ST. PAUL'S FIRST LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS
Part I: Introduction and Addressing the Community's Problems
St. Paul's Greeting to the Corinthians and His
Response to the Letter from Chloe's Household: Disorders in the Corinthian Community
Holy and Eternal Lord,
Throughout Your relationship with humanity, You have sent Your divinely appointed agents to convict us of our sins and to minister to our needs. You called St. Paul as Your apostle to the Gentiles and the Holy Spirit inspired writer of fourteen New Testament books. He spent his adult life as Your faithful servant, calling men, women, and families to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He dedicated His life to Your service and died a martyr's death, providing an example for us to follow on our journey to salvation. Give us, Lord, the same dedication and courage as St. Paul as we continue his mission to spread the Gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth. St. Paul, pray for us! Amen.
+ + +
Prompted by the Lord's
command, Paul stayed with the Corinthians for eighteen months and taught the
Word of God among them. It is because of this that he treats them with great
confidence and loving affection, sometimes warning and sometimes censuring
them, and sometimes treating them fondly as if they were his own children.
Ambrosiaster (c. 366-384), Commentary on Paul's Epistles, Proem
Who was St. Paul?
St. Paul was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin who was born in the town of Tarsus in the Roman Province of Cilicia. His Jewish family named him Saul.(1) He was a Jew, but he also possessed Roman citizenship, a fact he used to his advantage more than once (Acts 22:25-29; Rom 11:1; Phil 3:5). As a young man, he apparently excelled at his studies; therefore, he was sent to Jerusalem to study with the great Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) where he became a member of the religious party of the Pharisees and an officer of the Jewish Law Court, the Sanhedrin. He also became an enthusiastic persecutor of Christians (Acts 8:1, 3; 9:1-2; 26:5). In about 36 AD, Paul journeyed to Damascus to arrest Jewish Christians (Acts 9:1-2). It was on the road to Damascus that Saul had a conversion experience that turned him from a Christian hater to a Christ lover. It was the beginning of his journey as the Church's greatest missionary to the Gentiles. He even stopped using his Jewish name and took up a Greco-Latin name to aid him in his missionary efforts, becoming Paulus/Paul, Christ's apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16).
Authorship of 1 Corinthians
No Biblical scholar, ancient or modern, has seriously questioned that St. Paul is the inspired writer of the letter to the Christians at Corinth. In addition, there is internal evidence in the letter that points to St. Paul as the author:
Physical Descriptions of Saint Paul
Although there is no detailed description of Paul's personal appearance in the New Testament, his Latin name may suggest his physical statue since Paulus in Latin means "little." Scripture, however, does provide some glimpses of his appearance and his demeanor. Paul quotes his adversaries as calling him "unimpressive" in 2 Corinthians 10:10: Someone said, "His letters are weighty enough, and full of strength, but when you see him in person, he makes no impression and his powers of speaking are negligible." I should like that sort of person to take note that our deeds when we are present will show the same qualities as our letters when we were at a distance.
We also know that he suffered physically for Christ and carried the scars from the many beatings he received and from some other illness or affliction which he mentions in 2 Corinthians 4:10 and 11:23-27, in Galatians 4:13-15 and 6:17:
Allusions to the "marks" he bore on his body in Galatians 6:17, I carry branded on my body the marks of Jesus, may have been to the scars left by his persecutors, perhaps the scars from the stoning he received at Lystra that was so severe the perpetrators thought they had killed him (see Acts 14:19). Some modern scholars have suggested these "marks of Jesus" may refer to the stigmata, the wounds Jesus bore on the Cross, but none of the writings of the Fathers of the Church support this interpretation.
Physical descriptions of Paul do exist outside of Sacred Scripture, such as the description of St. Paul found in a third-century document: "Paul was a man of low stature, bald (or shaved on the head), crooked thighs, handsome legs, hollow-eyed; had a crooked nose; full of grace; for sometimes he appeared as a man, and sometimes he had the countenance of an angel" (The Acts of Paul and Thecla, 1.7). And John of Antioch, writing in the sixth century, supports other descriptions of St. Paul when he records that Paul was "... round-shouldered, with a sprinkling of gray on his head and beard, with an aquiline nose, grayish eyes, meeting eyebrows, with a mixture of pale and red in his complexion..." (The Search for the Twelve Apostles, William McBirnie, page 291).
