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Full text of "The First epistle of Paul to the Corinthians"

tihtary of t:he t:Keolo0ical ^tminary 

PRINCETON • NEW JERSEY 

Presented by Dr. Hugh T. Kerr 



THE FIRST EPISTLE OF JAN 28 196'i 
PAUL ^< ^6ICAL ^^ 

TO THE CORINTHIANS 



v"^ 



JAMES MOFFATT 

Hon. D.D. (St. Andrews, Oxford), D.Litt. 




HARPER AND BROTHERS PUBLISHERS 
New York and London 



EDITOR'S PREFACE 
MOFFATT'S NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY 

The aim of this commentary is to bring out the religious 
meaning and message of the New Testament writings. To 
do this, it is needful to explain what they originally meant 
for the communities to which they were addressed in the 
first century, and this involves literary and historical criti- 
cism ; otherwise, our reading becomes unintelligent. But 
the New Testament was the literature of the early Church, 
written out of faith and for faith, and no study of it is intelli- 
gent unless this aim is kept in mind. It is literature written 
for a religious purpose. ' These are written that ye might 
believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.' This is 
the real object of the New Testament, that Christians might 
believe it better, in the light of contemporary life with its 
intellectual and moral problems. So with any commentary 
upon it. Everything ought to be subordinated to the aim of 
elucidating the religious content, of showing how the faith 
was held in such and such a way by the first Christians, and of 
making clear what that faith was and is. 

The idea of the commentary arose from a repeated demand 
to have my New Testament translation explained ; which 
accounts for the fact that this translation has been adopted 
as a convenient basis for the commentary. But the contri- 
butors have been left free to take their own way. If they 
interpret the text differently, they have been at liberty to 
say so. Only, as a translation is in itself a partial commen- 
tary, it has often saved space to print the commentary and 
start from it. 

As everyman has not Greek, the commentary has been 
written, as far as possible, for the Greekless. But it is based 
upon a first-hand study of the Greek original, and readers 
may rest assured that it represents a close reproduction of 
the original writers' meaning, or at any rate of what we 
consider that to have been. Our common aim has been to 
enable everyman to-day to sit where these first Christians 
sat, to feel the impetus and inspiration of the Christian faith 



EDITOR'S PREFACE 

as it dawned upon the minds of the communities in the first 
century, and thereby to realize more vividly how new and 
lasting is the message which prompted these New Testament 
writings to take shape as they did. Sometimes people inside 
as well as outside the Church make mistakes about the New 
Testament. They think it means this or that, whereas its 
words frequently mean something very different from what 
traditional associations suggest. The saving thing is to let 
the New Testament speak for itself. This is our desire and 
plan in the present commentary, to place each writing or group 
of writings in its original setting, and allow their words to come 
home thus to the imagination and conscience of everyman 
to-day. 

The general form of the commentary is to provide a running 
comment on the text, instead of one broken up into separate 
verses. But within these limits, each contributor has been 
left free. Thus, to comment on a gospel requires a method 
which is not precisely the same as that necessitated by com- 
menting on an epistle. Still, the variety of treatment ought 
not to interfere with the uniformity of aim and form. Our 
principle has been that nothing mattered, so long as the reader 
could understand what he was reading in the text of the New 
Testament. 

James Moffatt. 



VI 



CONTENTS 

INTRODUCTION 

PAGE 

I. When and Why the Epistle was Written . xiii 

II. For Whom the Epistle was Written . . xvii 

III. How THE Epistle was Composed . . . xxiv 

IV. The Significance of the Epistle . . . xxvii 

COMMENTARY 
The Prologue (i. 1-9) .3 

After the address (1-3), the apostle congratulates the 
church upon its spiritual endowments and outlook (4-9). 

The Church, the Gospel, and the Apostles (i. lo- 

iv. 21) 8 

But party-spirit (i. 10-17) is rebuked by a reminder of 
what the gospel is and how it came to Corinth (i. 17-ii. 5) 
as a revelation of God's own Wisdom in the Cross of Christ, 
a revelation missed by the worldly spirit of partisanship 
(ii. 6-iii. 3). Apostles like himself and ApoUos impart this 
gospel, whatever others may be doing (iii. 4 f .), and apostles 
do so in spite of any criticisms (iv. 1-5, 6-7). The self- 
satisfaction of the Corinthians is unworthy of them ; if 
they persist in following other leaders, Paul threatens to 
come in person and deal with them on the spot (iv. 8-16, 
17-21). 

The Church in the World and the World in the 

Church (v.-vi.) . . . . . -53 

Meantime discipline is demanded for a member guilty of 
incest (v.), recourse to pagan law-courts is denounced as a 
form of worldliness (vi. 1-8), and the apostle issues a stem 
warning against any Christian conniving at immorality 
(vi. 9-20). 

ix 



CONTENTS 



PAGB 



Is Marriage Permissible for a Member of the 

Church ? And If So, How Far ? (vii.) . . 73 

The apostle's ruling on various points raised by the local 
church in this connexion ; personally he prefers and upon 
the whole advises celibacy, as better for the unworldly life, 
but recognizes marriage as a Christian sphere, warns enthu- 
siasts against several ascetic extravagances (5-6, 36-38), 
including separation from a pagan partner (12-16), and 
permits a widow to re-marry (39-40). 

Is IT Permissible for a Christian to Eat Food which 
HAS BEEN Formally Consecrated to an 
Idol ? (viii. i-xi. 2) loi 

Christians are free to partake of this or of any other food 
in the world (viii. 1-6), but let them consider the scruples 
of weaker members in the church (7-13) and be ready to 
limit their freedom for the sake of others, as the apostle 
himself does (ix.) on other lines in fulfilling his vocation. 
At the same time, they must not take liberties with God 
by frequenting sacrificial feasts in honour of idols, as 
though their own Church sacraments secured them against 
temptations to idol-worship and its consequences (x, 1-22). 
Even at social functions, when idol-food is served, he re- 
peats (x. 23-xi. 2), let them be careful to avoid injuring the 
sensitive and scrupulous in their company. ' Your first 
thought must be for their spiritual good, here and every- 
where, as mine always is. Copy your apostle.' 

The Church at Worship (xi. 3-34) .... 148 

The apostle then censures them for two irregularities which 
are at variance with his regulations. Women must have 
their heads covered at public worship. He sharply reproves 
the church for relaxing this catholic praxis (3-16), and then 
upbraids them for shameful, selfish irreverence at the 
Lord's table (17-34), calling them back to the authentic 
tradition of the sacrament which he had transmitted to 
them as part of the apostolic gospel. 

The Church as a Fellowship of Worship (xii.-xiv.) . 176 

spiritual endowments are not for the individual to enjoy 
and display, but are bestowed by the Spirit for the common 
health and energy of the Church as the Body of Christ. 
Each of the varied gifts is needful, however they may vary 
in importance (xii. 1-30). But the gift of gifts is love, un- 
selfish consideration for others ; this ought to be the 
primary concern of those who set their hearts upon expe- 
riences of the Spirit (xii. 31-xiv. i). Of the higher endow- 
ments, prophecy is superior to ' speaking with tongues,' 
since it does more good to the whole gathering in worship 

X 



CONTENTS 

(xiv. 2-25). For all its spiritual fervour, worship must be 
orderly ; the interests of the fellowship are paramount. 
Various counsels upon this follow, some addressed to 
prophets in particular (26-40), and all weighted with the 
apostle's authority. 

The Church, the Gospel, and the Resurrection (xv.) 

The gospel preached at Corinth as elsewhere by the apostle 
was a gospel of the risen Lord (i-i i), involving the resur- 
rection of those who belong to him ; whatever doubters 
may say to the contrary (12-22), the resurrection of the 
saints belongs to the final work of Christ at the End (23-28). 
How absurd and how fatal it is to think otherwise (29-34) ' 
The risen body will be different from the present body, 
indeed ; but God is able to provide this, as Christians are 
changed after death into the likeness of Christ himself and 
invested with immortality. Thank God, and never lose 
hope (35-5S) ! 

The Epilogue (xvi.) 

Final words on the collection for the saints (1-4), on the 
plans of Apollos and himself (5-12), and, after a pastoral 
appeal (13, 14), on the duty of appreciating the services of 
some local Christian workers (15-18). Greetings from 
Asiatic churches and others (19, 20). Then a postscript in 
the apostle's own handwriting (21-24). 



PAGE 



234 



270 



SPECIAL NOTES 



(i.) The Festival of the Christian Life 
(ii.) Paul's Use of ' Body ' and * The Body 



(iii.) Paul as an Example 

(iv.) The Last Supper and the Lord's Supper 

(v.) Speaking with Tongues . 

vi.) Maranatha 



171-173, 187-189, 259-261 
146-148 



58-59 
71-73. 



163-166 
207-217 
282-286 



XI 



INTRODUCTION 

I. When and Why the Epistle was Written 

When Paul travelled west from Athens to Corinth in a.d. 50, 
by land or sea, he reached the capital of Achaia, the province 
which lay south of Macedonia. Ever since he had landed at 
Athens he had been in Achaia, but his stay at Athens had been 
no more than an interlude ; as usual he pushed forward to the 
leading city, an industrial centre and trade depot of command- 
ing importance. There he, who happens never to mention the 
word ' friend,' made one of his closest friendships. His trade 
brought him into touch with a couple of Jewish Christians who 
had been recently ejected from Rome by an imperial edict of 
Claudius. Aquila and Priscilla had a house or lodgings of their 
own, where Paul lived with them. They all worked together, 
Luke reports. But it was not simply at the leather trade. 
They were drawn into work of propaganda in connexion with 
the local synagogue. Whether Paul had originally gone to 
Corinth with some idea of returning to the churches of Mace- 
donia, about which he was deeply concerned, or whether he 
had intended to do mission-work, an opening presented itself of 
which he took advantage. According to the Western text of 
Acts xviii. 4 (' he argued in the synagogue, persuading both 
Jews and Greeks '), the apostle entering the synagogue every 
sabbath held argument, introducing the name of Jesus and 
persuading not only Jews but Greeks. This may or may not be 
the original text, but it represents what he actually did. He 
introduced the name and message of Jesus as Lord or messiah 
to the local Jews ; to their exasperation, he drew off some of 
the circumcised as well as a number of proselytes and others on 
the fringe of the synagogue. He was not merely a renegade 
Pharisee who believed in messiah, but a successful one, aided 
now by Silas and Timotheus as well as by his host and hostess. 
Luke marks two stages in the mission ; a break with the 

xiii 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

synagogue was followed by a renewed appeal which proved 
most effective among the proletariate (i Cor. i. 26 f.). Appa- 
rently the majority of the converts were pagan by birth (xii. 2), 
whether they were proselytes or not. The result was that 
when he left, in the spring of a.d. 52, after a residence of less 
than two years, a strong church had been formed at Corinth 
and in the neighbourhood. Aquila and Priscilla accompanied 
him to Ephesus. But his work at Corinth was soon carried 
forward by a distinguished successor. This was a cultured 
recruit from Alexandria, a Jewish Christian called ApoUos, 
who had come across Aquila and Priscilla at Ephesus. Strong 
in the knowledge of the scriptures already, he was instructed 
by them on the Hues of Paul's teaching. Hurrying across to 
Corinth, he reinforced the local Christians by his fresh and 
formidable messianic preaching ; in opposition to the sjma- 
gogue he publicly refuted the Jews with might and main, showing 
from the scriptures that the messiah was Jesus. Thus Luke 
describes his mission, which developed inside the church the 
teaching and traditions of Paul himself, probably making a 
more extensive use of the allegorical interpretation than the 
apostle had had time or occasion to do. For what followed, 
we have only the apostle's correspondence with the church to 
fall back upon. Luke was not interested in the internal affairs 
of any church within the Pauline mission. 

The situation which emerged after Apollos left is outlined in 
the introduction to Second Corinthians in our Commentary. It 
had become so serious that Paul had to intervene by sending 
a peremptory letter — which has not been preserved (though 
one fragment from it is imbedded in 2 Cor. vi. 14-vii. i) — 
warning the local Christians against compromise with the 
world. Neither then nor afterwards had he occasion to fear 
any serious challenge from mystery-cults at Corinth. Unhke 
the church at Thessalonica, the Corinthians were also free 
from interference at the hands of pagans ; their relations with 
the authorities were smooth, and the strong control of a pro- 
consul like Gallio prevented the Jews from disturbing the 
peace of Christians in Achaia as they had done in Macedonia. 
Indeed it was this very privilege of undisturbed hfe which had 

xiv 



INTRODUCTION 

fostered the real trouble. As yet there was no internal contro- 
versy over the Law, such as had vexed the Galatian church ; 
if any group at Corinth shared the stricter views of Jewish 
Christians at Jerusalem, it was not they who caused friction 
when Paul wrote his ' first ' letter or even the First Epistle. 
But from ApoUos and others he had learned that there was 
what he considered a dangerous friendliness between the 
church and the world, a tendency on the part of some members 
to make the break with pagan society as indefinite as possible 
and to ignore the distinctiveness of Christianity in practice if 
not in principle. The Church was in the world, as it had to be, 
but the world was in the Church, as it ought not to be. 

Instead of arresting this movement, the ' first ' letter was 
misinterpreted as too severe ; it proved ineffective (i Cor. v. 9). 
The next stage in the relations betweeen the apostle and his 
church was marked by the despatch of a fresh, more elaborate, 
letter, which is our canonical First Corinthians, written, like 
the ' first,' out of the busy mission which engaged him around 
Ephesus, not earlier than 55 and not later than 57. 

He had been handed a communication from the church 
itself, brought over by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, 
who were visiting Ephesus on a business tour. Paul wrote 
many letters and may have received a number, but this 
happens to be the only recorded case of one being actually 
conveyed to him. The Corinthians had wrifetel i^ protesting 
effusively that they were always beaming him in mind and 
maintaining the traditions whiph^Iie had passed on to them 
for faith and order. But j^iefenot his rules a^ulunwoildliness^ 
r eally too stri ngent,?.,. They, hinted that it was surely imprac- 
t icable to avoid contact with immoral people i n business and 
pleasure ; they had to ass ociate wi th such perso ns, unless they 
were to leave the w orld altogether. Furthermo re^_they con- 
sulted him on two problems of social conduct— marriage and 
fKe"useo t s acrilicial lood ; opinion varied on these issues, and 
he was asked to give his ruling. A third difficulty had emerged 
sliTce ne left, viz^ the orderi ng:_ojLpuS^^ worship, pgpprifliiy 
with regard to the place claimed by or for women in the service, 
and also the handling of those who took part in prophesying. 

XV 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

Would he give them some directions on these matters as 
well as on the fund which they were expected to raise for the 
starving Christians in Judea ? On the discreditable party-cries 
and quarrelling, as well as on a recent case of incest, they said 
not a word, but assured him that the building up of the 
church was going on steadily in his absence ; they hoped that, 
if he was still going to disappoint them by not coming back 
himself, brother Apollos might pay them a return visit to 
carry on his delightful mission. Meantime he would be glad 
to know how happy they all were ; they had come into their 
kingdom, they had their heart's desire, a wealth of blessing and 
religious experience ; heaven's rich bliss was theirs, thanks to 
the wonderful variety of spiritual endowments which God had 
bestowed upon them ! In fact they were having a good time. 
But their apostle had private information about the real 
state of affairs from the three local deputies as well as from 
some Achaian Christians, called Chloe's people, who reported 
that his own apostolic credentials had been questioned by 
some self-constituted inquisitors, till it was openly held in 
certain quarters that he was no regular apostle. His work was 
belittled, owing to the influence of a group from Jerusalem or 
Antioch, who had arrived at Corinth, either in the ordinary 
course of propaganda or as a counter-mission, unsettling the 
local church. It is to reports of this that he alludes in iv. i8, 
v. I, ix. 3, xi. i8, and xv. 12, as well as in i. 11. From what he 
learned about the inside situation, he was able not only to 

I handle Ihe four ■questions put to him by^ the church (vii, viii, 
xii, xvi. i), but to drive some other matters home to their 
conscience with apostoUc authority and affectionate remon- 
strances. In fact the opening section (i.-iv., v.-vi.) is entirely 
devoted to very serious subjects on which the Corinthians had 

i not asked his opinion ; so is the final counsel on the resurrec- 
tion (xv.). The bulk of his reply to their actual letter lies 
between these. 

The situation was by this time so critical that, unable to 
leave his mission in Asia at the moment, he sat down to dictate 
this letter, which would reach them before his deputy, Timo- 
theus, arrived. It is the longest that he ever wrote — in some 

xvi 



INTRODUCTION 

respects the most varied and versatile. None other reflects 
such a medley of the topics and problems apt to be raised 
within a church of the primitive period which was facing the 
social environment of paganism, and also such a ferment of the 
new faith among converts drawn from Roman and Greek 
civilization, whose minds were affected by inherited tendencies 
of superstition and fervour. 

11. For Whom the Epistle was Written 

Corinth was cosmopolitan , in the popular sense of the term. 
Greeks, Latins, Syrians, Asiatics, Egyptians, and Jews, bought 
and sold, laboured and revelled, quarrelled and hob-nobbed, 
in the city and its ports, as nowhere else in Greece. By this 
time it had the largest and most heterogeneous population to 
be found in any Greek province. But the primary charac- 
teristic of the place had been its Roman ethos. After the 
disastrous fire in 146 B.C., the new Corinth — that is, the 
Corinth which had been refounded by Julius Caesar as a 
colony less than a century before Paul wrote — was peopled by 
settlers from Italy, most of whom belonged to the freedman 
class. In political sympathies an d municipal organization the^ 
city was m ore Roman than Greek ; there was little pure Greek 
Elbod in the first generation of the Corinthians. When Paul 
arrived, however, the majority were sharp, clever Levantines. 
While they still had more in common with Roman traditions 
of civic polity and even of social life than with Hellenistic, they 
were Greeks, living in a city through which trade poured from 
East to West, its harbours crowded with merchantmen from 
the iEgean and the Adriatic. They were proud of the place, 
proud of its games held every other year at the Isthmus 
(ix. 24 f., XV. 55) under the patronage of the sea-god, proud, 
above all, of its Greek heroes and heroines. Did not the local 
sights include two famous tombs, one of Diogenes the Stoic, or 
rather the Cynic, leader, and the other of Lais the handsome 
courtesan ? Corinthians prided themselves on their city's 
commercial importance, on the distinguished travellers who 
would stop there as they passed through, and on its popularity 

Be xvii 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

as a resort. The proverb ran : ' It is not given to everyone to 
visit Corinth.' Significantly enough, this was originally a 
Mediterranean shipmaster's sigh of envy or of satisfaction. 
Not every captain was lucky enough to be sent on a voyage to 
Corinth with its ample provision of harlots ! By the time Paul 
visited Corinth, the splendid temple of Aphrodite had not been 
re-erected, but the cult flourished round the docks and in 
several of the shrines. Love and Hcentiousness formed an 
alloy, which, like the equally famous Corinthian bronze, was 
exported as well as enjoyed locally. Every Greek knew what 
a ' Corinthian girl ' meant. On the Isthmus itself thousands of 
the citizens and tourists worshipped Aphrodite as the goddess 
of common, not celestial, love, or as the Syrian Astarte. Yet 
Venus was primarily popular at Corinth as the goddess and 
patroness of the Julian family, to which Caesar belonged, and 
to which aristocratic citizens looked back still with patriotic 
gratitude. This counted in some circles for almost as much as 
her erotic aspect, and certainly for more than her cosmic halo 
in some of the later Orphic hymns. It was the Egyptian Isis 
who was the pagan madonna, not Venus. The official cult of 
the latter belonged to the persistent Latin tradition, like the 
institution of the septemviri epulonum, or Board of Seven 
Festal Officials, who were responsible for arranging sacred 
feasts in honour of Jupiter. Corinth had its augurs, its flamens, 
and other officials of the Latin type for imperial festivals, 
which were so popular that some local Christians disliked the 
demand of Paul and the stricter party in the church that they 
should give up attending such celebrations or similar civic 
festivals in the temples of gods like Neptune or Mercury, the 
god of commerce. The affinity between Corinth and its home- 
land appears in art, architecture, coinage, and, above all, in the 
city's passion, unique in Greece, for the bloody games of the 
amphitheatre, where, like Romans on a hohday, the populace 
delighted to watch gladiators in deadly combat, after a matinee 
at which condemned criminals had been set to fight with wild 
beasts in the arena (iv. 9, xv. 32). So devoted were the citizens 
to this amusement that they took the lead in erecting for them- 
selves stone amphitheatres, the cost of which was levied on 

xviii 



INTRODUCTION 

other towns in the province. The Forum was adorned by 
statues of Roman emperors, in Latin garb, by statues of 
Minerva and Neptune, and by the dominating temple in honour 
of Octavia, the sister of Augustus. Recently it had been a 
Latin governor of Corinth who organized the popular worship 
of the emperor, with attractive games and sacrifices, and 
among the statues was one of Fortuna, the Roman deity, in 
Parian marble, as at Rome. Of the inscriptions from Corinth 
during the first century, the large majority are in Latin, which 
was the official language of the governing authorities. Owing 
to this Roman tradition, it is no wonder that Christians who 
had been turned out of Rome, like Aquila and Priscilla, should 
cast up at Corinth, where there was so much in common with 
the capital, especially if Aquila was a Roman freedman. A 
number of the special allusions and pleas in this very letter 
(e.g. ix. 6, X. 25, xi. 3, xii. 12 f., xiv. 34, 40, xvi. 20) are not simply*/ 
due to the fact that the writer was a Roman citizen. He had 
not lived and worked at Corinth without being quick to 
understand the local affinities of the citizens with the city on 
the Tiber. The tone and even the language of his appeals often 
presuppose familiarity on the part of his readers with popular 
missioners of Stoicism at Rome, some of whom visited Corinth 
itself, in the course of their far-flung propaganda for moral 
reformation. 

The bulk of the Church's membership w as drawn from the 
lower classes — from dockyards, potterie s, and brass-foundries, 
from poor shopkeepers, bakers, brokers, fullers, and stray waifs 
in the motley crowds of Corinth. It included slaves as well^s 
fr ^me n (xii. 13). Yet, as the scum was not confined to the 
slums, neither is it to be assumed that a slave was necessarily 
a menial drudge. As a prisoner of war, for example, he might 
be better born and more highly educated than his master or 
mistress. The term slave covered not only farm-workers, 
labourers, and domestic servants, but secretaries, accountants, 
librarians, estate-managers, physicians, and clerks, who were 
far from brainless serfs. While not many intellectuals or lead- 
ing citizens from the villas of Corinth belonged to the com- 
munity at the start (i. 26), however, it is remarkable that some 

xix 



) 



r 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

of the questions raised by the church, and the regulations 
which Paul had to lay down, imply free-born citizens of social 
position, who frequented law-courts and private banquets. 
The moral situations raised by marriage, again, did not directly 
affect slaves. Neither did some of the issues started by business 
and pleasure, though slaves were not wholly excluded from 
such spheres. Paul does turn aside at one point to discuss the 
position of Christian slaves, but apparently the problems of 
behaviour belong, upon the whole, to life among the free-born 
or householders, not among the poor and lower slave-class. 
Furthermore, if the apostle found most trouble in this quarter, 
he had also admirable support among business people and the 
better educated ; men such as Crispus and Gains, Stephanas, 
Titus Justus, and a municipal official like Erastus, as well as 
women of social position like Chloe and Phoebe, were a steady- 
ing influence which he welcomed and encouraged. It is also 
possible that some Roman Christians of experience had accom- 
panied Aquila and his wife to Corinth, where they would rally 
to the side of Paul. 

At the same time the undue regard for philosophy or 
' wisdom,' and the dissatisfaction with Paul's evangelical and 
(it was thought) rather crude presentation of the gospel, are 
not to be hastily identified with any temper of this more 
intelligent or independent class in the church. Such a spirit in 
any age prevails among more than the intellectuals ; it is not 
confined to the upper ranks or the middle class. Party spirit, 
a love for advanced views, fickleness, and the desire for un- 
limited self-expression, which were rampant at Corinth, are 
weeds that flourish on the lower as well as on the higher levels 
of mankind ; a dock labourer or a slave might be as quick- 
witted, insolent, and obsessed with a sense of mental supe- 
riority, as any really educated and respectable member of the 
local church. The records of contemporary Stoicism at Rome 
on this point offer a suggestive parallel to what must have been 
the case of the church at Corinth. It was not necessarily the 
wise or rich or influential who were proud ; nor, again, is it to 
be assumed that the poorer members constituted the unsuspi- 
cious and considerate nucleus of the community. We can read 

XX 



INTRODUCTION 

between the lines of the letter, to discover that class distinc- 
tions as such were not the dividing line between the showy and 
the solid members of the Church. 

In the religious societies, or associations called collegia 
tenuiorum, slaves had opportunities of social fellowship with 
fellow-slaves, and even with free people, which did much to 
meet the need for human intercourse and gave them a sense of 
self-respect. They might also belong to confraternities or 
private religious associations, where they dined together, held 
funerals for their members, and enjoyed common ties under 
the aegis of some foreign god or goddess, since most slaves 
belonged to one or other of the imported Eastern cults. None 
was more popular than that of Isis. This impressive religious 
movement had a strong attraction for women, who enjoyed 
there a sort of religious equality with men (xi. i6) which was 
not extended by the synagogue ; but it also had the merit of 
embracing slaves as well as the lowly born in its fellowship. 
There are even cases of slaves, male and female, acting in their 
spare moments as priests and priestesses of such a cult ; 
though this did not necessarily mean more than competence to 
perform the requisite ritual, it signified a recognition of them 
as persons, such as was denied them by Roman Law. The 
difficulties discussed by Paul in connexion with social feasts of 
semi-religious associations and clubs at Corinth were not con- 
fined to Christians who belonged to the better classes, any 
more than the vices pilloried in v. lo f., vi. 9 f. were charac- 
teristic of the proletariate alone in Levantine sea-ports like 
that of Cenchreae or of Lechaeum at Corinth. The amusing, 
unedifying book of Petronius, written not long after this 
epistle, reveals such practices and habits among the freebom 
and wealthy as well. Even when * Corinthian ' passed into 
English as an equivalent for shameless or licentious, or indeed 
for both together, it meant the so-called upper class as well as 
the riff-raff. 

The problem which required special discussion in connexion 
with slaves who belonged to the local church was that of 
freedom (vii. 21 f.). A slave might be manumitted by a pro- 
vision in the will of his master, which took effect at the latter's 

xxi 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

death ; or he might be set free by a grateful master for some 
particular service rendered ; or, again, he might be liberated 
by an owner who found it less expensive to free him than to 
provide for him. He might, further, buy his freedom. It was 
well known that a slave might find himself less well off, so far 
as income went, if he did achieve freedom in some such way. 
But as a rule the slave desired to be manumitted, and the new 
consciousness of personality which was aroused by his Christian 
faith sharpened this instinct. Such is the situation with which 
Paul has to deal, though from the religious side, not from the 
economic. 

The sole trace of social distinctions occurred in worship. It 
does not seem to have been connected with any of the cliques 
or parties in the church (i. lo f.), which probably drew upon 
all members, slave and free. But the re-union of the love- 
feast, by its very form of social intercourse at table, had 
fostered some class feeling ; evidently there was a tendency 
on the part of the better-class members to draw apart from 
their humbler fellow Christians. Suburbanites did not always 
mix easily with metal-workers or potters or ragged boatmen. 
Again, Paul treats this as a religious matter, not as offensive or 
rude behaviour alone ; it is disrespectful to the church of God. 
That is, the offence is judged in the light of the distinctive 
position of the Corinthians to whom the letter is addressed, all 
of them called to be saints in a corporation where social differ- 
ences did not count. Since the days of Isaiah, the saints, as the 
saving (or rather the saved) remnant, had become an apoca- 
lyptic term for the core of the messianic community in the 
latter days, chosen and set apart by God, right with him, in a 
sacred fellowship of hope and duty. It is this high conscious- 
ness to which Paul summons the Corinthians one and all, at 
point after point of the present letter, as the determining 
consideration, whether for warning or for encouragement. The 
line of God's revelation had now passed beyond Judaism to 
those whom God had consecrated no longer through the Torah, 
but in Christ Jesus. Here lay the real collective satisfaction 
which some Corinthians had sought in the international fellow- 
ships of the mystery cults, with their demand for a kind of 

xxii 



leant ^ 
lip of J 
vhat- I 

] 



INTRODUCTION 

purity which was the condition of bliss with God here and 
hereafter, a sanctity open to all ranks and peoples. It is one 
service of this epistle that it throws light on the deeper signi- 
ficance which Christianity attached to rehgious terms like 
' purity,' ' holiness,' ' devotion to the Lord,' ' knowledge/ 
' freedom,' and also ' fellowship,' which were already current 
in paganism and Judaism at Corinth. But most significant 
in this connexion is the stress on the corporate fellowship 
the Church as catholic ; the Corinthians are summoned, what- 
ever their local or social position might be, to recollect that 
they are called to be saints together ' with all that call upon 
Jesus Christ our Lord in every place.' So far from this denoting 
separatists who worshipped in groups outside the local church, 
it echoes the conviction behind an inscription sometimes 
placed over a synagogue, ' Peace be to this place and to 
all places of Israel.' Here, Paul would say, is the true 
cosmopolitanism. Here, also, is the one focus for understan d- 
ing the im plications of the C hristian hope and its responsi- 
bilities. In theirmos t local setti ngs. The epistle is wri tten Jo r 
people who in various ways were jndaiiger„Q^ this 

focus. ^ "" ^ 

Of the two types of worship services, the love-feast, with its 
very primitive form of what was later the eucharist, would not 
be unfamiliar to Corinthians acquainted with similar re-unions 
in religious cults and associations of the city. The more 
general service of the Word corresponded to the synagogal 
precedent with its stress on religious instruction. At this 
period, especially outside Palestine, the synagogue was a 
school of religion, as Philo explained, where people were 
taught how to obey the Torah in practical life ; education was 
the most prominent feature of worship at a synagogue. 
Rightly or wrongly, at Corinth it was still the ministry of the 
Word (Acts vi. 2-4, Heb. xiii. 7, etc.) by inspired apostles, 
prophets, teachers, and catechists, not sacramental rites, 
which formed the invigorating and authoritative service of 
worship. The church met to hear and understand this Word 
(xiv. 36), which bound them to God and to one another. At 
such a gathering the present epistle was designed to be read 

xxiii 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

aloud, as an apostle's absent sermon. Like the other lessons 
and addresses, it was designed to further the common prayers 
and praises of the worship as well as to give direction and 
guidance. The central pulse of the whole service beat in spoken 
word and testimony upon the distinctive, divine mysteries of 
the gospel (xiv. 19) which the love-feast represented realistically 
as a symbol of fellowship. While both provided solemn and 
thrilling experiences of the Spirit, the former gave ampler 
scope for the exercise of spiritual gifts (xii, xiv.) and served as 
a sacred convocation for such purposes as charity and discipline 
(v. 3 f., 12-13). 

III. How THE Epistle was Composed 

(Except for a marginal note (xv. 56) , and a brief paragraph 
in xiv. 33-36, there is nothing to suggest that any part of the 
letter did not come from the hand, or rather from the mind, of 
Paul himself. But it is not so certain that the writing, as we 
have it, corresponds exactly to its form in the papyrus which 
was preserved in the archives of the Corinthian church. At 
first sight it is natural to infer from the data of Second Corin- 
thians that First Corinthians may have been also editorially 
arranged out of some earlier correspondence. It cannot be 
denied that more than once the text has the appearance of 
being broken, as though something were left out. Different 
situations have been suspected in iv. 18 f. and xvi. 5 f., in 
i. 10 f. and xi. 18 f. Difficulties have been felt about the con- 
nexion, or the lack of connexion, between certain sections ; 
thus the ninth chapter might stand apart, or it might follow 
iv. 21, if not X. 1-22 as a parenthesis, whilst x. 22 f. would be 
a fair sequel to the eighth chapter, it is argued. Furthermore, 
may not vi. 12-20, vii. 17-24, x. 1-22, and xi. 2-34 have 
originally belonged to the ' first ' letter, like 2 Cor. vi. 14-vii. i ? 
Ingenious attempts have been made to reconstruct two or even 
three letters out of which our canonical epistle is supposed to 
have been put together by the editor of the whole correspon- 
dence. But even those which are most ably stated by Dr. 
Johannes Weiss in his edition, and in his History of Primitive 

xxiv 



INTRODUCTION 

Christianity, or by Professor Maurice Goguel, in his Introduc- 
tion au Nouveau Testament, are not quite convincing. From 
the literary point of view it is essential to bear in mind that the 
letter is not acQ-ol fiismssinn nf ChristiRn jjiinciples. about faitji 
and ethics and worship, but written out of a pressing, shifting 
situ ation. T his is ifito:ted in its very styla, which is often the 
rapid, viva-voce method of the contemporary diatribe or dis- 
cussion, where the writer, for example, cites some word of an 
opponent or objector, only to refute it. He speaks as if he were 
taking part in their worship, turning from one to another group 
or section. First Corinthians has no fewer than ninety-six 
questions, some in citations, many rhetorical. It is as though 
the^ apostle dictated with a vivid sense of having his hearers 
bgjore him. The rhythmical, sustained style is frequently 
interrupted by ea ger, s hort sentences, like those of a preacher 
addressing an audience, and this is more marked than in any 
of Paul's earlier letters, even more marked than in Galatians. 
The literary characteristics point to an unusually direct and 
varied situation, not only at Corinth, but in the circumstances 
of the apostle himself. When he came to write Romans, 
evidently he had more leisure (if one can ever speak of Paul 
being at leisure), and at the same time far less urgent responsi- 
bilities for the church he was addressing. The fact is, First 
Corinthians is not a detached religious essay, composed at a 
sitting. Probably it took days and even weeks to write the 
letter, and at Corinth the situation was changing, as he heard 
from Corinthians who turned up with the latest news of a 
church which seemed to be breaking up, or at any rate break- 
ing away from apostohc control. Besides, in Ephesus, or 
wherever he was in the Asiatic province, Paul at this period had 
the care of all the churches pressing on him with special weight. 
He was busy, surrounded by difficulties and duties of his 
mission in the neighbourhood, moving from place to place, 
probably with little time to himself, as he endeavoured to 
snatch time for dictating a responsible message overseas on a 
multifarious set of issues. From a letter written amid incessant 
distractions, one should not expect the logical coherence of 
a treatise. It is astonishing indeed how much concentration of 

XXV 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

mind there is, upon essential and applied Christianity, as he 
moves from point to point. Yet, between what we read in one 
passage after another, intervals would occur, interruptions and 
practical upsets. Furthermore it is not his way in this letter to 
exhaust a subject always when he handles it. Now and then he 
will come back to it in the light of fresh information, or after 
further reflection, approaching it from another side, just as he 
is sometimes carried away by pastoral concern as well as by 
artistic sense to develop an argument or an allusion on lines 
which do not seem to be relevant and yet are never far from his 
central purpose. In the light of such considerations, it is not 
natural to suppose, for example, that because once for all he 
took a severe, puritanic line, as in the ' first ' letter, therefore 
any passage in the canonical First Epistle which breathes the 
same spirit must have belonged to the earlier communication. 
The Corinthians needed such admonitions still. Paul knew 
better than to imagine that one telling would do. 

Whether such factors are sufficient to account for all the 
data, without straining the evidence, is an open question. One 
case of transposition seems likely (at xiv. 33). Elsewhere 
matter may have been dropped, by accident or design, though 
it is remarkable how many pungent passages were retained, as 
too precious to be lost. But if some editor really put together 
fragments from two or three letters, he has done his work so 
well that it is beyond our powers to recover their original shape 
and sequence. Though such an hypothesis cannot be ruled out, 
though, indeed, at some points it becomes an attractive solu- 
tion of apparent contradictions and inconsequences in the 
existing letter, it is not absolutely demanded, not even by the 
swift turn of a passage like iv. 7 f., vii. 18 f., or x. 23 f., much 
less by the suddenness of the rhapsody in xiii. We can only 
guess at what happened when the letters were edited for the 
original collection of Paul's epistles at Corinth or elsewhere. 
But even if the correspondence with Corinth was in almost as 
disorderly a condition as the church itself had been, one may 

I conclude, not unfairly, that the present order of First Corin- 
thians at any rate is on the whole as likely to be Paul's as 
editorial. 

xxvi 



INTRODUCTION 

IV. The Significance of the Epistle 

Ifin one aspect this document marks the beginning of 
Cnristian ' c asuistry ' in the true sense of that term, i.e. the_ 
applicati on of Christian principles to special case s _a nd par- 
ticular problems arising out of private life and Church situa- 
tions, such as sex, social ties, discipline, and worshij]^ Not that 
Paul's counsels were all improvised for the first time, as he 
dictated the letter. Now and then we get a pungent im- 
promptu, but the general contents rather reveal him doing 
what he had already done for the church, to some extent, as 
a responsible rabbi might have done for a Jewish community. 
In his capacity as an apostle he gave haggada, or edifying 
expositions of Scripture, applying the Greek Bible to present- 
day life (as in x. i-ii) ; also he laid down halacha, or directions 
for conduct (see on iv. 17). Such methods, ' ways,' or tradi- 
tions, he had imparted to the mission before he left. Nothing 
is more unhistorical than to imagine a contrast within the 
primitive Church between the Spirit and traditions. The 
latter originally sprang from the living inheritance and oral 
revelations of the Spirit, and they were essential if the com- 
munity was not to collapse, especially a community whose 
charismatic ministry was still so one-sided ; rules by way of 
directions from the sayings of Jesus, simple catechetical state- 
ments about his hfe as messianic and the apostolic missions 
which he had authorized (ix. 14), counsels for prayer and 
practice, and regulations upon duty and devotion, were passed 
on, to be treasured in the retentive Oriental memory, practised 
in the simple and distinctive rites of worship, and reinforced 
by local prophets and teachers at the weekly gathering. Paul, 
who never speaks of Christianity as ' the Way,' speaks of his 
own ' ways ' or regulations (iv. 17) in connexion with Christ 
Jesus, since Christ was the equivalent of the Torah or divine 
Law for the Church. As an ordained presbyter or elder of some 
local Sanhedrim interpreted the Torah, in carrying out his 
function of ruling the congregation, so apostles, prophets, 
preachers, and teachers interpreted their new revelation of the 
divine will in Christ Jesus for his saints, instead of leaving them 

xxvii 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

to warm impulses and casual, vague memories. Even a thiasus, 
or religious association, open to anyone who cared to join, on 
payment of an entrance fee, had its articles and by-laws which 
were enforced by the officials. So with the Church. All that 
was implied in the baptismal confession (xii. 3), ' Jesus is 
Lord,' had to be brought out, applied, and expounded, by 
responsible authorities, for training in the sacred community 
and service. In this letter it is generally the moral issues of 
such a distinctive fellowship and worship that emerge from 
point to point. A church was not a voluntary association ; it 
was composed of the called, and God's call was a rule for the 
corporation. As it happens, we know more of Paul's relations 
with the Corinthian church than with any other of his missions, 
and, although some of the difficulties were local, and the organi- 
zation very elementary and undeveloped, his method of treat- 
ing them was typical of an apostle with evangelic traditions of 
the new Christian rule for life. We find him either reminding 
the church of traditions which they had forgotten or develop- 
ing Christian truth for them on the same lines of religious 
authority, pleading for their intelHgent agreement, appealing 
to their deeper convictions of the Spirit, and rebuking their 
waywardness, as well as demanding now and then their sub- 
mission to the catholic, apostolic tradition of the faith. 

One result of this situation is that the letter is less compre- 
hensive and less absorbed in general Christian ideas than the 
letter to the Roman Christians. Here Paul has to do with a 
church of his own planting, beset by local risks which partly 
determine not only the choice of subjects, but their very 
treatment. On the other hand, this serves to make the letter 
specially valuable for the light which it throws upon continuity 
and unity as essential to a church surging with supernatural 
energy on unaccustomed lines. Left to itself, without any 
regulative principles of the new Spirit for discipline and devo- 
tion, such a surge was in danger of running into bogs and 
sands. Only by freshly and fuUy adhering to the traditions, 
could these enthusiastic Christians keep within the safe channel 
for reaching the haven of their cherished hope. Hence the 
emphasis upon the Church as the fellowship which was at once 

xxviii 



INTRODUCTION 

heir to the earlier promises of God, fulfilled in Christ, and also 
a distinctive, corporate community in the religious world. 

The presentation of such a topic was naturally determined 
by local emergencies. Paul's aim is to make the Corinthians 
more conscious of their identity as a church, and of what this 
meant. Faith must be free ; that is the assumption of his 
argument. Even seething vitality, with splash after splash of 
exuberant independence, is welcome to him as proof of the 
Spirit moving in the community. Thus, in a real sense, the 
letter comes to be occupied with the same theme as the 
Galatian letter. Only, it is the liberty of Christians viewed from 
another angle. In Galatians Paul had to reaffirm the freedom 
of faith against restrictions of a reactionary tendency. Natu- 
rally he had to balance this emphasis with a warning against 
the Hberty that slips into licence, but in First Corinthians it is 
chiefly the latter danger that is uppermost, though, as it 
happens, he hardly mentions freedom. Here he has to contend 
that the freedom of Christianity can be enjoyed only in fellow- 
ship. At Corinth he found that the very advocates of hberty 
were proving its worst enemies. There was a feminist move- 
ment, for example, of which he was more than doubtful, an 
ultra-ascetic movement with untoward claims to a freedom 
from moral restraints and to a sinister combination of low 
living and high thinking, a self-assertive movement even in 
worship and Church work, and a general tendency on the part 
of enUghtened Christians to identify freedom with the right of 
individuals to take their own line and press their own opinions, 
as well as, on the part of the local church, to hold aloof from 
any corporate consciousness of Christendom in the great 
world. In handling such problems Paul has occasion to state 
the essentials of personal and congregational hberty as a respon- 
sibihty no less than as a privilege. The fire and penetration 
with which he does all this make the letter a reUgious classic. 
Still, the dominant note is struck in his warnings to more or 
less well-meaning Christians who, in his judgement, were com- 
promising and even caricaturing the vital spirit of 

While these warnings are charged with positive principles, 
and while they are accompanied by repeated reassurances of 

xxix 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

his unabated confidence in the church, they protest so sharply 
against local Christians not only falling out with one another, 
but falling apart from the general body of Christendom, that 
they sound almost ominous, especially in the light of what 
happened soon after this letter was received. It might seem, on 
reading the whole Corinthian correspondence, that Paul's 
mission at Corinth had been wrecked. But it was not so (p. 176) . 
Doubtless, during the next generation, partisan feehng again 
led to trouble ; some of the senior presbyters had been deposed 
hastily, and the neighbouring church at Rome affectionately 
remonstrated with the Christian group in a place like Corinth, 
to which the capital of the empire was so closely affiliated by 
civic tradition. Clement, who wrote on behalf of the Roman 
Christians, was himself a local official or presbyter, for, like 
the church of Corinth, the church at Rome had no single 
bishop till nearly seventy years after Paul wrote. Clement's 
epistle reflects a serious concern about divisiveness at Corinth. 
Yet by this time the organization was stronger ; the church 
was consolidated under episcopal presbyters, who eventually 
took the situation in hand. At Corinth, indeed, the church 
now counted for more than the synagogue ever did. In the 
reign of Marcus Aurehus, Corinth had one of the leading bishops 
in the East, the distinguished Dionysius, whose pastoral letters 
were a feature of the age. So that, in spite of the incipient 
insubordination during the first century, it is plain that the 
basis of the church had been firmly laid. Paul's claim was 
justified — that he had laid the foundation of God's house at 
Corinth like an expert master-builder ; his original work, as 
revealed in this letter, was not upset by the storms of mis- 
understanding, detraction, and intrigue that beat upon its 
walls. 

No epistle of his was actually read so early and quoted so 
widely as this, for direction on true belief and behaviour as 
well as on Church order and worship. Clement knew it well. 
So did Ignatius of Antioch. In some quarters it was evidently 
first on the list of the apostle's letters during the second 
century ; Tertullian and Cyprian in North Africa, Origen in 
Alexandria, and bishop Hippolytus at Rome (if he wrote what 

XXX 



INTRODUCTION 

is known as the Muratorian canon), all attest this. Our first 
impression may be that Paul was ' leaving great ' prose ' unto 
a little clan,' little not merely in numbers but in the capacity 
of appreciating the superb gift which came to them in the 
papyrus roll of First Corinthians. Yet the letter exercised 
among them, as well as far beyond them, a profound influence. 
Even in circles where Peter was more revered, Paul's apostolic 
precedent was gladly welcomed by those who were organizing 
Church rules, and Christians who differed from the main 
Church did not hesitate to appeal to sentences of this letter on 
behalf of ideas and practices of their own, so many sides of 
practical Christianity did it touch for the first time and with 
masterly decision. 

In this letter we see Paul introducing and developing 
terms like * spiritual,' 'conscience,' ' knowledge,' ' mystery/ / 
' ministry ' or service, ' preaching,' and ' heresy,' in the 
vocabulary of the Christian faith, all of them in the light of 
the new religious realities which he had to expound. In the 
exposition there are watermarks of personal idiosyncrasies (see 
on xi. 17), and the letter is not his last word on certain aspects 
of the faith. Nevertheless words on a local issue rise repeatedly 
into a lasting counsel. Thus we have in this one letter no fewer 
than four supreme passage s : the tense, terse statement of 
what the story of the cross or of the divine wisdom means 
(i. i8-ii. 12), the narrative of the Lord's supper (xi. 23 f.), the t^ 
rhapsody on love (xiii.), which classical scholars hail as a new 
departure in Greek literature, and the majestic description of 
the End (xv. 42-58) . These are sustained pieces of more or less 
rhythmical prose, written in the great style which comes 
naturally now and then to one of the great minds in the history 
of religion, as he is endeavouring to transmit what is to him 
not one of the interests of a varied life, but the supreme vision 
of reality, which alone illuminates and inspires the soul of man. 
Besides such passages there are shorter words. Even when he 
is speaking closely to the point, his mind is so saturated 
with the subject that frequently he pours out some incisive, 
simple saying that carries far beyond the immediate issue. 
Such as, for instance : ' He that is joined to the Lord is one 

xxxi 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

spirit ' ; ' Let every man abide in the calling wherein he was 
called ' ; ' Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he 
fall ' ; ' The fashion of this world passeth away ' ; ' Know- 
ledge puffeth up, charity edifieth ' ; ' God is faithful, who will 
not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able ' ; * God 
is not the author of confusion but of peace ' ; and, ' We have 
received, not the spirit of the world but the Spirit which is of 
God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us 
of God.' Of the half-dozen kingdom sayings dropped by the 
apostle, three He in this letter : ' The kingdom of God is not 
in word but in power ' ; ' Flesh and blood cannot inherit the 
kingdom of God ' ; and, ' The unrighteous shall not inherit the 
kingdom of God.' Sometimes a sentence prods with the sharp- 
ness of a paradox : ' Lest the cross of Christ should be made of 
none effect ' ; or, ' The foolishness of God is wiser than men, 
and the weakness of God is stronger than men.' Others are 
thrown into the form of a query : ' What hast thou that thou 
didst not receive ? ' ' Despise ye the Church of God ? ' ' If the 
trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to 
the battle ? ' Or they are personal, even autobiographical, 
words like : ' All things are lawful for me, but I will not be 
brought under the power of any ' ; ' Woe is unto me if I 
preach not the gospel ' ; ' I am made all things to all men, 
that I might by all means save some ' ; ' Be ye followers of 
me, even as I am also of Christ ' ; ' I will sing with the spirit, 
and I will sing with the understanding also.' Such aphorisms 
do not lose their force even as they pass from Greek into other 
languages. They illustrate Aristotle's dictum that ' the perfec- 
tion of style is to be clear without being mean.' Even when 
they happen to be asides, they are too tense to be irrelevant ; 
it is, indeed, in their original context that they witness most 
impressively to what Paul held as the Centre of that full, free 
religious faith which he wrote, as he lived, to set before the 
minds of those for whom he counted himself responsible to God. 



xxxu 



COMMENTARY 



Cc 



COMMENTARY 

THE PROLOGUE 

(i. 1-9) 

The Prologue of the letter opens with an address as usual 

(1-3). 

i. 

Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, I 

with brother Sosthenes, to the church of God at Corinth, to 2 

those who are consecrated in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, 

with all who, wherever they may be, invoke the name of 

our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord no less than ours: grace 3 

and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus 

Christ. 

This is to be a pastoral with authority ; the apostle has been i 
asked to decide some disputed points (vii. i f.), and he is also 
aware that his apostolic position has been criticized in some 
circles of the local church (e.g. iv. 3 f., vii. 40, ix. i f., xiv. 37, 
XV. 10, etc.). For the first time in his extant correspondence, 
he describes himself in the address as called or selected for the 
mission of a delegate or representative of Jesus Christ, and, 
further, as commissioned by the will of God. Hitherto he has 
not spoken of God's will in relation to the apostolic ministry. 
But he does so in the only other allusion to the Will in this 
letter (xvi. 12) ; here it is to stress the divine authority behind 
him as he interprets and enforces the gospel of Jesus the 
living, risen Lord or Christ. An apostle (xv. 2) means more 
than one who brings good news, and called implies that the 
summons to this high calling has not merely come from God, 
but been accepted. Paul has not taken it upon himself to 
engage in the vocation, nor is it simply one of giving advice ; 
it is a responsible position in which he is bound to give instruc- 
tions on the full truth of the gospel (xv. 3 f.) with authority — 

3 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

an authority involving duties which he exercises seriously and 
heartily (iv. i, 14 f., ix. 17 f., xv. 30 f.), as one who is ultimately 
answerable to God alone. He courteously associates with 
himself a fellow Christian, Sosthenes. When the proconsul 
Gallio had ruled out of court the Jews and their charges brought 
against Paul, the pagan mob amused itself by thrashing the 
spokesman of this unpopular sect, while the Roman lictors took 
no notice. His name was Sosthenes. As the name is not very 
common, this may well be the same man, possibly converted 
later by Apollos. He was evidently familiar to the local 
church, and had joined Paul at Ephesus. Otherwise nothing 
is known of him. It is mere guess-work that he acted as the 
apostle's amanuensis or that he was one of those brothers who 
conveyed the letter to Corinth (xvi. 12). 
2 God's church, as it was at Corinth, or anywhere else, this 
religious community which is non-political and independent of 
racial ties, is composed of those who have been set apart or 
consecrated at baptism (vi. 11), which is the same thing as 
being called to be saints, i.e. graciously summoned to member- 
ship in the sacred fellowship (see p. xxviii.). Not all are called to 
be apostles, but to be a Christian, to belong to the church of God, 
means in the last resort that God has chosen and called the 
ordinary individual no less than in the case of a specific voca- 
tion like the apostolate. This one, clear call of God, which 
echoes through the Christian life from first to last, is not an 
invitation, but a summons ; it is the other side of election. 
The truth of it is more present to Paul's mind in the prologue 
than the English reader understands, for the Greek term ren- 
dered by church originally denoted citizens ' called ' from 
their households to a pubUc gathering, and the word for 
* blameless ' (vindicated, verse 8) literally means ' not called to 
account,' or ' not called up for censure.' The second note of 
the Church, as those who invoke or call upon Jesus Christ, is 
in harmony with the same idea. The primitive Church saw in 
its new, thrilling experience a fulfilment of Joel's prophecy 
about an outpouring of the Spirit in the latter days, imme- 
diately before the great Day of the Lord ; and everyone who 
invokes the name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts ii. 17 f.). 

4 



CHAPTER I, VERSES 1-3 

Though Paul is not quoting from this here, as he does in 
Rom. X. 13, he has the prediction in mind when writing of the 
Corinthians waiting till ... the day of our Lord Jesus Christ 
(verses 7, 8), and particularly in describing Christians as those 
who invoke the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, calling on him 
as their Lord in worship (xvi. 22). Name is person ; the phrase, 
never elsewhere employed by Paul in his letters, suggests that 
the called manifest their devotion and loyalty by owning him, 
and none else, as Lord in prayer, former Jews particularly by 
giving him the divine title of Christ and former pagans by 
hailing him as Lord. The Corinthians are deliberately asso- 
ciated with all such loyalists, wherever they may be. Theirs is 
* a call from God in which all share ' (Dr. Gunion Rutherford). 
A general statement ; but the point of the reminder comes out 
sharply as the letter goes on (vii. 17, xi. 16, xiv. 33, 36, 
xvi. I, 19). The wording is wider than in 2 Cor. i. i, covering 
other Christians overseas as well as in Greece. 

The customary blessing, an original creation of Paul (see on 3 
xvi. 23 and xiv. 33), implies that the peace or well-being, the 
quiet, glad assurance in which Christians stand towards their 
God, is the outcome of his free favour (verse 4), shown in the 
call to belong to his Church. The terms church and saints, taken 
over from the Greek Bible, breathe the tacit conviction that it 
is Christians who are the true People of God (see x. i f.), as they 
are invoking the Lord Jesus in their worship of God. The 
latter conjunction runs right through the epistle (see the notes 
on viii. 6 and on xv. 28). Though Paul does not discuss directly 
in this letter how faith in God is related to an invocation of 
Jesus Christ as divine, he realizes that the difficulties and 
dangers of the local church went back to an inadequate con- 
ception of this. The Corinthians had no trouble at present 
from the State, not even from any enforcement of the imperial 
worship (see above, p. xix.) which technically claimed ' Lord ' 
for the emperor. Their main failures in worship, creed and 
behaviour lay in an insufficient sense of what the divine call 
meant, and this was bound up with defective ideas about the 
Lord Jesus Christ. Hence then: failure to draw the line as they 
should have done between the Church and the world. They 

5 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

had been, indeed, drawing the Hne often uncharitably between 
themselves and others in the fellowship. But in both cases the 
cardinal flaw was that they had been losing sight of what the 
Lord Jesus meant to those called into God's Church. 

Before entering upon this theme, however, Paul as usual does 
generous justice to their good qualities (4-9). It is important 
to realize that this estimate of the local church was no conven- 
tional praise ; it represents his pride (xv. 31) and deep affection 
(iv. 14 f.) for them. The fact that his opening counsels — from 
i. 10 to the end of the eleventh chapter — deal with unsatisfac- 
tory and even ominous features of their Church-life, must not 
blind us to his steady belief in their sound, soUd core of faith 
(see below, pp. 176, 270), a beUef which proved to be well 
founded (see above, p. xxx.). 

4 1 always thank my God for the grace of God that has been 

5 bestowed on you in Christ Jesus ; in him you have received 
a wealth of all blessing, full power to speak of your faith and 

6 full insight into its meaning, all of which verifies the testi- 

7 mony we bore to Christ when we were with you. Thus you 
lack no spiritual endowment during these days of waiting 

8 till our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed ; and to the very end 
he will guarantee that you are vindicated on the day of our 

9 Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is the God who called you to 
participate in his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. 

4 The next five verses (4-8) are one long sentence. ' Nothing 
is so dear to God,' Chrysostom observes, ' as thankfulness on 
account of oneself and of others.' Paul generally starts a letter 
by gratefully recognizing the sterling qualities in his corre- 
spondents. At Corinth the call and consecration of the local 
Christians had taken the form of a rich endowment of God's 

5 grace, shown in ability to discuss the faith and in knowledge of 
its deeper meaning. It is the first time that this term ' know- 
ledge ' (ii. 12) or insight (gnosis) occurs in the New Testament, 
a term which had special as well as popular connotations (see 
on ii. 12, viii. i, xii. 8, xv. 34). Strong points in character are 
usually the points at which temptations are most likely to 
assail life, in individuals or in communities, and the apostle 

6 



CHAPTER I, VERSES 4-9 

will have much to say about the risks of talk and speculation. 
But blame comes best on the back of praise. Paul, with a tact- 
fulness which is more than diplomatic, warmly recognizes the 
wealth of all blessing from God which had been evident during 
the past four years. It was a highly gifted church. There is 
nothing ironical in his allusion to ' utterance and knowledge.' 
As at Thessalonica (i Thess. i. 4 f., 2 Thess. i. 10), so at Corinth, 
he has ample reason to thank God for a Christian record which 
attested his own original preaching ; such fruit means a good 6 
root, well planted and watered, or, in his own semi-legal meta- 
phor, all this verifies the testimony we bore to Christ four years 
ago when we were with you. ' Thank God, it is proved to have 
been vital and valid.' This, however, by the way. His main 7 
theme is that such divine endowments will not only be needed 
but forthcoming during the brief, trying interval (vii. 26) 
before the day of judgement at the climax of God's purpose for 
the world. Christians are not called to be saints and then left 
to their own resources during the days of waiting. They never 8 
lack any spiritual endowment or ' grace-gift ' to fit them for 
their course. Christ himself is not a mere object of hope ; as 
they have received effectively their present standing in him, he 
in turn will see to it that loyal experience never collapses. He 
will guarantee echoes the same Greek verb as verifies, and the 
thought of Christians being finally vindicated or acquitted is 
repeated in passages like Rom. viii. 31 f., Col. i. 22, Phil. i. 6, 10, 
But as this saving hope is the outcome of being definitely in 
Christ Jesus (4), which is due to the grace of God, Paul ends his 9 
paragraph as he began it by recaUing the Corinthians to the 
thought of God's grace or call. Faithful is the God who called 
you to this assured relationship with his Son Jesus Christ our 
Lord. Of God's fidelity in this connexion (x. 13) he has already 
spoken (in i Thess. v. 24, 2 Thess. iii. 3), but this is the first 
time he mentions participation in its pregnant sense of fellow- 
ship (see on x. 16 f.). The primary sense of ' having a share in * 
carried the further sense of a common share ; one participates 
in what is a common benefit. 

It is this truth which sets Paul off at once, in the opening 
passage of 

7 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 



THE CHURCH, THE GOSPEL, AND THE APOSTLES 

(i. lo-iv. 2i) 

To think of this common participation or fellowship with 
Christ and with one another being endangered by party-spirit 
(i. 10-17) • So Paul had heard from some agents of Chloe, a 
local business woman, who were travelling for the firm between 
Corinth and Ephesus. She is the first woman mentioned by the 
apostle in his letters. Instead of discussing the respective 
claims of the cliques, he penetrates to their common error. 
Such differences of op inion and taste, treatin g apostles an d 
teachers as though they were rival lecturers on mora l phi lo- 
sophy or even popular actors on the stage, took men's atten- 
tion off the common Lord, roused undue pride in human, 
leaders and preachers, set Christians at loggerheads^ and_ 
ignored the fact that all the different capacities of prominent 
men were so many varieties and organs of the one life which 
God himself provided for his Church in Jesus Christ. Eight 
times over, in this opening passage, he has echoed the name of 
Jesus Christ as the Lord whom God has made all for everyone 
in the fellowship. What right has any clique or party-leader to 
set up a special claim to him, or to come between him and his ? 

ID Brothers, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ I beg of you all to 
drop these party-cries. There must be no cliques among 
you ; you must regain your common temper and attitude. 

11 For Chloe 's people inform me, my brothers, that you are 

12 quarrelling. By * quarrelling ' I mean that each of you 
has his party-cry, * I belong to Paul,' ' And I to Apollos,' 

13 'And I to Cephas,' 'And I to Christ.' Has Christ been 
parcelled out ? Was it Paul who was crucified for you ? 

14 Was it in Paul's name that you were baptized ? I am 
thankful now that I baptized none of you, except Crispus 
and Gaius, so that no one can say you were baptized in my 

11" name. (Well, I did baptize the household of Stephanas, but 
17 no one else, as far as I remember.) Christ did not send me 
to baptize but to preach the gospel. 
8 



CHAPTER I, VERSES lo-ii 

Even across the iEgean Paul seemed to hear shrill cries of lo 
party-spirit at Corinth. The factiousness which had been the 
curse of Greek democracy had made its way into the local 
church ; indeed he employs two phrases current in Greek 
poUtical and social thought, as he appeals for harmony. To drop 
these party-cries (literally, ' to speak the same thing ') and to 
regain unity had been used by Aristotle, Herodotus, and 
Thucydides long ago in demanding agreement and the settling 
of differences between disjointed partisans in public life ; the 
latter term reappears in 2 Cor. xiii. 9, 11. Paul views this ugly 
outburst very gravely. * For the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ 
(literally, ' by the name of,' i.e. by all that he is and is to you), 
I implore you to compose your quarrels. There must not be 
(as alas there are) any cliques or divisions among you.* It is 
only in this letter that he speaks of cliques (xi. 18, xii. 25 
disunion). Cliques among brothers ! Cliques among Christians ! 
In a final article on the Oxford Movement, written in 1839, 
just before he went over to the Roman Church, Newman re- 
marked that in any such movement ' there will ever be a 
number of persons professing the opinions of the party . . . 
too young to be wise, too generous to be cautious, too warm 
to be sober, or too intellectual to be humble. Such persons will 
be very apt to attach themselves to particular persons, to use 
particular names, to say things merely because others do, and 
to act in a party-spirited way.' What Newman detected in 
some of his own supporters, the temper of uppishness and 
extreme partisanship, was moving at Corinth. Paul does not 
analyse the opinions of the various parties. He was concerned 1 1 
not so much with them in whole or part as with the quarrel- 
some spirit which they bred. There is no indication that Peter, 
much less Apollos, had any sympathy with the rivalries of 
those who took their names in vain. Neither is the party- 
spirit purely doctrinal. It arose out of the one-sided zeal of 
certain individuals who failed to realize what fellowship with 
the Lord and with one another implied. In Church life, as in 
political life, differences of opinion and taste become embit- 
tered by personal preferences, especially when, as at Corinth, 
there is a variety of choice between leading men who may have 

9 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

far more in common than their eager adherents reahze. Now 
and then in this epistle we may feel that Paul connects one 
party or another with what he considered to be an attack on 
himself or on the Christian gospel for which he stood. But it is 

12 seldom possible to be sure of this. Those who cried I belong to 
Paul, ' I am Paul's man,' would be original converts of his, 
who declined to hear of anyone except their cherished apostle. 
Others swore by Apollos (a shortened form of Apollonius), 
whose fine preaching about Christian wisdom in the Alexan- 
drian style had suited them better. Others again held by Peter 
or Cephas. While there is no evidence that Peter ever founded 
any church, as the senior member of the twelve he visited 
churches Hke those of Antioch, Rome, and probably Corinth 
on his way to Rome, churches which had come into being 
before he ceased to confine his energies to supervising Jewish 
Christian communities in Palestine. Probably some of his 
adherents at Corinth belonged to the group which doubted the 
apostolic credentials of Paul, if they did not belong to the 
Palestinian Christians by whom Peter's authority was viewed 
as supreme. It is more difficult to make out those whose 
watchword was I belong to Christ. The cry might be taken by 
itself, indeed, as an ejaculation of Paul. It is so in 2 Cor. x. 7. 
On the other hand some individual leader is also indicated 
there, who had made this claim. The cry, therefore, seems to 
voice a party which may be identified, not with the Peter- 
group (for their ascetic views ran counter to Peter's practice, 
as we see in ix. 5), but with some ultra-spiritual devotees or 
high-flying gnostics who made a mystical Christ, no human 
leader, the centre of religion. Or they may have proudly 
repudiated all the others as sectarian, crying, ' A plague on 
your parties ! Christ is enough for us ! ' In the latter case, 
Paul's retort comes not only in iii. 21 f., but immediately, in 

13 the indignant question, Has Christ been parcelled out ? 
Though this protest covers all the groups, it starts from the 
sectional claim of the last-named clique. ' The idea of Christ 
being monopolized by any one party, even by those who osten- 
tatiously lay claim to his name ! That means, he has been 
broken up, the Christ who is one, the Christ in whom we all 

10 



CHAPTER I, VERSES 12-17 

participate ! * The sense would not be altered even if the 
words were taken as a mournful statement, instead of as a 
query : ' So Christ has been divided up by your dissensions ! ' 

Tactfully he chooses his own party or clique to illustrate a 14 
further error of the partisan devotion which relegated Christ to 
some secondary position. As usual he sees something providen- 
tial in what had happened. He is glad to think that he did not 
make a practice of baptizing his converts at Corinth. Other- 
wise they might have thought themselves baptized in his name, 
i.e. as belonging to him instead of to Christ. But he had not 
spent his time at Corinth in manufacturing PauHnists. In some 
mystery cults of the day, the initiated person honoured the 
priest or mystagogue who introduced him into the mysteries, 
as his ' father ' ; while the initiated were brethren, each 
viewed himself as the son of his particular director (see on iv. i), 
although no one was initiated into ' the name ' of any cult- 
deity. Similarly, in the Jewish baptism of proselytes, the 
teacher accompanied his catechumen into the water, to recite 
over him the requisite commands and duties of the new faith. 
Paul was indeed the father of his Corinthian church (iv. 15), 
though not in the sense that he had made himself the father 
confessor of every individual convert at the rite of baptism, as 15 
though each initiate occupied a special relationship to him. 
Yet the Corinthians were in danger of regarding Christianity 
as a synagogal or Hellenistic cult, where this vogue prevailed. 
How thankful I am now that I baptized only two of you. No 
clique can make it their cry, * I was dipped by Paul.' Then, 
suddenly reminded that he had baptized the household of 16 
Stephanas (who was beside him at the moment that he dictated 
this sentence), he corrects himself, adding that his main 
business was to preach the gospel. Except for Rom. x. 15 17 
(how can men preach unless they are sent ?), this is the only 
place where the apostle describes himself as sent (apostellein) 
by Christ. He is far from depreciating baptism, which was the 
sacrament of incorporation into Christ or the Church (vi. 11, 
xii. 13). But, in point of fact, most Christians seem to have 
baptized themselves (vi. 11), as Paul himself had done. It 
was only in an exceptional case that a convert would insist on 

II 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

being baptized by some apostle to whom he owed a deep 
personal debt. Besides, there were a number of pagan hearers 
who required catechizing and training before they could safely 
be admitted to full membership. As we know (xv. 29), some 
converted Corinthians had actually died before they could be 
baptized. Paul may not have had time to spare for this task, 
which others could discharge. Vital as baptism was, it was not 
so essenti ala^art of his vocation as proclaimi ng the gospel a nd 
winning over souls, who were then supervised by his colleagues. 
An example of the preliminary training required is furnished 
by a second-century manual called the Didache. The absorb- 
ing duty of the apostle was to sow the seed, which others in the 
mission — men like Silas, Timotheus, or ApoUos perhaps — 
looked after. If baptism needed apostolic hands, Paul felt he 
might devolve it on these men, while he ministered the audible 
sacrament of the Word, Luke's description of him at Corinth as 
engrossed in preaching points to an unusual concentration 
upon this function in the mission. The proclamation of the 
gospel, as he spoke in the Spirit, brought receptive hearers into 
touch with the living God ; faith came by hearing this message 
of, and from, the Lord, and thereby some were put in contact 
with the presence and power of the real God (2 Cor. ii. 14 f., 
Rom. i. 16 f.). There must have been special circumstances at 
Corinth which made him drop everything in favour of this duty. 
For, if Paul did not come to Corinth as the mystagogue of 
a cult, with secret rites, he was not a lecturer on the philosophy 
of religion nor a peripatetic counsellor on practical ethics. He 
bore a revelation and a testimony from God, which prevailed 
in power over the heart and conscience of his hearers. Like 
Peter (Acts x. 48), he might often be content to waken the 
soul to God, leaving others to administer, if need be, the 
baptismal rite either at once or subsequently. But in preaching 
the gospel he was doing more than talking about God. This is 
the theme of the following passage (i. 17-ii. 5), where the move- 
ment of thought (running on to iv. 6) is started by critics of his 
own preaching, who thought and said that his gospel was not 
sufficiently advanced ; it lacked ' wisdom ' in the sense of a 
speculative, philosophical exposition of the faith. His teaching 

12 



CHAPTER I, VERSE 17 

was even compared, to its disadvantage, with that of his col- 
league Apollos. Paul's method is, in the first instance, to re- 
affirm the gospel he had preached as the one wisdom of God. 
With a daring, effective use of paradox and antithesis, he 
glories in it as apparent ' folly,' judged by Greeks and Jews 
ahke, though he is more concerned with Greeks than with 
Jews. He contrasts the gospel of a crucified and risen Christ 
with the ' wisdom * or philosophy of the contemporary religious 
world which sneered at any such revelation of the divine mind 
for men. At the same time, he repudiates any difference be- 
tween himself and Apollos. Furthermore, still playing on the 
theme of ' wisdom,' he proceeds to the paradox that the gospel 
he had preached possesses a ' wisdom ' of its own, an inherent 
range of deeper truth. Only, it is the very temper of partisan- 
ship which prevents the Corinthians from understanding it ; 
their party-spirit, as well as the tendency of some teachers to 
undervalue the Cross, must stand in the way of insight into the 
real ' wisdom ' of the apostolic witness to the Lord. 

And to preach it with no fine rhetoric, lest the cross of Christ 17 
should lose its power ! Those who are doomed to perish 18 
find the story of the cross ' sheer folly,* but it means the 
power of God for those whom he saves. It is written, 19 

/ will destroy the wisdom of the sages f 

I will confound the insight of the wise. 
Sage, scribe, critic of this world, where are they all ? Has 20 
not God stultified the wisdom of the world ? For when the 21 
world with all its wisdom failed to know God in his wisdom, 
God resolved to save believers by the ' s heer folly ' of the^ 
Chr istian message. Jews demand miracles and Greeks want 22 
wisdom, but our message is Christ the crucified — a stum- 23 
bling-block to Jews, ' sheer folly ' to Gentiles, but for those 24 
who are called, whether Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the 
power of God and the wisdom of God. 

For the * foolishness * of God is wiser than men, 25 

and the * weakness ' of God is stronger than men. 

No fine rhetoric is literally ' no wisdom of words or of 17 
speech.' It is the first time that ' wisdom ' occurs in the 

13 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

writings of Paul, and the reference is to Greek sophistry and 
eloquence, which, if it was not flowery, was already felt by 
many serious Greeks themselves not to be fruitful. He returns 
to this point later (ii. if.). Meantime it is the content rather 
than the form of utterance that engages his attention. Studied 
rhetoric would have .emptied the Christian gosp<il of its 
meaning and force ; any such self-display or catenng to a 
taste for eloquence or speculation would not have been the 
i8 speech or words of wisdom (xii. 8) by which Christian prophets 
set forth the gospel or story of the cross, which is God's power. 
* Call that " sheer folly," if you like ; some call us fools (iv. lo) 
to proclaim it ; you see no rationale in it, you with your self- 
styled " wisdom " and withering scorn for a gospel that dares 
to open the things of God to the uneducated. It is " sheer 
folly," but it proves stronger than any " wisdom " of the 
world. We Christians need no such " wisdom," and yet we 
have a Wisdom of our own which is the real, saving power.* 
Such is the thought of what follows (18-31). To be saved was 
strictly an eschatological hope, the climax of God's dealing 
with men (Rom. xiii. 11, etc.), but Paul could speak of Chris- 
tians as those whom he saves (verse 21, ix. 22), and the phrase 
here is charged with this behef. Though we might expect 
wisdom to be used at this point, he hurries on (as in Rom. i. 16) 
to the effectiveness of revelation in the sphere of human 

19 faith. Power and wisdom were terms of current theosophy, 
almost semi-technical words (see Acts viii. 10, Luke xi. 49). 
So far as Paul adopts them (see on x. 4 and 10, ii. 5 and xv. 25), 
it is in the light of the divine character of love, through which 
alone they are to be understood (see on viii. 3). 

20 To include Greek sophists as well as Jewish scribes, he inserts 
critic o f this world (the man who loves religious discussion of 

^ nian's life in time, or delights in problems of the day) in a free 
citation from his favourite book of Isaiah (xxix. 14), making 
it a triumphant outburst over the failure of both Greek and 
. Jew to reach the true wisdom or revelation of God. There is 
a self-conscious subtlety and a rehance upon acute mental 
calculation which may actually come between the human soul 
and any real knowledge of God, it is implied. The Cross is 

14 



CHAPTER I, VERSES 18-23 

enough to stamp this wisdom-quest of both parties as futile 
(Rom. i. 22 f.). God took action ; he resolved, Paul writes, with 21 
daring force, to let these men of the religious world, these pro- 
fessional experts in things divine, see what true religion is. 
Both Jews and non-Jews (for Greeks, here a s elsewhere, denotes 22^ 
the world of humanity outside Judaism) in different ways had 
been in search of God. Paul is not contrasting the supernatural 
tendency of Jews with any purely philosophical interest, as 
though the demand for miracles or signs (attesting anyone who 
appeared as a prophet or as messiah) showed a sense of the 
supernatural which was not shared by other nations. The 
wisdom desired by Greeks was not merely intellectual. Even 
during the ages of ignorance, as he had called them at Athens, 
Greeks had been groping after God in their own way. Still 
there was enough to justify the broad distinction. Jews did 
believe in historic revelation as Greeks could not be said to do, 
with their characteristic demand that any religion should be 
primarily judged by its ability to give some philosophical 
account of the relations between God and man. Paul confronts 
both rehgious tendencies with the high statement that these 
approaches to the truth are shown to be absurd by the very 
revelation which they agreed in thinking absurd. Christianity 
no more than another eccentric Oriental novelty, an upstart 
superstition, a petty, provincial rival of Judaism and of pagan 
religion ? On the contrary, Paul maintains with amazing 
breadth of view and depth of conviction, challenging all 
scornful critics of the gospel, it alone possesses the clue to the 
meaning of the quests and questions of the whole world's 
religious history. This clue to God's plan and purpose for the 
universe is to be found in the story of the cross, and nowhere 
else. The spirit of Paul's claim is very much that of Milton's 
line : 

Down, reason, then ; at least, vain reasonings down. 

The sheer folly of the Christian preaching is the apparent fact 23 
that it is not by reasoning that God's deep wisdom is attained ; 
men have but to listen to the proclamation of the Cross, and 
have faith, in order to be saved. Only it is the content, rather 

15 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

than the method, of the message on which he lays stress here. 
The word for m essage or preaching (keru^ma) is not used in the 
mystery cults. Paul employs it for the first time (ii. 4, xv. 14), 
and in the sense of proclamation, the proclamation of a divine, 
royal revelation, which is Christ the crucified. To Jews this 
was offensive. How well he himself knew it ! A crucified 
messiah the source of Hfe divine (Gal. iii. 12 f.) ! Pagans or 
gentiles shrugged their shoulders at it as utter absurdity, Paul 
adds, having in mind the Greek scorn for faith in contrast to 
speculation or reasoning as the avenue to a true knowledge of 
God, such as he had recently encountered at Athens. 

This section of the epistle was much used by Origen at 
Alexandria. When Celsus the Roman critic sneered at Chris- 
tians for putting a premium on folly instead of appreciating 
inteUigence, Origen (Philocalia, xviii.) replied by citing this 
very passage. As he explained, the Christian is a fool to out- 
siders exactly as a Platonist seemed a fool to Stoics and Epi- 
cureans who derided immortality ; folly is a relative term, a 
judgement of supposed value, not an absolute term. In First 
Corinthians Paul himself takes occasion before long to show 
that his gospel is no silly, narrow superstition ; but at this 
point he confines himself to the glorious paradox of its centre 
in the story of the cross, which is no graphic or sentimental 
recital of what had actually happened at the crucifixion, but 
God's ' word ' or revelation (xiv. 36) which came into power 
through the cross and its preaching. Ijt^v^^s Jhe^stQiy.jal_how 
J:he Lord came from heaven to earth (ii. 6 f.), of the life that led 
to his death (xi. 23 f.), of the resurrection that followed (xv. 3J.), 
21 and of the final End when he returned^ The world of Greece 
and Rome, for all its wisdom and its genuine love for wisdom, 
could not conceive that such a self-sacrifice was possible for 
any deity ; they derided it as absurd and irrelevant, preferring 
to go to God on their own path, Paul remarks. He never 
deigns to recognize any equivalent for such real historical self- 
sacrifice in the rites of any cult. He would probably have 
dismissed them all as blind dreams. 

