Summary 1 Corinthians Chapter 10

At the beginning of the second section, I expressed perplexity at what I consider the disjointed thought process of the epistle. We dealt with idol food back in Chapter 8, and we were back to that in 10:14. So I took a look back at the sequence of Chapters 8-10 and noticed something. Looking at these writings verse-by-verse, it’s very easy to lose sight sight of the forest by looking so closely at the bark of individual trees.

What I saw was that Chapter 9 was something of a digression. Or it contained a digression. Paul became so wrapped up in excusing his behaviour–and taking some very snide shots at the behaviour of other apostles–that he went off on a tangent. The idea was to discuss the idea of eating food offered to idols, and he got back to that here in Chapter 10 when he discussed how those who worked in the Temple, or the temples, were supported by the food offered. As such, it’s perfectly reasonable that he, too, should be supported by working in the mobile temple that his preaching creates. And really, this makes sense.

But in taking this meandering path,  Paul introduced a number of very interesting and significant ideas. He tied Jesus to the Israelites; Jesus was the rock that provided drink in the desert. Or, rather, the Anointed was the rock. This opens up a very interesting question: if the Anointed was present on the Exodus, was he eternal, like God the Father? If so, what was the relation of the Anointed to the man Jesus? Are we seeing the genesis of the idea of the eternal Anointed One? The one that will become the Logos in John 1:1?

Chapter 10, which is our proper concern here, falls into two parts, reflecting the division in the text as I presented it. The first section is the history of the Jews. Paul discusses how the Exodus is a foreshadow of what will happen later. More, his division of Jews into some good, some not so good, is itself a foreshadow of where Paul will end up in Romans. There, only a remnant of Israel will be saved. This idea is already present in sort of a de facto way here, with the division into Good Jews/Bad Jews. This, in turn, effectively demonstrates how Paul no longer sees all of Israel as the Chosen People. That number has been reduced, by excluding a portion of the Jewish people, then expanded by opening salvation to non-Jews.  This is a clear indication that Paul no longer hoped for any kind of reconciliation with overall “Judaism” (whatever that may have been). By this point, Paul has come to recognise that the future of the Community probably lies with pagans, rather than Jews. When he talked about Judaism in Galatians, he took the time to be encouraging and supportive of mainstream Jewishness, stressing that having been raised Jewish was an advantage. Here, the implication is that a Jewish background is more or less neutral: it may help, as it helped some of those in the Exodus, or it may not help, as it did not help those who gave way to fornication and idolatry on the journey out of Egypt.

There are two other issues of interest. The first is at the end: the idea that Paul will be all things to all people to save as many as possible. This is a wonderful sentiment; the problem is that we still don’t entirely know what being ‘saved’ means. It may mean being lifted into the air to meet the Anointed as he comes down from heaven, as foretold in 1 Thessalonians 4. But, even a generation later in Mark, ‘save’ meant ‘saving one’s mortal life’ as often as being saved in some other way. This, however, may tell us more about Mark than Paul, and especially the other tradition that Mark tapped into, the one in which Jesus may not have been the Anointed. Of course, Paul may not have felt constrained to explain what he meant by ‘saved’ because this was such a prominent part of his message to the Community.

The other issue is the idea of one bread/one body. Here we have the first mention of the concept that would become the Eucharist. I’m going to hold off on this until we get to Chapter 15, when the idea will come up again, and will be explained in more detail.

This leaves one last bit, and I’ve saved it till last because it will take some discussion. This is the idea of  ‘all is permitted’. This is the second time that the phrase has come up. The first was in 6:12. I didn’t get into it so much there because it really didn’t strike me as much there as it did here. In the first iteration, it seemed much more obviously to be about dietary restrictions; as such, I didn’t see any broader implications. In 10:23, OTOH, these broader implications were much more obvious. At least, they seemed to be. This let to my conjecture that this may have come from Jesus himself. Unfortunately, I may have gone beyond what the text holds. Note that I will not go back and revise; it’s there, it will stay there, and shame on me for getting ahead of myself. A second–or more like seventh or eighth–reading of the whole section does make it seem like we’re still talking about dietary restrictions; or, more precisely, the lack thereof.

But the point remains: this seems like a quote. In fact, my portable NIV actually puts quotes around this. But, quoting whom? Contrary to what I said in the commentary, if this is about dietary restrictions, I still believe that it did not come from Jesus. Mark says it did; Matthew says it did; Acts names Peter and his dream as the source, but none of this can be squared with the discussion in Galatians 2. That Paul and James disagreed on the practice is, IMO, pretty conclusive proof that Jesus made no such statement. In fact, given how we now know that Paul was not averse to stating his own opinion (above, 7:12), it is more likely that Jesus stuck with the restrictions, and James simply followed his brother’s teaching. So if not Jesus, who? One real possibility is that Paul had taken this on as an axiom to state the outcome of his debate with James, and the compromise that was reached.

Honestly, though, I was very excited by the notion that this was meant in wider context. Or, even better, was the idea that it represented a quote from Jesus that could be taken in a wider context. Woo-HOO!. A real discovery. So, naturally, I twisted myself into knots trying to find away to make the facts, or the text, support my conclusion. I failed. But before reaching that conclusion, I checked several commentaries on 1 Corinthians. I will not mention the first couple; the line of reasoning in them was so specious and faulty that I’m embarrassed to expose the authors. So I turned to John Calvin. Yes, the John Calvin.

His take was instructive. Even in his day, it seems, there were many laboured opinions put forth by different commentators, some of  whom took the narrow approach, that this was just about dietary rules; others, however, suggested that it was meant in a wider context. He doesn’t bother with the back-and-forth, but sets out his take. He is of the opinion that the Corinthians were using this in a wider way, as a means of justifying sexual licentiousness. And so Paul is quick to enjoin that, while all may be permitted, not all is beneficial. So, while I did definitely go too far, I’m not the first to do so.  Unfortunately, this was all smoke and no fire.


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 21, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Historical Jesus, Summary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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