It is undeniable that his frail body housed a tremendous spirit consumed with a passion for the mission he received from his Lord and Savior: ... for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and the Israelites, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name (Acts 9:15-16).
The Christian Community at Corinth
Corinth was a wealthy Greek culture city known for its strategic location on the Isthmus of Corinth which connects the Peloponnesian Peninsula to the European continent. Its position on the isthmus gave Corinth two ports and a monopoly on trade across the Isthmus since it was the shortest distance of travel from the Adriatic Sea to the Aegean. Corinth became a wealthy city transporting goods and even ships across the isthmus.
The Romans destroyed the Greek city when they defeated the Achaean League in 146 BC. The city remained in ruins until 44 BC when Julius Caesar rebuilt the city and established the Colonia Laus Julia Corinthiensis as the capital of the new Roman province of Achaea. By Paul's time, Corinth was a prominent economic center that was known for its many beautiful pagan temples, an amphitheater, theaters, public baths, and the well-attended Isthmian games. The city's patron goddess was Aphrodite, the goddess of sex and fertility, and the city was infamous as a destination for all kinds of pleasure-seeking. Even the name of the city became a code word for sexual vices. To "live like a Corinthian" meant to indulge in all forms of sexual debauchery.
St. Paul founded the faith community at Corinth on his second missionary journey that took place from 50-52 AD. He spent eighteen months preaching and teaching in Corinth in the company of a Christian married couple named Aquila and Priscilla. He supported himself by the trade of a tent-maker and preached in the local synagogue (Acts 18:1-4). Paul converted Crispus, the Jewish leader of the local synagogue and aroused the anger of other synagogue members who had Paul arrested on charges of "persuading men to worship God contrary to the law" (Acts 18:13). The Roman proconsul, Gallio, refused to intervene in what he considered strictly a Jewish matter. Shortly after the case was dismissed, Paul left Corinth with Aquila and Pricilla, and they moved on to Ephesus, a city on the coast of Asia Minor (Acts 18:12-21).
Ephesus was the seaport, chief city, and capital of the Roman province of Asia in western Asia Minor (modern Turkey). He first visited Ephesus near the end of his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19-21), but he only stayed a short time. St. Paul returned to Ephesus on his third missionary journey (Acts 19) and taught the Christian community there for over two years (55-57 AD).
It was while Paul was in Ephesus, during his third missionary journey, that he received a letter from one of the homes used for meetings of the Corinthian Christians, informing Paul of problems within the community and asking for instruction. Paul's answer to their letter is what we call Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, even though it is probably his second letter to the community (1 Cor 5:9). St. Paul lovingly and forcefully dealt with the problems of the Corinthian church. He addressed their divisions and conflicts, their selfishness and abuse of freedom, their disorder in liturgical worship, their misuses of spiritual gifts, and their misunderstandings concerning the resurrection in a letter intended to point them back to Christ. The problems of the Corinthian church were not unlike the problems in many faith communities today. Therefore, St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians is as relevant to Christians in our day as it was in the first century AD. See the timeline of St. Paul's life in handout 1.
SUMMARY OUTLINE OF FIRST CORINTHIANS
|Biblical Period||#12: The Messianic Age of the Church of Jesus Christ|
|Covenant||The New Covenant in Christ Jesus|
|Focus||Introduction and Addressing the Community's Problems||Answering the Community's Questions||Correcting Problems in Liturgical Worship and Conclusion|
|Division||Greeting, blessing, thanks-giving||Divisions and moral disorders||Marriage and celibacy||Offerings to idols||Modest attire, Communion, and spiritual gifts||Conclu-sion|
|Topic||Factions and scandals>||Sexual immorality and pagan practices||Right worship||Alms for Jeru-salem|
|Location||Paul's letter is written from the Roman city of Ephesus in Asia Minor to the Christian community in the Roman city of Corinth, capital of the Roman Province of Achaea (Greece)|
|Time||Sometime between 55-57 AD|
|Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2017|
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 ~ Paul's Introduction
1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 2 to the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, 6 as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The introduction to Paul's letter to the church at Corinth, Greece in verses 1-9 is, for the most part, the conventional form of the opening in a first century Hellenistic letter. The introduction divides into three parts:
Paul identifies himself, gives a greeting (verses 1-2), a blessing (verse 3), and gives thanks for those receiving his letter (verses 4-9). St. Paul begins his letter by presenting his credentials, and he also cleverly works in three words that will be the focus of his letter by referring to holiness, unity, and the charisms (gifts of grace).
