Summary 1 Corinthians Chapter 9

The chapter starts with a discussion about whether believers should partake of meat offered to pagan gods as a sacrifice. As R L Fox describes, many temples had banquet rooms, either attached or on the grounds, and groups would have communal sacrifices that would become, in effect, a communal meal. Paul does not see the harm, really, in eating the meat per se. What he eventually objects to is the conviviality, and the impression this might leave on more…impressionable members of the Community of Jesus. Paul fears, no doubt with solid justification, that this might be too much of a mixed message for some, especially if it were the wealthier, more substantial members of the Community who were participating in these meals. Paul’s concern, I believe, is well-founded.

However, the chapter takes an unexpected turn. It becomes another of Paul’s self-defence apologies. It starts early enough with Paul asking the (presumably) rhetorical question “Have I not seen Jesus?” << οὐχὶ Ἰησοῦν τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν ἑόρακα; >>. This leads us back into the discussion we had previously about celibacy: how much of what we get is attributable to Jesus? How much originated, and can be traced back to Jesus? And how much of this is Paul, sort of making it up as he goes along? This is, obviously, a huge question with an enormous amount of relevance for the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Now, I say that Paul is ‘making it up’, but that’s just me being (trying to be) humorous. Based on his question, “Have I not seen Jesus”, and what he has said in previous chapters about how he apparently prayed on questions, or that God would provide answers to those whom he loved, by no means do I want to appear to be disparaging Paul’s motives. By no means do I believe that Paul was ever being cynical, calculating a message based on his proclivities, or beliefs, or his opinions. At least, he did not do so consciously. Paul was, above all, sincere. Now, sometimes sincere people are so certain in their sincerity that they really and truly believe that the object of their affection must–simply must–feel the same way they do. The most cliche example is the person so in love that he is convinced that the other must–simply must–love him in return. Of course, this is a staple of all sorts of literature, movies, TV shows, & c.

Anyway, in this chapter we get another bit of indication that things we consider fundamental to Christian belief may have started with Paul, and not with Jesus. In this chapter, it’s not celibacy, but poverty. What is, possibly, in question is the idea of Apostolic Poverty based on Mark 6:8, when he sent out the apostles to preach, telling them to take nothing with them. Here, however, we are told that some apostles, apparently including Peter and the brothers of the lord, may have traveled with something like a retinue, or at least their wives, and then expected–demanded?–that the Community in question support them, possibly in some style. At least, Paul’s protests that he does not do this, would never dream of doing this, gives the definite impression that these other apostles  were not modest in their expectations.

And so the bulk of the chapter is really Paul at his self-pitying, passive-aggressive, borderline whiny best. He does not make demands! He would never dream of this! He preaches the good news from conviction, not for pay!

The word Paul uses for the ‘right’ to expect support is not ‘right’, but ‘power’. The apostle has the power to make these demands. Which leads to (but does not beg) the question of who granted this power? It is just possible that this power did indeed originate with Jesus, as we saw in Mark 6:7-13. But, having just re-read this, section, I realize there is nothing in there about accepting what is offered. Now, Jesus does tell them to stay with whomever invites them in, and I suppose this could be taken as an indication that those sent out should expect to be supported as they preach, which Paul states explicitly in V-14 of this chapter. However, there is a very different feeling between that section of Mark, and what Paul seems to be describing. Remember: Paul came first. He was describing first-hand what he experienced. The author of Mark, OTOH, was telling a story a couple of generations old, describing, most likely, how he thought it should have been, rather than how it actually was. As such, I think we have to have  serious doubts about Mark 6:7-13, and anything in Matthew and Luke and John that seem to depend on this passage of Mark.

Then, in wrapping up this section about the expected support, Paul describes how he tries to be all things to all people. Once again, this is a level of zealousness that, while admirable in and of itself, and in this context, put down a possibly dangerous precedent. This principle taken to a logical conclusion very easily becomes ‘the end justifies the means’. In the heated debates about slavery in the USA in the 19th Century, it was passages like this, and the earlier injunctions that Paul issued to ‘remain in our station’ were used by the pro-slavery faction as arguments to justify the continued existence of slavery. This, of course, was not Paul’s fault, but it does illustrate how perhaps incautious words can have unintended consequences.

Finally, we get to the distinction between a corruptible and and incorruptible crown. Athletes train for the former; followers of the Christ strive for one that is incorruptible. This is possibly the point at which an eternal–more or less synonymous with ‘incorruptible’–life became, continuing with Paul’s athletic metaphor, the “prize” for living one’s life…well, how, exactly? I mentioned this in the chapter commentary: in 1 Thessalonians 4 there is the idea of rising up to meet the Christ, but there is no indication of what might happen after that. Having checked Strong’s vocabulary list for words relating to ‘eternal’ or ‘life’ or synonyms thereof, there isn’t much before this. I also speculated that the location of this Community in Corinth, in Greece, where the idea of transmigration of souls was 500 or 600 years old by the time Paul wrote this letter, and the idea of an immortal soul had been fixed in philosophical thought for nearly half a millennium, may not have been accidental. But which way did the influence run? Did Paul choose the metaphor knowing it would likely resonate with his audience? Or did the audience provide the idea?

I recently started reading a book called France: The Dark Years 1940-1944. I’m not far into it; I’m still in the preliminary section describing the political situation in the inter-war period. I mention this because the author describes how all of the ideas floating around, about democracy, monarchism, socialism, fascism, & c, originally distinct and pure, all started to swirl around and interact and react and mutate. This is, I think, a good metaphor for how intellectual or spiritual ideas mix and mingle. (And I would suggest that the ideas of the inter-war period of 20th Century Europe were more spiritual than intellectual; I tend to view WWII as the last of the religious wars that broke out as a result of the Reformation).

So, it would pay to keep something like this in mind when we think about the thought-world of the First Century. Ideas mixed and mingled and influenced one another. Paul’s travels in Greece may have had enormous implications for the way Christian thought eventually developed. Recall that in the first part of Mark, the emphasis is not on salvation, but on Jesus the Healer, the Wonder-Worker. The idea of eternal life only rises to prominence in the second part, which may have reflected the influence of Paul. And Paul may have reflected the influence of Greece. Much depends on the idea of “the kingdom’.  Was it Paul who transferred the kingdom into the next world?

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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 April 5, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, General / Overview, Historical Jesus, Paul's Letters, Summary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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