Man walks in a vain show ; 
They know, yet will not know — 

16 



CHAPTER I. VERSES 23-25 

the true knowledge of God. Greeks had no interest in any 
messiah, crucified or not. Judaism had also decided that self- 
sacrifice, such as the gospel preached, could have no place in 
their idea of God ; they refused to see that the one heavenly 
proof of messianic authority and of the messianic age was the 
cross itself, with all that it meant. It is significant that Paul 23 
repeats (Gal. v. 11) a term of his mission-preaching, the 
stumbling-block that the cross was to Jews, an utterly repellent 
conception (xii. 3), which undermined the Torah and substi- 
tuted faith for obedience to God's Law, beside throwing fellow- 
ship with the one and only God open to pagans indiscriminately. 
Inside the Church, as Paul afterwards recognizes (viii. 9), there 
were stumbUng-blocks which ought to be avoided. But he 
would not hear of this, the central stumbling-block, being 
ignored or smoothed away in order to attract Jews to the 
faith, any more than he would recast the wisdom of the Cross to 
suit the prejudices of Greeks. It was only a stumbling-block 
for those who refused to see that in the history of Jesus the 
final and saving revelation of God was enshrined, as well as 
already predicted in the sacred Book and realized through the 
working of the divine Spirit on earth. The story of the cross 
was the word of God inspiring the apostles to speak of him 
and for him in this decisive revelation. Staggering as it might 
be, the story of the cross had to be proclaimed to all and 
sundry, if the power of God was to come effectively into play. 
Outwardly the crucifixion might seem an exhibition of weak- 25 
ness, as Jesus allowed himself to be crushed by the strong 
hand of the authorities, like many another leader of messianic 
revolt, before he could do damage to the nation. With superb 
daring, Paul calls this a divine weakness, as he does later in 
2 Cor. xiii. 4. Only so could the divine power really show 
itself, as it has (ii. 8 f., xv. 20 f.). The story of the cross is making, 
and will make, history, under God. 

In i. 18 f., indeed, down to iii. 20, Paul is using reminiscences 
of scripture in order to clinch his argument against the inade- 
quacy of ' humanist ' wisdom. God's Word says so. He recalls 
phrases both from the Law and the hagiographa. Elsewhere; 
also, in his letters — in fact throughout the New Testament 

Do 17 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

generally — such composite citations suggest that they were 
drawn from a catena or source-book, compiled in order to meet 
the needs of controversy. The Old Testament was a bulky 
book. It would be convenient to possess a collection of rele- 
vant citations for the purpose of propaganda as well as of 
teaching. There is some reason to believe that such florilegia, 
as they are called, were in existence before the rise of Chris- 
tianity ; probably in the first instance they were drawn up 
during the controversy between Judaism and Hellenism. They 
were not invariably taken from our canonical text of the 
Septuagint (p. 224), and extracts would be grouped together 
often on verbal lines, without reference to their original context. 
Christians composed such a vade-mecum for messianic pur- 
poses (xv. 3 f.). But in the present section the apostle may well 
be employing some handbook known to him in his rabbinic 
days for use against Hellenistic propaganda, such as the 
Nazarene faith first seemed to him. This would account for 
the combination of the texts and for their occasional divergence 
from the Septuagint, if the latter feature is not explained by a 
lapse of memory. Obviously this would prevent one from 
speaking, without due qualification, of the apostle's favourite 
books ; to judge from the number of citations, these are 
Isaiah, the Psalms, Genesis, and Deuteronomy. But then much 
depends on the extent to which such citations already lay in 
the florilegia before him. 

24 There is scripture for what we apostles (2 Cor. i. 19) preach 
to those who are called (this being the basis of life for believers, 
verse 21). Is it not verified among yourselves at Corinth 

25 (26-31), this marvellous message of, and from, a Christ who 
embodies the divine power and wisdom ? How else can your 
existence be accounted for ? Power answers to miracles, which 
as ' signs ' meant the manifestation of divine authority on 
earth. The apostle may be recalling a phrase from one of his 
Wisdom books, * wisdom and power belong to God ' 
(Job. xii. 13), or from a version of Dan. i. 20 (preserved in 
Theodotion's text), where human sagacity and abihty are 
disclaimed in the sphere of things divine ; but more probably 
he is citing from his textbook the gist of a great passage in 

18 



CHAPTER I, VERSES 24-29 

t premiah (ix. 2^ f.). an echo of which occurs at the close of the 
next paragraph (26-31) — 

' Let not the wise boast of his wisdom, 
neither let the strong boast of his strength, 
neither let the rich boast of his riches ; 
but let him who boasts boast of this, 

that he knows me to be the Lord, 

who exercises lovingkindness, judgment, and righteous- 
ness on earth.' 

Why, look at your own ranks, my brothers ; not many wise 26 
men (that is, judged by human standards), not many 
leading men, not many of good birth, have been called 1 No, 27 
God has chosen what is foolish in the world 

to shame the wise ; 
God has chosen what is weak in the world 

to shame what is strong ; 
God has chosen what is mean and despised in the world — 28 
things which are not, to put down things that are ; 
that no person may boast in the sight of God. This is the H' 
God to whom you owe your being in Christ Jesus, whom 
God has made our ' Wisdom, ' that is, our righteousness 
and consecration and redemption ; so that, as it is written, 31 
let him who boasts boast of the Lord, 

The dominant note of 26-29, which is one long sentence, is 26 
still God's choice or call. The called have their position towards 
God, for ranks or ' calling ' does not refer to social position or 
occupation in the world, except in the sense that God's choice 
of Christians proves how little he thinks of mere cleverness or 
civic standing. The rhythm of the passage sweeps three special 27 
classes together, as the prophet had done, though Paul singles 
out the intellectuals, men of influence and power, and men of 
good birth and social position, adding a philosophical term for 28 
nonentities (non-entities), things which are not, to complete the 
description of the Church as it appears to the judgement of the 
outside world. There is a divine reason for the fact that so few 29 

19 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

distinguished persons are in the ranks of the called ; it is to 
show how God means to discredit or set down human pride. 
So far from being ashamed of the majority being mean, poor 
creatures, uncultured and insignificant, judged by human 
standards, let the Corinthian Church-folk recognize in this a 
deep significance. He has already hinted that the local church 
has many a ' wise ' heart as well as a strong soul in its mem- 
30 bership, and now he catches up this consoling truth by describ- 
ing Christ as the real Wisdom. ' The world may think you non- 
entities, but you have a real being and strength of your own, 
which you owe to this God whose ways run counter to human 
standards and are so upsetting.' Paul's favourite stress upon 
humility (iii. 21, iv. 7) in opposition to boasting is not specifi- 
cally intended for Christians here, though he generally took 
pains to bring out what a humbling thing it is to be chosen by 
God ; if there is to be any glorying or boasting, let it be in the 
amazing, undeserved honour of being called by God. The 
range and direction of this argument, however, include any 
Greeks or Jews who look down from a fancied superiority of 
culture or tradition upon this poor, upstart minority of simple- 
minded Christians. Later in the first century a Jewish prophet 
foretold that 

' the mean shall rule over those of good birth, 
those of low degree shall be extolled over the famous, 
those who were nothing shall have sway over the strong, 
the poor shall have abundance beyond the rich, 
the wise shall be silent and the fooHsh speak.' 

So (in the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch Ixx.) it is predicted that 
the advent of the End will be marked by social upheaval and 
the reversal of class-distinctions. What this prophet stamps 
as a terrible sign of the End is hailed by Paul as a signal proof 
of God's saving providence. Human pride, which naturally 
boasts of its privileges, is already ruled out by the divine pro- 
cedure in choosing members for the Church during the period 
before the End which has been inaugurated by the resurrection 
of Jesus and the preaching of the gospel. Paul's deep con- 
sciousness of God's method in this echoes the thought of Jesus 

20 



CHAPTER I, VERSES 29-31 

(Matt. xi. 25 f., Luke x. 21 f.). But, while one evangelist re- 
called the O.T. song of Hannah (Luke i. 46 f.), as the apostle 
thinks of this spiritual revolution he sees in it the divine 
purpose of crushing human pride (29 f.) and finds (here as in 
2 Cor. X. 17) its object prefigured in the saying of the prophet 
Jeremiah — though, it must be remembered, Paul's Greek Bible 
had Jer. ix. 22 f. added to the song of Hannah. 

The highest wisdom for man is not intellectual knowledge, 
but real life, which is only to be experienced in personal fellow- 
ship with Christ Jesus. Paul loves to make his very phrases 
personal when he refers to this (see on viii. 6 and Col. iii. 1-2). 
As Christian wisdom is not information about the Lord, but 
living in him. Wisdom is defined in terms of the religious expe- 
rience ; through Christ, dying and risen, you are put right 
with God, consecrated (i. 2) to him as his own, and redeemed or 
freed from slavery to sin. Corinthians who had washed them- 
selves at baptism did not require any explanation of terms 
which were familiar descriptions of the Christian position 
(e.g. vi. 11), so many aspects of the same experience (i. 1-9). 
There is no need to suppose that redemption is placed last, 
with any eschatological significance (as in Rom. viii. 23). What 
concerns Paul is to bring out the absolute indebtedness of 
Christians to God's sovereign and gracious will which plans 
and realizes their life. Let men glory in this, he protests, not in 31 
any knowledge or attainments of their own, but, as the prophet 
said long ago, in recognizing how the Lord is revealed thus to 
humble faith, amid the very slums and scum of a place like 
Corinth, putting new meaning and hope into human existence. 

After this general word on the story of the cross (18-31), to 
which the Corinthian church owed its existence (17), Paul 
recalls negatively (ii. 1-3) and positively (4, 5) how it had been 
brought to Corinth. ' Why, remember the start of the mission 
among yourselves and how God used my unaffected, absorbing 
message about Jesus the Christ who had been crucified, in order 
to bring you into being.' 

ii. 
Thus when I came to you, my brothers, I did not come to I 
proclaim to you God's secret purpose with any elaborate 
21 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

2 words or wisdom ; I determined among you to be ignorant 
of everything except Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ the 

3 crucified. It was in weakness and fear and with great 

4 trembling that I visited you ; what I said, what I preached, 
did not rest on any plausible arguments of * wisdom ' but 

5 on the proof supplied by the Spirit and its power, so that 
your faith might not rest on any human * wisdom ' but on 
the power of God. 

I Whatever later teachers had done, Paul had been simple and 
direct in preaching the gospel at Corinth. The repeated I is a§_ 
emphatic as not with any elaborate words or wisdom ; it 
contrasts his message and method with some who had brought 
a more speculative version of the faith. He is not suggesting 
that he had abandoned an appeal to natural religion for a more 
evangelical style of preaching, which diplomatically he with- 
held from the cultured audience on the Areopagus. At Athens 
he had not been able to start from any belief in resurrection, 
as he could in a synagogue. Following his own principle of 
being all things to all men, he had been leading up to this core 
of his gospel just when he was interrupted. The curve of his 
address was obviously a broad-minded prelude to the very 
truth of Jesus and the resurrection which inspired his teaching 
at Corinth, as it inspires this letter. There is no hint that he 
had felt disillusioned by the Athenian experience. It is not of 
any such contrast between one method of his own and another 
that he thinks in the present passage, but of the difference 
between himself and other evangelists who had tried to be 
more ambitious and philosophic in the mission (iii. lo) since 
he left. When he reached Corinth, he again adapted himself to 
his audience, and spoke as the local citizens needed to be 
spoken to, but the theme was the same. Even at Athens there 
had been no elaborate words or wisdom. He had made no 
display of the rhetoric (i. 17) to which Greeks were accustomed 
from so many itinerant sophists. By this time rhetoric had 
fallen sadly from its rank in the higher education of the Greeks. 
Instead of being the art of thoughtful persuasion, which de- 
pended largely on a cultured skill in words of conviction, it was 

22 



CHAPTER II, VERSES 1-2 

now meretricious ; to all intents and purposes it had become 
an empiric method of amusing audiences with sonorous or 
flippant discussions on art, morals, or literature, which had 
little or no grasp of reaHty. The new Cynics and the more 
serious Stoics derided it, as they derided the sophists or so- 
called ' wise men ' who decked out a lecture on * What is 
proof ? ' ; ' Is it permissible to marry ? ' ; ' Is it permissible 
to commit suicide ? ' and so forth, with catchy phrases and 
sounding sentences. Corinthians knew this type of strolling 
sophist well. ' Not so did I,' Paul reminds them, with a side- 
stroke at Christian teachers who, in his judgement, were doing 
pretty much what pagan sophists were prone to practise, in 
fact making a flowery, subhmated philosophy of religion out of 
God's secret purpose. ' The natural man loveth eloquence,' 
John Woolman observes in his Journal ; ' I was preserved in 
the ministry to keep low with the truth.' 

This is really the first time that Paul, speaking to some 
familiar with ' mysteries ' and divine ' knowledge ' in Hellen- 
istic mysticism, describes the Christian revelation as God's 
secret purpose (musterion) . The word was soon changed into 
' the testimony ' (marturion) of God by someone who recol- 
lected i. 6. It is another term for the gospel as God's saving 
purpose, and is never employed by Paul except as something to 
be authoritatively proclaimed or made known. Presently he 
goes on to describe it as an open secret revealed through the 
Spirit (verses 6 f.), but here it is depicted on the negative side 
of its presentation, not with any elaborate words or wisdom. 
The emphatic I is tinged with irony, as in verse 3. ' I came 
weaving no syllogisms nor sophisms ' (Chrysostom), as so 
many wandering lecturers on ethics and religion did and were 
doing still. ' And this was no accident,' Paul continues. * Nor 2 
was it because I could do no better. I had not the least inten- 
tion of claiming any other knowledge than that of God's re- 
vealed purpose ; I determined to be ignorant of everything 
except Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ the crucified.* The 
startling paradox of a Christ or messiah who had been crucified 
as he had just stated (i. 17-24), was the one thing worth know- 
ing and declaring ; to proclaim this effectively as the effective 

23 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

3 power of God, one would be wise to ignore any other theme, 
realizing also that it was far too serious to be played with. He 
had not_ yjsited Corinth with anything of the easy confidence 
and glib self-assurance of a casual lecturer on the philosophypf 
£eIigioiL_jelying on any plausible arguments of * wisdom J^ to 
comm end a schemfi„Df-the.^hi^her spiritual life. Rather he 
had chosen to rely on what Aristotle once said it was absurd to 
expect from any rhetorician, namely cogent proof or demon- 

4stration (Nikom. Ethics, i. 3). Only, he adds, the proof was 
supplied by the Spirit and its power, not by his own native 
wits and cleverness. The first time he speaks of the Spirit to 

5 the Corinthians as to the Thessalonians is in connexion with 
power. Indeed the two words are practically a hendiadys. It 
is this power of God, not of human skill in logic or eloquence, 
which produces solid convictions of faith ; here and through- 
out the letter (iii. 23, xv. 57) Paul gladly celebrates, in Milton's 
phrase, ' what he works, and what he suffers to be wrought 
with high providence in his Church.' Cicero ha^ criticized the 
average moralists of the day for their love of fine, captivating 
phrases which roused no enthusiasm and produced no lasting 
effect on heart or conscience. ' Their poor little syllogisms,' he 
jwrote in the De Finibus (iv. 31), ' only prick like pins ; even 
i^ they persuade the mind, they effect no change of heart, and 
the listeners go away just as they came.' It had not been so 
When the apostolic gospel, charged with power divine, was 
declared at Corinth. 

2 To be ignorant of everything (literally, ' to know nothing ') 
was a pTirase which for Greeks meant, ' I jaias to have afl. 
philosophy ' — none, Paul explains, except the gospel as the 

3 sole religious wisdom for men. So far from his mission at 
Corinth having been due to his own organizing powers and 
preaching abilities, so far from having undertaken it in high 
spirits and easy self-confidence, he now confesses that he had 
come to them full of self-distrust, with an overpowering sense 
of incapacity or weakness (i. 27), which was more than physical, 

5 even with a trembling fear of proving unequal to the task. Such 
had been his consciousness of inadequacy as one responsible 
to God (2 Cor. vii. 15), indeed, that (Acts xviii. 9) he had on one 

24 



CHAPTER II, VERSES 3-5 

occasion required direct divine encouragement to proceed with 
the mission. Ever since leaving Macedonia (2 Thess. i. 7, 
ill. 1-2, I Thess. iii. 7) he had felt thwarted and troubled by 
perverse and evil men. He was worried over the Macedonian 
churches, night and day. All this had made him anxious and 
diffident on reaching Corinth. Yet, he now reflects, it was 
providential (i. 14). It only served to bring out the convincing 
power of the message with which he had been entrusted (i. 27). 

He that of greatest works is finisher 
Oft does them by the weakest minister. 

God must have intended the faith of the Corinthians to rest 
unmistakably upon revelation, not on any adroit human 
pleading or course of sermons but on his own power. Though 
miracles were certainly among the notes of an apostle, to 
which Paul himself refers in connexion with the Corinthian 
mission (2 Cor. xii. 12), more than miracles, in the specific 
sense of the term, is covered by the power of God. 

From the aspect of power he now turns to the aspect of 
wisdom in the gosp el ; verses 6-16 are a finished piece of expo- 
sition on The source, content, and conditions of real rehgious 
wisdom for Christians. In one sense it is a digression, but it is a 
digression which carries forward the main argument. The 
gospel has a wisdom of its own, but (a) this does not belong to 
the present world, (b) it is revealed by God himself, (c) and 
consequently can only be discussed with Christians fully 
initiated into the revelation. It is a reply to his critics at 
Corinth which becomes a counter-attack. Some of them 
claimed to be ' perfect ' in the Hellenistic sense of the term, so 
mentally equipped by their religious philosophy and discipline 
of mystical enthusiasm that they possessed a real knowledge 
of things divine, past, present, and future, which made them 
free not only to discard, or at any rate to develop, Paul's ele- 
mentary emphasis upon the messianic interpretation of the 
cross and the historical revelation of the gospel, but to sit loose 
to certain moral restrictions which were binding, as they con- 
sidered, only upon the immature. All this emerges more fully 
as he proceeds. For the moment he is concerned to uphold the 

25 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

specific character of his gospel as the one revelation of God's 
wisdom or saving plan, with a cosmic range and scope of its 
own. The gospel, which is against any philosophy or wisdom 
of the present world, has nevertheless a wisdom of its own 

(6-12). 

The mental impetus of Christianity, which is to be felt in this 
claim, is reflected at various points of the letter. To take 
seriously the belief that Jesus is the Lord or Christ involved 
what moderns describe as a philosophy of the world-order ; 
it implied a fresh outlook upon the past and the future of the^ 
jLiniverse, as that is included in the saving purpose of God. 
Hence the reference here to the coming of Christ into the 
world-order, and the argument at the end of the letter about 
the denouement which results from the resurrection of Christ. 
As it happens, the larger interest of the letter lies in problems 
of moral insight, with the requisite grasp of principles involved 
Yet these principles are bound up with a reaHzation of the 
supernatural issues of the faith. As in the teaching of Jesus, so 
here, ethical ap p1iratinn«; fm hark to a religious bas is, which has 
to be thought out. In First Corinthians Taul fs less concerned 
with this fundamental truth, on the whole, than in such letters 
as those to the Galatians, Romans, and Colossians. Neverthe- 
less he insists that any problem, however local or practical, 
must be related to the distinctive revelation of the Cross. The 
focus of moral vision lies in the central perception of that 
saving, decisive Action, and Christians are summoned to 
realize this. While saving faith is within reach of the humblest 
and least intelligent, it is no mere emotional experience or 
mystical rapture which is outside the sphere of thought and 
wide reflection. Coleridge once protested against the ' most 
mischievous and very popular mis-belief that whatever is not 
quite simple cannot be of necessary belief, or among the funda- 
mental articles or essentials of Christian faith,' as though, 
' forsooth, truth needful for all men must be quite simple and 
easy and adapted to the capacity of all. . . . But surely the more 
rational inference would be that the faith which is to save the 
whole man must have its roots and justifying grounds in the 
very depths of our being. He who can read the writings of the 

26 



CHAPTER II, VERSE 6 

apostles, John and Paul, without finding in almost every page 
a confirmation of this, must have looked at them, as at the sun 
in an eclipse, through blackened glasses ' ( Aids to Reflection, 
aphorism xviii.). Paul's immediate interest, however, is not to 
show how faith implies what may be termed a theology or a 
religious philosophy ; it is to insist that any sub-Christian 
movement, like a theosophy which failed to make the Cross 
central, or even like the party-spirit at Corinth, was a fatal 
handicap upon further insight into the real and wide mysteries 
of the faith. 

We do discuss * wisdom * with those who are mature ; only it 6 
is not the wisdom of this world or of the dethroned Powers 
who rule this world, it is the mysterious Wisdom of God 7 
that we discuss, that hidden wisdom which God decreed 
from all eternity for our glory. None of the Powers of this 8 
world understands (it if they had, they would never have 
crucified the Lord of glory). No, as it is written, 9 

what no eye has ever seen, 
what no ear has ever heard, 
what never entered the mind of man, 

God has prepared all that for those who love him. 

And God has revealed it to us by the Spirit, for the Spirit 10 
fathoms everything, even the depths of God. 

What human being can understand the thoughts of all 
man, 

except the man's own inner spirit ? 
So too no one understands the thoughts of God, 

except the Spirit of God. 

Now we have received the Spirit — not the spirit of the 12 
world but the Spirit that comes from God, that we may 
understand what God bestows upon us. 

The word for mature {teleios) was current in one or two 6 
mystical circles of Hellenistic religion as a term for those whose 
minds were keyed up for the inward knowledge of the deity 
by ascetic discipline ; in Philo, as in the cults, it also denoted 
those who were initiated. Some have supposed that Paul 

27 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

employs it in this technical sense. But here, as elsewhere (see 
iii. I, 2, xiv. 20, Phil. iii. 12), it is mature as opposed to childish 
or undeveloped. The metaphor was common among the Stoics 
ever since the days of Pythagoras, but this antithesis does not 
occur in the Hellenistic cult-religions. What mature means, 
Paul explains later (iii. i, 2). Meantime he distinguishes the 
Christian wisdom, which he and his colleagues have in mind or 
on their lips, as a self -revelation of God by the Spirit. It is 
the story of the cross as the story of Christ Jesus our Wisdom 
7 (i. 18-30), and it is mysterious or hidden for all but Christians 
(Col. ii. 2-3). Chrysostom observes that a mystery ' is what is 
proclaimed everywhere but is not understood by those who 
have not the right judgement ; it is revealed not by clever- 
ness, but by the holy Spirit, as far as it is possible for us to 
receive it.' Before making the same point, Paul asserts that the 
revelation in the cross, so far from being a secondary or tran- 
sient element in the gospel, belongs to its eternal essence. 
He had already said that when the world with all its wisdom 
failed to know God in his wisdom, God resolved to save ' be- 
lievers ' by the Cross. But this must not be supposed to mean 
that the Cross was an afterthought. It had been decreed from 
all eternity ; it was God's original, eternal purpose, designed 
to culminate in our glory (which Locke, with oddly prosaic 
mind, took as a reference to the apostoHc honour of preaching 
the high gospel). The saving, glorious relationship of the 
faithful to God belongs to his creative purpose. Later on, the 
apostle sets the glory of the spiritual body at the end as a foil to 
the degradation and defeat of the evil Powers (xv. 24-26, 40-42) . 
For him glory is often ' sovereign grace o'er sin abounding,' as 
well as the ethereal radiance of the divine nature and presence. 
In our epistle this is not worked out, as it is in Romans viii. 17-30, 
where to share his glory or to be glorified is his aim of creative 
design for the faithful. Here only two items are noted. One is 
the present experience of this glory. It is more than a merely 
eschatological hope (i Thess. ii. 12, 2 Thess. ii. 14), for the posi- 
tion of Christians to-day is akeady a preUminary stage of glory. 
This is implied in i. 24-28, and in their possession of the divine 
revelation (ii. 9-10, 2 Cor. iii. 9-10, Rom. viii. 17-30). It is 

28 



CHAPTER II, VERSES 6-8 

bound up with their immediate experience of Christ (and this is 
the second item) as the Lord of glory, a term which is first used in 8 
later Judaism for God or the messiah at the end (Enoch xxvii. 3-5) , 
and which is now filled with the startling truth of glory 
through suffering. The dynamic power of God's glory was 
shown in the resurrection of the Lord (Rom. vi. 4), as it will be 
in the resurrection of his followers. But the same power makes 
him the Lord of glory over his own already. Afterwards, Paul 
could tell the Corinthians that his gospel was one of the glory 
of Christ (2 Cor. iv. 6) now effective within the darkened chaos 
of human hfe. 

In his apocalyptic vision of the cross, Paul sees supernatural 6 
Powers of evil at work, making a misguided effort to crush the 
Lord of glory. It had only ended in their dethronement, for 7 
under God the resurrection had crippled the sway of these 
dark spirits, who would be finally overthrown at the second 
Coming (xv. 24 f.). Any profound truth enters the mind of 
man, fringed with mystery, and in these days the supernatural 
was linked to contemporary views of anti-divine angels or 
aeons, hostile to the soul. It was partly to secure deHverance 
from bondage to such astrological potentates, or lords of the 
universe, that many sought in some cults to procure union with 
a deity here by asceticism or sacramental fusion, thus, at death, 
to pass back safe to the upper world by means of magic pass- 
words and rites. The present passage yields a passing glimpse 
into a set of strange ideas which are reflected in other con- 
nexions (e.g. Col. ii. 14, 15, Phil. ii. 9, 10), showing how some 
such belief had been incorporated in messianic schemes of 
prophecy about Christ. The apostle is saying what the Fourth 
evangelist said more simply when he spoke about the Prince of 
this world being overthrown at and by his very triumph over 
Jesus in the crucifixion. Sometimes this is described as a phase 
of mythology in the primitive Christian mind. But there is 
nothing mythological about the purpose of God, as Paul under- 
stood it. The Lord of glory was no figure of apocalyptic dreams. 
The mission of Jesus Christ was real and decisive ; it had taken 
place in history. Instead of the crucifixion being a defeat for 
God, it was a triumph, as the era of the Spirit proved. This is 

29 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

his point here. Later on, the story was elaborated more 
mythologically, as we find in the Ascension of Isaiah and the 
epistles of bishop Ignatius, where the Powers are represented 
as so stupid that they missed or permitted the entry of a dis- 

8 guised Christ into the world. It should be needless to say that, 
in this curious echo of his popular preaching, Paul is not 
exonerating the actual murderers of Jesus by attributing their 
crime to the unconscious influence of daemonic powers ; even 
in viewing the crucifixion as the fourth Act in the divine 
Drama, he knew, as indeed he had told the Thessalonians not 
long before, that the Jews murdered the Lord Jesus. 

Paul looks forward then to the Day of the Lord (i. 8) as 
transcending the ideas in which he had been trained by 
Jewish rabbinism ; it was no longer the hour when Israel 
would be awarded supremacy over the gentiles by the Lord, 
but the final interposition of God in history, which alone lent 
meaning to the present. Beside this outlook, the hopes of 
popular messianism faded into unimportance. Even apoca- 
lyptic dreams, with their half-despairing outlook on the evil 
present, were superseded. In the Cross God had decisively 
encountered the evil Powers, releasing, as we say, a new and 
lasting power of life in Christ which was soon to triumph 
(' soon ' being the primitive way of saying ' certain '). Such 
an expectation, based on a divine Act which was done once and 
for all in history and which nevertheless was initiated above 
history, reset the entire vision of what was to be. It is this 
conviction which the apostle is endeavouring to express in the 
present passage, with its cosmic, supernatural focus. 

9 We Christians, he adds, understand how in God's wise, 
strange, and good providence, the Lord of glory was thus 
crucified for our glory, i.e. to grant us an immediate as weU as 
a future participation in his saving purpose for mankind. 
Have we not Scripture for this ? And he quotes a passage from 
his textbook. Its source is obscure. Origen thought it was 
taken from the Apocalypse of Elijah, but the Coptic fragments 
of that scripture which have turned up in Egypt do not contain 
the words. It is not unhkely to be a free adaptation of some 
words in the cry of a post-exilic prophet (in Isa. Ixiv. 4) ; 

30 



CHAPTER II, VERSES 7-1 1 

No ear has ever heard, no eye has ever seen, 

the mighty deeds that thou wilt do for those who look to thee. 

In the Septuagint the closing words run, ' those who await his 
mercy.' Paul's change of the phrase, like the similar alteration 
in James i. 12, is due to his stress upon love to God, either as 
the faculty for insight into any divine mysteries, such as the 
meaning of the Cross in the cosmic order, or as an expression 
for the loyal devotion which is the other side of their election 
(i. 2-3, xvi. 22, Rom. viii. 28). In any case he is thinking of a 
revelation already made. Some rabbis interpreted the Isaianic 
stanza to mean bliss in heaven, but the Christian apostle, with 
the Cross standing out in history, adds triumphantly, after the 
long sentence of 6-9, that God has already revealed to us what 
he had promised and prepared. The future has begun to be ; 10 
the life that led up to the Cross, and that is flowing from the 
Cross through the Church, is experience as well as expecta- 
tion. A Wisdom-book like Ecclesiasticus (i. 10) described how 
God granted his wisdom to all men and bestowed her on ' those 
who love him.' Paul is in line with this thought, identifying 
those who love God with those who believe and receive his 
supreme gift in the Christ who had been crucified. Love to 
him is the condition of entering into the revelation of the 
Spirit, not acute insight, not even patient expectation of some 
bliss to be. A fine meditation upon this closes the Proslogion 
(xxv, xxvi.) of Anselm. 

There is indeed insight, but it is the insight of experience. 11 
A new faculty of vision into the deep, high thoughts of God is 
bestowed upon those who accept his revelation on his own 
terms, for the Spirit which is conscious of the innermost divine 
Hfe imparts this knowledge to the receptive. Paul never raises 
the subtle question of disinterested love. ' Though God is to 
be loved without any thought of reward,' Bernard of Clairvaux 
remarks in his Liber de diligendo Deo (vii.), ' yet he is not 
loved without reward ; the reward of love is the possession of 
the beloved object.' For Paul this is Christ Jesus our Wisdom 
(i. 30). But he expresses the truth here in other terms. Three 
times over he claims to impart a secret truth or special intuition 

31 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

of the latter days, revealed to him (xv. 51) . Here the mysterious 
or hidden wisdom which has been revealed by the Spirit is not 
confined to some disclosure of the End, however ; it includes 
the deahngs and discipline of life under the Spirit which lead 
up to the End, the self-revelation of God in Christ. Elsewhere 
(e.g. in 2 Cor. iii. 7 f.) he still speaks of this in terms of glory : 
' We are being changed or transformed, passing from one glory 
to another,' all being due to the Lord the Spirit. The self- 
manifestation of the divine glory or character is acting upon 
our nature at present. But here the idea of glory is dropped, 
12 and the emphasis falls upon the cognate thought (see xiii. 9, 12) 
of insight into the divine mind or the depths (plans, counsels) 
of God. For this conviction there was some preparation already 
in the deeper mysticism of Hellenistic piety, where ' knowledge ' 
had ceased to mean the human mind applying itself to the 
things of God, and where a divine initiative was propounded as 
the basis of any insight (i. 5). In the Hermetica (i. 31), for 
example, the deity * desires to be known and is made known 
to his own.' Some of the Corinthians may have been familiar 
with this new type of religious teaching. But Paul's distinctive 
plea is that to be really receptive of the true divine wisdom or 
* knowledge ' (i. 5) requires more than any cult of the day 
offered. By this time ' knowledge ' or gnosis included revealed 
truths of man's origin and destiny, conveyed through a sort of 
nature-mysticism in rites. Some votaries of the popular cults 
would sincerely say, with Plutarch in his tract against Epi- 
cureanism (21), ' what delights us at our rehgious feasts is not 
the wine or the cooked food, but good hope and the belief that 
God is present with us.' In view of this, as well as of the 
Jewish hope, Paul here reiterates the conviction that the 
supreme reception of divine truth depends on willingness to 
understand God in the story of the cross. 

The climax follows in 13-16. So far from the cross being a 
tragic event, or a shameful affair, which has no central signi- 
ficance for spiritual revelation, it is supremely vital, and only 
those who see in it a Lord of glory, with his own thoughts and 
purposes revealed there, are competent to speak about God 
at all. 

32 



CHAPTER II, VERSES 12-15 

And this is what we discuss, using language taught by no 13 
human wisdom but by the Spirit. We interpret what is 
spiritual in spiritual language. The unspiritual man rejects 14 
these truths of the Spirit of God ; to him they are ' sheer 
folly, ' he cannot understand them. And the reason is, that 
they must be read with the spiritual eye. The spiritual man, 15 
again, can read the meaning of everjrthing ; and yet no 
one can read what he is. For who ever understood the 16 
thoughts of the Lord, so as to give him instruction ? No 
one. Well, our thoughts are Christ's thoughts. 

The Spirit opens the lips of the inspired man, giving him 
not only the right message from the Lord and the right to share 
it with others, but also the right expressions. 'As God's deep 13 
mind or purpose is thus revealed to us, so we responsible 
speakers for him (verse 6) discuss it in terms of the divine 
Spirit, interpreting (Gen. xl. 8, Dan. v. 9) or imparting the 
mysteries of what is spiritual (what God bestows upon us 
Christians) in spiritual language.' The revelation of his mys- 
terious Wisdom (verse 7) is to be thought of and spoken of 
intelligently. The English version, ' comparing spiritual things 
with spiritual,* reflects a possible meaning of the Greek, as 
though prophets and apostles examined their revelations with 
care, in the endeavour to understand more fully the genuine 
content of their higher knowledge. This might be one use to 
which the gift of distinguishing spirits (xii. 10) was put. But 
the context points rather to language. Another interpretation, 
' communicating spiritual things to spiritual men * is less 
probable ; it raises a point which is first taken up in the deci- 
sive assertion (14-16) that any * wisdom,' however mystical 14 
and speculative, whether inside or outside the Church, which 
does not recognize the central significance of the Cross, has no 
eye for the truths of God. The reason is that Christ is the true 15 
Wisdom, and those who share his life, with his outlook on the 
world, are incomprehensible to acute outsiders. No human 
being can understand another's inmost thoughts and motives 
(verse 11), least of all when the latter's thoughts are the 
thoughts of the Lord himself, as the man reads the meaning of 

Ec 33 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

everything from the Centre, i.e. the Cross. In one aspect the 
thought of the sentence corresponds to the core of the prophetic 
consciousness, i.e. unreasoning but not unreasonable convic- 
tions which are uttered by one who beUeves himself to be 
speaking of God from the centre. 

In this epigram there is a side-aUusion to the Greek ideal of 
the good, sound man who alone possesses the true standards of 
life. The man who is merely clever and cunning, as Plato 
taught (Republic, 409), * cannot recognize soundness of charac- 
ter, since he has no pattern of honesty within himself. Vice 
knows vice, but it cannot know virtue too, whereas virtue in an 
educated nature learns in process of time to know both itself 
and vice as well. It is the good man, not the bad, who is wise ' 
in reading human life. But the apostle is doing more than 
insisting that moral qualities are essential to spiritual insight. 
Nor is he claiming that the true Christian is above criticism. 
Over and again he argues that Christians help one another by 
thoughtful criticism. Mutual advice and frank reproof are 
essential to health of soul. Even public opinion must be re- 
garded ; a Christian ought to be conscious of what honest, 
high-minded outsiders may say and think of his behaviour or 
of his speech. The people he has in mind are (as in iv. 3) 
captious critics of his gospel, who took him to task as though 
they could improve upon the apostolic witness to the Lord. 
They professed they could see nothing in it ; the whole thing 
16 was sheer folly ! Our wisdom, he retorts, does not ' abide your 
question.' You and your sympathizers can no more fathom or 
appreciate our message than you could offer suggestions to the 
Lord himself, whose mind we share and express. As usual he 
cites Scripture, once more from Isaiah (xl. 13, 14), in the shape 
of a saying to which he recurs in Rom. xi. 34 from a different 
angle. Paul's Greek Bible translated ' Spirit ' here by ' mind,' 
in the sense of active purpose or thoughts, to which it approxi- 
mated in the Hermetica, where it is a divine gift for the perfect 
or mature at baptism, as they are taken inside the realm of the 
spiritual. It is no new or unexampled thing for him to claim 
that his apostolic witness to the Lord was the one true interpre- 
tation of the facts (i. 6 f., iv. i f., xv. 14 f.). The striking thing 

34 



CHAPTER II, VERSES 15-16 

i n the present sent gncg_isjhe. charge tha t those who offered a 
new theol pg^y r>f m ystical insip^ht^ apart from the story of th e 
gross, we r e no better than a man who profanely dared to giv e 
some instructions to the Lord by propounding an up-to-dat e 
v ersion of revelation. He makes no claim that he or any othe r 
apostle co uld fa thom the mysteries of God, but he is sure that 
they were m touch with the re al ' nous ' or spiritual mind^ i.e . 
Christ's thoughts, as ^^vealpd in the cros s, and that this repre - 
sented a truth which any further knowle4^e of God would 
only confirm and deepen, 

It was Paul who introduced the word spiritual into the 14 "^ 
vocabulary of Christianity, and this is the epistle where it c 
occurs most frequently. Aristotle had coined the Greek term 
psychicos to describe the higher interests of the soul, or psyche, 
as opposed to what was lower or sensual in human nature. 
When spiritual arose, it lowered psychicos to a term of compara- 
tive reproach in some circles ; ' natural ' is misleading as an 
English equivalent, and the nearest synonym we have for it in 
the present connexion is something like unspiritual, unillu- 
minated, or unrenewed. Spiritual was not coined by Paul ; 
though it did not occur in his Greek Bible, it was being used in 
some circles of Hellenistic mysticism, where the spirit, not the 
soul, was now regarded as the supreme element in human 
nature, the divine or immortal spirit being supposed to enter 
and possess the initiate. There is no real evidence of any 
definite contrast between spiritual and * psychical,' however, 
prior to Paul, and even he never connects the soul, or psyche, 
with evil or matter. The Christian nuance he attaches to the 
terms (here and in xiv. 37, xv. 44 f.) is indicated in the follow- 
ing passage, where, from the general statement on the wisdom of 
the gospel and the spiritual conditions for learning it, the apostle 
passes to a particular application. Why did not I tell you all 
this during my mission, you may ask ? Why did I leave it to 
Apollos after me to initiate you into such higher truths ? After ex- 
plaining his method of procedure (iii. 1-8), he turns with a grave 
warning to those who are at present working at Corinth (9-15), 
that their teaching must be in keeping with the original gospel, 
or it will be the worse for them, if not for their hearers (16-20). 

35 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 
iii. 

1 But I could not discuss things with you, my brothers, as spiritual 

persons ; I had to address you as worldlings, as mere 

2 babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not with solid food. 
You were not able for solid food, and you are not able even 

3 now ; you are still worldly. For with jealousy and quarrels 
in your midst, are you not worldly, are you not behaving 

4 like ordinary men ? When one cries, * I belong to Paul,* 
and another, * I belong to ApoUos, * what are you but men 

5 of the world ? Who is ApoUos ? Who is Paul ? They are 
simply used by God to give you faith, each as the Lord 
assigns his task. 

6 I did the planting, Apollos did the watering, 

But it was God who made the seed grow. 

7 So neither planter nor waterer counts. 

But God alone who makes the seed grow. 

8 (Still, though planter and waterer are on the same level, 
each will get his own wage for the special work that he has 
done.) 

1 In a real sense all Christians had the Spirit, but converts at 
first might be so unformed and immature that the Spirit did 
not yet control their personalities fully. Paul describes them 
as worldlings, a strong term which at once he qualifies by the 
more hopeful as mere babes in Christ, capable of growth into 
spiritual or mature personalities. The figure was familiar in the 
ancient world ; thus Pythagoras called his elementary pupils 

2 babes and the advanced mature (as Paul does in ii. 6). The 
figure of milk and soHd food is also common in writers like 
Philo and Epictetus for elementary and advanced instruction. 
What Paul means by the former is suggested in v. 9 f . and 
XV. 3 (first and foremost). The solid food is the ' wisdom ' to 
which he has already referred — not, he implies, the so-called 
solid teaching which these other men offer. But, even after 
some years of membership in the Church, Christians may be 
childish and still unfit to understand the deeper meaning of 
their faith, if, like the Corinthians, they lack moral qualities. 
In Galatians v. 25-vi. i he notes that really spiritual persons 
are distinguished by humility and consideration for each other 

36 



CHAPTER III, VERSES 1-3 

in the fellowship ; here he notes party-spirit and quarrelsome- 3 
ness as indications of a worldly character which now and then 
lapses to an unspiritual plane where it is unable to appreciate 
the inner issues of the divine love at the heart of ' wisdom. ' In 
the Church, he suggests, the knowledge of God is not a matter 
of mere knowing or cleverness, gained from one teacher ; it is 
not a speculative adventure, on which one may pride oneself, 
but a spiritual perception which requires moral humility and 
true fellowship (see the notes on Phil. i. 9, ii. 2 f., Eph. iii. 17, 18). 
The two handicaps of party-spirit are {a) that in attending to 
one leader as against another, or in exalting one teacher for his 
gifts, there is a risk of missing the supreme Lord who is the 
one source and object of faith, and {b) also that it fosters a 
spirit of friction in the community. When Dr. Arnold's pupils 
left Rugby, he used to warn them gravely ' against party- 
spirit, against giving to any human party, sect, society, or 
cause, that undivided sympathy and service which he held to 
be due only to the one party and cause of good men under their 
Divine Head ' (Stanley's Life of Arnold, ch. iv.). This is the 
apostle's point in verses 4-9, that God alone counts. At present 
he tells the Corinthians that the jealousy and quarrels (Rom. 
xiii. 13) bred by their partisanship are a form of worldliness, 
which renders them, for all their pretensions, incapable of 
deeper spiritual insight. So precocious, so eager and excited 
over spiritual gifts ? Why, you are not spiritual at all ! Party- 
spirit (i. 10) had been the bane of the old Greek democracies ; 
it was still the bane of philosophy, where rival adherents of this 
or that teacher quarrelled bitterly. Hesiod long ago (in Works 
and Days, 195 f.) had described such jealousy in the social order 
as ' brawling, rejoicing in evil, and of hateful countenance.' 
From this disintegrating temper the Corinthians had been 
called out into membership of a community where the vital 
Spirit was humble fellowship. Indeed the worldly life, for 
Paul, practically amounted to the loveless life, though he never 
uses this exact phrase. To carry the old spirit of party into the 
new relationship was to behave, he says, like ordinary men of 
the world, instead of realizing what it meant to be mature in 
Christ. The desire for a complete personality, all-round and 

37 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

fully developed, is a strong motive in human character, when 
life is taken seriously, and the Stoics called it ' maturity.' Paul 
called it possession by the Spirit or spiritual, re-stamping a 
current term, as he often had to do, with its specific Christian 
significance. Occasionally he did use mind or nous, as Plutarch 
afterwards did, for the element in man which is higher than 
psyche, or soul (see ii. i6), but his more common antithesis was 
between spiritual and psychical (or worldly, unspiritual) as here, 
meaning by the latter term not simply a man who relied on his 
unaided faculties of reason, perception, and intuition, but one 
who was out of touch with the ethical qualities essential to the 
vital Spirit of love. Consequently jealousy and quarrels are 
ranked as expressions of the ' flesh,' or lower nature. The 
v/orld was too much with such people, even though they did 
belong in a sense to the order of the Spirit. While ' carnal ' is 
too strong and narrow a term for ' fleshly,' or worldly, in this 
connexion, Paul does not hesitate to oppose this mode of life 
to that of the mature in Christ. 

4 From the tone of his references to Apollos and himself, it is 
plain that neither was to be held responsible for the bad spirit 
of their respective partisans, who had made heroes out of two 
men simply doing the work of God, without putting themselves 
forward as rivals or oracles. No doubt it is true that in religious 
propaganda men are likely to be effective as they are obviously 
disinterested. Appeals and rebukes and advice come with 
power as they issue from one who is not seeking reputation or 
rank. To do God's tasks and to seek his interests, not any 
personal dignity, is one condition of influence. Paul implies 

5 this, but his main concern is to urge that he and Apollos, who 
had followed him in the mission, must never be regarded as 
anything more than agents of God to convey his gift of faith — 
faith, not philosophic wisdom, the faith in God from which 
alone any real wisdom grows. Such had been their own esti- 
mate of themselves. If the Corinthians would only see the 
mission in this hght, and understand that God alone counts in 

6 Church-work, they would never fall into cliques. The metaphor 

7 of planting is used by Jesus alone (in the N.T.). The two gar- 
deners get their respective rewards, Paul adds ; though they 

38 



CHAPTER III, VERSES 3-10 

are on the same level, their wage may vary, as Jesus always 
taught. But verse 8 is really a parenthesis, except to suggest 8 
that reward means work properly done. The thought of 
verses 5-7 is carried on in the opening words of the next 
paragraph (9-15). 

We work together in God's service ; you are God's field to beg 
planted, God's house to be built. In virtue of my commis- 10 
sion from God, I laid the foundation of the house like an 
expert master-builder ; it remains for another to build on 
this foundation. Whoever he is, let him be careful how he 
builds. The foundation is laid, namely Jesus Christ, and no 11 
one can lay any other. On that foundation anyone may 12 
build gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 
but in every case the nature of his work will come out ; 
the Day will show what it is, for the Day breaks in fire, and 
the fire will test the work of each, no matter what that 
work may be. 

If the structure raised by any man survives, 14 

he will be rewarded ; 
if a man's work is burnt up, 15 

he will be a loser — 
and though he will be saved himself, 

he will be snatched from the very flames. 

God's is the emphatic word in all three clauses of the sen- 9 
tence. In the first the Greek might mean, we are God's co- 
adjutors or fellow- workers (' labourers together with God,' 
A. v.), but the context (5 f.) rather favours we work together 
in God's service or under him, as jointly commissioned by him 
for our respective tasks. Naturally Paul does not intend to 
suggest that no converts were made after he left Corinth, but 
only that Apollos went on with the work which Paul had 
started, and in the same spirit, even though some of the 
younger man's converts had become his partisans. The meta- 10 
phor for the tasks now changes from agriculture to architec- 
ture. The warning to Christian ministers upon the serious 
character of their responsibiHties is expressed figuratively, but 

39 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

the figure is confused in its details ; Paul is not always very 
happy in working out an illustration (see on ix. 27). The first 
point is indeed clear. In ancient architecture stability was the 
primary consideration. Security against floods and storms 
meant that the foundation of the structure must be carefully 
chosen, laid on rock and not on a sandy soil. At Corinth Paul 
claims to have done this, like an expert (literally ' wise ' — you 
see the kind of ' wisdom ' I employed in my mission to you !) 
master-builder, or practical architect, who knows his business, 
working in God's service or, as he now puts it, in virtue of my 
commission from God, with God's authority to render the work 
effective (i. i, ii. 4, 5). Commission is literally ' grace ' (as in 
Rom. xii. 3), in its derived sense of the divine power which 
accounted for the genuine results of the mission. As in xv. 9 f., 
he disclaims personal credit, and at the same time claims that 
his work had been no private venture. There may, further, be 
a side-allusion to criticisms of his apostohc credentials levelled 
by some of the Peter-clique who held that Paul could not supply 
the foundation truth of the gospel. After what he had said 
about Apollos, there can hardly be an oblique reference to the 
Alexandrian in the stem, general warning to another, whoever 

11 he is. Paul maintains that the Church's one foundation is what 
he himself had laid. Let those who are following up his work 
beware lest they build something flimsy on the solid basis of 
the apostolic gospel. He is not resenting the fact that others 
are working in the mission, but anxious about the quality of 
their superstructure. For the moment he has turned to the 
teachers, leaving the question of party-spirit in the Church. 

12 Epictetus (ii. 15) afterwards used this very metaphor in 
warning an individual to build up his character upon solid 
principles : * will you not begin by laying the foundation, by 
enquiring whether your decision is sound or unsound, and so 
proceed to build up on it what is firm and secure ? If you 
lay a rotten and shaky foundation, you will be unable to build 
even a small structure.' Paul's corporate and figurative 
description is more impressive than lucid, however. The 
details are loosely put, for if gold, silver, precious stones repre- 
sent sohd material, the first two at least are decorative, though 

40 



CHAPTER III, VERSES 10-15 

precious stones may mean marble blocks or jewels which in 
Oriental fantasy were used for building (Rev. xxi. 19). Hay 13 
and straw, employed for roofing, were familiar in descriptions of 
the judgement Day (Mai. iv. i, Enoch xlviii. 9), but th^ 
apostle is not thinking of iud gfpipnt Firp purging the nobler 
materials of gold and silver (Mai, iii. j). nor does he sugges t. 
though this jnkhtji ave been expected, th at the Day tests the 
converts made by these teacher s. The imminent Day of 
judgement (this is implied in the very word, i. 8 and iv. 3), 
when God tests the work done on his House, will show the 
value of this or that builder's contribution. What the true 14 
builder's reward would be, is never hinted. It was certainly 
more than approval (iv. 5). Firmly as Paul held to the grace 
of God, to whom all credit went (xv. 5, etc.), he never aban- 
doned his Pharisaic conviction that those who were bound to 
serve the Lord as best they could received a recompense at the 
end (ix. 14, 2 Cor. v. 10). 

The reverse, and ominous, side is, first of all, that of 15 
an unsatisfactory prophet or teacher, not one whose work is 
better than his character, but one whose character is not so 
flimsy as his contribution to the upbuilding of the Church. 
He himself will have a hair's-breadth escape, saved not by 
his achievements, of which he is so proud, but in spite of 
them. 

Then Paul pauses to recall a more ominous possibility still. 
There are some who ruin themselves by their methods and 
message, not simply poor and pretentious builders, but men 
who outrage the very heart of the gospel in the Church by 
attaching Christians to themselves, instead of recognizing that 
the souls of men belong to God. He thinks of the Building 
under the aspect of God's temple, for the sin of these party- 
leaders is the sin of sacrilege. Probably he has also in mind 
teachers who held that the spiritual life was superior to moral 
laws, and that sexual irregularity, for example, was not a sin 
(vi. 12 f.) for the saints. Besides these ultra-spiritualists, there 
may have been leaders of the local church who condoned moral 
scandals for other reasons (see on v. i f.). All such teaching, 
he holds, violates the sanctity of God's Church. A sudden, 

41 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

stem word is interjected (i6, 17), for those who tolerate such 
propaganda, as well as for its agents. Any man who thus 
• tampers with the Church is on the way to be ruined ; other 
errorists may be saved, though their work perishes, but * him 
shall God destroy.* 

16 Do you not know you are God's temple and that God's Spirit 

17 dwells within you ? God will destroy anyone who would 
destroy God's temple, for God's temple is sacred — and that 
is what you are. 

16 Do you not know ? Have I not told you already (2 Cor. vi. i6f . ) ? 
As the old hope of apocalyptic faith had been now fulfilled in 
the gospel (ii. 9 f.), so had another hope been realized, viz. that • 
God would make his people in the last days his own sanctuary. 
The Greek word for temple {naos) is derived from the verb to 

' reside ' (naiein) ; the god inhabits his shrine. The indwelling 
Spirit of God constitutes the Church (xii. 1-13), and as such it 

17 is sacred. Sacred or consecrated to God (i. 2), that is what you 
are, in your corporate fellowship. Corinth had many a temple 
whose precincts and contents were inviolable ; Paul sees in 
the fellowship of the saints the one and only temple of God, so 
powerful is his consciousness of the divine presence. It had no 
buildings to be damaged, but no one could injure it with im- 
punity by any profane intrusion of self-interest. As love and 
holiness are one in the nature of God himself (i. 2, 30, x. 22, 
xi. 27 f.), so they must be in the nature of those who belonged to 
him as his saints. The moral and mental responsibilities of this 
sacred position are urged elsewhere upon individuals (e.g. 
vi. 2-8, 20, vii. 19) ; here the apostle views them from the side 
of the Church as God's own sacred shrine. Desecration of a 
temple was a capital crime in the ancient world, which, it was 
beUeved, the god himself might avenge. What sacrilege or 
violation exactly meant in the case of the Christian Church is 
to be gathered from the context. Paul merely hints that 
anyone who would try to destroy God's temple (we require to 
say ' would,' since Paul could not have allowed that anyone 
was able to overthrow the Church) was hable to be ruined by 

42 



CHAPTER III, VERSES 16-20 

God, destroyed by the divine Power or Spirit which dwells 
within it (xi. 29). 

As he draws to a close, he recalls what he had said at the 
outset (i. 17-31). The first of the two final words (18-20) is a 
stern warning to the leaders and votaries of speculative 
' wisdom ' ; the second is a glowing recall for the whole 
church to its full privileges (21-23). 

Let no one deceive himself about this ; whoever of you imagines 18 
that he is wise with this world's wisdom must become a 
* fool,' if he is really to be wise. For God ranks this world's 19 
wisdom as ' sheer folly.' It is written, He seizes the wise in 
their craftiness, and again, The Lord knows that the reason- 20 
ing of the wise is futile. 

The sense of mental ability and acuteness is apt to breed an 18 
overbearing treatment of those who are less inteUigent, and 
also a conceit which blinds men to the realities of life. The 
former danger Paul handles later on (viii. 1-2). The latter is 
his immediate concern here, the self-deception of those who 
pride themselves on being so ' wise ' in this mundane order, and 
who yet miss the humble, real ' wisdom ' of the gospel. You 
sneer, this is merely Paul's private opinion ? No, it is God's 19 
judgement, there is scripture for it. And he cites a couple of 
words from his book of texts, the first of which is a phrase 
from some version of Job (v. 12, 13) about God seizing or 
foiling crafty schemers, while the second is adapted from one 20 
of the Psalms (xciv. 11), Paul making it more pomted by 
changing ' men ' to the wise. Craftiness implies that Paul felt 
the church to be seriously endangered by this ' wisdom ' pro- 
paganda, whether it was the Christ-party or another which 
was responsible. The indefinite whoever (as in verse 10, iv. 18, 
XV. 12, xvi. 22) is really definite ; Paul will not name the indi- 
viduals, though he knows or suspects who they are. That they 
had plans and a concerted purpose is put beyond doubt by the 
subsequent attack on their adroit, subtle methods in 2 Cor. iv. 2, 
where Paul, with adherents of this group in mind, indignantly 
protests, I do not go about my work for God craftily. 

43 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

He now drops his curt tone as he turns to the whole church 
(21-23), recalling what he had said in i. 31. * Why boast about 
the respective reputations and abilities of men like us leaders ? 
We are all here for your sake and service, and you belong to 
none of us but to the Lord himself.* 

21 So you must not boast about men. For all belongs to you ; 

22 Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present 

23 and the future — all belongs to you ; and you belong to 
Christ, and Christ to God. 

21 * All belongs to you — ^not as Stoics since Zeno have claimed 
that " all belongs to the wise," who by his moral zeal and 

22 knowledge is free and lord of all things. All is yours as you are 
Christ's, thanks to the grace of God.' The whole breathing 
world of God is followed in this rapture by four terms used in 
a later lyrical outburst (of Rom. viii. 38) ; life, which offers 
growth and service, death which means only a change to perfect 
bliss (xv. 51-52), the present age and the future. It has been 
conjectured that, as Paul does not mention the adherents of 
the Christ-party (i, 12, 13), the words, you all belong to Christ, 
are, as it were, a side-stroke at this group. In any case the 
apostle is giving the true perspective, in which alone they can 
realize what they are and have. As they are the church of God 
at Corinth (i. 12), through Christ, he rounds off the vision of 

23 their position by adding, and Christ belongs to God. What this 
means he has no call to discuss here or elsewhere in the letter, 
though incidentally he alludes to it (e.g. in viii. 6, xi. 3, and 
XV. 28). The sweep of his thought is from men to God. ' What 
ease and swiftness and power of wing in this indignant upward 
flight from the petty conflicts of the Corinthian Church ; an 
upward flight which does not cease till the poor subjects of 
contention, though he himself was one of them, seem lost like 
grains of sand beneath the bending sky ! ' ^ 

The positive description of the apostles in their ministry — 
Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and the rest — which opens the follow- 
ing paragraph (iv. 1-13), swerves into a sudden repudiation of 
1 R. H. Hutton, Theological Essays, p. 323. 

44 



CHAP. Ill, VERSE 21-CHAP. IV, VERSE 3 

those who were daring to depreciate himself at Corinth (1-5). 
He protests against undue, hasty criticism as well as against 
exaggerated ideas of the apostoUc ministry. But, as this was 
more than private opinions, he goes off into an indignant 
assertion of his position (which echoes ii. 16) at the word 
requirement. 

iv. 
This is how you are to look upon us, as servants of Christ and I 
stewards of God's secret truths. Now in this matter of 2 
stewards your first requirement is that they must be trust- 
worthy. It matters very little to me that you or any human 3 
court should cross-question me on this point. I do not even 4 
cross-question myself ; for, although I am not conscious of 
having anything against me, that does not clear me. It is 
the Lord who cross-questions me on the matter. So do not 5 
criticize at all ; the hour of reckoning has still to come, 
when the Lord will come to bring dark secrets to the light 
and to reveal life's inner aims and motives. Then each of 
us will get his meed of praise from God. 

The apostles are no mystagogues of a Greek cult who initiate i 
adepts into mysteries of saving wisdom through union with 
some deity by means of secret rites ; in the service of Christ 
who belongs to God, they act as house-stewards of God's 
mysteries or secret truths (ii. i, 13). For once Paul uses a Greek 
term, servants, which is common in the gospels. Both it and 
steward (generally a trusted slave who managed an estate or 
household) were applied by Epictetus to the earnest Cynic 
preacher who, as responsible to God, did not shrink from 
speaking to people on truths of Hfe which he had received 
(iii. 22). 'I am faithful to my task of imparting the stores of 2 
the gospel,' Paul declares, ' neither misappropriating them 
nor withholding them nor trifling with them, but no one can 
pronounce on my personal integrity except the Master of the 
House, who alone knows what he has entrusted to his stewards.* 
With a flash of proud indifference he repudiates the right of 3 
any self-constituted inquisitors (ix. 3) at Corinth to examine 
his credentials. Court is literally ' day ' in the sense of judicial 

45 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

scrutiny, perhaps suggested by Day above (iii. 13), while 
cross-examine is a legal word for the preliminary enquiry, 
when evidence was sifted and probed. Similarly in the English 
Version ('I am not hereby justified') 'justified ' has its ordin- 
4ary juristic sense of being cleared (as in Rom. vi. 7). Favour- 
able or not, what is their verdict to him ? Instead of passing 
hasty judgements on one another, better recollect who is to 
judge us all at the End for what we have done or left undone. 

5 To a Greek the term Lord (kurios) in this connexion would 
carry its sub-sense of ' proper authority,' as in Aristotle's 
Politics (iii. 16 : ' magistrates who are the vaUd authorities to 
decide a case '). Let all stand over till the Lord's court, no 
human tribunal, is in session. Then, and not till then, each 
deserving servant (iii. 8, 14) gets his just meed of praise from 
God. With that word God the warning ends, like ii. 1-5 and 
iii. 21-23. 

Reverting to iv. 1-2, he explains how and why he has been 
arguing against party-spirit in the Church. 

6 Now I have applied what has been said above to myself and 

Apollos, to teach you . . . that you are not to be puffed up 
with rivalry over one teacher as against another. 

In deprecating partisanship and factiousness (iii. 4 f., 18 f.), 
he has tactfully chosen himself and Apollos, without mention- 
ing any others, in order to disarm criticism. * Let no one 
suppose that we consider ourselves exempt from the risks of 
party-feeUng in leaders and followers, on which I have been 
reading you a lesson. Only, I have shown you in our case how 
absurd it is to play off one against another, as if we were rival 
apostles with programmes of our own, or anything but 
servants and stewards alike. That is what I have been trying 
to teach you. We two, at any rate, are an illustration of the 
baselessness of exalting one teacher over another.' This is the 
obvious meaning of the sentence. But between teach you and 
that in the Greek five or six words are inserted whose meaning 
lies beyond recovery. In the original text there were probably 
five, i.e. to mi huper ha gegraptai, literally, * Not above what 

46 



CHAPTER IV, VERSES 4-6 

is written.' Written by whom ? By the Church, in some 
regulation about equality and brotherhood ? By Paul himself 
in the preceding paragraphs, as if to warn the Corinthians not 
to estimate himself and ApoUos more highly than had been 
said above ? So the Port Royal version takes it : ' N 'avoir 
pas d'autres sentiments de vous que ceux que je viens de 
marquer.' Possibly. But gegraptai naturally suggests ' in 
Scripture ' ; it has a juridical sound. Indeed, * not beyond 
Scripture ' looks like a catchword. The Greek fathers thought 
that it referred to words of Jesus like those in Matt. vii. i, 
XX. 26, and Mark x. 43, but written, or scripture, is too vague 
and general for any such allusion. Though conjectural emen- 
dations of the text have been proposed, none is plausible. We 
have no clue to these baffling five words, unless it be supposed 
that they are (a) either Paul's protest against a ' bibhcal ' 
party who considered that ApoUos and himself were too high- 
flying in their exposition of the Bible (* Learn from us that we 
never go a hand's-breadth beyond Scripture '), or, more 
probably, his protest (6) against some ultra-mystical or specu- 
lative group who objected to the methods of himself and 
Apollos as too biblical, too narrow, in fact, for the higher 
knowledge or wisdom of the Spirit. In the latter case the point 
of the obscure words would be : ' Why so strict and scriptural, 
Paul ? We want more of the freedom which soars to heights 
of illumination, instead of being always careful not to go beyond 
what is written.' To which the apostle's retort is that they 
might learn from the case of himself and his colleague how 
loyal they were to a revelation of Christ which was scriptural, 
not speculative. This would amount to a claim that, so far 
from being old-fashioned and narrow, their method was the 
sole, sure basis and standard for any adequate apostolic 
instruction. 

In the next outburst, quivering with bitter sarcasm and 
pathos (7-13), he associates himself with an apostle like 
Apollos, though Peter is not necessarily excluded. He has in 
mind the recent communication from the Corinthians, whose 
language he cites. ' Yes, we poor apostles cut a sorry figure 
beside you ! ' 

47 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

7 Who singles you out, my brother ? What do you possess that 

has not been given you ? And if it was given you, why do 

8 you boast as if it had been gained, not given ? You Corin- 
thians have your heart's desire alread3r, have you ? You 
have heaven's rich bliss already ! You have come into 
your kingdom without us ! I wish indeed you had come 
into your kingdom, so that we could share it with you ! 

9 For it seems to me that God means us apostles to come in 
at the very end, like doomed gladiators in the arena I We 
are made a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men I 

10 We, for Christ's sake, are * fools ' ; you in Christ are 
sensible. We are weak, you are strong ; you are honoured, 

11 we are in disrepute. To this very hour we hunger and 
thirst, we are ill-clad and knocked about, we are waifs, we 

12 work for our living ; when reviled, we bless ; when 

13 persecuted, we put up with it ; when defamed, we try to 
conciliate. To this very hour we are treated as scum of the 
earth, the very refuse of the world 1 

7 The opening words form one of Paul's deep sayings, but its 
connexion with the context is not quite clear. Something may 
have dropped out of the text at this point. I insert my brother, 
in order to show that the apostle for once (as in the rhetorical 
apostrophes of vii. 16, 21, xv. 36) is dramatically addressing 
the individual Corinthian or the church as an individual, appa- 
rently thrusting at their self-importance and calm assurance 
in daring to pass judgement upon this teacher and that. The 
you is emphatic. ' Who in the wide world sees anything special 
in you ? Who has singled you out for this distinguished 
position of critics ? You consider yourselves richly endowed 
with special gifts of knowledge and discrimination, do you ? 
You plume yourselves on these attainments, as though you had 
won them by your unaided merits and abilities. You have 
enough leisure and insight, have you, to criticize those who 
once served you in the mission ? But all you have has been 
given you by God through us apostles, though you seem to 
think you can do without us now, you are so advanced ' — 

8 blaming them chiefly for failing to honour God properly. 

48 



CHAPTER IV, VERSES 7-10 

Then, with irony and reproach, he pours out his soul, alluding 
to what they had written in their letter (see above, p. xv.) to 
himself. The nearest approach to this caustic description of 
religious self-satisfaction lies in the prophet John's word to 
the Christian church at Laodicea (Rev. iii. 17 : you declare, 
* I am rich, I am well off, I lack nothing '). The stinging sarcasm 
is whetted by recollections of contemporary life, Stoic and 
Jewish. ' Rich ' and ' reigning ' were catchwords of the 
Stoics, ever since Diogenes, whose tomb was shown at Corinth, 
had taught a Stoic to maintain, ' I alone am rich, I alone 
reign as king ' in the world. The latter term had indeed passed 
into colloquial Latin, where basilicus meant a person of im- 
portance. There was also the apocalyptic claim that at the end 
the saints would reign over the world (vi. 2), coming into 
their kingdom at last. ' So it has all come about already, you 
tell me, and without us (either, without our co-operation or 
ahead of us, poor apostles) ! Fortunate Corinthians indeed, so 
comfortable and complacent, able to sit at ease and " talk " 
about reUgion as you grow excited over rival leaders and 
popular preachers, you so exempt from the strain and hard- 
ships of Ufe ! Alas, how different our plight (9-13) ! ' Stoics 9 
sometimes prided themselves on being a spectacle to the gods 
as they won admiration by defying fate and misfortune, like 
men in the amphitheatre bearing rough usage. Paul speaks in 
a tone of manly pathos as he represents himself and his col- 
leagues like gladiators (hestiarii) who fought with wild beasts 
(xv. 30-32) at the close of exhibitions ; generally they were 
condemned criminals or prisoners who rarely came out alive. 
The Greek words at the end originally denoted miserable 13 
scapegoats of criminals who were sacrificed to remove the 
guilt of a city, but they had now become colloquial terms for 
what was good-for-nothing (scum) and refuse, the dregs and 
dung of human life ; it is in this sense that they are used here. 
The intervening contrasts are equally sharp. Sensible is the 10 
term used in the reproach of 2 Cor. xi. 19 (you who know so 
much) ; you are not exposed to the ridicule we suffer for 
preaching the cross 1 To be in disrepute originally meant the 
disgrace of being disfranchised, one mark of which, in Paul's 
Fc 49 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

12 case, was working for his living, which Greeks contemned 
(ix. 4 f .) as beneath the dignity of anyone claiming to be a moral 

II teacher. * We are not only waifs and wanderers, but our very 

13 patience and humility are a fresh cause of reproach. Instead 
of merely abstaining from exasperation and retaliation when 
we are defamed, we try to conciliate or appease our critics by 
soft answers and friendly appeals, which the proud world 
regards as a fresh proof that we are poor-spirited creatures, 
with the slave-ethics of a cringing morality, fit only for mean 
souls. And all this is going on to this very hour, as I write, 
while you enjoy your ease ! ' The last word, world or humanity, 
is emphatic. It is the present world, which is opposed to God 
(ii. 6 f., xi. 32) on the score of sin and death. The world of the 
redeemed becomes the kingdom where God reigns over the 
saints in his Church, with his commands (vii. 19) in force. 

Now comes a quick change of tone (as in Gal. iv. 13) ; the 
stormy rapids of sarcasm run into a quieter current (14-21), 
though at the close he once more speaks severely. 

14 1 do not write this to make you feel ashamed, but to instruct you 

15 as beloved children of mine. You may have thousands to 
supervise you in Christ, but you have not more than one 
father. It was I who in Christ Jesus became your father by 

16 means of the gospel. Then imitate me, I beg of you. 

17 To ensure this, I am sending you Timotheus, my beloved and 

trustworthy son in the Lord ; he will remind you of those 
methods in Christ Jesus which I teach everjrwhere in every 

18 church. Certain individuals have got puffed up, have they, 

19 as if I were not coming myself ? I will come to you before 
long, if the Lord wills, and then I will find out from these 
puffed up creatures not what their talk but what their power 

20 amounts to. For God's Reign does not show itself in talk 

21 but in power. Which is it to be ? Am I to come to you 
with a rod of discipline or with love and a spirit of gentleness ? 

14 When he thought fit, Paul could tell them that they ought 
to be ashamed (vi. 5, xv. 34), but he disclaims here any per- 
sonal feeling or desire to humihate them. All he wants from 

50 



CHAPTER IV, VERSES 11-17 

them is the child's instinct and desire to be like its father. In 15 
Eph. V. I this motive is run back to their relationship towards 
God the Father, and there was an early effort (which crept into 
the Vulgate) to give a pious turn to Paul's appeal by inserting 
' as I of Christ ' after ' followers of me.' This is indeed what 16 
the apostle says in xi. i, where the idea is specisdly prominent. 
Here, however, he is pleading for attention to his fatherly 
spirit and (as in i Thess. ii. 11) instructions rather than to the 
new-comers. They may supervise your Christian life, but they 15 
did not bring you into life. The Greek term, used with depre- 
ciation also in Gal. iii, 24 f., stamps the interlopers ; a paida- 
gogos was no very high character, but a common slave who 
had to look after a lad's behaviour and person, in public and 
private ; if he taught the boy his alphabet, that was all. 
Hitherto, even in iii. ^ (I fed you with milk), Paul has used the 
metaphor of motherhood in speaking of his churches coming 
into being (i Thess. ii. 7, Gal. iv. 19), but spiritual paternity 
suits his purpose here as he stresses obedience to the instruc- 
tion which it was a father's duty to give in the home (Eph. vi. 4). 

To ensure this attention he is sending one true son who 17 
follows his spiritual father's steps. Except Onesimus the slave 
(Philem. 10), Timotheus is the only person whom Paul thus 
calls his spiritual son. Dr. Johnson once remarked that more 
people required to be reminded than instructed. Timotheus, 
as Paul's commissioner, is to remind the Corinthians of Paul's 
original precepts and principles, which they had been forget- 
ting in their excitement over later evangelists, who propounded 
novelties out of line with the common faith and order (vii. 17, 
xi. 16, xiv. 36, xvi. i). Paul speaks of his ' ways 'or methods (see 
above, pp. xxiii., xxvii.) as a rabbi might speak of the halacha, 
practical and oral applications of the divine law on the right 
way to live, if one was to be right with God. They are not 
idiosyncrasies of the apostle, but authoritative instructions in 
Christ Jesus, belonging to the Christian Torah (see on xv. 56) of 
the gospel, which are his because he was the first to lay them 
on the conscience of the Corinthians. It is what he calls else- 
where his traditions or rules (2 Thess. ii. 15), or the rule of 
faith (Rom. vi. 17). 

51 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

18 Something, perhaps a hint from the Corinthians at his side, 
now leads him to anticipate an insolent objection on the part 
of certain individuals. ' So Paul is not coming himself ? He is 
afraid to put in an appearance ! He knows he is not on our 
level. We can go on freely with our teaching/ Or Paul's 
decision may have been taken as a compliment : ' he feels 
that we do not require him or any of his counsel.' The latter 
suits the sequel, where puffed up (v. 2) is used of the church 
as a whole, but the former suits the immediate context better, 
especially in view of what afterwards transpired (2 Cor. x.-xi.). 
These recalcitrants were elated at the thought of being let 

19 alone. Paul threatens them and their adherents severely : 
' I'll soon ascertain what these inflated creatures amount to. 
I'll come myself, if God wills.' This qualifies before long ; if 
the Lord wills is not a pious phrase (see on James iv. 15). He 
made plans, but he was in holy orders, in the sense of knowing 

20 that he might be allowed to go or hindered from going. God's 
Reign here (see on 13 and Rom. xiv. 17) is the Christian order 

21 already in force within the Church. The spirit of gentleness 
covers more than a generous attitude to moral failures in life 
(Gal. vi. i) ; it is love which does not require to be stern or 
even forgiving when the fellowship is affectionate and loyal. 
Paul had felt this quality deeply in the character of Jesus 
Christ. He appeals to it in a similar connexion later (2 Cor. x. i) 
as a religious spirit which operates between one Christian and 
another, especially when it denotes an attitude of considerate 
affection towards people who are faulty and trying. The least 
inappropriate English term is not mildness, much less meek- 
ness, which has acquired smug associations, but gentleness in 
the real meaning of the word, i.e. not a soft, amiable quality, 
but the tender, manly bearing of a strong leader in dealing with 
human beings whom he serves without being overbearing or 
subservient. Kipling's lines illustrate a large part of what 
Paul intends to convey by the word here : 

Even as he trod that day to God, so walked he from his birth, 
In simpleness and gentleness and honour and clean mirth. 

Take your choice, Paul tells the Corinthians. ' Make up your 
minds which you will have ; it all depends on your behaviour, 

52 



CHAP. IV, VERSE 18-CHAP. V, VERSE 1 

how I have to treat you when I arrive, whether I can be gentle 
towards you or whether I have to discipUne you.' The latter 
hint echoes the allusion to God's Reign. ' You have come into 
your kingdom, have you ? You are enjoying God's Reign 
without us ? But I, your apostle, am also inside God's Reign, 
and in it to do more than talk, as your new leaders and super- 
visors love to do.' 



THE CHURCH IN THE WORLD AND THE WORLD 

IN THE CHURCH 

(v.-vi.) 

' The man who divided up the epistles into chapters should 
have made this the beginning of the fifth chapter.' So Calvin 
comments on iv. 21. The division of chapters was certainly 
wrong at the eleventh chapter, but although it is abrupt here 
the abruptness is more of a difficulty in a thesis than in a letter, 
and ' Am I to come ? ' is more natural in the wake of ' I will 
come ' than as the start of a fresh period. However, a rod of 
discipline was already needed at Corinth. Even after his sharp 
letter on the need of drawing the line and deahng out excom- 
munication against members who were guilty of flagrant sins, 
a horrid case had occurred. Paul was shocked to hear from 
some of Chloe's people or from the party of Stephanas that 
the church was tolerating a man guilty of notorious immo- 
rality. For some reason, possibly because he was too important 
or wealthy, nothing had been done to bring him to book. The 
apostle demands action (1-2), gives his own verdict (3-5) upon 
the case, and drives home the lesson (6-8). He is appalled to 
find any church of his so indifferent to morals. But there was 
a besetting temptation in the Mediterranean countries to 
consider religion apart from the good life. To be a holy man 
even then did not imply by any means that one was expected 
to be specially chaste or moral. The very religious cults did 
not stress this as essential, not even the Eleusinian mysteries, 
as they admitted an initiate. ' So far as we know, it was at 

53 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

no time enjoined that, in a moral sense, he should henceforth 
walk in newness of life. It cannot, indeed, be doubted that a 
ceremonial so impressive must often have produced a more 
or less enduring moral effect ; but the nature of the effect was 
left to the predisposition of the initiate ; it was not prescribed 
by the religion itself. 'i But it was, by Christianity. Here, as 
already (iii. i6), Paul insists that the Faith involves mora l 
purity, and he has to urge this, lest members of the Church 
should for any reason ignore the ethical implications of their 
reUgion. For various reasons those who had not been trained 
in the stricter ethic of Judaism were prone to take lightly the 
demands of faith on character. It is even conceivable that 
high-flying enthusiasts, like those of the Christ party, may 
have regarded this particular sexual indulgence as permissible 
for a free Christian (see on vi. 13 f.), or at any rate that they 
resented any appeal to an Old Testament or to a civil 
prohibition of such marriages as a legal infringement of 
Christian liberty. If so, it was not the only indication at 
Corinth of the moral and mental instability generated by 
emotional religion. 

V. 

1 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and 

immorality such as is unknown even among pagans — that 

2 a man has taken his father's wife I And yet you are 
puffed up 1 You ought much rather to be mourning the 
loss of a member I Expel the perpetrator of such a crime. 

I The word rendered immorality is used in the special sense of 
incest, i.e. illicit sexual intercourse between married or un- 
married persons. Paul is following the prohibition of the Torah 
in Lev. xviii. 7, 8 (you shall not have intercourse with your 
mother, your father's wife ; she is your mother, and you shall 
not have intercourse with her. You shall not have intercourse 
with any wife of your father ; she belongs to your father) . We 
need not take-unknown even among pagans too literally, any 
more than the language of Cicero, who, in denouncing a 
Roman lady's passion for her son-in-law, declared that this 
1 F. M. Cornford, Cambridge Ancient History, iv. 53 

54 



CHAPTER V, VERSES 1-2 

tie was ' an unbelievable crime, unheard of except for this 
case ' (Pro Cluentio, v.-vi.). Greek and Roman history as 
well as romance refer to this offence against public morals ; 
there were notorious pagan parallels to Reuben and Absalom, 
and even some contemporary scandals at Tarsus and else- 
where in the Hellenistic world. Such marriages, or illicit sexual 
connexions, were not only prohibited by Roman law, however, 
but reprobated by public opinion, although, if the man was 
a slave, his offence would not be heinous in the eyes of pagan 
society. Whether the man or the woman was primarily respon- 
sible at Corinth, we do not know. Paul singles out the man, 
either because by Oriental custom he was regarded as the chief 
offender or, perhaps, because the woman was not a Christian. 
It is not clear whether the father had died or had divorced 
her, nor even whether taken means marriage. But here was a 
man living openly with some former mistress of his father, or, 
more likely, a widow living with her step-son, who was a 
member of the local church. And the church had taken no 
action in the matter ! They were so puffed up with self- 2 
satisfaction over their spiritual privileges and attainments 
that they had complacently tolerated a scandal. Shame on 
you, their apostle cries ! Instead of being proud of yourselves, 
you ought much rather to be mourning the loss of a member. 
Not that the offender had withdrawn from membership. On 
the contrary, neither he nor his fellow-Christians had seen 
anything gravely wrong about the offence. He was still 
tolerated among the saints. To Paul this was as shocking as 
the crime itself, however. * Expel him, as I have in due form 
done already. Realize that this is a sin, and make him realize 
it also, for your own sake as well as for his.' 