Paul presents his credentials in verse 1. He calls himself by the Greek word apostolos. The Greek noun apostolos comes from the verb apostello, "sent," and implies that an apostle is "one who is sent" by Christ and not simply by his own initiative. It is a noun Jesus used for twelve men He selected out from the larger group of His disciples (see Lk 6:13). Some Biblical scholars have suggested that Jesus used this noun with the Hebrew concept of the word saliah, meaning one officially delegated by a rightful authority and sent out on a mission. See 2 Chronicles 17:7-9 where King Jehoshaphat delegated certain men to go out and teach the Book of the Law and compare the passage with Acts 9:2.
The word "apostle" is used in the New Testament eighty times and always implies the designation of one sent in the service of Jesus Christ (the exception is Jn 13:16 where the NAB translated the word apostolos "messenger" in Jesus' parable). From His seventy disciples, Jesus chose twelve men to form the hierarchy of His earthly Kingdom.
Question: By what authority does Paul say he writes
this letter of instruction to the faith community at Corinth, calling himself
Answer: St. Paul writes that he has the authority to teach the church at Corinth because Jesus Christ called him to be His apostle.
By affirming his authority as an "apostle," Paul alludes to his Damascus Road conversion experience (Acts 9:1-19) in which the Resurrected Jesus Christ, "by the will of God," called Paul (then known as Saul) to be an apostle and appointed him a missionary to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). St. Peter and the other leaders of the Church approved Paul's mission for the conversion of the Gentiles (Rom 11:13; Acts 9:15; 26:27; 1 Cor 9:2; Gal 1:16; 2:8; 1 Tim 2:7). This divine appointment, Paul believed, elevated him as a true apostle of Christ and made him equal to the other twelve Apostles who had also seen and talked with Jesus after His Resurrection (Acts 10:41). Whether the original Apostles saw Paul in quite the same way is open to debate. Paul's title, "apostle," and the use of the same title for those other missionaries who came after the first Apostles, is usually rendered with a small "a." Paul, however, vigorously defends his title of "apostle" in all his letters. Please read the three accounts of Paul's conversion experience in Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-16; 26:1-18.
Paul mentions Sosthenes in verse 1, a co-author of the
letter and a "brother" in Christ.
Question: What do we know about a man named Sosthenes from Acts 18:12-17?
Answer: If he is the same man, Sosthenes was at one time the president of the Jewish synagogue at Corinth, but he is now a Christian convert and a member of Paul's missionary team.
Question: In what three ways does Paul remind the faith community that their existence as Christians is grounded in God's initiative in verse 2?
St. Paul often refers to Christians in his letters as those who are sanctified, meaning "the holy ones" or "the saints" (verse 2). God called the children of Israel a "holy assembly" because they were separated from the Gentile nations at the ratification of their divine covenant with God at Mt. Sinai and consecrated for worship and service of Yahweh alone. It was a covenant ratified in oath swearing, blood sacrifice, and a sacred meal (see Ex 19:5-8; 24:1-11; Lev 11:44; 23:1-44).(2)
Question: How were the Christian communities of the
Church also set apart from the world like the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai? See
Rom 6:22; 15:16; 1 Cor 1:2; 6:11; Eph 5:26-27 and 1 Thes 4:7.
