23 Mar 2015
Paul wrote to Corinth, a community plagued by internal divisions, social and ethnic distinction, and a diversity of congregations. Regardless of whatever the circumstances may be, the apostle confronts the problematic issues boldly and with authority. Nevertheless, controversy still burns brightly today, on these issues just as they did in the early church, rendering it ideal subject matter for theological and hermeneutical consideration. Accordingly, the purpose of this essay is to reconstruct the life and issues of the fledgling Corinthian church and to determine firstly, whether Paul really understood the issues at hand, and secondly the effective of Paul's response in the Corinthian community to his call at the time.
This essay will address the life and issues of the Corinthian community as recorded in the book of I Corinthians. This book narrates how the apostle Paul heard of the Corinthian Christian community's troubles and responded with this letter to remedy their situation, heal their divisions, and answer their questions. Paul confronted them with their sin and need for corrective action and clear commitment to Christ. The stance taken here is that Paul did understand the life and issues of the Corinthian community and the effectiveness of his response was positive and appropriate for the time.
The reconstruction of the life and issues of Corinth are assessed here through the three major problems facing the community, and one specific issue for each of those problems. The three major problems facing the church in Corinth related to the church, the members and the authority. Of the numerous issues within these three groupings the specific issues addressed here are the Lord's Supper, marriage and women.
Corinthian church was founded by Saint Paul approximately twenty years after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle loved the Corinthian community with fervour and frustration for it was a vibrant and confused church. An extensive description of its establishment is recorded in Acts 18. Moreover, two of the longest letters in the New Testament, 1 and 2 Corinthian, are specifically addressed to it. 
The first epistle written to the Corinthians was penned by Paul from Ephesus in reply to reports brought to him by two emissaries, and possibly Apollos (16:12). The arrangement of the letter indicates a response determined by the issues put to Paul (7:1). The correspondence's content is acquired via the subject matter being introduced through a formula (peri de), latter repeated in (7:25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1; 12). Notably, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to address exceptional issues, rather than to demonstrate common principles, or to give an expose of Christian practice. 
By his own admission, Paul thought and behaved like a typical, first-century Jew in the Eastern Mediterranean (Phil. 3:4b-6). Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Paul was clearly socialized into a Jewish and Pharisaic world. On the micro level, his cosmos consisted of biblical, temple, and pharisaic tradition. On the macro level, Paul shared with other first-century Mediterranean Jews certain cultural perceptions about the cosmos, a symbolic universe (Berger & Luckmann1966). These perceptions inform all of his letters, colour the way he experienced reality, and structure the way he behaved. Those who would understand Paul ought also to share his perception, both on the micro and macro level. 
There were various issues related to the community in Corinth. The three main problem areas were: a) the church, b) the members and c) authority. Problems within the church were notably related to mission, baptism, the Lord's Supper, body life, love, worship and prophecy. Problems with members related to intellect, freedom, giving, sex, suffering and death. Problems with authority related to leaders, women and apostles.  Of these aforementioned problems and issues three are dealt with here. They are problems relating to the life and issues of the Corinthian Christian community at the time relative to (1) the Lord's Supper, (2) sexual morality and (3) the role of women.
(1) Problems within the church notably the Lord's Supper. (1 Cor. 11:17-34)
Paul had heard of scandalous behaviour in the Corinthian community worship relative to the Eucharist. The purpose of the Eucharistic gathering was to take part in the Lord's Supper, as enacted by Jesus with the disciples. Regrettably, some of the Corinthian Christians were behaving in a way which denigrated the significance of the event. 
This was as a result of class feelings and distinctions manifesting in the community (cf. James 2:1-4) with private cliques and affluent individuals initiating proceedings without waiting for others to eat. Gluttony, unsociable behaviour and drunkenness were becoming a familiar occurrence. To rebut this Paul reminds them that such conduct makes the professed reason for their joining in communion invalid and pointless.  Their actions constituted a contradiction to Church meaning and jeopardised the welfare of all. As such, Paul clearly perceived and understood this issue in the Corinthian community at the time.
Furthermore, the intention of the Lord's Supper was as a common meal, and Paul's condemnation relates to the Corinthians contradicting this principle (11:20-21). Thus, the Christians of Corinth would be better served by eating in their own homes rather than feigning a pretentious a unity repudiated by their behaviour. Paul's intention is not to censure gluttony and drunkenness, but to emphasize an egocentric apathy which is the antithesis of love. 