For my part, present with you in spirit though absent in body, 3 
I have already, as in your presence, passed sentence on 
such an offender as this, by authority of our Lord Jesus 4 
Christ ; I have met with you in spirit, and by the power of 
our Lord Jesus I have consigned that individual to Satan 5 
for the destruction of his flesh, in order that his spirit may 
be saved on the Day of the Lord Jesus. 

55 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

3 For my part, in contrast to your inaction, I have passed 
sentence on him. In Greek these three verses are one long 
complicated sentence, and the meaning is almost as obscure 
as the grammar. Apparently Paul is not summoning a 

4 Church-meeting, but describing how he himself, as in presence 
of such a meeting, with them in spirit, had, as their responsible 
head and apostle, solemnly sentenced the offender. ' Surely 
I carried you with me ? ' He expects them to ratify this by 
expelling him from membership in the Church, which is the 

5 visible sign of relegating the creature to the outside realm 
where bodily suffering, in some form of wasting sickness, 
paralysis, or even sudden death, was supposed to be the awful 
consequence of the ban. The supernatural conception of the 
Church revealed Satan ever on the watch to tempt and over- 
throw the faithful (2 Cor. xi. 3 f., ii. 11, etc.) ; if the evil One 
was still permitted (as in the case of Job) to inflict physical 
pains even on the good (2 Cor. xi. 7), how much more upon 
any disloyal souls who were ejected from the sacred fellowship. 
This is the same numinous world as that of the Old Testament 
prophets and of Acts (v. i-ii). The very ' holiness ' which 
drew men into contact with the divine power also repelled 
unworthy elements in the community, either acting inde- 
pendently (iii. 17) or in response to the solemn power of the 
spoken curse. There are some indirect traces of this in the 
present epistle (e.g. in x. lo-ii, xi. 30, and xvi. 22). It is in 
one sense the reverse of being servants or slaves of the Lord, 
who not only belong to him but enjoy his protection as they 
obey him ; whereas to be guilty of wilful misconduct is to 
forfeit this relationship and he exposed to the risk of mortal 
danger befalling soul and body. Greek piety was familiar with 
the custom of expecting a god, before whom some complaint 
was laid in his temple, to punish the applicant's enemy with 
some bodily ailment or misfortune by way of retribution, and 
rabbinic thought still considered that Satan might carry out 
a punitive judgement of God. Such ideas help to throw a side- 
light on this strange conception of Church-discipline, vested in 
an apostle and his church, which operated by the authority of 
the Lord Jesus, i.e. by invoking his sacred ' name,' potent in 

56 



CHAPTER V, VERSES 3-7 

excommunication as well as in exorcism. It is not a vindictive 
punishment. Somehow Paul expects that this severity will 
prove the saving of the man's spirit, as though acute suffering 
might lead to a painful release from the grip of the sensual 
flesh. Such an experience, by inducing penitence, was the one 
hope for his personality in its worldly form, before the Lord 
Jesus returned on his Day of judgement. After all, was he not 
a baptized person ? He might be saved so as by fire. 

How the case ended, we do not know, but there is an ominous 
hint in Paul's later fear that when he came back to Corinth he 
might have to mourn for many who sinned some time ago and 
yet have never repented of their impurity, their sexual vice and 
sensual practices (2 Cor. xii. 21). Apparently nothing was done 
by the church to bring this offender to book. Meantime the 
apostle is specially concerned with excommunication as a safe- 
guard for the church itself. Such a sinner is a peril to them, 
which must at all costs be removed. The self-satisfied tone 
of their letter is no credit to them ; it is an ugly, unseemly 
sign of something putrefying in their condition (4-6). 

Your boasting is no credit to you. Do you not know that a morsel 6 
of dough will leaven the whole lump ? Clean out the old 7 
dough that you may be a fresh lump. For you are free 
from the old leaven ; Christ our paschal lamb has been 
sacrificed. So let us celebrate our festival, not with any 8 
old leaven, not with vice and evil, but with the unleavened 
bread of innocence and integrity. 

Never say by way of excuse that after all it's only one case. 6 
Only one ? But it will infect the whole group (xv. 33). * ^ouls^ 
to souls are like apples, one being rotten rots another/ s aid 
Thomas Traheme, in the seventeenth century. Paul, in the 
first, has another metaphor. The proverb about the dough 
(Gal. iii. 6), with its fermenting process which produced putre- 
faction, prompts him to stir them up to moral responsibility 
by taking an illustration from what was familiar to them as a 
ritual practice of local Jews at the passover season. By a rapid 7 
asyndeton he represents the Church not merely as the fresh 

57 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

lump, but as the strict household which cleans out the old 
8 leaven. The exhortation becomes general, against any tolera- 
tion of vice and evil on the part of the redeemed, who enjoy the 
freedom and fellowship of the new covenant (xi. 25) inaugurated 
by the sacrifice of Christ. Strictly speaking, it is true, the Greek 
word which is rendered ' passover ' (in this reminiscence of 
Exod. xii. 21) by most EngHsh versions, did not of itself 
suggest a lamb as distinct from a goat or kid ; what was vital 
was an animal victim. During the first century a goat might 
be selected, apparently. But more often it was a sheep, and in 
view of the Christian tradition, which regarded goats as 
typically inferior, it is fair to render the phrase by our paschal 
lamb or (as the Genevan version has it) ' our Easter lamb.' 
You are free from the old leaven expresses again the high con- 
sciousness of the Church being the real Israel or People of God 
(vii. 19, X. 1, 18). The old leaven is not Judaism or Judaistic in- 
fluence ; it is any immoral practice inconsistent with their posi- 
tion as redeemed Christians. Paul's use of the allegory may have 
been prompted by the approach of the passover season (xvi. 8) ; 
it is not the only echo of the paschal rite, for the tale of x. i f. 
was a paschal theme, and xv. 20 may be another allusion. 
Nevertheless ' let us keep this feast ' does not refer to the 
Christian celebration of Easter as the equivalent for passover, 
nor to the eucharist ; it is let us celebrate our festival of faith 
and fellowship, since our whole Hfe, thanks to the crucified 
Christ, is now a festival. 

This is the one place where the apostle avails himself of the 
festival metaphor in order to express the idea of the Christian 
experience as joyous. The figure is impUcit in the parables of 
Jesus (the most close illustration being in Matt. xxi. i-io, 
11-14), but here it is developed, (a) Christians are in the 
fellowship because they are called or invited ; this free, 
happy, intimate relationship to God is due to him, and (b) to 
his generosity in providing for his guests, above all due (c) to 
the sacrifice, once and for all offered, which alone makes the 
festival possible. The metaphor was familiar to Greeks, 
although it does not happen to occur in the Greek Bible. The 
Corinthians themselves in days gone by had once praised the 

58 



CHAPTER V. VERSE 8 

Athenians for their indefatigable temper, by declaring, ' they 
consider doing their duty to be their sole festival ' or holiday 
(Thucydides, i. 70). Origen seems to have recalled this in his 
treatise against Celsus (viii. 21, 22), when he cites a Greek sage 
as defining the true festival : ' he keeps a true festival who 
does his duty and prays constantly, offering always bloodless 
sacrifices and prayers to God,' instead of participating, as 
Celsus thought a citizen should, in the official festivals. 
Though we Christians do hold social festivals of our own like 
Pentecost, Origen retorts, our entire life is keeping a festival. 
It was further a well-known Stoic idea that, while bad men 
lack the festive spirit, the honest man lives life as a festival in 
fulfilling his religious and moral duties. Philo had taken over 
the term and the idea ; repeatedly he argues that for the 
high-minded, self-controlled person all Hfe is a happy festival 
or a cheerful experience. It is in this figurative sense that Paul 
uses let us celebrate or keep our festival, as Chrysostom noted : 
* all time is a festival since the Son of God redeemed you from 
death.' Both the Jewish associations of * passover ' and the 
Hellenistic associations of ' festival ' enter into the Christian 
phrase for a life delivered from haunting care and fear. Thanks 
to the redemptive power of the Cross, Christians have a fes- 
tival of the soul in which the divine sacrifice produces a con- 
sciousness of confident communion, the one condition of en- 
joying it being a moral sensitiveness to the obhgations of the 
Host. The Lord is responsible for the feast of fellowship ; we 
are responsible for the sound life which alone is worthy to 
receive what he bestows on his freed people, day after day. 
The closing words ' with sincerity and truth ' are a phrase 
for moral and spiritual soundness. ' Sincerity ' is innocence 
in a wider sense than in the individual references of 2 Cor. i. 12, 
ii. 17, where it denotes personal character devoid of private 
ends, with no unconquered selfishness or conceit. Here it is 
the stainless life of a community, straightforward and con- 
sistent, unsullied by any worldly compromise, and this could be 
called integrity, since ' truth ' or goodness (xiii. 6), as the one 
real life answering to God's true law, is the opposite of vice 
and evil (Rom. i. 29) . Only the clean life can en j oy the festival. 

59 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

After this general admonition he returns to the immediate 
question of the local scandal (9-13). ' Do not misunderstand 
me, as you misunderstood my previous letter, under the im- 
pression that I am advocating an impracticable puritanism ; 
all I insist upon is that you discipline this or any other noto- 
rious offender/ 

9 In my letter I wrote that you were not to associate with the 

10 immoral. I did not mean you were literally to avoid contact 
with the immoral in this world, with the lustful and the 
thievish, or with idolaters ; in that case you would have 

11 to leave the world altogether. What I now write is that 
you are not to associate with any so-called brother who is 
immoral or lustful or idolatrous or given to abuse or drink 
or robbery. Associate with him ? Do not even eat with 

12 him. Outsiders it is no business of mine to judge. No, you 
must judge those who are inside the church, for yourselves ; 

13 as for outsiders, God will judge them. Expel the wicked 
from your company. 

9 It is not difficult to see how they could not avoid mixing, in 
business and social life, with people of loose morals. Some 
were married to pagan partners (vii. 13 f.), others were slaves, 
in households (vii. 21 f.) where they must often have had tcT 
minister to the very vices of their masters and mistresses (as 
the obscene drawings at Pompeii show with startling frank- 
ness). According to Alciphron, a second-century sophist, 
Corinth was still notorious for ' the loathsome Ufe of the 
II wealthy and the wretched misery of the poor.' It is more 
difficult to imagine how even in a lax church Christians could 
be tolerated who were guilty of such vices as the apostle 
mentions here. He is not stringing together a list of moral 
misdeeds from current catalogues of misbehaviour, but brand- 
ing definite offences, such as sexual immorality, a flagrant 
case of which was the issue in question, and lustfulness. The 
Greek term for lustful (as in Eph. v. 5) means more than 
* covetous * or grasping ; it is a taste for gross sensuaUty. In 
the wake of sexual indulgence the Hellenistic Jews ranked 

60 



CHAPTER V, VERSES 9-11 

idolatry, following the tradition of the Hebrew past (see 
X. 7-14). This seems to be the first time that ' idolater ' occurs 
in Uterature. Paul apparently regards those Christians as 
idolaters who claimed the right of participating in the pagan 
cult-meals (x. 14-21) ; whatever they might plead to the 
contrary, he insisted that this conduct was the practical 
recognition of other gods. Perhaps, also, some Corinthians 
kept pagan statues in their homes still. Thieves and tipsy 
creatures are more obviously imchristian than the f oul-tongued 
who are given to abuse, but in this remarkable ethical judge- 
ment the apostle had in mind, as one source of the vice, the 
local claim to freedom, as if that entitled anyone to speak 
freely or bluntly about real or supposed defects of character in 
others. It included not only abuse, but backbiting. When 
Theophrastus is describing the temper of detraction or evil- 
speaking in Greek towns (Characters, xxviii.) he tells how such 
a fellow ' will not shrink from abusing even his relatives, and 
will speak evil especially of his friends and kinsfolk, yea of 
the very dead, calling such speech " frank," " democratic," 
and " independent." ' It is the only place in his letters where 
Paul singles out the vice of coarse, reckless abuse, and he 
comes back to it in vi. 10. He knew what it was to be reviled 
with sneers and bitter charges by outsiders (iv. 12). That had 
to be borne. But it was another thing when so-called Chris- 
tians indulged in hot-tongued abuse, denouncing those who 
happened to differ from them or railing at fellow-members of 
the Church for their errors. He stamps this vice as fatal to 
the vital spirit of love within the community. Some Chris- 
tians later took objection to Paul's severity in ranking abuse 
and drinking on the same level as immorality and idolatry ; 
but, as Chrysostom (on vi. 10) points out, the apostle is true to 
the ethic of Jesus here, for ' Christ himself doomed the man 
who called his brother Fool. And often that sin has brought 
forth death.' Jesus had taught that there were more ways of 
murdering a man than by killing him, and abusive rancour was 
one of them. Paul viewed it in the same light, however it 
might be disguised as an expression of moral indignation 
against wrong views or inconsistent conduct. It is curious 

61 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

that a similar case once occurred at Corinth in philosophical 
circles, according to Philostratus, who declares that his hero 
ApoUonius had to deal with a certain Bassus of Corinth : ' he 
made a false claim to wisdom, and no bridle was on his tongue, 
but ApoUonius put a stop to his abusiveness ' {Life of Apol- 
lonius, iv. 26). It is one indication of the stress laid by Paul 
on good feeling and harmony that he takes so serious a view of 
this ugly habit. 

11 With such offenders one must not even eat, in public or in 
private. As the author of the Syriac Sayings of Ahikar 
(ii. 16) declared, ' My son, it is not becoming even to eat with 

13 a shameless man.' No social intercourse with them. Expel the 
wicked from your company echoes the death-sentences of the 
Greek Bible (Deut. xiii. 5 f., etc.) upon those excommunicated 
from Israel. It is a summons not only to avoid (as in 2 Thess. 
iii. 14 f.), but to eject a cool, deliberate offender hke this inces- 

12 tuous creature. ' As for outside scoundrels, leave them to 
God. My exposure of them is a warning for yourselves, and 
no more.' Paul does not intend to preach on the sins of 
society at Corinth ; he tells the church sharply that they 
have enough to do with keeping their own little fellowship 
pure, instead of indulging in cheap, sweeping denunciations of 
local pagans who belong to a social order which is soon to 
collapse. 

In a tract on the Posterity of Cain, Philo maintained that 
the most serious quarrels in the world arose from selfish 
craving either for handsome women or for money. The second 
of these now comes up, but the real nexus between v. and 
vi. i-ii is the idea of ' judging.' Judge outsiders ? No ! 
Then why let outsiders judge you ? If it is no business of 
yours to sit in judgement upon pagans, it is none of their 
business to have your petty disputes over property brought 
before their courts. Paul is still arguing in terms of his 
Jewish and ethnic tradition. As he had taken over outsiders, 
the Jewish term for gentiles, so here he insists that Christians, 
as God's People, should practise of their own accord what 
Jews were allowed to do by permission of the Roman State. 
At Corinth (Acts xviii. 15) probably, as at Alexandria and 

62 



CHAPTER V, VERSES 11-13 

Sardis certainly, the ghetto had the privilege of holding 
courts of their own to deal with breaches of the Torah. Besides, 
the practice of the Beth-din in Judaism was paralleled not 
merely by the eranoi, or benefit clubs, at Athens and else- 
where in Greece (Plato's Laws, 915), which discouraged law- 
suits between members and advised arbitration, but by 
Roman social fellowships called sodalilates, whose members 
were bound to settle disputes privately instead of in the civil 
courts. As the inscriptions show, a sodalitas was a religious 
brotherhood which practised certain rites, including sacrifice 
to some deity, and further forbade any member of the associa- 
tion to hale another before criminal courts of law ; indeed, so 
deeply was the religious bond felt, that no member would even 
act as a judge in cases where a fellow-member was involved. 
Internal disputes between members of similar sunodoi, or 
semi-religious societies, in Egypt, were also settled between 
the parties concerned, who were not allowed to drag one 
another before ordinary courts of justice (Harvard Theological 
Review, 1936, pp. 53 f.). What the apostle is contending for 
was therefore not unfamiliar to Corinthians with ethnic asso- 
ciations. He desires some informal board of arbitration for 
the Church, as a practical expression of their real, unworldly 
fellowship. 

vi. 
When any of you has a grievance against his neighbour, do you I 
dare to go to law in a sinful pagan court, instead of laying 
the case before the saints ? Do you not know that the 2 
saints are to manage the world ? If the world is to come 
under your jurisdiction, are you incompetent to adjudicate 
upon trifles ? Do you not know that we are to manage 3 
angels, let alone mundane issues ? And yet, when you have 4 
mundane issues to settle, you refer them to the judgment of 
men who from the point of view of the church are of no 
accoimt I I say this to put you to shame. Has it come to 5 
this, that there is not a single wise man among you who 
could decide a dispute between members of the brotherhood 
instead of one brother going to law with another — and 6 
before unbelievers too I Even to have law-suits with one 7 

63 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

another at all, is in itself evidence of defeat. Why not 
rather let yourselves be wronged ? Why not rather let 
8 yourselves be defrauded ? But instead of that you inflict 
wrong and practise frauds — and that on members of the 
brotherhood I 

1 If * matter ' or grievance here denoted a special vice like that 
of illicit connexion (a man taking a woman to whom he had no 
right), this would yield a close nexus between v. and vi. But 
the term has its technical sense of ' case.' Paul is now handling 
questions of ' mine ' and ' thine ' generally (7, 8). He does 
not say how he had heard of the Corinthian litigiousness. Nor 
does he suggest that Christians were unlikely to get justice in 
a pagan court. Though for once he does call pagans sinful, 
the derogatory adjective is no more than an equivalent either 
for unbelievers (6), much as a strict Jew might speak of gentile 
sinners (Gal. ii. 15), or for men of no account (4), judged from 
the Christian standpoint. How absurd and illogical for Church 

2 people to go before their bar, when they are soon to come 
before the saints as divine rulers of the world ! Such is the 
plea of 1-4, based on the apocalyptic belief that in the coming 

3 messianic age (xv. 25) the saints were to share God's rule over 
the world, even over fallen angels or the angel-guardians of 
pagan nations. This expectation, a naive expression of faith in 
the final triumph of good over evil, was echoed outside Chris- 
tianity by the later Neoplatonists ; the Emperor Julian's 
friend and philosopher, Sallustius, closed his treatise on The 
Gods and the World (xxi.) by predicting that after death ' the 
souls of the good are in union with the gods and join them in 
governing the whole world.' Paul assumes this outlook as 

4 part and parcel of the Christian hope. If so, how far beneath 
the dignity of Christians to go into some pagan court at present 
over mundane issues, mere financial trifles connected with 
making a UveUhood in this age ! His lofty tone recalls the 
contempt of Plato in the third book of the Republic for anyone 
who was so litigious as to frequent law-courts over matters 
like money and property, issues far too trifling to deserve the 
notice and interest of a free, good man. But the apostle's 

64 



CHAPTER VI, VERSES i-8 

argument is religious. Shame on you ! This proves that you 5 
have not a truly high Church-consciousness. Why not arbi- 
trate among yourselves ? You who plume yourselves on your 
* wisdom ' (he adds sarcastically), surely you could find some 
one of your own number wise enough to settle such miserable 
unimportant details ! Then he deepens his remonstrance ; 
apart from all that, the very fact of Christians prosecuting one 7 
another in lawsuits (Exod. xviii. 22) means what moralists 
call an ethical defeat, a break-down of principle. It is a telling 
word. ' You have really lost your case before you enter a 
pagan court, you have lost the Christian case, which is to 8 
suffer injuries rather than to inflict them.' He assumes that 
the litigiousness is due to a spirit of grasping fraud, which is 
out of keeping with the gospel. The you is emphatic. ' Instead 
of bearing wrong, as the Lord taught, you inflict wrong, and 
that on fellow-Christians.' This ethical appeal was famiUar to 
the best pagan moralism of Greece and Rome, from Plato to 
Musonius Rufus and Seneca, though it is curious that at the 
war congress of 431 B.C. in Sparta it was the Corinthian dele- 
gates who declared that ' brave men abandon peace for war 
when they are injured ; they are not disposed to brook 
injuries for the sake of enjoying the ease of peace ' (Thucydides, 
i. 120). More or less informal efforts have been made in the 
Church to carry out the apostle's counsel. One of the earliest 
was in the Syrian Churches of the third century, where the 
bishop and his clergy held a weekly meeting to decide any 
business disputes between members of the Church, who were 
warned against prosecuting any Christian in pagan courts of 
justice. So we learn from a manual of Church order called 
The Didascalia Apostolorum. 

He now improves the occasion by warning them, suddenly 
and sharply, of a number of vices, besides self-seeking and 
litigiousness, which defeat and disquahfy Christians (9-1 1). 
This paragraph, which introduces what follows, is directed 
against any tendency to laxity over morals in spiritual people 
who might be tempted to console themselves with the thought 
of God's forgiving kindness ; but he is specially thinking of 
a Corinthian abuse of freedom, which inclined high-flying 

Gc 65 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

saints to regard sins of the flesh as of minor importance or 
even as permissible and legitimate (12-20). It is a stern recall 
to the moral obligations of the Christian position. ' You tell 
me that you have come into your kingdom (iv. 8) ; you are 
already enjoying the Realm of God ? Remember, there are 
some things that exclude from the Realm altogether.' For the 
third time in this one chapter — and there are three more cases 
— he asks, Do you not know ? 

9 What t do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the 
Realm of God ? Make no mistake about it ; neither the 

10 immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor catamites nor 
sodomites nor thieves nor the lustful nor the drunken nor 

1 1 the abusive nor robbers will inherit the Realm of God. Some 
of you were once like that ; but you washed yourselves clean, 
you were consecrated, you were justified in the name of 
our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. 

9 Some of the vices in this grim list had been already noted 
(v. 9-1 1), but Paul includes, as he does in Romans (i. 24 f.), 
unnatural vice. The catamites, or ' effeminate ' (as the Latins 
called them, molles), were those who yielded to the active 
passion of the sodomites in homosexual love, which, as we 
know from Paul's contemporary Petronius, was not seriously 
or generally regarded as heinous ; occasionally it was repro- 
bated and punished, but Christianity first, and from the first, 
became its uncompromising foe, in line with the best Hebrew 
and Jewish traditions of morality. We overhear in these 
words the preaching of the apostle to pagans (Acts xxiv. 25), 
II with a stringent demand for repentance and clean living, 
which came into force when at baptism penitents were conse- 
crated to the service and possession of the Lord (i. 2) and 
justified or ' put right ' with him, making a clean break with 
the world — ' clean ' in more senses than one. It is another 
frank and serious reminiscence of the Corinthian mission 
(i. 26 f.). ' Such were some of you, but ' something happened 
to you, something that should mean everything to you still. 
In one of his rounded periods the orator Dio Chrysostom 

66 



CHAPTER VI, VERSES 9-11 

described Corinth as the most wanton of cities, past or present. 
This was not long after Paul, and it is significant that the 
apostle was at Corinth when he wrote two of his most scathing 
descriptions of pagan immorahty (i Thess. iv. 3 f., Rom. i. 18 f.). 
To ' corinthianize ' had become an equivalent in Greek for 
practising fornication. Probably the moral level was no higher 
than that of other great sea-ports in the so-called Christian 
world of to-day, but one serious menace to morals lay in the 
absence of any definite public opinion against immorality, 
especially in the case of men, before and even after marriage. 
Sexual vice was laughed at on the stage, and practically 
condoned by many ethical leaders, like Epictetus (' Shun 
sex-indulgence with all your might before marriage ; if you 
do gratify your passions, let it be done lawfully. But never 
show harshness or censure those who so indulge,' Enchiridion, 
xxxiii.), Cicero, Seneca, and Plutarch himself {Advice on 
Marriage, xvi. — a wife not to be angry with her husband for 
some intrigue with a harlot or a maidservant ; she should 
reflect that he is indulging his wantonness and gratifying his 
passion with another woman, out of respect for herself). It 
is against this attitude that Paul writes the next passage 
(12-20). Logically it might be taken with 2 Cor. vi. 14-vii. i 
as part of the original first letter. But its present position 
is not out of keeping with the context ; Paul knew that these 
lax tendencies at Corinth, as well as elsewhere (see Phil. iii. 19), 
required to be dealt with more than once, particularly as they 
were being justified by some spiritual antinomians in the 
name of ' wisdom.' 

* All things are lawful for me ' ? 12 

Yes, but not all are good for me. 

* All things are lawful for me ' ? 

Yes, but I am not going to let anything master me. 
' Food is meant for the stomach, and the stomach for 13 
food ' ? 
Yes, and God will do away with the one and the other. 
The body is not meant for immorality but for the Lord, and 
the Lord is for the body ; and the God who raised the Lord 14 

67 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

15 will also raise us by his'power. Do you not know that your 
bodies are members of Christ ? Am I to take Christ's 

16 members and devote them to a harlot ? Never I Do you 
not know that 

he who joins himself to a harlot 
is one with her in body 
(for the pair, it is said, shall become one flesh), 

17 while he who joins himself to the Lord 

is one with him in spirit. 

18 Shun immorality I Any other sin that a man commits is 
outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his 

19 body. Do you not know that your body is the temple of the 
holy Spirit within you — the Spirit you have received from 

20 God ? You are not your own, you were bought for a price ; 
then glorify God with your body. 

12 Good is ' expedient ' in the higher sense of the term, bene- 
ficial or serviceable to oneself. In x. 23, where the phrase is 
again cited, it refers to influence or example, but here it is 
opposed to what is bad for oneself, not to what is bad for 
others. There is a play on words in lawful (exesti) and master 
(exousiazei) which it is difficult to express in English, but the 
idea is obvious. Dr. Gunion Rutherford renders the clause : 
' In all things I may do as I please, but I will not be so false 
to myself as to let things do as they please with me.' 

13 Food is mentioned, not in connexion with the problem to be 
raised later (x. 23 f.), but because it was bound up with a 
specious plea for sexual laxity. Christians are indeed free 
from the distinctions between ritually clean and unclean food, 
as Jesus had taught, and Paul does no more than remind the 
Corinthians in passing that this bodily function will soon be 
a thing of the past ; it is not a permanent part of personality. 
The real point is that some regarded it and another bodily 
function as equally permissible, and justified their self- 
expression not only by appealing to his own teaching of 
freedom, but by arguing, on the lines of contemporary public 
opinion, that the sexual appetite was to be gratified and satis- 
fied as naturally as any other. If Paul taught that the spiritual 

68 



CHAPTER VI, VERSES 12-15 

Christian is free, why Hmit that to the sphere of food ? They 
had behind them a tradition dear to local pride. Had not 
Diogenes, the philosophical hero of Corinth, not merely 
taught this, but practised it frankly ? There were indeed 
voices being raised in protest, by none more sturdily than 
Musonius Rufus at Rome, the Stoic teacher of Epictetus. 
Yet at Corinth (see 2 Cor. xii. 19) some members of the Church 
had not broken quite away from this inherited ethic. There 
was a special form of it already, as there was soon afterwards 
in other quarters (see ' General Epistles,' pp. 216 f., in our 
Commentary) in the teaching of spiritual libertines, who 
calmly maintained that such bodily enjoyments had no effect 
upon a redeemed spirit, which could not be affected by any- 
thing on the merely physical level. If the Stoic was a free 
man, in this respect, they pled, how much more the man 
possessed by the Spirit of God ? 

In his trenchant denial that the two appetites are on the 
same footing, Paul's reply is purely rehgious. Immorality, as 
he bluntly calls sex-indulgence on a promiscuous scale, is not 
denounced as a menace to pubHc health, nor on account of its 
psychological unfairness to the woman or to the man, but as a 
violation of the sacred tie between the Christian and the Lord, 
as a sin of the self living in the body, a sin that strikes at the 
roots of the personality which is to flower into a risen life. 
The force of the argument turns on the fact that he is using 14 
body in much the same double sense as we do when we speak 
of ' somebody ' or ' everybody.' Body meant not only the 
physical frame in which the personality expressed itself, but 
the personality. The wider sense is dominant in the opening 
sentence, e.g. about the Lord being for the body of Christians ; 
plainly it is here not body as opposed to spirit, but body as 
including spirit, though there is an implicit allusion to the 
resurrection. The specific sense of body might seem to be domi- 15 
nant in the next claim that harlotry or immorality is absolutely 
inconsistent with the Christian's tie to Christ ; but Paul is 
still claiming that a lustful man gives over his will no less 
than his body to the harlot, which is a breach of the tie 
between his personality and Christ. The body is not an 

69 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

indifferent organ but the vital expression of the self, even in 
the case of what may be held to be a casual, transient pleasure. 
i6So strongly does Paul feel on this point that he actually 
applies to illicit passion or cohabitation what was originally 
used of married love. This sounds sufficiently daring, but it 
is more than mere personal aversion to any sex-connexion 
(vii. I, 7) ; probably he would consider, like many rabbis of 
the day, that such intercourse did constitute a sort of mar- 
riage. Indeed these ultra-ascetics ventured to enjoy connexion 
with a loose woman as an equivalent for the marriage which 
they loftily renounced ; they would rather ' burn than marry ' 
(vii. 9) ! Equally strong is his assertion that immoraHty is the 

17 one sin against the body, for anyone who has adhered or 

18 joined himself to the Lord. This is based upon the same 
principle ; the offence is judged so personal, such a real union 
with the woman, that it involves a breach with the spiritual 
union, in a radical sense, which does not apply to any other 

19 bodily sin such as drunkenness or theft or lying. As the 
Christian's body is the temple of God's Spirit, which has been 
bestowed and received at baptism (vi. 11), immorality becomes 
an act of sacrilege for the individual, as other sins are for the 
sacred community (iii. 16). Nothing so outrages God and 
alienates the Christian as a loose behaviour which assumes that 
he has the right to do as he pleases with what he has already 
allowed God to possess. This is the thought of the words, 

20 you are not your own but bought for a price (as in vii. 23), i.e. 
emancipated from any such slavery to low habits of the past 
and taken over by your new Owner. ' A Christian slave of 
Corinth going up the path to Acro-Corinthus would see to- 
wards the north-west the snowy peak of Parnassus rising 
clearer and clearer before him, and everyone knew that 
within the circuit of that commanding summit lay the shrines 
at which Apollo or Serapis or iEsculapius the Healer bought 
slaves with a price, for freedom. Then in the evening assembly 
was read the letter lately received from Ephesus,'i when all 
present, slaves or free, were reminded of the Lord who had 
emancipated them, at the price of his own life, from sin and 

^ Deissmann's Light from the Ancient East, p. 329. 
70 



CHAPTER VI, VERSES 16-20 

death, and reminded also to glorify God with their bodies 
instead of desecrating his shrine by physical lust. 

This searching counsel illustrates Paul's habit of letting a 
word start several thoughts and prompt more than one appeal, 
particularly a pregnant term like body. His language, sug- 15 
gesting members as a metaphor for ' belonging to,' is partly 
drawn from the Stoic vocabulary, familiar to all Corinthians, 
but in his own Greek Bible the verb rendered joins happens to 16 
be employed in exactly these two senses, of connexion with a 
harlot and also with the Lord. Except for x. 14, this is the 18 
only passage where he uses the trenchant shun or 'flee from.' 
Posidonius, the great missioner of Stoicism at Rome, had 
urged that ' what we need to do is not so much to shun wicked- 
ness as to follow after those who will purge us and prevent 
badness from increasing within us.' Paul touches this truth 
elsewhere, but his immediate aim is to contrast true religion 
with immorality. The emphasis falls on shun, marking the 
shuddering recoil from sensuality which flashes up in the 
imperative, ' Come now, glorify God with your body,' instead 20 
of dishonouring him to whom you now belong. For the 
mention of price here is not so much a reminder of what re- 
demption cost as of the fact that the emancipated or redeemed 
had passed into possession of a new Owner. In Paul's reli- 
gious mind there is a vein of more than normal asceticism, as 
we shall presently see, but he had no sympathy with any 
asceticism which regarded the body as an absolute hindrance 
to the experience of God, though this view was being eagerly 
propounded by the local mystics of Orphic spiritualism at 
Corinth. 

There are more references to ' body ' in First Corinthians 
than in all the other epistles put togetHeE Some are ^ ^rtTy^ 
literal, some are partly or wholly metaphori cal ; but even 
when as here they seem to be Hteral, they sometimes imply 
something more or something other than a modem reader 
realizes. The precise meaning of the apostle in every case 
depends upon inherited conceptions of psychology which J ie 
took over and reshaped from Hebrew and Greek rehgious 

71 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

thought. This is the first of the four expositions of ' the 
body ' in the epistle, and its significance is determined by a 
background of thought which is not exactly akin to ours. On 
an issue hke that of immorality (vi. 12-20), the physical notion 
of the body is naturally emphasized. But for one trained in 
Hebre w thought there was no sharp distinction between wh at 
we term soul and bo^ y. * The soul is more than the body, but 
the body is a perfectly vaUd manifestation of the soul ; indeed 
the body is the soul in its outward for^ i.'i Life or the spirit 
acts through the members of the body, which is thus an out- 
ward expression of man's vital energy in the present world. 
At its highest, life is in the soul and at its lowest in the body, 
but both are conceived as embodiments of the divine spirit in 
man. It might almost be said that from this point of view 
body is neutral between spirit and flesh. It may become 
a * body of flesh,' material in a moral as well as in a physical 
sense ; it may also be controlled by the Spirit of God. Thus 
body comes to be an equivalent for what w ^ ^all pprgnnality, 
as, e.g., m 2 Cor. iv. 10, 11 and in the present passage. When 
Paul says that he was absent from the Corinthians in body but 
present in spirit (v. 3), he means that he was absent, as we say, 
in person. Even when he declares that promiscuous inter- 
course with a harlot makes a man one with her in body 
while intercourse with the Lord means union with him in 
spirit, he implies that the former is an action or relation of the 
human self, just as union with the Lord in spirit is more than 
an inner tie ; the latter involves the body as the organ or seat 
of the spirit, since the true Christian is bound to glorify God by 
devoting to him alone the body or form of being which he has 
assigned to this mortal life. The comment upon body in 
connexion with promiscuous intercourse — for the pair become 
one flesh — corresponds to the correlation of flesh and body in 
2 Cor. iv. 10, II ; cohabitation, instead of being a p urely 
p hysical or transient tie, is held to produce a united life in 
which the two are so closely V; pit t^g etb gr that they form a 
single self, as it w ere. Like a genuine Hebrew, Paul repu- 
diated any notion of the soul being either imprisoned in the 
1 J. Pedersen, Israel, pp. 170 f, 
72 



' BODY ' AND ' THE BODY ' 

body or being able to live its own life irrespective of the body, 
whether that life was degrading or noble. At Corinth he found 
that this notion was being used to justify sexual indulgence, as 
if that were an adiaphoron, an irrelevant, indifferent accident 
which did not really affect the pure soul. Hence his stress on 
body as at once the whole self and also the physical side of the 
self or personality. Hence also, at a later stage, his stress on 
the need for a body in th e risen life after d eath. In xv. 35 f., 
arguing against a semi-materialistic view of the risen body, 
such as most contemporary Jews held, as well as against a 
purely ' spiritual ' or disembodied conception of immor- 
tality, such as Greeks held, he upholds the idea of a c hanged 
b ody, meaning, still, by body wha ^ we ma y call the qrganic 
individu ality or entir e personality ; Paul believes that, even 
when removed from the mortal flesh of the present order, the 
spirit requires a fonn of existence corresponding to its final 
self. Consequently he coins the paradoxical phrase ' spiritual 
body,' though its underlying meaning is no more than that 
which is put more simply elsewhere, as, e.g., in, He who 
raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies 
live by his indwelling Spirit in your lives ; or in, The Lord Jesus 
Christ will transform the body that belongs to our low estate 
till it resembles the body of his Glory. But the present passage 
already reflects this idea of the Christian personality being 
vitally bound up with body, even in its physical form of the 
organism which belongs to the immediate order of being. 



IS MARRIAGE PERMISSIBLE FOR A MEMBER OF 

THE CHURCH ? AND IF SO, HOW FAR ? 

(vii.) 

Paul now turns to the first of th e questions in the churches 
communication . Under the influence of the ultra-ascetical 
party, som e wondered wnether any true ^^nristi an snould 
comproniise the spiritual lite by marrying at all ; t hey asked 
whether, in the case of two Christians being inarried alrea jdv. 
it would not be advisable to give up sexual intercoiu -se 

7Z 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

altogether. This is the first aspect of the problem to be discussed 
(1-7, 8-9). Since Paul was himself unmarried, some of his own 
supporters expected him to approve of the idea that marital 
relations ought to be discouraged and repressed. Naturally 
this would not occur to those who followed a married apostle 
like Peter. But, while marriage was regarded as normal for 
men — early marriage, indeed, being favoured — there were 
r!iAj ^} cases even of rabbis remaining bachelors. Paul was one of 
■^-^ them. Unlike Augustine, Luther, and Kno^he was one of 
the great religious leaders in whom w^jfnth of heart and 
passionate interest in their fellow-cr^ures are not accom- 
panied by any sex-interest. He appea rs, indeed , to have 
felt a certain dislike for the sex-relation. With a touch of 
wistfu l impatience he wishes everybody was like himselLin 
this. But, as he was not an ascetic dualist, so, like a sound 
moralist, he refused to identify chastity with celibacy, what- 
ever the super-spiritualists might think, and he soon realized 
that the strictly ascetic rule might become as irrational in its 
own way as the licence against which it reacted. His teaching 
on this is often misrepresented by the very Church fathers, like 
Tertullian and Jerome, who appealed to it as their authority. 
The ascetic current which was flowing strongly in some 
quarters of contemporary philosophy and religion, as an 
effort to break away from the coarse, subtle tyranny of lust 
and luxury, did not turn at Corinth into the channels of antip- 
athy to property or to animal food. It was felt most strongly 
on the question of marriage. In Hellenism of the period, upon 
" its religious side, there was an enlightenment or knowledge of 
God which meant a mystical absorption in him, often sought 
through ecstasy and involving ascetic discipline, i.e. the 
severance of the spirit as far as possible from trammels of the 
flesh. Traces of this are to be noted in the Corinthian zealots. 
Their asceticism was the negative side of a positive devotion 
to the Lord. It was due to their ardent craving for Christ, 
perhaps, as a mystical ' Wisdom ' or supernatural Power. On 
one side, this stimulated the craving for an ecstatic phase like 
glossolalia ; on another it prompted the conscious renuncia- 
tion of all sex-connexion as unworthy of the soaring spirit. 

74 



CHAPTER VII, VERSES 1-2 

Such was the situation with which the apostle was now 
required to deal at Corinth. 

vii. 
Now for the questions in your letter. I 

It is indeed ' an excellent thing for a man to have no inter- 
course with a woman * ; but there is so much immorality 2 
that every man had better have a wife of his own and every 
woman a husband of her own. 

The husband must give the wife her conjugal dues, 3 

and the wife in the same way must give her husband 
his ; 
a wife cannot do as she pleases with her body — her 4 
husband has power, 
and in the same way a husband cannot do as he pleases 
with his body — his wife has power. 
Do not withhold sexual intercourse from one another, 5 
unless you agree to do so for a time in order to devote 
yourselves to prayer. Then come together again. You 
must not let Satan tempt you through incontinence. (But 6 
what I have just said is by way of concession, not command. 
I would like all men to be as I am. However, everyone is 7 
endowed by God in his own way ; he has a gift for the 
one life or the other.) 
To the unmarried and to widows I would say this : it is an 8 
excellent thing if like me they remain as they are. Still, if 9 
they cannot restrain themselves, let them marry. Better 
marry than be aflame with passion ! 

Laws had been recently passed under Augustus to dis- 
courage celibacy and encourage marriage, in view of the falling 
birth-rate and in order to check profligacy. In his present con- 
viction that the End was imminent, Paul had no interest in 
any continuance of the race. But he was so alarmed by what i 
had been happening at Corinth (vi. 12 f.) that, much as he 
sympathized with the principle of celibacy, he could not ag ree.2 
^th the ultra-asce tics in ^ .thorough^qin£^ispara^ementj)f 
qaarriafi^e ; reluctantly but firmly he views marriage, i.e. 
monogamy, as a lesser risk upon the whole than any 

75 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

3 overstrained attempt to practise the celibate life. And it must 
be real marriage, with due provision for the sexual impulse ; 
this is the point of the counsel in 3-5. Cohabitation is a mutual 

5 duty, only to be suspended by common agreement for a time, 
if both parties desired to take part in some special religious 
service of devotion. In some of the mystery-cults sexual rela- 
tions were temporarily suspended by devotees during a period 
of rehgious ritual, and the same habit was inculcated in 
Judaism, on the day of atonement, for example (Joma viii. i), 
or on the sabbath (according to the Book of Jubilees i. 8). 
According to the Testament of Napthali (viii. 8), ' there is a 
time for embracing a wife and a time for abstaining, for a man's 
prayer,' but Paul assumes that both wife and husband pray 
(as in I Peter iii. 7). He speaks frankly on this matter. So far 
from being prudish or fanatical, he is alive to what the physical 
basis here means. Any prolonged abstinence might lead to one 
or other of the pair seeking gratification outside marriage — 
incontinence being one of the temptations (see 2 Cor. ii. i) 
with which Satan beset the Church. The wise ethic of phari- 
saism had forbidden prolonged abstention from sexual duties 
on the part of married people, and, for all his ascetic instincts, 
Paul was not blind to the danger of a husband or a wife 
overstraining human nature by defrauding the other party of 
conjugal dues, even for the sake of spiritual ends. 

He now returns for a moment to his original statement about 
marriage being permissible and indeed advisable in the cir- 

6 cumstances. ' What I have just said (in verse 2) is not a law 
laid down for everyone.' Personally he would prefer all to be 
able and willing, like himself, to stand outside marriage, but, 
like Jesus (Matthew xix. 12), he recognizes that celibacy or 

7 continence is a gift of God ; one must be born with an endow- 
ment for the single hfe as for marriage. It is not for an apostle 
to say, ' You must marry ' ; all he can say is, ' You may 
marry,' even while he feels entitled to add, ' You had better 
not, unless you have to.' No doubt, his advice had been asked, 
and an apostle's advice or opinion carried weight. By way of 
concession, i.e. in view of the strong temptations to inconti- 
nence in human nature and in the existing social order, he 

76 



CHAPTER VII, VERSES 3-9 

admitted marriage to be legitimate for Christians who could 
not otherwise resist the seductions to illicit intercourse which 
were so insidious at Corinth. On the other hand he honestly 
recognizes in marriage a divine order for life. Whether or not 
an individual should marry, is left to his own judgement, in 
the light of how he or she has been endowed by God. Not only 
as a man trained in Judaism, but as a disciple of Christ, he 
knew from experience a subtle and widespread menace to 
religion in the sexual laxity of the age, even within some of the 
mystery-cults, where obscene practices were bound up with 
so-called ' devotion.' To escape such impurity, to prevent 
rehgion from spoiling morality, he considered that celibacy 
was the safest line of life, but he never regarded the sexual 
impulse as essentially sinful. It is passionate sins of the flesh 
which he condemns. The naturalism of his day, as of our own, 
assumed that men and women required some sexual experience 
in order to live a full life. Paul's plea for ceUbacy carries with 
it at any rate the valuable principle that in certain cases even 
marriage is not essential to the complete development of 
human nature. And his practical wisdom shines out in the 
fact that, as he declines to admit that a normal healthy life 
needs some sexual experience, he insists that if Christians do 
marry, as they are well entitled to do, there must be no morbid 
evasion or restriction of the sexual impulse. On the latter 
point he wrote for many in vain. Some of the later apocryphal 
Acts depict Christianity as a religion whose apostles went 
about the world doing little else than inducing husbands and 
wives to abstain from all intercourse. 

Before speaking about married people in connexion with 
separation or divorce (10-16), and of unmarried people who 
have had no sexual experience as yet (25 f.), Paul, in rabbinic 
fashion, mentions those who are at present unmarried, i.e. as 
divorced or separated or widowed. Whatever they do, let 8 
them beware of over-strained asceticism. Should such men 
and women feel an almost irresistible return of sexual desire, 
this defective self-control (ix. 25) is to be taken as a sign that 9 
the high honour of celibacy is not for them. Better marry 
again, if they are not fit for what is really better ! Paul speaks 

77 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

with a touch of scorn. To ' bum ' or to be aflame with sexual 
passion is not a reference to hell-fire, as some of the Latin 
fathers imagined, from Tertullian onwards, but to the incon- 
tinence of which he had just been speaking in another connexion 
(verse 5). Why he mentions widows as a special class is not 
quite clear. But in the primitive churches they were a par- 
ticular problem, and in some respects an exacting charge, as 
may be seen in i Tim. v. 3-16. He returns to their case later 
(39, 40). Meantime, his reference to them is best illustrated 
by what Jeremy Taylor says to widows (' the fontinel of whose 
desires hath been opened by the former permissions of mar- 
riage ') in the third chapter of his Holy Living. 

Now for a word on separation or divorce, in the case of 
marriages where both husband and wife are members of the 
Church (10, 11). 

ID For married people these are my instructions (and they are the 
Lord's, not mine). A wife is not to separate from her 

II husband — if she has separated, she must either remain 

single or be reconciled to him — and a husband must not 
put away his wife. 

10 The prohibition of divorce is the Lord's, not an opinion of 
his own, though my instructions has the categorical verb 
(' I command ') as in verse xi. 17 and in the Thessalonian 
letters. The saying of Jesus (preserved in Mark x. 11-12, 
etc.) is recalled to the memory of the Corinthians, and stamped 
as a ruling for life. As the feminist party in the local church 
had evidently claimed freedom to desert or divorce a husband, 
Paul mentions the case of a wife first. Some wives, of an 
ultra-spiritual temper, may have gone or wished to go further 
than to suspend marital relations (verses 3-4). Others would 
be swayed by social precedents, apart from religious grounds. 
Although in Jewish law a wife had not exactly the same 
power as Greek and Roman women had, in certain circum- 
stances, to press for divorce, she might induce the courts to 
consider a plea for divorce on such grounds as ' impotence, 
denial of conjugal rights, unreasonable restriction of her freedom 

78 



CHAPTER VII, VERSES lo-ii 

of movement, such as keeping her from going to funerals 
or wedding-parties, loathsome ailments, or nasty occupations 
such as tanning. '1 By rabbinical law, a Jewish husband might 
put away his wife for adultery or barrenness (after ten years), 
or, according to the lax ruling of Hillel, for much less serious 
offences. The stricter school of the Shammaites insisted that 
unfaithfulness was the sole reason for divorce, but they evaded 
the hardship of this ruling by permitting polygamy, which in 
contemporary pharisaism was regarded as outworn and excep- 
tional rather than as illegal. Since Paul seems to be contem- 
plating the case of serious-minded enthusiasts who had sepa- 
rated for ascetic reasons, he does not need to reckon with the 
possibility even of adultery as a valid reason for divorce 
(supposing that except for unchastity^ lay in his text of the 
saying preserved in Matt. v. 32). He warns an ex-wife that 
permission to re-marry is excluded by her original action. If 11 
in cooler and saner moments she thinks better of marriage, 
after the divorce, she must continue unmarried (supposing 
that her husband is out of reach, for example) or be re-united 
to him. Reconciled may even imply that the separation 
started from some pique on her part, mixed up with a question 
of alleged principle. ' Separations took place,* says Chry- 
sostom, * not only on account of incontinence and other 
pretexts, but because of infirmities of temper,* or, as our 
modern equivalent has it, on account of incompatibility of 
temperament. 

But what if one became a Christian when his wife or her 
husband remained a Jew or pagan ? This was a practical 
question which the Lord Jesus had never had occasion to 
meet in Palestine, but it emerged in a city hke Corinth. The 
difficulties and even the dangers of such a position, particularly 
for the wife, became extremely serious in the course of the 
next two centuries. They he in a mild form under the situa- 
tion of I Pet. iii. 1-7. Here, in verses 12-16, we have the 
first discussion of a problem which had apparently been laid 

1 G. F. Moore, Judaism, ii. 123 ; B. Z. Bokser, Pharisaic Judaism in 

Transition, pp. 85 f. 

2 On which see ' The Excepting Clause ' in Theology (1938), pp. 27-36. 

79 



y 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

before Paul by some puzzled Corinthians in their communica- 
tion. That Christians should not enter into a mixed marriage, 
he had already urged in a previous letter (2 Cor. vi. 14). But 
what of a Christian who, after conversion, had to face marriage 
with a partner who stood outside the saints ? Was not separa- 
tion or divorce justified in this case ? 

The explicit care with which Paul here and in verse 25 dis- 
tinguishes between what is his own ruling (not the Lord's) 
and a definite saying of the Lord (verse 10) is a significant 
indication that, even although as a prophet he had divine 
revelations, he did not cast them into the form of what Jesus 
had once said, in order to invest them with authority. Apostles 
and prophets as well as teachers (xii. 28) drew on a living tra- 
dition of eye-witnesses which preserved utterances of Jesus, 
and their responsible task was primarily to transmit such 
original sayings. It was plainly a responsibility which was felt 
to involve not merely keenness of memory, but scrupulous 
veracity. An incidental remark like this of Paul tells against 
the notion that gifted men in the primitive communities felt 
inspired to produce, by a free use of their devout imagination, 
sayings of the Lord to suit the requirements of the cult. Words 
of Jesus might be and were modified as well as moulded in the 
course of transmission, but they did not come into being by a 
process of spontaneous generation. Whether Paul carried 
\ such sayings entirely in his memory or whether they were 
already written down, it is not possible to say ; they formed 
an important part of his methods in Christ Jesus (see above, 
p. 51). But the clear point is that he drew a line between such 
authenticated sayings and his own opinions, even when the 
latter were * opinions ' in a judicial sense. If anyone in the 
primitive Church had creative literary genius, it was Paul. It 
is historically of high importance that he did not feel at liberty 
to create a saying of Jesus, even when, as here, it would have 

I been highly convenient in order to settle a disputed point of 
Christian behaviour. 

12 To other people I would say (not the Lord) : — 

if any brother has a wife who is not a believer, 
80 



CHAPTER VII, VERSES 12-14 

and if she consents to live with him, 

he must not put her away ; 
and if any wife has a husband who is not a believer, 13 

and if he consents to live with her, 

she must not put her husband away. 
For the unbelieving husband is consecrated in the person 14 

of his wife, 
and the unbelieving wife is consecrated in the person of 
the Christian brother she has married ; 
otherwise, of course, your children would be unholy 
instead of being consecrated to God. (Should the unbe- 15 
lieving partner be determined to separate, however, separa- 
tion let it be ; in such cases the Christian brother or sister 
is not tied to marriage.) It is to a life of peace that God has 
called you. O wife, how do you know you may not save 16 
your husband ? O husband, how do you know you may 
not save your wife ? 

On a point which the Lord had not had occasion to decide, 12 
Paul's personal judgement is, unlike the harsh nationalistic 
ruling of Ezra long ago (Ezra x. 10 f.), that in the case of other 
people, who find themselves tied to a non-Christian partner, 
the decision must be left to that partner. Live with implies 
cohabitation, a real marriage such as is sketched in verses 3-4. 
It is assumed that the pagan partner is dutiful and affec- 
tionate. The reason for maintaining wedlock, on these condi- 
tions, depends on Paul's strong belief in the effects of sexual 
union. Just as this union, in the case of casual connexion with 
a prostitute (vi. 16), means a lowering of the personality in the 
community of body, so in the case of married contact with 
a pure Christian there is a heightening nexus of the personality ; 
the consecrated nature of the Christian partner is somehow 14 
imparted to the other. In the person of or ' with ' the Christian 
partner, the other is in a sense drawn within the sphere of a 
divine ' holiness ' which is bound up not simply with the 
Christian as such, but with the Christian fulfilling the divine 
appointment of marriage. The Oriental idea of solidarity in 
this connexion went so far that some rabbis allowed one 

He 81 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

parent in a mixed marriage to convey sanctity to the children ; 
in rabbinism, if a woman proselyte was pregnant when she was 
received into the synagogue, her very baptism stood for that 
of her child (Jebamoth, 78a). Paul is not arguing that the 
mother gave a special stamp of religious privilege to the 
children of her body. He merely points out that in the one 
body of true wedlock, even although only one of the pair 
possesses the divine ' holiness,' that is sufficient to * consecrate ' 
the other and to render the children also ' sacred ' to God, 
instead of leaving them outside the pale. It is an indication 
of the strange emphasis upon corporate solidarity which 
emerges in an equally obscure connexion later on (see xv. 29). 
Formally it goes back to the primitive notion of ' holiness ' 
as a semi-material contagion which passed from one member 
of a group to another. On entering the Christian faith, as on 
entering the Jewish, a householder or head of a family brought 
the family along with him ; no ancient would have understood 
the idea of such an individual accepting any responsible rela- 
tionship to God apart from his inmiediate group. Small 
children were admitted even to some of the contemporary 
cults, for the sake of a devout parent. Of course, says Paul, 
addressing a Christian parent, your children are consecrated 
to God in virtue of your action as their head. If he referred 
to baptism, it would not be unintelligible, for baptism was a 
sacrament of the eschatological hope, providing security for 
the recipients, and at this time Paul expected that most 
children anyhow would not die before the End. Such baptism 
would therefore be a reassurance for the Christian parent that 
he or she would not be separated from the httle children by 
anything that happened at the Advent. 

This allusion to children is remarkable for another reason. 
Paul commonly thinks of childhood as an illustration of imma- 
turity. Some critics have contrasted him unfavourably with 
Jesus in this respect. Yet it was Paul who, in a later letter to 
this very church, protested that parents ought to make pro- 
vision for their children : ' children ought not to lay up for the 
parents, but parents for their children.' It was Paul, also, who 
saw in the dependence of little children upon a nursing mother 

82 



CHAPTER VII, VERSES 14-15 

the aptest illustration of what his young Churches required 
and (he maintained) had received from himself (i Thess. ii. 7), 
as he cherished them patiently and tenderly. The apocalyptic 
tension was not favourable, indeed, to any regard fo r.the, 
faniily. A Jew regarded marriage chiefly as a means of con- 
tinuing family life ; the procreation of children was its real 
object. But when the End was imminent, why trouble about 
a family ? Had Paul been no more than a logical apocalyptist, 
he would have ruled out the family as a Christian unit. Occa- 
sionally he does seem to ignore its religious functions alto- 
gether. But in the present passage it is clear that, like another 
unmarried prophet, Jeremiah, he saw more Vcdue and meaning 
in family life than his eschatology involved. Some contem- 
porary rabbis frankly declared that there were enough people 
to marry and carry on the race ; they themselves might well 
be exempt from this duty for the sake of a more undivided 
devotion to the Lord and the Law. Such was probably Paul's 
personal feeling before his conversion, and he retained it as 
an apostle of Christ. When reinforced by the strong apoca- 
lyptic behef which pervades this letter, it might well have made 
him regardless of such an item as the children of a mixed 
marriage. Yet it is not so. How could a Christian parent 
bear to think of the children as unholy, even although the 
other partner in the marriage was not a member of the Church ? 
Paul enters into this parental feeling, for once, with humane, 
religious sympathy ; it is a passing allusion, but it throws 
light on his deeper conception of the family underneath all 
apocalyptic prepossessions, and also on his genuine sympathy 
with human ties in which he himself had no direct share. He 
certainly had a kindlier eye for childhood than his younger 
contemporary Epictetus had. His words are all the more 
significant as they are almost incidental ; his later counsel on 
family life proves that they were not accidental. 

By way of parenthesis, he explains that the Christian partner 15 
must not oppose the pagan, should the latter insist upon 
divorce. This is a case in which the prohibition of divorce 
does not hold. Only, the first step in the separation has to be 
taken by the non-Christian partner. Naturally it is implied 

83 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

that the Christian brother or sister has given no ground for 
such action by any personal misconduct ; perhaps also, 
though this is not so clear, that he or she was now free to 
re-marry (verse 39). 

Returning to the thought of 12-14, Paul adds a fresh reason 
for the Christian adhering to marriage with a pagan. It is to 
a life of peace, not in this case to separation or the breaking of 
the marriage tie, that God has called you as Christians ; if 
16 your pagan partner consents or agrees heartily to maintain 
marital relations and to continue family hfe, why sever the 
tie, especially as you may save your pagan wife or husband, 
if you are patient and friendly ? It is thus clear that conse- 
crated (in verse 14) only means a sort of objective relationship 
to ' holiness/ Within this, one may be won over to the faith 
by the influence and example (see i Peter iii. i) of a good wife 
or husband. His hopefuhiess on this point shows that he 
really held a nobler view of marriage than his unqualified 
words (in verses 2 and 9) would suggest. The counsel here 
would therefore be one application of the advice given to the 
Roman Christians, * to Uve at peace with all, as much as Ueth 
in you.' If it is possible, and so long as it is possible, to carry 
on a mixed marriage, with all its difficulties and temptations, 
it is well worth while to maintain these close, amicable rela- 
tions, since they afford a real opportimity for winning over the 
non-Christian partner to the Christian position. The Greek, 
however, might mean a less hopeful outlook ; ' How knowest 
thou whether thou shalt save thy ' wife or husband ? Those 
who accept this interpretation make the question a reason for 
agreeing to separation (verse 15) as though Paul were dissuad- 
ing the husband from obUging his wife to remain married, or 
the wife from attempting to induce her husband to keep up 
the marriage tie. ' No, the Christian has more to do than to 
spend strength and time in maintaining a marital relationship 
which involves a strain on the temper ; God has called us 
Christians to a Hfe of peace, not of wrangling and cross- 
purposes.' This makes good sense, but the other interpretation 
suits the paragraph better ; peace is opposed to a break-off, 
not to domestic friction. In fact, Paul is summing up his 

84 



CHAPTER VII, VERSE i6 

counsel by reiterating the advice of 12-14, which is his main 
idea, after the parenthesis in verse 15. 

It is worth notice, whatever view we take of verse 16, that 
while Paul adheres to the indissolubility of marriage, as Jesus 
had taught, he knew too much of human nature to insist that 
it should be rigidly applied in every case. In this case of mixed 
marriages, two modifications are introduced : (a) the woman 
who has separated is allowed (verse ii) to remain single, if she 
prefers, or if nothing else can be done, and (6) divorce is 
tolerated, in the circumstances mentioned, though it must 
never be sought by the Christian partner. 

The general idea of the next paragraph (17-24), that a 
Christian need not and must not be eager to alter his or her 
condition in life, follows the dissuasion against divorce with 
a certain fitness. Christian freedom is not a spirit in haste to 
dissolve existing relationships. Marriage has furnished a 
special instance of this principle, but the apostle considers it so 
important that he proceeds to state it crisply and widely before 
he advances to some other aspects of Christian marriage. 
Still, the sequence is abrupt, and the paragraph may have 
originally belonged to the earlier letter (see above, p. xxiv.), 
though it is linked to the context here less abruptly than the 
other fragment is in 2 Cor. vi. 14-vii. i. A less natural 
alternative would be to suppose that the passage originally lay 
at the end of the discussion, after verse 40. The present 
context imphes that the new consciousness of freedom in the 
local church had led some to raise the question whether a slave, 
for example, was not entitled to attempt some means of 
altering his social condition. 

Only, everyone must lead the lot assigned him by the Lord ; he 17 
must go on living the life in which God's call came to him. 
(Such is the rule I lay down for all the churches.) 

Was a man circumcised at the time he was called ? 18 

Then he is not to efface the marks of it. 
Has any man been called when he was uncircumcised ? 
Then he is not to get circumcised. 

85 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

19 Circumcision counts for nothing, un circumcision counts for 
nothing ; obedience to God's commands is everjrthing. 

20 Everyone must remain in the condition of life where he was 

21 called. You were a slave when you were called ? Never 
mind. Of course, if you do find it possible to get free, you 

22 had better avail yourself of the opportunity. But a slave 
who is called to be in the Lord is a freedman of the Lord. 

23 Just as a free man who is called is a slave of Christ for (you 
were bought for a price ; you must not turn slaves to any 

24 man). Brothers, everyone must remain with God in the 
condition of life where he was called. 

17 ' Only, after all this discussion of the pros and cons about 
altering one's status, what I have to say is this (i.e. in view 
either of 10-16 or of 39-40).' The function of the Lord in 
settling the providential circumstances of one's earthly lot is 
intelligible in the light of viii. 6. Incidentally Paul declares 
that his rule, though it may seem hard, was the regular 
principle for all the churches (see on i. 2) . 

18 The first case in point (a) was that of male Christians who 
J had been circumcised when Jews, and who wondered whether 

they should not undergo the operation, to which some rene- 
gade Jews submitted (i Mace. i. 15, 4 Mace. v. 2), of effacing 
the marks, in order to avoid taunts when they stripped naked 
at the baths or for athletic games. Others seriously wondered 
whether, as bom pagans, they should not undergo circumcision 
in order to complete their membership in the chosen People of 
God. The former idea was due to false shame. The latter was 
a mistaken form of earnestness ; it could not have been 
pressed at Corinth by any of the parties, for Paul does not 
treat it so seriously as he does in Galatians (vi. 13, 14), where 

19 he is facing a definite propaganda by Jewish Christians. His 
quiet answer to both is on the lines of Romans ii. 28 f. To the 
one he repHes, ' Never be ashamed of your circumcision-marks, 
for circumcision is merely an outward sign ' ; to the other, 
* Never set your heart upon this, since it counts for nothing in 
real Christianity.' The calm way in which he rules out circum- 
cision indicates again (see p. 65) the high consciousness of 

86 



CHAPTER VII. VERSES 17-23 

spiritual independence in his Christianity ; instead of being 
obHgatory, as Jews believed, it is viewed as outside the sphere 
of obedience to commands of God 1 The one thing that counts 
in Christianity is such obedience, or, as he puts it elsewhere, 
faith active in love, or the new creation (Gal. v. 6, vi. 15). The 20 
second case (b) is that of gentile slaves whose humble condition 
of life (see above, pp. xxi. f., and on i. 26 f.) made some of them 
resent it as unworthy of their new Christian dignity. Never 21 
mind echoes a common Stoic phrase, ' Why mind that ?/ 
applied to external things as being indifferent to the inner 
freedom of the soul. This is the point of Paul's reminder that 
the Christian slave enjoyed spiritual freedom with his Lord, 
however he might be the thrall of an earthly lord. Paren- 
thetically (as in verse 15 above) he allows the slave to get 
manumitted if he has the opportunity, i.e. if his master was 
willing that he should buy his freedom. Such an opportunity 
might occur, though Greeks were less liberal than Romans in 
freeing slaves. The Greek might also mean, * even though 
you can become free, rather employ your slavery ' (to be a 
better slave — in the sense of i Tim. vi. 2), but this is less 
natural linguistically and suits the context less aptly. Paul 22 
does not share the view of Epictetus, himself a slave at one 
time, that the slave is really better off as a slave than as a 
freedman. ' The slave longs to be set free at once ; his idea is 
that up till now he is hampered and unfortunate because he is 
not emancipated. Once I am set free, he says, all is well ; 
I heed no one, I talk to everybody as their equal, like them- 
selves ; I come and go exactly as I please. Well, he gets 
emancipated, and,' Epictetus adds (iv. i. 33), finding himself 
unemployed and hungry he becomes the slave of lust and 
hunger, flattering other people in order to satisfy his appetites. 
Thus he may become even what Paul calls one of the slaves to 23 
man by submitting to prejudice, allowing others to rule his 
life. Whereas, the Stoic concluded, ' no man is free who can 
be hindered or forced by anyone else at will ' (iv. i 58). It 
was a common maxim of contemporary Roman and Greek 
thought that the true freedom was inward ; even a slave can 
be free, if he possesses inner freedom — a thing which many 

87 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

so-called free folk lack, with their slavery to passions, opinions, 
and social customs. Paul's argument is that even if a Chris- 
tian slave has no chance of securing freedom, he is a freedman 
of the Lord ; he enjoys the supreme boon of belonging to a 
heavenly Master. It is not the ethical freedom won by self- 
mastery, but the religious freedom of being a member of the 
Lord's household, and therefore being freed from such tyrannies 
as evil powers and passions. The freedman, or lihertinus, still 
owed some service to his lord or patron, by Roman law ; he 
had to take his patron's name and belong to his household, but 
it was to a patronus, not to a dominus, or lord, that he now be- 
longed. Paul deliberately employs the paradox of a freedman 
of the Lord, in order to bring out the thought that this inner re- 
lationship of the spirit was ' a service which is perfect freedom.' 
' Be not ye the servants of men,' is one of Paul's rich asides. 
There was indeed a good sense in which one might be the 
slave of others (as in ix. 19, 2 Cor. iv. 5). Here it is meant in 
a lower sense. The words (you must not turn slaves to any 
man) are not to be taken hterally. Some free-born provincials 
would apparently become slaves of an influential Roman, in 
order to be manumitted by him, so securing his patronage in 
society and thereby winning promotion. But Corinthian slaves, 
such as Paul addressed, were in a very different position. One 
might desire to be circumcised, but hardly to enter or re-enter 
slavery, although it has been sometimes thought that such an 
idea lies behind xiii. 3, or that certain enthusiastic Corinthians 
may have actually deprecated the desire for emancipation on 
the ground that it meant an undue, slavish regard for human 
rank and social position. What the apostle is really thinking of 
is something that lay close to his own heart, the risk, of which 
he was aware in his missions (Gal. iv. 17, 2 Cor. xi. 20), of 
strong individuals being allowed to take advantage of pliable 
souls by dictating to them. As a leader himself, he was alive to 
the danger, and strove to avoid it. He realized that Christian 
freedom had not only to be won, or rather received, but kept 
carefully, against party-leaders who sought for lower ends to 
impose their opinions upon the rank and file, as well as against 
movements which compromised the spiritual independence of 

88 



CHAPTER VII, VERSES 23-24 

the Church (Gal. iv. 9 f.). As in x. 29, as here, we catch a 
flash of his concern for the inherent rights of freedom in 
Christian people. It is one thing for the immature to accept 
guidance, or for the inexperienced to follow the lead of a 
stronger character ; but this, he felt, easily slips into a weak, 
comfortable deference which, by practically handing over 
mind and will to a spiritual director, prevented people from 
growing into a mature relationship towards their real Lord. 
At Corinth some were quick-witted, rather self-assertive, apt 
to resent authority and to criticize their leaders too freely. 
But Paul also found, or feared, an inclination on the part of 
others towards an undue subservience, which was content to 
allow some dominating personality to overpower them. 
Discipleship here, as elsewhere, had its bad side as well as its 
good. It might mean an admiring devotion to some com- 
manding spirit, which is one source of moral and spiritual 
progress ; but it might also reduce life to little more than an 
echo or slavish copy of what others said or did. With charac- 
teristic breadth of judgement he shows himself aUve to both 
tendencies, to thin self-importance and to an unwholesome 
surrender of one's personaUty. 

The paragraph closes with a reiteration of what he had just 24 
said, with God echoing the word about God's commands, as 
though to remind his readers that no lot is so bare and hard 
that it need be without the presence of God and some oppor- 
tunity to honour him. Though he does not repeat the term 
klesis or condition of life from verse 20, he means that the 
Christian vocation may be followed in any social avocation in 
which one finds oneself placed (by God). Plainly the Christian 
faith was beginning to invest this Greek word with a new signi- 
ficance. Believing that the existing conditions of hfe were 
di\dnely planned for Christians, and that even a slave's position 
did not hinder the good Hfe, Paul extends the idea of the inner 
call to include the outward circumstances in which it was 
experienced. If obedience to God's commands is feasible in 
any such conditions (and the question of inconsistent occupa- 
tions is not yet raised), then these conditions might be called 
providential. 

89 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

God gives to every man 
The virtues, temper, understanding, taste, 
That lifts him into life, and lets him fall 
Just in the niche he was ordained to fill. 

Cowper's rather comfortable faith goes beyond what Paul has 
in mind here, but the apostle would have agreed in principle ; 
if Christians were chosen from the beginning in the plan of 
God, surely their station in life entered into their calling. 
What he is concerned with, however, is the truth that outward 
circumstances are secondary. Circumcised or uncircumcised, 
slave or free, married or unmarried — what does that matter ? 
One can belong to Christ and serve him in any of these spheres 
during the short time that remains, and that is the main point. 
Although the apostle never explicitly describes so-called 
' secular ' work as a vocation for the Christian, still, by speak- 
ing of marriage, for example, as a sphere where one may not 
only serve God, but save others, and by the new stamp which 
he sets on klesis, he is adumbrating the later idea. 

After this digression the apostle returns to the problem of 
marriage. It was being much discussed, even outside the 
Church. Musonius Rufus at Rome, himself a married man 
and of undeviating public spirit, refused steadily to encourage 
celibacy, since marriage was the basis of the home and the 
home of the State. But this ethical demand that the good 
man ought to face up to the duties of ordinary life in the family 
was not admitted in some circles where the higher life of moral 
achievement was the predominant issue. Paul, who meets 
the question on the basis of unworldly devotion to the Lord, 
takes the view that to keep unmarried is best, in view of the 
imminent End and its distress on earth (25-31) ; besides, this 
leaves one more free for God's service (32-35) ; in the circum- 
stances marriage is inexpedient, and yet, at the same time, 
better marriage than worse evils (36-38) ! In all that follows 
he gives his personal opinions or judgements, and it is charac- 
teristic that he does not demand obedience to them by affirm- 
ing, ' Follow my example of strength ! If I can do without 
marriage, so can you, so must you.' Instead of dictating to 
them — not that I want to restrict your freedom — he begins by 

90 



CHAPTER VII. VERSES 24-26 

suggesting why his advice may be trusted. Only at the very 
end, anticipating criticism from some of the local malcontents, 
does he reassert his authoritative position as an apostle (40) . 

I have no orders from the Lord for unmarried women, but I will 25 
give you the opinion of one whom you can trust, after all 
the Lord's mercy to him. Well, what I think is this : that, 26 
considering the imminent distress in these days, it would 
be an excellent plan for you to remain as you are. 

On a point for which he had no orders from the Lord Jesus, in 25 
the traditional sayings, he modestly offers his own opinion (as 
in 2 Cor. viii. 8, 10) as a trustworthy (see iv. 2) person. The 
fact of the Lord's mercy to him, which includes his call to 
apostleship (i Thess. ii. 4, 2 Cor. iv. i), is a reason for trusting 
his judgement ; there is a humble suggestion that he is not 
likely to seek slaves to his own views, but that his experience 
has given him a disinterested and watchful concern for others. 
The trust exhibited by the Lord in being merciful to him may 
encourage the Corinthians to rely upon him as a truly respon- 
sible adviser. Unmarried women, a class omitted in his pre- 
vious judgement (verse 8), receive the same warning to remain 
in the condition of life where they are, but for a fresh reason — 26 
considering the imminent distress in these days, when the End 
was near, with its terrible disorders on earth, which were spe- 
cially sore upon mothers, according to eschatological tradition 
(Enoch xcix. 5, Mark xiii. 17). The EngUsh Version, ' it is 
good for a man so to be,' misses the thought that ' a man ' 
here is ' a human being,' with primary reference to women, 
although Paul at once (27) extends his range to men as well. 
Technically it would be correct to render, ' that human beings 
should remain just as they are.' In the contemporary Syriac 
apocalypse of Baruch (x. 14), the dehneation of the woes 
before the End includes this trait : ' the barren shall above all 
rejoice, and the childless shall be glad, but mothers of children 
shall have anguish.' As the crisis affects men no less than 
women, however, Paul continues his warning with married 
people of both sexes in view, as indeed he would be doing from 

91 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

the first if the Greek words rendered unmarried women were 
taken to mean celibates, i.e. not only women but (as in 
Rev. xiv. 3) males who had never had any sexual experience. 

27 Are you tied to a wife ? Never try to untie the knot. 

Are you free ? Never try to get married. 

28 Of course, if you are actually married, there is no sin in 

that ; 
and if a maid marries, there is no sin in that. 
(At the same time those who marry will have outward 

29 trouble — and I would spare you that.) I mean, brothers — 
the interval has been shortened ; 

so let those who have wives live as if they had none, 

30 let mourners live as if they were not mourning, 
let the joyful live as if they had no joy, 

let buyers live as if they had no hold upon their goods, 

31 let those who mix in the world live as if they were not 

engrossed in it, for the present phase of things is 
passing away. 

28 There is no sin in marriage, he repeats, as if to guard against 
any misinterpretation of what he had rather unguardedly 
said above. The reason for discouraging matrimony is not that 
sexual union is in itself illegitimate, but that in the special 
circumstances it is inadvisable. Paul is not a full-blown 
ascetic who welcomes any pain for others as well as for himself. 
The outward trouble (literally ' in the flesh '), which he would 
fain have his friends escape, is the anguish over premature 
birth and other sorrows which the married especially would 
encounter in the social and political overthrow which heralded 
the downfall of the world. Any additional tie like marriage 

29 means a fresh source of trouble. Besides, is it worth while to 
marry ? Has not the period before the End been shortened ? 
That the time before the Crisis (as he calls it in Rom. xiii. 11-12), 
or the interval of painful waiting, had been mercifully curtailed 
by God, was an apocalyptic belief, inherited by the primitive 
Church from Judaism (Mark xiii. 17, 22). Why, then, marry, 
when all such earthly ties and forms of interest had better be 

92 



CHAPTER VII, VERSES 27-31 

replaced by a detachment of heart, in view of the Lord's 
coming ? The present scene, or scheme of things, is but a 31 
passing phase, not final ; it is not even a shifting scene, for the 
last Act of the divine drama is imminent. Paul's rhapsody 
here recalls the Stoic preaching of calm detachment from 
mundane ties, though the Stoics held no vivid eschatological 
beliefs. ' Look at Socrates ; he had a wife and children, but 
he treated them as if they did not belong to him . . . when he 
had to plead for his life, did he behave Uke a man who had a 
wife and children ? No, he behaved as one who is free, one 
who remembers that love to God comes first ' (Epictetus, 
iv. I. 159 f., iii. 24. 60). It is on this line that Paul writes, so 
let those who have wives live as if they had none. The entire 
passage is a lyrical outburst upon renunciation of the world 
as the other side of absolute devotion to the Lord. It is not 
to be read as if it were a cool protocol on conduct, as though, 
for example, he was taking back what he had said on marriage 
in verses 3-5 ; it is a passionate, heroic reminder that the 
Christian life must never be identified with even the nearest 
and dearest of worldly experiences, however legitimate and 
appealing they may be. Marriage, grief, happiness, and 
trade — against none of them in themselves has the apostle a 
word to say. Only, they are not everything for a Christian. 
Roman Stoicism had taught men to take a similarly detached 
attitude towards the good things of this life. In his seventy- 
fourth epistle, for example, Seneca finely pled that we should 
* consider such things as handed over to us for a time, remem- 
bering that they are really foreign to us. . . . They may come 
very close to us, but never must they adhere to us so closely 
that their removal would distract or upset life.' Paul's similar 
counsel is derived from a thrilling reUgious motive of his own, 
however. For him everything shrinks into insignificance 
beside the glory of being a Christian (see on xv. 32). He cannot 
conceive that anything really matters except devotion to the 
joy of belonging to the Lord and being at his disposal. It is 
the spirit of the passage, not the letter, which is vital. What 
he contributed to the unworldliness of the Church by such 
teaching was not lost, even when the eschatological setting 

93 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

became less convincing. The best minds in Christendom 
responded to this appeal, never to allow even innocent or 
useful interests to detach them from loyalty to the Lord. It is 
noteworthy that Epictetus himself bore testimony to this 
quality of the Christian faith soon afterwards. These Gali- 
leans, he frankly admitted, are noted for their supreme 
interest in spiritual things, ranking all else secondary ; in 
lecturing on the need of a spirit which does not set its heart 
upon material possessions, even as it enjoys them (and he 
includes wife and children), he took occasion to point out that 
' the Galileans are trained to this attitude of the soul by 
habit ' (iv. 7. 5, 6). 

Paul now concludes with an expansion (32-35) of what he 
had said in the parenthesis of verse 28, though the anxieties 
are still connected with marriage. 

32 I want you to be free from all anxieties. 

The unmarried man is anxious about the Lord's affairs, 
how best to satisfy the Lord ; 

33 the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, 

34 how best to satisfy his wife — so he is torn in two 

directions. 
The unmarried woman or the maid* is also anxious about 
the Lord's affairs, 
how to be consecrated, body and spirit ; 
once married, she is anxious about worldly affairs, 
how best to satisfy her husband. 

35 I am saying this in your own interests. Not that I want to 

restrict your freedom ; it is only to secure decorum and 
concentration upon a life of devotion to the Lord. 

* Reading f\ yuvfj ^ 6yaiios xal i\ irapeivos with pi6 B P, the Vulgate, etc. 

