Summary 1 Corinthians Chapter 6

The last half of this chapter contained a lot of concepts that required a lot of comment. I was very surprised at how long I went on during the commentary on individual verses. Not that I’m spare in my words; rather; it was the text that had ideas and thoughts that had far-reaching implications that really required discussion.

The first half of the chapter seems to be mostly about things of the world, and only indirectly about spiritual matters. The topics fell into two main themes. The first involved a discussion that indicates that there were serious divisions among the community in Corinth. The divisions were such that it appears legal actions were involved, and Paul, rather delicately, suggests ways around this. His idea is to have disputes judged by other members of the community as a means of avoiding the law courts. Writing this, it just now occurred to me how delicately Paul was treating all of this. No names are mentioned. He does not reprimand, or scold as he does about other matters like sexual morality. Paul has no problem deploring the latter, but is surprisingly reticent about the lawsuits. This makes me wonder if perhaps some of the parties involved in these legal actions were not, perhaps, some of the more substantial (read: wealthy) members of the assembly. As such, perhaps Paul felt constrained about giving it to them with both barrels. Perhaps? I can’t prove this, but think about it.

And this segues neatly into the second theme of the first half. Once again, we’re back to sexual morality. It’s buried within a list of other sins, but he still singles it out. And, in particular, he manages to single out homosexual behaviour for particular scorn. The John Dominic Crossan book I just read had an interesting take on why the Church became especially opposed to sexual incontinence, as opposed to something like greed. The latter, he suggests, is a sin of lean times, when people don’t have enough to eat. At those times, greed and hoarding become especially heinous crimes. In good times, when people have enough to eat, and they have some leisure–and some boredom–sexual licence becomes an issue. So, since the Patristic thinkers were largely men from good families, for whom hunger was not a problem, and who chose chastity as the preferred lifestyle, sexual mores took precedence over other matters. Presumably, Paul, who was well-educated, which back then meant well-off, would have been in a similar position. An interesting theory.

In the second half of the chapter, things got interesting. We started with a bit of a foray into the linguistic realm. It turns out that the same Greek word is behind the English words “justify” & “righteousness”; the base meaning of the Greek term is something like “set right”. If you think of ‘justified’ margins in a document, you can see some how the words/terms overlap.

Then we moved onto dietary laws and the question of whether Apollos was a Jew or Gentile. It doesn’t particularly matter; but John Dominic Crossan made this assertion. I have seen no evidence one way or the other. The influence of Jewish followers would explain why this controversy arose here. Then we got another one of those “hanging implications” as I termed them back in Chapter 2. And, like those earlier ones, this one put forth the implication that, for Paul, there was a definite difference between God the Father and Jesus the Christ. This is not the first time that Paul has implied this distinction; at this point, I think it is very, very clear that Paul would not have agreed with the opening chapter of John’s gospel, or the eventual development of the doctrine of the Trinity as it came to be formulated in the 3/4 Century.

The biggest discussion came from the statement that God raised up Jesus, and will raise us up, too. This is interesting, and good information, but, as of yet, we really have not been told exactly what will happen when we have been ‘raised up’. Now, we (or at least I) tend to assume ‘raise up’ means ‘from the dead’. But there was the passage in 1 Thessalonians in which we’re told we will be ‘raised up’ into the air to meet the Lord as he descends. That is an interesting thought because, at this point, we are not really talking about an afterlife. The description in 1 Thessalonians 4 describes what will happen to living persons. Granted, those who have euphemistically ‘fallen asleep’ will precede the living, but those who are alive–and Paul expects to be one–will follow directly. As such, this is not a ‘resurrection’ of the body, but a ‘raising up’ of the body. The analogy seems to be the Catholic doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (celebrated 8/15; a holy day of obligation, meaning one must go to mass or commit a mortal sin); in this doctrine, Mary was taken bodily up to heaven, before she actually died (IIRC about the ‘before she died’ part).

Even the euphemism of ‘falling asleep’ indicates that Paul believes that this raising up will take place prior to actual physical death. This, despite the fact that some brothers and sisters had died. Or, seemingly so. Again, the point here is that Paul’s version of ‘inheriting the kingdom’ seems to be very, very different from what became orthodox doctrine, and the belief held by most Christians today. Think about that for a moment. Or even two. That bears some serious thought. Of course, your conclusion may be that I’m flat-wrong about this inference, but it seems to be there pretty plainly. Interesting how inconvenient issues got overlooked when they got in the way of doctrinal development. This sort of jarring contradiction is a big part of the reason that, for a millennium, The Church actively discouraged lay persons from reading the Bible. (Of course, this wasn’t hard when pretty much the only people who could read were churchmen.) But, even so, even with the Reformation, and the Protestant emphasis on reading the Bible, this has never really been brought up–as far as I know. Even the Protestants sort of skimmed over this because, by that point, the notions of the afterlife and Heaven and Hell were so firmly entrenched that they were part of the wallpaper: and they could not be removed without removing the wallpaper.

In addition, Paul makes a couple of interelatedpoints. The first is Paul’s fairly definitive refusal to step fully into a dualist theology. Despite his continued distinction between spirit and flesh–and to the detriment of the latter–he refused to become a full-blown dualist and proclaim that the flesh was inherently evil and a bad thing. Rather, the body is a temple of the sacred breath, and should be treated as such. The other is that sin not only harms the body, but the spirit as well. This is a significant step on the road towards the internalization of guilt, rather than the externalized existence of shame.

The last point is also a big one. It also goes completely unanswered. We were purchased, we are told. But from whom? This strikes at the heart of the idea of our salvation. Did the death of Jesus represent a ransom paid? That is sort of what this statement implies. Or, was Jesus a sacrifice of redemption? The latter obviously won out, but it took a couple of centuries for this doctrinal dispute to be settled. It was not hugely divisive, like Arianism, Pelagianism, or the Iconoclast controversy that nearly tore the Greek Eastern empire apart in the centuries immediately following the rise of Islam. However, this dispute has to serve as a reminder that “what everyone knows” about Christianity is not cut as clearly as people suppose.

One last thing. I mentioned Arianism in the last paragraph. This struck the West very hard. At base, it’s sort of the step between Adoptionism and John’s “in the beginning was the Logos…” We mentioned Adoptionism in reading Mark, especially with respect to Mark’s story of Jesus’ baptism. Recall that Mark was not at all convincing that Jesus was a divine figure from the start. There are points when Mark seems to state pretty clearly that he did not believe Jesus the Man was divine. Rather, he implies that Jesus was “adopted” at his baptism. (At least, this is the argument that was made.) Arianism, OTOH, admits that Jesus was a divine Son of God, but that he had a lesser status than God the Father. This is a very pagan concept, and was particularly popular among a number of the German tribes that later converted. In fact, the Visigoths, who ruled Spain for about 300 years, until the conquest of the peninsula by the Muslims, were Arians. If you read Gregory of Tours History Of The Franks (title of the Penguin translation), Gregory regards the Visigoths as almost worse than the still-pagan German tribes to the East of the Frankish kingdom (basically, modern-day France and a bit more around the perimeter). And the thing was, statements of Paul that implied that he saw a distinction between God and the Christ, helped the Arians make their case. So, Paul and Mark were not wholly orthodox–or at least could be seen as suspect–by later standards of the term. Think about that.


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 January 20, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, General / Overview, Summary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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