Paul's denunciation is explicit as the Corinthian's behaviour held communion in contempt (v.22) and could not being allowed to persist. Paul's remedial approach is by way of an explanation of the Eucharist. Paul showed how love is necessary for the Eucharist to have meaning and this love commences in their personal community relationships with one another, particularly the poor. 
Relevant to this point, Murphy O'Conner notes that:
'The unity for the church is something more than physical juxtaposition in a determined space. It is a vital sharing of 'life' and the Corinthians cannot deceive themselves that they enjoy this if the physical life of the poor is endangered because they do not have enough to eat.' 
(2) Problems with members notably sex. Paul's severe reprimand on sexual immorality defiling the church is presented in (5:1-6). From the start the Christian stance to the widespread unseemly Corinthian sexual practices and thought was one of uncompromising opposition, for sexual negligence was endemic with first-century Greeks. However, the Corinthian's view of their emancipation in Christ was such that they felt inclined towards a different approach to other Christians, yet this was one which permitted even worse evils than the Greeks. 
Paul condemns such sexual sin in the strongest of terms (6:9-20) because the troubles in the Corinthian church were basically related to sexual conduct.  Moreover, prostitution and immorality were invasive with marriages in Corinth in a dilemma and Christians unsure how to respond. Accordingly, Paul gave meaningful and practical solutions. 
Paul's instruction can be separated into heterosexual and homosexual activity outside of marriage. Paul refuted the argument assuming that as Christians were not bound by food laws then the same applied to sexual laws (6:13). Paul's unyielding and persuasive argument said that it is fundamentally impossible to compare the two, as in Christian terms the word 'body' means much more than animal tissue. Paul maintained that 'body' is the self and he marshalled numerous arguments to sustain this position. 
Paul's argument is bases on six facts: (a) that our body matters to God (1:63), (b) our body will be raised (6:14), (c) our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (6:19), (d) our body is harmed by immorality(6:18), (e) fornication for a Christian is a rebellious act of independence, and most importantly (f) that our body belongs to Christ (6:19-20). Paul concludes by counselling to 'shun immorality' (6:18) and emphasising that the body is for the Lord and should be kept that way, with this possibility only accessible through the power of the Holy Spirit. 
Relative to homosexuality, Paul gives scant attention to the issue however he makes the point that it is basically unacceptable for Christian practice (6:9-11) and that it can be changed (6:9-11). His premise is that homosexuality is immoral and an unattainable avenue to Heaven. Paul refers to Genesis and the image of God residing mutually in the male and female (Gen.1:27). 
(3) Problems relating to authority and women. Paul is considered by many to be a 'misogynist' (a man who hates women). Nevertheless, Paul's overall attitude to women was reflective of the time and culture. However, Jesus' teachings were revolutionary relative to the role and rights of women, and Paul embraced this new perception afforded to women. 
The situation of women in Corinthian society indicates that women were held in low esteem in Hebrew, Greek and Roman culture. A women's authority was severely limited in that she was subject to the authority of her father or husband, could not inherit property, could not testify in a court of law, or claim right to education. Moreover, the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, prostituted a thousand women in its service further demeaning their social status. Such was the state of affairs of women in Corinth at that time and the problem faced by Saint Paul. 
Conversely, Christianity engaged women in church and community work, women such as Mary, Tryphaena and Tryphosa who 'worked hard in the Lord' (Rom.16:12). They are found labouring with Paul in spreading the gospel (Phil.4:3) and supporting in various ways. For women both to pray and prophecy during public worship (1 Cor.11:5) was acceptable by Paul, despite being a contradiction to the customs of the time. 
The fact that Paul was clear on the position of women in the church and that they were equal with all others is clarified in Galatians (3:28). For Paul men and women had complete equality of standing before God (1 Cor. 11:11). Unquestionably, the revolutionary teaching of Jesus had systematically permeated into the heart of Paul, the rabbi and apostle of Jesus.
However, an issue on which Paul disagreed with women was regarding women's headdress (11:5). By dispensing with the customary covering for their heads many of women within the Corinthian church were defying tradition. It appears they viewed their action as having religious importance as the particular circumstance on which they chose to exhibit their uncovered heads was at worship. Their unconventional behaviour was obviously an expression of a new found freedom related to the Christian faith. 