32 ' To have a wife and to have children means many an anxiety 
in life for a father,' the Greek poet Menander (xi. 6, xv. 33) 
observed. Paul plays on the double sense of anxious ; the 
right concern is for the interests or affairs of the Lord (see 
xii. 25, Rom. viii. 8, and Phil. ii. 29), the wrong is for personal 

94 



CHAPTER VII, VERSES 32-35 

affairs connected with this world (as in Matt. vi. 25 f.). It 33 
is from the latter that he wishes to free any Corinthians who 
are thinking of marriage. Any division of interests means 34 
that one is torn in two directions. He selects a verb (memeristai) 
which has a certain assonance with the word for anxieties 
{merimnai) , but it is common in this sense of distraction. He 35 
disclaims once more (23) any idea of trying to shackle or 
restrict their freedom by thus heading them off marriage ; it 
is in their own interests (26, 28), he pleads, and as usual his 
motive is religious. Decorum might mean that, in vindicating 
an unmarried Christian woman's position as honourable in the 
sight of God, he was freeing her from the stigma which was 
generally attached to spinsters in ancient society. But this 
would only cover one class of those mentioned. Decorum in 
English, as well as in Latin, evades definition, though, as it 
includes the idea of seemliness or moral propriety, it would 
embrace here freedom from any moral laxity such as the 
apostle has been denouncing in the above discussion. The 
term is opposed to the unbecoming, distracted state (verse 34) 
which Paul seems naively to regard as inevitable for married 
persons. It has thus a wider range than in i Thess. iv. 12 or 
in Rom. xiii. 13 or even in xii. 24 below. The closing adverb, 
* free from distraction ' (concentration) comes from an adjec- 
tive afterwards used by Epictetus in replying to a young man 
who asked if a real philosopher should regard marriage and a 
family as primary duties (iii. 22. 67 f.) : ' As things are,' the 
anxious enquirer was told, ' in the present state of the world, 
which is that of a battle-field, may it not be the Cynic's duty 
to be free from distraction in order to serve God utterly. . . . 
Ordinarily marriage is very Hable to distraction, so that we 
do not find upon enquiry that marriage is a primary concern 
for the Cynic' 

The English Version (' . . . how he may please his wife. And 34 
there is a difference also between the wife and the virgin ') 
represents a different punctuation and rendering of the text 
which arose in the second century ; but this gives a weak, 
flat sense to memeristai. Torn or drawn in two directions is the 
one meaning of the verb here. Whether Paul was thinking of 

95 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

the story flow recorded in Luke x. 40-42, the modem reader 
thinks of it as he Hstens to this plea for undivided attention 
and unreserved surrender to the Lord. It is noble, searching 
counsel, written out of his very soul. We need not, of course, 
take it too literally, as though he had forgotten a devoted 
couple like Aquila and Priscilla beside him, when he criticizes 
marriage so severely and ideahzes bachelors and spinsters as 
if they were invariably unselfish. Not all unmarried men used 
their life for higher ends, as he himself did. Generalizations 
like this, even from the lips of an apostle, require to be taken 
with several grains of salt, especially as the passage is too 
grave to permit any hypothesis that it is touched with irony. 
It is indeed true that a man with a family may be tempted, if 
not forced, to forego some higher duties which otherwise he 
would have undertaken, just as he may be obliged, or think 
himself obliged, for the family's sake, to compromise his prin- 
ciples now and then. The domesticated may well lose any 
pubhc spirit which they once possessed. It was said by an 
Englishman that the devil comes to an Englishman in the 
shape of his wife and family. Yet the devil can get at the 
unmarried as easily, in other ways. Paul must have known 
this, though he does not choose to blunt the edge of his thrust 
by introducing any of the qualifications which became needful 
when it was realized that the world was not to end in the 
present generation. The fact is, this discussion of marriage is 
ending, as it began, with a rather limited appreciation of wed- 
lock, which does not compare favourably with the noble 
estimate of a Roman Stoic like Musonius Rufus, in his tracts 
upon the subject. The moralist on his sedate level does fuller 
justice than the evangelist, more than once, to a relationship 
which provides opportunities of its own for self-denial, un- 
selfish affection, and religious growth, while his words on the 
unmarried state do not sound so detached from the realities of 
life. Xhe whole discussion at one or two points fail s to sho w 
Paul atlfiis best, fo r all its magniticent recau to unworidliness. 
io secure single-minded devotion to the Lord, it is needlul to 
be more than unmarried, and the married are not necessarily 
handicapped in attaining this high end. As, indeed, the 

96 



CHAPTER VII, VERSE 35 

apostle himself allows elsewhere, when the tension of his mind 
over the immediacy of the End is relaxed. 

A breach of decorum, however, in the special sense of sexual 
impropriety (as in Rom. i. 27), may arise when marriage is 
eschewed. Paul now handles this (in 36-38), and his method 
is another indication that some hesitation was stirring in his 
mind as he realized what was happening to some venturesome 
champions of celibacy. Evidently this particular case had 
emerged at Corinth, according to the letter of the church. It 
is the case of some 

youth to whom was given 

So much of earth, so much of heaven, 

And such impetuous blood — 

some enthusiast of the Spirit belonging to a group which 
believed that they should and could live on earth as they were 
soon to live in heaven, where there was to be neither marrying 
nor giving in marriage ; they resolved to furnish here and now 
a symbolic reproduction of the perfect life with God in the 
New Age which was about to dawn. Their ascetic zeal so 
exalted them that, defying the ordinary impulses and passions 
of sex, they sought to show worldly Christians what marriage 
ought to be — a common devotion to the Lord and yet an 
avoidance of sexual intercourse, a union of two spirits, in fact, 
not of two bodies. Such seems to be the situation, though the 
data are by no means free from uncertainty. An anticipation 
of this strange custom had been introduced even into Judaism 
by the hohness movement of the Therapeutae in Egypt, some 
of whom lived together under a mild vow of continence. In 
the Church it was eschatological as well as ascetic enthusiasm 
which prompted the move, however, and developed it into a 
heroic form of spiritual achievement. The man and woman 
were spiritually married, but that was all. It is one illus- 
tration of how much was going on at this time in the Church 
of which we know little or nothing, during the second half of 
the first century. Were it not for the happy accident of an 
unhappy irreverence in the Corinthian church, for example, 
we would have practically no evidence, for about a century 
after the crucifixion, that the eucharist was celebrated or how 
Ic 97 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

it was celebrated. So with vicarious baptism for the dead, the 
evidence for which only begins to appear about the very time 
when data become accessible about spiritual marriages on the 
part of exalted prophets in some quarters of the Christian 
mission, proving that the practice was, and had been, widely 
current. The present paragraph attests the phenomenon at 
Corinth, though traces of its full bloom are soon to be found in 
the second century, from Antioch to Rome, from Syria to 
North Africa. The Coptic version attests it for Egypt. It was 
only in the beginning of the fourth century that some synods 
of the Church denounced the practice, owing to the prevalence 
of scandals such as Paul dreads in his discussion of the case. 

Upon the whole, therefore, this paragraph is a pendant to 
the foregoing sentence as well as to the foregoing counsel to 
men in 32, 33. 

36 At the same time, if any man considers that he is not behaving 

properly to the maid who is his spiritual bride, if his passions 
are strong and if it must be so, then let him do what he 

37 wants — let them be married ; it is no sin for him. But the 
man of firm purpose who has made up his mind, who 
instead of being forced against his will has determined to 
himself to keep his maid a spiritual bride — that man will 

38 be doing the right thing. Thus both are right, alike in 
marrying and in refraining from marriage, but he who 
does not marry will be found to have done better. 

36 The improper or unseemly behaviour is not some physical 
outrage on the man's part, but a general term for this spiritual 
comradeship, as the man now judges it ; he considers that the 
right, fair course for himself and his religious mate is to get 
married, since the strain of their ideal connexion is proving too 
much for flesh and blood. Paul agrees that he should. It is no 
sin, though it would be better if the pair could still have 
sufficient self-control to hve together without any sexual union 

37 (as in 8, 9). To the apostle such spiritual marriages are a noble 
experiment, but unfortunately the flesh is so weak that they 
are not wise for all. He contemplates the problem from the 

98 



CHAPTER VII, VERSES 36-37 

standpoint of the man. The woman is his maid, Hterally ' the 
unmarried woman (34) who belongs to him,' who is under his 
protection as she shares his rehgious vocation. Plainly she is 
not his daughter, since let them be married can only refer to 
the pair in question, just as the rare word for marry in verse 38 
is used to denote, like our English ' marry,' a man celebrating 
marriage with a girl as well as a father marrying off his 
daughter. Maid is not an equivalent for ' daughter ' in Greek, 
unless a parent has been explicitly mentioned already. The 
plural of the verb here is therefore almost decisive against the 
notion that some ascetically minded parent or guardian was 
preventing a daughter or ward from getting married. Con- 
ceivably, indeed, a man might be betrothed to a girl, but, 
owing to ultra-spiritual scruples, he might be keeping her in 
this position at first, instead of consummating the marriage, 
persuading her and even himself that such a nominal tie must 
stand for a real marriage in the case of real Christians, though 
it is prosaic to suppose that Paul thought of a Christian in the 
position of a Palestinian Jew who began to feel the sexual urge 
before the year of betrothal was over. His maid is hardly an 
equivalent for ' betrothed.' The Greeks, for whom Paul was 
writing, had a word of their own for this, as they had for 
' daughter,' and Paul knew Greek well enough to have em- 
ployed it if he required to do so. The natural and appropriate 
sense of maid is the maid or virgin who is his spiritual bride. 
It is, in short, a case of the elementary, early relationship 
which soon afterwards developed into the virgines suhintroductce 
of the later Church ; Ephraim Syrus, who knew this queer 
phenomenon at first hand, has no hesitation in interpreting the 
passage thus. It was when knowledge of it had vanished, or 
when the Church did not care to believe that it had ever 
existed in the primitive days, that the devout either alle- 
gorized the passage or readjusted Paul's advice to fit a supposed 
exercise of the patria potestas by some imperious father who 
claimed to rule a grown-up daughter's life by his own rigorist 
scruples. 

The rare word rendered if his passions be strong denotes the 36 
surge of sexual passion which some were able to control, while 

99 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

others felt they must yield to it against their will, or (as we 
say) in spite of their original determination and judgement. 
To render this ' as past the flower of her age ' or bloom is 
doubly wrong, for there is no change of subject, and there 
would be no point in marrying off a woman after she had 
reached a certain age of maturity. Though Paul does not go 
into details, he is obviously deahng with the case of a religious 
couple who discover after a year or two that their relationship 
is becoming too severe a trial for human nature. The man 
becomes aware (perhaps the girl told him so) that it was no 
longer fair to her ; also his own full-blooded life was being 
dangerously stirred by the close, physical associations into 
which they were thrown as they lived and travelled together in 
the Christian mission. It is to some such situation, created by 

37 a heroic but risky enthusiasm, that Paul addresses himself. 
He desires that such spiritual marriages should be continued ; 
to him they are, like glossolalia, an amazing proof of the 
Spirit's triumph over human paissions and faculties. They are 
the right thing for the right spirit of firm purpose. Yet, with 
a flash of the good sense which in this chapter repeatedly 
balances his exalted hopes and steadies his spiritual demands, 

38 he will not have the better course compromised by Christians 
who unfortunately are unequal to its exacting discipline. 
Literally the words about being not forced against his will 
mean ' hath power over his own will,' and will might be the 
sexual impulse, as it is in John i. 13 ; it has a broader sense 
here, but what compels a man to take the course of marriage, 
in the circumstances, is the need of doing something to prevent 
this imperious impulse from driving him to an immoral satis- 
faction. 

On hearing his directions about marriage read over by the 
amanuensis, Paul adds a final postscript to the ruling that a 
woman must remain single if she separated from her husband 
(verse 11). 

39 A woman is bound to her husband during his lifetime ; but if 

he dies she is free to marry anyone she pleases — only it 

40 must be a Christian. However, she is happier if she remains 

100 



CHAPTER VII, VERSES 37-40 

as she is ; that is my opinion — and I suppose I have the*"*^****^ 
Spirit of God as well as other people 1 

His earlier prohibition of mixed marriages (in 2 Cor. vi. 14 f.) 
had evidently been resented by some feminist champions as 
an infringement of Christian hberty. But he foresaw that 
spiritual rigorists might also criticize him for admitting any 
second marriage, that being for them a breach of spirituality. 
Hence the fresh (ii. 16), half ironical assertion of his apostolic 40 
right to give a decision as well as other leaders who might 
claim inspired authority for advocating either perfect freedom, 
not only to marry, but to marry more than once and to marry 
anybody, or else abstinence from second marriage at all. 
Happier suggests not merely freedom from trouble (verse 28), 
but the blessed freedom of being able to devote herself to the 
Lord's affairs. Paul's ideal for a widow, whose husband had 
' passed to his rest,' is a univira (Luke ii. 36 f.) like Hannah. 
His influence told strongly on the later Church, even though 
rigorists disliked his permission of second marriage. The 39 
reason why he speaks of the matter at all, in connexion with 
women and not with widowers, is that in ancient society the 
position of a widow was specially precarious if she had no 
private means. Many became dependent on charity (Acts vi. i, 
James i. 27), while others longed for re-marriage on this as well 
as on other grounds. 



IS IT PERMISSIBLE FOR A CHRISTIAN TO EAT FOOD 
WHICH HAS BEEN FORMALLY CONSECRATED TO 

AN IDOL? 

(viii. i-xi. 2) 

He now turns to another issue. Prejudices as well as 
passions were creatmg trouble m tiie Church, and the difficulty 
arose over food. Some of the Christians at Rome had taken to 
religious vegetarianism, but this did not appeal even to the 
ascetics at Corinth, though such a form of self-denial was 

lOI 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

practised in the local Orphic cult. Neither was the friction over 
' kosher ' food, as it had been at Antioch, for there was no 
strife at Corinth between Jewish and gentile members of the 
Church. The issue arose over food which had been formally 
consecrated to some pagan deity ; the meat supply locally 
came from this source in large measure, and it roused scruples. 
Paul could not answer the question so simply as he had done at 
Antioch. It had become acute since he left Corinth. Food 
offered to idols is one word in Greek. Pious pagans spoke of 
Iheothuta or hierothuta, food sacrificed to some deity, but Jews 
had scornfully turned the term into eidolothuta, ' food offered 
to idols ! ' No strict Jew would touch it. This food-tabu was 
used by Jews in applying the first commandment to the dif- 
ferentiation between themselves and gentiles. But some 
Christians did not feel bound by any such restriction. They 
would not hesitate to attend a club dinner in some temple, 
under the nominal patronage of a deity, where such food was 
served ; they would buy meat from the market which had 
belonged to a sacrificial animal, or they would eat such a dish 
freely at dinner, without being conscious that they were doing 
anything inconsistent with their Christian principles. If at 
Corinth they were told of the Jerusalem decree against eating 
eidolothuta, they probably resented or scorned the idea that 
they should be hampered by any local edict of the Palestinian 
churches which enforced such irrelevant scruples. ' We 
Christians know better ; an idol is nothing to us.' When the 
hunting club of the Artemisians held a banquet, for example, 
they began by sacrificing part of the meat to Artemis, their 
patron deity. Or a private party might be given, nominally 
as a ' table of lord Serapis,' the proceedings being opened by a 
similar sacrifice. It was all part and parcel of the formal eti- 
quette in society. Were Christian churchmen to cut them- 
selves off from these entertainments, in a nervous, sour spirit ? 
If idols meant nothing to them, if they made no secret of their 
utter indifference to the traditional religious setting, and if no 
pagan friend objected, why raise scruples and give way to 
fads ? So they argued. But some of their fellow-members 
shuddered at the very thought of eating food which had been 

102 



CHAPTER VIII, VERSE i 

contaminated by consecration to an idol. Daemons could not 
only possess human souls but infect food, they believed. They 
were as upset by this frank conduct of the liberal majority as 
some others were at Rome over a refusal to practise vege- 
tarianism (see Romans xiv.). To them it was a dreadful and 
dangerous exposure of the soul to pagan spirits of evil, if 
anyone ate food which must surely be charged with their 
impure, potent influence. 

As in handl in g the sex-question, so here ; Paul has his own 
o pinion, and h e^doe s not conceal it, but he mak es gen erpus 
allowance f or the weaker party and pleads with the enlightene d 
to be t ole rant and consider ate. Thfi- Spirit of his treatment is 
timeless, though the sp ecial features of the situation are__a 
thing of the^ past. It is not only his decision, but the temper 
in which he would have it taken, which is so valuable. The 
local difference of judgement had raised thejoroblem of religious 
scruples^ which required to be handled with sympathy as well 
as with firmness. Scruples invariably point to a sensitive 
conscience ; it may be unenlightened, but it is alive to the truth 
that religious principles ought to be carried out with care, and 
that they often imply attention to some practical detail of 
food or dress or ritual. People who have certain scruples about 
the proper expression of their faith in social or private conduct 
are at any rate upon a higher level than many who are content 
to do as others do in their circle, without examining the 
situation for themselves in the light of their behefs. On the 
other hand, scruples, however honest, may be equally out of 
touch with the centre. They may be due to the survival of 
some traditional prejudice which has been carried over into a 
new faith where it is really irrelevant ; if so, the mind may be 
unduly swayed by preconceived and narrow estimates of right 
and wrong. Such scruples are apt to arise out of an exaggerated 
emphasis upon this or that external item, and they may 
induce a crotchety, nervous, or dictatorial temper, which 
damages spiritual health. To indulge in scruples m.ay be as 
weakening as to rely upon what is called a robust common 
sense. The conscientious person also may become annoying, 
just as the enlightened man may slip into a brusque 

103 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

impatience with people who timidly shrink from what seems 
permissible, especially if they seek to fetter his own honest 
freedom. What, then, is to be done with a tender conscience 
and its misgivings ? It was the first time that the subject 
had presented itself to the apostle, 
viii. 

1 With regard to food that has been offered to idols. Here, of 

course, ' we all possess knowledge ' I Knowledge puffs up, 

2 love builds up. Whoever imagines he has attained to some 
degree of knowledge, does not possess the true knowledge 

3-4 yet ; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him. Now, 
with regard to food that has been offered to idols, I 
am well aware that ' there is no such thing as an idol in 

5 the world, ' and that ' there is only the one God. * (So-called 
gods there may be, in heaven or on earth — as indeed there 

6 are plenty of them, both gods and ' lords ' — but for us 

there is one God, the Father, 
from whom all comes, 
and for whom we exist ; 
one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
by whom all exists, 
and by whom we exist.) 

7 But, remember, it is not everyone who has this * knowledge. ' 

I In principle he agrees with the enlightened majority at 
Corinth. Of course, as you say, we all know it is absurd to 
suppose that meaningless things Hke idols can taint meat. But 
he quotes their phrase with a tinge of irony, objecting to the 
spirit of ostentatious self-complacency underneath it, and 
interpolating a brief reminder by way of warning before he 
proceeds. Knowledge puffs up, love builds up. Paul is the 
only writer in the New Testament who uses this term ' puff 
up,' and, except for one other allusion (in Col. ii. i8), he only 
uses it in addressing the Corinthian Christians. Strictly speak- 
ing, true knowledge does not puff up ; the really learned are 
generally humble, as they think about their attainments, and 
inclined to be patient with stupid people. But Paul is thinking 
of the self-conceit which is the plague of enlightened people 

104 



CHAPTER VIII, VERSES 1-2 

who tend to plume themselves on their knowledge of God and 
man. This leads to an aloof attitude towards the unen- 
lightened ; it confuses character with knowledge — the pre- 
vaihng temptation of the Greek mind. It produces in Chris- 
tianity what Paul, as a Pharisee, was well conscious of, a 
superior, if not a scornful attitude towards less educated people. 
To this he opposes love, not because he exalts emotion over 
knowledge (see Phil. i. 9), but because genuine love attains the 
experimental knowledge of God which any so-called enlighten- 
ment, or ' gnosis,' seeks, and because it builds up or edifies. 
Ethics had already used this architectural metaphor, but our 
modern term ' edify ' has associations of emotional stirring 
which do not correspond to the original force and range of the 
word. What ' edifies ' is for Paul the powers of thoughtful, 
considerate fellowship that build up Christians securely. A 
building is not erected by sudden impulse or emotion, but by 
patient, skilful use of the materials, with a view to stable 
cohesion. So the Christian society depends upon the steady 
support and unselfish interest of every member, and nothing is 
more irrelevant or detrimental than the temper of arrogant 
self-importance. Any proud spirit on the part of liberals or 2 
enlightened members merely proves that they have failed to 
understand what true knowledge of their God means. He is 
using knowledge here in its famihar sense, common to the Old 
Testament and to contemporary Hellenistic religion, as a 
personal relationship between God and man ; our modern use 
of the word is too intellectual for this deeper meaning, as is 
clear from a passage like xiii. 12. The rebuke to the hberals is 
therefore twofold. First to their conceit, on characteristically 
Greek lines ; real knowledge is never self-satisfied and super- 
cilious. Anyone who imagines that he has attained a high level 
of insight (* some knowledge,' as we say) shows by his self- 
pretensions that he is still immature. Like a genuine Stoic, like 
Epictetus (i. 8. 8, Enchirid. 13, 48, etc.), Paul repudiates such 
claims to perfect understanding. It is not, ' he knoweth 
nothing as he ought to know,' but, he knows nothing that he 
ought to know ; it is the true knowledge of God (as in Rom. 
viii. 26) rather than the right manner of knowledge which is in 

105 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

question, though naturally the one involves the other. ' You 
Corinthians know so much, you think. But how much you 
have still to learn ! You are not yet on the inside of things.' 

3 And (secondly) this inside reality is a loving concern for others 
which is inspired by love for God. The sudden turn of expres- 
sion, as sudden and significant as in Gal. iv. 9, rules out any 
notion that one owes rehgious insight to native cleverness or 
acuteness instead of to divine revelation (as in ii. 9-10) ; it 
also emphasizes the character of God as determining the real 
knowledge of faith. All intuitions of God go back to this 
personal devotion which he evokes, it is implied ; this is the 
source and the criterion of any advanced enlightenment. To 
be * known ' is practically the same as to be ' loved ' (as in the 
Johannine interpretation of the faith). Hence to know God 
is to have the spirit of love. Thus, what another teacher 
(James iii. 13 f.) expresses in terms of wisdom (see above, i. 19 f.), 
Paul expresses in terms of brotherly love (in xiii.). 

4 ' Well, now, to come back to our subject. Of course there is 
no such thing as an idol in the world, but only the one God.' 
He does not mean that ' an idol is nothing in the world,' as the 
Enghsh Version after Luther renders the phrase. Idol is not 
a material statue, nor is it equivalent to phantom or ' shadow ' 
or wraith ; it is a spiritual power or supernatural force which 
rivals the one and only God, and as such is a mere ' nonentity,' 
utterly meaningless to a true Christian, for whom, Paul 
heartily agrees, ' there is no such thing in ' a world where 
' there is only the one God. * 

5 Then comes the vital parenthesis. Granted that there are 
so-called gods, or semi-divine beings and * lords ' too, in the 
universe, that means nothing to us, who have the one God and 
the one Lord. Olympian deities, or divine heroes of high or low 
degree, nymphs, fauns, and dryads, swarming everywhere — 
what of it ? Later Paul calls them daemons (x. 20), but now, 
as at Athens (Acts xvii. 16), he scornfully dismisses them as 
phenomena of polytheism. The Stoic's position was that ' since 
the gods exist (assuming they exist, as indeed they do), it 
follows that they are animate beings with a joint control over 
the one world ' (Cicero, De Naiura Deorum, ii. 31). Paul, 

106 



CHAPTER VIII, VERSES 3-6 

writing for Greeks, uses once more (i. 28) the very formulas 6 
and phraseology of Greek philosophers ; here it is to describe 
the one God from whom, by whom, and for whom creation or 
the human soul exists (as in Rom. xi. 36), as a Stoic spoke 
about Zeus or Nature. Corinthians knew how in the shrines of 
a deity hke Serapis at Cenchreae and Corinth the cry went up, 
' There is one god, Serapis,' no one like him ! In the Church 
they had learned to use the phrase in a more profound sense, 
the nearest approach to it being the homage of the synagogue. 
' The Lord our God is one Lord ' (the one and only) . As for 
idols, there are indeed plenty of them, Paul ironically admits. 
The Corinthians could hardly come to church without passing 5 
wooden and stone statues of deities, Roman, Greek, and 
foreign, gilt or vermilion coloured, from the harbour up to the 
parks, processions of tonsured priests in the streets, shrines of 
lord Serapis, lord iEsculapius, etc. (see above, pp. xviii.-xix.). 
Over and against this motley host, the apostle assumes belief in 6 
theoneGod and also in the one Lord as acommonplaceof Christian 
faith. It is taken for granted that the faithful are famiUar with 
both aspects of the truth. That God, not Zeus, is the Father 
(i. 3), the creator of the universe and the End for his people, 
that the world was made by him and we for him, is correlated 
with the truth, which distinguished the Christian revelation 
from its predecessor, Jewish monotheism, that this divine 
purpose from beginning to end works through the one Lord, 
Jesus Christ. It is one of the unsolved problems of primitive 
Christianity how Paul reached this interpretation of God and 
the Lord, whether along the hues of Wisdom as the divine 
organ in creation and providence, or through the cognate idea 
of the Logos. Instead of Son of Man, which Greeks would not 
understand, Paul preferred to use Lord for the royal heavenly 
being of Jesus as risen. God had been hailed as God of gods 
and Lord of lords in the Greek Bible (Dan. ii. 47, Ps. cxxxvi. 2, 3, 
Deut. X. 17) ; Christ is thus Lord of all so-called lords in the 
pagan supernatural universe, and yet — this is significant — 
neither here nor elsewhere is he called God outright. The 
words by whom we exist voice the apostle's deep sense of 
Christians owing their existence to the Lord Jesus, but this 

107 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

never puts God into the background. Christianity for him is 
not a Jesus-cult (see on xv. 28). His faith in the Lord is bound 
up with his faith in the one and only God. Indeed the term 
Lord here is opposed not to God, but to the * lords ' worshipped 
in the Hellenistic cults. For Paul the one Lord is vitally one 
with the one God, in the experience of Christians, as is inci- 
dentally as well as expressly indicated often in this very letter 
(i- 3> 9» 30* iii- 23, vi. 17-20, xi. 3, 11-12, xv. 28). Originally 
Lord, on the lips of primitive Jerusalem or Palestinian 
Christians, as a title for the risen Jesus, denoted an approxi- 
mation of him to God as the divine Son or Servant ; the object 
was to express his close tie to the Father as the revealer of God's 
will and the reahzer of God's saving purpose for the People. 
This naive synthesis of the one God and the one Lord went back 
to the experience created by the resurrection of Christ, and 
Paul deepens it by using ' in the Lord,' not ' in God,' to bring 
out the union between this divine Lord and his folk. Jesus as 
Lord, as the risen and reigning Son of God, mediates fellowship 
with God in all its power and prospects, as nothing else can do. 
So vital is this faith to the apostle that he uses it to rule out 
any possible participation in other ' lord-cults ' (x. 14 f.). At 
Corinth there does not seem to have been any speculative 
heresy in the direction of syncretism, such as had to be met at 
Colossae (see on Col. i. 15 f.) ; hence the apostle does not need 
to go into any reasoned statement of the unshared glory of the 
Lord in mediating union with God. What is implied is, that 
faith in the one God, which Jews confessed in the Shema, and 
which pagan converts hailed as an intense relief from poly- 
theism (see on i Thess. i. 9), was explicit in the belief that the 
Lord Jesus was Hving with God, his Head and Father. Faith 
in God meant in a real sense, therefore, faith in the Son of God 
(see Gal. ii. 20) ; indeed, apart from the latter, Paul goes so far 
as to say that faith in God would have no meaning for him 
(xv. 17), so deeply had the conviction of Jesus as risen entered 
into his experience. Even in the Eucharist, where the primary 
emphasis is upon the tie between the Lord and the faithful, 
the recognition of the divine covenant (xi. 25) recalls the one 
God, since covenant denoted a gracious action and purpose 

108 



CHAPTER VIII, VERSES 6-7 

of the God who provided for the interests of the People 
(seex. I f.). 

As in Augustine's Confessions (i. i : ' thou hast made us for 
thyself '), the personal note after the abstract terms is signi- 
ficant ; twice over it occurs, all (things) ... we (see on i. 30). 
This is in reality a confession of faith. Like i Tim. iii. 16, it 
shows how the initial forms of the creed were intended to be 
sung or chanted, as spontaneous outbursts of heart and mind. 
There may be in from whom all comes an impUcit repudiation 
of the Greek notion, shared by Philo, that matter was the 
basis of creation. But belief in one God was far from being a 
formal item of the confession. Especially for those who had 
come over from the polytheism of paganism, it expressed their 
joyous, reverent relief over an escape from bondage to daemons 
and evil spirits, just as to-day in some mission-fields of the 
East ' the Good News par excellence is the announcement of 
the triumph over daemons by the mighty God come down.' 
And that among many more than the uncultured. ' The 
testimony of Utschimura, the Japanese Christian, may almost 
stand for the confession of all tribes and tongues. " One God," 
he writes, " not many — that was a glad message to my soul." ' ^ 
Such knowledge, or conviction, was by no means dry theology 
to eager, primitive Christians. 

Now that the parenthesis is over (5, 6), Paul proceeds to 7 
deal with the principle in practice. For the essential bearing 
of any such ' knowledge ' is on conduct. ' We may all have 
this true beUef that idols are of no account ; as you say, all 
Christians ought to possess it, but not everyone is yet able to 
recognize the full impact of that fundamental principle about 
being free from scruples about idol-food, of which you are so 
proud.' The next paragraph (7-13) is an expansion of love 
builds up (verse i), in view of the local situation, where a 
minority could not bring themselves to eat such food with 
the freedom and ease of their emancipated friends the hberals. 
The * knowledge ' in which they were defective was not, of 
course, that of the truth proclaimed in the confession of faith. 
Belief in the one God and in Christ as the one Lord was organic 
1 C. N. Moody, The Mind 0/ the Early Converts, pp. 105. 106. 
109 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

to the Church ; it might be held more or less firmly and intelli- 
gently, but Paul never dreamed of suggesting that, if Chris- 
tians were so weak that they dropped such a conviction, they 
might still be Christians. What the weak suffered from was a 
semi-superstitious dread lest these supernatural powers still 
infected food which had been sacrificed to them. 

7 Some who have hitherto been accustomed to idols eat the food 

as food which has been really offered to an idol, and so 

8 their weaker conscience is contaminated. Now mere food 
will not bring us any nearer to God ; 

if we abstain we do not lose anything, 
and if we eat we do not gain anything. 

9 But see that the exercise of your right does not prove any 

10 stumbling-block to the weak. Suppose anyone sees you, a 
person of enlightened mind, reclining at meat inside an 
idol's temple ; will that really * fortify his weak con- 
science ' ? Will it not embolden him to violate his scruples 
of conscience by eating food that has been offered to 

11 idols ? He is ruined, this weak man, ruined by your * en- 
lightened mind,' this brother for whose sake Christ died ! 

12 By sinning against the brotherhood in this way and wound- 
ing their weaker consciences, you are sinning against 

13 Christ. Therefore if food is any hindrance to my brother's 
welfare, sooner than injure him I will never eat flesh as 
long as I live, never I 

7 These weaker brothers were not narrow-minded people who 
insisted upon prohibition as a compulsory rule for all others, 
desiring to impose their scruples upon the Church. Paul would 
have rejected such a censorious tyranny (x. 29) as an invasion 
of Christian liberty, with the same passion as he rejected the 
similar plea for circumcision (Gal. ii. 4, 5). It was not a case of 
scrupulous people insisting that others must share their 
scruples, but of people who were in real danger of being led to 
violate their conscience by the example and influence of 
stronger minds. He introduces here the Stoic term conscience 
into the Christian vocabulary of religion, as the faculty of 

no 



CHAPTER VIII, VERSES 7-1 1 

moral judgement which recognizes responsibility towards a 
personal God for one's actions. It is contaminated (2 Cor. vii. i) 
when such weaker natures eat food which had been formally 
dedicated to an idol, and which they honestly beheve ought not 
to be eaten by a strict Christian. ' What you stronger, en- 
lightened people do with a perfectly good conscience, they are 
led to do against their convictions.' Paul's attitude to the 8 
whole matter is characteristic. He does not enter into the 
question of how these weaker, over-scrupulous natures are to 
be educated. He himself does not share their petty prejudices. 
He is so far on the side of the enlightened. But all such details 
about food are secondary (Rom. xiv. 17). As Jesus had swept 
aside the Jewish distinctions between ' clean ' and ' unclean ' 
food, so Paul here brushes aside distinctions between pagan 
foods (for, in the hght of x. 14-xi. 32, it is self-evident that he 
is not referring to the communion elements, as though it were 
a matter of indifference whether or not one partook of the 
sacrament). From one point of view, of course, it does matter 
what one eats or drinks ; he was perfectly aUve to that side of 
practical religion. But since food does not affect the standing 
of any Christian towards God, he argues with the enlightened 
that in the circumstances it would do them no harm to abstain 
from idol-food, hinting that they had no business to assume 
they gained anything or somehow became superior Christians 
by eating it. What will do harm is to exercise their right 9 
without consideration for their weaker fellows. You may not 
be eating in any spirit of bravado, but naturally as your right. 
Still, what if you thereby upset the faith of these poor Chris- 
tians, who catch sight of you at a social club dinner in the 10 
Serapeum, or some other pagan shrine, partaking freely of the 
food ? You may retort, ' It will do the man good ; it may 
shake him out of his silly scruples and fortify his conscience.* 
The word fortify is literally ' edify.' A pretty kind of edifica- 
tion, that ! Paul's indignant reply is that on the contrary it 
proves the ruin of the man, if he feels obliged to follow the 11 
lead and commit what is for him a sin. Instead of rising above 
feeble scruples into a stronger sense of the faith, he acts against 
them. Which is fatal, for, such as they are, these scruples 

III 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

represent for him the whole duty that he is conscious of owing 
to God. 

From irony Paul now passes to solemn warning in ' this 
memorable saying,' which Calvin thought should be taken as a 
question ( ' Is the weak brother to be ruined ? '). It is the same 
plea as in Rom. xiv. 15, but charged with passionate indigna- 
tion. To think of one Christian's enlightenment proving the 
ruin of a brother Christian, for whose sake Christ had died ! 
To think of a Christian being unwilling to give up a dinner- 
12 party or a special dish for the sake of a fellow-believer ! So 
far from this conduct being any gain (verse 8), it is pronounced 
a sin against Christ, as it wounds weaker consciences within 
the brotherhood. Four times over Paul drives the appeal home 
with the word brother. How seriously he regards this conduct 
of the enlightened, with their indifference to the susceptibilities 
of others, is plain from the reason as well as from the tone of 
the remonstrance. Lack of due consideration for fellow- 
communicants is stamped as irreverence towards the Body of 
Christ (xi. 27) ; careful devotion to the interests of others is 
made the supreme spiritual gift in the Community (xiv.). Both 
principles were startling to some of the independent Corin- 
thians, but not more so than this reminder that damage might 
follow what they considered to be the exercise of a personal 
right. Instead of talking about the need of weaker Christians 
learning better, Paul counter-attacks the enhghtened by show- 
ing how much they themselves have still to learn about their 
responsibilities to the Lord and to one another in the fellow- 
ship. 

The gravity of his argument comes out, incidentally, in the 
use of two words, wound and injure (or hindrance). Wounding 
the conscience is far more serious than merely hurting a 
man's feelings or shocking him ; it is damaging him by making 
him be unfaithful to what he considers his duty. ' If anyone is 
induced to do what he really beheves to be wrong, even 
although it is not wrong, he wrongs his conscience and is 
guilty of sin. You inflict such a wound upon his conscience,' 
Paul argues, ' if you persuade him by your example so to act. 
The man sins and you too are sinning against Christ as you 

112 



CHAPTER VIII, VERSES 11-12 

behave thus inconsiderately, against Christ who is for you in 
the person of your brother ' (see Matt. xxv. 40, 45, Acts 
xxvi. 14, 15). Paul's profoundly religious ethic makes such 
social misconduct, like immorality (vi. 15), a sin against the 
Lord. The principle is the same as in the trenchant words of 
Jesus about putting a stumbling-block in the path of weaker 
disciples (Matt, xviii. 6, 7), and Paul's closing thrust is aglow 13 
with the same noble passion for it as in 2 Cor. xi. 29 (whose 
faith is hurt, and I am not aglow with indignation ?), where 
hurt is the same word as hindrance and injure here. It is the 
verb corresponding to the noun rendered stumbling-block in 
i. 23. The Cross is indeed a stumbling-bloc^^inherent in 
Christianity, which no true Christian will s§eK to minimize or 
to explain away. But there are stuniJ>Kfig-blocks which are 
wantonly or carelessly thrown in th^r^ay of men by Christians 
themselves, such as this action^ the enlightened over idol- 
food. The term denotes a nnSral upset, which strikes at the 
very standing of a man's^i^th ; it is far more than ' offence ' 
in our modem sense oj'ihe term ; it means here, as it did on 
the lips of Jesus, s ofl^thing that makes a man lose his footing. 
When enlightened Christians exercise their liberty freely, as 
individuals, in certain circumstances, those who are weakly 
sensitive to old restrictions and scruples may be led to take the 
same liberties, yet with a haunting sense of going beyond their 
convictions, i.e. of doing something which is still a sin for 
them. It proves the ruin of them, Paul insists, and you en- 
lightened people, with your nonchalance, are really responsible 
for it ; you have no ' right ' to put them in such a position of 
mortal, moral danger. 

It is one of the passages which prove that {a) Paul was no 
mere theorist. He had a chivalrous concern for people with 
practical difficulties ; he could appreciate the power of preju- 
dices which he himself did not share in his mission fields. The 
Jewish horror of idolatry, for example, was now and then 
accompanied, on the part of those who had come over from 
animism, by a deep sense of the defiling, soul-destroying in- 
fluence of daemons. ' So keenly is this peril still realized ' in 
some quarters, ' that, e.g., in the South India United Church 

Kg 113 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

in Travancore, the Indian members of Church Councils would 
insist on the suspension from Church membership of those who 
attended the marriage festivals, even, of relatives who were 
Hindus, because there idolatrous rites would be practised, and 
so their souls imperilled. 'i It also (b) reveals the apostle as 
one who, like Bunyan, had a generous regard for the backward 
and unintelligent members of the Christian community. Even 
a modern reader, remote from the trouble at Corinth, feels a 
thrill in the closing sentence, the thrill of overhearing a great 
soul championing those who are as yet unable to rid themselves 
of weak, religious scruples (ix. 22). 

He has not yet said his last word on idol-food, however. The 
question has raised, to begin with, a broad principle of be- 
haviour which he now turns to illustrate from his own career. 
Since his departure from Corinth, the local church had dis- 
covered that their apostle was not doing exactly as other and 
older apostles did. He had declined support from the church. 
Was this because he was not really sure of his credentials ? 
Besides, they had found out, either from hearsay or from 
personal observation, that these revered Palestinian autho- 
rities were married and actually travelled with their wives on 
a mission. Why was not Paul like them ? Such criticisms were 
fermenting with suspicion in the minds of those who, for some 
reason or other, were challenging his authority, perhaps glad 
of any handle to use as they discussed his teaching and com- 
pared it unfavourably with the practices and opinions of col- 
leagues who had put in an appearance at Corinth. His critics 
may have alleged that his free, liberal views about idol-food 
were a proof that he was not a real apostle like Peter. But the 
chief point was one which he had had already to meet (see 
I Thess. ii. 9 f., 2 Thess. iii. 8 f.) and was to meet again (2 Cor. 
xi. 7-12), his refusal to accept maintenance from the local 
church during a mission. In view of this, he argues that he 
was simply foregoing rights (ix.) to which he was entitled. 
ix. 
I Am I not free ? Am I not an apostle ? Have I not seen Jesus 
our Lord ? Are you not the work I have accomplished in 
1 Cave, The Gospel of St. Paul. p. 147. 
114 



CHAPTER IX, VERSES 1-2 

the Lord ? To other people I may be no apostle, but to you 2 
I am, for you are the seal set upon my apostleship in the 
Lord. 

Paul gives a lead. ' In asking you to consider others as you i 
enjoy your Christian freedom, I am doing no more than what 
I do myself. This self-imposed limitation of liberty in the 
interests of other Christians is my own practice as I carry out 
my apostolic mission. Free as I am, with all the rights of an 
apostle, I do not take advantage of my position.' He is meeting 
criticism of his authority again (as in iv. 3 f.), and with this in 
mind insists upon his apostolic succession. Have I not seen 
Jesus our Lord (the Maran of the primitive Church, xvi. 22) ? 
Whether or not he had seen Jesus in Jerusalem (see on 2 Cor. 
V. 16), the revelation near Damascus (xv. 8) meant his per- 
sonal commission, with all the rights and authority of an 
apostle. ' You doubt that ? You deny or disparage my 2 
position ? Well, look at your own fellowship, which was the 
result of that commission, certifying my apostolic function ' — 
an echo of i. 6, iii. 10 f., iv. 15. 

Here is my reply to my inquisitors. Have we no right to eat and ^l 
drink at the expense of the churches ? Have we no right to 5 
travel with a Christian wife, like the rest of the apostles, 
like the brothers of the Lord, like Cephas himself ? What I 6 
are we the only ones, myself and Barnabas, who are denied 
the right of abstaining from work for our living ? Does 7 
a soldier provide his own supplies ? Does a man plant a 
vineyard without eating its produce ? Does a shepherd get 
no drink from the milk of the flock ? Human arguments, 8 
you say ? But does not Scripture urge the very same ? It 9 
is written in the law of Moses, You must not muzzle an ox 
when he is treading the grain. Is God thinking here abotit 
cattle ? Or is he speaking purely for our sakes ? Assuredly 10 
for our sakes. This word was written for us, because the 
ploughman needs to plough in hope, and the thresher to 
thresh in the hope of getting a share in the crop. If wen 
sowed you the seeds of spiritual good, is it a great matter 

115 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

12 if we reap your worldly goods ? If others share this right 
over you, why not we all the more ? 

* We, Barnabas and myself, have a perfect right to support 
for ourselves and our wives, if we choose, but I have a perfect 
right to forego personal support, without incurring reproach 

5 from any inquisitive critic.' This is the theme of 3-18. The 
full right claimed, or rather the privilege asserted, is provision 
for oneself and also for a Christian wife, but Paul, who was 
unmarried, argues it on the former ground alone. ' A sister, a 
wife ' is not a spiritual bride (vii. 36) ; Luke's allusion to the 
wives of the twelve apostles (Acts i. 14) impHes that some were 
married as well as Peter and PhiUp. The casual reference to 
the brothers of the Lord in this connexion is another reminder of 
how much was going on in the primitive period of which we 
have little or no information in the New Testament writings. 
These four brothers joined the Church after the resurrection, 
but the only one famiHar to us is James (xv. 7), and even the 

6 record of his conversion is obscure. Paul mentions Barnabas 
as a prominent apostle who, as the Corinthians knew and 
disliked (true to the Roman scorn for manual labour as degrad- 
ing), shared his own practice of working for a living. 

7 Of the three illustrations from a soldier of the legions on 
active service (as the Greek term implies), a vine-planter, and 
a shepherd— all employed by Jesus in his teaching — the 
second is an almost unconscious echo of the humane regulation 
that among those exempt from campaigning in Israel was 
anyone ' who has planted a vineyard and not yet enjoyed the 
fruit of it ' (Deut. xx. 6). Another word from the Deutero- 
nomic code occurred to Paul, when he hurried on to clinch 
proofs from nature with a proof from Scripture. ' Oh, you may 

8 say, but these are secular, human arguments ? What Scrip- 
ttire have you for your plea ? ' Using ' law ' as equivalent to 

9 Scripture (as he does in xiv. 21 and elsewhere), he retorts by 
quoting the regulation of Deuteronomy (xxv. 4) that no ox is 
to be muzzled when he is treading the grain. Here is warrant 
from the Sacred Book ! ' You may object, " But what has 
this to do with Christian apostles ? " Everything ! As if 

116 



CHAPTER IX, VERSES 4-10 

God was thinking about cattle when he laid down this rule in 
the law of Moses I ' The English Version, ' for our sakes, no 10 
doubt, this is written,' conveys a wrong impression. Paul has 
no doubt that the injunction is not to be understood literally, 
but spiritually. The Greek word for purely is the same as 
literally, or absolutely, in verse 10. The Jewish philosopher 
Philo generally took the same view of such precepts in the 
Old Testament ; he regarded the minute laws about animal 
sacrifice, for example, as really intended by God to illustrate 
human conduct. The Law was designed for rational creatures, 
not for animals. But, though Philo thought it was beneath 
God's concern to legislate for commonplace details and external 
trifles, he was better than his theory when he came to this 
humane rule for peasants, that as oxen moved round the 
threshing-floor, trampling the grain from the husk, they were 
to be permitted an occasional bite. ' I like this gentle, gracious 
law,' he wrote, in his treatise on The Virtues (19). Paul 
appears to have shared the opinion^ that such an interpreta- 
tion was unworthy of God's dignity. It is better to recognize 
this limitation frankly than to argue, with Thomas Aquinas 
and Calvin, that he merely holds the literal to be less impor- 
tant than the spiritual appHcation. For Paul, the Hteral sens e 
o f the injunction had no significance at_all^ it is one drawback 
of mystical or allegorical interpretations that, in extracting 
what is supposed to be the higher meaning of a text or incident, 
they often miss the profound, direct, significance of the literal 
statement. If we may trust a schoUast who writes on the 
Pax (14) of Aristophanes, when Athenian slaves of old were 
set to grind com, they actually had a circular collar put round 
their necks, to prevent the poor wretches from picking up any 
grains for food. 

The meaning of this word, then, is to show that those who 
plough and thresh in the Christian mission, whether in breaking 
the ground or in preparing the crop afterwards, are naturally 1 1 

1 A century earlier. Jewish Hellenists at Alexandria had taken this 
line. The writer of the Epistle of Aristeas (144) declares that one must 
never ' relapse into the abandoned view that when Moses drew up the 
rules in the Law with such great care, he did it for the sake of mice 
and weasels and the like.' 

117 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

entitled to get something material in reward for their spiritual 
12 exertions. Worldly here is the same as material in the similar 
argument of Rom. xv. 27. Surely, Paul adds, with a touch of 
irony, it is no great matter, nothing surprising (the same 
phrase as in 2 Cor. xi. 15) or extraordinary, to expect this 
from you ! The we is emphatic, we as well as these recent 
mission-agents who have been with you. In 2 Cor. xi. 20 he 
alludes to what he considered to be a grasping case of financial 
dealing on the part of one of these missioners. And we means 
not only himself as the founder of the local church, their own 
apostle, but those like Timotheus and Silas who had been 
associated with him in the first stage of the mission. 

Paul's departure (12-18) from the common practice of 
Christian apostles on a point for which there was an explicit 
word of Jesus (verse 14), is significant and puzzling. He seems 
to have had no hesitation in taking the word as permissive, 
instead of feeling bound to any merely external imitation of 
what was laid down by the Lord. His plea was that he declined 
hospitality from his churches in order to prevent scandal. Did 
some Jews ever object to a Christian teacher taking money for 
spiritual instruction when no rabbi would ? Or did any 
pagans feel that such a practice was little better than that of 
wandering sophists, who took fees for popular lectures on 
morals and religion as well as on literature and history ? Even 
against the latter custom there were some Greek protests. Or 
did Paul chiefly feel that he ought not to be a burden to his 
poor churches ? In any case he claimed to have a good 
conscience, denied that this practice was any irregularity 
which compromised his apostolic authority, as though he 
were not in apostolic orders because he declined maintenance, 
and refused to accept money from any church, with the excep- 
tion of the Philippian community (Phil. iv. 15). To the end 
he persisted in this (Acts xx. 33-35), quoting in his defence 
another word of Jesus. But his point always was that he did 
so in order to prove his own disinterestedness. No one was to 
have reason to accuse him of making a good thing out of 
preaching the gospel, or to be repelled from the Faith by any 
suspicion that Paul's missions were financially profitable. 

118 



CHAPTER IX. VERSES 11-12 

Still, he is equally careful to insist, other apostles have a 
perfect right to claim such support, as much right and freedom 
as he has to deny himself such freedom. It is noticeable that 
he does not take the ground of some Greeks like Socrates, who 
argued that if a religious or moral teacher took money, he was 
not so free to speak to his audience as he might be bound to 
speak. Nor does he refer to his own precedent as a rabbi, taught 
to work at a trade in self-support. The reason why he was so 
sensitive on this particular point is presented from another 
angle altogether. 

The word cited from the gospel tradition (verse 14) belongs 
to directions of Jesus for his disciples on a mission, which 
are charged with urgency. No time to be wasted, no side-issues 
allowed to divert the missioners from the dominant duty of 
preaching the gospel in view of the immediate End ! Paul's 
absorption in preaching (i. 17, ii. 4, iv. i, ix. 16) corresponds to 
this tradition. The motive is the same, to reach as many as 
possible with the gospel of the Cross and the Return, before it 
is too late. This makes it all the more remarkable that he felt 
at liberty to rule his methods differently from the definite 
direction of Jesus on one point. At the same time the citation 
of this gospel-word is a significant proof that one of the first 
cycles of the tradition about Jesus to be preserved by the 
Churches was not only that of the Passion-story (xi. 23 f.) and 
the resurrection (xv. 3 f.), but the delegation of spiritual autho- 
rity to his disciples in the apostolic propaganda of the King- 
dom, which, in a real though obscure way, determined the 
responsible and special functions of the apostles in the primi- 
tive mission during the post-resurrection period. 

We did not avail ourselves of it, you say ? No, we do not mind 12 
any privations if we can only avoid putting any obstacle in 
the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that as 13 
men who perform temple-rites get their food from the 
temple, and as attendants at the altar get their share of the 
sacrifices, so the Lord's instructions were that those who 14 
proclaim the gospel are to get their living by the gospel ? 
Only, I have not availed myself of any of these rights, and 15 
119 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

I am not writing to secure any such provision for myself. 
I would die sooner than let anyone deprive me of this, my 

1 6 source of pride. What I am proud of is not the mere 
preaching of the gospel ; that I am constrained to do. 

17 Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel I I get a reward 
if I do it of my own accord, whereas to do it otherwise is 

18 no more than for a steward to discharge his trust. And my 
reward ? This, that I can preach the gospel free from 
charge, that I can refrain from insisting on all my rights 
as a preacher of the gospel. 

Again he begins with illustrations from common life before 

13 clinching his argument with a word from Scripture. After 
appealing to the familiar religious custom in ethnic and Jewish 

14 circles, he mentions directions or authoritative instructions of 
the Lord. The allusion is to a word which is preserved in 
Luke X. 7 (the workman deserves his wages), and which is 
explicitly quoted in this connexion by a later member of his 
school (i Tim. v. 18). This saying of Jesus is decisive, as 
weighty as any saying from the Torah. In applying it to the 
present situation he uses the term gospel in the double sense 

15 of message and mission, as he explains the motive for his own 
refusal to accept such maintenance. Not even the sneers 
and misconceptions to which his practice has given rise will 
deter him from continuing it. He writes so passionately that 
the grammar breaks down. Literally the Greek runs — ' Better 
for me to die than — no one shall make void my source of 
pride ' (which is to work for you without being paid for it). 

16 The following sentences throb with one of the daring paradoxes 
in which he loved to express his mind when he was deeply 
moved. It turns upon the innate pride which was one of his 
characteristics. Proud as he was of being a Christian who 
gloried in the crucified Lord, and of being honoured with the 
vocation of preaching this gospel, he took a pride of his own in 
preaching gratis. Preaching ? he exclaims. There is a divine 
Must behind it. ' Duties,' as Burke once urged, ' are not 
voluntary. Duty and will are even contradictory terms.' 
This is the profound principle of the cry, I am constrained to 

120 



CHAPTER IX, VERSES 13-18 

preach the gospel, obhged to do it as a slave of the Lord ; no 
question of free choice here ! When the Lord speaks, who 
can but prophesy ? Amos and the great prophets of Israel 
were Paul's predecessors when he refused to think of himself 
as offering his services to the Lord. ' If I were to preach of 17 
my own accord, upon my own initiative, I would be entitled 
to a reward for my services. But as a matter of fact I am 
simply discharging my trust as a steward in God's Household ' 
(iv. 21). The English Version, ' but if against my will,' fails 
to bring out the antithesis here between two Greek words 
which Paul is using in order to sharpen his point. The oppo- 
site (akSn) of ' willingly ' or of my own accord (hekdn) is not 
easily expressed in Enghsh ; I have rendered it otherwise, 
as less misleading or awkward than any Hteral rendering like 
* not spontaneously.' The apostle employs freely, with a 
touch of daring, the ordinary language about reward for 
labour, in his very effort to disclaim any thought of reward 
except in the work itself, in being able to do it free of charge. 
His pay is to do it without pay ; his pride is to spend himself 18 
on people without requiring them to spe nd anything upon 
himself. This sums up the moving revelatioiT'onEHe relir 
motive for his line of action in not insisting on his full rights 
as a preacher of the gospel. 

The thought of this preaching, far beyond Corinth, leads him 
to mention a wider range of self-imposed restrictions on his 
liberty. In a good sense, he tried to be a slave (vii. 23) to 
everybody whom he met, going out of his way to conciliate 
them in favour of his message, foregoing his personal tastes and 
antipathies in order to reach Jews and pagans alike, instead of 
being nonchalant and stiff. Not that he ever practised the full 
obligations of the Torah as interpreted by pharisaism, any 
more than Jesus had done. Nor, among pagans, was he 
antinomian in theory or practice (Rom. iii. 8, vi. i f.). But 
he put himself to the trouble of entering, as far as he could, 
into the position of such people, with the sole purpose of 
changing that position. It often meant a sacrifice of his pride 
as well as of his time. It was a struggle to adapt oneself to 
weaklings, for example. But he protests that he never 

121 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

grudged this, and that he did it in every possible direction 
(19-22), with unsparing concern for God's cause. 

19 Why, 

free as I am from all, I have made myself the slave of all, 
to win over as many as I could. 

20 To Jews I have become like a Jew, 

to win over Jews ; 
to those under the Law I have become as one of them- 
selves — 
though I am not under the Law myself — 

to win over those under the Law ; 

21 to those outside the Law I have become like one of them- 

selves — 
though I am under Christ's law, not outside God's Law — 
to win over those outside the Law ; 

22 to the weak I have become as weak myself, 

to win over the weak. 
To all men I have become all things, 

to save some by all and every means. 

The negative side (' lest we should hinder the gospel ' by 
putting any obstacle in the way of those who had accepted it or 
were in the way of being won over) now is put more positively. 
To use one's freedom aright (viii. 13) is to think of how best to 
serve the religious interests of others, and this, Paul claims, 
had been ever his own line, in dealing with Jews (whether 

19 proselytes or not) and pagans. To win over is literally ' to 
gain,' and save (as in the similar word of vii. 16 or Rom. xi. 14) 

20 is used in its active sense, of an evangelist. So long as no 
Christian principle was at stake, he identified himself with the 
Jewish point of view, as when he had Timotheus circumcised 
or agreed to share a vow at Jerusalem (Acts xvi. 3, xxi. 20 f.), 
for example ; he entered into the feelings of Jews, considered 
their scruples, and sought with sympathy to appreciate their 

21 attitude. So with pagans born outside the Law. ' I make 
myself " lawless " to them — not, of course, literally " lawless " 
or an out-law (he explains in passing), for as a Christian I am 

122 



CHAPTER IX, VERSES 19-22 

not outside God's law, though free from the code of the Torah.' 
The law of Christ or of God, as an order of Hfe ruled by his 
spirit of love, is elsewhere stressed (Gal. vi. 2, Rom. xiii. 8), but 
not here, though it was indeed in the loving spirit of considera- 
tion that Paul claimed to have become like a pagan himself, 
realizing how they looked at religion from an experience of 
their own which had no traditions such as the Jew inherited, 
arguing with them on their own ground, as at Lystra and 
Athens, and trying to reach them with tact. So also, he adds, 22 
with Christians hampered by weak scruples — a reference to the 
local situation (viii. 7-13). He did not expect (see 2 Thess. 
iii. 2) to be invariably successful, and he did not find it so. 
Enough if he could save some ! 

At an early period it was evidently thought that Paul could 
not have contemplated any failure, and some was replaced by 
' all.' This pious correction must have been current in the 
second century, for Clement of Alexandria knew the text in 
this form (Strom, v. 3) ; through the early Latin versions 
it passed into the Vulgate. Yet Paul could truly call himself 
the slave of all, with an emphasis on all. He was no one-sided 
apostle, confining himself to those with whom he had most in 
common, and indisposed to sympathize with the uncon- 
genial. The consciousness that he owed the gospel to all, 
whatever their nationality or temperament might be, carried 
him far beyond the restrictions of pharisaism. There he had 
been trained to draw the line strictly ; a rabbi would not 
associate with a gentile in social intercourse. Paul, under the 
spirit of Christ, had felt the call of a broader sympathy with 
all sorts and conditions of mankind. It might be, as it was, 
misjudged. People were apt to declare that they never were 
sure what Paul was doing ; liberals complained he was too 
conservative when he mixed with narrower men, and conser- 
vatives looked askance when he associated freely with liberal- 
minded people. Suspicious people probably thought and said 
that no one knew where Paul was. But he claims to be 
honest and consistent in his very variations. Zeal sometimes 
makes a man rigid and unbending, as he presents his message. 
It is given in a ' take or leave it ' spirit, without much regard 

123 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

to the particular circumstances of his audience. At the oppo- 
site pole, there is a worldly prudence which induces leaders or 
propagandists to adapt their principles diplomatically, in 
view of various susceptibiUties, or, in the case of ordinary 
people, to abate if not to conceal their convictions, suiting 
their ideas to their company. Paul's high principle of accom- 
modation is as readily caricatured in this way as it is misunder- 
stood by those who consider it the line of least resistance. For 
him it was a costly, difficult, exacting course. If he tried to 
take people as he found them, to begin with, it was often a real 
trial to him. And his dominant aim was not to leave them as 
he found them. One spring of his power lay in his sheer stead- 
fastness of purpose, and the effect of this was heightened, it 
was not diluted, by his singular capacity for sympathy with 
different natures. ' We quote Saint Paul when he talked of 
making himself all things to all men and of becoming to the 
Jews a Jew, and as without the Law to the heathen. But then 
we do so with the view to justifying ourselves for leaving the 
Jew to remain a Jew, and the heathen to remain a heathen,' 
as Lord Morley writes in the third chapter of his book on 
Compromise. ' There is, as anybody can see, a whole world 
of difference between the reserve of sagacious apostleship, on 
the one hand, dealing tenderly with scruple and fearfulness 
and fine sensibility of conscience, and the reserve of intel- 
lectual cowardice on the other hand, dealing hypocritically 
with narrow minds in the supposed interests of social peace 
and quietness.' Wherever people were, in any country of the 
mind, Paul made his way to them with the single desire of 
drawing them over the line to his Lord and theirs. 

' If this spirit of voluntary self-denial is needed for my work 
of preaching, it is also needed for my participation in the 
saving gospel that I thus seek to commend to others. To say, 
" I've a right to this or that," is not the way to Hve the 
Christian life. It will injure other people. More than that, 
it will injure the man himself.' This underlying thought of 
the next passage (23-27) broadens out into a word upon the 
asceticism which lies at the heart of personal religion, asceti- 
cism in the sense of a serious and sustained discipline for 

124 



CHAPTER IX, VERSES 22-23 

mind and body in order to resist the imperious cravings of the 
lower self, as well as to offer effective devotion to the cause of 
God. Paul here expresses, for the first time, the essence of the 
ascetic principle, viz. the wisdom of being prepared to sacri- 
fice the good for the sake of the better. He puts it in terms of 
local sport at Corinth, but it is simply a call to rise, at all 
costs, above what Aristotle had once described as the bar- 
barian ideal of living as one likes. 

And I do it all for the sake of the gospel, to secure my own share 23 
in it. Do you not know that in a race, though all run, only 24 
one man gains the prize ? Run so as to win the prize. 
Every athlete practises self-restraint all round ; but while 25 
they do it to win a fading wreath, we do it for an unfading. 
Well, I run without swerving ; I do not plant my blows 26 
upon the empty air — no, I maul and master my body, lest, 27 
after preaching to other people, I am disqualified myself. 

* I do all that I have been describing, I undergo privations 23 
and self-imposed limitations of my freedom, to make the 
gospel profitable not simply to other people but to myself.' It 
is the same humble confession as he made later to the Philip- 
pians — ' not as though I have already attained.' But the 
special point here is that, whatever form it may take, the 
Christian calling involves a strict self-discipline to the very 
end. For himself, it must be remembered, what we call per- 
sonal religion was the same thing as apostohc vocation ; he 
always regarded his religious life under the Lord as from the 
first a summons to service. ' It pleased God, who called me by 
his grace, to reveal his Son to me that I might preach him.' 
This is brought out in the stories of the experience at Damascus, 
as it is implied later in this very letter, when he divides his Hfe 
into two parts, one in which he persecuted the Church, the 
other in which he served it. Once we set aside our modem 
distinction between personal salvation and the service of the 
gospel, the connexion of what follows with what he has just 
been saying becomes natural, although, as usual, he has several 
things in mind as he continues. The general truth is that to 

125 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

secure a share in the gospel, it is not enough to please oneself 
in* the Church, to assert one's freedom, or to be easy-going. 
His very versatility might have been suspected of this motive. 
Perhaps it was. Did he adapt himself to any circle in which he 
happened to find himself, simply to make things smooth and 
easy for himself ? No, he retorts, it costs me something, as a 
real interest in the gospel will cost you too. 

24 In the arena of the Christian life, no pains must be spared to 
win the prize and attain the supreme end. The allusion to the 
games held in the marble stadium on the Isthmus was particu- 
larly apt, for they were both an athletic festival and a religious 
gathering. Competitors came from far and wide, women as 
well as men ; only three or four years before Paul reached 
Corinth, two women had distinguished themselves by winning 
prizes, as the local inscriptions record with pride. No chance 
of success there, unless one was prepared to do without comfort 
and ease beforehand ! The coveted prizes, such as they were, 
could never be won except by those who were ready to spend 

25 more than odd moments in training. Alike for a foot-race and 
for a boxing contest one had to concentrate all one's powers, 
and to undergo a severe preliminary training for months. No 
one could hope to gain the prize in a foot-race by strolling. 

26 No one could win if he ran casually or ' uncertainly,' swerving 
from the course as he took his eye off the goal. What boxer 
won if he did not plant his blows accurately, instead of hitting 
out wildly in the air ? Besides, a combatant had to practise 
thorough self-restraint beforehand, confining himself to spare, 
strict diet, and forgoing the ordinary pleasures of life, in order 
to be in good physical form. And all for a fading wreath of 
pine or ivy leaves ! * The question still recurs ' — it is Pater, in 
his book on Plato and Platonism, reflecting like a hedonist 
upon the possible motives for the exacting discipHne of cha- 
racter to which the Spartans subjected themselves — ' To what 
purpose ? Why, with no prospect of Israel's reward, are you 
so scrupulous, minute, self-taxing as he ? ... In fact the 
surprise of St. Paul, as a practical man, at the slightness of the 
reward for which a Greek spent himself, natural as it is about 
all pagan perfection, is especially applicable about these 

126 



CHAPTER IX, VERSES 24-27 

Lacedaemonians, who had indeed actually invented that so 
" corruptible " and essentially worthless parsley crown in 
place of the more tangible prizes of an earlier age. Strange 
people ! Where precisely may be the spring of action in you, 
who are so severe to yourselves ? ' But Paul was not contrast- 
ing * Israel's reward ' with any Greek prize awarded for a 
victory won by strict training and sustained physical effort ; 
it was the reward of the resolute discipline practised by a 
Christian who did not shrink from the punishing privations 
involved in a thoroughgoing pursuit of the spiritual vocation 
(vii. 29 f.). What surprised and alarmed him was that so many 
Christians at Corinth still failed to realize the exacting de- 
mands of devotion to the Lord with the intensity which he 
himself felt. It may be that I maul and master my own body 27 
(not, like the boxer, my opponent's) carries on the pugihstic 
metaphor by a rather forced turn. In any case he is referring 
not simply to the bodily strain which he gladly accepted in the 
service of the Lord — this he had already mentioned in iv. 11 f., 
and he recurs to it in 2 Cor. iv. 7 f. — but to discipline volun- 
tarily inflicted upon himself (as in Rom. viii. 13), probably 
by fasting and other physical privations ; even though by 
this time he was well over fifty, he was still ready for any 
such discipline in order to make the body the servant of the 
spirit. 

The metaphor, or simile, of the ascetic as an athlete was 
common in moral counsels of the age. Philo had already 
employed it for religious purposes. When ethical writers like 
Seneca and Epictetus urge a discipline of self-restraint for soul 
and body, they constantly refer to the severe training of racers 
and pugilists, even contrasting the outward reward of the 
athlete with the inward gain of the serious soul. What is 
specially characteristic in Paul's description is the allusion at 
the close to passions of the body which require to be mastered 
in the interests of his eternal welfare. To be disqualified is the 
opposite of securing one's share in the final salvation. It is not 
certain that he has still the athletic contest in mind, although 
Paul's illustrations from athletics, as well as from architecture 
(iii. 12 f.) and law (Rom. vii. i f.), sometimes press the lesson 

127 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

at the expense of lucidity and accuracy in the metaphor. The 
telling sentence here simply echoes the idea that, as he after- 
wards told the Philippians, he was strenuously pressing on ' if 
by any means he might attain,' and that the Lord was the 
final judge of his efforts. He had ever, he confesses, the fear 
that his work might be better than his character. The son of 
Sirach had already described a teacher of the Law who ' is 
shrewd and instructs many, but is no good to his own soul ' 
(xxxvii. 19). Paul must have known this word of his Greek 
Bible ; indeed ' who instructs ' is the very term tutor which 
he uses of the competent Jew in Rom. ii. 20. But he did not 
require this or any similar saying to suggest the admission 
here, that one might give admirable counsel to other people 
and fail by not following it himself. He realized that, after 
preaching self-restraint and faith to others, in his vocation, he 
might be rejected for failing to be hard upon himself. In this 
humble, candid utterance, so remarkable after the warm 
claims of what precedes, he allows the Corinthians to overhear 
him really preaching to himself upon the risk of endangering his 
personal salvation by any slackness in his mission-work. 
* None of us dare presume upon his past or upon his privileges ; 
none dare take liberties with himself. God knows I dare not, 
and I do not.' 

Grammatically the word rendered disqualified might mean 
no more than * discredited ' or ' reproved ' (so the Genevan 
version). But even in Paul's later use of the term (2 Cor. 
xiii. 5-8) it conveys a more serious idea, and this is borne out 
by the following warning (x. i-ii) : ' I may fail to satisfy the 
Lord ; so may we all, unless we are strict.' As usual, the illus- 
tration from contemporary life in the world (ix. 24 f.) is suc- 
ceeded by one from Scripture, the point of which is, ' We must 
not be careless about ourselves, even though we belong to God 
and enjoy sacramental privileges.' The Bible story is at one 
point more apt than the athletic allusion. In the sports, one 
gains at the expense of others, but not so in the Christian 
effort, where there is nothing competitive. Thus ' in a race all 
run, but one receiveth the prize ' is less apposite than ' our 
fathers all ' had their privileges, * but with most of them God 

128 



CHAPTER X, VERSES 1-4 

was not well pleased.' The latter illustration from Israel with 
its desert sacraments broadens the range of the disqualified. 

X. 

For I would have you know this, my brothers, that while our i 
fathers all lived under the cloud, all crossed through the 
sea, all were baptized into Moses by the cloud and by the 2 
sea, all ate the same supernatural food, and all drank the ^1 
same supernatural drink (drinking from the supernatural 
Rock which accompanied them — and that Rock was 
Christ), still with most of them God was displeased ; they 5 
were laid low in the desert. 

Though Paul as usual (7, xiv. 21) avoids * People ' as a direct 
term for the Church, perhaps on account of its nationalistic 
associations, the story of the Old Testament is the early story i 
of God's People — that is, of the Christian Church or the saints 
(i. 2). Contemporary rabbis sometimes debated whether the 
fathers were baptized before Sinai. Paul has no doubt on this 
point. Our fathers of old had their sacraments ofbaptismand 
spiritual food, but even that did not prevent'them tronTr e- 
lapsing into_ pagairidolatrv and vice. Sacrament s are no safe- 
guar d for a careless life which takes liberti es with itself. Such 
Is tlie moral read from th^'^ g^^^'y, ^^*" ^"^y ^"^^ whirfi^PflTurypTTf; 
m thi&jepistle. In Hebrews (iii. 5 f.), the writer preaches on the 
ninety-fifth psalm as a warning against the risk of forfeiting 
spiritual privileges by practical disobedience to God ; but 
that psalm is based upon the story of Israel, and Paul prefers 
to go back directly to the historical narrative. As Christians 
have been baptized into Christ, so our fathers were baptized 2 
into loyalty to Moses, their divinely appointed leader and 
mediator, as they passed through the water of the Red Sea, 
with the sheltering cloud overhead. Then, like Christians at 3 
their holy supper, our fathers had manna as their supernatural 
food, and drank from the supernatural Rock. The Greek adjec- 4 
tive literally is * spiritual,' but this is equivalent to ' charged 
with Spirit or divine potency ' ; supernatural brings out the 
real force of the term. It was the same provision of God for 
them all, and it was also continuous. Indeed, to bring out the 

Lc 129 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

parallel between it and the Christian feast of communion at 
the latter point of the drink, Paul reverts to a rabbinic midrash 
on the story of Moses striking the rock till water gushed out. 
Not an isolated gift, the midrash taught, but as lasting as the 
manna ; this * well of water ' accompanied or ' followed them,' 
as one form of the tradition put it, while another quaintly ex- 
plained that ' the well which was with Israel in the wilderness 
was like a rock, travelUng with them ... it made mighty 
streams.' The first form of the legend appears in the second- 
century Targum of Onkelos, the second in the Mishna tractate, 
Tosefta Sukka (iii. ii, 12). The younger Jewish contemporary 
of Paul who wrote a story-book of Biblical Antiquities, full of 
dread lest Jews should associate with gentiles and lapse into 
idolatry, also explains Num. xxi. 16 f. by saying that ' from 
the time the well was given ' to Israel, it followed them. This 
tradition, like that employed in Gal. jv. 29, was current in 
Paul's day, though it only appears in written form afterwards. 
But there is no indication that Jewish piety attached any 
messianic significance to the Rock. Philo had indeed inter- 
preted Deut. viii. 15 (' who brought thee water out of the rock 
of flint ') as a reference to God's Wisdom or Logos, ' of which 
souls that love God receive and drink.' For Paul, however, the 
supernatural Rock was nothing but Christ, who had mys- 
teriously refreshed the fathers long ago, as to-day he called 
God's People to eat and drink (x. 16, xi. 24 f.). The apostle 
does no more than allude to Christ's pre-existence (viii. 6) in 

5 the bygoing ; his aim is to recaU the tragic abuse of such sacra- 
mental grace by the majority of our fathers in the desert. 
Would nothing sober the se light-hearted Corinthijji^ ? Let 

/ them remember what happenedL All our fathers enj oyed God's 
favour and Christ's refreshing presence. Five times over this 
all is echoed. Still most of them displeased him ; though he 
satisfied their daily needs, they did not satisfy his require- 
ments, and therefore he laid them low in the desert, as the tale 
of Numbers (xiv. 16) had recorde&. Then, as now (xi. 30), the 

1 penalty of such flagrant sin was suffering and death. 

6 Now this took place as a warning for us, to keep us from craving 

130 



CHAPTER X, VERSES 7-9 

for evil as they craved. You must not be idolaters, like some 7 
of them ; as it is written, 

the people sat down to eat and drinkf 

and they rose up to make sport. 
Nor must we commit immorality, as some of them did — 8 
and in a single day twenty-three thousand of them fell. 
Nor must we presume upon the Lord as some of them did — 9 
only to be destroyed by serpents. And you must not mur- 10 
mur, as some of them did — only to be destroyed by the 
Destroying angel. 

The story is not typical, in the technical sense of the term 6 
(tupoi), but a warning example against sinful cravings, which 
was the word of his Greek Bible for Israelites ' lusting ' for the 
food of Egypt, discontented with God's simple provision for 
them in their redeemed life (Num. xi. 4, 34). The next inci-7 
dent is the golden calf worship, as described in the book of 
Exodus. Of all the seventeen reminiscences of the Old Testa- 
ment in the epistle, this (with those in verse 26 and xv. 32) is 
alone quoted exactly as in the Greek text (Exod. xxxii. 6). 
Sport, as in the traditional interpretation of the Old Testament, 
refers to the licentious orgies of dancing which followed the 
feast, and led, as at a later stage, to immorality. He has in 8 
mind the story of the Israelites and Moabite women, recorded 
in Num. xxv. 1-9, which concludes by noting the death of 
twenty-four thousand offenders. For some reason, probably 
by a mere slip of memory, Paul makes them twenty-three 
thousand. Rabbinic tradition not only held that sat down 
(in Scripture) always meant moral degradation, but often 
identified sport in the Old Testament with idolatry ; Paul not 
only follows this line, but, as usual, associates idolatry with 
immorality (vi. 9 immoral, idolaters). ' The beginning of 
immorality is to devise idols ' (Wisd. of Sol. xiv. 16). In Num. 9 
xiv. 22, Israel is reproached for having ' tempted the Lord ten 
times ' — that is, over and over again. The rabbis took it 
literally and reckoned as one black item of the list the discon- 
tented murmuring of Israel recorded in Num. xxi. 1-6, where 
the offenders are stung to death by serpents. Paul alludes to the 

131 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

description of this in Ps. Ixxviii. i8 f., where it is said that they 
provoked God as they presumed upon the Lord by daring to 
doubt if he could or would provide for them in their hunger. 
Let him show what he can do ! This is the sin of ungrateful 
suspicion which tries the Lord's patience, openly challenging 

10 his care by doubts of his providence. It is close to the sin of 
murmuring, which is twice noticed in the book of Numbers 
(xiv. 36 f. and xvi. 11-49), though Paul is thinking specially of 
the grumbUng, insubordinate spirit which tempted some of 
the Corinthians to criticize and challenge their own spiritual 
authorities, as Korah had stirred murmuring against the 
leaders of his own day. The murmuring is mainly murmuring 
against the Lord in the person of his appointed servants. 
None of the Old Testament tales mentions the Destroying 
angel, who may be an equivalent here for Satan, in view of the 
wording in v. 5 (to Satan for the destruction of the flesh). It 
is one of the touches due to Paul's recollection of the stories as 
told in the Wisdom of Solomon (xviii. 20 f.), although the 
apostle naturally substitutes the Lord Christ for the divine 
Wisdom. 

The closing words, by way of summary (11-13), are prompted 
by deep pastoral concern. He knew that some were likely 
to feel conscious of being tempted by God, rather than to 
feel guilty of tempting God (verse 9), and therefore adds a 
general counsel upon the Christian attitude toward tempta- 
tion, passing from admonition to encouragement. Never 
let them imagine that God was not doing justice to their 
needs or that he was imposing too severe an ordeal upon 
their loyalty. 

11 It all happened to them by way of warning for others, and it was 

written down for the purpose of instructing us whose lot 

12 has been cast in the closing hours of the world. So let 
anyone who thinks he stands secure, take care in case he 

13 falls. No temptation has waylaid you that is beyond msm's 
power ; trust God, he will never let you be tempted beyond 
what you can stand, but, when temptation comes, he will 
provide the way out of it, so that you can bear up under it. 

132 



CHAPTER X, VERSES 10-13 

Such a record of old, unhappy, far-off things as the apostle ii 
has so pungently summed up, is meant for us, no less than the 
more encouraging words of the Bible (Rom. xv. 4), in these 
closing scenes of Time's drama (vii. 31), when the finale of the 
Ages is upon us, the real Israel. Sin is as near us as then, and 
so is God. No one can risk contamination with pagan rites 12 
to-day, imagining that he is safe because he has a standing in 
the faith (2 Cor. i. 24) and belongs to God's own people ; par- 
ticularly, he must not dream of supplementing or enjoying the 
Christian communion with any similar feast of a pagan cult 
(verse 21), as our fathers did. On the other hand, if temptation 13 
besets us in life, God is beside us. Anyone who endeavours to 
be faithful will find that ' God is faithful,' true to his promise 
and purpose to bring the loyal safely through temptation to 
the very end (i. 9). To provide the way out of temptation is not 
to free life from it, so that one may escape the danger, nor even 
to reveal to the hard-pressed that there will be a way out some 
day, so that meantime it may be borne ; though the metaphor 
seems to suggest this, it really means that God provides the 
loyal with power to bear up under the shock and strain of 
temptation. Thus their feet are cleared. * Distrust your own 
unaided powers ; trust God, without whom (that is, if you were 
without a tie to him) you would never be waylaid by tempta- 
tion at all, and with whom you will find yourselves able to 
endure it.' An early gloss on the Lord's Prayer read, * Lead 
us not into temptation which we cannot bear.' Paul assures 
the church that temptation is never beyond man's power of 
endurance ; ' never murmur that God is allowing you to be 
unduly tried, or that only an angeUc spirit could stand what 
you have to stand. The saving power of endurance comes to 
those who bravely trust their loyal God.' It is an echo of the 
distinctive emphasis in Christianity, inherited from the 
Hebrew reUgion, that God is to be trusted. Human faithfulness 
rests upon his faithfulness. Such personal confidence in God 
was not characteristic of Stoicism, and it was strangely defec- 
tive in the mystery cults ; they had the word, but not the truth 
of faith as the core of hving fellowship with God. 