Answer: Jesus Christ sanctifies every Christian and their communities of the Church, setting them apart from the world by Christ in the Sacrament of Christian Baptism (Rom 6:22; (15:16; 1 Cor 6:11; Eph 5:26-27). The Holy Spirit calls all baptized Christians to holiness (1 Cor 1:2; 1 Thes 4:7) in striving to make their lives conform to the gift of grace they have received through Christ Jesus by living in His image and likeness.
Then in verse 3, Paul gives the community a blessing at the end of his greeting: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is Paul's typical blessing found in all of his letters. The only exception is the Letter to the Hebrews that the Church Fathers attributed to St. Paul and which was probably the written copy of a homily he delivered to the Jewish-Christians of the Jerusalem Church. The only difference in Paul's greetings from a traditional Greek letter is that he does not use the customary Greek greeting chara or chaire, meaning "joy" or "rejoice." Instead, he substitutes the Greek word charis.
Scholars suggest that Paul substitutes the word charis, which means "favor" in the Greek, but with the distinctive meaning and understanding of the Hebrew word hen, meaning "grace," a gift of God. The New Testament writers used the international language of Greek to write their letters, but all their concepts were from the Hebrew and so they adapted Greek words to convey the Hebrew or distinctively Christian concepts. For example, there was no Greek word for the Hebrew word meaning "Messiah," the one "anointed by God." Therefore, they used the Greek word christos, meaning "one smeared with oil" for Jesus the "Christos," meaning the Messiah sent by God. They also changed the meaning of the Greek word agape which meant "spiritual love" and gave it the distinctive Christian meaning as the kind of love with which Jesus loves us and commands us to love each other. Agape in the Greek, therefore, came to mean "self-sacrificial love. And then, to the greeting giving the blessing of God's grace, Paul adds the Greek word for "peace," eirene, which reflects the typical Semitic greeting of peace that is shalom (i.e., see 2 Mac 1:1; Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19, 21, 26). It is a greeting repeated by in our priestly greeting at Mass when the priest, repeating Jesus words, says "Peace be with you."
In his greeting of grace and peace, Paul gives what Jewish-Christians may have recognized as an echo the ancient priestly blessing for God's holy people Israel in Numbers 6:24-26, May Yahweh bless you and keep you. May Yahweh let his face shine on you and be gracious to you [give you grace]. May Yahweh show you his face and bring you peace. If Paul does intend to echo the priestly blessing, then this is an ecclesial blessing. In that case, "grace" represents God's covenantal grace revealed in Jesus Christ and "peace" is the deep and abiding peace that comes from the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit. It is a blessing that would have appealed to a mixed congregation of Christian Jews and Gentiles who are one Body in Christ.
In verses 4-9, Paul gives his thanksgiving for the community. It was typical in Greek letters for the writer to give a thanksgiving at this point, thanking the Greek gods for keeping the addressee in good health and prosperity. However, Paul is very aware of the grace of the one true God in his life and in the life of the communities he brought to Christ. He always thanks God for some spiritual blessing received by his readers or in 1 Timothy for the grace of his own conversion (1 Tim 1:12-14). The word "grace" appears eighty-nine times in Paul's letters, and a significant eight times in 1 Corinthians (1:3, 4, 3:10; 10:30; 15:10 three times; 16:23). In Scripture, eight is the symbolic number of rebirth and salvation
Paul makes two references to the abundance of gifts of grace
in verses 5 and 7 that frame his words: "the testimony of Christ" in verse 6,
showing the important relation between the gifts and faith in the message about
the true nature of Jesus.
Question: What does Paul write that the gifts of grace God bestowed on the community shows about them in verse 6?
Answer: These gifts of grace are testimony that Christ is confirmed among them, leading on the path to salvation by increasing their knowledge and understanding and giving them the gift to share that knowledge with others.
The Greek word Paul uses that is translated "testimony" is the word martyrion, from which we derive the word "martyr." In verse 6, the testimony to Christ that Paul refers to defines his mission (also see 15:15) and has at two levels of meaning:
In giving thanks for the community in verses 4-9 and
alluding to their transformed lives in the Sacrament of Baptism, Paul writes
that they continue on their faith journey as you wait for the revelation of
our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He
will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus
Question: What is the "revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ" and what is "the end" that the Corinthian Christians "wait for"? See Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thes 4:15-17.
