.

9 πιστὸς ὁ θεὸς δι’ οὗ ἐκλήθητε εἰς κοινωνίαν τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν.

God is faithful, through whom you are called to the communion of his son Jesus Christ, our Lord.

“God is faithful”. We can count on him to keep his end of the bargain. The word I translated as “community” is << κοινωνίαν >>, which is a form of “koine”, which is the description used for Greek spoken after the kingdoms of the Diadochoi, Alexander’s successors, were established. It’s ‘common Greek’; not as in ‘ordinary’, but as in ‘shared’. So we are called into this community, which is a shared experience for all who participate. God calls us, but Jesus is sort of the community organiser, the one through whom this actually gets done. This will be definitively stated in John, when he says (paraphrased) “you know the father through the son”.

I bring this up because of the connotations that “communion” has for the Roman Rite, where it is synonymous with ‘eucharist’. This conjunction of the words came about because the eucharist was how the community was organised, around the common, the shared, meal.

9 Fidelis Deus, per quem vocati estis in communionem Filii eius Iesu Christi Domini nostri.

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on November 2, 2013, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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