Paul now clinches the whole argument by referring (in 14-22) 

133 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

to a peril in the Corinthian situation which had been in his 
mind ever since he began to dictate x. i f. 

14 Shun idolatry, then, my beloved. I am speaking to sensible 

15 people ; weigh my words for yourselves. 

16 The cup of blessing which we bless, 

is that not participating in the blood of Christ ? 
The bread we break, 

is that not participating in the body of Christ ? 

17 (for, many as we are, we are one Bread, one Body, since we 

18 all partake of the one Bread). Look at the rites of Israel. 
Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar ? 

19 Do I imply, you ask, that ' food offered to an idol has any 

20 meaning, or that an idol itself means anything ' ? No, 
what I imply is that anything pagans offer in sacrifice is 
sacrificed to dcemons, not to God. And I do not want you 

21 to participate in daemons ! You cannot drink the cup of 
the Lord and also the cup of daemons ; you cannot partake 
of the table of the Lord and also of the table of daemons. 

22 What ! do we intend to rouse the Lord's jealousy ? Are 
we stronger than he is ? 

14 Shun (as in vi. 18) idolatry, the beginning of all badness 
(x. 7), now as of old. Idolatry in English, as in Greek (eiddlo- 
latria), is literally the worship (latry) of an idol. As a Jew was 
loyal, his worship of the one God determined the whole of his 
life, distinguishing him from men of other nations. For 
Christians, in their own way, idolatry in any shape or form also 
covered the worship or practical recognition of any deity 
except the Lord (viii. 6) ; it was fatal to their religion. For 
them, as for Jews, idolatry was one of the three deadly sins, 
as they read their Bible. Or it ought to be. Paul appeals to 

15 their intelligence. Elsewhere sensible or ' wise ' is used sar- 
castically (as in 2 Cor. xi. 19, you who know so much), but it is 
serious here. ' Any intelligent man knows that those who 
take part in a sacrificial feast participate in the deity for whom 

16 or with whom they eat and drink. Our own feast means parti- 
cipating in Christ, and that excludes any other.' So much is 

134 



CHAPTER X, VERSES 14-18 

clear. What is not so clear is the meaning attached to partici- 
pation. Participation in Christ (i. 9) primarily denoted enj oying 
a share, but it had also the corporate sense of sharing with 
others in a fellowship. Anyone familiar with Greek religious 
groups knew that those who partook of a sacrificial feast were 
bound together by a tie of special sanctity and force. So near 
is this truth of corporate life in worship to Paul's mind that he 
instantly adds one of his pregnant asides. It is a comment on 17 
the bread, since that suggested common unity even more aptly 
than the cup in this connexion, although it is true that the 
Jewish cup of blessing might be handed round the gathering 
like a loving-cup. Many as we are, we are one Bread, one Body, 
inasmuch as we all partake of the one Bread. It is as though 
he declared, our communion is 'indeed participating in the 
crucified body of Christ (so Rom. vii. 4), broken for our sakes 
in sacrifice, but there is a mystical, unbroken Body in which 
we have communion with him and with one another. As 
Calvin puts it, ' We must first be incorporated into Christ (as 
it were), that we may be united to one another.' Such is 
Paul's wonderful conception of the Church as the Body of 
Christ, to which he returns later on (xi. 29, xii. 12 f.). In 
participating, Christians all partake and share his life, the life 
that creates and sustains the fellowship as it reaches us 
through his sacrifice. To Paul this is so vital that, even 
although . it does not belong to his immediate argument, he 
finds a place for it in this parenthesis. 

Resuming the thesis, he illustrates his principle from two 18 
familiar aspects of worship in the world, like, and yet so unlike, 
the Christian communion. First, from the outward expression 
of Israel's religion. ' Israel after the flesh ' amounts here to 
the rites of Israel. Strictly speaking, for his purpose there was 
little relevant in Israel's worship ; though priests and Levites 
often did eat part of what had been sacrificed on the altar of 
the temple, this meal had no special significance ; certainly it 
did not bring them into any direct fellowship with God, any- 
more than even the passover was supposed to do. As it 
happens, the prophet Malachi did call the altar twice the table 21 
of the Lord, probably referring to the table on which loaves of 

135 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

the Presence-bread were placed, to be taken away every week 
and eaten by the priests and Levites. But Paul is not alluding 
to this, or to similar customs, though he appealed to them in 
another connexion (ix. 13) ; an altar for sacrifice to the gods, in 
the ancient world, could readily be called a table of communion 
between deities and their worshippers, and he is thinking 
rather of the paschal celebrations, which characterized Israel's 
tie to their God, when a covenant sacrifice was followed by a 

18 covenant meal. Whether altar refers to the original sacrifice of 
food upon the altar, or (by a religious circumlocution) to the 
god of the altar, is of little moment. The point is, that such 
an act of eating food which was connected with an altar was 
not a thing by itself ; it stamped worshippers, it involved a 
connexion between them and the deity of the altar, in this 
case Israel's Lord. 

19 So with pagan festivals ; to participate in them is not to 
join a social group or go through some ceremony for what is, 
from the religious standpoint, irrelevant. ' True, idol-food and 
idols mean nothing to us Christians, as I've told you already 
(viii. 7 f.). But behind and through such rites, sacrificial in 

20 their own way, homage is offered to daemons ; as you eat, you 
are mixed up with what is a recognition of supernatural powers 
opposed to God.' He cites sharply some words from Deutero- 
nomy, where Israel's tampering with idolatry, to which he had 
just been referring, is called sacrificing to daemons, not to God 
(xxxii. 17). Indeed the Greek might represent the scorn of the 
Hebrew idiom, * to a no-god,' a mere nonentity. The stem 
warning, for the lax or the liberals at Corinth, is edged with 
another phrase from the same Scripture (Deut. xxxii. 21), 
where the divine judgement is, 

* they roused me to jealousy over a no-god, 
they provoked me with their idols.' 

22 Do the liberals at Corinth intend to rouse God's jealousy as 
their fathers once did ? Are these broad-minded, easy-going 
Christians so strong in faith (as they maintain) that they can 
take liberties with the Lord himself, as though they were able 

136 



CHAPTER X, VERSES 18-22 

to risk his anger with impunity, or to assume that he will never 
resent their harmless freedom ? 

Up to this point the apostle has been warning them that 
sacramental privileges were no guarantee in themselves 
against moral relapses (x. 1-13). The tragic failures of 
ancient Israel had been due to the fact that, either under the 
strain of life or owing to the fascinations of paganism, the 
people had been tempted to think that the Lord, with whom 
they were in fellowship, was not enough ; he had either to be 
replaced or supplemented. In the present paragraph Paul 
continues this warning against the divided heart. * The Lord 
of our fellowship must have our unshared allegiance ; he is all 
we require for communion with the living God. To act as if 
we thought otherwise is to have no heart for him,' as the cry 
rings out at the very end of this letter (xvi. 22). 

The plea for wholehearted devotion is the more telling, since 
it is devotion to One who has given his life in suffering and 
sacrifice in order to bring Christians into full fellowship with 
God. Paul puts forward the connexion of the sacraments, 
especially of communion, with sacrifice, which he had not 
done in x. 1-13 — ^which, indeed, he could not do, since Hebrew 
henot^eism, like the later Jewish monotheism, had no place 
for self-sacrifice in the divine nature. He is not lecturing on 
comparative religion, however, as he insists that sacrifice 
means communion. His argument is not that the Christian 
eucharist, or communion service, is a truer expression of the 
widespread pagan desire for fellowship with God on the basis 
of some sacrifice, but that Christians must regard it as the 
one means for such fellowship. When Corinthian Christians 
urged, perhaps in all good faith, that they were not compro- 
mising their tie to Christ, or that, after all, the religious ban- 
quets which they still frequented and enjoyed were not really 
sacrificial to them, Paul promptly retorts that they were ; 
they did represent participation in the Zeus or ^Esculapius or 
Serapis to whom the company poured Hbations, drinking as 
well as eating in honour and in presence of such deities. ' You 
cannot drink the cup of the Lord and also the cup of daemons, 
without incurring the deadly guilt of idolatry.' You cannot 

137 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

serve God and mammon, Jesus had once said. So Paul here 
insists on the Christian devotion as exclusive. ' You may think 
you are able to combine the two, but to participate in daemons 
is an outrage to your Lord and God, which cannot be com- 
mitted with impunity.' It is a solemn warning against allow- 
ing the right or power of freedom, on which they prided them- 
selves, to place them in a position in which this privilege really 
defied the exclusive right of God to their allegiance. 

In view of what follows (xi. 20-32), it is important to notice 
that Paul does not oppose the table of the Lord to an altar ; it 
is contrasted with the table of daemons, which was an altar, 
because the one as well as the other meant participation in a 
divine life through sacrifice ; each was a supper or evening 
meal, based upon some kind of offering. The vital difference 
between the Lord's table and the table of daemons lay in the 
character of the offering, not in any distinction between non- 
sacrificial communion and sacrificial. To a certain extent this 
was equally true of Israel's sacrifices, but no Christian dreamed 
of attending a Jewish passover still ; the apostle is primarily 
concerned with the sacral festivals of Greek religion at Corinth, 
which insidiously appealed, for certain reasons, to some 
members of the local church. 
16 At such festivities cups of wine were drunk, after a few drops 
had been poured out in honour of the deity ; these Hbations 
were so distinctive a feature of ritual that Paul speaks of the 
cup first in the ceremony, though, as it happens, cup of blessing 
was a term for the cup in Jewish ritual. The libation was often 
more significant than even the eating of some meat. There is 
not sufficient evidence that in such sacramental meals of a 
cult at this period, in Corinth or elsewhere, the votaries of a 
deity believed they were partaking of the divine object of 
their adoration by eating him. The contact came through 
partaking food which was supposed to be shared with him as 
host, or consecrated to him in a preliminary act of sacrifice. 
Thus at Sicyon, eighteen miles west of Corinth, the worshippers 
of Hercules, * after slaying a lamb and burning the thighs, offer 
part of the flesh as of a sacrificial victim,' in honour of their 
chosen hero, ' to this very day,' the Greek traveller Pausanias 

138 



CHAPTER X, VERSES 14-22 

reports (ii. 10), over a hundred years after Paul's mission. In 
such ways the votaries, by drinking from the cup of daemons 
and eating food formally laid on their table, believed they were 
guests of a god, in union and communion with him, at the 
subsequent banquet ; they became, as the phrase went, 
koinonoi (a noun corresponding to the verb rendered here by 
participate in), or participants of him in the cult-meal, thus 
securing supernatural favours of protection and immortality. 

Logically y no doubt, it would seem that if any such idol or 19 
daemon was really non-existent, it need not be dreaded. But 
Jews always held both views, that idols were simply manu- 
factured by human hands and that they were employed by 
real daemons or evil spirits to seduce the faithful from allegiance 
to the Lord. Sometimes these contradictory views were pre- 
sented side by side ; sometimes rabbis would attempt to 
explain the apparent ambiguity. So Paul can repeat, on the 
one hand, that, for an intelligent Christian, pagan idols or 
daemons do not exist, or (as we might say) do not count, and, 
on the other hand, he can protest that as actual, malign 
beings of the supernatural order they do exercise an influence 
(verses 16 f.) on anyone who participates in their sacrificial 
worship, even though the man may protest, perhaps, that he 
has no belief in this particular method of seeking communion 
through sacrifice. It is a conception similar to that which 
underlies his references to the Elements (Gal. iv. 9, Col. ii. 8). 
He is thinking as a Jew who beheved not so much in mono- 
theism as in what was henotheism. The one God is superior 
to all other beings of the celestial realm, and yet the latter 
exist ; good angels and spirits are media of his supreme power, 
while the evil (ii. 8) are already maimed and in the end are to 
be disarmed, though at present they may, and do, exert an 
evil influence over any of the Lord's loyalists who are not 
careful to avoid their sway, particularly when that sway 
operates through their rites of sacrificial worship. 

Now it is surely impossible to conceive that, unless the 
apostle was really in two minds on the matter, he was thinking 
of such sacral feasts when he wrote about an enlightened 
Christian reclining at meat inside an idol's temple (viii. 10). 

139 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

There he sees nothing mtrinsically wrong ; any harm done is 
not to the man himself, but to some over-scrupulous fellow- 
Christian. Does he, then, suddenly revoke this permission in 
X. 14-22, restricting any consumption of idol-food to private 
dinner-parties (23 f.), with a similar demand for consideration 
to be shown to any weaker Christian who chanced to be a 
fellow-guest ? This would be tenable were it not for the 
abrupt alteration of tone in 23-26, which is a natural intro- 
duction to 27 f., but not so natural as a sequel to 14-22 ; the 
point of 23, 24 is to justify not merely 25, 26, but the behaviour 
indicated in 27 f., whereas the prohibition of idol-food as 
utterly wrong (in 14-22) lies on a very different plane from 
that on which its consumption is pronounced to be not a good 
example for other people in certain circumstances. There 
would be no point in telling a Christian who ate and drank at 
some utterly inconsistent table of daemons, that his behaviour 
was not edifying ! 

The juxtaposition of these sections is one of the reasons 
which have led to theories about the literary structure of the 
epistle (see above, p. xxiv.) . Has something been left out, or has 
there been a misplacement of the material ? May not 14-22 
(with 1-13) have belonged to the rigorous * first ' letter, it has 
been suggested ? Is not Paul, in viii. 7 f., really modifying his 
original ruling as laid down in x. 1-22 ? At first sight, this 
hypothesis seems attractive. Yet, on the other hand, if he did 
not modify his ruling against mixed marriages (2 Cor. vi. 14 f. 
and I Cor. vii. 39), is it likely that he would have tolerated any 
Christian attending regular sacral feasts at Corinth ? Those 
who find this almost incredible have to explain his apparent 
shift in passing from x. 1-13, 14-22 to 23-26, 27 f., and this 
may be done by taking the facts of the actual situation into 
account. A pagan might invite his friends to dinner. It 
might be held in some temple ; in which case the meat of the 
slain animal, i.e. a small part of it, often some uneatable portion 
like the hair, was first consecrated to the god who was formally 
supposed to preside at the banquet, which was called ' a table ' 
of Serapis or Isis or iEsculapius, as the case might be. Such 
would be the situation contemplated in viii. 7 f. Should the 

140 



CHAPTER X, VERSES 14-22 

dinner be given at home, the host would have the carcass 
brought back from the temple, or he might purchase similar 
food in the butcher's shop, which commonly adjoined a temple. 
In neither case was there any regular sacral feast such as is 
implied in 14-22. A dish might be idol-food, but Paul did not 
ban that, in the circumstances. The only difference between 
viii. 7 f. and x. 23 f. would be that the former passage perhaps 
includes the annual dinners of social or business clubs, whereas 
X. 23 f . applies to private entertainments, even when the latter 
were held in a club-room attached to a shrine, or, as we know 
they were, in some temple as a sort of restaurant. 

The sacral feasts of 14-22 were real religious celebrations, 
however, deliberate acts of worship. If it sounds surprising 
that even ' enlightened ' Christians were occasionally tempted 
to join such festivities, we can only suppose that they thought 
themselves fairly safe to attend civic reUgious ceremonies at 
which municipal officials, for example, were bound to be 
present. It is even possible that some, who had once belonged 
to a favourite cult, retained their membership for the sake of 
old associations. One could belong to any number of cults in 
the religious world of Greece, and the Christian communion 
might be regarded as supreme, without being exclusive. To 
frequent festivals of one of the many lords would do no harm 
(how could it, for baptized Christians ?), and it might do them 
some good ! Besides, as compared with the bare, unadorned 
rite of the eucharist, celebrated in some unconsecrated room, 
in a hole-and-corner fashion, the prestige and thriUing ritual 
of these cult-celebrations probably exercised a subtle fascina- 
tion over many Christians as yet. Apparently as late as the 
end of the fifth century. Christians at Carthage were so 
attached to the local cult of Tanit, the Heavenly Queen, that 
they were accustomed to attend her worship either before or 
after they went to church. Salvian (in his De Gubernatione 
Dei, viii. 2. 9-13) indignantly cites against such a practice the 
very words of Paul in i Cor. x. 21. There may be an allusion 
to such a dangerous practice of practical syncretism in 
Hebrews (x. 25). It was certainly at the back of Paul's mind 
when he wrote x. 1-13. There were public or semi-public 

141 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

sacred feasts at Corinth, so attractive to members of the 
Church, so difficult to give up, so full of pleasant associations, 
that he had to denounce them as a menace to the Faith. Some 
local Church-people did not think so. Daemons still were to 
them perhaps, as to pious Greeks in tljat animistic age, secon- 
dary gods, guardian angels, or patron saints, who somehow 
mediated contact with the supernatural. Also the religion of 
such cults was so bound up with civic and social life that many 
Christians hardly knew where they needed to draw the line ; 
some hesitated, for various reasons, to make the break too 
sharp, and were disposed to regard participation in a cult as 
innocuous, especially if they had not come into the Church 
through Judaism. Hence Paul drives home the remonstrance 
of 14-22 to their conscience, as a climax to the warning against 
idolatry (1-13). Then there is a pause. When he resumes, 
what he had dictated since viii. i, is read over to him, and in 
23 f . he reverts to the issue from which he had advanced in the 
special application of ix. i f. 

23 * All things are lawful ' ? 

Yes, but not all are good for us. 
* All things are lawful ' ? 
Yes, but not all are edifying. 

24 Each of us must consult his neighbour's interests, not his 

25 own. Eat any food that has been sold in the market, 
instead of letting scruples of conscience induce you to ask 

26 questions about it ; the earth and all its contents belong to 
the Lord. 

27 When an unbeliever invites you to dinner and you agree to go, 

eat whatever is put before you, instead of letting scruples 

28 of conscience induce you to ask questions about it. But 
if someone tells you, ' This was sacrificial meat, ' then do 
not eat it ; you must consider the man who told you, and 

29 also take conscience into account — his conscience, I mean, 
not your own ; for why should one's own freedom be 

30 called in question by someone else's conscience ? If one 
partakes of food after saying a blessing over it, why should 
one be denounced for eating what one has given thanks to 

142 



CHAPTER X, VERSES 23-27 

God for ? So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, 31 
let it all be done for the glory of God. Put no stumbling- 32 
block in the way of Jews or Greeks or the church of God. 
Such is my own rule, to satisfy all men in all points, aiming 33 
not at my own advantage but at the advantage of the 
greater number — at their salvation. xi. 

Copy me, as I copy Christ. I commend you for always bearing ^2 
me in mind and for maintaining the traditions I passed on 
to you. 

He has something more to say about eating idol-food 
(viii. 7 f.). In certain circumstances it may not be good for 23 
Christians to insist upon this right of theirs. To consult one's 
own interests or ' seek his own ' is the same as to be selfish in 24 
xiii. 5, and here it is the opposite of edifying. Paul states the 
right of a Christian to eat such food more explicitly than he 
had done before. The Christian religion has moved into a 
larger freedom which is not to be trammelled by provincial 
Jewish tabus about food ; any food sold in the market may be 25 
freely eaten by a Christian who knows what his religion means, 
and he ought not to dream of asking nervous questions about 
meat as he buys it or partakes of it. The Greek word for 
market is a transliteration of the Roman term macellus or 
macellum, which denoted a provision stall or meat-market. 
Fragments of a Corinthian macellum have been recently dug 
up, which may have been in existence in Paul's day. Such 
a store offered for sale carcasses from an adjoining temple, 
which had been formally consecrated to a deity of the cults ; 
as this meat was not only good but cheap, it was frequently 
bought even by poor folk. Well, any food thus and there 
exposed for sale, Paul affirms, can be eaten by a Christian who 
realizes that his God made all food, animal and vegetable, for 
human use. We have Scripture for it. The earth and all its 26 
contents belong to the Lord. Possibly these opening words of 
the twenty-fourth psalm were already in use as a blessing or 
grace befcre meals. But Paul now recounts a bit of table-talk, 27 
perhaps from his own experience, which shows how this liberty 
of the Christian might have to be self-limited. Not all were so 

143 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

serenely indifferent to the antecedents of the food on the table. 

28 Some puritanic fellow-guest who had been asking nervous 
questions about where this piece of meat or that was bought, 
might whisper in horror, to a liberal Christian beside him, 
* This was sacrificial meat, ' using for politeness' sake sacrificial 
(hierothufon) , the pagan expression for what a Jew called 
eidolothuton. What is the liberal Christian to do ? To shock 
his fellow-Churchman by calmly eating the food ? To say, 
in act if not in word, ' That is nothing to me, neither your silly 
scruple nor the previous fortunes of this meat ' ? No, Paul 
insists, * do not eat it. Have regard to your friend's unen- 
lightened conscience ; don't dismiss him as a nuisance and 

29 a busybody.' It is a plea that one must respect another's 
moral judgement upon his own life, even when one cannot 
follow it as a rule for one's own. Instantly and emphatically he 
declares that this concession to the weaker brother is not an 
abrogation of Christian liberty. He will not have the stronger 
enslaved by the weaker (vii. 23). Even as he pleads for con- 

30 sideration, he feels bound to deny the right of any over- 
scrupulous Christians to fetter or denounce the freedom of 
others. The concession is purely voluntary, since any Christian 
may eat anything for which he has given thanks to God by 

31 saying grace over the meal (Rom. xiv. 6). Still, if even a trifle 
Uke this at table would be a serious upset to anyone's faith, 
one should forego it. What is the determining thing in the free 
activities of life ? Assertion of one's rights ? Paul nobly 
stresses the supreme motive of consideration for the spiritual 
well-being of fellow-Christians, indeed for their salvation ; it 
is implied that, if the hberal Christian ate the sacrificial food, 
the weaker Christian beside him might be irreparably damaged. 
The argument is substantially the same as in viii. 7-13. God is 
glorified as his Church displays such considerate love on the 
part of the strong for the weak (Rom. xiv. 13 f., xv. 6), and this 
applies to the very details of ordinary life, where one can help 

32 or hurt another's soul. Even behaviour at a dinner-party may 
injure the church of God. At any and every turn, ' Christianity 
demands that your right shall not lead others astray, that it 
shall not do violence to that most sacred and delicate thing, 

144 



CHAP. X, VERSE 2S- CHAP. XI, VERSE 2 

a human conscience,' as F. W. Robertson puts it. The 
double general demand of 31 and 32 turns on the specific point 
that the Christian behaviour of individuals, even in what 
seem to be minor matters of social etiquette, may further or 
hinder the supreme interest of God in his church. Put no 
stumbling-block comes in sharply ; it is the same term as do no 
harm to anyone (Phil. i. 10), and the positive side is to satisfy 33 
all men, in the good sense, familiar to any Greek, of being 
serviceable to their well-being or of promoting their interests — 
in this case, their spiritual advantage. This rounds off the 
argument, for advantage is the same as good for above (verse 23) . 
In fact, ' It is good advice to say, " Regard the opinions of 
others " ; and equally good advice to say, " Do not regard 
the opinions of others." We must balance between the two ; 
and over all, adjusting the scales, is the law of Christian love.'ixi. 

Such a rule, his own (ix. 20 f.), is now held up for their I 
practice as his followers. Copy me, as I copy Christ, does not 
mean ' in so far as ' but ' inasmuch as * I copy Christ. Here 
(as in Rom. xv. 3, etc.) it is the Christ who pleased not himself. 
' Nothing is so effective in making us imitate Christ as caring 
for one's neighbour,' is the deep comment of Chrysostom. 
This consideration for the needs and even for the weaknesses of 
men, reaching to self-renouncing love (2 Cor. x. i), was the 
feature in Christ (here a personal name) which deeply appealed 
to Paul, as we have had occasion to note already (on iv. 21). 
These words are not a plea to imitate him in externals, which 
is invariably an easy form of hero-worship (see vii. 7, 22). 
Copy or ' imitate ' is the very word employed by Greeks when 
they spoke of the human soul not only following a master in 
moral ethics but even God, by reproducing the moral virtues 
which were supposed to embody the divine character. The 
Hellenistic Jew who wrote the Epistle of Aristeas (210) had 
already used the word in a similar connexion with the imita- 
tion of God : * As God does good to the whole world, so you 
would be no harm to anyone if you copied him.' But the 
striking touch in Paul's counsel is that the Corinthians are to 
take him as an illustration of what is essential in the character 
1 B. Jowett, St. Paul's Epistles, ii. 158. 

Mq 145 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

of the Lord. As he had pled (in iv. i6, 17) for loyalty to his 
2 Christian directions, so here he acknowledges that the church 
is bearing him in mind as their authority. Yet it is for more 
than a life answering dutifully to his teaching upon Christian 
traditions or principles that he now pleads ; it is for adherence 
to his own personal example. 

One of the Roman sages who turned up at Corinth during 
Paul's lifetime was Demetrius of Sunium. ' He is not a teacher 
of the truth,' said his friend Seneca proudly (Epist. xx. 9), ' but 
a witness to the truth ' — that is, one who attested the Cynic 
ethic by his personal life. Similarly Paul pledges his character 
as well as his precepts for the Christian truth. At Corinth, as at 
Philippi (see Phil. iv. 9, iii. 17), he was aware that his converts 
were being exposed to influences which were affecting their 
loyalty to the gospel. Now, he had been the first Christian 
they knew. He was the founder of their church. He had 
stood, and he claims that he still stands, for them as an embodi- 
ment of the faith. Let them recollect his behaviour and the 
principles he had exhibited in his conduct. In appeali ng to 
the m for loyalt^o Christ, he doesjiot hp^itafp to j vnt^ himself 
forward ^^_by_w^j3f exam ple, as an int erpreter of Christ. He 
; could not only set forth in writing the truths of the gospel but 
actually claim that these were understood by considering his 
own character and methods. In one sense he was doing what 
what has often to be done on the mission-field. ' There may be 
something more finely sensitive in the modern humour, that 
tends more and more to withdraw a man's personality from the 
lessons he inculcates or the cause which he has espoused ; but 
there is a loss herewith of wholesome responsibility ; and 
I when we find in the works of Knox, as in the epistles of Paul, 
the man himself standing nakedly forward, courting and anti- 
cipating criticism, putting his character, as it were, in pledge 
for the sincerity of his doctrine, we had best waive the question 
of delicacy and make our acknowledgements for a lesson of 
I courage . . . and much light, otherwise unattainable, on the 
\ spirit in which great movements were initiated and carried 
\ forward.'i There was no question, in Paul's case, of a desire to 

1 From R. L. Stevenson's essay on John Knox in Men and Books. 

146 



PAUL AS AN EXAMPLE 

domineer over his churches. There is no reason to suppose 
that he was insincere when he protested that in his very 
demands for obedience he was not infringing their spiritual 
independence. It was utterly distasteful to him that some 
should shout his name as a party-name, and this was not be- 
cause he secretly thought all should have done the same. The 
edge of his plea, Copy me, as I copy Christ, lay in the fact that 
he was humbly but seriously conscious of meaning something to 
the Corinthians which was vital. As their first specimen of a 
Christian, he stood for the faith which he had planted in their 
lives. The reason why he defends so passionately his apostolic 
credentials, in writing to Galatia and Corinth, was that these 
were being attacked in order to undermine his gospel in the 
churches of his mission, and attacked by some through sneers 
at his personal character. If he recalls the Corinthians espe- 
cially to what he was and what he taught, he does so in order 
to counteract influences which were strong and subtle as they 
criticized his own principles and line of action. He appeals, 
therefore, to the memories of his converts, partly by way of 
affectionate reminder, partly as their authority, knowing or 
hoping that, as they still bore in mind his counsels and personal 
lead, they would be rallied against the interlopers on the spot. 
In iv. i6 the appeal is general ; here it swings from a special 
instance, the need for loving consideration on the part of 
Christians. It was never a demand to echo his opinions or to 
follow his prejudices. Even although it might be suspected of 
pretension or egoism, he therefore did not hesitate to use this 
appeal when the minds of some in the Church were becoming 
unsteady. Let them continue to be imitators of him as a 
Christian. There was no other alternative in the circum- 
stances than to awaken affectionate memories of himself, if 
they were to be held fast to the Christ of his faith and theirs, 
theirs because it had been his first. Even to-day, when as a 
rule people know Christianity far more through books than 
any of Paul's converts did, it is an acknowledged fact that 
Christian faith depends often upon belief in some guide or 
spiritual counsellor who stands more effectively than anything 
for the reality of religion. Struggling aspirations may be 

147 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

reinforced, vague doubts may be resolved, and loyalty to the 
cause may be revived and purified, as men are able to see their 
cherished end in the personality of one to whom they have good 
cause to pay grateful homage. So Paul sincerely felt that his 
converts at Corinth would be helped to resist divisive influences 
if they would only recollect and imitate himself, sihce by thus 
laying themselves open to his influence they would come under 
the ascendancy of the Lord to whom he himself was sub- 
mitted. So deeply does he feel the need of this appeal that he 
does not add, as Pliny does in a minor connexion, * May those 
who think I should be so closely copied prove better than 
myself ' (Epist. vi. ii). It is the fact of his imitation of Christ, 
not its degree, which is the urgent matter at the moment. 
From one point of view this was equivalent to the recognition 
of apostolic authority. From another it was the recognition 
of one to whom, in God's providence, they had been indebted 
for their first revelation of an actual Christian life. Indeed the 
two sides were one for Paul, as we have already had occasion 
to notice (on ix. 23). Had it not been for the self-revelations 
forced from him by mean souls at Corinth, we should hardly 
have realized how essentially his authority and his personal 
example were a unity, and how misleading it is to speak of the 
former as purely official. Naturally he was a leader of men. 
Even before his conversion, he had shown energy and the 
instinct for command. He was also by temperament impa- 
tient, even inclined to assert himself not only before God but 
before men. Yet these qualities were purified, though not 
obUterated, in his Christian vocation. Thus he could honestly 
ask the Corinthians to take him as an example of Christlike 
consideration. 



THE CHURCH AT WORSHIP 
(xi. 3-34) 

* I do praise or commend you for always bearing me in mind 
(as you tell me in your letter), for being so loyal to my tradi- 
tions in Church-order and belief. But .' He had heard 

148 



CHAPTER XI, VERSE 3 

some facts which lent a different colour to this report, which 
he thus acknowledges with a touch of irony. One was a serious 
case of irreverence at the celebration of the eucharist, which 
ran counter to his traditions. Before calling attention to this, 
however, he discusses another point of worship, which had 
come up since he left (3-15). 

Some of the emancipated Christian women at Corinth had 
been asserting their equality with men by coming to worship, 
or at any rate taking part in worship, without any covering 
on their heads. The religious kaleidoscope of the Mediter- 
ranean world at this period is obscure, but although in the 
synagogue women had an inferior position and took no active 
part in the service, it is certain that they were honoured in some 
of the cults, especially in the Eleusinian and the Dionysian ; 
there were priestesses of Isis (p. xxi.). In the worship of the 
Church women would not merely share the holy kiss but pray 
aloud and speak, as moved by the Spirit . To this no one took ex- 
ception, not even Paul himself. Why, then, it was argued, should 
devout women be obliged to wear a covering veil on the head 
when men did not ? Did not men and women worship bare- 
headed in Greek rites ? As the Christian meetings were held 
in a large room of some private house, it was felt that, while 
women's heads might be covered out of doors, there was no 
reason why the veil should be retained within the Household 
of the Lord. Like a Roman matron, the Christian woman 
would pull the corner of her robe over her head as she walked 
from her house to the meeting, but surely indoors she was in a 
family circle, where the head was not covered. Paul vigorously 
objects. The common opinion is that he resented such an 
innovation as an undesirable departure from social etiquette, 
since only women of loose character appeared in pubHc bare- 
headed. There was a Roman rule, which would appeal to 
Corinthians, that ' usually women cover their heads and men 
uncover them, when they go outside the house ' (Plutarch, 
Roman Questions, xiv.), though this is not quite certain. The 
conservative Valerius Maximus (vi. 3. 10) had just noted, 
indeed, that one of the first causes of divorce was a married 
woman daring to appear out of doors with nothing on her 

149 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

head. But all this is beside the point. Paul's ruling is on 
worship. It has nothing to do with women's dress out of doors, 
and he treats the Corinthian innovation as irreligious rather 
than indecorous. His curiously warm objection to it is pri- 
marily based on a belief that the Creation order controlled life 
in the Church, and on a rabbinic interpretation of that order. 
A covering on the head is a mark of social deference and 
inferiority, in short ; God made woman subject to man, and 
therefore for her to worship bareheaded in man's presence 
would be as unnatural as for him to worship in her presence 
with his head covered. It would be unnatural, especially as 
it would violate the original plan for the sexes before God 
(3-12, 13-15). 



3 But I would like you to understand this : Christ is the head of 

every man, man is the head of woman, and God is the head 

4 of Christ. Any man who prays or prophesies with a veil on 

5 his head dishonours his head, while any woman who prays 
or prophesies without a veil on her head dishonours her 

6 head ; she is no better than a shaven woman. If a woman 
will not veil herself, she should cut off her hair as well. But 
she ought to veil herself ; for it is disgraceful that a woman 

7 should have her hair cut off or be shaven. Man does not 
require to have a veil on his head, for he represents the 
likeness and supremacy of God ; but woman represents the 

8 supremacy of man. (Man was not made from woman, 

9 woman was made from man ; and man was not created 

10 for woman, but woman for man.) Therefore, in view of the 
angels, woman must wear a symbol of subjection on her 

11 head. (Of course, in the Lord, woman does not exist apart 

12 from man, any more than man apart from woman ; for 
as woman was made from man, so man is now made from 

13 woman, while both, like all things, come from God.) Judge 
for yourselves ; is it proper for an unveiled woman to pray 

14 to God ? Surely nature herself teaches you that, while long 
hair is disgraceful for a man, for a woman long hair is a 

15 glory ? Her hair is given her as a covering. 

150 



CHAPTER XI, VERSES 3-7 

The sweeping statement at the start goes further than Paul 3 
needed to go, but he wished to find a sanction for his ruHng in 
the original hierarchy of the universe as laid down in Genesis. 
As he intends to speak of the physical head, he begins by using 
it figuratively to describe the broad design of God. ' God, 
Christ, Christians ' — he had already said (iii. 22, 23) ; but 
now it is ' God, Christ, man, woman.' Man as the lord of 4 
creation would be violating the law of his position under God, 
as God's direct likeness and representative, if he suggested, 7 
even in dress, any inferiority. At worship, as elsewhere, his 
headship must be preserved. Did some of the Corinthian men 
follow a Jewish practice, which was beginning to spread in 
some circles, of having the head covered during prayer ? Or 
does this remark merely lead up to the denunciation of women 5 
who dared to uncover their heads as the men did ? The latter 6 
practice is pronounced disgraceful, as disgraceful as if she had 
her hair cut off or her head shaven. This was a well-known 
reproach for Greek women. One of Menander's comedies was 
on the outrage done to a girl by a jealous lover who cut her 
hair short, and the scene was laid at Corinth ; a shaven woman 
was disgraced, even if her head was shaved or cropped against 
her will, and much more so if she cut h^r own hair short, by 
way of aping men. The religious novelist who wrote the Acts 
of Thomas (liii.) was true to life when he described shameless 
women as ' immodest creatures who walked about bare- 
headed.' What we call ' barefaced ' was in those days ' bare- 
headed.' The modern reader finds it difficult to understand why 
Paul grew so shocked and indignant over the question whether 
or not a woman should have something on her head when she 
joined actively in public worship ; but for the apostle a woman 
praying or preaching bareheaded was contravening the divine 
order which made man supreme over her and therefore en- 
titled alone to appear bareheaded. As Calvin and Bengel saw, 
' is ' means represents (as in xi. 25). A male being exhibits on 7 
earth the divine authority and dominion, as he was directly 
created by God ; he has supremacy over the female who in 
turn represents the supremacy of man — not his likeness, for she 
is his counterpart in the order of creation, made from him and 

151 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

8 for him. The veil that covers her head is a sign or symbol of 
this subordinate position, to be worn out of reverential respect 

10 for (in view of) the angels who uphold the divine order. The 
angels here are. more than a periphrasis for the divine Being ; 
they are the divine executive. Paul has in mind the midrash 
on Gen. i. 26 f., which made good angels not only mediators of 
the Law (Gal. iii. 19), but guardians of the created order. 
Indeed, according to one ancient midrash, reflected in Philo, 
when God said, * Let us make man,' he was addressing the 
angels. They were specially present at worship ; in his Greek 
Bible the apostle read allusions to this, e.g. in Ps. cxxxviii. i 
(' I will sing praise to thee before the angels '), while in 
apocalyptic (Tobit xiii. 12, Test. Levi iii. 21, Rev. viii. 3) they 
were supposed to mediate the prayers of the faithful as well as 
7 revelations made to seers and prophets at a service. Supremacy 
is 'glory ' in the sense of pre-eminent position and authority ; 
it carries on the idea of head as lordship and mastery, since 
God's glory shines out in man as the head of the household, the 
' paterfamilias,' holding his honoured position under God his 
Maker. Since a covering for the head signified subjection, it 
was only appropriate therefore for women. Rabbis artificially 
found a text for this in Num. v. 18. Paul is content to assume 
it as binding for married women ; the reason why he does not 
mention others is probably because they were under their 
fathers or guardians, whereas married women were more 
likely to be independent. Besides, the argument from Genesis 
(ii. 18-23) referred directly to matrons, as the typical daughters 
of Eve. His rabbinical deductions ignore the fact that in the 
other passage (Gen. i. 27), where he finds that the male repre- 
sents God's likeness, it is both male and female who are meant : 
* God created man after his own likeness, male and female.* 
It was really the second of the creation stories that was im- 
portant for him, as a man trained in rabbinic exegesis. From 
the first he merely took the likeness of God, not the truth that 
both sexes, as opposed to animals, were made in that likeness ; 
from the second he inferred that respect for the male sex 

10 before God must be displayed by the female, and displayed 
particularly in wearing some sort of covering for the head. 

152 



CHAPTER XI, VERSES 8-13 

The English version — ' a woman ought to have power on her 
head because of the angels ' — might suggest, as it did suggest to 
Tertullian first, that she required to be protected against the 
lustful looks of evil angels, as though at worship a woman 
whose beauty was unveiled was specially exposed to malign 
supernatural influences. There were traditions in some 
circles of Judaism to this effect. But angels more naturally 
are taken to be good angels ; veil does not mean a covering for 
the eyes but for the head ; and the word for ' power ' is used 
in a strange, derivative sense, equivalent to veil or symbol 
of subjection, which may possibly go back to a Semitic 
term, taken by popular etymology to denote covering as 
well as authority. Indeed at a very early period the term 
was changed to ' veil.' What Paul intends to say is not that 
she exercised power, but that power was exercised over her. 
' Covering ' is for him not so much a mark of her honour 
and dignity as a respectable woman in society, although he 
brings that in ; it is pre-eminently a mark of her subordina- 
tion as a daughter of Eve. Before man, the lord of creation, 
woman must have her head covered at worship, since that 
is the proper way for her to recognize the divine order at 
Creation. 

A later rabbi, in the beginning of the second century 11 
(Beresh. rabba, 22), observed, ' not the man without the 
woman, not the woman without the man, and not both without 
the Shekinah ' or divine Presence ; but this referred to pro- 
creation. Paul's assertion of men and women being essential 12 
to one another in the Lord is naturally deeper. It is the one 
lasting sentence in the whole discussion. In fact, this admis- 
sion or qualification really undermines the patriarchal theory 
which he has been defending with forced, rabbinic subtlety, 
viz. that the order in Gen. i.-ii. determines not only the rela- 
tions of God and man, but of man and woman : ' he for God 
only, she for God in him.' His Christian sense does reassert 
itself for a moment. Yet the divine order of original Creation 
was for him decisive on marital (vi. 16) as well as on messianic 
(xv. 45 f.) relations. He is so eager to uphold the social custom 13 
of women wearing something on their heads, however, that he 

153 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

14 now seeks confirmation of this ruling in natural propriety. But 
with equally unconvincing effect. After the rabbinic argu- 
ments, his Greek hearers must have welcomed an appeal to 
nature. But they would be taken aback by being asked if long 
hair was not disgraceful for men. What of the long-haired 
Spartan heroes in far-off days ? What of philosophers at the 
present day who wore their hair long as an ascetic trait, or 
to show their indifference to the world ? Why, ' the Greek 
wears long hair on his head because he is a Greek, not a bar- 
barian,' as the morahst Apollonius protested (Epist. viii.). 
Paul thought it effeminate, however, and praised the braided 
tresses (i Pet. iii. 3) of woman as not merely a glory, or oma- 

15 ment, but as a sort of covering. He actually suggests that her 
long hair is nature's sign that she should always have some- 
thing on her head. Are there not unwritten laws in nature for 
us ? The implication is that as nature has provided woman 
with a head-dress of hair, she is intended, not, of course, to 
consider this as a substitute for further covering, but to wear 
a head-dress when she is praying to God in the company of 
men, nature being regarded as supplying the norm even for 
such attire. The inference is far-fetched, though the general 
principle of finding a sanction in nature for such details of 
toilette was familiar to the age. Thus Epictetus (i. 16. 4) 
seriously argues that nature intends men to grow beards ; 
hair on the chin may be useless, but it is a divine sign which 
ought to be observed carefully in order to keep up the dis- 
tinction between the sexes. Which is underneath the plea of 
the apostle here. There may have been circumstances in the 
local situation of which we know nothing, which moved him 
to take this strong line. Probably the assertion of freedom at 
this point was made by some who were pert rather than 
spiritually minded. However this may be, conscious of having 
got into an impasse, he cuts off further discussion with a 
brusque, impatient word : 

16 If anyone presumes to raise objections on this point — well, 

I acknowledge no other mode of worship, and neither do 
the churches of God. 

154 



CHAPTER XI, VERSES 14-16 

' To be contentious,' as the English version has it, is to set 
up one's own opinions or to raise objections, here against an 
apostle's authority or against the common judgement of 
Christendom (iv. 17). The innovators at Corinth must fall into 
line with catholic practice. As indeed they did. We hear of 
no further trouble over this issue. Whatever was thought of 
Paul's reasons for the verdict, whether the determining con- 
siderations were drawn from ordinary social etiquette or not, 
he carried his point. TertulHan witnesses to the custom in 
North Africa at the end of the second century, and Hippolytus 
at Rome, as Chrysostom does for the Church at Antioch at the 
end of the fourth century. It was one of the points on wh ich 
this epistle became regulative for Church order. Christian 
communions which have modified his teaching on recourse to 
law-courts, and even on the eucharist, have firmly adhered to 
what he said about the iniquity of allowing a bare-headed 
woman to worship in church. 

The paragraph exhibits the apostle hampered by ideas and 
customs of his age, anxious lest the religious freedom he pro- 
claimed should be compromised by ardent souls, and at the 
same time half-conscious that his own principle of Christian 
equality for the sexes did not exactly square with the dress 
regulation which he felt bound to enforce, in his anxiety to 
prevent any of his own churches breaking loose from a tradi- 
tion about garb in public worship which had been adopted by 
the Jewish Christian communities. Even at the risk of being 
taunted with debarring women from religious privileges such 
as they enjoyed in a cult like that of Isis, he takes a conserva- 
tive line on the issue. The more permanent items of the dis- 
cussion are that he never dreamed of forbidding women to 
pray or preach in public worship under the inspiration of the 
Spirit, and that he was sensible that a breach of decorum 
might be due to lack of moral delicacy. Still, to turn a social 
convention, which was far from universal, into a moral obli- 
gation binding upon all, is doubtfully wise, however well- 
meaning its motive may be. 

The contrast between this piece on women's attire in worship 
and the following directions upon the Lord's supper (17-34) is 

155 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

as dramatic as anything in Paul's correspondence. In the 
former he is of his age ; the watermarks of contemporary 
prejudice are visible in arguments and conclusion. But in 
the next passage his message has proved to be permanent. Few 
passages have been more often read aloud and read with more 
reverent care than his instructions on the communion service. 
Here he is writing, not as one who knows in part, but with 
a flash of final insight into the religious realities at stake. He 
was never more inspired than in this spiritual counsel on the 
deepest service of worship. Indeed we may regret, as Erasmus 
did, that he was not more explicit about the simple ritual of 
the feast. 

For the sake of clearness, though it is to anticipate what is 
said below, we may reconstruct the situation thus, in the 
light of hints from contemporary evidence about the arrange- 
ments at such meals. At Corinth, as elsewhere, there might be 
no single person who acted as host or presiding minister at 
the informal love-feast. Later, the service was ordered by one 
of the officials, eventually by the bishop, but it is an ana- 
chronism to suppose that this was invariably the case in the 
primitive communities, though naturally an apostle would 
preside if he happened to be present, and especially if he 
called such a supper to be held. The procedure at Corinth is 
hardly intelligible, however, except on the assumption that 
each Christian felt free to start the supper by pronouncing his 
own blessing over a loaf, and that after a long interval a special 
cup was similarly drunk. The sacrificial note was struck, or 
was supposed to be struck, in the blessing over the loaf, which 
represented the body or personahty of the Lord. But at 
Corinth the irregularities ma(je worshippers more concern ed 
about the social side of the feast than about the sacrificial, or. 
at any ra t e, by their independent a ction t hey were turn ing 
the supper into a sort of private c elebratio n of commun ion, 
which seemed to Paul to be inconsistent with the common 
spirit of the rite. The modem who regards such a blend of the 
eucharist with a social meal as strangely casual and incredibly 
irreverent, must recollect how natural this collocation of food 
and fellowship was in the ancient world, where ordinary eating 

156 



CHAPTER XI, VERSE 17 

and drinking had more religious significance than is realized 
to-day. In the primitive communities, those especially who 
had been bom within Judaism never ate without asking God's 
blessing over the food. Table fellowship was indeed a dis- 
tinctive feature of the Jewish faith, which separated them 
from the pagan world ; as they ate their food together, after 
thanking God for it, they were separated from the defiled 
world of paganism. It was a survival of this belief and custom, 
indeed, which had led to the trouble at Antioch, where the 
meal in question involved communion (Gal. ii. 12). Conse- 
quently, if one loaf or one cup was specially connected with 
the Lord's death, at the Christian love-feast, this did not imply 
that the rest of the food was what we call * secular.' The secular 
spirit which Paul reprobates was connected with the behaviour 
of the selfish Corinthians, not with any part of what they ate 
or drank at the supper. 

But in giving you the following injunction I cannot commend 17 
you ; for you are the worse, not the better, for assembling 
together. 

First of all, in your church-meetings I am told that cliques 18 
prevail. And I partly believe it ; there must be parties 19 
among you, if genuine Christians are to be recognized. 
But this makes it impossible for you to eat the ' Lord's * 20 
supper when you hold your gatherings. As you eat, every- 21 
one takes his own supper ; one goes hungry while another 
gets drunk. What 1 have you no houses to eat and drink 22 
in ? Do you think you can show disrespect to the church 
of God and put the poor to shame ? What can I say to you ? 
Commend you ? Not for this. 

The injunction is to maintain one of the traditions, a mode of 17 
worship, which he had passed on to them, the sacred tradition 
of the Lord's supper. Worship never leaves people the same as 
when they began the service. They ought to be the better for 
it, but common worship, even its most solemn rites, may make 
them worse than they were, if it is carried out thoughtlessly 
and carelessly, as was the case in the church-meetings at 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

Corinth. To worship for worse instead of for better, at the 
sacrament of communion, is to gather in such a fashion that 
the worshippers incur condemnation from the Lord (verse 34), 
receiving punishment instead of praise and blessing. 

18 First of all, or (as we say), to begin with, the charge against 
them is that they were carrying party-spirit into the very 
festival where all should be at one. ' I'm half-inclined to 
believe what I am told is happening.' Worship ought to raise 
people above any consciousness of social differences ; at its 
best, it lifts them into such an intense experience of all that 
they have in common, that everything else is forgotten. As 
they lift their hearts to God, they join hands. So Browning 
describes what happened : 

On the first of the Feast of Feasts, 

The Dedication Day, 
When the Levites joined the Priests 

At the Altar in holy array ... 
When the thousands, rear and van, 

Swarming with one accord, 
Became as a single man 

(Look, gesture, thought and word). 
In praising and thanking the Lord. 

19 But at Corinth, Paul was shocked and indignant to learn, 
worshippers were splitting up into coteries or parties, instead 
of becoming ' a single man.' It is not schisms or ' heresies,' 
but cliques, that are the trouble. The appearance of this word 
hairesis in the vocabulary of the Christian religion is due to 
Paul (see Gal. v. 20), and it bears a sinister sense which was 
practically unknown to pre-Christian thought in Greek or in 
Jewish speech. Instead of meaning personal preference or 
choice, or a special school of philosophy, it acquired the conno- 
tation of a private, individual line, which afterwards was 
identified with some set of opinions involving an explicit 
difference of belief. In the present context, it denotes merely 
a party or clique inside the Church, but even so it is blamed, 
as a break-away from God's call and command within the cor- 
porate body of the faithful. It is owing to the dominating 
conception of the Church as a divine, comprehensive unity 
that the Greek word therefore bears a bad sense here for 

158 



CHAPTER XI, VERSE i8 

Paul ; it is an expression of the unchristian, divisive spirit 
which really destroys the sacred Church (see on iii. 17). God's 
living Church has parts, but it has no parties. 

The significance of the weekly re-unions for Church fellow- 
ship must be realized, if justice has to be done to the apostle's 
alarm. Nowhere else could the local converts enjoy the con- 
sciousness of being one in the Lord. There, refined and un- 
refined, masters and employees, mistresses and servants, 
officials and hucksters, people from the suburbs and from 
the slums, poor and well-to-do, respectable citizens and re- 
claimed waifs, all had the opportunity of owning their common 
debt to the Lord. But the temptation was to allow class- 
feeling or personal tastes to intervene. The religious meaning 
of the re-union might be lost in a sense of awkwardness and 
self-consciousness. Like drew to like. One set preferred to 
sit with members of its own social rank. And so forth. The 
sensitive shrank from the rougher element in the membership, 
and forgot the tie that bound them all together, as they held 
their love-feast with its communion service. 

Before exposing this scandal, however, Paul remarks in a 
resigned spirit, ' Well, it must be so ! ' A century later, Justin 
Martyr cited a saying of Jesus that ' there shall be divisions 
and dissensions ' (the very words used here by Paul), but there 
is no need to imagine that any echo of this supposed saying is 
to be heard in our epistle. Paul merely observes that, after 
all, such party-spirit or class-feeling is to be expected, not that 
it had been predicted. There is a stern sigh in his reflection. 
It is artificial to argue that he could not have spoken of 
chquishness as he does here in the same letter in which he had 
denounced party-spirit so severely as he did in i. 10 f., and that 
this difference of tone points to the present allusion as coming 
from a letter written before the situation had become so dis- 
tracted as it was when he wrote the previous passage. The 
repudiation of party-spirit is not less serious here than it is in 
i. 10 f., though Paul expresses himself differently. To reflect, 
with a touch of irony, that such misbehaviour is inevitable, 
human nature being what it is, or that there is a providence 
over these distressing phenomena of Church-life, is not to 

159 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

condone them. ' It's consoling, at any rate, to think that such 
disorders show who is loyal and truly reverent ! ' Genuine 
Christians are those free from the selfishness and irreverence 
which disqualify any worshipper before a God who has his 
definite tests of character and conduct. The adjective is the 
opposite of that translated disqualified in ix. 27 and failure in 
2 Cor. xiii. 5. 
20 The misconduct was due to the fact that worship in the 
primitive communities, simple as it was, gave opportunities 
for class-feeling and private grouping which violated the very 
object of fellowship with God. Like some of the religious fra- 
ternities or revivalist groups in the pagan world, they met in 
the basilica of some private house, where evening worship took 
the form of a supper for the members, not unUke the feasts 
held by Greek guilds ; the faithful gathered for fellowship in 
the Oriental fashion of sharing a common meal, the provisions 
being mainly contributed by the well-to-do. One name for 
this was ' love-feast.' It was a naive outward expression of the 
brotherly love which knit the members together. Probably it 
is the * breaking of bread ' mentioned in the primitive records, 
a household service of fellowship at a meal, where, as in 
Judaism, there would be talk of God's blessing and some 
refreshing intercourse of soul with soul in the gathering. As 
it happens, the only two allusions to this feast in the New 
Testament are occasioned by its abuses. Here, as in the more 
pungent description of Judas (verse 12), a greedy behaviour is 
denounced, which is more than bad manners. Instead of 
waiting for other members to arrive, as, for example, slaves 
who might not be able to get away from household duties till 
later in the evening, the wealthier started the supper. Did 
they hurry on in order to enjoy some indulgence in exciting 
phases of ' speaking with tongues ' ? Was the amount of wine 
consumed by some due to the current use of wine as a religious 
stimulant (Eph. v. 18) ? Or was this hasty action the result of 
mere selfishness ? They had brought the food and wine. Why 
should they not begin, even if all the others had not turned up ? 
So each took his own supper, and he did so, sitting by himself 
or with his particular set, instead of mingling freely with his 

160 



CHAPTER XI, VERSES 20-21 

fellow-Christians. As in the informal religious meals of 
Judaism, each guest might say the blessing over his own food 
(Berachoth, vi. 6). It would appear that at this love-feast the 
sacrament (as we call it) of the Lord's supper was celebrated 
by the blessing and breaking of a particular loaf at the begin- 
ning, followed by a particular cup towards the close, and that 
the initial blessing or thanksgiving over the loaf covered the 
cup as well. This might be carried out reverently. Paul takes 
no exception to the precise arrangement of the meal as prac- 
tised at Corinth, lasting probably from sundown to midnight. 
But what happened was that when some of the poorer trades- 21 
men and slaves arrived, the provisions were exhausted. They 
were humihated to find nothing to eat ; worse still, they 
found some of the early-comers hilariously intoxicated. ' Self- 
indulgent creatures,' Paul exclaims, ' acting as if they were at 
a private dinner-party in their own houses, instead of at the 
Lord's supper I ' The emphasis falls on the Lord's. ' What 
kind of worship is it that makes some of your fellow-members 
in the Lord feel embarrassed and ashamed, as though they 
were left out ? ' Paul urges that the love-feast is a true com- 
munion, not only with the Lord who had sacrificed himself for 
this purpose, but with one another in the Lord's Body. As we 
all partake of the one Bread or loaf, we are one Body (x. 17). To 
behave as if the festival were no more than an ordinary ban- 
quet, where one could gratify his own appetites, and to treat 
with cool disrespect any fellow member, is to profane the sacred 
supper. ' You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and also 
of the table of daemons (x. 21). Neither can you eat the Lord's 
supper if you violate the binding fellowship of his Church.' 
It is not sufficient to break off all connexion with pagan com- 
munion feasts ; even inside the Christian communion, one 
may be guilty of what excludes a worshipper from any real 
fellowship with the Lord of the feast. 

It is essential to bear in mind this nexus of the two sides in 
communion, if one is to understand Paul's interpretation of 
the rite. Our modern individualism does not make it easy to 
reaUze that he is speaking here with the same p^ission as when 
he told the liberals that by sinning against the brotherhood 

Nc 161 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

they were sinning against Christ himself. How could o ne 
worship the Lord at the sacred supper, if he was rude and 
selfish in treating a poo r sl ave or tradesman or dock labo urer. 
some brother for whose sake Christ had died ? Such conduct 
is pronounced far worse than discourtesy ; it is positive irre- 
verence, a profane caricature of the sacramen t, which shuts off 
any worshipper from the Lord, even though he may eat his 
loaf and drink his cup of wine in the Lord's name. Such a 
breach of love and brotherhood is denounced as a proof that 
there was no proper sense of the Body (verse 29) to which 
worshippers professed to belong and in which they were 
outwardly celebrating a festival of fellowship. The urgency 
of Paul's instructions on this point falls out of focus, unless it 
is placed in line with what he had already written on corporate 
fellowship in i. 10 f., viii. 9-13, and x. 17, 23-33, ^.s well as 
with what he intends to write in xii.-xiv. We have here his 
second exposition of the Body (see on vi. 20 and pp. 171 f.). 
22 The shameful, shocking feature is not an irreverent use of 
the communion elements (as we call them), but irreverence to 
God in the person of his Church ; disrespect is shown to him 
by this open contempt for his poorer members. Such a gross 
violation of charity and kindness is another (iii. 17) form of 
sacrilege, as Paul views it. ' Christ could not suffer that the 
temple should serve for a place of mart,' as Hooker puts it 
(i. 43), ' nor the apostle of Christ that the Church should be 
made an inn,' a place where individuals or private groups 
were free to attend to themselves, no matter what happened to 
less fortunate people. Or, as Chrysostom told his congrega- 
tion, ' the Lord's supper ought to be common. For the pro- 
perty of the master does not belong to one servant and not to 
another ; it is common to them all.' For the apostle, any fo rm 
of private devotion which ministers to class-feeling or to selfish 
absorption in one s own soul, to the neglect of other Ch ristians, 
js nothing but a profane outrage upon the holy commun ion of 
the Lord. 

* You expect me to commend you, in view of all this, you 
self-satisfied creatures ? No indeed,' he sarcastically declares, 
' not for this kind of behaviour ! You see nothing wrong in 

162 



CHAPTER XI, VERSES 21-22 

it ? I do, I your apostle, for I know the original and authori- 
tative significance of the Supper As you appear to have 
forgotten what I taught you, I repeat it.' 

The story of 23-26 is not told for its own sake ; it leads up 
to the instructions of 27-34, which form the sequel to 20-22. 
Inevitably we compare this prelude with the other three tradi- 
tions of what had been the last supper of the Lord on earth, 
though it was not the last supper of the Lord for his followers. 
But the Corinthian Christians knew none of these three tradi- 
tions, written or oral. All they had learned about the meal in 
Jerusalem had been what their own apostle told them. There 
is no suggestion that his tradition had been called in question 
by the Palestinian missioners at Corinth, or that the offenders 
of 20-22 were reverting to some more primitive type of love- 
feast which did not attach any special importance to the final 
supper. The I in verse 23 is not in tacit contrast to rival 
witnesses (' whatever others may pass on to you ') but to the 
following you. Had Paul been suspected of introducing any 
novelty into the service, affecting the historical memories of 
what Jesus had said or done, these eyewitnesses or missioners 
would have objected to it. But his account of the Passion as 
well as of the subsequent Resurrection was admittedly on the 
traditional Unes of apostolic testimony. His interpretation 
had indeed its own characteristic features. He interpreted this 
sacrament, as he did baptism, in close connexion with his 
belief in the living Christ and the living Church. But appa- 
rently the interpretation of baptism was familiar and unobjec- 
tionable to other churches than his own, unless we are to 
suppose that Surely you know (in Rom. vi. 3 f.) means no 
more than a hope that it will commend itself to their approval. 
There is not evidence to prove that his eucharistic teaching 
did more than develop germs already present in the usual 
love-feast of the communities. At this social and devotional 
meal, Christians of the primitive period may have loved to 
recall similar occasions when Jesus had been their host ; but 
they did not live on wistful recollections of Galilee, nor even on 
the idea that their invisible host now was the risen Lord. In 
view of the strong eschatological hope, it is more than hard to 

163 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

imagine that they could have ignored what the resurrection 
really meant, a victory over the evil powers of sin and death, 
nor what this victory had cost the Lord (xv. 3). Some thought 
of this cannot fail to have been in their minds. No meal they 
had ever eaten with the Lord possessed the significance of that 
last supper ; it was the significance of life through death, 
with the assurance of an unbroken fellowship between him 
and them, in spite of what was to happen and what did happen 
on the cross. Whatever they might forget, they would re- 
member that, in their common worship. 

The underlying thought of the supper in the synoptic 
records is that Jesus was facing death, as he had faced Ufe, for 
the sake of others, to carry out a saving end or action of God 
on behalf of his chosen. Already in his vocation as God's Son 
he had been going out freely, far beyond the range of tradi- 
tional religion, to achieve the moral redemption of the lost, 
and he looked forward to bringing in the final Order by be- 
coming a sacrifice for their sakes. This conviction, which is 
organic to the Gospel of Mark and to the hfe which it sketches, 
implied that he connected suffering with his vocation as God's 
Son or the Son of Man. It was present to his mind when he 
uttered the saying. The Son of Man has come to give his life 
a ransom for many (i.e. for souls outside as well as inside the 
pale of Israel), a saying which is one of the most self-authenti- 
cating in the record. 1 Ransom or freedom for lives in thraldom 
to evil was linked, quite untechnically, to the thought of a 
divine covenant in the Old Testament (e.g. Ps. cxi. 9). It is in 
the wake of this utterance that the words come about his 
blood being covenant blood shed for many, and ' if these words 
are not genuine, there are few recorded words in history which 
can claim to be genuine. '2 Paul's interpretation, like that in 
the Fourth Gospel, attests an authentic line of belief, going 
back to the Lord himself, apart from which the acceptance of 
the eucharist in the primitive communities, with their common 
meals, leaves an unintelligible hiatus. The words at the last 

1 R. Otto, Reichgottes und Menschensohn, pp. 210 i., 245 f. ; F. C. 
Burkitt, Christian Beginnings, pp. 29 f. 

* A. D. Nock in Essays on the Trinity and the Incarnation, p. 95. 

164 



CHAPTER XI, VERSES 23-26 

supper were not read back into the record by Christians medi- 
tating upon Paul's tradition or any other sacrificial view of the 
crucifixion. Neither were they a sudden improvisation of the 
Lord at the end. The simple rite, with its double parable in 
action, as it were, was accompanied by words which were the 
ripe expression of what had been a growing conviction of his 
divine mission. To words and deeds alike the Church looked 
back, seeing in them the sacrifice which was to prove the 
creative and sustaining power of life in the fellowship until 
the End. 

Outwardly, indeed, the rite recalled elements in its historical 
setting. While arrangements for worship in the primitive period 
were commonly suggested by the synagogue, in this case, 
there was no synagogal precedent. In fact, there could not be. 
But as Jesus died during passover week, probably on the very 
day of the paschal sacrifice in the temple, this led some 
Christians to associate their festival with the passover of 
Israel (v. 7), which it had superseded. Some items in the 
two rituals are indeed curiously similar, so far as the private 
gatherings of Israel during this sacred season are concerned, 
when a household or a group of kindred spirits would meet for 
evening devotions. Thus Paul calls the eucharistic cup the cup 
of blessing, which happens to be the name for the third cup in 
the paschal meal as well as for a special cup at the kiddush, or 
Friday * sanctification ' service, where it was followed by two 
loaves, to symbolize the sabbath supply of manna. Also, as in 
the paschal meal, the bread and the cup are explained. Yet 
what Jesus left out is more significant than what he retained. 
Besides, the paschal family meal was never thought of as a 
sacrifice ; no loaf or cup had any such significance here, any 
more than in the kiddush fare. Both were indeed prolonged, 
convivial evening meals of a religious character, to promote 
fellowship and to commemorate a great deliverance in the 
history of Israel. The meal arranged by the Lord on the 
night he was betrayed was Uke one such supper, but the 
common features are far from proving that it was a conscious 
adaptation of either. The aim and the spirit of it were his 
own creation. The original Lord's supper was a fresh rehgious 

165 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

formation, associated with one loaf and one of the many cups, 
in order to re-enact with joy and reverence the final deUver- 
ance from evil which his sufferings were destined by God to 
realize, together with the continuous communion now open to 
the faithful through their hving Lord, and also the uplifting 
hope of a completed supernatural triumph over death. What 
patriotic Jews did annually. Christians now did weekly, if not 
daily. All was bound up with the Lord, whom they were never 
to forget, as they constantly observed the simple household 
rite which he had commanded. 

If the three synoptic records do not include the command 
for the repetition of the rite, it is not because the churches 
were living on a merely social meal which was supposed to be 
held in presence of their host, the invisible Christ. Even the 
feast in the second-century Didache, which departs so strangely 
from all four of the New Testament traditions, is more than a 
meal. The probability is that the eucharist in the love-feast 
was so regular a feature of Church life, when the Gospels were 
written, that its repetition could be taken for granted. In 
which case, Paul would be no more than making explicit what 
was implicit in the other traditions, whose primary interest is 
to record the last supper in its historical significance as a feast 
where the Host did not merely provide for his guests or 
friends, but provided himself as the food they required for 
their individual and corporate life within the new community 
of God. It was table-fellowship indeed, such as Jews under- 
stood, but table-fellowship with a content of divine self- 
sacrifice, which differentiated the covenant as the new dis- 
tinctive basis of the Christian Church. The deliverer will come 
from Sion . . . this is my covenant with them, when I take 
their sins away. So the prophet had predicted, whom Paul 
quotes in Rom. xi. 26, 27. But the deliverer had come, 
Christians knew, to forgive and unite God's people. The 
eucharist was their assurance of this communion based on 
sacrifice. 

23 I passed on to you what I received from the Lord himself, 
namely, that on the night he was betrayed the Lord Jesus 
166 



CHAPTER XI, VERSE 23 

took a loaf, and after thanking God he broke it, saying, 24 
* This means my body broken for you ; do this in memory 
of me.' In the same way he took the cup after supper, 25 
saying, ' This cup means the new covenant ratified by my 
blood ; as often as you drink it, do it in memory of me.' 
For as often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you 26 
proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Hence anyone 27 
who eats the loaf or drinks the cup of the Lord carelessly, 
will have to answer for a sin against the body and the blood 
of the Lord. Let a man test himself ; then he can eat 28 
from the loaf and drink from the cup. For he who eats and 29 
drinks without a proper sense of the Body, eats and drinks 
to his own condemnation. That is why many of you are ill 30 
and infirm, and a number even dead. If we only judged 31 
our own lives truly, we would not come under the Lord's 
judgment. As it is, we are chastened when we are judged 32 
by him, so that we may not be condemned along with the 
world. 

Well then, my brothers, when you gather for a meal, wait for 33 
one another ; and if anyone is hungry, let him eat at 34 
home. You must not gather only to incur condemnation. 

I will give you instructions upon the other matters when I come. 

Like the story of the various appearances of the Lord after 23 
his resurrection (xv. 3-7), the story of what had occurred at 
the original Lord's supper formed part of the apostolic tradition 
which Paul had received from the Lord himself, through those 
actually present at the event. From indicates the source of 
the tradition, not the means by which it reached him. There 
is no hint of a special revelation. The phrase means that his 
tradition went back to the Lord himself, who knew what was 
essential to participation in his own supper. It is not possible 
in English, as it is in Latin (tradidi . . . tradehatur), to preserve 
the idea that the verb passed on not only corresponds to the 
noun ' tradition,' but is the same as the verb betrayed. Be- 
trayed, again, is the same word as delivered up in Rom. iv. 25, 
where it belongs to a reminiscence of Isa. liii. 12. Delivered 
up might be the meaning here, but it is not the general 

167 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

providential ordering of the Passion which is in Paul's mind 
so much as the actual treachery of Judas on the critical night, 
though this too belonged to the divine deliverance of the Lord 
into the hands of sinful men. He was betrayed is more than a 
note of time, however. It is not simply a black frame for the 
golden picture of the Lord's self-sacrifice ; it contrasts the 
ritual mourning at some of the pagan sacral feasts over the 
death of a deity or divine hero (symbolizing the revival of Hfe 
in each successive spring after the dead winter), with a death 
in history which was self-chosen and followed by a resurrection 
once and for all. 

24 The sacrificial significance of the rite first emerges in con- 
nexion with the loaf or cake of bread. Strictly speaking, to 
' break bread ' might mean no more than to distribute it ; 
but for you is as sacrificial as in John vi. 45 (' the bread is my 
flesh, for the Hfe of the world '), not merely ' a gift for you.' 
Some word like broken, or its equivalent (given) in the Lucan 
tradition, is essential ; pious editors probably omitted it 
because it did not seem to apply literally to the body on the 
cross. It requires only a moment's reflection to realize that in 
the original situation the phrase, ' This is my body,' implies 
that ' is ' again (as in xi. 7) means not identity but equivalence 
— as German has it, not ' das ist' but ' das heisst.' Jesus was 
in his own body when he spoke the words. Here, as elsewhere, 
the natural sense of the Greek copula is means, which is un- 
ambiguous. He intended the bread to signify or represent his 

25 body or himself. So with the cup into which red wine had been 
poured from a skin or jar. This really and effectively repre- 
sents the ratification of the new covenant by his blood. It was 
a new covenant in a deeper sense than any prophet had 
anticipated (Jer. xxxi. 31, Zech. ix. 11). Thanks to the sacrifice 
of Christ their paschal lamb (v. 7), the Christian fellowship now 
worshipped in the new, final order of communion with God. 
The thanksgiving which rose from the faithful at every service 
was not merely for food and wine as God's general gifts to 
men, but for what their bread and wine signified, i.e. the 
living sacrifice of the Lord which had inaugurated communion 
on the basis of his death. The traditions of the supper in the 

168 



CHAPTER XI, VERSES 24-26 

first three Gospels speak of the blood as shed for you or for 
many (i.e. men of all nations). Perhaps Paul thought this 
might be taken for granted, since (in the light of Exod. xxiv. 8) 
it was self-evident that a covenant implied the shedding of 
blood, whose equivalent you drink. The variations are only in 
expression. Common to all is the belief that the sacrificial 
death of Jesus ratified or made effective a final and full com- 
munion with God. What is fresh in Paul's interpretation is 
that Jesus enjoined the repetition of the rite. It is not the 
Last Supper, it is the Lord's Supper that interests him. Chris- 
tians are to repeat the feast in memory of the Lord, recalling 
him to mind as he spoke and acted at this sacred, momentous 
hour, and, as often as they did so, to celebrate it with vivid 26 
memories that passed into hope. What is done often may tend 
to become more or less formal. As the years pass, even the 
most solemn function may lose something of its thrilling fresh- 
ness by dint of repetition, unless the worshipper is careful to 
preserve the spirit of the action. This living spirit in the 
Christian rite is one of thankfulness and of eternal indebtedness 
to the Lord. ' As often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup 
of the Lord who gave himself for you and gives himself thus to 
you, you are proclaiming his death till he comes back.' The 
Church crying Maranatha testifies to the hving, victorious 
Lord ; it not only waits on him but waits for him. As an 
apostle, Paul had come to Corinth to proclaim Jesus Christ the 
crucified (ii. 1-2), telling the wonderful story of the Cross (i. 17). 
So the church had come into being. But the Church itself 
proclaims this truth by its meeting for worship at the sacred 
table of the Lord, which is an altar of sacrifice as well as of 
communion. ' Jesus cut off by human treachery and violence ? 
No, we glory in his death because it is the beginning of the 
glad end which he will soon complete in this new, saving order 
of God. The best hopes of our fathers are more than fulfilled. 
We celebrate our memorial feast with a forward look.' This 
testimony to the Lord was not borne directly to the world, for 
no outsider was permitted to attend the love-feast with its 
communion service, but it voiced the central convictions that 
made the Church of God (x. 32, xi. 22) distinct from Jews and 

169 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

pagans alike. In a real sense it was the heart of the Christian 
haggada, an enacted declaration that their faith and fellowship 
could not be accounted for except as a creation of the Lord, 
dying, risen, and returning. 

There were, indeed, some partial parallels in contemporary 
religion. Greek guilds would hold feasts in affectionate remem- 
brance of some departed friend and member once a year. 
Many Corinthians must have taken part in these celebrations. 
Even the passover of Israel had its own hope as well as its 
memory, for by this time, especially if the singing of the Hallel 
psalms (cxiii.-cxviii.) had already come into vogue, it was not 
merely a commemoration of the deliverance from Egypt, but 
an anticipation of some splendid intervention by God in the 
near future, when Jews would no longer be left under the 
dominion of pagans. Yet not even the passover was regarded 
as a special communion feast, as though the eating of the lamb 
renewed the spiritual life of the people. The bread and wine 
which followed such eating at the private gatherings in the 
home, important as they had come to be for the devout in 
Israel, were not distinctive of the paschal rite, as they were of 
the Christian festival, where the fare provided by the Host for 
his guests was his own life and personality. At the Lord's 
supper, Paul explains, Christians were not simply to remember 
him as he had been and to look for his return, but to live on 
him, as it were, to absorb his real spirit, to be sustained in their 
communion with God through his presence, somehow mediated 
by partaking of this loaf and this cup, which really represented 
him to their faith and love, as visible equivalents of his full, 
sup)ematural personality. What was done at the supper was 
certainly believed to be more than a symbol or mere illustration 
of fellowship. The rite had numinous power, for punishing as 
well as for blessing (verses 30 f.). On the other hand, the later 
notion of consecrated elements is not directly implied in the 
apostle's language. ' To give thanks ' is, indeed, inter- 
changeable with ' to bless,' but an Oriental blessed God who 
gave the food (x. 30, i Tim. iv. 4), not the food itself, which 
remained the same. Even the so-called cup of blessing which 
we bless (x. 14) was not a cup whose contents were supposed to 

170 



CHAPTER XI, VERSES 27-29 

be thereby hallowed, but one for which special thanks had 
been given to God on account of its associations in the simple 
liturgy. Naturally the unique associations of the one loaf and 
the one cup in the Christian feast led to the development of 
the consecration idea, especially when the eucharist was de- 
tached from the prolonged and more general festivity of the 
love-feast. But as yet this was not present to the mind of 
Paul or of his churches. 

Now for the application of all this to the immediate situa- 
tion (18-22). Let them eat the loaf or drink the cup of the 27 
Lord often, but never carelessly, devoid of a proper sense of the 
Body. It is a small but not insignificant point, by the way, 
that the Greek word for or is here, as often (e.g. Rom. i. 21), a 
semi-copulative, i.e. practically the same as and (in 26, 28, 29). 
Paul never contemplated anyone being content with a half- 28 
communion in the loaf of the Lord. The reason he speaks only 
of the Body in verse 29 is that he is now introducing another 
rich aspect of ' Body,' to bring out the corporate communion 
about which some of the Corinthians had been so fatally care- 
less. Each must test (2 Cor. xiii. 5) himself on this point, for 28 
fear of sacrilege. The genuine (verse 19) communicant must 
know how to discern the Lord's Body before he can truly 
partake, and the Body here (an expression which elsewhere, as 29 
in Rom. vii. 4, sums up concisely the idea of the body suffering 
death by the shedding of the blood) specially refers to the 
unity of the Church as the one Body of the Lord, in which the 
faithful are incorporated into him, as the apostle had already 
hinted ; we are one Bread or loaf, one Body, since we all partake 
of the one Bread (x. 17). The charge against the irre Yarent 
C orinthians is not that they failed to distinguish any conse- 
cratede lements in tHF lnealZQI-t fet they undervalued the 
sacrificial side of communion. but _that they forgot what the 
Body meant as they acted so selfishly towards_their humbler 
fellow-Chr istians^ Paul rf^it^rnton f>t this p^fnt what he had 
u rged in 20^nd 21, but i n terms n ow of the Body. To partici- 
p ate rea lly in thexedefimin/^ sarrifirp oljhe Lord is not only for 
those who are deeply conscious of their indebtedness to him, 
biiFTor them only as they are equally conscious that, since they 

171 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

are his, they are bound over to one another, recognizing in 
every fellow-communicant the brother or sister for whom 
Christ died in his body. To treat any member with cool, self- 
centred indifference at the Lord's supper is to desecrate the 
sacred Body ; it is a sin against Christ himself, as any cavalier 
behaviour elsewhere is (viii. 12), and it will expose the offender 
to the same divine punishment as any combination of the 
communion with a pagan rite of the same kind (x. 22, xi. 30 f.). 
In giving himself for men, the Lord gave himself to men, as he 
drew them to God in the common bond of the new covenant ; 
as he drew them to God, he drew them together in the one 
Body. You are Christ's Body, all of you who are baptized into 
one Body, imbued with one Spirit (xii. 13, 27). The deep con- 
victions of xii. f . underlie the apostle's use here of Body in this 
twofold, pregnant sense of the term. 