Answer: In verses 7b-8, Paul refers to Jesus' Second Coming when He will return in glory to judge the living and the dead, and all the faithful among the Corinthians will be joined to Christ in glory in the resurrection of the living and the dead.
However, after getting the attention of the community with his favorable words about them, he will go on to contrast how the abundance of these spiritual gifts are in contrast with the absence of the perfection of love and right doctrine in the community.
1 Corinthians 1:10-17 ~ Striving for Unity in Christ
10 I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters, by Chloe's people [those of Chloe] that there are rivalries among you. 12 I mean that each of you is saying, "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ." 13 Is "Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I give thanks (to God) that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say you were baptized in my name. 16 I baptized the household of Stephanas also; beyond that I do not know whether I baptized anyone else. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning. [...] = literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 451.
We learn that St. Paul received a letter from the Christians Paul refers to as "those of Chloe," referring to Chloe's household. "Household" includes not only the family but servants. Chloe is probably a Christian woman of Corinth in whose house Christians meet to pray, worship and receive the Eucharist. Christians at this time did not have the freedom to build spaces solely devoted to worship; therefore, they met in homes. Notice that Paul does not refer to "communities" plural, but to the Corinthians as one, united church. The Christians who meet in Chloe's house-church tell Paul that there are divisions in the Christian community at Corinth instead of unity. Paul softens his criticisms that follow by appealing to the Christians of Corinth as "brothers/sisters" who are kinsmen and kinswomen in Christ to him and to one another.
Question: What claims are certain members of the
community making that threaten unity?
Answer: Different factions have formed claiming unity with Paul or Apollos or Cephas or Christ.
The problem is that some members of the community claim unity with Paul and others with Peter (who Paul likes to refer to in his letters using the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic "Kepha", the title "Rock" that Jesus gave Simon-Peter) or the gifted Christian orator Apollos (Acts 18:24-28; 1 Cor 3:6; 16:12; Titus 3:13).
Question: Who is Apollos? See Acts 18:24-28.
Answer: Apollos was a Jewish-Christian from Alexandria, Egypt who was well versed in Scripture and an eloquent speaker. When he preached at the Synagogue in Ephesus, he met Paul's married friends, Christians Aquila and Priscilla. He only knew the baptism of St. John the Baptist, but he preached the "Way of the Lord" with skill and passion. Aquila and Priscilla took Apollos aside and gave him a fuller understanding of the Gospel. From Ephesus, he went to Corinth after Paul's departure with letters of introduction and preached there among the local Jewish population to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.
St. Paul ridicules the absurd idea that Christians are baptized in the name of the preacher who baptized them. He reminds the Corinthians that they are related to fellow Christians not because they are members of the same community or because they follow certain Christian teachers who may have baptized them. They have a kinship because Christ died for them and they are baptized "in the name of Jesus Christ," referring to the kind of baptism Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19-20 with the Trinitarian formula: "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.(3) It is Christ who infuses them with His life in Christian baptism and unifies them in the Church which is the "Body of Christ" (Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 10:16-17; 12:12-27; etc.).
14 I give
thanks (to God) that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say you were
baptized in my name. 16 I
baptized the household of Stephanas also; beyond that I do not know whether I
baptized anyone else.
Question: Who are Crispus, Gaius, and Stephanas who Paul baptized? See Acts 18:8; Rom 16:23 and 1 Cor 16:15.
Answer: These are all men who are known by the Corinthian community. Crispus was a leader of the Corinthian Synagogue baptized by Paul with his entire household. Gaius was a wealthy Corinthian Christian convert who hosted Paul and invited the Christian community to meet in his home. Stephanas and his household were the first Christians in Greece baptized by Paul, and Stephanas later visited Paul in Ephesus.
