Summary 1 Corinthians Chapter 3

Thematically, Chapter 3 was not the most interesting chapter we’ve read. Maybe it’s me, but it seems like Paul has a large capacity for something very much like self-pity, and this talent was on full display in this chapter.  We are again made aware of divisions within one of Paul’s assemblies; this was a large part of the story in Galatians. It’s the major theme of this chapter.

Paul discusses how members of the assembly of Corinth seem to consider themselves as members of one or another faction. Paul mentions himself, Peter/Cephas, and Apollos. Now, I have never heard of Peter having any real role in the assembly at Corinth; as such, I suspect that Paul mentions Peter as sort of a theoretical. The real problem is Apollos. Peter, I suspect, is brought in as a rhetorical device so that Paul doesn’t seem to be attacking, or at least singling out Apollos.

So we get a couple of metaphors. Paul planted the seed; Apollos watered it. Paul laid the foundation; Apollos built the structure. In both cases, Paul tries to diminish the contribution of Apollos by giving ultimate credit to God. In this way, he can divert the talk (that I’m inferring was occurring) about how it was really Apollos who built the community in Corinth. Perhaps he led the congregation; perhaps he was a benefactor, or was prominent in/for some other role. At this point, we don’t know. Perhaps we will be told. But it seems clear that members of the congregation–a sizable number of them, I should say–felt that Apollos’ contribution surpassed that of Paul. Paul was deeply hurt, and personally insulted by this. He tries to disguise it by being ‘reasonable’ and putting the credit to God. Of course. Who could disagree? But the elevation of God necessarily reduces the prominence of Apollos.

And Paul also again takes up a theme from Chapter 2. Assuming that Apollos was Greek (the name certainly is, but that does not mean he was Greek, or a pagan, rather than a Jew), I get the idea that he was an educated man. And by ‘educated’, I assume this means in the Greek sense, a man trained in rhetoric. As such, he would have been a fluent speaker, versed in the wisdom of this world. Paul, while not uneducated, nevertheless probably lacked the training in rhetoric. As such, as a speaker, he would have seemed far inferior to the slick Apollos. So we get a parallel line about the vanity and foolishness of worldly learning.  Both of these lines of “attack” are directed squarely at Apollos.

So, what we have is a bit of internecine squabbling. What we don’t have, however, is any indication of another gospel.  As such, this seems to be more a personal, rather than a doctrinal, dispute.

Really, that’s pretty much the whole of the chapter.


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 December 20, 2013, in 1 Corinthians, General / Overview, Historical Jesus, Paul's Letters, Summary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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