The corporate interpretation was assumed to be natural 
in verse 27 already, by leading expositors of the Early Church, 
as by Chrysostom, who expounds that verse : ' Carelessly ? 
How could it be otherwise, when the man pays no heed to the 
hungry — worse still, puts him to shame ? ' In fact the preacher 
sees Paul denouncing the godly who are so inhuman, not only 
at the celebration, but before they come to it, and even after- 
wards. This dishonour done to members of the Body is pro- 
nounced the damning sin of sacrilege. Pelagius also takes this 
view as for granted, and illustrates it by referring to the word 
of Jesus about being reconciled to a brother before presenting 
any gift at the altar ; a life stained by quarreUing and selfish- 
ness is an insult to the Lord, if it dares to approach his table. 
Augustine's comments on xi. 27 in connexion with love and 
unity are equally significant for this interpretation of Paul's 
language (Serm. 227, 272). EarHer still, in days when the 
eucharist could still be called a love-feast, as by Ignatius, the 
Church-order of the Didache retains this tradition ; not only 
does the prayer offered over the bread recall the unity of the 
Church (' as this broken bread was once scattered on the hills 
and then gathered to become one loaf, so may thy Church be 
gathered from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom '), but 
no member is allowed to take part in communion till he has 

172 



' THE BODY ' 

settled any quarrel with a fellow-Christian. Paul, for whom 
all the divine commands were summed up in the single word, 
You must love your neighbour as yourself (Rom. xiii. 9), and 
for whom love was even greater than faith and hope, is con- 
sistent in holding that a callous breach of fellowship was the 
most awful sin for Christians, most of all when committed at 
their love-feast with its sacred communion. The corporate 
sense of Body comes out in verse 29, if not in verses 27 and 28. 
The idea of turning the communion of the Body into a supper- 
party for your own set ! His profound sense of the collective 
fellowship throbs in this word on the eucharist, where the 
genuinely faithful ate and drank in presence of their invisible 
Host and Head, deeply conscious of his presence, not simply in 
the actual rite, but in the person of each brother in prayer 
beside them. The Lord's Body was really represented in what 
they ate and drank, but not less really in their fellow-Christians, 
in whom, as well as for whom, the Lord lived. The trouble with 
the Corinthians was that, just as they enjoyed their ' speaking 
with tongues,' till they were apt to forget that worship must 
take account of others in the service, so they were treating the 
eucharistic love-reunion as though it were a private religious 
meal for individuals or groups, which did not involve obliga- 
tions to the rest of the brotherhood. A heinous offence, the 
apostle protests ! The vital sense of solidarity was endangered, 
he declared, by these irregularities at communion, and for 
this reason! he again (x. 17) turns to the corporate, mystical 
conception of the Body which was inseparable from the other 
conception and as organic to his gospel, whether or not it was 
originally prompted by eucharistic associations (p. 162). 

Literally the words are, ' he who eats and drinks, eats and 29 
drinks judgement for himself, failing to judge the Body ' (i.e. 
to test himself by the standards of what such communion 
involves) ; he lays himself open to a judicial sentence of doom, 
if he has no proper sense of what the Body means. It is not the 

1 This interpretation, which I argued in the Expository Times 
(xxx. 19-23), is recognized not only by Schweitzer, but by Dean 
Armitage Robinson in Encyclopedia Bihlica, ii. 1421, Anderson Scott 
in Christianity According to St. Paul, pp. 189 f., and G. H. C. Macgregor 
in Eucharistic Origins, pp. 178 f. 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

final condemnation (verse 32), but it may come to that. The 
rendering of the Greek word for condemnation by some equiva- 
lent for ' damnation ' led to sad though superficial misconcep- 
tions, as a well-known passage in Goethe's Autobiography re- 

30 cords. Paul certainly takes a most serious view of this flagrant, 
irreverent selfishness at the Lord's table. At the same time he 
does not regard it as necessarily fatal to the culprit. Like 

31 many Jews,i he considered suffering might be a penalty for 
sin, and premature death a punishment for sin (see Luke 
xiii. 1-5), but he also shares (v. 5) the Jewish belief that such 
physical suffering becomes a divine means of discipUne for the 

32 soul. We are being chastened by such sufferings, he explains, 
even though they are a judgment of condemnation on our 
misbehaviour, in order to keep us from sharing the doom of the 
anti-divine world (i. 8 and 18) when the Lord does come. Paul, 
it should be noted, does not explain the recent illnesses and 
deaths at Corinth as the direct result of irreverence in handling 
the elements. This sub-Christian extension emerged two 
hundred years later, in the days of Cyprian. But he does 
believe that if any participated in the festival with unbecoming 
levity and selfishness, they did more than miss a blessing; 
they incurred guilt and would have to suffer for a sin against 
the body and blood of the Lord, with whom they had dared to 
come into real contact as they ate and drank. The damning 
sin is the lack of perception, blindness to what such communion 
means. All would be well if we only judged our own lives truly 
at our re-unions, if we but took time and thought to realize 
how membership in the Body of Christ means that unbrotherli- 

33ness is sacrilege. The self-engrossed, careless member who 
cannot wait for his fellows shows that he judges the feast to 
be a gratification of appetites or of social interests, not a fellow- 
ship meal of the spirit. Unless the man can be brought to his 
senses, that irreverent attitude, Paul ends as he began by 

1 Rabbi Jose the Galilean, not long after Paul, applied this tradition 
to Israel's infidelity at the worship of the golden calf (Midrash Sifre on 
Num. V. i) : ' Come and see the awful effect of sin. Before the crime 
of the golden calf, there were no issues of blood, no cases of leprosy, in 
Israel ; but as soon as they sinned, these diseases sprang up among 
them.' See below, p. 253. 



CHAPTER XI, VERSES 30-34 

declaring, leads to his condemnation, as surely as it did with 
the fathers long ago, who ignored their Christ (x. 4-1 1, 22). 

He ends quietly, on a hopeful note, the contrast of which 33 
with the tone of 20-23 recalls the similar change of accent in 
X. 12, 13, after a preceding warning. His authoritative instruc- 34 
tions on other details will be given by word of mouth when he 
arrives. Instead of continuing what he had begun first of all 
(verse 18) to lay down by way of injunctions about Church 
services, he defers the rest of the subject. 

There is no reason why this should not refer to the visit 
indicated in iv. 21, as if the present allusion imphed a less 
serious state of things. In iv. 18 f. his tone is indeed more 
threatening, but this is because he had in mind some local 
upstarts or interlopers who insinuated that Paul had been 
away for so long — for four years now — that he would never 
come back. ' No fear of him interfering with us ! He's afraid 
to put in an appearance. We can go on with our superior 
rules for the community.' But the difference is one of tone, 
not of time. Here he views the situation more calmly, because 
it is a different situation. Like the observation in verse 19, 
this gives no sure ground for conjecturing that it comes from 
some letter which was written before that in which iv. 18 f. 
occurred. Even by the time he wrote xvi. 10, 11, he saw no 
immediate reason for crossing at once ; indeed he intimates 
that he must first visit his Macedonian churches. In the 
circumstances, he still believes that a visit from his young col- 
league Timotheus will be sufficient for the time being. As in 
iv. 18 f. and xvi. 10 f., so here ; the Corinthians must take this 
letter as a reply to the more urgent of their questions, till he 
himself has time to come over and settle matters on the spot. 
Such is the general situation as he begins and ends the letter. 
It was not until after he had despatched it that he had to alter 
his plans and pay a hurried visit to Corinth. 

But one topic was, for some reason or another, of such 
pressing importance that it could not be left over till he arrived 
in person ; it was the question of spiritual gifts in Church work 
and worship, their relative importance and their proper 
exercise. 

175 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 



THE CHURCH AS A FELLOWSHIP OF WORSHIP 

(xii.-xiv.) 

In discussing worship (xi. 2-34) he had already found occa- 
sion to stress fellowship and cohesion, as endangered by local 
faults of the church. But they were also endangered by the 
church's sheer vitality. Hitherto it might seem as though the 
saints at Corinth formed a rather unsaintly specimen of Chris- 
tianity, little more than a swarming group of excited partisans 
or self-conceited religionists, composed for the most part of 
high-flying ascetics and of easy-going worshippers who in dif- 
ferent ways sat strangely loose to morals, while some were 
allowing the new sense of freedom to degenerate into captious 
criticism or even into compromising habits. But Paul knew his 
dear people better (iv. 14, x. 14, xv. 58). They were richly en- 
dowed with enthusiasm and eager spiritual aims. He could still 
thank God for them, in spite of all that he had to say since he 
wrote i. 4-9. Whatever were their f aiUngs. a Laodicean temper 
was not one of them . He knew that many had earnestly set their 
hearts on the highest achievements and experiences possible 
to a Christian (xiv. i, 12). One expression of this was the very 
ascetic passion of which he had spoken with high approval, 
though with some cautious reservations (in vii.). Another 
was the ambition to shine in ecstatic trances and transports of 
the devotional life, or in distinguished positions like those of 
prophets, teachers, and miracle-workers, so inspired by the 
Spirit that they stood out from their fellows and stood close 
to God himself. Indeed some were identifying the activity of 
the Spirit with such abnormal manifestations as speech in 
* tongues ' and thrilling raptures. If these were not expe- 
rienced, they had an uneasy feeling that they were somehow 
deserted by God, or at any rate left on a low level of rehgion. 
Not all craved rhetoric or religious debates on ' wisdom.' 
There was a ferment of spiritual Ufe in the worship of the 
community ; it often burned and seethed with enthusiasm, 
which was accompanied by less rapturous intervals. Accesses 
of supernatural power came and went, came to some at least, 

176 



CHAPTER XII-CHAPTER XIV 

in wonderful phases and phenomena of possession. The 
mobile, susceptible Corinthians were fascinated by all this, 
fascinated and puzzled, apt to attach too much importance to 
the intermittent, exciting elements of their religion and to 
miss God's Spirit in the less romantic experiences of human 
helpfulness, thoughtful service, and brotherly kindness in the 
fellowship. To free them from such misapprehensions, the 
apostle now recalls them to the Origin and Object of all 
spiritual endowments. He turns to the more hopeful side of 
the church's life with relief as well as with some concern, after 
the graver issues which had engaged him since he began to 
write in i. lo f. If to be ' in Christ ' meant anything to Paul, 
it meant a break with the selfish * ego ' whose domination was 
the ruin of human nature. He had occasion to speak of some 
rather gross relapses into this selfish absorption, in the earlier 
chapters. Now he needs to expose a further risk of it within the 
very fellowship as the saints met for worship, and though he 
treats this as seriously he handles the temptations with less 
severity. The exuberant activity of the fellowship is welcome 
to him ; for all its risks of misunderstanding and friction, it 
means vitality in the sphere of the Spirit or common faith. 

The survey has three sections — xii. 1-30, xii. 31-xiv. i, and 
xiv. 2-40. In dictating them he was evidently less interrupted 
than he had been ; there are no sudden breaks in the dis- 
cussion. 

The keynote is struck by the word spiritual gifts in xii. i. 
The Greek term might refer to spiritual persons, gifted with the 
Spirit (as in xiv. 37), i.e. specially receptive to the inspiring 
control of supernatural power. In the contemporary world of 
religious fervour (xiv. 12 and 2, Acts xvi. 16), with its animistic 
background, this spirit or that was beUeved to possess a sus- 
ceptible votary. The supernatural sphere was full of ' spirits.' 
But in view of xiv. i, the likeUhood is that the word here 
denotes spiritual gifts, on which verses i-ii are an introductory 
statement. 

xii. 
But I want you to understand about spiritual gifts, brothers, i 
(You know, when you were pagans, how your impulses led 2 

Oc 177 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

3 you to dumb idols ; so I tell you now, that no one is speak- 
ing in the Spirit of God when he cries, ' Cursed be Jesus,' 
and that no one can say, * Jesus is Lord ' except in the holy 
Spirit.) 

4 There are varieties of talents, 

but the same Spirit ; 

5 varieties of service, 

but the same Lord ; 

6 varieties of effects, 

but the same God who effects ever3rthing in everyone. 

7 Each receives his manifestation of the Spirit for the common 

8 good. One man is granted words of wisdom by the Spirit, 

9 another words of knowledge by the same Spirit ; one man 
in the same Spirit has the gift of faith, another in the one 

10 Spirit has gifts of healing, one has miraculous powers, 
another prophecy, another the gift of distinguishing 
spirits, another the gift of * tongues * in their variety, 

11 another the gift of interpreting * tongues.* But all these 
effects are produced by one and the same Spirit, apportion- 
ing them severally to each individual as he pleases. 

1 What Paul desires the Corinthians to understand is the 
common source and aim of spiritual endowments in the 
Church. But ' that reminds me, to begin with, of a truth under- 

2 lying all such manifestations of the Spirit. Those of you who 
were brought up as pagans are familiar with the frenzied cries 
of the cults. You know the religious impulses that once swept 
you into seances where devotees had their experience of divine 
possession.' With a Jew's scorn, he calls the cult-gods dumb 
idols, though it is not very relevant here, if these deities excited 

3 their worshippers to scream aloud. ' Well, no dumb idols for 
us, but a living Lord ! We Christians, you and I, are moved 
by the holy Spirit. As no one is really inspired when he shouts, 
** Cursed be Jesus I " in the synagogue, so no one in the 
Church can utter the confession, ** Jesus is Lord," unless he is 

(inspired by that Spirit. This is the spiritual gift of gifts. To 
be a Christian at all, apart from any question of spiritual en- 
dowments or special capacities, the Spirit is essential.' The 

178 



CHAPTER XII, VERSES 1-3 

simplest explanation of the reference to Jesus being cursed, is 
that some Corinthians may have been impressed, almost 
against their better judgement, by hearing a member of the 
local synagogue (next door to the Corinthian meeting-house, 
Acts xviii. 7) crying in rapt, passionate tones, as though he 
were inspired, ' Your Jesus is no Christ ! God's curse be on 
him ! ' It is indeed possible that the reference may be to an 
incoherent outburst in some glossolalia cry, as the man uncon- 
sciously screamed a phrase caught up from his normal expe- 
rience. Such a phenomenon is not uncommon in hysteria or 
in the babbUng of patients under a drug, when sub-consciously 
they utter things quite out of keeping with their real selves. 
It would be one function of those who interpreted glossolalia 
to declare, as Paul does here (see further on xvi. 22), that such 
an exclamation from the possessed person is not characteristic 
and does not represent his Christian standing. But a more 
natural account of this perplexing allusion is to trace it to the 
tension between the Church and the outside world, especially 
Judaism, as one of the cries which Paul himself had once 
endeavoured to force from the lips of sympathizers with Jesus 
in the synagogue, when he did what he could to force them to 
blaspheme (Acts xxvi. 11). ' Jesus the Son of God ? What 
blasphemy ! This crucified pretender divine ? ' To Jews such 
a claim on the part of the Church was a stumbling-block (i. 23). 
It horrified them. Hence their indignant protest against the 
scandalous witness to the Lord which Christians uttered. But 
Paul retorts, in this reminder to the Corinthians, that only the 
Spirit of the Lord had overcome the prejudices of Jew or pagan 
to the gospel of Jesus Christ the crucified Lord. In declaring 
that no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except in possession of 
the holy Spirit, he is not contrasting genuine faith with anyA 
formal lip-loyalty ; he means that this saving testimony to| 
Christ springs from God reveahng it by the Spirit (ii. 10). Our 
faith, he implies, is ultimately due, not to any religious impulses j 
of our own, but to the enlightening power of the holy, divine ( 
Spirit of the true God. The really supernatural influence in 
this world of ours lies not with daemons, but with the Lord, and 
it is as we yield to the impulses of God's own Spirit, as we are 

179 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

under the influence of the Spirit of God, that we call Jesus 
Lord as we call God the Father (viii. 6). Some Corinthians may 
have been led to consider that the more ecstatic a cry was, the 
more it was inspired. Paul's reminder is that genuine inspira- 
tion from the supernatural order voices itself in the conscious 
confession of Jesus as Lord, and that this is neither self-induced 
nor reached by mere reflection or insight of our own. It is also 
implied that the inspiring Spirit of God is now to be verified 
and experienced in the Church (ii. 10-12, iii. 16) rather than 
even in the synagogue of Israel, just as the Church rejoices in 
the possession of prophets (10, 28), men in the direct succession 
of those who are inspired by God to speak for him at certain 
moments to the community. 

4 After this characteristic (see viii. 5, 6) parenthesis, he comes 
to his inunediate point, using for the first time service or 
ministry (iii. 5, xvi. 15), of which so much is made in Second 
Corinthians, and effects or operations, which he never uses 
again. All the capacities which appear in Christian service, 
even what seem to be the more briUiant talents, are endow- 
ments, literally gifts of grace (i. 7, vii. 7, a rare word which he 
re-stamps) ; all are ahke from God. They have relative impor- 
tance, but all are vitally relevant to the interests of the com- 
munity, and none, not even glossolalia with its transports, is 
to be regarded as of exclusive value. In their rich variety these 
energies (ii. 4) spring from a single Source, assigned or distri- 
buted by one and the same Spirit, i.e. God's presence and 

5 pressure upon the life of his saints. The Lord is the Spirit (as in 
2 Cor. iii. 17) ; as Calvin points out, the term is not to be 

6 exclusively applied to Christ. God as Lord is served by his 
people. All the effects or activities (powers in 10) produced 
by the exercise of spiritual gifts are his doing, whether striking 

7 or commonplace. Each member receives his particular mani- 
festation of the Spirit, and receives it for the common good, not 
for self -enjoyment or self-display. Not even for his individual 
advantage, as the English Version ' to profit withal ' might 
suggest. ReHgion is a final thing ; it is man's relationship to 
God, not something that is to bring something else, though as 
it is real it is the beginning of anything that is to be of service 

180 



CHAPTER XII, VERSES 4-10 

to the man himself or to others. Here the ' profit ' is the 
common good of the community, within which alone the rela- 
tionship ripens. However, before developing this thought, 
Paul mentions some of the uncommon varieties in this nexus 
of service and fellowship. ** 

The first two are connected with that power of speaking 8 
intelligently about the faith which he had hailed as a charac- 
teristic of the local church (i. 6). No Greek would have drawn 
any distinction between words of wisdom and words of know- 
ledge, and it is not easy to understand how Paul differentiated 
Christian wisdom from knowledge of God ; in view of ii. 6 f . 
and xiii. 2, the former cannot be identified with religious in- 
struction, which in the sense of illumination and insight may 
rather belong to knowledge, i.e. access to the inner sphere of 
truth which is hidden from the senses and mere reason. 
Similarly faith, healing, and miraculous powers form a special 9 
group of endowments, which run into one another. Faith (as in 
xiii. 2) is heroic belief in the supernatural, an indomitable assu- 
rance that God can overcome any difficulties and meet any 
emergencies (Matt. xvii. 19 f.). With some this rises to special 
heights ; as Bunyan remarks of Great-Grace, the King's 
strong fighter, who raUied faint-hearted followers and routed 
misgivings, ' all the King's subjects are not his champions.' 
Such unswerving confidence in God underlay those who did 
what were regarded as miraculous cures. One sphere in which 
it worked variously was that of sickness. While the important 
healing ministry, which often worked through prayer (Acts 
xxviii. 8) and unction (Mark vi. 13, Jas. v. 14 f.), was originally 
distinct from exorcisms with their expulsion of some daemon 
whose invasion of the body had caused sickness (according to 
contemporary belief), the latter may come under miraculous 10 
powers, which would include also raising dead people. The 
effectiveness of this gift covered a wide range, indicated by the 
passing allusion in Gal. iii. 5 to God who supplies you with the 
Spirit and works miracles (or mighty deeds) among you. Such 
achievements in the mission-field, such marvellous results of 
faith in individual lives, were obviously not the prerogative of 
apostles, but spiritual functions open to any members of the 

181 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

Church who had the gift. To prevent misconception it should 
be explained that Paul wrote what is literally ' active powers,' 
not " miracles ' in our modern sense of the term ; but ' power ' 
(dunamis) had acquired this special meaning of supernatural 
energy, for which our most adequate adjective is miraculous 

(i- 25. ii. 5)- 

The next four describe another form of utterance. The 
prophetic gift, characteristic of those who expounded the mind 
of God, meant revelations of present duty and of future pros- 
pects, by which they were inspired to fathom all mysteries and 
secret lore (xiii. 2), to show how Jesus was Lord, and to bring 
out the inner force and truth of the gospel. Some of these 
functions are visible in the later description of worship (xiv.), 
where they are ranked higher than tongues. The gift of 
distinguishing true utterances of those who addressed the 
Church from false statements, when some spirit of error 
possessed the seer, is partly that already mentioned (verse 3). 
Paul implies that these outpourings are not to be accepted 
bUndly as infallible revelations. He had had occasion already 
to warn some Christians at Thessalonica against despising 
them as silly vapouring, whether they referred to the future 
or to directions for immediate guidance. That would be to 
quench the fire of God's Spirit by pouring the cold water of 
unsympathetic criticism on some glowing soul. Nevertheless, 
while such prophetic revelations were to be deeply respected, 
they ought to be tested by Christians, some of whom should 
know how to retain the good element while they set aside the 
trivial or daemonic (i Thess. v. 19 f.). The Church is not to lie 
at the mercy of any ranter or unbalanced enthusiast. There is 
a spiritual gift of discernment. A later illustration of this capa- 
city is Wesley's treatment of the French prophets and the 
Jumpers in Wales. Paul means no sceptical attitude towards 
an ardent speaker, but an acute perception of spiritual reality 
and integrity, which enables some in the gathering to detect 
the line at which an earnest speaker allowed his own emotions 
or prejudices to enter into the truth of his message. This gift, 
open to many in the Church, might seem less useful than that 
of lyric rapture or oratory, but Paul insists that it is as much a 

182 



' THE BODY ' 

function of the fellowship as any other. Similarly with the 
phenomenon of tongues. Even this required interpreters ; 
otherwise its service to the common good would be missing. 
What a variety of energies and effects ! — some apparently 1 1 
more sensational than others, some attracting attention and 
others operating in humbler spheres, some cool and some 
ecstatic, some more mental than others, but all produced by 
one and the same Spirit, none the mere result of independent^ 
choice or of unconsecrated ability. 

Paul had begun by speaking of the Spirit as the dividing 
line between Church and the world ; the Spirit by which the 
faithful are moved to confess Jesus as Lord marked the dif- 
ference between them and all others in their environment. 

But within the Church the Spirit is the uniting power, which 
overcomes all differences of temperament and education and 
endowment, not obliterating them, but combining them in a 
common, co-operative service of the fellowship. Hence it is 
not an intermittent power, not even an esprit de corps, but a 
constant source of health and vitality in the Body. The gifts 
of the Spirit are not the native powers and capacities of human 
nature ; although these enter into the particular endowments 
of individual Christians in the fellowship, they are taken up 
into the new life and heightened ; fresh, unsuspected capacities 
are also evoked. Yet all bear upon the common good, and all 
derive their value from love, disinterested devotion to the good 
of others within the community. To illustrate this truth, he 
now reverts to his characteristic conception of the Church as 
the Body of Christ (12-27). 

With their strong sense of Roman ways and traditions in 
politics, the Corinthians would appreciate this particular argu- 
ment, for one of the famous stories in Roman history embodied 
a similar appeal on behalf of the body politic. In 494 B.C., 
when the plebeians seceded from Rome, an envoy from the city 
authorities persuaded the rebellious commons to rejoin the 
State by telling them, according to Livy, a quaint apologue 
of how once upon a time the members of the body had a grie- 
vance against the belly because it ' did nothing but enjoy what 
they bestowed upon it ' ; they struck work, but soon found 

183 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

that they were really starving themselves. Which made it 
clear to them that even the belly (i.e. the patrician order) 
nourished the other members, while it was being nourished by 
them. This adroit argument of Menenius Agrippa, familiar to 
most English readers through Shakespeare's Coriolanus, illus- 
trates one of the points made by Paul in the following passage, 
with its teUing, local appeal to the Latin sense of order. 

For Paul it is no simile but a spiritual reality, this Body of 
Christ. Whether or not the Christian Sunday came to be 
called the Lord's Day because the Lord's Supper was observed 
then, the corporate sense of the Body either arose out of the 
communion feast or was closely associated with it (see above, 
p. 172). It is not a mere literary coincidence that this stress on 
the Body of Christ as the Church confessing him, in communion 
with God and with one another, follows the statement on the 
sacramental rite. Any divisive temper, any failure to think 
more of others than of oneself, any carelessness about recog- 
nizing what each owes to the others (in the double sense of 
indebtedness), is marked as a breach of vital communion, 
whether at the love-feast or elsewhere in the worship and work 
of the Lord (xv. 58). Such aberrations are deliberately dis- 
cussed here in the light of the Church as the corporate Body, 
into which the faithful are incorporated by the one Spirit, not 
rendered thereby independent of fellowship, as though the 
Spirit were a vague, kindly disposition in the personal life of 
each. So far from the gifts of the Spirit being, in our modem 
sense of the term, ' spiritual ' in contrast to definite ties and 
obHgations of belief and membership, Paul insists that they 
belong to the one Body, just as he invariably speaks of the 
saints in the plural. The confession that Jesus is Lord is indeed 
personal, but the Spirit inspiring it is the Spirit which places 
each member in a Body where all are mutually dependent. 
The Spirit, to put it otherwise, is not identified with what the 
devout soul does with his loneliness, much less with religious 
self-expression, but with what each is and does for the fellow- 
ship. In fact, as it had pleased God to create the individual 
man with a body of many members, so he had been pleased, in 
his sovereign providence, to create the Church as the corporate 

184 



' THE BODY • 

Body of Christ (verses ii and i8), for exercising the divine 
Spirit of mutual service. A bodiless man, in other words, 
would be as vital and no more than a Churchless Christ. 

As the human body is one and has many members, all the 12 
members of the body forming one body for all their number, 
so is it with Christ. For by one Spirit we have all been 13 
baptized into one Body, Jews or Greeks, slaves or freemen ; 
we have all been imbued with one Spirit. Why, even the 14 
body consists not of one member but of many. If the foot 15 
were to say, ' Because I am not the hand, I do not belong 
to the body,' that does not make it no part of the body. If 16 
the ear were to say, * Because I am not the eye, I do not 
belong to the body,' that does not make it no part of the 
body. If the body were all eye, where would hearing be ? 17 
If the body were all ear, where would smell be ? As it is, 18 
God has set the members in the body, each as it pleased him. 
If they all made up one member, what would become of the 19 
body ? As it is, there are many members and one body. 20 
The eye cannot say to the hand, * I have no need of you,' 21 
nor again the head to the feet, * I have no need of you.' 
Quite the contrary. We cannot do without those very 22 
members of the body which are considered rather delicate, 
just as the parts we consider rather dishonourable are the 23 
very parts we invest with special honour ; our indecorous 
parts get a special care and attention which does not need to 24 
be paid to our more decorous parts. Yes, God has tempered 
the body together, with a special dignity for the inferior 
parts, so that there may be no disunion in the body, but 25 
that the various members should have a common concern 
for one another. Thus 26 

if one member suffers, 

all the members share its suffering ; 

if one member is honoured, 

all the members share its honour. 
Now you are Christ's Body, and severally members of it. 27 

The literal ' so also is Christ ' misses the force of the Greek 12 

185 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

idiom, which here (as in xv. 42) means so is it with Christ. In 
his later teaching the apostle speaks of Christ as the Head of 
the Body, moving and inspiring the Church. This appears 
first in the Colossian letter. Here, and in the twelfth chapter 
of Romans, the Church is the Body of Christ, a corporate 
organism, with the many members acting for the common good 
of vital health and energy. There is no anticipation of this 
symbol in any philosophical school or cult. To some- Corin- 
thians the general idea, indeed, would not be wholly unfamiUar ; 
in popular Stoicism, for example, the true man was instructed 
to regard himself as a member of the universe, co-operating 
with his fellows. This was no figurative symbol ; there was an 
actual rhythm in the cosmos, setting the members to service. 
' Nature,' said Seneca (Ep. xcv. 52), has made us all kin, 
* members of a great Body,' with social ties. Epictetus (ii. 10) 
explained, almost in Paul's very words, that ' the calling of a 
citizen of the world is to have no private interest, never to 
view anything as if he were detached, but to act like the hand or 
the foot, which, did they possess reason, would never stir or 
start except with reference to the whole.' But, while there 
are some instances of body being used in pre-Christian Greek 
for a society, Paul is the first thinker in Greek to develop this 
idea of the Body, which, as we have already seen, is so vital io 
his conception of religious communion as a corporate experienc£. 

13' He never contemplates any baptism of the Spirit as a higher 
experience of Christians. Their baptism into the Church is 
through the Spirit ; we have all been imbued (or, saturated) 
with one Spirit, the indwelling Spirit (ii. 12, vi. 19) at the 
solemn, decisive moment of baptism (vi. 11). Jews or Greeks, 
slaves or freemen, is not so apposite here as it is elsewhere, in 
Galatians and Colossians. But as he thought of the unity of 
the Church, into which every member had been incorporated, 
his favourite thought rushed into his mind, the more so, since 
he had been speaking not only about Jews and Greeks (x. 32), 
but about slaves and freebom (vii. 20 f.) within the local 
fellowship. His primary idea, however, is not of the Church 
embracing people of any nation or of any social rank, but of 

14" the differences of function within the unity. All are needed by 

186 



CHAPTER XII, VERSES 12-26 

each, and each is needed by all. It is so in the physical 
organism. Yes, he concludes, using a verb which Stoics em- 
ployed for the divine ' compounding ' of the universe, God has 24 
tempigr ed the body to gether, with a special regard lor the less 
imposing pa rts. Members who had no conspicuous gifts mus t 
not imagine that the y were sub-spiritual or unnecessary to t }ie 
liieotthFconimunity. The fear of this, n o l ess tha n of dis- 
ting uished leaders giving themselves airs, perhaps even of 
individual prophets believing that they could discharge m ost 
if not all of the requisite functions, haunts the apostle as he 
writes. iFwas for h im one of the factors that made for disunion . 
For the third and the last time, this ill-omened word sounds in 25 
the ears of the church, as their apostle hints how unnatural 
it is. There is a remarkable anticipation of the next sentence 
in Plato's Republic (v. 462), as he argues that the best body 26 
politic is one where the entire body of the citizens shares the 
happiness or the suffering of each member : ' The best ordered 
polity resembles an individual. For example, if one of our 
fingers is hurt, the entire community of the physical organism 
feels the pain as a whole, although it is only one part that 
suffers. So we say, a man has pain in his finger.' This was 
nearer to Paul's view of the Christian Body than any Stoic 
ideal of the collective spirit which linked the individual to the 
body of the cosmos. The ideal man of Stoicism might, and, 
indeed, must, try to serve a fellow-member of humanity, but 
he must never allow any emotion like pity or sympathy to 
ruffle his august soul ; he was no isolated unit, and yet he was 
debarred from the warmth of personal devotion which Paul 
expresses by brotherly love as the breath of membership 
within the Body. 

This is the third exposition (see on vi. 20) of ' body ' in our 
epistle, and it is organic to the second (in xi. 29 f.). The ori- 
ginality of Paul's conception does not lie in the extension of 
' body ' from the individual self to an organism, but in the 
conception of the Church as the collective Body of Christ. It 
is in line with his representation of the heavenly Man, who has 
not merely died for his own, but already lives in them, as they 
in him (xv. 49 f.), heading a new order of created human 

187 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

beings. There is no clear evidence to show any dependence of 
Paul, even indirectly, upon the cosmic corporate idea which is 
embodied in some pre-Christian gnostic theosophies of the 
Primal Man and Redeemer. These furnish no more than 
casual parallels. He is rather in Une with the working of the 
Hebrew mind, which readily personified the divine community, 
as in the psalms. The anticipations of his view are to be found 
in apocalyptic mysticism, with its conception of a soHdarity 
between the elect and their messiah ; the Son of Man and the 
Suffering Servant of the Lord were readily associated with a 
transcendent, corporate idea of the saints. Jesus himself (see 
above, p. 164) had forecast not only the fact but the vicarious 
and representative significance of his sufferings and death, as 
the primitive tradition witnessed. For the apostle, what was 
vital was not the Lord as a heroic individual ; it was Christ 
dying and rising as One who bore in his own person the destiny 
of God's chosen People, Christ Uving as the Lord and Spirit in 
whom they actually shared and reproduced his death and 
resurrection within their own experience. That is, interpreting 
the evangelic tradition, he now gave it a new expression, sug- 
gested by ethnic thought. The Hebrew mind never used 
' body ' for its ideas of corporate life. But, for Paul, Christians 
are bound up with their Christ in what, for lack of a better 
term, we sometimes call, * the mystical Body.' It was only 
mystical as it was a supernatural or spiritual reality, a cor- 
porate personality, in which the saints together shared his 
sufferings as well as already, to some degree, his risen glory. 
There is more than half a truth in Dr. Schweitzer's contention^ 
that the so-called ' mysticism ' of Paul really amounts to his 
statement of the truth that the pre-existent Church is mani- 
fested in appearance and reality through the death and resur- 
rection of Jesus. In xi. 23 f . the apostle brings this out in its 
eschatological aspect, by indicating how on the basis of the 
covenant the Body of Christ came into positive existence on 
earth during the interval before the End. Here he is dealing 
with its functions and inward vitaUty as the rehgious fellow- 
ship of God's called people, vitally bound up with the person 
1 The Mysticism 0/ Paul the Apostle, p. 116. 
188 



' THE BODY ' 

of their divine Deliverer, alive with the energies of his Spirit. 
Yet, even so, the Christian view of the Body is never apart from 
the conviction of God's ultimate purpose for the world. The 
Stoic cosmopolitanism lacked any sense of a divine event, near 
or remote, to which the creation was moving ; its corporate 
spirit had nothing corresponding to the Reign of God or 
saving purpose to be realized at the End through the divine 
organism of the Church or Body. The significance of history, 
past and future, for the Christian fellowship of hope, had no 
place in the Stoic's idea of his cosmic Body. It is the limita- 
tions of the very ethnic thought on which Paul here draws 
which are so striking. 

Baptism did imply this incorporation, as it rested upon the 
life and death and resurrection of the Lord. Though Paul 
speaks of being baptized ' with Christ,' he can say, By one 
Spirit have we all been baptized into one Body. Yet, in the 
nature of the case, baptism was individual as the other sacra- 
ment of the Body, communion at the eucharist, was not. To 
immerse oneself in the water and undergo a mystic death and 
resurrection to a new life, or, as Paul put it otherwise, to take 
on the personality of Christ (Gal. iii. 27), suggested personal 
surrender, once and for all, to the Lord, even when several 
were baptized together ; whereas the corporate side of this 
union was presented more directly and intelligibly by the 
repeated rite of the common meal. Paul could indeed speak of 
the crucified body as the Lord's mortal body, literally ' the 
body of his flesh ' (Col. i. 22, so Rom. vii. 4), no less than of his 
saving blood (Rom. v. 9, 10, iii. 25), the latter representing, in 
ancient terminology, the principle and power of the life here 
sacrificed in the body for others. But, even so (as in i Cor. 
xi. 24-29) the corporate idea was never far from his mind, 
' corporate ' meaning not only incorporation into him, but 
vital union with one another in the sacred fellowship. For 
Christians who had not been trained in Hebrew traditions, 
body thus was a more vivid and appealing symbol of solidarity 
and cohesion than covenant, especially as it was capable of 
being expounded in terms of life depending upon a variety of 27 
functions. 

189 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

* I said that God had set the members in the physical body, 
each with its own function. Now you are members of Christ's 
spiritual body. Which means that there is the same variety of 
functions ' (28-30). 

28 That is, God has set people within the church to be first of all 

apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then workers 
of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, and 

29 speakers in ' tongues ' of various kinds. Are all apostles ? 
Are all prophets ? Are all teachers ? Are all workers of 

30 miracles ? Are all endowed with the gifts of healing ? 
Are all able to speak in ' tongues ' ? Are all able to 
interpret ? 

28 The order is not strictly one of importance any more than 
above, for * tongues ' is ranged by Paul not far below prophecy 
(xiv. 2 f .) ; neither is it clear that all these functions or offices, 
however informal, were represented at Corinth. When 
Orientals enumerated several things or persons, they often 
spoke of the first three especially (e.g. Gen. xxxii. 19, Matt, 
xxii. 25). Apostles, prophets, and teachers were outstanding 
figures in primitive Christianity, although this particular triad 
does not happen to occur elsewhere, not even in the nearest 
approach to it (Eph. iv. 11-12). In the list of Rom. xii. 6-8 
Paul passes from abstract terms to persons. It is the reverse 
here. For some reason, perhaps because no personal terms 
were available, the next five functions, introduced by then, 
are put impersonally, though the first four apply to personal, 
practical services such as lending a hand in charity or relief 
and management of the society. It is not accidental that five 
of the entire Ust are connected with spoken testimony or 
counsel as the sphere in which personality was effective, and 
that the episcopal presbyters who managed churches else- 
where, and, indeed, appeared soon at Corinth itself, are only 
impHed, if they are implied at all, in administrators (xvi. 16). 
While all functions are vital to the health of the Body, some 
are higher than others, as the apostle has already hinted. But, 
before proceeding to distinguish between the higher and the 

190 



CHAPTER XII, VERSES 28-31 

lower, he dictates (xii. 31-xiv. i) a thrilling hymn upon 
brotherly love. Hitherto love has been barely mentioned 
except as love to God (ii. 9, viii. 3) or in the case of his own 
affection for the Corinthians (iv. 14, 21, x. 14). Now he dilates 
upon it as the supreme method for life in the community ; it 
is still higher than any of the talents, since without love even 
the best of these is of no value, and, also, since love outlasts 
them all. Furthermore this bro therly lo ve is ng^attainme^nt for 
certain highly gifted souls) bu t_an.Qbli gation for all mem bers 
oithe Body (xvi. 14). 

The lyric may have been already composed in whole or part 
by Paul ; in any case it suits the present context admirably. 
As in the case of all great literature, it is prosaic to wonder how 
much is due to the unpremeditated art of deep insight. The 
opening stanza (xiii. 1-3) is more rhythmical than what 
follows ; though it is absurd to parse a lyric, yet this piece 
does move through a sequence of thought, and its first phase is 
a triple word on love as an absolutely essential quality for the 
exercise of any spiritual gift whatsoever. This is linked to the 
introductory sentences in prose. 

Set your heart on the higher talents. And yet I will go on to 31 
show you a still higher path. Thus xiii. 

I may speak with the tongues of men and of angels, I 

but if I have no love, 

I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal ; 
I may prophesy, fathom all mysteries and secret lore, 2 
I may have such absolute faith that I can move hills 
from their place, 
but if I have no love, 
I count for nothing ; 
I may distribute all I possess in charity, 3 

I may give up my body to be burnt, 
but if I have no love, 
I make nothing of it. 

While all talents are endowments, determined by the 31 
character of the individuals in question, one Christian may 

191 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

advance to a higher gift by due exercise of his original endow- 
ment. It is a legitimate ambition to set one's heart on such 
a gift as prophecy (xiv. 39) in particular. Nature is not a fixed 
quantity ; within certain limits a man may improve himself 
and so qualify for nobler functions than he at first was ap- 
pointed to discharge. Paul refers, in passing, to this enlarge- 
ment of capacity, after his remarks in xii. 27 f., in order to 
remove any misconception on the point. And yet, he adds, 
here is the Way of ways which all must tread, whatever be 
their gifts, the sine qua non of any function, high or low, 
within the Body, the supreme path or method for gaining and 
exercising even the higher talents. 
xiiL Paul does not say that love is the greatest thing in the world, 
but that it is the greatest gift and power in the Church. 
Without it, nothing avails ; the most effective talents go for 
nothing, if they are used with a spirit of self-display or with 
disregard for others (1-3). Here, as throughout the lyric, he 
employs the first person when he has to speak of possible 

1 defects — a characteristic note of humble courtesy. The tom- 
tom noise of gongs or tambourines was a famihar accompani- 
ment of some pagan rites and processions at Corinth, much 
used by the Dionysus cult and by the votaries of Cybele. Speak- 
ing * in tongues,' even with angeUc words such as some rabbis 
liked to think were granted to exalted spirits, is no better 
(xiv. 6 f.), if it makes a man absorbed in himself and indifferent 

2 to his fellow-worshippers. So with prophecy and knowledge. 
Mysteries (as in xiv. 2, divine secrets) is almost Uteral, and the 
' knowledge ' of the English Versions is equivalent to secret 
lore of the supernatural order (xii. 8), including the theoretical 
knowledge of Christian principles which Paul had found so 
uncharitable (ch. viii.). Even the absolute faith (xii. 9, Matt. 
xxi. 21) which, in working for others, gets things done that 
seemed impossible, may make a man engrossed with his own 
singular effectiveness or possessed by some domineering spirit 
which is impatient and overbearing. Paul comes back to this 

3 in xvi. 14. Meantime he proceeds to a gift which is also prac- 
tical and, on the surface, utterly unselfish, but which neverthe- 
less may be spoiled by egotism and a lack of consideration for 

192 



CHAP. XII, VERSE 31-CHAP. XIII, VERSE 3 

others ; this is charity in its technical sense of care for the poor 
and needy. To distribute in charity is the very word used in 
Rom. xii. 20 for feed, and Paul knew how his colleague Bar- 
nabas had, in genuine love, sold possessions for the benefit of 
the starving. Elsewhere he pleads for liberaUty in such contri- 
butions (e.g. Rom. xii. 8, 2 Cor. viii.-ix.) ; here he is warning 
Christians against the subtle, fatal flaw of ostentation, even in 
the further case of facing, for the sake of Christ's cause, what 
Chrysostom calls ' the most terrible of aU deaths, to be burned 
alive.' Paul's phrase about giving up one's body to be burnt 
echoes the language of his Greek Bible in Dan. iii. 28. One 
may actually be a martyr and make nothing of it, i.e. if one is 
posing as a hero or thinking of merit and personal credit ! 

The last illustration of conspicuous achievement is so sudden 
and daring that some have thought the words must refer to 
another form of ardent devotion to others, along the line of 
charity. As the margin of the R.V. indicates, there is early 
evidence (from the second century onwards) that, instead of 
to be burnt, some texts read ' that I may glory.' The change 
is very slight, kauchisomai for kauthesomai ; indeed it is not 
unexampled, for some MSS. of 2 Sam. xxiii. 7 in the Greek 
Bible also changed kauthisontai into kauchisontai. The phrase 
would then be, ' I may distribute all I possess in charity, and 
even give up my body, that I may glory ' ; the allusion being 
to an enthusiastic Christian who might allow himself to be sold 
into slavery in order to gain funds for the release or the 
support of some poor fellow-believers. This may sound in- 
credible, but by the end of the century Clement of Rome 
(see above, p. xxx.) can point proudly to ' many among our- 
selves who have given up themselves to bondage in order to 
ransom others — many who have given up themselves to 
slavery, providing food ' (the same verb as distribute here) 
' for others with the money received for themselves ' (Iv. 2) . 
That is, if ' among ourselves ' refers to us Christians and not to 
us' Romans (for the paragraph had begun by quoting pagan 
instances of self-sacrific§ as a stimulus and challenge to Chris- 
tians). Paul's point would then be that even this form of self- 
sacrifice, at so terrible a cost, is spoiled by any ostentatious 

Pc 193 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

spirit. Such a view is at first sight plausible. Yet a reference to 
voluntary slavery is on the whole unlikely, even if the burning 
of the body is supposed, as it is by some, to mean no more than 
this, for branding with hot irons was not an invariable mark of 
slavery in the empire. And it surely goes without saying that 
such a Pharisaic self-display, with a motive or consideration of 
personal credit, is loveless ; to add, but if I have no love, 
sounds hke an anticlimax, and would be superfluous. Possibly 
the change from kauthesomai to kauchesomai was due to a 
feehng in the persecution period that the original text seemed 
to shght some martyrs, or to the prosaic idea (see on xv. 51) 
that Paul had not been so martyred himself. It is more diffi- 
cult to imagine why the reverse change should occur. Martyr- 
dom by burning had been familiar to Jews from the Maccabean 
period onwards (Dan. iii. 28, Heb. xi. 34). Besides, the illus- 
tration of self-sacrifice carried a local allusion, for one of the 
sights at Achaian Athens, which Paul himself must have seen, 
was the tomb of an Indian fanatic whose pubhc suicide had 
caused a sensation throughout Greece and Italy during the 
reign of Augustus. This Buddhist or Brahmin enthusiast, who 
belonged to a poUtical deputation from India had ' jumped on 
the burning pyre, with a smile ' (Strabo, xv. i), burning himself 
alive ; it was not to do good to anyone except himself, but 
because he feared the prolonging of hfe might abate his present 
health and enjoyment. ' Burned for a boast ! ' said the shrewd 
Romans and Greeks, who saw nothing in this rehgious suicide 
except an extreme form of egoism (Dio Cassius, Uv. 9), or, as 
modems would say, a case of exhibitionism. There were other 
examples of this studied martyrdom, some of which are col- 
lected in Dr. F. J. Dolger's essay in Antike und Christentum 
(i. 254-270). The sense of the whole stanza is that while God 
loveth a cheerful giver, he requires an unselfish giver ; in 
giving, all is spoiled, even in the most generous forms of 
human devotion, even in self-immolation itself, if one allows 
oneself to dwell on the thought of some merit or reward to be 
received from God or man. 

The rhythmical style alters here, but not the lyrical tone. 
Like Thomas Aquinas and Abelard, hke Luther and even 

194.. 



CHAPTER XIII, VERSES 3-4 

Wesley, Paul was a theologian who had a vein of poetry, and 
this runs through the following paragraph on love at work in 
spheres of brotherhood (4-8) where special spiritual gifts did 
not directly come into play. It is not an exhaustive sketch of 
the subject ; active energies and practical ministries of love, 
such as care for the sick and the poor, are noted elsewhere. 
Here Paul is dealing with what he knew from the inside, the 
homely, severe tests of love which occur in the human inter- 
course of a small and rather miscellaneous rehgious group, 
particularly over two features of the life which throws men 
and women together, offering them rare opportunities of 
proving their common devotion and yet often either driving 
them apart or producing a clash of personal feeling. Indeed 
we have only to reverse the sayings of this paragraph in order 
to discover the party-spirit and class-feeUng against which the 
apostle has been already protesting. 

Love is very patient, very kind. Love knows no jealousy ;4 
love makes no parade, gives itself no airs, is never rude, 5 
never selfish, never irritated, never resentful ; love is never 6 
glad when others go wrong, love is gladdened by goodness, 
always slow to expose, always eager to believe the best, 7 
always hopeful, always patient. Love never disappears. 8 

Love is patient ; this is the first and the last word upon it in 4 
the survey. It is the crucial test and proof of love that it is 
long-suffering, able to stand any strain put upon it by human 
intercourse. But very patient at the beginning is broader than 
patient at the close ; with very kind, it breathes the divine 
quaUty (Rom. ii. 4) of a rich affection that is unwavering in its 
devotion to others, neither discouraged by their failures nor 
bitter over their ingratitude and dullness. Shrewd it may be 
and must be, but never snappy or hasty or inconsiderate. 
Paul had already noted this good-temper and kindliness among 
the fruits ripened by the Spirit in Christian fellowship, for the 
two nouns in Gal. v. 22 (as in Col. iii. 12) correspond to the 
verbs here. 

The first occasion of strain (a), which is apt to stir bad 

195 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

feeling, is success. It is only too easy to be ungenerous in 
recognizing the attainments and achievements of other men. 
But genuine love * envieth not,' knows no jealousy of any 
success or credit won by a neighbour. Some Corinthians were 
still far short of this high level (see iii. 3, 2 Cor. xii. 20). In a 
good sense the verb could be applied to spiritual ambition, as 
the apostle does in xii. 31 (set your hearts on the higher talents), 
but the very eagerness to excel in spiritual gifts might induce 
an unfriendly, grudging feehng towards fellow-Christians who 
outdid oneself. Again, love * vaunteth not itself,' makes no 
parade of its own success, gives itself no airs on the score of its 
energy or insight. The rendering of the second verb as ' not 
puffed up ' shows that the apostle had already noted some 
ugly symptoms of ostentation at Corinth (iv. 6, v. 2, viii. i), 
but reUgious conceit covers a still wider range ; nothing is more 
responsible for bad feeling in a community than the temper of 
flaunting, which leads some to set themselves up, on the ground 
of personal attainments, or even to spoil charitable aid by a 
patronizing spirit. 
5 From achievements Paul now passes to {b) the equally 
trying sphere of injuries as a test of love. True love never 
injures others, nor does it resent injuries at their hands. Love 
* doth not behave itself unseemly,' is never rude or unman- 
nerly. Some of the Greek fathers took the words to mean that 
love is never ashamed to undertake even what seem to be 
degrading duties, or to endure scoffs and suffering, in its task 
of humble service. Theodore t and Chrysostom both assume 
that this is what the apostle has in mind ; the latter, with an 
allusion to John xiii. 4 f., observes that ' he who has this ad- 
mirable spirit of love will refuse nothing for the sake of those 
whom he loves,' stooping to the meanest services of help. But 
the phrase, as followed by never selfish, points to an avoidance 
of any unseemly conduct such as that of people who insist 
upon their own rights or opinions, to the disturbance of the 
peace (e.g. xiv. 40) or to the damage of the rights of others 
(x. 23), by inconsiderate and self-assertive behaviour. It hurts 
people to be treated in this way. ' Seeketh not her own ' is the 
exact phrase of x. 24, but selfish describes such open expressions 

196 



CHAPTER XIII, VERSES 4-6 

of bad feeling as Paul notes in iv. 7, vi. 7, vii. 7, ix. 12, xi. 
21, and xiv. 12, the taint of self that makes good people 
sometimes reckless and inconsiderate of their fellows, ready to 
trample on their rights and prejudices. As for injuries suffered 
at the hands of others, love bears them without being irritated 
or exasperated; it does not fly into a paroxysm (literally) of 
anger, resenting the wrong. ' Thinketh evil ' is a phrase of the 
Greek Bible which means plotting evil (Zech. viii. 17, plot no 
evil in your heart against a neighbour), but here it means 
reckoning evil in the sense of harbouring injuries ; when any 
wrong is done to one, as Dr. S. T. Blomfield happily explained 
the idiom, in his Recensio Synoptica (1828), ' love does not, as 
it were, enter it in a notebook, in order to bear it in mind, as 
matter of reproach or vengeance.' Possibly Paul recollected 
such a use of the phrase in the Testament of Zebulun (viii. 5), 
where ' love one another and think no evil against any brother ' 
implies, as Dr. R. H. Charles noted, that ' love does not enter 
in a ledger the wrongs done to it.' Love in this sense is never 
resentful ; when people are slighted or badly treated, they 
do not make a careful mental note of it, if they possess the 
charitable temper. 

The primary bearing of what follows is not upon injuries 6 
done to oneself personally, but on wrongdoing generally. The 
situation is created by some sin on the part of another member 
in the community. When people break down or go wrong, 
there is an ugly, unholy temptation to gloat over the failure, 
and even to discuss the scandal with a heartless zest. To Paul 
this sort of zeal is positively hateful. True love never does 
that ; it is never glad when others go wrong, the one thing 
that gladdens it is any proof of goodness (the opposite of 
' iniquity ' being ' truth ' in the sense of a straight, true life, 
as in V. 8). ' Rejoiceth not in iniquity ' does not refer to the 
sin of Schadenfreude, but either to the positive relish which 
some good people seem to take in discussing details of a local 
scandal or to their malignant satisfaction in pressing for the 
punishment of the offender. Again there is an anticipation of 
Paul's counsel in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, for 
in the Testament of Gad (iv.-v.) the noble contrast between 

197 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

hatred and love includes the reminder that * if a brother fall, 
hatred instantly takes delight in proclaiming it to everybody 
7 and is urgent that he be convicted and punished.' Whereas 
genuine love is always slow to expose, reluctant to drag a scan- 
dal into the light of day. It ' beareth all things,' not in the 
sense of standing anything (ix. 12), not even as palliating an 
offence, but as disposed to cover the ugly business up rather 
than to expose it hastily by talking of it in pubHc. This use of 
the term occurs in a colloquial fragment of Sophocles (614), 
where Queen Phaedra tells her court ladies that, instead of 
gossiping about it, * in the case of a woman, women should not 
expose anything discreditable.' Such is the meaning of Pro v. 
X. 12 (love draws a veil over all wrongdoing). Instead of sus- 
pecting and eagerly denouncing the offender, love will be 
always eager to believe the best. And if the offence proves to be 
a sad fact, which cannot be overlooked any longer or condoned, 
in that case love has a further duty ; it is always hopeful that 
the penitent will do better. Hence it is always patient. Love 
can wait. Once a fault is rebuked, once a member is disciplined 
by the Church, the spirit of love prompts Christians, as they 
are Christians, not only to forgive but to show the man that 
they still believe in him and are ready to stand by him, giving 
him time to pull himself together (see 2 Cor. ii. 5-8). Here is 
a special school for patience, then. It is a test of love to be 
always patient, even under repeated disappointments, in place 
of becoming cynical and sharp with people who are regaining 
their position and endeavouring to rehabilitate themselves 
after a moral break-down. 

The lyric is thus a lancet. Paul is probing for some of the 
diseases that were weakening the body spiritual at Corinth. 
No doubt, his rapid, searching words have a much wider range. 
Thus, ' rejoiceth not in iniquity ' might include the wider sin of 
jealousy (see on iii. 3). Also, the demand that Christians 
should always be eager to believe the best that can be believed, 
instead of suspecting hastily the worst of other people, extends 
to cases in which no direct evidence of wrongdoing has been as 
yet forthcoming. But the counsels on love in this far-flung 
sentence (4-7) are not random strokes ; primarily they are 

198 



CHAPTER XIII, VERSES 7-8 

pearls strung on the twofold cord which has been already 
indicated. 

Love never disappears from the scene, never lapses (Luke 8 
xvi. 17) like an outworn regulation. How can it, when this is 
the vital spirit of the Christian religion, the supreme expression 
of life in the Body ? Paul is not a moral idealist, detached 
from the setting of historical Christianity, as he pours out his 
glowing words on love. Those who are bidden to serve others 
thus, as well as those who are the objects of such service, are 
the brothers for whom Christ died. The hymn on love is not 
apart from what has been urged by him already on considera- 
tion and unsparing devotion to one another as binding obliga- 
tions for all in the fellowship. HnmblR y; plf-<;arrjfir,er according 
to real Christianity, was enshrined in the very heart of God 
himself, by what Christ was and did. It was eternally valid/ 
as it could never be for Judaism, which repelled such a divine 
initiative or principle of action as a scandal. Paul, in protes t- 
ing that the f p^*^^ fp\rr>nrpH an^ f^ift ed could uot do without 
l ove, and that it lay within reach of the poorest and" least 
gitted, the illiterate and unintellifi[ent. in the Church, is woTR"- 
ing from the cen tre of the faith he has put forward, in which 
God's free, full love was the start and source of everything in 
life. The love of one Christian for another is the outcome of 
their love for him, which in turn is evoked by his love for them. 
For the apostle, as Schweitzer puts it, ' love is not a ray which 
flashes from one point to another point, but one which is con- 
stantly vibrating to and fro,' within the circle, or rather the 
living union, of God, Christ, and the Church. Such brotherly 
love cannot therefore disappear from any fellowship which is 
vibrating with the divine Spirit of Christ as devotion to the 
ends of God in other people. Nor is it intelligible apart from 
the consciousness of what the Lord Christ was, and is, and is 
to be. * On the Christian view, the best thing in life, the 
highest thing in man, can be possessed and enjoyed by the 
most obscure, insignificant, and humble of mankind. We are 
too accustomed to this idea to be surprised by it ; but without 
the life of Christ it would have seemed fantastic. '^ It was so 
1 R. W. Livingstone, Greek Ideals and Modern Life, p. 166. 
199 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

new and startling in the first age of the Church that Paul has 
repeatedly to press it upon the conscience of his churches, but 
always, as here, in the wake of its divine, eternal source 
(Gal. V. 14 f., I Cor. viii. 11, 2 Cor. viii. 9, Rom. xii. 4 f., 
Phil. ii. 5 f.), which, for the apostle as for any primitive Chris- 
tian, derived not simply from the example of Jesus, but from 
his living Spirit in the Church. 

Love never disappears from the scene, for apart from such love 
there would be no communion with God and man. But other 
gifts have their day and cease to be. Great as is the value even 
of prophecy, knowledge, and ' tongues,* their function is 
confined to the brief interval till the Lord returns ; their 
efficacy not merely depends on the humble gift of love but is 
limited to the present phase of things which is passing away 
(vii. 31). Whereas, in our religious experience, there is nothing 
temporary about love, which by its very nature is supreme and 
lasting (8-xiv. i). 

8 As for prophesying, it will be superseded ; as for ' tongues,' 

they will cease ; as for knowledge, it will be superseded. 

9 For we only know bit by bit, and we only prophesy bit by 

10 bit ; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will be 

11 superseded. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I 
thought like a child, I argued like a child ; now that I am 
a man, I am done with childish ways. 

12 At present we only see the baffling reflections in a mirror, 

but then it will be face to face ; 
at present I am learning bit by bit, 
but then I shall understand, 
as all along I have myself been understood. 

13 Thus ' faith and hope and love last on, these three,' but 
^'J- the greatest of all is love. Make love your aim, and then 

set your heart on spiritual gifts. 

II In the light of xiv. 18-20, the illustration of childhood may 
well be an incidental allusion to the ' tongues ' in which one 
talked of things divine, as though Paul wished to bracket it 
with prophecy and knowledge. Certainly he has prophecy in 

200 



CHAPTER XIII, VERSES 8-12 

mind as he offers the illustration of the mirror. Real as pro- 12 
phetic revelations are — not self-induced, but projected by 
supernatural realities — they are a blurred medium compared 
with the direct, distinct vision which will be ours when we are 
changed in the risen life to come (xv. 51). When that perfect 10 
state arrives, the imperfect, where we know bit by bit, will pass. 
As perfect is mature (ii. 6), in opposition to immature, he 
naturally thinks of childhood, but hurries on to use a local 
metaphor. As yet we only see God in a mirror. There were 12 
some semi-transparent windows at this time, but he does not 
mean ' through a glass ' window ; it is an allusion to such 
vision as is possible in a metal mirror, like those which the 
Corinthians manufactured of polished bronze (see 2 Cor. 
iii. 18). To bring out the idea of imperfection, he inserts a 
Greek phrase {en ainigmati), which is the opposite of ' clearly.' 
The use of magical mirrors in divination was familiar to every- 
one in that age ; Philostratus (viii. 321) makes his hero 
Apollonius claim to ' see in the sheen of a mirror all that is 
happening or that is to happen.' But the sole point of the 
apostle's illustration is to contrast indirect and direct know- 
ledge. He is thinking of the well-known contrast in his Greek 
Bible between ordinary prophets, who knew the Lord merely 
through visions and dreams (ainigmata) , and Moses, who was 
promised direct intercourse and a vision of the Lord ' face to 
face, not in any ainigma ' (Num. xii. 6 f.). ' Let me not see 
thee, as in a mirror, thy being reflected in something other than 
thyself as God ' ; so Philo paraphrases the prayer of Moses in 
Exod. xxxiii. 13 (Leg. Alleg. iii. 33). It is implied (though a 
modem reader may miss the point) that one does not look into 
such a mirror to see oneself ; it is to behold the reflection of God 
or of the things of God, which at present are only to be observed 
through an indirect medium. Paul knew, like any rabbi, that 
prophetic insight, which was the highest possible, could be no 
more than ' vision in a mirror ' ; but he also knew, like Philo, 
the famous allegory of the Cave, in which Plato described 
men with their backs to the light of the outside world, merely 
capable of perceiving by their senses shadowy hints of reality 
for the time being in the imperfect representation of phenomena. 

201 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

So, the suggestion is, the truths of God cannot reach us here 
and now except over our shoulders, as it were. Present 
revelations of God, even through inspired prophesying, are 
but reflections, and baffling reflections at that, piecemeal and 
indirect. One day we shall be enabled to turn round and see 
him face to face. 

Rabbis sometimes thought that the end of the present world 
was implied in the prophet's prediction that the redeemed of 
Israel would see the Lord face to face, as he returned to Zion 
(Isaiah lii. 8). It was an expression of devout longing in apoca- 
lyptic (Rev. xxii. 3) as well as even in the mysticism of the 
Isis cult. A characteristic interpretation is provided in Paul's 
accompanying words on the perfect knowledge of God attain- 
able by Christians. The highest reach is not even a vision of 
abstract beauty or truth, as a Greek might have expected, but 
an experience expressed in terms of intimate fellowship : 
' then I shall understand as all along I have been myself under- 
stood by the God whom now I shall see face to face. I shall 
have learned my lesson. I shall be no longer limited in my 
insight into him. Never has his insight into me been limited.' 
Once again (as in viii. 3) understand or ' know ' carries the 
thought of personal interest and affection. God's knowledge 
of his own folk is not like a searchlight, playing with cold im- 
partiality upon their lives ; Pani rpflprt<; that littU-aj;- hft 
(i.e. any Christianji^can comprehend God at present, God 
c omprehends him a ndcares to comprehend him. Man is neve r 
a mystery to the loving God whom he is seeking to know and 
l ove, though Go d at many points may b e a rnystery to him. It 
is implied, of course, that the only prospect of attaining perfect 
intuition into his nature is by learning how to love the Lord in 
the person of his adherents (as, from another standpoint, in 
Matt. xxvi. 31-46). To see him face to face is at once the other 
side and the reward of having sought to see him in this fellow- 
Christian or that, as one has imbibed the Spirit of the Lord's 
Body ; the experience is not any lonely rapture or private 
ecstasy of beatific vision, but the fruition of response (in 
personal devotion to others) to the eternal personal interest of 
the Lord in them and theirs. 

202 



CHAPTER XIII, VERSES 12-13 

So the lyric really ends, as it began, with an ' I ' stanza. 
The next rich sentence is by no means so simple as it sounds. 13 
The Greek word which is rendered ' But now,' or * And now ' 
in the English Versions, is logical (as in Rom. vii. 17, etc.), not 
temporal. It means ' So then,' or thus. Paul is not carrying on 
the antithesis of present and future (now . . . then) from the 
stanza immediately preceding ; he is reverting to love never 
disappears, after the aside of 86-12 ; in this sentence he sums 
up the final value of love as the quality which qualifies for the 
exercise of any spiritual gift, and also as the criterion for their 
relative importance, which is to be the topic of xiv. 2 f . This is 
fairly plain. But why introduce faith and hope ? Not because 
these were the nerve of a gift like prophecy, whose day was 
soon to be over. It is the present order of experience about 
which he speaks, where, as he had already indicated (though 
never so closely and explicitly), faith and hope and love were 
lasting powers, standing the strain of fellowship and proving 
the permanent, abiding elements of life with God and for God. 
The two novel and puzzling features in the sentence are this 
order of faith, hope, and love, and also the comment : but the 
greatest of all the three is love. 

Once the sentence is viewed as a climax to love never disap- 
pears, the meaning of the greatest is love cannot be that, while 
in the risen hfe after death or the Advent, in which Christians 
are with the Lord (2 Cor. v. 11, Rom. viii. 24), faith and hope 
in him will be needless, whilst love, which is of the divine 
essence, the very spirit of the perfect experience or knowledge 
of him, naturally persists. Whatever truth there may be in 
this, it is not Paul's immediate interest here. Possibly love is 
reckoned superior to the two others because it ha s a wider 
range, open to th ose whojiaxg jew if any special gifts, and also 
capable of being practised as long as life holds ou t. Thus, at 
the close of the seventeenth century, when John Eliot was an 
old man of over eighty, worn out by his missions to the Indians 
of New England, and at last conscious that his faculties were 
failing, he is said to have remarked, ' My understanding leaves 
me, my memory fails me, my utterance fails me ; but I thank < 
God my charity holds out still.' Or Paul may mean that love 

203 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

is more inclusive. There may be faith and hope without love, as 
he has hinted (in verses 2 and 3), and as the saying of Jesus 
preserved in Matt. vii. 21-23 impHes (even miraculous powers 
being no necessary proof of genuine devotion to the Lord) ; on 
the other hand there never can be lo ve withoutjinselfish faith 
and hope (verse 7) . f or tru e love is always hopeful and (in the 
literal se nse of the term) ' faith-f ul.* It is probably on the line 
of this thought that the apostle's mind is moving here. The 
presence of love as the really essential quality is the final cri- 
terion of Christian fellowship and service, when spiritual gifts 
are in question, and he is now about to discuss these in more 
detail, after having spoken, as he had promised (xii. 31), of 
this higher path which all must tread, whether or not they 
qualified for the high talents of prophecy and glossolalia. 

As for ' faith, hope, and love, last on, these three,' the hterary 
form recalls a Greek idiom which occurs in the popular creed, 
satirically phrased by Aristophanes in the Clouds (424) : 
* Chaos, Clouds, Tongues, these three ' (are my objects of 
faith). What is less clear is the precise meaning of Paul's 
phrase. It is certainly distinctive of Christianity ; no basis 
for such a correlation exists in Judaism or in the pagan ethics 
of any cult or philosophical school. With some hesitation 
I print the clause within inverted commas, in order to suggest 
that originally it may have had an independent setting. The 
words sound like a reminiscence from some primitive Christian 
oracle or hymn, possibly composed by Paul himself, when 
speaking in the Spirit and with his mind (xiv. 15), like viii. 6, 
xii. 4-6, 26. Elsewhere he does mention faith and hope and 
love together, no doubt (as in i Thess. i. 3, v. 28), but never 
with love as at once the final and the primary affection in 
religion — or rather in the common life of the Church, since he 
never confines them to the individual. The succession is rather 
faith, love, and hope, as in Gal. v. 5, 6, where by faith we wait 
in the Spirit for the righteousness we hope for, such faith 
being active in a brotherly love to which a primary rank is 
assigned among the Christian virtues (Gal. v. 22). But more 
than this is urged here, in the cry that no activity of the 
Spirit, not even faith or hope, avails apart from such love. At 

204 



CHAP. XIII, VERSE 13-CHAP. XIV, VERSE i 

the same time, the superiority of love to faith and hope does 
not denote love as a further and fuller stage in the religious 
experience. Two centuries later some Neoplatonists, who 
were well acquainted with the Christian vocabulary, and even 
with most of the New Testament, adapted the phrase by 
turning it into such a sequence, though displacing love from 
the final position. Porphyry, for example, posits the four 
elements of his new theology as faith, truth, love, and hope, 
changing the Christian term for love into the Platonic eros and 
inserting truth. These four principles are explained thus : 
faith that salvation means the turning of the individual soul 
towards the Deity, in desire for the truth of his being, ought to 
generate a warm, affectionate love, which in turn is sustained, 
within the pure soul, by good hope of eternal bliss. Paul had 
no such sequence in mind when he wrote, the greatest of all 
three is love, nor is it likely that any such idea originally lay 
behind the supposed saying from some other context that 
' faith and hope and love last on. ' In its present appHcation 
the psychological interpretation of the maxim, already sug- 
gested, is the only one that is natural, and its relevance is 
determined by the immediate sequel : ' Make love your aim, f 
and then, only then and thus, with a realization that such love 
is primary, as a common concern for one another (xii. 25), set 
your heart on the spiritual gifts which involve faith and hope.' 

Especially on prophecy introduces a discussion of the two 
spiritual gifts (xiii. 1-2, 8) which particularly appealed to some 
ardent Corinthians. Contrary to their opinion, Paul prefers 
prophecy to glossolalia, and gives his two reasons. F( ^t (g ),^ 
prophecy edifies the Church, whilst ' tongues ' merely ecllfy tne 
individual himself (2-5) ; an illustration of this from actual 
life (6-1 1) is. followed by the practical conclusion of 12-19. 

^ econd^ea so^''- (b) is that prophesying impresses even out- 
siders ; an illustration or proof of this from the Bible (20-22) 
opens up into a practical appHcation to contemporary worship 
at Corinth (23-25). Then follow some directions for the 
proper exercise of both prophecy and ' tongues,' these highly 
coveted gifts in worship (26 f.). 

The criterion of value is love, but so little is Paul the slave of 

205 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

a word that he chooses once more (viii. i, lo, x. 23) to employ 
the cognate language of edification and edify. As Erasmus put 
it in the Enchiridion Militis (c. 5), ' Paul writing to the 
Corinthians sets love higher than miracles and prophecy and 
tongues of angels. Never tell me that love consists in going 
often to church, kneeling before the shrines of saints, lighting 
candles, and multiplying rosaries. God has no need of such 
practices. Paul calls it love to edify your neighbours, to count 
them all as members of the same Body.' However, instead of 
speaking about the Body (xii.), the apostle now speaks directly 
about the church. Indeed, as it happens, there are as many 
references to the church in this one chapter as in the whole of 
Second Corinthians. 

2 Especially on prophecy. For he who speaks in a ' tongue ' 

addresses God, not men ; no one understands him ; he is 

3 talking of divine secrets in the Spirit. On the other hand he 
who prophesies addresses men in words that edify, encou- 

4 rage, and console them. He who speaks in a ' tongue * 
edifies himself, whereas he who prophesies edifies the 

5 church. Now I would like you all to speak with ' tongues, ' 
but I would prefer you to prophesy. The man who prophe- 
sies is higher than the man who speaks with ' tongues ' — 
unless indeed the latter interprets, so that the church may 
get edification. 

/ Speech was the most impressive feature of worship at 

/Corinth (see on i. 5 and xii. 8, 28), inspired and inspiring words 

spoken by men of God as well as songs and ardent prayers. 

There is no place for any fellowship of a gathering in silence, 

2 not even in verse 30. Speaking in ' tongues ' was not inaudible 
-...butjnarticulate ; the divine secrets (xiii. 2) of this rapturous 

soliloquy m some seizure of the Spirit were not like the divine 
secrets which apostles or prophets revealed to the Church 

3 (iv. I, XV. 51). Usually the word for console meant stimulus by 
counsel (see Acts xiii. 15) to some rise in faith, any religious 
appeal to aspiration in view of doubt, dullness, or difficulty ; 
here this is expressed, however (see i Thess. ii. 11, iii. 12), by 

206 



CHAPTER XIV, VERSES 2-5 

the allied term encourage, which covers advice, entreaty 
(verse 31, i Thess. iv. i, v. 14) or any moral incentive, whereas 
console applies to the special sphere of inward or outward 
trouble. Anyone engaging in this heartening service to his 
fellows is of higher value than the individual who merely 5 
edifies himself, getting spiritual satisfaction by thrills of 4 
ecstasy which never pass beyond his private experience, even 
when he is sitting in the group. Unless indeed he manages to 5 
interpret his babbling cries when he regains consciousness, 
explaining to others what he had been moved to say in prayer 
or praise to God. Sometimes an enthusiast could tell the 
gathering what his sighs and cries had been about, as one 
might recount a dream after wakening. This faculty of recal- 
Ung the contents of a mystical rapture for the common good, 
Paul goes on to add (verse 13), was a further gift, for which one 
ought to pray. Otherwise, what good to the church is speaking 
in a * tongue ' ? 

As the following discussion turns on the characteristics of 
this strange phenomenon called glos solatia, or speaking in 
t ongues, it is well a t this point to sum up in outline what it 
meant to primitive Christians. 

Speaking with tongues, or ' in a tongue,' was a phenomenon 
of devotion which was so comm on at Corinth that Paul does_ 
not require t o explain jt. All local Christians had witnessed it 
in worship ; some practised it, or rather were susceptible to 
it ; many longed to enjoy it as a signal proof of God's Spirit 
(see above, p. 176), We can only infer from the apostle's criti- 
cism of the phenomenon what it really meant. Traces of its 
recurrence are to be found elsewhere in contemporary Chris- 
tianity, but nowhere, except in this letleiLi2di^xiyA>-dQes 
Paul or any other writer discuss its value and limitations. 
Evidently in the Corinthian or Achaian church speaking with 
tongues had acquired an importance of its own, as one vivid 
expression of the inner ferment and tension of the primitive 
faith in its apocalyptic expectation of the End. 

It was by no means a homogeneous phenomenon. There 
were various kinds (xii. 28). But one common element led to 
all being grouped under the term tongue. To speak in, or with, 

207 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

a tongue sounds at first a strange phrase. How else could one 
speak ? But {a) when these primitive Christians spoke in a 
tongue, it seemed as though the tongue ran off with them. 
Broken murmurs, incoherent chants, low mutterings, staccato 
sobs, screams, and sighs, dropped from the speaker's lips in 
hurried, huddled utterances. Instead of th e mind controlling 
^he tongue, as it did in the more conscious forms of pro phet^q 
speech, the tongue appeared to be moved by som e spirit which 
had taken possession oi the yotajy. 

His speech was like a tangled chain ; 
Nothing impaired but aU disordered. 

For some moments the speaker was unconscious of his audience 
and of his surroundings, as a stream of meaningless syllables 
poured from him. It was beUeved that he had been caught up 
into some heaven of the Spirit, but all that people saw and 
heard was his tongue quivering, as with convulsed lips he broke 
out into imploring or adoring rhapsodies. 

Again (b), the Greek word for tongue (slossa), like our 
^English term, meant not only the physical organ, but a lan- 
5H?:S?J^-^-^i^c*' and such cries sometimes included weird, 
strange words which sounded foreign. A collection of abstruse 
and antiquated terms is still for us„a glossary. Plutarch reports 
that the older style of the Pythian Oracle at Delphi was 
' verses, " tongues," ambiguous utterances, and obscure 
sounds.' So in the new Christian oracles of glossolalia, as 

fPaul hints in xiv. 9-1 1. At times the enthusiast actually ap- 
peared to be talking some outlandish jargon, if not positive 
gibberish. His language was not arbitrary indeed ; it was 
supposed to represent a divine monologue, bursting through 
the lips of the unconscious enthusiast, or even a sort of divine 
dialogue between himself and God or angels (xiii. i). Never- 

Itheless it sometimes sounded like the speech of a foreigner, 
with syllables that corresponded to nothing in the vernacular. 
For these reasons a phenomenon which had occurred in the 
^^..^oy/eT strata of Hebrew prophecy, which had parallels in the 
' Greek and Roman world of sibyls and oracles, as one form of 
religious ecstasy or divination, and which assumed unique 

208 



SPEAKING WITH TONGUES 

proportions in a primitive Christianity where there was often 
more of the cataract than of the canal, acquired a new name. 
It was termed ' sp)eaking with, or in, tongues ' — tongue-talk, 
in short. Rushes of spiritual fervour poured into the com- 
munity, under the power of the Spirit in the new era. The 
sense of exaltation was often accompanied by joy, the thrill 
that marked off Christianity from Judaism and allied it to the 
stirring experiences of the soul in some of the cults. Doxologies, 
cries of praise as well as of prayer, were accompanied by more 
definite though involuntary exclamations which sounded as 
though the speaker were a mouthpiece for God himself. These 
virtuosos of the Spirit seemed to be using an argot of their own. 
Through their faculties of speech there was audible a dialect 
of the supernatural world which set the tongue vibrating like 
the strings of a harp plucked by invisible fingers and yielding 
old-fashioned, cryptic, uncanny sounds. 

Nothing is said of any physical accompaniments such as 
have characterized the phenomenon in later history, where 
convulsive jerks and gestures have often marked the cataleptic 
trance. This entered into the experience of the ' little prophets 
of the Cevennes,' towards the end of the seventeenth century. 
The Camisards, hunted down by the agents of Louis Quatorze, 
had to meet at night, as the persecution bore hard upon them ; 
living in severe tension, these devout Huguenots had ecstasies, 
shared by women and children as well as by men, who would 
swoon away with excitement, as the ecstatic utterances stirred 
and encouraged their faith. But the Corinthians had no such 
persecution to bear, though they were living in expectation of 
the imminent End. Nor, again, does the history of religion 
show that the phenomenon was confined to the illiterate ; 
though frequently it has been, and still is, practised in excit- 
able, uneducated circles of revivalists, the Corinthian enthu- 
siasts were far from being immature in intelligence, any more 
than their apostle himself. Doubtless there were all kinds of it, 
some transports being more impressive than others, some less 
demonstrative, some wilder and more abandoned. But at 
Corinth there is no suggestion that the phenomenon marked 
members of specially low culture or mental range. 

Qc 209 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

How it could be sought is not easy to understand. At 
Corinth there must have been a tendency on the part of some 
to work themselves up into such ecstasies, by listening to them 
in a gathering. It may be that fasting was employed, as an 
additional means of auto-suggestion, to induce visions and 
dreams. The singing would stir enthusiasm, and naturally any 
such gift would be expected as an answer to prayer. It is 
interesting to find that while a devout enthusiast like the 
cultured Edward Irving longed to possess the gift, he never 
attained it, though he lived among some English people in last 
century who believed, as he did, that they exercised it. This 
would tally with the implication of Paul's language in the first 
century that the gift was not for all, even though anyone might 
covet it humbly and seriously. He never suggests that it 
might be expected as an invariable accompaniment of con- 
version and baptism, which Luke seems to do in the Book of 
Acts (x. 46, xix. 6). 