17 For Christ
did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, and not with the wisdom of
human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its
In Biblical usage, "wisdom" (sophia) primarily denotes practical knowledge and making the right choices to achieve an end. Apparently, after Paul baptized the first Corinthian converts, he turned over the duty of baptizing new converts to others because he understood that his primary mission was preaching. He was sent by Christ to preach, by the eloquence of God the Holy Spirit, salvation through the Cross of Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 ~ The Paradox of the Cross
18 The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside." 20 Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
In 1:18-4:1, St. Paul confronts the community with the causes of their divisions:
He begins correcting their failings by sending them to the foot of the Cross of Jesus Christ (verses 17-25; especially verse 23). He does this in three ways:
message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who
are being saved it is the power of God.
What the world perceives as wisdom in making choices that advance a person in wealth and status, or in relying on mysticism, or human logic is not "the wisdom of God." Human wisdom cannot achieve knowledge of God either because it looks for external signs or because it accepts only rational arguments. Only God's grace can make a person truly wise with an imperishable wisdom in which men and women are called by the Holy Spirit to have a share in God's plan of salvation through the Cross of Jesus Christ. To some, especially to Greek Gentiles who considered themselves rationalists and did not have a doctrine of the resurrection, believing that the Son of God died on the Cross and rose again seems to be ultimate foolishness. Jews, however, wanted proof through miraculous "signs." St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: "The message of Christ's cross contains something which to human wisdom seems impossible; that God should die, or that the Almighty should give himself up into to power of violent men. It also contains things which seem to be contrary to worldly prudence; for instance, someone being able to flee from contradictions and yet not doing so" (Commentary on 1 Corinthians).
19 For it is
written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the
learned I will set aside."
Paul quotes Isaiah 29:14 (from the Greek Septuagint translation) where the prophet made the same point to the Israelites who were threatened by the Assyrians. Isaiah told them that a purely human wisdom was not going to save them.
23 but we proclaim Christ crucified... It is the Cross of the Savior that leads the way to true wisdom, and the understanding that we cannot have the resurrection without the crucifixion. We cannot have the glory without the sacrifice. No one can remain indifferent to the Cross. Those who embrace the Cross and all it stands for are on their way to salvation, but all who find the Cross an image of "foolishness" are on the way to perdition. All the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of humanity does not have the power/strength to offer the gift of salvation. Only God has the wisdom to present a plan of salvation through the power of the Cross. The importance of the Cross in our plan of salvation is the reason every Catholic Church must have a crucifix of Christ present in the liturgy of worship.
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ~ The Qualities of Discipleship
26 Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, 28 and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, 29 so that no human being might boast before God. 30 It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, "Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord."
As it was in the case of Jesus' twelve Apostles and His men and women disciples, it is God who chooses and who gives each Christian a vocation. Jesus told His disciples: It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you" (Jn 15:16). St. Paul emphasizes to the Christians of Corinth that the initiative of discipleship lies with God, saying three times in verses 27-29 that "God chose" them and He did not base His choice on human standards of wisdom or status.
In verse 30, St. Paul reminds the Corinthians that God is
the source of their life in Christ Jesus.
Question: What four words does Paul use to describe how Jesus is the source of life?
Answer: Paul describes how Jesus gives us life and is the source of our (1) wisdom, (2) righteousness, (3) sanctification, and (4) redemption.
Jesus is the source of Godly wisdom, and the Holy Spirit He brought into the world continues to impart Godly wisdom to us. God the Son is the only one who is righteous and imparts His righteousness to us in the Sacraments. The Sacrament of Baptism sanctifies us, we continue in sanctification through the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, and Jesus' sacrifice on the altar of the Cross redeems us from the curse of spiritual death to the promise of eternal life.
The response to God's call makes a person a member of Christ's Body, the Church, through Baptism. If a disciple is humble in submitting to the gift of God's grace, he or she will gradually become so Christ-like as to be able to say with St. Paul: I have been crucified with Christ, yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me (Gal 2:19b-20).
Question: Why does Paul say we have no reason to
boast in verses 29-30?
Answer: We have no reason to boast because we do not accomplish the grace that leads to our salvation nor can we obtain the gifts of faith by our own merits. It is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the altar of the Cross that merits our salvation.