Undoubtedly, this was an assertion of feminine freedom found within the context of the new faith. To these women the covered head was symbolical of their subordination to men, and ceased to be acknowledged by them under conditions of worship. Paul differed with them on this point of headdress despite acknowledging women's right to speak in church under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This Paul ruled as an exception to the silence he otherwise imposed on them (ch.14:34), nevertheless he considered it did not excuse them from covering their heads. 
Having considered problems within the church relating to the Lord's Supper, sex and women there is, however, a further dynamic for reflection when appreciating the circumstances that occasioned I Corinthians. That dynamic is a developing conflict between the church in Corinth and Paul himself. Watson notes Gordon Fee's observation that 'the language and style of I Corinthians are especially rhetorical and combative. Paul is taking them on at every turn Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ he is attacking and challenging with all the weapons in his literary arsenal.' 
While Paul is undoubtedly seeking to right both their theology and practices in a comprehensive way, it is clear that Paul needs to defend his apostolate. Moreover, the fact remains that the Corinthians had written to the apostle seeking his advice. This proves that he remains an authority figure in their eyes, understanding and appreciating their lives and issues.
Hermeneutically, Corinth reflects realistically on our contemporary Christian community situation. The problems and issues addressed by St.Paul are still relevant to society and the church today. The text offers a splendid observation of Paul the church cultivator and pastor utilizing his theology for the service of the church.
The spread of abuses and problems at Corinth enable us to share the apostle's perspective on a large number of issues of contemporary importance to the church. The whole correspondence throbs with life and love. However, there are difficulties associated with Corinthians that keep it a closed book to most church members today. The Corinthian issues are considered too awkward to tackle, such as tongues, prophecy and veiled women.' 
Naturally, this appraisal would be stalled at the outset if Paul's solutions to these problems relate simply to antiquated issues, For example, if First Corinthians rests on the necessity of the Lord's Supper, sexual practices or the wearing veils to worship then the ethical instruction of Paul may well be relegated to archaic morality. Fortunately, however, the ethic of Paul is a protest against that very kind of literalistic and legalistic teaching. His concern with the practical should not be construed as a banal particularise. Rather, the concern with particulars rests on the conviction that basic ethical concerns are relevant o every aspect of human conduct. 
Providentially, however, Paul's ethic is an objection to such literalistic and legalistic teaching. His concern with the practical should not be negatively construed but rather his concern with facts supports his conviction that fundamental ethical issues are pertinent to all facets of human behaviour. Paul's analysis and response to these commonplace issues offer theological considerations of merit. Repeatedly throughout First Corinthians Paul commences with a common concern, probes its depth for theological understanding, and applies theological principles for the practical application Christian life. 
Paul's theological ethic can only be fully understood in relation to its application and relevance. First Corinthians may be applied as here as a fundamental source for investigation because the tension between the practical and theological are constantly sustain. Here the Christocentric character of Paul's thought is clearly expressed with Paul's answers founded on the 'rock' of Christ.
In conclusion it has been seen how Paul confronted the Corinthians Christians regarding their sins and shortcomings, exhorting them not to merge with the world or accept its false values and erroneous lifestyles. The root causes of these errors may be seen in an assimilation of the gospel to Hellenism however a more plausible reason is the human inclination to reshape God in our own image.
Paul was well aware of what and why he was doing it when he wrote to the church of God at Corinth (1:2). The apostle's purpose in writing to the Corinthians is clearly reproving. Paul wants them to know that he is concerned with the assembly and tells them what they should and not do in explicit terms. In addressing the issues relating to the Lord's Supper, marriage and women (as with the other issues) Paul exhibits a clear understanding of the facts. This is received through the reliability of the sources and Paul's own background and worldly experiences. His adroit and forthright response address's the situation squarely and accurately warranting an effective outcome. Paul makes it clear that his actions have no self advantage but that his writing is a command of the Lord (14:37).
Paul's letter to the Corinthians offers the contemporary reader a window into a real and struggling early Christian community that challenged the Corinthians to allow the gospel to engage them in the reality of their daily lives. Likewise, the contemporary reader is challenged to allow the gospel message to engage them in the very realities of daily life and to celebrate their oneness in Christ when the church gathers for Eucharist and spiritual communication.
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