It is not difficult in the light of psychology to understand 
glossolalia. Here we meet nervous energy discharging itself 
in a rapid torrent of gasping, incoherent cries from the sub- 
liminal consciousness under the powerful religious tension of 
some revivalist ecstasy. Sporadic cases have occurred down to 
our own day, from Korea and India to Europe. Neither is it 
difficult to understand how some forms of it were to be found 
in primitive Christianity, where the New Age had opened with 
manifestations of what were believed to be the powers of the 
Spirit entering with unwonted accesses into human nature. 
Here, men felt as they listened to such a rapt speaker, here, 
the speaker himself believed, God was speaking through him, 
not simply by him ; he was possessed by the divine Spirit, his 
very powers of utterance surrendered to a supernatural force ; 
it was all a proof of the living God present and directly active 
in the very unconsciousness of the passive agent. Here was a 
fulfilment of the ancient prediction (i. 2) that in the latter 
days of the messianic age, when God visited his people, he 
would pour out his Spirit on all, men and women, young and 
old, slaves and freeborn ahke, till they saw visions and dreamed 
dreams. The real difficulty is not so much to understand the 

210 



SPEAKING WITH TONGUES 

variety of these tongues as to form any conception of how they 
could be interpreted (xii. lo, 30, etc.). But before this question 
can be answered, it is needful to analyse the apostle's attitude 
towards the whole phenomenon. 

It was a vital problem at Corinth to arrive at a right judge- 
ment upon speaking with tongues as an expression of the 
faith. Some sober-minded Christians in the local church, as at j 
Thessalonica, evidently were shocked ; they desired to checkj 
the habit (xiv. 39) as no more than an indication of unbalanced 
minds which discredited the Church. It may have seemed to 
them suspiciously like the daemonic possession of their old I 
pagan religion (xii. 2, 3) or a recrudescence of some corybantic 
features in contemporary cults, a noisy, hysterical exhibition 
which intelligent Christians ought to discourage. But the 
majority greatly admired it, and some se rious, earnest soul s 

be no more convincing proof of the indwelling Spirit than this 
abandonment of consciousness to supernatural power. They 
ranked it as high as prophecy, and even higher. Paul's decision . 
which is both sympathe tic and critical, is made in view of both 
parties, the e nthusiastic and the shrewd . He values the gift as 
something not only good but exalted ; it is a divine manifesta- 
tion of the Spirit, not a hallucination. He admits that it is 
something to be coveted (xiv. 1-5, 39). He himself is proud of 
having the gift, and he never dreams of doubting the reality of 
an inspired ecstasy which he knew from experience to be 
authentic. Thank God, I speak in ' tongues ' more than any of 
you 1 He would not have any such expression of the Spirit 
quenched by cool criticism. It is to be desired, not despised. 
Better deep feeling, better even un int elligib le raptures or_ 
i nvolun tar y seizu res of ecstasy, now and then, than calm indif- 
ference or clever arguments or superficial sentiment ! On the 
other hand he declines to regard it as primary. It is perhapl 
significant that he mentions it only at the end of his lists 
(xii. 7-10, 28-30) ; it is at any rate significant that the entire 
argument of xiv. is to relegate speaking with tongues to a lower 
position of importance for the Church than prophecy, on the 
double ground that it {a) is t po indiv idualistic as well as (b) 

211 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

because it was apt to engender self-concfiijt (xiii. i, 4). Writing 
in view of ardent Christians who maintained that there was no 
gift like that of glossolalia, he corrects their exaggerated 
estimate by applying the supreme criterion of love. 

Paul does not criticize glossolalia for any demoralizing effects 
such as religious emotionalism often produces, when excitement 
unsettles the mind, induces hysteria, or even leads to sexual 
incitements. Neither does he directly suggest that such semi- 
physical phenomena are not necessarily tokens of highly spiri- 
tual attainment, although acute mystics in later days were 
alive to this. * There are many saints who do not know what it 
is to receive such a favour ' as an ecstatic rapture, Santa Teresa 
once remarked, ' while others who do receive them are not 
saints at all.' It is indeed possible that he alluded to some 
caution about these ecstasies when he referred to the gift of 
distinguishing spirits (xii. 10) ; though this primarily denotes 
discrimination of prophecies, it might cover an allied pheno- 
menon like glossolalia. But he does maintain that such impas- 
sioned raptures should be interpreted, when they were part of 
worship. The capacity for interpreting a speaker in tongues 
was a special gift, which sometimes was possessed by those 
who did not share the gift of glossolalia itself (xii. 10, 30, xiv. 28). 
For this there was a certain parallel and precedent in Greek 
religion. Thus Plato argues that ' God gives to the foolishness 
of man the gift of divination,' i.e. the knowledge of divine 
truth for life {Timaus, 71). ' No one attains real, effective, 
inspired divinafion when he is in pn5;5;p9<^innnfjT2^jTiinH, but 
only as his power of intelligence is fettered irTsIeep^or upset 
either by disease or some divine frenzy ' (that is to say, enthu- 
siasm). He adds that as no one in this state of trance can 
judge what he sees or hears (that being the function of conscious 
reason), ' it is customary to make the race of prophets pass 
judgement upon inspired divination ; some indeed call them 
diviners ' (absurdly, he remarks, for they are merely interpre- 
ters of the divine voice and vision) ; ' they should rather be 
called " prophets " of what is divined.' This is a partial clue 
to the Christian gift of interpreting glossolalia. Along with 
the thrilling, incoherent utterance went a sober, sympathetic 

212 



SPEAKING WITH TONGUES 

gift of reading the mind of the speaker. By means of spiritual 
instinct, the interpreter was plainly able to enter into what 
he believed to be the convictions and aspirations of the tongue- 
speaker, so that by this thought-reading he could reproduce 
enough of the meaning to be edifying to the company. Some 
process of thought-transference is indicated. The experienced 
interpreter was not a prophet, in Plato's sense of the term, but 
he had to be so far in sympathy with the private outburst of 
praise or prayer to God in the ' tongue,' and yet at the same 
time detached, in full possession of his own conscious powers. 
Or, again, the speaker himself, on regaining consciousness, 
might be able to reproduce the gist of his inner experience for 
the benefit of an audience of which, during the rapture, he 
had been unconscious (xiv. 5). He might even pray, indeed he 
should pray, for this further gift himself (xiv. 13), instead of 
being content to be merely a recipient of the trance experience. 
In any case interpretation signified a power of piecing together 
the relevant essence of disjointed sayings or inarticulate ejacu- 
lations, for the edification of worshippers who had been listen- 
ing to them in awed wonder. Thus, after listening to a 
glossolalist pouring out expressions like ' a-b-a-b,' etc., it 
might be interpreted by a hearer to mean, ' He is saying Abba.' 
We happen to have some records of glossolalia utterances, like 
those of the Russian sectaries^ in last century, while similar 
sustained cries have been preserved in magical papyri of 
the second and third centuries, where there is a jumble of 
incoherent ejaculations, mixed up with native and foreign 
titles of deity. The later Christian records are in a sense less 
valuable, for they presuppose not only a knowledge of Scrip- 
ture, but a more or less conscious desire to reproduce a pente- 
costal experience which was supposed to be a mark of the 
apostolic, genuine faith. But even in their least spontaneous 
records there is enough sometimes to suggest how certain 
utterances could be interpreted as oracular responses or direct 
invocations by a sympathetic hearer. 

One special direction of the apostle for the re-unions is that, 
unless the speaker ' in tongues ' himself, or somebody else, can 
1 F. C. Conybeare, Russian Dissenters (192 1), pp. 350 f. 
213 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

interpret the outburst and make it available for the congrega- 
tion, the gift should be exercised in private as a devotional 
method. Also, even when interpretations are available, there 
are only to be two, or at most three, speeches ' in a tongue ' at 
any given service (xiv. 27, 28). That is, while he has too much 
awe for the phenomenon to rule it out, as some perhaps had 
appealed to him to do, he imposes restrictions on its exercise in 
the interest of the common good. 

This is due to his Hebrew religious training. As prophecy in 
the Old Testament had risen out of, and beyond, the ecstatic 
dervish-like practices of seers into a deeper conception of the 
divine purpose, as primarily revealed to conscious intuition 
and reflection, so Paul, who frankly held to visions, dreams, 
and ecstasies as media of revelation ^insists that the supreme 

form of inspiration for the service rt^ thp rhrktian Thnrrh wag 

prophetic, an appffil ^'^ ^^^ mr^mi ^r^\a]]\^^Y^n^ of the hearers 
w hich roused the m jnd ^"^ »^rw^r» the will and searched the 
conscience. The Corinthian delight in glossolalia as the supreme 

(gift at their re-unions resembled too much the pagan idea of 
inspiration being essentially above or below consciousness. 
Oracles of the great ' lord ' at the shrine of Delphi, as Hera- 
clitus put it, were revelations of the god's will through ecstasy, 
not through sensible words. So were the Sibyl's unintelligible 
cries. A priest or priestess, seized by sudden trances of the 
spirit, uttered mystic sayings which were held to be all the 
more divine as they were least rational and articulate. Philo 
in Alexandria had taken over the Greek notion, arguing that 

I such ecstasy, when the mind or conscious reason was super- 
seded, was the highest reach of the human soul in its quest for 
God. In mystical Hellenism, as in the more popular cults, 
with their addiction to the ' frenzy ' induced by various rites, 
this widespread belief in tongues as oracular responses had 
plainly affected some of the Corinthian Christians. Paul hailed 
every transport of the Spirit as a fresh proof that Christians 
were in the direct line of God's purpose, during the closing 
period before the End ; t hey, not Israel, were the successors, 
^f the prophets . Yet he is careful to preserve the guarantees of 
true prophecy, as it was being endangered by an enthusiasm 

214 



SPEAKING WITH TONGUES 

which derived from contemporary ethnic movements of divine 
possession. 

In this connexion it deserves notice that while glossolalia 
was a sudden, overwhelming phenomenon of spiritual posses- 
sion, it was not entirely involuntary (xiv. 27 f.). Here the 
speaker differed from the contemporary vates, or prophet, in 
pagan religion, who was caught up in a frenzy, till he spoke 
like a lyre struck by the plectron. A speaker in a tongue could 
keep hold of himself somehow ; he could at least choose 
between letting himself go and remaining silent in public. The 
abnormal impulse in its initial stages was not entirely beyond 
the control of the will, although, once begun, the trance was 
apparently involuntary. It would seem that such a gifted 
speaker, sitting in a glowing congregation, might be moved to 
use his gift as he yielded to the contagion of the group. The 
impulse would arise from suggestion, from an excited fervour 
of the company which weakened self-control. Paul insists that 
a glossolalist must be on his guard, as quivers ran from soul to 
soul, so much on his guard, and so alive to the edifying needs 
of the gathering, that he could restrain himself if too many had 
already taken part. To a certain extent the gift could appa- 
rently be managed or directed. 

The functions of prophets must have overlapped those of 
tongue-speakers, since both gifts might be possessed by the 
same person, as in the case of Paul himself ; but he distin- 
guishes them sufficiently. A u<isinn nr r<>vi»la<;ion (xiv. 26) would 
represent what many a pro phet had to contrib ute, though the 
former would be specially connected with the teaching gift (xiv. 
6, xii. 28) or knowledge (xii. 28, 8). A lesson or instruction on 
the deep truths of the faith was particularly for converts who 
required to be trained in the knowledge of the Old Testament 
and of what Jesus commanded. Besides this grasp of prin- 
ciples, stimulus for heart and conscience was required, and a 
prophet would provide this. Now and then, as in the case of 
Paul, he might have a revelation of the future, such as came to 
some Essene mystics of Judaism as they pondered the Old 
Testament, but no special stress is laid on prediction. 

Any r evelation might come during the service, stirred in the 

"215 



i 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

soul of some prophet who had not come prepared with an 
address. The Spirit blew as it listed. One might catch fire, as 
it were, from what another had said or was saying. But if he 
had no message, he must keep quiet, and even if he felt sud- 
denly moved to speak when someone else was holding forth, he 
m ust restrain himself, instead of interrupting the service. 
riP aul assumes two powers m a prophe t. One is the power to 
jpeak, without being afraid to utter his message ; the other is 
the p^Wfr ftf r^fra^'"i"g from speech, which he regards as 
equally important. In a group of prophets, each must defer 
to the others, out of consideration for the common good. In 
the Journal of John Woolman, the American Quaker, he re- 
counts how, on a mission tour, he would often sit quiet while 
his friend spoke : ' As for me, I was often silent during the 
meetings, and when I spoke, it was with much care, that I 
might speak only what truth opened.' This throws some light 
upon the humble, truth-loving temper which Paul desired at 
Corinth. The Christian prophet was not to be a mere medium, 
I transmitting messages from the unseen world. His role was 
j not that of a seer forced by some divine spirit to declare pas- 
l sively the truth of God. His powers of self-control rested on a 
consciousness of his vocation as a vocation for imparting the 
things of God thoughtfully and unselfishly to the Church. 
The prophet is further expected to feel r esponsib le not only 

I for how long he spoke and for what he said, but for the contri- 
butions of his fellows. When one is speaking, the rest of the 
group are to exercise their judgement on what is being said. 
That is, even the inspired prophet is not above criticism from 
devout hearers. Their messages were to be received with 
respect, but not necessarily without discrimination. All 
prophets, as Paul admitted, spoke bit by bit, with but a partial 
knowledge of the truth. A message might need to be sup- 
plemented, if not corrected. There were obvious possibilities 
of ranting and exaggeration, even in the best ; to this Paul 
alludes in Rom. xii. 4-6. The inspiration of the moment did 
not exempt a speaker from the possibility of error or self- 
deception. ' One day,' John Woolman humbly confesses, 
* being under strong exercise of the spirit I stood up and said 

216 



SPEAKING WITH TONGUES 

some words in a meeting ; but not keeping to the Divine 
opening, I said more than was required of me.' This again 
casts some hght upon what Paul imphes in the local situation 
at Corinth. He does not go into the requisite qualities for 
criticizing. Obviously such discrimination had to be not only 
truthful but loving, if it was to be of real service — for edifica- 
tion, and not an attempt to show off the man's own acuteness 
or to gratify the love of fault-finding. But the mere fact that 
the apostle lays this duty on the prophets is significant. He 
would have no prophet claim to lay down his ipse dixit for the 
Church. Without the safeguard thus provided, the primitive 
Church might well have become a group of clashing eccentrics 
and fanatics, each howling, ' Thus saith the Lord.' Thanks to 
this sane counsel of Paul, the Early Church was confronted 
with the healthy ideal of possessing not only inspired souls, but 
saints with clear judgement ; ecstasy and discrimination were 
to join hands somehow. No doubt, the problem of what were 
the true criteria for judging prophets or ' spirits,' of distin- 
guishing between true and false teachers, continued to be felt 
in the Early Church. But at the very outset Paul is laying 
down one simple criterion, though it cannot always have been 
easy to put it into force. 

Glossolalia may startle or even awe the fellow- worshippers of 
the possessed person, but, so far as helping them is concerned, 
it is of no more value or meaning than indistinct music or a 
foreigner's gibberish. Such religious emotionalism lacks what 
the fellowship has the right to expect from any responsible 
leader of worship, viz. some prophetic utterance due to revela- ^ 
tion or some lesson from God put before them so intelligibly > 
that they can understand the force and sense of what is being « 
said (6-1 1). 

Suppose now I were to come to you speaking with * tongues,' my 6 
brothers ; what good could I do you, unless I had some 
revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching to lay 
before you ? Inanimate instruments, such as the flute or 7 
the harp, may give a sound, but if no intervals occur in 
their music, how can one make out the air that is bein§ 
217 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

8 played either on flute or on harp ? If the trumpet sounds 

9 indistinct, who will get ready for the fray ? Well, it is the 
same with yourselves. Unless your tongue utters language 
that is readily understood, how can people make out what 
you say ? You will be pouring words into the empty air I 

10 For example, there are ever so many kinds of language in 

11 the world, every one of them meaning something. Well, 
unless I understand the meaning of what is said to me, I 
shall appear to the speaker to be talking gibberish, and to 
my mind he will be talking gibberish himself. 

7 Musical instruments like ' harps and flutes, though inanimate, 
do speak to the passions of men, when they keep time and 
order,' Plutarch notes, in his essay on Moral Virtue (iv.). 
The shrill flute was shaped like an oboe or clarinet. This 
happens to be the only definite allusion of Paul to the power 
of music over the human spirit, comparing the inarticulate 
sounds of glossolalia to the confused noise of notes which run 

8 into one another, till one cannot make out the melody. Or, to 
turn from peace to war, a bugle blast sounding the advance 
must be clear, with clarion notes that none can mistake. ^ 

9 So glossolalia, if uninterpreted, is no more than vapouring — 
mere sound devoid of sense or profit. Indeed, no better than 

10 barbarian or foreign languages, which sound mere gibberish 

11 to anyone who does not understand them. There is a point in 
these two illustrations of the phenomenon, for speaking in 
' a tongue,' though not a song without words, sometimes be- 
came a sort of croon or musical lilt, and it often poured out 
foreign terms, or what seemed to be such. But, before develop- 
ing the latter element, Paul presses (12-19) his argument that, 
owing to its lack of direct service to the worshipping Church, 
speaking ' in a tongue ' is inferior to prophesying. 

12 So with yourselves ; since your heart is set on possessing 

* spirits,' make the edification of the church your aim in 

1 When Newman and his friends advertised Tracts for the Times in 

/1 833, to stir up the Church of England, they chose as their motto these 
very words : ' If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare 
himself to the battle ? ' 

218 



CHAPTER XIV, VERSES 6-14 

this desire to excel. Thus a man who speaks in a ' tongue * 13 
must pray for the gift of interpreting it. For if I pray with 14 
a * tongue, ' my spirit prays, no doubt, but my mind is no 
use to anyone. Very well then, I will pray in the Spirit, 15 
but I will also pray with my mind ; I will sing praise in the 
Spirit, but I will also sing praise with my mind. Otherwise, 16 
suppose you are blessing God in the Spirit, how is the 
outsider to say * Amen ' to your thanksgiving ? The man 
does not understand what you are saying ! Your thanks- 17 
giving may be all right, but then — the other man is not 
edified I Thank God, I speak in ' tongues ' more than any 18 
of you ; but in church I would rather say five words with 19 
my own mind for the instruction of other people than ten 
thousand words in a * tongue. ' 

* jpirits ' means the same as spiritual gift s (in verse i) ; 12 
though all such endowments came from the one Spirit, each 
could be understood as the indwelling of a personal spirit of 
prophecy or ecstasy (see xii. 10, etc.). The keynote of what 
follows is struck above (verses 2-5), viz. that the aim of all I 
who take part in the service is to edify the congregation ; thisks 
is the criterion which Paul, in one of his finest passages, laysf 
down for the Corinthian enthusiasts. ' Those who meet within 
the church walls on Sunday . . . with the esprit de corps strong 
among them . . . would not desire that the exhortation of the 
preacher should be, what in the nature of things it seldom 
can be, eloquent. It might then cease to be either a despairing 
and overwrought appeal to feelings which grow more callous 
the oftener they are thus excited to no definite purpose, or a 
childish discussion of some deep point in morality or divinity 
better left to philosophers. It might then become weighty 
with business, and impressive as an officer's address to his 
troops before a battle.' Except for the fact that Paul turns 
from the military metaphor (verse 9) to the architectural, this 
modern appeal by Sir John Seeley. in the eighteenth chapter of 
Ecce Homo, brings out the essential point of the apostle's word, 
here and in verse 19. You want to have some access of super- 14 
natural power ? Well and good. Only, ' tongues ' are not so 

219 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

good for public worship as prophesying, unless the * tongue ' 

13 speaker is able to interpret himself. Otherwise, while the 
spiritual faculty (our equivalent for the surge of some super- 
natural spirit) is active — lips moving convulsively as the 

14. ecstasy sweeps the speaker into raptures — his mind, his con- 
I scious intelligence, is ' unfruitful.' out of artirm "lio" use to any- 

ip body, whether he is praying or praising God. The outsider here 

is the ordinary worshipper. ' He that occupieth the room of 

Jthe unlearned ' is the transliteration of a Greek phrase for one 

*7 whose role is that of. a bewildered hearer, who is o utside th is 

/ r egion o£ spiritual ecstasy. uninitiated into such mysteries. 

^How can he say his Amen at the end of your rhapsody, when 
?he does not understand a syllable of what you are saying ? In 
synagogue worship one knew when to say Amen, at the close 
of the stated prayers. But when worship was extempore, and 
when someone was pouring out his soul in unintelligible 
speech, who could join in the reverent Amen (so be it !) with 
which every devout worshipper assented before God to what 
the speaker meant to be some prayer^gjLihanJ^sgiving (Rev. 

19 vii. 12) ? The poor puzzled hearer is^tedifie^t In a noble, 
simple protest, Paul declares that m a Church service he would 
rather utter a few quiet, intelligible words than pour out a 
flood of incoherent cries to God, which no one understands 
(verse 2). 

Resign the rhapsody, the dream. 

To men of larger reach ; 
Be ours the quest of a plain theme, 

The piety of speech. 

Not that Paul abandoned glossolalia. But he jgserved it fo r 
jpm^ale^devotion. In church he could not bear to think of 
anyone being for any reason shut out of a worship whose end 
was to embrace and edify the whole body of the faithful ; he 
wanted what Stevenson called the * piety ' of speech in the 
Latin sense of pietas, the dutiful consciousness of what one 
owed to the Family of God, the steady fulfilment of one's 
obligations, instead of indulging in self-centred rhapsodies 
which were irrelevant to the real object of public worship. 
18 Not that the Corinthian enthusiasts must imagine he was out 

220 



CHAPTER XIV, VERSES 14-19 

of sympathy with glossolalia. They wanted to be possessed by 
some supernatural access of power in speech (verse 12) ? 
' I agree,' Paul admits. ' I too share this desire ; indeed, I 
am not depreciating a gift which I do not myself possess, 
thank God. But it has limitations.' His criticism oi glossolalia 
is all the more effective as it springs from sympathy with its 
aims and spirit. He is singularly conscious of his duty to 
others, and of their claims on himself, even in his most exalted 
moments. A classical scholar^ has noted admiringly how Paul's 
mind, ' for all its vehement mysticism, has something of a 
clean, antiseptic quality.' This is apropos of his freedom from 
the weird cosmogonies of Iranian and gnostic religion, but it 
applies as truly to the present estimate of ecstatic mysticism 
at Corinth. There is a healthy, out-of-doors breath in words 19 
which voice his desire above all things to be intelligent and 
helpful to his fellows, and blow away the pietistic extrava- 
gances into which glossolalia was in danger of lapsing. Some- 
thing must be wrong about worship, he realizes, if it leaves 
simple folk unable to understand what is being said not only 
about God but to God. 

The jword instruction suggests intelligence. In the next 
paragraph (20-25) Paul appeals to admirers of glossolalia to 
overcome their rather childish delight in this religious excite- 
ment. His judgement is more convincing to us than his 
biblical argument in support of it. He is comparing the effects 
of prophecy and glossolalia upon strangers who dropped in to 
attend a service of the Word. They were not simply outsiders 
in the sense of being uninitiated in ecstasy, but pagans, who 
came for various reasons, some with not much more than 
curious interest, others with wistful longing. Their presence 
was a chanc efor C hristian propaganda. Synagogues welcomed 
such casual al:ten3eiT,"ih'TEe~lKJpe^ attracting them. They 
were on the fringe of many a synagogue in the Roman world, 
and from them came the proselytes. Even the rites and proces- 
sions of a local cult like that of Isis were intended to impress 
outsiders as well as to edify the initiates. The priest of Isis at 
Cenchreae tells the converted hero of Apuleius' Metamorphoses 
1 G. G. A. Murray, Five Stages of Greek Religion, p. 199. 
221 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

(xi. 15) to join the ritual procession of the goddess as a trophy 
of her grace. ' Let those behold who are not of the faith, let 
them behold and learn the error of their ways.' In the Church 
as yet there was even less of such ritual than in the synagogue ; 

(the impressive feature was speech, particularly the Word of 
the Lord (i. 5) spoken from the hps of earnest souls. Judged 
in this light, glossolalia was obviously inferior to prophecy. 
Indeed a service which resolved itself into nothing else, instead 
of proving an attraction, produced on strangers such a bad 
impression that Paul declares this was designed by God. 
Surely ' tongues ' were intended, according to Scripture, to be 
a sign or token of divine warning for amused unbelievers in 
public worship. Yes, he instantly adds, but prophecy, while 
meant for believers, has an effect even on unbeUevers which is 
far superior to that produced by glossolalia. 

20 Brothers, do not be children in the sphere of intelligence ; in 

21 evil be mere infants, but be mature in your intelligence. It 
is written in the Law by men of alien tongues and by the lips 
of aliens I will speak to this People ; but even so, they will 

22 not listen to me, saith the Lord. Thus * tongues ' are in- 
tended as a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers ; 
whereas prophesying is meant for believers, not for unbe- 

23 lievers. Hence if at a gathering of the whole church every- 
body speaks with ' tongues, ' and if outsiders or unbelievers 

24 come in, will they not declare you are insane ? Whereas, 
if everybody prophesies, and some unbeliever or outsider 

25 comes in, he is exposed by all, brought to book by all ; the 
secrets of his heart are brought to light, and so, falling on 
his face, he will worship God, declaring ' God is really 
among you.' 

20 Be intelligent (so Rom. xvi. 19) enough to recognize that 
prophecy, unlike glossolalia, has a positive value for the 
Church. He is stiU thinking of the latter as a public pheno- 

21 menon. Has not its function been predicted as a sign of the 
latter days by Scripture (for the Law here as elsewhere is not 

22 the Torah simply) ? He recalls a passage from Isaiah 

222 



CHAPTER XIV, VERSES 20-23 

(xxviii. II, 12) to prove that such a sign was intended to con- 
firm scepticism, instead of arousing or inspiring faith as 
prophecy did. What would casual hearers think if they listenedt 
to a succession of ' tongue ' ecstasies ? Instead of being im- E3 
pressed, they would call you insane. This is the term for » 
religious frenzy. When the Scythians watched Bacchic rap- 
tures, in which the devotees claimed to be possessed by the 
deity, they scoffed at the idea of ' setting up a god who drove 
men into insanity,' as Herodotus records (iv. 79). Not that 
Paul identifies glossolalia with such wild ecstasies. He is 
simply noting its divinely appointed limitations, as shown by 
the effect it produced on outsiders, when it happened to oc cur 
at a n ordinary service of worship, instead of at the love-reunion 
or eucharist. It had been anticipated in the Law, this ironical 
contempt for God. The allusion is rabbinical and far-fetched, 
for the outsiders at Corinth did not belong to the Lord's 
People. To a modem reader, indeed, the resemblance appears 
verbal and no more. But the passage seemed apt for Paul's 
purpose, because it mentioned foreign languages, and glosso- 
lalia occasionally did throw up such phrases in its raptures 
(see above, p. 208), and also because the only result was to make 
incredulous hearers scoff the more. It is not merely that the 
faithful get little or no good from undiluted glossolalia, but 
that pagan outsiders are moved by it to derision. Outsiders or> 
unbelievers, Paul definitely remarks. The outsider might be > 
one on the verge of faith, interested, but not yet converted, \^ 
while others attended the service whose minds were sceptical < 
and critical. On both, particularly on the latter, the effect of 
unrelieved glossolalia was most unfortunate. 

This is another (see above, p. 141) indication of the freedom 
with which the apostle quotes the Old Testament, when, as 
usual, he desires a sacred phrase to corroborate his argument. 
In Isaiah, the prophet in the name of the Lord is threatening 
drunken priests and prophets of Jerusalem that he will speak 
to them through the unintelligible language or babble of foreign 
invaders, though even that punishing experience will not induce 
them to obey the Lord. There is no reason to suppose that 
Paul implied the Corinthians had a knowledge of the historical 

223 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

story, nor even that he himself thought of the tale. When he 
wished to apply an Old Testament story, he did so in detail, as 
in X. I f. He simply found in his textbook (p. i8) what he 
wanted, a verse about glossolalia and its limitations. He 
catches up this ominous warning, weighted with scriptural 
authority, to make his point sharper. As elsewhere (e.g. 
XV. 54), he is not using the Septuagint text, but some Aramaic 
version underlying a Greek text similar to that afterwards 
employed by Aquila, the literal Jewish translator. It is a 
paraphrase which preserves the general sense of the original, 
but very freely. 

24/ Prophesying, on the other hand, impresses more than those 
f jahready in the faith. The man of God, moving his hearers by 
what lives and moves within himself, speaks, or may speak, 
with such overpowering effect that an outside pagan in the 
audience is affected, as the appeal for repentance stirs the 
heart. It is as though the preacher were reading the conscience 

25 of some in the gathering. Even the casual hearer is awed ; he 
becomes convinced of God and convicted of sin, as one 
preacher after another exposes him to himself. 

In some respects this experience was not wholly unfamiliar 
to people of the age. The remarkable impression produced 
by these true preachers at Corinth, with their power to speak 
of the faith (i. 5), corresponds to the searching power which 
Epictetus (iii. 23) says was felt by hearers of Musonius Rufus, 
the great Stoic contemporary of Paul. ' He spoke in such a 
way that each of us sitting there felt he was somehow being 
accused ; he had such a grip of things, such power to make 
each of us see his personal wrongdoing.' Similar testimony is 
borne to Socrates in Plato's Symposium (215-216). Paul 
, describes the effect of Christian preaching in the Spirit, how- 

Sever, as an overwhelming sense of the presence of God. The 
man does not rave over the remarkable sermon, but worships 
God, which is the end of all worship ; he is conscious of nothing 
but God's presence, and testifies to it openly. Outwardly the 
service had none of the marks of a Greek temple (iii. 16). It 
was an ordinary room in which the gathering was held. But it 
was a temple in the real sense of the term for this man, a place 

224 



CHAPTER XIV, VERSES 24-25 

where God was present. It is noticeable that this is the only 
place where Paul uses the Greek term for worship. He seems 
to be recalling again a Scripture passage, possibly the descrip- 
tion (Isa. xlv. 14) of foreigners at the end coming to worship at 
Jerusalem and falling on their faces before Israel with the cry, 
* " God is among you " 1 ' As genuine prophets, in eager, 
sincere faith, testify to their God, they impress and shake 
even some who are as yet outside the fellowship. With a 
power of spiritual discernment vouchsafed to intelligence and 
some experience of life, these men, who exercise their gift with j 
no thought except that of extolling God's power and love and I 
of moving others to share in his benefits, produce this extra- * 
ordinary effect. Paul expects this to happen, as it must have 
often happened. It is another (see above, p. 176) proof of deep 
consecration in the finer spirits of the church (i. 5) and a fresh 
indication of the sound core at Corinth which underlay much 
that was showy and lax. 

The following brief directions for worship (26-33) relate toJ 
edification and order, with special attention to the two devo-f 
tional customs which, by the very glory of their freedom, re- 
quired to be safeguarded against themselves. The application 
of shrewd intelligence to spiritual religion is the same as in the 
preceding paragraph. The Church is expected to be intelli- 
gent enough to perceive that the prophetic afflatus itself was 
not necessarily infallible nor complete in any utterance. The 
prophets are not to regard themselves as a union of free spirits 
who are above criticism, but as individuals responsible for 
one another, in the interests of the Church whom they serve 
with their gifts. Similarly speakers ' in a tongue * are to be 
subordinated to the good of the majority. This practical 
wisdom, or cool, quiet handling of supernatural powers and 
functions in the spiritual sphere, with its stress on the perma- 
nent influence of the Spirit, as opposed to any exaggeration of 
intermittent ebullitions, is one of Paul's great services to the 
Christianity of his day. It comes with all the more force in a 
letter in which he has had so much to say against mere clever- 
ness and wisdom of an irrelevant type, and so much in 
favour of supernatural experiences like glossolalia or inspired 

Re 225 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

prophesying. It was not enough for him that a speaker in 
church should be confident of his message, though no doubt such 
confidence helped to create confidence and to generate con- 
viction in his hearers. Paul sought to have both speaker and 
hearers alive to the duty of thinking out the things of God in 
the gospel keenly and thoroughly. It is true to say of him that 
he was alive to the principle which Pascal once laid down, 
' travaillons done d bienpenser : voild leprincipe de la morale.* 
Be mature in your intelligence. Even, be alive to the ' morale * 
of worship, in order to prevent it degenerating into unregulated 
excitement. He expects the Church to understand that the 
intuitions of their religious experience must be thought out, 
and that hearers as well as speakers should not accept every- 
thing said or proposed, even in inspired moments, at its face 
value. There must be not only inspiration but interpretation, 
and interpretation of inspiration (xii. lo, 30), with a consequent 
discipline for the sake of effectiveness and order. 

26 Very well, then, my brothers ; when you meet together, each 

contributes something — a song of praise, a lesson, a revela- 
tion, a * tongue,* an interpretation ? Good, but let every- 

27 thing be for edification. As for speaking in a * tongue, ' let 
only two or at most three speak at one meeting, and that in 

28 turn. Also, let someone interpret ; if there is no interpreter, 
let the speaker keep quiet in church and address himself and 

29 God. Let only two or three prophets speak, while the rest 

30 exercise their judgment upon what is said. Should a reve- 
lation come to one who is seated, the first speaker must be 

31 quiet. You can all prophesy quite well, one after another, 

32 so as to let all learn and all be encouraged. Prophets can 

33 control their own prophetic spirits, for God is a God not of 
disorder but of harmony. 

26 ' I am glad to hear of the abounding variety in your meetings 
for worship. Good I ' They had apparently been taught to 
begin with praise, as in the synagogue, where before the 
lesson from the Law the reader called out, ' Bless the Lord 
who is to be blessed,' and the congregation responded, ' Blessed 

226 



CHAPTER XIV, VERSE 26 

be the Lord who is to be blessed.' At Corinth it is significant 
that the first^ contribution mentioned is praise, the glad and 
grateful sense of God finding expression in rapt rhythms or 
doxologies. The transliteration of the Greek word by * psalms ' 
is misleading here, for that suggests the Old Testament psalms. 
These were used in worship, and indeed supplied the form for 
some early Christian hymns. But Paul means hymns in 
general, which would include praises (15 f.) as well as prayers to 
God, partly prepared beforehand and partly improvised like 
interpretations upon the spot, as was the custom among the 
Jewish Therapeutse, or ' Worshippers.' 

When the Emperor Julian in a.d. 363 was endeavouring to 
revive some form of Hellenistic rehgion for the State, which 
would supersede Christianity, he advised those who were in 
charge of pubHc worship to take special care of song. ' One 
should learn by heart the hymns of the gods. Many beautiful 
hymns have been composed, ancient and modern . . . the 
majority have been vouchsafed by the gods themselves in 
answer to prayer, whilst a few have been composed by men 
inspired by the divine spirit.' We have more evidence for 
singing in some Greek cults, like Orphism, than in the syna- 
gogue worship, and it is quite possible that song of praise has 
its common Hellenistic sense of a song with musical accom- 
paniment. ' Each of you hath his song,' as Tyndale renders the 
phrase. The other two terms employed by the apostle in Col. 
iii. 16, hymns and (literally) ' odes,' meant varieties of religious 
music ; for Philo hymns were the Old Testament psalms, and 
' ode ' in the Book of Revelation is a song in general. Evidently 
sudden inspiration was expected at these gatherings ; impulses 
of the Spirit not only moved some to give an exposition or a 
quiet lesson to the audience (like the instructions that fol- 
lowed the reading of the Scripture in the synagogue), but swept 
others into lyrical cries of joy and adoration. 

However, Paul is not drawing up any order of worship. All 

1 ' I had appointed to preach at five in the morning ; but soon after 
four I was saluted by a concert of music, both vocal and instrumental, 
at our gate, making the air ring with a hymn. ... It was a good prelude ; 
so I began almost half an hour before five ' (Wesley's Journal for 
March 30th, 1787). 

227 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

he does is to warn the more impressionable and enthusiastic 
members that they meet for edification, not for individual 

27 exhibitions of their own gifts. Even one with the tongue gift 
must not let himself go in a meeting for public worship (p. 215), 
if two or at most three had already exercised this particular 
gift, or if there was no sympathetic listener present who could 

28 interpret his utterances. Better keep quiet in church till he 
went home, where he could address himself and God (verse 19), 
i.e. enjoy his devotions in private. The Greek word for someone 
might mean ' only one,' not more (to save time), but the 
general sense is more natural. 

29 If a tongue-impulse is not irresistible, much less a prophetic. 
Even the spiritual aptitudes of the prophets are not to be 
gratified, without regard to the interests of the group ; self- 
control is required in order to prevent any display of one's 
own powers or any emotional self-indulgence. To save time, 

I to prevent the service from becoming one-sided, only two or 
. three of them are to speak, while the rest of the prophets, 
fitting by, exercise their judgment on what they hear. An 
example of this sudden revelation correcting one that had 
preceded, occurs a century later. When the martyrs at Lyons 
and Vienne in Gaul were imprisoned, one of them, an ascetic 
called Alcibiades, persisted in refusing all food except bread 
and water, alleging that he was inspired to this ; but another 
prophet had a revelation that Alcibiades was wrong in thus 
rejecting food created by God. At their meeting, he declared, 
in the name of God, that his fellow-prophet was really an 
offence to the rest. Whereupon Alcibiades yielded. Which 
proves, the local church reported, that these prophets and 
martyrs were ' counselled by the Holy Spirit ' (Eusebius, v. 3). 
In one way this incident is an interesting illustration of the 
need for a weak, scrupulous nature refusing to wound or 
offend the stronger faith of the majority (x. 29), but it also 
helps to throw light upon what Paul means here by saying that 
one prophet could put another right and that the common end 

30 of all prophesying at its best was edification. * You prophets, 
even apart from correcting one another, may all rise to your 
feet and exercise your gift in turn, for the benefit of the congre- 

228 



CHAPTER XIV, VERSES 27-33 

gation, since inspiration does not supersede self-possession. 
A true prophet is supremely conscious of his function in thesis 
body spiritual, which he is moved to serve. Even his own 32 
feelings and reputation are secondary, compared to that.' A 
partial illustration of what is meant by the control of the 
prophetic spirit (p. 216) may be found in Epictetus's rebuke of 
Stoic lecturers who thought of their own reputation and showed 
off their powers of rhetoric, instead of realizing that they were 
there to train their hearers. ' In exhorting people, nothing is 
more effective than when the speaker shows his audience that 
he has need of them ' (iii. 23), i.e. that he and they are in some 
common spiritual relationship. Similarly, though in a more 
complex situation, Paul expects and insists that even in su- 
preme moments of fervour these gifted men of God must keep 
control of themselves at worship, in the interests of the fellow- 
ship. It is not easy to understand the exact situation, but he 
plainly saw nothing incompatible between a prophet's con- 
sciousness of the free Spirit and his consciousness of what was 
due to the immediate needs of the worshipping group. It is 
another proof of the apostle's genius that, for all his mystical i, 
prepossessions, he will not identify raptures of mind or soul in If 
church with any corybantic or ecstatic phase of prophecy." 
* Here,' as Dr. Johannes Weiss remarks, ' a new form of 
spiritual energy emerges ; instead of the animistic notion of 
an outside spirit dwelling in a strange abode, we come upon thei 
conception that the divine Spirit and the human will may! 
coalesce and combine in a common power.' Disorder includes, 33 
but is not confined to, the rivalry of competitive preaching, as 
might be inferred from the use of the term in 2 Cor. xii. 20 ; it 
is the opposite of that gravity and reverence (verse 40) which 
form the vital atmosphere for any genuine enthusiasm. You 
can all prophesy quite well, one after another, he tells the eager ^ 
prophets at Corinth, with much the same good sense as 
Wesley displayed in controlling the love-feast at Burslem (on 
March 29th, 1787) — ' such a one as I have not known for many 
years. While two or three first spoke, the power of God so 
fell upon all that were present, some praying and others giving 
thanks, that their voices could scarce be heard ; and two or 

229 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

three were speaking at one time, till I gently advised them to 
speak one at a time ; and they did so, with amazing energy.' 
For Paul, with his characteristic balance of mind, the God 
whose Spirit moved speakers in the church was a God of 
harmony or ' peace,' the latter term referring (as in Rom. 
xiv. 19, etc.) in its rabbinic sense to the orderly behaviour and 
inherent good feeling which was regarded by the synagogue 
very much as love was regarded by Christians, i.e. as the 
blessing and the obligation of God for the common life of his 
people. Here Paul thinks of it specially in connexion with 
worship. In the divine orchestra all the players perform in 
harmony as they respond to the Leader's beat in the common 
music, instead of one or another breaking away in rivalry and 
individual display into some solo effort. 
^i Originally the conclusion of 26-33 was the double admoni- 
tion which lies in 37-40. 

37 If anyone considers himself a prophet or gifted with the Spirit, 

let him understand that what I write to you is a command 

38 of the Lord. Anyone who disregards this will be himself 
disregarded. 

39 To sum up, my brothers. Set your heart on the prophetic gift, 

and do not put any check upon speaking in * tongues ' ; 

40 but let everything be done decorously and in order. 

37 A final word to any recalcitrant enthusiasts of the Spirit, 
claiming to be prophets or inspired, who might be disposed to 
resent this ruli ng (26-33) as if it were merely Paul's private 
opinion. iHec iai ms the^uthoritv of the Lord (emphatic) fo rjtj 
Nowhere else does he employ the singular command in this 
connexion ; usually it means the Torah. Indeed the phrase 
was so strange that it was soon altered to the plural, a reading 
which passed through the Vulgate into all the English versions, 
or else command was omitted (' what I write to you comes from 
the Lord '). The sharp warning that follows is not addressed 
to ignorance, but to a deliberate ignoring of the command. 

38 ' Let him be ignored ' by the Church as someone not worth 
attention, was an early modification of the original future, 

230 



CHAPTER XIV, VERSES 37-40 

he will himself be disregarded by God. Paul's apostolic autho 
rity extends even to regulations for worship (xi. 16), since 
worship involved a true service of the Lord and was not a 
matter of opinion. 

As in xi. 33, an affectionate word for the entire church on the 39 
whole matter (verses 2 f.) follows the note of authority. It 
includes a warning against any repression of the tongue gift, 
lest some of his readers, going from one extreme to another, 
might draw such a conclusion from the regulations he had been 
obliged to lay down in the interests of orderly worship. 
Decorously was a familiar term in such a connexion. If a man 40 
fulfilled some civic office properly or discharged public duty 
thoroughly he was said to have acted ' duly and decorously.* 
The word answers to the harmony of verse 33. It reflects the 
Roman gravitas, not any staid or stiff rule that would discour- 
age rapture or spontaneous cries. There is to be a becoming 
dignity in the faith which extends to worship no less than to 
the general behaviour of Christians (i Thess. iv. 12, Rom. 
xiii. 13) ; the flush and rush of enthusiasm must not be allowed 
to let spiritual fervour degenerate into ranting hysteria or 
splashy excitement, with several eager souls parading (xiii. 5) 
their gifts, talking at once or interrupting one another. 

The following paragraph (33-36) is the one passage in tEe 
letter where it is difficult to be sure that Paul is speaking. Its 
very position is uncertain. At an early period in the history of 
the text, 34 and 35 were placed after 40. The last words of 33 
(as is the rule in all churches of the saints) introduce them, and 
36 follows them rather more naturally than if it were taken as 
a general remark closing the whole discussion. But, apart 
altogether from this difficulty of position, there is the apparent 
contradiction between the paragraph and xi. 3 f. Here he 
seems to take back what he had there permitted. Psycho- 
logically it is hard to conceive that if Paul had objected on 
principle to married women taking any part at all in public 
worship, he would have spent time in discussing what they 
should wear when they prayed and prophesied. Neither is 
there sufficient evidence to show that in xi. 3 f. he was thinking 
of more private or informal gatherings such as modems would 

231 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

call prayer-meetings, whereas xiv. 33-36 refers to public 
worship. Unless we are to suppose that he had suddenly 
changed his mind in the interval or that one passage belongs to 
an earlier letter, we are faced by two alternatives. One is, that 
the present passage is an addition by some disciple of his, who, 
like the author of i Tim. iii. 11-12, believed that his master 
would have ruled out any addresses by matrons from the 
worship of the Church, and took the opportunity of inserting 
such a prohibition here. Against this hypothesis there is the 
style and the spirit of the passage, which seem quite charac- 
teristic of Paul himself. The other alternative is more probable. 
In reality he never vetoed a devout woman from exercising, 
even at public worship, the prophetic gift which so many 
women in the primitive Church enjoyed. He must have had 
experiences not unlike that of Wesley at Bath (September 17th, 
1764), when, after asking his permission, a lady prayed aloud 
at a gathering : * such a prayer I never heard before. It 
was perfectly original ; odd and unconnected, made up of 
disjointed fragments, and yet like a flame of fire. Every 
sentence went through my heart, and, I believe, the heart of 
everyone present.' At the same time Paul objected strongly 
to a practice, evidently popular at Corinth, of matrons taking 
part in the discussion or interpretation of what had been said 
by some prophet or teacher during the service. The Greek 
word for speak {lalein) may carry its lighter and lower sense 
of ' chatter ' or ' talk ' (as in verses 9 and 11), compared with 
the less derogatory legein. In his Marriage Counsel (32), the 
staid Plutarch observes that ' a woman ought to do her talking 
either to her husband or through him,' instead of lifting up 
her own voice. So Paul would be discouraging women from 
interrupting the service by putting questions. No doubt, to 
ask information might be done seriously. Questions could be 
put to a rabbi in the synagogue, though woman's right to 
education was not definitely recognized by the rabbis. Muso- 
nius Rufus at Rome went so far, on the other hand, in stating 
the Stoic ethic, as to claim that a woman had as much right 
and capacity as a man to understand the philosophy of the 
noble life, in her own way. And Paul similarly agrees that it 

232 



CHAPTER XIV, VERSES 33-35 

is legitimate for her to seek information about some statement 
made by a prophet or teacher. Yet matrons had better reserve 
their questions for private enquiry at home. Paul does not 
feel that they are called or inspired to this kind of promiscuous 
talk in Church gatherings. They must be modest, not forward. 
He was far too convinced of spiritual impulses to suggest that 
the Spirit was to be quenched in any woman who felt suddenly 
moved to pray or prophesy ; but none the less he was true to 
the tradition of Jewish and Roman piety as he ruled out any 
effort on the part of women to intervene of their own accord in 
worship. After hearing his amanuensis read over what he had 
dictated on worship, he suddenly remembers that he had 
better say a word on this. 

As is the rule in all churches of the saints, women must keep ^^ 
quiet at gatherings of the church. They are not allowed to 
speak ; they must take a subordinate place, as the Law 
enjoins. If they want any information, let them ask their 35 
husbands at home ; it is disgraceful for a woman to speak 
in church. You challenge this rule ? Pray, did God's word 36 
start from you ? Are you the only people it has reached ? 

This is a pendant to the previous discussion. It occurs to 33 
Paul, or it was brought to his mind by one of the Corinthians 
beside him, that one source of disorder was the feminist ten- 
dency to depart from the ordinary rule and allow married 
women to join in the service by opening their lips freely. Keep 34 
quiet means even more than a prohibition of chattering. 
Worship is not to be turned into a discussion-group, he insists, 
holding to the synagogue practice which forbade women to 
read even a lesson from Scripture aloud. The subordinate 
position of women to their husbands in the Law of Genesis 
(iii. 16 ' he shall rule ') extended to worship. Some rabbis, 35 
like Paul's younger contemporary Eliezer, even maintained 
that a woman should devote herself to domestic duties instead 
of asking questions about the Torah at all. Paul's sense of 
Christian freedom carries him beyond such a narrow concep- 
tion. But, though he recognized their right to ask questions 
at home and to speak under the moving of the Spirit in church, 

233 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

he pronounces it disgraceful for them to put themselves for- 
ward voluntarily in church services where the Word was 
spoken. As in xi. 13 f., an appeal to Scripture is backed up 
36 with an appeal to natural propriety. But it is not argued. 
Paul curtly breaks off any further discussion of the subject by 
again appealing to the general consent of the Church. Was 
a local innovation at Corinth to disturb use and wont ? 
' Was it you who launched the word of God upon the world ? * 
So Dr. Gunion Rutherford renders the sentence. Here, though 
not in X. II (where the same word as reached is used), the meta- 
phor might be legal. ' Has the gospel come down to you as its 
sole heirs ? Is it your private property, with which you think 
that you can do as you please ? ' But after start the ordinary 
sense of reached is more apposite and quite effective. ' Has it 
made its way to none but you ? Fall into line with churches 
other and older than yourselves, instead of starting some 
congregational novelty which differs from catholic praxis.' 

As it happens, this is the one allusion in the letter to God's 
Word as a term (i Thess. ii. 13) for the revelation in the gospel, 
with special emphasis upon Jesus as the Christ (Acts xviii. 5), 
a proclamation to men of God and through men of God, on 
what had happened in history, on what is happening, on what 
ought to happen, and on what will happen, all being deter- 
mined by the Lord Jesus as God's saving power for human 
nature. While Paul never associates God's Word with nature, 
as the Old Testament does, it includes the destiny of the re- 
deemed in the creative order which the risen Lord has inaugu- 
rated and lives to bring to completion ; it is the manifesto of 
his active sovereign purpose, now ruling the various churches 
and presently to be fulfilled at the End. 

THE CHURCH, THE GOSPEL, AND THE 
RESURRECTION 

(XV.) 

The resurrection of Christ was part of the story of the Cross ; 
it belonged to the gospel which had generated the Corinthian 
church (iv. 15). The return of the Lord was on the Hps of all 

234 



CHAPTER XV, VERSES 1-2 

Christians at the eucharist, and allusions to the End had re- 
peatedly been made in the course of the letter (e.g. i. 8 the day 
of our Lord Jesus, iii. 13 f. the Day, iv. 5, v. 5. vi. 2, 14, vii. 31, 
X. II, xiii. 8 f.). For the primitive Christian the last Things 
were the first things ; his present position rested on his great 
hope, stirred by the Christ who had been crucified. There was 
nothing surprising in such a truth being discussed by an 
apostle writing to one of his missions, for all that was dis- 
tinctive in the worship and conduct of the Church lay in this 
expectation. But why here ? And why from this particular 
angle ? We can only surmise that, in the course of dictating \ 
the letter, he had been gravely alarmed to hear of some ' en- j 
lightened ' Christians in the community who may have had / 
affinities with the ultra-ascetics (vi. 12 f., vii.), and who at/ 
any rate took Christ as a divine Wisdom without making his 
resurrection of cardinal importance to their own spiritual 
destinies in the near future. This new theology of the higher 
life led Paul to begin by restating the common basis of God's 
word in the Palestinian tradition which he, Hke the other 
apostles and witnesses of the Lord's resurrection, represented 
with authority (1-2, 3-11). 

XV. 

Now, brothers, I would have you know the gospel I once i 
preached to you, the gospel you received, the gospel in 
which you have your footing, the gospel by which you are 2 
saved — provided you adhere to my statement of it — unless 
indeed your faith was all haphazard. 

He had already noted some indications of a failure to main- 2 
tain or adhere to the gospel traditions of God's word which 
they had received from him (e.g. in the eleventh chapter), but 
his concern is now over the saving, accepted basis of their 
faith. Haphazard belief is random impulse, which does not 
take religion seriously ; it characterizes people who are heed- 
less of what the gospel implies for mind and morals. Presently 
he calls it futile make-believe. Such ' light half-believers ' of 
their creed make nothing of it because they have not made it 
everything ; it is to them a ' casual creed,' which they have 

235 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

, not taken pains to think out or to follow up. The apostle 

/ recalls the heart of the gospel, as expressed by ' Jesus is 

j 3 Lord, the Lord who rose from the dead.' The special or 

I cardinal aspect of his gospel, what is first and foremost in his 

\ preaching, is the resurrection. That enters into the entire 

I context of belief and behaviour, determining all else. Leave 

1 that out, drop it or evaporate it for any reason, and you are 

I outside faith altogether, in Paul's judgement. No resurrection, 

\jio gos^pel ! 

My statement of it, he now proceeds to show (3-11), started 
from the authentic, original gospel ; it is not a pr ivate specu - 
lat ion of my own, but the.xoniin?Ji Jgosgel o^ s^H the authorities 
in the Church, a^Egvelation of the risen Lord made to myself 
as well as to them. The thread of the following argument is 
that apostolic authority depended on the vision of the risen 
Lord. He was seen refers not simply to a revelation, but to a 
choice and summons to declare the gospel, setting the recipient 
to the work and cause of the Lord in the power of the Spirit. 
As in the case of an Old Testament prophet, the call came by 
way of a vision, in which the knowledge of God's mind and will 
was revealed for his service, to spread his truth. Hence these 
revelations brought a mission or commission to bear testimony 
to their content, and those who received this favour had 
authority to teach and preach with full powers, as envoys and 
representatives of the Lord. Paul repeatedly claims this for 
himself (i. i) ; it was claimed for the Twelve (Matt, xxviii. 16 f.) 
and for more than the Twelve (Luke xxiv. 33-49). As Paul 
had already shown, to be an apostle was not merely to have 
seen the Lord but to have done work for the Lord which 
attested the commission (ix. i, 2). All who are mentioned in 
this record of Paul were thus endowed with authority to bear 
witness. The Twelve were the nucleus of a wider circle of 
' apostles ' in this specific sense, embracing the Twelve, the 
brothers of the Lord, and a larger group. 

3 First and foremost, I passed on to you what I had myself received, 

namely, that Christ died for our sins as the scriptures had 

4 said, that he was buried, that he rose on the third day as 

236 



CHAPTER XV. VERSES 3-4 

the scriptures had said, and that he was seen by Cephas, 5 
then by the twelve ; after that, he was seen by over five 6 
hundred brothers all at once, the majority of whom survive 
to this day, though some have died ; after that he was seen 7 
by James, then by all the apostles, and finally he was seen 8 
by myself, by this so-called ' abortion ' of an apostle. For 9 
I am the very least of the apostles, unfit to bear the name 
of apostle, since I persecuted the church of God. But by 10 
God's grace I am what I am. The grace he showed me did 
not go for nothing ; no, I have done far more work than 
all of them — though it was not I but God's grace at my side. 
At any rate, whether I or they have done most, such is what il 
we preach, such is what you believed. 

' Once we read our Bible in the light of the resurrection, we 3 
recognize that the story of the cross was foretold. Christ died 
for our sins, not for his.' The scriptures are passages like those 
on the Servant of the Lord ; Paul omits any reference to this 
in connexion with the burial, however, since Christ's burial 
had been with honour paid to him, not in a felon's grave, with 
criminals (Isa. liii. 9). Buried (really buried) confirms the 4 
death, as the visions confirm the resurrection ; yet buried leads 
on to resurrection. Buried ? Yes, but that was not the last 
word on the matter. It is not the empty tomb that concerns 
Paul here, but what followed the resurrection. He uses the 
perfect tense (here and in 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 20) seven times 
over, and only in this letter, to bring out the existing result 
(as in 2 Tim. ii. 8) ; rose is literally ' has been raised,' a decisive 
Action of God, which determines all that follows in Christian 
experience, the new worship, the fellowship, and the sure hope. 
On the third day reflects not only the ancient belief that three 
days intervened between two important events (as, e.g., the 
votaries of Isis celebrated the recovery of their deity three 
days after his murder), but also the rabbinic appeal to a 
scripture like Hosea vi. 2 (on the third day we shall be raised), 
in order to prove that the general resurrection would take place 
on the third day after the old earth and heaven had passed 
away. Rabban Gamaliel, not long after Paul, cites the 

237 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

prophetic word thus, in the fifty-first chapter (on the messianic 
era) of the Pirke R. Eliezer. For Paul it was a word that had 
been already fulfilled. It is just possible that, even before 
Clement of Alexandria, primitive Christians had seen this pre- 
figured in the symbolism of the proviso laid down by the Law 
of Holiness (Lev. xxiii. 9 f.) that the firstfruits or sheaf should 
be lifted up on the morrow after the sabbath, i.e. on the first 
day of the week, the third after passover (see below on verse 20). 

5 Three of the visions are to individuals (Peter, James, and 
himself), three to groups, and they are in order of time. Paul 
selects the visions most relevant to his immediate purpose, 
summarizing those familiar to the Corinthians. At an early 
date the twelve was corrected to ' the eleven ' of Matt, xxviii. 16 
and Acts i. 26, a reading which passed through Jerome into the 
Vulgate. This appearance, hke that to Cephas, forms part of 
the tradition preserved in the Synoptic Gospels, but it is 

6 different with the next two. Unless the vision to over five 
hundred disciples all at once corresponds to the story of 
Pentecost or to the close of Matthew's Gospel, there is no 
trace of it elsewhere either in connexion with Jerusalem or 
with Galilee. You can verify the vision, Paul implies, for the 
majority are still alive. Probably they, or some of them, had 
borne testimony abroad. The only record of the appearance to 

7 James, the Lord's brother, is in a quaint early tradition pre- 
served by the Gospel according to the Hebrews, which tells 
how the Lord went to him specially to assure him of the 
resurrection. 

After a collective vision experienced by all the apostles, not 

8 simply by the twelve, Paul finally (of the initial visions which 
he is narrating) comes to his own, the first of the visions and 
revelations he had enjoyed (2 Cor. xii. i), the vision which had 
made him at once a disciple and an apostle. He actually was 
seen by myself, by this so-called ' abortion * of an apostle. 
With a flash of humble pride, he catches up a scornful taunt 
flung at him by some of the strict Jewish Christians : ' An 
abortion of an apostle, this Paul, with his sudden conversion, 
so irregular, so violent and abnormal, so long after the others 
had seen the Lord ! This mal-formed soul, to claim the vitahty 

238 



CHAPTER XV, VERSES 5-11 

of the real apostles ! ' Yes, he admits ironically, ' it is a miracle 
that I came to life at all. I am indeed the one example of this 
in the apostolic circle. But look at what has come of my 
birth. It may have been an abortion, this Hfe of mine, Hfeless 
before I saw the Lord ; but how he has made me live and 
work ! My career since then has not been abortive ! ' James, 
no doubt, had not believed in the Lord before the resurrection ; 9 
but Paul had actually persecuted God's church, and was thus 
even more unlikely to receive a revelation. Yet it had come, by 10 
God's grace, and it had worked. Grace implies (as in iii. 10) 
the divine commission, but here it denotes the undeserved 
favour of God which had singled out a persecutor and made the 
unfit fit not only to belong to him, but to serve him, even, he 
adds naively, to outstrip the others. The last recruit is first in 
active service. Though it was not I, but God's grace in its 
power of inspiration at my side. Then, resuming the argument, ii 
after this side-stroke at those who depreciated his mission, he 
concludes by asserting that he and the others were at one in 
their personal testimony to the resurrection. Such was the 
gospel you once received from me and believed. And now some 
of you talk as if you could enjoy the gospel apart from this 
vital truth ! 

The group at Corinth who doubted any such thing as a 
resurrection of or from the dead, declaring that dead men do 
not rise, do not need to rise, are countered by Paul with an 
eager reduciio ad absurdum argument (12-19), to prove that it 
is not the apostolic gospel, but the new spirituahsm, which is 
' a fond ' or rather a cruel ' invention,' a baseless dream, unlike 
the sure Palestinian tradition of Christ's resurrection with its 
glorious prospect for Christians. 

Now if we preach that Christ rose from the dead, how cani2 
certain individuals among you assert that ' there is no such 
thing as a resurrection of the dead ' ? If ' there is no 13 
such thing as a resurrection from the dead,' then even 
Christ did not rise ; and if Christ did not rise, then our 14 
preaching has gone for nothing, and your faith has gone 
239 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

15 for nothing too. Besides, we are detected bearing false 
witness to God by affirming of him that he raised Christ — 

16 whom he did not raise, if after all dead men never rise. For 

17 if dead men never rise, Christ did not rise either ; and if 
Christ did not rise, your faith is futile, you are still in your 

18 sins. More than that : those who hdve slept the sleep of 

19 death in Christ have perished after all. Ah, if in this life we 
have nothing but a mere hope in Christ, we are of all men 
to be pitied most ! 

12 The you is emphatic, ' you Christians who accepted the 
fundamental truth which we apostles were commissioned to 
bring.* What this group at Corinth believed exactly about the 
resurrection of Christ, it is hard to make out from the apostle's 
references to them. Certainly they were not sceptics or Chris- 
tians of any Sadducean temper. So far from being rationalists, 
they were mystical enthusiasts of the Greek type who could 
not see anything relevant to spiritual Christianity in any doc- 
trines which drew upon a Jewish belief about bodily resurrec- 
tion after death as needful to immortal life. But how did they 
conceive of what had happened to the living Lord ? Was it as 
a real resurrection, and if so in what form ? All we know is that 
Paul charged them with failing to think out the consequences 
of their accepted faith (verse 2). His aim in restating the 
authentic tradition had been to cut the feet from below this 
new theology of the ultra-spiritualists who, in his opinion, did 
not understand what real belief in the risen Lord committed 
them to. These individuals, with their immortality of the 
disembodied soul, were fostering unauthorized speculations ; 
they did not belong to the apostolic succession. To be satisfied 
with a hope of eternal life which sat loose to any future re- 
union of soul and body was, according to Paul, meaningless 
talk for any so-called Christian. In arguing with Jews who 
adhered to the pharisaic belief in the resurrection, the primi- 
tive Church could indeed appeal to this as a preliminary 
argument against an outright denial that Jesus could have 
risen (Acts iv. 2). Paul himself takes this ground in his speeches, 

13 according to the book of Acts (e.g. xxvi. 7-23), and he hints at 

240 



CHAPTER XV, VERSES 12-17 

it here in passing (if, after all, as you assert, dead men never 
rise — verses 15, 16). But it was only the reverse side of the 
deeper argument that the resurrection of Jesus formed the one 
sure basis for any hope of resurrection in the future. What 
else dealt with the sins (3, 17) that stood in the way of life ? 
To Greek or Roman Christians such as he is addressing here, 
this was the crucial contention. Could they not realize that 
the resurrection of Christ from the dead was not only a case of 
resurrection but the resurrection which carried with it any 
prospect and promise of eternal life for those who set store 
upon being in Christ (18, 19) ? 

Perhaps these mystical individuals appealed to the teaching 
of Paul himself. Had he not taught that Christians are raised 
to newness of life already, dying inwardly to sin as they were 
baptized ? They may have been precursors of those errorists 
denounced in 2 Tim. ii. 17, 18, where the immoral consequences 
of such a beUef are noted, though Paul does not refer to the 
effect of their views on conduct, except as he hints at it in 
verses 33 and 34 as already he had done in vi. 12 f. A century 
later there were Christians who announced, ' there is no resur- 
rection of the dead, but as soon as we die, our souls are taken 
up into heaven.* So Justin heard them preach, and he retorted 
that they were unorthodox, since ' I and all other Christians of 
orthodox beUef know that there will be a resurrection of the 
flesh and also a millennium in Jerusalem ' (Dial. 80). Paul does 
not allude to the latter item of messianic belief when he speaks 
(in verse 25) of Christ reigning, but he would have agreed with 
Justin that there was no genuine Christianity apart from 
faith in the future resurrection. At this point, however, he is 14 
protesting that such a repudiation of the future resurrection 
upsets the entire testimony of the Lord's commissioners. This 
is his first rapid counterstroke. He never calls apostles or 15 
prophets * witnesses ' to God, though he occasionally speaks of 
their testimony (as in i. 6, 2 Thess. i. 10). Still, as he indig- 
nantly reminds the Corinthians, these all would be detected 
bearing false witness to God, instead of true testimony, if 
upstart mystics had the last word. Furthermore, your faith 17 
has indeed gone for nothing, since this notion renders faith 

Sc 241 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

futile by evaporating the risen power of the Lord to deal with 
sins. Why not realize that ominous consequence, instead of 
entertaining idle dreams of a heaven to be entered without the 
forgiveness and deliverance which Christ alone can provide. 

i8 More than that, the very hope of Christian faith is deprived of 
its basis. Think of your own dead (verses 6 and 29), he cries ! 
At Thessalonica Christians had doubted in anguish whether 
those who died before the Lord's return would really and truly 
rise, as though the only hope for complete reunion with the 
Lord lay in the present life being taken up, before death, into 
bliss. This was not the outlook of the mystics at Corinth. 

19 They were not over-eager eschatologists. At least, Paul's next 
words show that he interpreted their position very differently. 
Literally he says, ' If in this present life we have set hope on 
Christ only.' But naturally the word ' only ' does not refer to 
in this life ; it is as though Paul had said, ' hope set on Christ — 
and nothing more than hope ! Is that all, a mere wistful, faint 
trust in some larger hope, which rests on nothing ? ' — on no 
faith in Christ crucified and risen, such as for the apostle was 
the sole basis of the saving (Rom. viii. 23 f.), eternal hope. Most 
pitiful would be the plight of our Christian dead and of our- 
selves who are still alive, if our hope had no stable foundation 
or solid content in the deliverance from sin which lay at the 
heart of Christ's resurrection and which alone enables us to 
triumph over death. To Paul such an expectation of reunion 
with a phantom Lord awaiting a disembodied spirit is no more 
than a cruel illusion, no sort of glory worth the sufferings of 
the present life. Great expectations, none greater ! And all 
to be shattered at the End ! The same concentrated passion 
throbs in this sentence as in the similar one below (verse 32). 

The likelihood is that these mystical individuals were, like 
many members of the cults, chiefly interested in the present 
and future reunion of redeemed spirits with God, once the 
material ties of the body were overcome, and that they had 
not seriously considered the death of Christ, beyond believing 
that somehow he must be living, in virtue of the abundant 
phenomena of the Spirit within the Christian fellowship. 
The latter fascinated them, but as flowers cut from their root 

242 



CHAPTER XV, VERSES 18-19 

in the historical revelation. Now the preaching of the apostles 
rested on an Action of God in the crucifixion and the resur- 
rection, which, as interpreted by Paul, meant that at the resur- 
rection God had invested him with the power of the Spirit over 
the daemonic powers of sin and death (Rom. i. 4). The * other 
Christ ' had not undergone this unique experience, and conse- 
quently there was no gospel of real hope in him. Christians 
might indeed lie down at death to a sleep from which they hoped 
God would awaken and restore them to life in Christ. Their 
fellows might share the same hope for them and also for them- 
selves as they still lived and perhaps even suffered for the good 
cause. But there was no such awakening, Paul argued in 
horror. The dead have perished, and the fate of the living is 
equally tragic, despite all talk of living or hoping in Christ, 
since such a ' Christ ' has no power to rescue or to revive his 
deluded adherents. For the apostle the only hope worth 
speaking of was the outcome of God's redeeming grace 
(Gal. V. 4, 5, Rom. v. 2-5, viii. 9-11), full salvation at the end, 
which came into action through the cross and resurrection of 
Jesus the Lord. And that was no mere hope for the future, 
unsupported and uninspired by God's decisive action in the 
recent past. He speaks of hope here in its ordinary, secular 
sense (almost as in ix. 10). Who is more to be pitied than the 
man who goes through time and trouble with a so-called 
' Christian ' hope which is detached from the faith of the apos- 
toUc gospel and which has nothing behind it except a vague 
illuminism with some indirect memories of one still lying in his 
Syrian tomb ? 

It is characteristic that as he rises to the height of his great 
argument he never mentions eternal life or the immortal hope ; 
such were too abstract and mystic for his purpose. The resur- 
rection of the body, not the immortality of the soul, is for him 
the central issue. It is also paradoxical that he dismisses as a 
pathetic object the very Hellenistic hope on which some local 
Christians seem to have been staying their souls, such a hope 
as that held out not only by religious philosophy of the 
Platonic order, but by some mystery cults, namely that one 
secured bliss after death through undergoing a rite which by 

243 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

a sort of sympathetic magic anticipated death and the life to 
come, guaranteeing immortaUty by initiation. All this formed 
part of the wisdom sought by Greeks. Later on, indeed, one of 
the reasons why many devout Christians were attracted to the 
great gnostic presentations of Christianity was because these 
enUghtened schemes of salvation offered a less Jewish view of 
death. The inherited Jewish forms of eschatology in popular 
Christianity, such as the millennium and the speedy advent of 
Christ, did not appeal to such spirits ; they preferred other and 
less realistic ways of depicting the ultimate dominion of God 
over evil and matter, with less interest in the body either of 
Christ or of Christians. One germ of this depreciation of the 
body lies in the position which appears to have been taken up 
by doubters of the final resurrection at Corinth. 

From the pathetic thought of any Christians trying to face 
life with nothing better than a Christ of their own devotional 
dreams or speculative insight, Paul turns with glad relief to 
the realities of the gospel (20-22). As Jewish literature was 
dying away in a few deep sighs of apocalyptic prediction, a 
contemporary prophet declared that another and a better life 
was required in order to make up for what the godly had to 
bear in the poor, transient phases of the present. * If there 
were only this Hfe, which belongs to all men, nothing could be 
more bitter ' (Apocalypse of Baruch xxi. 13). Paul's happier 
outlook enables him to see a new, divine order already dawning 
on men through the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. 

20 But it is not so I Christ did rise from the dead, he was the first to 

be reaped of those who sleep in death. 

21 For since death came by man, 

by man came also resurrection from the dead ; 

22 as all die in Adam, 

so shall all be made alive in Christ. 

20 For Paul the resurrection is a creative Act of God, as he 
completes the divine plan and purpose. Christ did actually die 
and rise, but not as an individual ; his resurrection somehow 
carried with it the resurrection of all Christians. It is no mere 

244 



CHAPTER XV, VERSES 20-22 

hope, it is assurance, of this saving Action of God, which is the 
gospel ; Christ's resurrection is the pledge of more to come. 
Like the firstborn of a great brotherhood (Rom. viii. 29), the 
first to be reaped associates him with his members ; he too had 
to die and be buried. To us, if not to Paul (see on verse 4), this 
term recalls, in the wake of verse 7, the picturesque coincidence 
that Christ rose from the dead on the morning of the very day 
when the first sheaf of barley to be reaped was offered solemnly 
within the temple (Philo, de Sept. ii. 10). At any rate, priority 
here means more, since his rising is the anticipation and the 21 
realization of new life after death for the new humanity of 
believers. There is no clear indication, either here or in what 
follows, that Paul contemplated a final redemption of the race, 
as his language might suggest upon the surface. He is dealing 
with the hopes and fears of the Christian group, not giving a 
general explanation of the future destiny of mankind. A con- 
temporary Jewish prophet, writing out his revelation of the 
future, where he could not see any but a few being saved, de- 
clared, * Truly I shall not weigh what sinners have prepared for 
themselves, death and judgment and perdition ; rather I will 
rejoice in what the righteous have won, homecoming and re- 
demption and recompense ' (Fourth Esdras viii. 38 f.). Paul 
might not have dismissed the subject thus, but he shared the 
same position. Those who are said to sleep in death are the 
faithful. No one writing these words, whether Jew or Christian, 22 
could mean any but the righteous or the saints who in Christ 
belong to God. All of them (as in Rom. v. 17, 18), all who 
belong to the same order as Christ shall be restored to life, in 
its fullest sense, in him in whom already some have slept the 
sleep of death (6 and 18). It is only by isolating the words, all 
shall be made alive in Christ, that they can be referred to the 
general resurrection, as though this was Paul's equivalent for 
that Pharisaic tenet ; but such an interpretation implies a 
vaguer sense for in Christ than the apostle normally suggests, 
besides missing the fact that to be made alive is more than to 
be resuscitated. What Paul appears to argue is that the new 
order of being, with its fullness of divine life, starts from the 
risen Lord. Margaret Fuller, the American transcendentalist in 

245 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

last century, once remarked that ' Handel was worthy to 
speak of Christ. The great chorus, " Since by man came death, 
by man also came the resurrection of the dead ; for as in 
Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive," if 
understood in the large sense of every man his own saviour 
and Jesus only representative of the way all must walk to 
accomplish our destiny, is indeed a worthy gospel.' It was 
not so that Handel spoke and sang of Christ, and it is to be 
feared that Paul would not have considered this cheerful 
notion of self-saving worthy of being called a gospel at all. 

Before developing what he meant by made alive in the juxta- 
position of Adam and Christ (45 f,), Paul explains that each, 
Christ and Christians, must have an orderly position in the 
working out of the divine plan at the end (23-28), since Christ's 
resurrection involves theirs ; but, as Christ's part is active 
and commanding, he is carried away by the thought of Christ's 
relation to God in and after the end. 

23 But each in his own division : — Christ the first to be reaped ; 

24 after that, all who belong to Christ, at his arrival. Then 
comes the end, when he hands over his royal power to God 
the Father, after putting down all other rulers, all other 

25 authorities and powers. For he must reign until his foes are 

26 put under his feet. (Death is the last foe to be put down.) 

27 For God has put everything under his feet. When it is said 
that everything has been put under him, plainly that 

28 excludes Him who put everything under him ; and when 
everything is put under him, then the Son himself will be 
put under Him who put everything under him, so that 
God may be ever3rthing to everyone. 

23 Each is to be made alive by God in his own appointed 
division ; first Christ, as we have learned (3-1 1) ; after that, 
soon but not immediately, Christ's people at his royal coming 
or arrival. As we might say, the two divisions of the risen host 
then come into action. Paul does not need to instruct his 
readers that Christ's people or followers then share his sway, 

246 



it is 2d 
:ion, J 
itisy 



CHAPTER XV, VERSES 23-24 

even over angels (vi. 2-3), although no details are ever given 
by him about the length of this period. The end comes. That is 2^ 
the vital matter, the end of what had begun at the resurrection, 
namely the triumph of life over death. And (this is as vital) 
due to Christ the Lord, the Son of God. So the story of man- 
kind, which began far back with the disobedience of Adam, 
now ends with a glorious reversal of sin and death at the hands 
of God's strong Son, who thus succeeds in enthroning his 
Father over the universe, at the period of the great Restoration 
(Acts iii. 21), when the divine purpose in creation is at last 
completed, his royal will of life and love no longer challenged 
by any alien power of darkness like sin and death. 

In Greek the phrase is simply the end, without any verb. 
Since the words (to telos) might be taken adverbially, as in 
I Pet. iii. 8, some think the whole passage should read, I Then 
finally, w hen he hands over his royal power to God the Father, 
alter ne has put down every other rule and authority and 
power (for reign he must, till he has put all the enemy under 
foot). Death is put down as the last enehiy.' This interpreta- 
tion has been recently restated by Professor Burkitt (in the 
Journal of Theological Studies, xvii., 384, 385) and Karl Barth 
independently. But although Death is the supreme opponent 
of the living God, for Paul (see below, 55-56) as well as for 
other Christian prophets, the apostle seems at this point to be 
absorbed in the reign of Christ ; it is on the whole more 
natural to regard the allusion to Death as a parenthetical 
remark on * all the foes ' than as the climax of the passage. 

Another interpretation of to telos alters the whole outlook of 
the prophecy. Does it mean ' the rest ' or ' the remnant * of 
mankind, redeemed from the powers of death and evil and 
made alive in Christ, so that all men are finally alive in him to 
God as once they were all brought under death and separated 
from God by having Adam as their ancestor ? The attraction 
of this view is twofold ; it supplies a third division (two 
classes of mankind after Christ) instead of merely two (Christ 
and his saints), and it provides a hint for the universal sweep 
of redemption in the world such as some believe to be implied 
in Paul's other prophecy of the final future (Rom. xi. 25-36). 

247 



( 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

But the evidence, from a Greek version of Isa. xix. 15 and a 
sentence in Aristotle, fqrjo telos as * t he other s ' is too remote 
and ambiguous to support tTiis mgembus hypothesis.^ even if 
Paul could be supposed to have conceived any resurrection to 
life possible except for those already in Christ. Besides, the 
context mak es it almost certain th at he is using to telos here jiL 
its familiar apocalypiic sense ot i)^ 'P^r\A^\ 8). Tn an earlier 
revelation (i Thess. iv. 13-18) he did mention a third group, 
namely those who survived till the Lord came, but here he 
assumes that his readers will understand how these are among 
all who belong to Christ, and he only recurs to them afterwards 
(verses 51-52), as he describes in more detail the consequences 
of the Lord's coming for such as do not actually die. At pre- 
sent, it is the Lord's arrival in relation to God's ultimate end 
for mankind that engrosses him. Then comes the end, a 
glorious End o r consu mmation, the final victory of God ov er 
5 evil. C hrist is now thought of as reigning, not as reaped. 
Reign he must, in the divine order, till all is over. It is the 
active side of his position within God's purpose which is upper- 

26 most, and at once Paul recalls the Scripture guarantee for this 

27 complete triumph, turning to the psalms, where primitive 
Christians found so many anticipations of their Lord. To 
whom but Christ, the true messiah, did the words of the 
hundred and tenth psalm refer, about God promising to put all 
his foes under his feet, till he was in supreme control ? Or the 
word of the eighth psalm, that God has put everything under 
his feet ? It would seem as though he must reign suggested to 
the apostle the opening phrase of the hundred and tenth 
psalm, ' Sit thou at my right hand (sharing my authority),' 
and the divine promise of the eighth psalm that man was to 
have dominion over all God's works. Elsewhere Paul used the 
former phrase of Christ as now enthroned in the spiritual 
world. Here it started an apocalyptic application to his 

28 conflict with evil powers. But it is the language of the eighth 
psalm which prompts him to remove any possible misappre- 
hension of Christ's reign. God's sovereign will determined that 

1 The proof for this is led by Professor J . Hiring in the Revue d'Histoire 
et de Philosophie religieuses (1932), pp. 304-306. 