Being infused with the life of Jesus Christ in baptism enables a person to share the wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption of Jesus in the life of every Christian disciple.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ~ Not on Human Wisdom
1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, 4 and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power, 5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
When St. Paul's first visited Corinth, he came from a mission in Athens. As we know from the account of his missionary work in Acts of Apostles (17:16-34), Paul's mission in Athens produced so few converts, despite his brilliant discourse to the pagan philosophers in the Areopagus, that he felt dejected. Paul's perception of the failure of the Athens mission and what he knew about the moral corruption of Corinthian society may explain his arriving "in weakness and fear and much trembling" (verse 3).
Question: How did God encourage Paul in his mission
to Corinth? See Acts 18:9-10.
Answer: In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the Lord Jesus came to comfort Paul in his distress, telling His apostle: Do not be afraid. Go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you. No one will attack and harm you, for I have many people in this city (Acts 18:9-10).
St. Paul, therefore, came to Corinth and stayed a year and a half, putting no reliance on carefully argued speeches and human wisdom. He came to proclaim Christ simply guided by the Holy Spirit (verses 4-5). Just as St. Paul's preaching to the Corinthians did not rely on worldly eloquence; human wisdom should not be the basis of our faith. Paul says he based his message on a demonstration of Spirit and power (verse 4), which is probably a reference to the action of the divine grace of God the Holy Spirit on those who listened to Paul's message with an open heart. It is the power of God that brought the Corinthian Christians to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
In the Church today, God's grace continues to act through the power of the Spirit in the proclamation of the Gospel message of salvation in Christ Jesus. Pope Paul VI wrote that the strength of the Gospel message is unique: "It cannot be replaced. It does not permit either indifference, syncretism or accommodation. It is a question of people's salvation. It is the beauty of the Revelation that it represents. It brings with it a wisdom that is not of this world. It is able to stir up by itself faith, faith that rests on the power of God (cf. 1 Cor 2:5). It is truth. It merits having the apostle consecrate to it all his time and all his energies, and to sacrifice for it, if necessary, his own life" (Paul IV, Evangelii nuntiandi, 5).
1 Corinthians 2:6-10a ~ God's Wisdom
6 We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. 7 Rather, we speak God's wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory, 8 and which none of the rulers of this age knew; for, if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written: "What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him," 10 this God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.
After teaching that the wisdom of the world is not wisdom according to God (1 Cor 1:25-31), in this passage St. Paul speaks of a godly wisdom that is not of this world. It is the wisdom of a higher, spiritual level since the wisdom of God is hidden in it. That higher wisdom is the insight of Christian faith enriched by the Holy Spirit and intended to help Christians discern the right direction in life.
St. Paul makes the point that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not contrary to reason but is superior to it since it is divine wisdom. It is divine wisdom that turns new Christians who are "children" in the faith into "mature," faith-filled adults (verse 6). Paul also makes the argument that it is a wisdom that those attached to this world cannot understand. If they had understood, he says, they never would have crucified "the Lord of Glory" (verse 8), which is a title Paul attributes to Christ on the Cross.
7 Rather, we
speak God's wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages
for our glory, 8 and which
none of the rulers of this age knew; for, if they had known it, they would not
have crucified the Lord of glory.
The "rulers of this age" refer to the civil and religious leaders of the Jews and the Roman political authority that condemned and crucified Jesus (Acts 4:25-28).
Question: However, Paul is also probably alluding to
what other "ruler of this world" who influenced the men who crucified Jesus?
See Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 1 Jn 2:13-14.
Answer: Paul is probably also referring to Satan.
Satan is the "ruler/prince of this world" who maneuvered men to kill the "Prince of Life," Jesus Christ (Acts 3:15).
Question: The Lord of Glory" in verse 8 is a title in
the Old Testament reserved for God alone (Ex 24:15; 40:34; Is 42:8). By using
this title for Jesus, what is Paul proclaiming?
Answer: By using this title for Jesus, Paul is making it clear that Jesus Christ is God.
Then in verse 9, St. Paul quotes from Isaiah 64:2-3: What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him. Paul's point, made by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (8th century BC), is that, because of His transcendence, we cannot see God as He is unless He chooses to open up His mystery to man's contemplation and give him the capacity for it. It is in God the Son that God the Father reveals Himself and the great gift of His divine plan for humanity's salvation. It is through divine wisdom that God gives humans the capacity, through the Holy Spirit and faith, to understand that revelation. And yet, the joys of the Kingdom of God are so immense that no one in the flesh can conceive the full extent of God's wondrous plan.
Concerning 1 Corinthians 2:9, St. Patrick wrote: "The joys of the Kingdom of God no one can tell, nor even conceive or understand, while he is yet clothed in the flesh. For they are greater and more wondrous than they are imagined or conceived to be. So it is written: What no eye has seen and no ear has heard, what the mind of man cannot visualize; all that God has prepared for those who love him. For the Kingdom of God is greater than all report, better than all praise of it, more manifold than all knowledge, more perfect than every conceivable glory ... In the Kingdom of God every good abounds and there is nothing of evil; in the prison of hell every evil abounds and there is nothing of good. In the Kingdom of Heaven no one who is unworthy is received; but no one worthy, no just one, is brought down to hell. In the eternal Kingdom there shall be life without death, truth without falsehood, and happiness without shadow of unrest or change, in Christ Jesus Our Lord, who lives and reigns world without end, Amen" (St. Patrick, 389-461 AD).
1 Corinthians 2:10b-16 ~ The Natural Person Versus the
10b For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God. 11 Among human beings, who knows what pertains to a person except the spirit of the person that is within? Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God. 12 We have not received the Spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. 14 Now the natural person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually. 15 The spiritual person, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone. 16 For "who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?" But we have the mind of Christ.
Christians, by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism, are no longer subject to the "powers" of Satan that rule the world. Christians are reborn by water and the Spirit into the family of God, and the Holy Spirit teaches people baptized by the Spirit a new kind of perception that defies human wisdom (verse 12).
13 And we
speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught
by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms.
Question: The Holy Spirit not only gives a new perspective, but He also gives a new language with which to share knowledge and understand that perspective. What is that language?
Answer: It is the language of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with which Holy-Spirit-inspired Christians teach the faithful and Holy-Spirit-inspired writers send letters to the faithful, including the writers of the New Testament Gospels and letters.
16 For "who
has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?" But we have the mind of
Paul is quoting from Isaiah 40:13 in the Greek Septuagint translation of Isaiah, and his rhetorical question obviously requires the answer, "No one!" "Mind" refers to the faculty of thought, and no one can know the "thoughts" of God. However, we have Christ who makes God and His divine plan present in our minds and hearts by transforming our minds and conforming our hearts/lives (through the power of the Holy Spirit) to Christ.
Question for group discussion:
How is St. Paul like the other servants of God in the Old Testament? How is he different? Compare his life and call to service with the sixth century BC prophet Jeremiah, for example. See Jer 1:1, 4-10; Gal 1:15; Acts 9:1-19; 22:25-29; Rom 11:1; Phil 3:5.
1. Paul was probably given the name "Saul" in remembrance of the tribe of Benjamin's most illustrious member, King Saul, Israel's first king.
2. Our New Covenant in Christ is also ratified in oath swearing in our Baptismal and Confirmation vows, the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, and the sacred meal of the Eucharist.
3. Any form of baptism other than with the Trinitarian formula commanded by Jesus in Matthew 28:19 is an invalid baptism: Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit .... Today some groups do not use the Trinitarian formula for baptism, including Unitarians, Unitarian Pentecostals, Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses. All these groups deny the Trinity. See CCC 189, 132-34.
Catechism References for this lesson (* indicates the Biblical quotation in the citation):
1-6 (CCC 401*)
1:2 (CCC 752*, 1695)
1:16 (CCC 1252*)
1:18 (CCC 268*)
1:24-25 (CCC 272)
1:27 (CCC 489*)
1:30 (CCC 2813)
2:7-16 (CCC 221*)
2:7-9 (CCC 1998*)
2:8 (CCC 446*, 498*, 598)
2:9 (CCC 1027)
2:20-15 (CCC 2038*)
2:10-11 (CCC 152)
2:11 (CCC 687)
2:16 (CCC 389*)
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