248 



CHAPTER XV. VERSES 24-28 

reign. In loosely quoting the hundred and tenth psalm he had 
seemed to make Christ do what God had promised to do for 
him. Hence he explains the eighth psalm as a proof that 
Christ was conquering for Gdd. The divine purpose in the 
reign of Christ is that God may be ' all in all,' everything to 
everyone, with nothing to impair the communion between the 
Father and all who belong to Christ his Son. 

The divine must in verse 25 is not exactly the same as in 25 
verse 53, where it is general (as in xi. 19 and 2 Cor. v. 10). 
Here it is connected with proof from Scripture, which furnishes 
decisive evidence, as usual (see 3 f.), for new truths of revela- 
tion from the same God who had inspired Scripture ; what 
had occurred at the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and what 
was to happen after his return is all inevitably implied in what 
had been already predicted. But in expounding the Scripture 28 
he draws on current messianic categories of a limited and tem- 
porary messianic reign, prior to the resurrection and the last 
judgement which ushered in the final triumph awarded by 
God to Israel. A fuller interpretation of such apocalyptic 
traditions is furnished in the Book of Revelation, where the 
Oriental myth of a prince sallying forth to subdue his father's 
foes before returning to celebrate his own marriage is worked 
up by the Christian prophet into a prediction which leaves a 
richer and more eternal relation between Christ and his Bride 
than Paul has occasion to bring out in this prophecy. The 
apostle's thought appears to be that Jesus, who was the Christ 
of God for the sake of men, after finishing his redeeming work 
as Lord over sin and death, is now simply God's Son. In 
modern language, Paul would be stating that his Lordship is 
a phase of his eternal sonship, as his first mission on earth had 
been, although elsewhere, as in Phil. ii. 6-1 1, he seems to make 
the Lordship final. 

Even in the latter passage, however, the final acclamation of 
Jesus as Lord is to the glory of God the Father. In the present 
prophecy also, as in Rom. xi. 36 (all comes from God, all lives 
by him, all ends in him), the apostle is true to the same con- 
ception of Jesus himself, whose faith was in what the Father 
would do through him as he acted in the Father's interests. 

249 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

The wording of the sentence, due to the use of an inadequate 
messianic category, was so daring that later ages were troubled, 
but it breathes the truth that God is the first and last word in 
Christianity. 

The general idea behind Paul's language is reflected in the 
traditional view preserved by the Pirke Eliezer (xi. 6), where 
ten kings are held to rule from one end of the world to another ; 
God is the first king, followed by Nimrod, Joseph, Solomon, 
Ahab, Nebuchadnezzar, Koresh (Cyrus), and Alexander of 
Macedon ; the ninth is King Messiah (Dan. ii. 35), and then 
the rule of thv world goes back to the Lord, for the last king 
must be the first (Isa. xliv. 6 : ' thus saith the Lord, the king 
of Israel, I am the first and the last '). No one could be more 
convinced of the eternal meaning of Christ for Christians than 
Paul. This letter from beginning to end is alive with such a 
faith. Yet as the kingdom is the kingdom of God (verse 50), so 
the Church, which he had brought into being through Jesus 
Christ, is God's Church (i. 2, 9, xi. 22, etc.). This is the God to 
whom you owe your being in Christ Jesus ; You belong to 
Christ, and Christ to God, now and always ; God is the head of 
Christ (i. 30, iii. 23, xi. 3). If there was one form of later 
Christianity which by anticipation Paul repudiated instinc- 
tively (even in Col. iii. 11), it was the notion of a cult of Jesus 
the divine Lord as practically everything to every member, 
with some vague, mysterious idea of God in the background. 
Not that this risk of a one-sided devotion was entirely absent 
from Paul's age. The Corinthian church was surrounded by a 
religious life in which the mystery cults provided a devotional 
relief more adequate and intense than the traditional Greek 
religion. But one defect of these groups was that their devo- 
tions hardly ever included any serious reverence for a supreme, 
central deity over the universe, like Zeus. For * God ' or a 
cosmic divinity the worshippers had as a rule little but a 
shadowy awe, if even that. Their fellowship gathered round 
their own favourite hero or divine figure, ^Esculapius, Serapis, 
and so forth, to whom they offered passionate adoration and 
with whom they really felt at home, safe and sheltered in their 
special rites of communion. Beyond that, in most cases, there 

250 



CHAPTER XV, VERSE 28 

was not much more than an indefinite, numinous awe for any 
cosmic power or presence. Whereas the Christian worship was 
offered to God the Father and creator through Jesus Christ the 
Lord (viii. 6, etc.). The synthesis might be mysterious but it 
was there, at the heart of what Christians meant by God. No 
early Christians ever thought of Jesus as really their God, 
whatever were their glowing tributes of praise and prayer to 
him. Yet there was a subtle temptation, like that of the cults, 
to practise a one-sided devotion to the Lord Christ which 
would have shifted the centre of gravity in the faith by an 
absorption in Christ involving a bare and secondary recogni- 
tion of God. To abandon the truths conveyed by the eschato- 
logical hope of the resurrection, for example, as this new 
theology of the spiritualists did, by concentrating interest 
upon some inward, semi-mystical experience of Christ in the 
soul which was not directly connected with the historical line 
of the faith, was to foster not only an undue individualism 
and a depreciation of the body, but also a form of Christ- 
mysticism which loosened the nexus between God and Christ, 
till God became less relevant and significant than Jesus the 
Lord for worship and action. Possibly Paul had a half- 
conscious instinct of this as he developed his argument for the 
resurrection at the present stage. At any rate his prophetic 
outlook reflects one of the signal services which he rendered 
to the Christianity of his day. Owing to his Hebrew training, 
he held his churches fast to the vital connexion between the 
religious experience and the moral life. But also, as he preached 
the rich and inward story of the Cross in his missions, while he 
eschewed any quest for a form of pagan ' enthusiasm ' which 
sought direct union with God, he never dreamed of shifting 
the centre of gravity from the commanding thought of God the 
Father, and taught his Greek converts especially that the core 
of inner experience, for the next world as for the present, lay 
in being in or belonging to a Christ who himself belonged to 
God (iii. 23, XV. 23-28). 

That seems to be the last word on the last things : ' God all 
in all.' After this, would not anything be an anticlimax ? But 
Paul is not writing a literary essay ; he is counselling people in 

251 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

a serious, practical situation, who need to be plied with the 
truth. As he draws breath after this rhapsody, swept away by 
the prospect of what is to be the glorious sequel to the resur- 
rection, he is again haunted by the thought of these Corin- 
thians and their doubts. Once more, as in 12-19, he sets him- 
self with urgent concern to show how absurd any disbelief in 
the resurrection is for Christians like themselves (29) or himself 
(30-32). * Look at our way of life ; it implies faith in the 
resurrection. Wake up from this delusion and dream of a 
bodiless immortality, to realize the reality of God (33-34) ! ' 

29 Otherwise, if there is no such thing as a resurrection, what is the 

meaning of people getting baptized on behalf of their dead ? 
If dead men do not rise at all, why do people get baptized 

30 on their behalf ? Yes, and why am I myself in danger 

31 every hour ? (Not a day but I am at death's door I I swear 
it by my pride in you, brothers, through Christ Jesus our 

32 Lord.) What would it avail me that, humanly speaking, 
I ' fought with wild beasts ' at Ephesus ? If dead men do 
not rise, let us eat and drink, for we will he dead to-morrow ! 

29 Some Christians at Corinth got specially baptized on behalf of 
loved ones who had died. Why ? To fill up the number of the 
elect (Rev. vi. 11, Fourth Esdras iv. 35 f.), as it was the apoca- 
lyptic belief that until this was complete the End could not 
come ? ' May it please thee of thy gracious goodness,' so the 
collect of the English prayer-book runs, ' shortly to accom- 
plish the number of thine elect and to hasten thy kingdom.' 
This is not impossible, but the obscure allusion points probably 
to an intense concern for fellowship which made some members 
of the local church seek to do something for friends and 
kindred who had died prematurely, i.e. before being able to 
receive baptism. How readily such a feeling could enter deep 
faith in the resurrection may be seen from a curious story told 
in 2 Mace. xii. 39 f. Judas Maccabaeus had sacrifice offered on 
behalf of some of his dead soldiers who were found on the 
battlefield wearing under their shirts forbidden amulets. To 
atone for their sin, the survivors made sacrifice. As was 

252 



CHAPTER XV, VERSES 29-31 

natural, the historian observes ; for ' all saw at once that this 
was why they fell ' (an illustration of what lies behind i Cor. 
xi. 30), and their grieved comrades sought to do something for 
them, * bearing in mind the resurrection — for had the fallen 
not been expected to rise again, it would have been superfluous 
and silly to pray for the dead.' No Christian would have 
dreamed of offering sacrifice for the departed, but evidently 
some believed so firmly in the resurrection that they underwent 
a vicarious baptism for their dead who had not been more than 
catechumens when they died. Otherwise, as Paul reminds 
them, had they disbelieved in the resurrection, this would 
have emptied their pious rite of all meaning. The eschatolo- 
gical tension, coupled with the strong sense of solidarity 
(vii. 14) in the Household of God, may account for this practice 
of baptism by proxy. It left traces on some fringes of early 
Christian piety during the second century where similar rites 
were observed, as among the Marcionites, some gnostics, and 
the Montanists ; it survives among the Mormons. Originally 
it was a naive, devout expression of the unity which bound 
members on earth and which the living sought to ensure beyond 
death. It does not seem needful (with Dr. Schweitzer) to 
connect it closely with the fear of some, e.g. at Thessalonica 
(i Thess. iv. 13), that those who died before the second coming 
would be less near the Lord than those who survived, as 
though the Corinthians got baptized for their dead simply to 
make sure that they would be raised with the surviving, instead 
of having to wait for the second, general resurrection. All we 
need to presuppose is that husbands, wives, or children thus 
underwent baptism for the eternal good of dear ones who for 
some reason had not on earth been able to attain personal 
baptism for themselves. 

Look at my own life too, the life of your apostle, with its 30 
dreadful, daily dangers (iv. 9-12). Meaningless if dead men do 
not rise ! * I die daily ' is not to be spiritualized into an inward 
dying to self and the world ; it is a strong, literal statement of 
the perils he underwent (2 Cor. xi. 23 f.). 'I am at death's door 31 
every hour. That's as true as the fond pride I have in you, my 
own church' (iv. 15). Combats with wild beasts were not 32 

253 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

provincial displays as a rule, but enacted in the Roman amphi- 
theatre, so that at Ephesus probably belongs to a metaphorical 
statement. It does not indeed follow that Paul could not have 
fought as a hestiarius, since he was a Roman citizen ; there 
were cases of aristocrats who were forced to give such dan- 
gerous and disgraceful exhibitions ; one of the most notorious 
being that of Acilius Glabrio, who had to fight with a lion and 
a couple of bears in Domitian's private amphitheatre. Yet 
Paul does not mean, * even if I fought with wild beasts in the 
arena, risking my life in this ferocious struggle as a man might ' 
(i.e. to win money or applause or freedom). He is speaking 
vividly and metaphorically (as in iv. 15) of hestiarii, as humanly 
speaking indicates. The figure had a local appeal, for such cruel, 
bloody exhibitions were specially popular at Corinth(see p. xviii). 
Only the hope of the resurrection explained his readiness to 
meet fearful trials and desperate crises in the course of his life 
and work for the Lord. Wild brutes of men sometimes attacked 
him. Of one such crisis we overhear an echo, perhaps at 
Ephesus itself, in Rom. xvi. 3 (2 Cor. i. 8-9, Acts xx. 19). He 
is writing here with lyric passion, and this accounts for the 
strong description of mob-violence which befell a man like 
himself, who was liable to murderous attacks from the Jews as 
a renegade no less than from an infuriated pagan populace. 
Even the gentle Philo of Alexandria (Spec. Leg. i, 9, 58) 
urged Jews who loved God to prove their faith by lynching 
apostates without mercy, when they had the opportunity. 

It is only in the light of this passionate outburst (as in 19) 
that the concluding cry becomes intelligible. If dead men do 
not rise, if there is nothing after death, then let us eat and 
drink, for we will he dead to-morrow ! He knew from the Book 
of Wisdom (ii. i f.) the Epicurean sceptic's word, ' let us have 
a good time here, a merry-making, since death is the end of 
life,' but this is a phrase from his favourite book of Isaiah 
(xxii. 13) about desperate Jews who cried out during a siege. 
It is flung out with intense feeUng ; once the resurrection hope 
is removed, life loses all its meaning and purpose ! This is the 
Paul who declared that for him life meant Christ (Phil. i. 21). 
Cool modems complain that surely he must have forgotten 

254 



CHAPTER XV, VERSES 32-33 

himself. Has life no moral duty if Christ has not risen ? Does 
goodness depend absolutely upon belief in the resurrection ? 
Sixty years ago, in a lecture on ' The First and the Last Catas- 
trophe,' as Professor W. K. Clifford discussed recent specula- 
tions about the end of physical life on our planet, he concluded 
that since the world was to destroy life we must make the 
best of it. ' Beyond that, we do not know and we ought not 
to care. Do I seem to say, " Let us eat and drink, for to- 
morrow we die " ? Far from it ; on the contrary I say, " Let 
us take hands and help, for this day we are alive together." ' 
A noble stoical affirmation. But this is an attitude which 
Paul could not have understood. He could not detach himself 
from his religious faith. He is not discussing the relations of 
religion and morality, much less trying to conceive life ab- 
stractly, apart from Christ his Lord, but pouring his soul out 
on what lay nearest to his heart. All went to dust and ashes, he 
dares to say, if the hope of life with the Lord was taken away. 
So convinced he was that life had no meaning whatsoever 
apart from the revelation of Christ, with its promise of life 
beyond death, that it was absolutely impossible for him to 
contemplate any value or hope for existence outside this. 
Separate life from God, from God in Jesus Christ, he passion- 
ately cries, and you rob it of all significance. So far from for- 
getting himself, he was remembering and reasserting, with 
every fibre of his being, the truth that meant Uterally every- 
thing to him in the realm of thought and action. 

After this, the second (12-19) reductio ad a6swr<^«m argument, 
a word of direct counsel follows (33, 34). 

Make no mistake about this : ' bad company is the ruin of good 33 
character.' Regain your sober senses and avoid sin, for 34 
some of you — and I say this to your shame — some of you 
are insensible to God. 

Dangerous characters, these doubters of the resurrection ; 33 
keep clear of them, for their wrong opinions are infectious ! 
He had argued in v. 6, 7 for the excommunication of a gross 
offender against morals ; here (as in v. 11) he seems to demand 
no more than avoidance of such doubters, citing a popular tag 

255 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

from one of Menander's comedies. The deteriorating influence 
of bad company was widely recognized. Thus, in speaking of 
Catiline and his associates, Sallust (Catil. xiv.) remarks that 

* if any respectable character came into touch with him, daily 
intercourse with the gang and with the allurements of vice 

34 readily made the man as bad as the others.' Regain your 
sober senses includes not only the doubters themselves 
(verse 12), but those who made the mistake of supposing that 
one could associate with them without deterioration. Some 
of you have not the ' knowledge of God ' or are insensible to 
God. In this trenchant phrase, he uses with great effect a 
special Greek term which in Stoical morals implied that men 
were responsible for their knowledge or their ignorance of the 
deity, and that this * knowledge ' was a saving order or method 
of life. To lack this was to be morally insensible to what pro- 
moted the interests of personality and particularly immor- 
tality. It amounted to impiety, just as * knowledge ' was a 
revelation from above. You are so sensible ? Yes, and so 
insensible ! Insensible to God is an idiomatic equivalent to 

* you will not recognize him,' ' you ignore him.' Possibly 
there is also an echo of current mystical teaching, such as 
emerges in the Egyptian Hermetica (vii. i) where such igno- 
rance of the deity becomes a positive addiction to material 
things, an intoxicating devotion to low pleasures and passions, 
from which the soul is bidden ' stand erect, regain your sober 
senses.' Upholders of what Paul viewed as the wrong belief in 
immortality might be described as failing to understand the 
full power of God, since God was pre-eminently the God who 
raised the Lord and who will also raise us by his power (vi. 14, 
etc.). The apostle is following the line of Jesus, who had told 
doubters of the resurrection that they went wrong because 
they understood neither the scriptures nor the power of God 
(Mark xii. 24). Any real sense of God, such as Christians ought 
to possess, carried with it the conviction that he had the power 
of raising from the dead. When some of the Corinthians 
thought that doubts of the resurrection were the mark of an 
awakened insight into the spiritual life, Paul's reply to them 
and their sympathizers was that such notions were a mere 

256 



CHAPTER XV, VERSE 34 

dream ; more than that, they were not to be considered as 
merely speculative opinions, for they undermined the moral 
basis of the faith, forming as it were an inclined plane down 
into positive sin, such as every right-minded Christian ought 
to avoid. * Wake right up ! ' Luther's translation, is happy 
and idiomatic (* Wachet recht auf ! ') ; the Greek adverb 
(dikaios) might well have its colloquial meaning of ' as is right ' 
or ' as is proper.' A full faith in God's power of raising from the 
dead is the sane, sober attitude of the Christian soul. 

This power is shown in God's provision of a true, new 
embodiment for the spirits of the faithful in the resurrection 
(35-49). The first movement of the next lyrical rhapsody is on 
the theme, God gives a body as he pleases, and it is a spiritual 
body (35-44) ; the second starts from Scripture as it connects 
this body with the risen Christ (45-49). 

But, someone will ask, * how do the dead rise ? What kind of 35 
body have they when they come ? ' Foolish man 1 What 36 
you sow never comes to life unless it dies. And what you 37 
sow is not the body that is to be ; it is a mere grain of wheat, 
for example, or some other seed. God gives it a body as he 38 
pleases, gives each kind of seed a body of its own. Flesh is 39 
not all the same ; there is human flesh, there is flesh of 
beasts, flesh of birds, and flesh of fish. There are heavenly 40 
bodies and also earthly bodies, but the splendour of the 
heavenly is one thing and the splendour of the earthly is 
another ; there is a splendour of the sun and a splendour 41 
of the moon and a splendour of the stars — for one star 
differs from another in splendour. So with the resurrection 42 
of the dead : 

what is sown is mortal, 

what rises is immortal ; 
sown inglorious, 43 

it rises in glory ; 
sown in weakness, 
it rises in power ; 
sown an animate body, 44 

it rises a spiritual body. 
Tc 257 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

35 The details of the resurrection had been discussed by rabbi- 
nical authorities like Hillel and Shammai. But the kind of 
body or bodily form given to the saints occupies a contemporary 
prophet like the writer of the Apocalypse of Baruch (xHx.-l.). 
* In what shape will those live who live in Thy day ? Will they 
resume this present form ? ' The answer is, ' The earth shall 
make no change in their form, but as it has received so shall it 
restore them ' (i.e. in order that they may be recognized), 
though after a while the good are gradually transformed into 
the star-like splendour of the angels. A younger contemporary 
of Paul, Rabbi Eliezer, once pointed to the variety of forms in 

37 which a bare, naked seed appeared above the earth, in proof of 
the thesis that ' the dead will all rise in their shrouds,' instead 
of naked (as some rabbis believed). Paul soars above such 

36 matter-of-fact applications in his use of the seed analogy. The 
body sown at birth is not the body that is to be ours in the 
resurrection ; it is very different. What a contrast between 
what you sow (the you is emphatic) and what God gives later 
to the same spirit — as he does in vegetation, for example ! 

38 There the vital germ is placed in a soil of being where inevitably 
it alters its form as it rises into the upper air. Only, Paul does 
not say that it alters ; he makes God, as usual (i. 21, xii. 11, 18), 
the sovereign giver of the new form. W hat he has in mind i s 
the Hellenistic ideal of immortality wi thout any ' body.' 
Plato's su preme hope had been a state of existence after death 
' when the"souI is by ftselfTa^paflTrom t^^ body ' {Phcedo, Ixvi.). 
It was an idealistic hopTwhicETiad even affected a holiness 
movement in Judaism like that of the Essenes, who looked 
forward to disembodied souls as the finest prospect of eternal 
life. Paul's hope is for an order of being in which the spirit is 

39 endowed by God with ' a body.' Why should that be thought 
impossible, when under God there were already so many 
varieties of ' bodies ' in the universe ? He uses flesh in a very 
free way here for substance or nature, and throws in the remark 

40 about differences in glory or splendour between the heavenly 
bodies and the earthly, because he has in mind the coming 
contrast between the animate and the spiritual body. Probably, 

41 too, the remark about one star differing from another in glory 

258 



CHAPTER XV, VERSES 35-44 

is an echo not only of the apocalyptic idea that the stars were 
angelic beings, but also of his belief in the varying nature of 
recompense for the shining spirits of the faithful (iii. 8), whose 
radiance, as again the Baruch apocalypse has it (li. 3, 9 f.), 
varies like that of the stars in the ageless, upper world (Dan. xii. 
3). Instead of saying that ' man is born,' he carries on his meta- 42 
phor of the human seed being sown, and concludes the lyrical 
description with an antithesis which starts the next movement, 
i.e. between the animate body and the spiritual. ' Natural ' JJ- 
(see on ii. 14) does not represent the meaning of the Greek, 
which is a body possessed by the lower psyche, answering to 
its needs and no more, just as spiritual does not mean a body 
composed of spirit, but one which answers to the vital functions 
of the spirit, forming a complete embodiment of the divine 
nature. 

The argument implies that to be sown is to be bom, not to be 
buried ; Paul did not consider that physical death was the 
necessary prelude to the resurrection. The seed of mankind is 
dropped into the present material order, which is mortal, cor- 
ruptible (as in 2 Cor. iv.'i6, Rom. viii. 21), and corrupting; 
but in the new, risen order of being, which is imperishable and 
free from corruption (verse 50), it acquires a fresh form, which 
does not correspond to the animate body of the previous exis- 
tence. He is working with a traditional rabbinic analogy 
between the seed of man and the seeds of plants in this con- 
nexion, in order to present his own conception of a spiritual 
body, a conception which at the same time refutes the twofold 
Greek idea of immortality as essentially bodiless and also as an 
inherent quality or capacity of the human soul. 

This is the fourth exposition of body in the epistle. The 
picturesque allusion to what we, like the ancients, naturally 
call the heavenly bodies of the sun, moon, and stars, is Hellenic. 
Here body means shape, form or the outward being of life, 
even of non-human life, for these celestial bodies were supposed 
to be alive. Indeed Paul implies that flesh or substance, as we 
moderns call it, within the entire organic world of plants as 
well as of men, takes form or body. So far, there is nothing 
novel or characteristic. But spiritual body is a coinage of his 

259 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

own, struck out of his belief in the Spirit, and in the Spirit as 
forming an ethereal glory or divine being of its own for the 
personality which was possessed by the Lord or Spirit. It is 
a semi-metaphysical term, essential to his view of the risen life 
as neither pure spirit nor wrapped in a crudely material shape, 
neither disembodied nor yet embodied, as current rabbinic 
sp)eculation imagined, in a replica of the present physical con- 
stitution. In speaking of the solidarity of Christ and of all who 
belong to Christ (in 20-28), he did not require to use the body 
metaphor as he had done in xii. 12-30. Here he employs the 
concept in an unparalleled sense for the personality of the 
Christian after death. It was a startling challenge to those 
who saw no alternative to the * flesh and blood ' resurrection 
of popular Judaism (which meant the reunion of soul and body), 
except in some adaptation of the purely immaterial Greek idea. 
At the heart of Paul's thought is the affirmation that the hfe of 
Christians after death must continue to possess the capacities 
for action and affection, insight and understanding (xiii. 12) 
which in the present body have a real though limited range. 
The spiritual, in other words, is not the immaterial. The 
animate body, with its functions for maintaining and con- 
tinuing human existence (see vi. 13, xv. 50) is a flesh and blood 
existence for which there is no further need in the life eternal ; 
but a body of some sort, as the medium of expression for the 
spiritual personality with its high aspirations and affections 
and enjoyment of the Spirit in fellowship with God and his 
saints, is vital. The animate body itself, as a shrine of the 
Spirit (vi. 19), provided for this already. But such a partial and 
imperfect provision would one day be replaced by a complete 
embodiment. 

On its nature Paul does not speculate. He speaks of this 
organic individuality sometimes as full sonship (Rom. viii. 
II, 17), but even in the most explicit allusion (Phil. iii. 21, 
the Lord Jesus Christ will transform the body that belongs to 
our low estate till it resembles the body of his Glory) there is a 
noticeable reserve. The change (verse 52) may be connected 
with the inward renewal of the Christian personality or real 
self at present (vi. 19 f., 2 Cor. iv. 16), but how the spiritual 

260 



* BODY ' AND ' THE BODY ' 

body came into existence, and how it corresponded to the 
risen body of Christ, Paul never explains, any more than he 
explains the first creation of man. The creation of the first 
man had been an Act of God, raising him from a lower to a 
higher order of animate being, above the animals, in which he 
was designed to come under God's promises and laws. So 
with the change into a spiritual body ; it was also a wonder, 
a sheer change wrought by the same God. Paul leaves this 
truth as it stands, though, with a stroke of his profound reli- 
gious genius, which at this point, as at so many others, has 
been often missed by theological as well as by popular Chris- 
tianity, he repudiates any notion of a material identity between 
the present and the future body. We shall all be changed or 
transformed. While there is to be a vital change, there is con- 
tinuity of spirit or personality ; and the change is not from life 
in a body to life without a body, but from spirit in one type of 
body to spirit in another. The seed analogy, though pic- 
turesque, was not a perfect illustration of this change, for a 
seed does not die, strictly speaking ; the plant is simply 
another form of the same seed. Yet the point of the analogy 
is plain (36-38). It is not to be elaborated into any modem 
idea of an evolution or development of the present spirit into 
its immortal form. Paul's supreme interest does lie in the 
continuity of the human soul or personality, but in this 
parable from nature it is the divine wonder of the change that 
is uppermost for him. God, God by his own power, brings it to 
pass, gives a spiritual no less than an animate body as he 
pleases. The End will resemble the beginning of God's dealing 
with man. 

It is an indication of how little the mystery cults appealed 
to contemporary Christians at Corinth that the idea of re- 
incarnation, which was so marked a feature of the Orphic cult, 
as well as of Pythagorean philosophy, does not seem to have 
made any appeal to the local intelligentzia. Their religious 
idealism rested on the Greek mystical antipathy to the body in 
any quest for divine union. As the Stoic eschatology, with its 
belief in successive cycles of fiery destruction and periodic 
recovery befalling the world, never appealed to any Christian 

261 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

mind in these days, neither did reincarnation. It is not likely 
that the enlightened at Corinth even held a doctrine of imper- 
sonal immortality such as the Platonists and the Stoics pro- 
pounded ; their faith was in personal immortality, not in the 
soul being re-absorbed into the divine life after death, nor in 
the present body as a mere vehicle for the impersonal monad 
of the spirit. Like Paul himself, they may have believed that 
God would be ' all in all ' (verse 28), though not of course in 
any sense of the perfect, eternal state being one which blurred 
personal identity or one which was a vague, shimmering, un- 
differentiated existence (see on verse 28 and xiii. 12). The 
apostle's chief charge against them is that God could not be 
' all in all ' on the premisses of their religious logic, and that 
a spiritual body, such as could be attained only through 
organic connexion with the risen Lord, was essential to such a 
glorious hope. 

This connexion he now proceeds to explain (45-49), appeal- 
ing once more to his fundamental authority in the story of 
Creation. 

45 As there is an animate body, so there is a spiritual body. Thus 

it is written, 

* The first man, Adam, became an animate being, 
the last Adam a life-giving Spirit ' ; 

46 but the animate, not the spiritual, comes first, 

and only then the spiritual. 

47 Man the first is from the earth, material ; 

Man the second is from heaven. 

48 As Man the material is, so are the material ; 

as Man the heavenly is, so are the heavenly. 

49 Thus, as we have borne the likeness of material Man, 

so we are to bear the likeness of the heavenly Man. 

45 As in Matt. v. 43, the citation of a text is completed by 
supplying its opposite. The words of Gen. ii. 7, man became a 
living soul (psyche) or person (i.e. an animate being), were not 
much discussed by rabbis, but they had started speculation in 
Hellenistic Judaism, possibly under Iranian influence, about 

262 



CHAPTER XV, VERSES 45-49 

the two Men in the dual stories of creation. Thus in Philo we 
overhear an interpretation of some haggada which contrasted 
the ideal first Man with the mortal second ; the first, created 
in God's own likeness (Gen. i. 27) corresponds to Plato's ideal 
Man, spiritual and immortal, i.e. the genus as conceived in the 
divine mind, while the second, the historical Adam (of Gen. 
ii. 7, with his descendants), answers to the person of material 
man, made /row the earth and modelled after the first. If this 
speculation ever occurred to Paul, he reverses it, not on any 
speculative ground, but owing to the facts of revelation in 
history and providence. He interprets Gen. ii. 7 in the light of 
the messianic hope, not of metaphysics, though a metaphysic 
of being is implicit in his statement. Thinking not simply of 
the pre-existent messiah, but of the current Jewish notion of 
Adam as the original, ideal man, whose lost glory was to be 
restored by messiah (ii. 7, 8), he coins the title of the last Adam, 
in order of historic time and succession. Jews spoke of the 
' first man,' Adam, but never of a second Adam, as the apostle 
did. For Paul, Christ is not the primal Man of Iranian or 
Philonic speculation on the cosmos, but One who has towards 
the End entered history, as the Lord of glory, in order to inau- 
gurate the new order of being. Instead of equating this second 
Man with the first, he presses the unique function of the 
heavenly Man for mankind. Men would die in their mortality, 
were it not for the new Act and Order of God which, in Christ, 
the life-giving Spirit, restores and completes man's destiny. 
As Adam was animate or material, in the sense of being made 46 
out of earth, the second Man is heavenly, or, as it is put else- 47 
where, he was originally divine by nature, ' in the form of 
God.' As descendants of Adam we all have the human exis-48 
tence that man shares with men. Those who are heavenly are 
those who belong to Christ (verse 23), possessing what he alone 
can give, the hfe of the Spirit, which at the resurrection 
acquires its full expression in the likeness of the heavenly Man. 49 
To ' bear the hkeness ' of anyone was to share or reproduce his 
nature. By a not uncommon slip (mistaking phoresomen for 
phoresdmen), some early editors of the text turned the ringing 
prophecy we are to bear into a pious exhortation, ' let us bear,' 

263 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

forgetting that this change is accomplished by God (verse 53), 
not an achievement of man. The alteration unfortunately 
slipped into the Vulgate ; as usual Tyndale was the first to put 
the English versions on the right line. The likeness (as in 
Rom. viii. 29) is expected at the resurrection, since Christ's 
full power of life had itself come into force at his resurrection 
(Rom. i. 4). It is implied elsewhere that Christ was indeed at 
the creation of the world (viii. 6), and that as life-giving Spirit 
he is in a real sense active, prior even to the resurrection of the 
dead ; but the chief interest of the apostle at this point is to 
maintain the final triumph over death which completes God's 
purpose in the first Adam, rather than to bring out (as in 
Romans) the reversal of Adam's disobedience with its ill 
effects for the race. 

This may be the reason why he omits any mention of the 
last judgement, if, as some think, he retained such a conception 
at all. Judaism held various views about a general resurrec- 
tion ; some believed it was a resuscitation of all men, which 
formed a prelude to the judgement of gentiles and Israel, while 
others confined it to the just. At any rate Paul is not sketching 
a programme of the End, even in its messianic outlook ; the 
apocalyptic mind of primitive Christians who dealt with the 
future was always imaginative, not fanciful but free, bent on 
flashing this or that authentic truth upon the soul rather than 
on constructing any definite synthesis. Paul catches up meta- 
phors and ideas for his immediate purpose of exalting the 
victory of Christ in terms of some current messianic categories, 
fusing them, as best he can, into a glowing vision of the End. 
The chmax is now presented in 50-57. 

50 1 tell you this, my brothers, flesh and blood cannot inherit the 
Realm of God, nor can the perishing inherit the imperish- 

51 able. Here is a secret truth for you : not all of us are to die, 

52 but all of us are to be changed — changed in a moment, in 
the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet-call. The 
trumpet will sound, the dead will rise imperishable, and we 

53 shall be changed. For this perishing body must be invested 
with the imperishable, and this mortal body invested with 

264 



CHAPTER XV, VERSES 50-51 

immortality ; and when this mortal body has been invested 54 
with immortality, then the saying of Scripture will be 
realized, 

Death is swallowed up in victory. 

Death, where is your victory ? 55 

Death, where is your sting ? 
The victory is ours, thank God I He makes it ours by our 57 
Lord Jesus Christ. 

Flesh and blood (as in Gal. i. 16) means human nature as 
opposed to the divine. In the next life, Paul had told sympa- 
thizers with Greek mysticism, there must be a ' body ' of some 
kind for the spirit of man. Now he insists (with reference to 
the Jewish belief) that this ' body ' cannot be the present 
body. On any nexus between the present physical frame and 
the spiritual body the apostle never speculates. There will be 
a change, a transformation of our being, but it is the glorious 
triumph thus gained over death that thrills him, and on 
personal data he does not stop to dwell. All he urges — and for 
him it is everything — is that the change by which Christians 
pass into God's realm of immortal bliss, beyond the fear and 
force of Death, is God's own doing (57). 

This is the second of three revelations which Paul claims to 51 
have received upon the life beyond death. The first he reports 
as an intuition ' by the word of the Lord ' (i Thess. iv. 15 f.) ; 
he speaks as the Lord had spoken to himself. Here, as in the 
third (Rom. xi. 25 f.), he calls the revelation a ' mystery ' or 
secret truth, a special prediction or prophetic word over and 
above the general secret purpose of the gospel (ii. i) ; it might 
be said more accurately that, while it does fulfil a word of God 
in Scripture (verse 54), this revelation belongs to God's secret 
truths which he felt commissioned to impart to the Church 
(iv. i), as in virtue of his prophetic gift he was enabled to 
fathom all mysteries and secret lore (xiii. 2). The second of the 
revelations is not a forecast of human destiny like the third. 
It is closer to the first in its concentration upon the relation 
between Christians and the resurrection, though, unlike the 
first, it mentions the change to be undergone. ' So shall we be 

265 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

ever with the Lord ' answers to ' God giveth us the victory 
through our Lord Jesus Christ ' ; the final bhss is the outcome 
of the Christians' tie to the risen Lord. Both the first and the 
second are in Hne here. But, while Paul had already spoken of 
the Lord's activity in this era (24 f.), he is now absorbed in 
God's supreme design of overcoming death. It is all the doing 
of God, his final gift (i. 4, xii. 7, 8) to Christians. 

Before long the opening sentence was altered. Some mis- 
understood the words, as though the apostle intended all of us 
to include sinners as well as Christians ; also it was felt that, 
as Paul himself had died, he must have been mistaken if he 
wrote the words as they stand. Two special attempts were 
therefore made to smooth out the text. One change, which 
can be traced in Palestine and Egypt before the end of the 
second century, transferred the negative to the second clause : 

* we are all to die, but we are not all to be changed.' Slightly 
later, Latin versions of the third century in Italy or North 
Africa, read ' we shall all arise, but we shall not all be changed.' 
Attempts, however well-meaning, to improve upon the text of 
a classic generally end in sands of the commonplace ; both of 
these alterations erred, by imagining that Paul thought of a 
general resurrection, by reducing a secret truth to what is no 
more than a platitude, and by failing to provide any adequate 
sequel to changed. The second of the emendations, which used 

* rise ' in a sense never employed by the apostle, unluckily made 
its way into the Vulgate, so that scholars from Augustine to 
Aquinas failed to recognize that Paul really wrote : not all of 
us (Christians) are to die (i.e. some of us will be awake in life 
when the End arrives), but all of us (whether dead then or 
ahve) are to be changed. He is expanding what he had already 
said in 22, 23 : all who belong to Christ shall be made alive at his 
arrival. 

52 Thinking in apocalyptic terms of the End, where trumpets 
sounded to awaken the dead or to rally the Uving loyahsts, he 
speaks of the last summons from God as sudden and instan- 
taneous ; the resurrection is accomplished by God's power in 
a moment, instead of being any long-drawn-out process of re- 
animation for dead corpses of the faithful. Then, using freely 

266 



CHAPTER XV, VERSES 51-55 

some abstract terms of Hellenistic Judaism, he mentions for the 
first and the only time immortality, a catchword of the gnostic 53 
liberals at Corinth in their theosophy. It was a word common 
in Greek Jews like Philo and the writer of the Wisdom of 
Solomon ( God created man for immortality and made him the 
likeness of his own being ; hut by the envy of the devil death 
entered the world, and those who belong to the devil's party expe- 
rience death : ii. 23, 24) ; literally it is ' incorruption,' but the 
idea is eternal duration or indestructible existence. What is 
' immortal ' called up in the mind associations which were 
practically the same as those of what is ' imperishable,* and 
they amount to an equivalent for glory (ii. 7) in this connexion 
(40-43). The metaphor of being clothed or invested with 
immortality, so familiar in the Hermetica and the Jewish 
apocalypses as well as in Indian and Persian religion, carries 
on the thought of wearing or bearing the likeness of the 
heavenly Man (49) . Paul reverts to this in 2 Cor. v. 1-5 (with 
its shudder at the very notion of a naked, disembodied spirit). 
At present it is merely a passing touch as he hints what real 54 
immortality means for Christians, i.e. an embodiment. He 
hurries forward to his immediate object, a description of the 
decisive permanence of this position won for the saints, recal- 
ling two passages of prophetic Scripture, which he fuses freely 
together. The first is from an apocalyptic piece (Isa. xxv. 8) on 
the complete annihilation of death at the high triumph of God. 
No more need to mourn, for death is then to be abolished for 
ever by God — so he read in his Greek Bible. The sense of the 
original is better represented by death shall be no more (Rev. 
xxi. 4), but the Hebrew word ' for ever ' had been mistaken for 
' victory ' by some Aramaic version which underlies a Greek 
version like that of Aquila and Theodotion (see on xiv. 23). 
Hence the Hebrew phrase lay before Paul in this fine mis- 
translation of Death is swallowed up in victory. So deeply did 55 
the thought of victory possess his mind that he introduced it 
into his own rendering of another prophetic word. He took 
the prediction of Hosea xiv. 14 as an expression of triumph 
over death with its destructive power, whereas the original was 
a vivid call to Death to do its very worst on impenitent 

267 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

Ephraim. ' Come, death, with your plagues ! Come, death- 
land, with your pestilence ! ' The Septuagint had read dikS, 
a word for penalty or claim to rule, instead of ' plagues,' and 
sting instead of ' pestilence.' Paul freely renders the whole 
passage to suit his purpose, deliberately leaving out the per- 
sonified Hades or deathland (a term which he never employs) 
and substituting victory (nikos, a form of nike or victory) for 
dike. A modem reader notes such curious verbal details, as he 
does similar items in a rapt utterance of Dante or Milton, but 
he is more conscious of the stream surging through the words. 
This passage is indeed what Pindar, in celebrating feats of 
athletes at the races (ix. 24) on the Isthmus, would have 

57 called a song of victory, an epinicion. Only, it does not cele- 
brate the victory gained by Christians over death. * Thanks be 
to God who giveth us this victory ! ' — an anticipation of the 
deep ecstasy in Rom. viii. 37 f., where he hints that victory is 
almost too poor a term for such an experience. 

56 After sting some words were added by way of explanation, 
either by an editor of the text or perhaps by Paul himself upon 
the margin ; the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is 
the Law. They are a prose comment which could not have 
occurred to him in the passionate rush of triumphal convic- 
tion. Behind them lies the belief which is argued in Rom. 
V. 12-21. Sin is the sting of death, not because it is sin that 
makes death a bitter pang, but because it produces death, 
spurring or goading death on to its mortal stroke against men. 
Were it not for sin, Paul means, death could not reach us. 
What some rabbis attributed to the evil impulse or tendency 
in man, which was connected with the destroying angel or 
even Satan, is attributed by Paul to Sin, with its allied 
daemonic ally Death, striking and stabbing fatally at the very 
heart of man throughout the ages. Here the expression is, we 
might say, more psychological than mythological, as he pro- 
ceeds to call the Law the strength of sin, meaning that the 
consciousness of God's Law stirred impulses to the wrong- 
doing (so in Rom. vii. 7 f .) that exposed men to death's penalty. 
The implication is, ' get rid of sin, and death loses its power, or 
rather ceases to be,' since for him death is the loss of all that 

268 



CHAPTER XV, VERSES 56-58 

gives life its value and makes it worth living. The first death- 
blow to death on behalf of Christians was struck at the resur- 
rection hour of the Lord Jesus Christ ; the second and final 
blow is struck as we are raised by God through the same Lord. 
When Paul wrote, the strength of sin is the Law or the Torah, 
it would be too much to suppose that he was consciously oppos- 
ing the rabbinic claim that ' the Torah is the power of the 
Lord.' But in the rest of the passage, as elsewhere (see pp. xxii., 
51, 120), he does posit for Christ what rabbinic teaching 
claimed for the sacred Torah as the revelation of God's will, by 
which the world was made and salvation guaranteed for the 
People in the next world, as healing for this world and hope for 
the world to come. All was achieved by means of our Lord 
Jesus Christ, not by the Torah. 

With the prospect of this glad change at the End, however. 
Christians must allow no change in their immediate conviction 
of the risen Lord, nor must they idly await release from the 
evil present ; instead of any private enjoyment of the great 
hope, let them be active in the service of the living Lord 
within the fellowship (58). 

Well then, my beloved brothers, hold your ground, immovable ; 58 
abound in work for the Lord at all times, for you may be 
sure that in the Lord your labour is never thrown away. 

While some Christians in the north had allowed enthusiasm 
over the imminent End to excite and disturb life, the Corin- 
thians, unlike the Thessalonians, had been disturbed by 
questions of belief rather than by feverish anticipations. In 
view of what he has just been urging, Paul bids them remain 
immovable. The word, which he never uses anywhere else, is 58 
a favourite term of Aristotle, when he is insisting on moral 
actions being the outcome of conscious, steady character. ' In 
the case of moral excellence a man must know what he is doing, 
then he must choose to do it and to do it for its own sake, and 
finally his action must express a stable, immovable character^ 
(Nikomachean Ethics, ii. 4). A settled behef leads to active 
service of some kind for the Lord, which is not fitful but steady. 

269 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

Again, such Christian activity impHes convictions. To become 
unsettled about belief in the resurrection would take the heart 
out of any effort ; love's labour would be thrown away (the 
same term as go for nothing in verse lo), if the faith which 
inspires it had no basis. ' What would be the use of thoughtful, 
dutiful care for Christian character in yourselves and others, 
such as I have been urging (iv. 5, viii. i, x. 24, 31, xii. 7 f.), if 
your footing in the gospel (xv. i) is shaken ? ' By work is 
meant (as in xvi. 10) the upbuilding of the Church, where God 
is himself active (iii. 9). Paul is still (see p. 225) confident 
and convinced that below any doubts and divergencies in the 
community lies a profound devotion to the Lord. He loves 
them for it. 

THE EPILOGUE 

(xvi.) 

One labour of love now occurs to his mind, the subscription 
on behalf of the Jerusalem saints. The church may have con- 
sulted him about this in their letter, or recent visitors from 
Corinth may have enquired what he wanted done and how. At 
any rate it belonged to his plans for revisiting the church, on 
which he now wishes to say a word (xi. 34). This relief fund 
occupies a large section of a later letter (2 Cor. viii.-ix.), and 
it comes up again at the close of Romans. Here he confines 
himself to a couple of financial details (xvi. 1-4). 
xvi. 

1 With regard to the collection for the saints, you must carry out 

the same arrangements as I made for the churches of 

2 Galatia. On the first day of the week, let each of you put 
aside a sum from his weekly gains, so that the money may 

3 not have to be collected when I come. On my arrival I will 
furnish credentials for those whom you select, and send 

4 them to convey your bounty to Jerusalem ; if the sum 
makes it worth my while to go too, they shall accompany 
me. 

Some of the Corinthians would be familiar with club-sub- 
criptions, more or less voluntary assessments for social rather 

270 



CHAPTER XVI, VERSES 1-2 

than for charitable purposes ; but Paul, who had already put 
this matter of the collection before the church at Corinth, uses i 
a term common in papyri and in inscriptions for religious funds 
raised to promote the worship of some god or temple. There is 
evidence (collected by Deissmann in his Light from the Ancient 
East, pp. 361 f.) to suggest that Sebaste, the emperor's birth- 
day, may have been regarded as a favourite day for making 
payments of a religious character. But in organizing the fund 
and repeating what he had orally told the Galatians, Paul is 
carrying on the Jewish practice of making the community, as 
well as individuals, responsible for charity, and he fixes the 
weekly day of worship, which had superseded the sabbath. He 2 
does not call it ' the Lord's day,' as the later prophet John 
does (in Rev. i. 10), but the first day of the week, sacred as the 
day when the Lord rose from the dead, and when Christians 
joyfully broke bread together. At an early period collections 
for the poor were made at the eucharist, as part of the offering 
sacrificed to the Lord. A century later, Justin ( Apol. i. 67) 
tells how * each member who is well-to-do and willing gives as 
he pleases, and the amount is deposited with the presiding 
minister.' It is generally assumed that such was the arrange- 
ment intended by Paul, though he does not confine subscrip- 
tions to the prosperous ; every member is to have the privilege 
of putting weekly aside a sum, ' as God hath prospered him,* 
i.e. from his gains (as in Acts xi. 29 the disciples put aside 
money, as each of them could afford it, for a contribution to be 
sent to the brothers in Judea). It may be that the sums were 
brought to the Sunday service. But, according to Chrysostom, 
' Paul says, Let each lay by him in store, not, Let him bring 
it to church, lest one might feel ashamed of offering a small 
sum. ... He says, For the present, lay it up at home — and so 
make your home a church.' The phrase ' lay by him ' (chez lui, 
in French) need not mean more than this, and, although 
Chrysostom's reason is too fine-spun, his explanation of the 
text may not be inaccurate ; possibly Paul agreed with the 
school of Shammai that no alms should be handled at worship. 
It is plain, at least, that he desired the collection to be not only 
spontaneous but systematic. There was to be no hurrying to 

271 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

gather funds when he arrived, no last-minute rush to get sub- 
scriptions in. He would have everything in this business also 
done in order (xiv. 40), exactly as he had already instructed the 
Christians in Galatia. The annual poll-tax levied on every male 
Jew over twenty, for the upkeep of the temple, was gathered at 
various centres and then transmitted by responsible commis- 

3 sioners to Jerusalem. Paul adopts a similar custom for what 
he calls the * liberaUty ' or bounty of the Corinthians ; it is 
(as more than once in 2 Cor. viii.-ix.) the Greek word charts, 
or * grace,' used in its special sense of generous favour, or kind, 
delightful boon. As yet he seems undecided whether he will 

4 travel himself to Jerusalem. He will only give the Corinthian 
commissioners his company if the sum subscribed by the 
church's bounty is no mean trifle. The Galatian contribution 
appears to have been independently transmitted to Jerusalem, 
for he never alludes to it in his final arrangements for forward- 
ing what Macedonia and Achaia raised. 

In a subsequent appeal (2 Cor. viii. 18-21) he mentions his 
reason for being scrupulous about this financial transaction. 
An appeal for charity is not likely to succeed unless people are 
sure that the object is good and that the funds will be properly 
handled. The latter point alone is before his mind at present. 

* We are cheerful in giving,' Calvin comments, * when we feel 
certain that what we give will be handled aright.' But even 
here Paul does not go further than to assure the church that 
its own representatives will have charge of the money. He 
does not mean to take the credit of the subscription away from 
the Corinthians ; they need not be afraid of that ! But he has 
his personal dignity too. It is not, * I shall accompany your 
representatives, instead of merely giving them a letter,' but 

* they shall accompany me. * However, * speaking of my 
arrival, let me tell you my plans and movements for the time 
being' (5-8). 

5 I mean to visit you after my tour in Macedonia, for I am going 

6 to make a tour through Macedonia. The chances are, I 
shall spend some time with you, possibly even pass the 
winter with you, so that you may speed me forward on any 

272 



CHAPTER XVI, VERSES 3-9 

journey that lies before me. I do not care about seeing you 7 
at this moment, merely in the by-going ; my hope is to 
stay among you for some time, with the Lord's permission. 8 
I am staying on for the present at Ephesus till Pentecost, for 9 
I have wide opportunities here for active service — and there 
are many to thwart me. 

The * pass through ' of the English versions does not repre- 5 
sent the full sense of the Greek, which refers to a long-deferred 
tour of supervision through the churches of the Macedonian 
mission at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Bercea. Still, it is only 
a tour. The Corinthians must not suspect him of neglecting 
them for mission-fields like Macedonia and Asia ; his plans 6 
are still vague, more vague than when he came to write Rom. 
XV. 24, but his hope, his real interest (they must believe), is to 7 
give Corinth a longer visit next winter than would be possible 
if he merely sailed across at present, now that spring navigation 
had opened. Evidently they had expected such an immediate 
visit. He had indeed implied it, in this very letter, when he 
wrote, I will come to you before long if the Lord wills (iv. 19, 
xi. 34). But recent developments at Ephesus had suddenly 8 
proved so critical and promising for propaganda that he now 
saw no prospect of being able to leave Asia before Pentecost, 
i.e. April. The Greek word for * door ' had become a figurative 9 
term for opportunities or openings, and in this sense Paul uses 
it here as elsewhere (2 Cor. ii. 12, Col. iv. 3). For active service 
translates a Greek adjective (energes) which the English versions 
rendered ' fruitful ' or ' effectual * ; some early Latin texts 
mistook it for enarges, and the Vulgate version of this lingered 
in the Rheims ' a great door and evident.' The energy with 
which Paul pushed freely through the open door had roused 
opposition as usual. The Corinthians must realize that he 
could not leave his post, when so many were active to thwart 
the forward move. Thwart is the same term as he uses in the 
rallying cry of Phil. i. 28, never be scared for a second by your 
opponents (thwarters). 

Grammatically the explanation of his reason for going first 7 
to Macedonia might be rendered, * I do not now care to visit 

Uc 273 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

you in passing,' as though he had changed his mind or as though 
he alluded to a previous visit in passing. He had indeed altered 
his original plan.i but this is no more than a hint of it ; the 
place of ' now ' (at this moment) in the sentence, close to in the 
by-going, not to I do not care, is against such an interpretation. 
Also, it is pressing the language to find a significant allusion to 
some quick visit paid before First Corinthians was written ; 
in that case he would have said ' again.' At this moment or 
* now,' as in xiii. 12 (at present), is in contrast with the future, 
not with the past. ' I do not care about seeing you at this 
moment, as things now stand, for that would merely be a 
hurried visit in the by-going. It is really because I care for you 
so much that I am postponing my arrival. To put it off for 
some months will give us longer time together.' 

' Meantime you will have a visit from Timotheus, as I have 
already said (iv. 17), though Apollos is unable to come at 
present (10-12).' 

10 When Timotheus arrives, see that you make him feel quite at 

home with you ; he carries on the work of the Lord as I do. 

11 So let no one disparage him. When he leaves to rejoin me, 
speed him cordially on his journey, for I am expecting him 
along with the other brothers. 

12 As for our brother Apollos, I urged him to accompany the other 

brothers on a visit to you ; he will come as soon as he has 
time, but for the present it is not the will of God that he 
should visit you. 

10 The Greek particle here as often (in Rom. xv. 24, i John iii. 2, 
etc.) means not ' if ' but when. There was no doubt in Paul's 
mind that his younger colleague from Macedonia would reach 
Corinth ; what was doubtful was the reception he might be 
given, in a church which had already been critical and even 
resentful of his senior's authority (iv. 17 f.). Paul bespeaks 
courteous treatment for one who is still on the Lord's business 
like himself — no interloper, no unauthorized visitor, to be dis- 
paraged and treated like a stranger. * Make him feel quite at 

1 It is stated in 2 Cor. i. 15, 16, as Dr. Strachan shows in our Com- 
mentary (p. 66). 

274 



CHAPTER XVI, VERSES 10-12 

home, at ease, with you, instead of exposing him to the fear of 
rudeness; and not only welcome him but set him on his 11 
journey back to me with hearty goodwill or cordially ' (the 
Hteral ' in peace ' fails to bring out the idiomatic warmth of 
the phrase). Who the other brothers in the party were, in 
addition to Erastus (Acts xix. 22), is unknown. They were to 
meet Timotheus at Corinth. At the moment Apollos could not 12 
join this deputation ; it is not, or, more literally, it is by no 
means the will of God that he should visit you. How the divine 
will overbore Paul's personal desire that he should, we do not 
know. It is another case of negative direction or guidance, like 
that of Acts xvi. 7. Literally the Greek runs, ' it is not the 
will,' but this is the reverential, absolute use of the term (as in 
Rom. ii. 18, etc.), ' the Will,' not man's but God's — a rabbinic 
term, afterwards employed by Ignatius. Paul's opinion had 
been overruled by a higher decision, which had been made 
plain to himself and to Apollos. The latter had once desired to 
visit Corinth, and his wish had been in the line of God's will. 
Now, for some reason, there was what moderns call ' an 
arrest.' Possibly the Alexandrian himself may have considered 
that meantime he was not called to abandon Paul when there 
were so many to thwart him on the spot. Or he may have hesi- 
tated to go back to Corinth in its troubled state, fearing he 
might have to disavow his own adherents. Paul seems to write 
as if he himself were sensitive to some possible misunderstand- 
ing on the part of the church. They must not be so suspicious 
as to imagine that he was indifferent to them. ' Was he not 
merely deferring his own visit but selfishly grudging them the 
pleasure of having his distinguished colleague ? What was 
Timotheus compared to Apollos ? ' Paul protests that he 
had actually urged Apollos to sail across at once. The Corin- 
thians, like himself, must bow to the will of God when personal 
disappointments occurred. 

With this reference, Apollos passes out of the record. The 
later correspondence with Corinth never mentions him. But 
Paul's apprehension that his own change of plans might be 
misunderstood was unfortunately well-founded, as the tone of 
2 Corinthians indicates (ii. 15 f.). 

275 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 
He now dictates a terse, general counsel. 

\l' Watch, stand firm in the faith, play the man, be strong I Let 
all you do be done in love. 

Whoever comes or cannot come (Phil. ii. 12), be alive 

13 (xv. 34) and alert, your footing (xv. i, 58) firm, amid unsettling 
doubts. To play the man was a phrase of the apostle's Greek 
Bible, but he alone uses it, and only here, for the moral 
courage needed in meeting difficulties and temptations such as 
those to which he has been referring (as in v. 7-13, x. 12, 13). 
The A.V. retained Tyndale's happy rendering, * quit you like 
men.' It is an appeal for more than mature judgement (xiii. 11, 
xiv. 20). Although to be strong was in use as a term, for develop- 
ing the mature powers of Hfe (as in Luke i. 80, ii. 40), Paul may 
be unconsciously recollecting the psalmist's phrase, ' play the 
man, my soul, be strong ' (xxvi. 14, xxxi. 24). It is a summons 
for Church-life to be robust, intelligent, and loyal, with an 
edge on the mind and the will — anything but sentimental and 
easy-going. The Corinthians had been tolerant when they 
should have been strict, and intolerant or uncharitable when 
they should have been manly enough to make allowances for 
those who were less robust ; they had not always been alive to 
their risks and to their responsibilities. As Paul had already 
hinted, the Church of God must be something other and better 
than a debating society or a social club or a spiritualistic 
circle ; worship and fellowship make serious demands upon 
all man's faculties. Yet the very effort to uphold strong con- 
victions, to enforce discipline, or to carry on active service, is 
beset by the temptation to be overbearing and impatient. 
Good people may be warm-hearted and loyal, yet also apt to 

14 be dictatorial. Hence the next warning that all this energy 
must be exercised in love, with charitable consideration for 
others — much the same warning as he had dropped in his 
praise of love (xiii. 2) and elsewhere (viii. i, 7-13, x. 23, 24). 
Paul is too wise to make the call to firmness his last word. For 
there is a wrong way of doing or saying the right thing. Strong 
characters, convinced of what they believe to be Christian 

276 



CHAPTER XVI, VERSES 13-14 

principles, may insist on their own way in a domineering, 
censorious spirit which defeats their very ends. It is unchari- 
table as it is childish, in another aspect of this attitude, to 
resent opposition to one's own opinions, or to take fair criticism 
as an insult. Let them remember that it takes a strong man to 
be considerate no less than to have convictions. It is in keeping 
with his deep stress upon love as devotion to the common 
welfare that he adds this sentence, let all you do for the good 
cause, in the strength of your convictions, ' all your business ' 
(as Tyndale renders it), be done in the spirit of forbearing, 
patient love. So far from being an anticlimax, this sets the four 
imperatives in their vital context for the Christian ethic. 
Again the mission-field may be drawn upon for an apt illus- 
tration. On the first of January, 1800, William Ward noted, 
in describing the energetic little mission settlement at Serampur, 
' This week we have adopted a new set of rules for the govern- 
ment of the family. All preach and pray in turn, one superin- 
tends the affairs of the family for a month, and then another. 
. . . Saturday evening is devoted to adjusting differences and 
pledging ourselves to love one another.' 

With a touch of the courtesy and consideration for which he 
is pleading, Paul now inserts a word on behalf of some Corin- 
thians who had been thus working for the good cause at 
Corinth. ' You cannot have a visit from Apollos at present, 
but the arrival of a man like Stephanas reminds me that you 
have one family among you which is at your service. Let me 
beg of you not to overlook them or undervalue what they are 
contributing.' 

I ask this favour of you, my brothers. The household of Ste- 15 
phanas, you know, was the first to be reaped in Achaia, and 
they have laid themselves out to serve the saints. Well, 16 
I want you to put yourselves under people like that, under 
everyone who sets his hand to the work. 

I am glad that Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus have 17 
arrived, for they have made up for your absence. They 18 
refresh my spirit as they do your own. You should appre- 
ciate men like that. 

277 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

15 Evidently the familia of Stephanas, which by Roman usage 
included slaves and employees such as Fortunatus and Achaicus 
perhaps, had become a nucleus for worship, as a house-church 
at Corinth. A wealthy citizen would open his large room for 
worship, and thus serve the local Christians (verse 19). Besides, 
his influence and personal interest would contribute to their 
stability, especially if, as in this case, the whole household 
shared his religious sympathy. The saints need not be confined 
to those mentioned above (in verse i), though Stephanas may 
well have had a hand in organizing the collection. He and his 
people were originally ' the first fruits,' the first to be reaped 
(the same term as in xv. 20, 23) in the province of Achaia, by 
which Paul probably means Corinth ; otherwise we should 
have to suppose that Stephanas had been converted at Athens 
and had shifted his residence to the capital. 

Laid themselves out to serve the saints, or ' addicted them- 
selves to the ministry,' is a trade metaphor which Plato happens 
to use, in the Republic (ii. 371), about tradesmen who ' set 
themselves to the business of serving the public ' by retailing 
farm produce, since they ' saw the need of this.' So the house- 
hold of Stephanas had recognized that something had to be 
done for the good of the community and had addressed them- 
selves to the business of voluntary, unofficial service. Paul 
plays on the word for laid out {tassein) by using the compound 

16 (hupotassein) as he begs his readers to put themselves under 
the Stephanas group, which was putting so much personal 
interest into their own religious welfare. The term to serve 
(diakonian) belongs to the group of words from which the title 
of deacon emerged. These zealous Corinthians, in undertaking 
the work or the labour of love (i Thess. i. 3), may have dis- 
charged some of the deacon's duties, but probably Paul 
realized already that the local church required some wise, 
firm discipline on the spot. Members who showed an aptitude 
for co-operating in the active work of helpers and adminis- 
trators (xii. 28) were entitled to moral support and recognition, 
especially in the absence of any apostle with authority. 

17 Another delicate touch of courtesy : ' I have missed you, 
but the arrival of these three men has " supplied " or made 

278 



CHAPTER XVI, VERSES 15-20 

up for your absence from myself ; they are a bit of dear 
Corinth.' Here, as in Philemon (20), where again he is asking 18 
a favour, refresh means encourage or put heart into. Men 
who do this kind of service for people surely deserve grateful 
appreciation, as he had already told some of the Macedonian 
Christians (i Thess. v. 12). 

The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Prisca, with the 19 
church that meets in their house, salute you warmly in the 
Lord. All the brotherhood salutes you. Salute one another 20 
with a holy kiss. 

I Paul write this salutation with my own hand. ' If anyone has H' 
no love for the Lord, God's curse be on him I Maranatha I 
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with l\' 
you all in Christ Jesus. ' Amen. 

For the first time in his extant correspondence, Paul appends 19 
salutations from others, partly to make the Corinthians 
realize that they belong to a larger Community (i. 2, xi. 16, 
xiv. 36), partly to recall their tie with former members like 
Aquila and Prisca, now settled in Ephesus, the capital of pro- 
consular Asia. From them and from all their spiritual relatives 
in the Christian brotherhood throughout the province he 20 
conveys hearty greeting (see on Rom. xvi. 1,5). 

As the Greek term for salute included not only greeting but 
embracing, it covers the holy kiss on the cheek with which 
primitive Christians expressed their affection, as brothers and 
sisters of the divine Family. Paul bids the Corinthians kiss 
one another at their reunions, as a minor sacrament of fellow- 
ship, to overcome any chque-spirit. He repeated the direction 
later (2 Cor. xiii. 12). It is another trace of Roman sociail pieias, 
where the family kiss was specially stressed in the jus osculi. 
As may be seen from the allusion in i Pet. v. 4, this naive 
custom was not confined to churches of the Pauline mission, 
though it does not appear to have been widespread in the 
second century. It was an innovation in worship which before 
long was introduced at baptism, much as a Roman slave was 
formally kissed when he was emancipated into the fellowship 

279 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

of the free. There is no trace of such a practice in synagogue 
worship, and the rehgious kiss of those who belonged to the 
cult of the charlatan Alexander, as described by Lucian 
(Alexander, 41), may have been an imitation of the Church's 
kiss. These adherents of Alexander were called * those within 
the kiss.' According to Origen and Tertullian, the kiss was 
exchanged by Christians after prayers ; Justin notes it as 
exchanged before the eucharist with the newly baptized, and 
this may have been one occasion for it at Corinth, unless Paul 
meant it to be given specially after this letter was read aloud. 
So long as the gatherings were small and unsophisticated, held 
in a home, as was the case at Corinth, the sacred kiss was a 
natural symbol of the intense family consciousness in Christen- 
dom. It was holy as practised by the saints (i. 2) in their simple 
gatherings for fellowship. ' Toute etait pur dans ces saintes 
libertes ; mais aussi qu'il fallait etre pur pour pouvoir en 
jouir ! . . . Que dire du " saint baiser," qui fut I'ambroisie de 
ces generations chastes, de ce baiser qui etait un sacrament de 
force et d'amour, et dont le souvenir, mele aux plus graves 
impressions de I'acte eucharistique, suffisait durant les jours 
k remplir r^me d'une sorte de parfum ? ' (Renan, Marc-Aurele, 
pp. 247 f.). The direction for this holy kiss^ comes (as in 
Rom. xvi. 16 and i Pet. v. 14) immediately after salutations 
from the outside. But it is not to be Paul's last word. Weeks 
had passed since he started to dictate his pastoral to Corinth. 
Now he paused, had the letter read over to him, and felt moved 
to give them a salutation from himself. 

21 More than once he followed a common practice of ancient 
letter-writers, taking the pen from his amanuensis in order to 
append a special postscript in his own handwriting. This 
autograph, dashed down on the papyrus, is as vehement in its 

22 own way as the longer one in the Galatian letter. The 
first of the three sentences fairly quivers with passion. If 
anyone has no love, no heart, for the Lord, if any member is so 
selfish and sensual as to prove indifferent to the Lord and 

1 The developments of this custom are sketched in F. J. Dolger's 
Antike und Christenthum, i., pp. 118 f., and in the Encyclopedia of 
Religion and Ethics, vii,, 740 f., by A. E. Crawley. 

280 



CHAPTER XVI, VERSES 21-22 

Head of the Church, God's curse be on him 1 Twice, in warning 
the Galatians against disloyalty to the gospel (i. 8, 9), he uses 
the same stern phrase, an imprecation of doom upon anyone 
who dared to treat the Lord casually or coolly by laxity of 
belief or of conduct. The words have the cadence of an 
ancient curse. Literally they are ' let him be anathema,' and 
anathema was a Hellenistic equivalent for the Hebrew herem, 
i.e. banished from God's presence as an accursed thing ; it 
bursts from Paul's lips in the tense cry, I could have wished 
myself accursed and banished (anathema) from Christ, if that 
would be the saving of my fellow-Israelites (Rom. ix. 3). This 
is the Paul who had written v. 1-5 and 13, x. 14-22, xi. 27 and 
34, XV. 33-34. He has the mind of the Lord who had warned 
men of the fate awaiting those who might glibly call him 

* Lord, Lord,' without obeying his orders. When Pascal was 
outraged by what he considered to be the complaisant proba- 
bilism of seventeenth-century Jesuits, who calmly discussed 
how often it was necessary to love the Lord, and, indeed, 
whether the precious blood of Christ did not exempt Christians 
altogether from the ' irksome obligation ' of having to love God 
as the Jews had been required to do, he hurled this sentence of 
Paul against them. ' Strange theology of our days ! ' he 
sarcastically writes, in the tenth of the Letires Provinciales — 

* You dare to set aside the anathema pronounced by St. Paul 
upon those who love not the Lord Jesus Christ. . . . 'Tis the 
mystery of iniquity fulfilled ! ' The popular associations of 

* love ' are so misleading that love for the Lord may not 
suggest what the apostle means ; it is loyalty, whole-hearted 
devotion to him, such as is enjoined in the Sermon on the 
Mount — 

No one can serve two masters ; 

either he will hate one and love the other, 

or else he will stand by the one and despise the other. 

This is the last of the three allusions to love for the Lord or 
God in the epistle (ii. 9, viii, 3), and it implies a love which 
stands by the Lord in unreserved obedience, not a dreamy 

281 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

emotion but a loyal, active affection. The antithesis to it is 
careless indifference to him, which practically amounts to 
disloyalty, in some cases due to an inadequate conception of 
what his Lordship denotes. Paul insists, as usual, that absolute 
devotion to him, inspired by personal gratitude, is the charac- 
teristic of all saints ; it is not a level of religious feeling which is 
accessible only to certain individuals of a warm temperament. 
His language is a vehement protest that the supreme test of 
membership in the Household is a devotion to the Lord which 
will not yield to any weak compromise ; v/hatever interest is 
allowed to overshadow allegiance to the Lord and to compete 
in importance with his service, rules life out of his sphere ; it 
is to despise him, and that means to reject him. Which in 
turn means rejection by him (iii. 17, x. 22, xi. 29, xiv. 38). 

The next term is obscure and significant — obscure because 
its etymology is uncertain, but significant because on any 
interpretation it hghts up one side of the inner Ufe of the 
Church. The passionate ejaculation Maranatha is the Greek 
transliteration of an Aramaic cry in the primitive liturgy which 
begins with mar or Lord. So undoubtedly the first Christians 
understood the phrase, as Professor Dodd shows in his Com- 
mentary upon Romans (p. 167). It was retained for a while 
even in Greek-speaking churches, on account of its solemn 
associations, although few realized that it was a foreign term, 
any more than most people to-day are conscious that they are 
using Hebrew when they say Hosanna or Hallelujah or Amen. 
From the lips of the original Palestinian Christians maranatha 
passed, like Abba, into the prayers of the Church. In all proba- 
bihty it would be one of the strange terms surging up in 
glossolalia. It is the earliest expression extant of prayer to the 
Lord Jesus by those who invoked him (i. 2), this cry of the 
heart for his return. Marana is ' our Lord,' and tha (an abbre- 
viated form of at ha) means ' come.' A later prophet in Asia 
Minor put it into Greek (adding ' Jesus '), as a watchword of 
the loyal who adhered to Christ : Lord Jesus, come (Rev. 
xxii. 20). This may be the reason why Paul voices it imme- 
diately after the imprecation, as if to say, ' But we loyahsts 
do love and invoke the risen Lord who is to come.' Such an 

282 



MARANATHA 

antithesis would underlie the wording of 2 Tim. iv. 8-10, where 
Paul is made to contrast Demas ' who loved this present world ' 
with faithful Christians who ' love ' and long for the Lord's 
' appearing.' There, as in the present passage, love has its 
Greek sense of ' prefer,' and Paul's imprecation is directed 
against any whose lives were a practical denial of the Lord as 
they preferred to rule their conduct by motives other than his. 
' No place within the Church for anyone who does not put the 
Lord first and foremost ! The Church thrills with the hope of 
the Lord's coming to reward his loyalists, when those who 
belong to him, and believe in him, shall be raised to life 
(xv. 23) ! ' Or, from another angle, ' Lord, come ! ' implies, 
' Away with anyone who is not devoted to him as the Lord who 
has been raised from the dead, the one Hope of life eternal, the 
sole pledge of victory over death and sin ! Away with anyone 
who is so wise that he can ignore the Lord who is God's wisdom, 
or who is so self-confident that he will not own his utter need 
of him who is God's power ! Not so with us ! ' 

Another transcription is possible, however. The term may be 
indicative instead of imperative. This was a fairly common 
view among the Church fathers. As Ddlger shows, in his Sol 
Salutis (pp. 150 f.), the school of Antioch seems without 
question to have taken maran atha as ' Our Lord is come.' 
This is how Chrysostom explains the cry : ' Your Lord and 
Master has deigned to come down to you — and you still are 
where you were, persisting in your sins ! ' He means that the 
incarnation should fill Christians with such grateful awe and 
affection that they must love the Lord by shunning whatever 
is contrary to his presence and power. A true plea, but the 
form of it is more akin to the fourth century than to the first. 
It was in the thought of the Lord's second coming that Paul 
found a special stimulus to right living among his Churches ; 
the Lord is at hand (in the counsel of Phil. iv. 4, 5) means the 
imminent arrival of the Lord rather than his spiritual presence 
within the Church — a truth which is expressed otherwise. 

It is closer to the futuristic interpretation when some 
scholars explain the indicative as ' Our Lord is coming.' 
Dr. H. L. Strack, indeed, maintains that this is the one possible 

283 



THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

rendering of maran atha (as the words should be divided). 
The Revised Version adopted this, printing maran atha with 
' Our Lord cometh ' in the margin. Certainly it sounds more 
primitive than either of the two other ingenious interpretations 
which have been suggested : (a) One is that atha has here its 
meaning of standard or ' the sign,' as though love for the Lord 
was the distinctive sign-manual of the fellowship, and that this 
password or greeting accompanied the holy kiss, (b) It also 
seems philologically possible to take tha as an Aramaic equiva- 
lent for ' tau,' the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet ; thus 
atha might correspond to the Grecized ' alpha and omega,' a 
title of the Lord in Rev. xxii. 13. As against those who were 
lax in their devotion to the Lord, maranatha, then, would 
protest, ' Our Lord is everything, divine and supreme in 
authority, the beginning and the end.' 

Further light upon the context of the term in primitive 
worship is thrown by the Didache, a second-century manual of 
faith and order, from somewhere in Egypt or Syria ; for, 
although it does not mention the holy kiss, maranatha occurs 
in a warning connexion, as here, and significantly among the 
final directions for the eucharist : ' May grace come and the 
world pass away ! Hosanna to the God of David ! If anyone 
is holy, let him come near ; if not, let him repent. Amen ! 
Maranatha ! ' (x.). These may be headings of hymns to be 
sung at the service (and conceivably Maranatha might be 
' Lord, come ! grant us thy presence at our sacrament '), but 
more probably they are what Tertullian once called ' voia 
suspirantia,' eager prayers that voice the eschatological mood 
of primitive Christians as they celebrated their evening 
sacrament, panting for the dawn of the Day. Maranatha in 
this light would be a reminder to the Corinthians to observe 
the rite with serious, reverent care, proclaiming thus the Lord's 
death until he comes. None but the holy or truly penitent 
should take part in the Lord's supper. ' Come, our Lord ! ' 
' The Lord is coming ! ' ' Lord, come ! ' — would suit the pri- 
mitive eucharist admirably as a tense ejaculation. It is not 
necessary to suppose that in the Didache churches, which, 
unlike the Corinthian, had a presiding minister at the eucharist, 

284 



M ARAN AT HA 

he called out Maranatha, to which the worshippers replied 
* Amen.' Both may be sighs or shouts of pious fervour, as 
the communion service thrilled the gathering at their love- 
reunion. 

It is further suggested that maranatha follows the impreca- 
tion, since Paul is reversing the synagogue's imprecation on 
Christians who dared to hail Jesus as their messianic Lord. 
If Jews were already anathematizing believers formally for 
confessing Christ, it would be an apt retort to declare that ' we 
Christians anathematize anyone who does not hold to the 
Lord.' Paul was himself having trouble with mahgnant Jews 
at Ephesus (Acts xx. 18-19), and the Corinthians knew that 
there had been bitter opposition on the part of the local syna- 
gogue when their church was born. ' Cursed be Jesus 1 ' was 
a cry famihar to them (xii. 3). Maranatha would in this case 
be a triumphant reply to the outside world : ' Our Lord is not 
dead, he is alive, and soon will return in triumph.' In the 
sixteenth century both Jewish and Christian scholars still 
thought that maranatha had been adapted from uhram atta 
(thou art excommunicated) in the solemn formula of a ban 
which was pronounced when the synagogue dealt with heretics. 
This medieval tradition explains the fact that the A.V., hke 
all the EngHsh versions, except that of Rheims, takes ' maran- 
atha ' along with ' anathema,' or, as the Genevan Bible has it, 
' let him be held in execration, yea excommunicate to death.' 
The interpretation is unfounded, but there may be a reference 
in Paul's language to the synagogue's informal practice in his 
own day. There is no evidence that as yet anathema represents 
the arur, or rabbinical ban, possibly some form of excommuni- 
cation or imprecation which accompanied a daily prayer like 
that of the twelfth of the eighteen benedictions. More prob- 
ably the apostle has in mind simply the informal curses on 
Christian messianists. The twelfth benediction, or rather 
malediction, is indeed known to have been in existence by the 
end of the first century, and, although it is directed generally 
against sectaries and antinomians, its sweep certainly includes 
Christians and their propaganda, whether they were called 
Nazarenes or not. But it is not until the middle of the second 

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THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS 

century that Justin, in his Dialogue (96), reports this explicit 
imprecation upon Christians. The background of Paul's 
reference need be no more than the Jew's indignant curse on 
anyone who dared to identify the crucified Jesus with the 
divine messiah, especially on blasphemous followers of a rene- 
gade like Paul. Thus Maranatha would be a cry and a confes- 
sion, exulting in the hope of the Lord coming suddenly and 
sharply to subdue the hostile powers of the world and to deal 
with the impenitent. 

23 The letter then runs out in a benediction, as usual, which 
echoes the blessing at the beginning. Instead of conventional 
phrases like ' Farewell ' (Acts xxiii. 30) or ' Goodbye ' (Acts 
XV. 29), Paul adapted the latter (chairein) to his dominant 
thought of grace (charts), and struck out a fresh form of con- 
cluding his epistles. 1 Every one of his greetings at the close 
contains grace. It is one of his characteristic and original 
features in letter-writing. In the present case, the phrase 
carries on the thought of the preceding sentences, for as he 
prays that the grace of the Lord Jesus may be with you* (who do 
love the Lord), he recalls the saving conviction that during 
this interval between the dawn of the New Age and the 
coming of the Lord to complete God's gracious purpose, the 
faithful were not left to themselves (i. 3-8). The pregnant term 
grace exhibits not only the free love to which Christians owed 
all that they were before God, but his active, unfailing good- 
will ; the Lord lives and loves. 

24 Elsewhere this is the end of his letters to the churches. But 
with a sudden rush of personal affection for this dear, disap- 
pointing community, he jots down, * my love to you all 
(whether you belong to one party or another).' It is Christian 
love, just as the kiss is holy, not a conventional touch of social 
fellowship. He little knew that before long he would be insulted 
and defied by some of them ! The liturgical Amen was added 
to the letter when the collection of his epistles was drawn up 
and edited for use in worship. In reality Paul's last word to 
them was the word that had chimed throughout his opening 
paragraph, the name of Jesus. 

* The data are collected in my Grace in the New Testament, pp. 141 f. 

286 



DATE DUE 




fff^ f> ^' 1999 




DEMCO 38-297