Epistles to the Corinthians
St. Paul Founds the Church at Corinth
St. Paul's first visit to Europe is graphically described by St. Luke (Acts,
xvi-xviii). When he reached Troas, at the northwest corner of Asia Minor, on his
second great missionary journey in company with Timothy and Silvanus, or Silas
(who was a
prophet and had the confidence of The Twelve), he met St. Luke,
probably for the first time. At Troas he had a vision of
a man of Macedonia
standing and beseeching him, and saying: Pass over in to Macedonia and help us.
In response to this appeal he proceeded to Philippi in Macedonia, where he made
many converts, but was cruelly beaten with rods according to the Roman custom.
After comforting the brethren he travelled southward to Thessalonica, where some
of the Jews
believed, and of those that served God, and of the Gentiles a great
multitude, and of noble women not a few. But the Jews, moved with envy, and
taking unto them some wicked men of the vulgar sort set the city in an uproar …
And they stirred up the people and the rulers of the city hearing these things.
But the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night to Ber£a. Who,
when they were come thither, went into the synagogue of the Jews, and many of
them believed, and of honourable women that were Gentiles and of men not a few.
But unbelieving Jews from Thessalonica came to Ber£a
stirring up and troubling
And immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go to the sea;
but Silas and Timothy remained there. And they that conducted Paul brought him
as far as Athens - then reduced to the position of an old university town. At
Athens he preached his famous philosophical discourse in the Areopagus. Only a
few were converted, amongst these being St. Dionysius the Areopagite. Some of
his frivolous hearers mocked him. Others said that that was enough for the
present; they would listen to more another time.
He appears to have been very disappointed with Athens He did not visit it again, and it is never mentioned in his letters. The disappointed and solitary Apostle left Athens and travelled westwards, a distance of forty-five miles, to Corinth, then the capital of Greece. The fearful scourging at Philippi coming not very long after he had been stoned and left for dead at Lystra, together with his ill-treatment by the Jews, as described in II Cor., must have greatly weakened him. As we are not to suppose that he, any more than his Master, was miraculously saved from pain and its effects, it was with physical pain, nervousness, and misgiving that the lonely Apostle entered this great pagan city, that had a bad name for profligacy throughout the Roman world. To act the Corinthian was synonymous with leading a loose life. Corinth, which had been destroyed by the Romans, was re-established as a colony by Julius Cesar 46 B.C., and made the capital of the Roman Province of Achaia by Augustus. It was built on the southern extremity of the isthmus connecting the mainland with the Morea, and was on the great line of traffic between East and West. Its two magnificent harbours, one at each side of the isthmus, were crowded with shipping and were the scenes of constant bustle and activity. Corinth was filled with Greeks, Romans, Syrians, Egyptians, and Jews, many of the last having lately come from Rome on account of their expulsion by Claudius; and its streets were thronged by tens of thousands of slaves. Crowds, too, came from all parts every four years to be present at the Isthmian games. On the summit of the hill to the south of the city was the infamous temple of Venus, with its thousand female devotees dedicated to a life of shame.
It was to this centre of traffic, excitement, wealth, and vice that St. Paul
came, probably about the end of A.D. 51; and here he spent upwards of eighteen
months of his Apostolic career. He took up his residence with two Christian Jews,
Aquila and his wife Priscilla (refugees from Rome), because they were of the
same trade as himself. Like all Jews he had learnt a trade in his youth, and in
their house he supported himself by working at this trade, viz., that of
tentmaker, as he had determined not to receive any support from the money-loving
Corinthians. He began by preaching in the synagogue every Sabbath;
persuaded the Jews and the Greeks . Of this period he says that he was with
in weakness, and fear, and much trembling. The ill-usage he had received
was still fresh in his memory, as, writing a month or two later to the
Thessalonians, he recalls how he had been
shamefully treated at Philippi. But
when he was joined by Silas and Timothy, who brought him pecuniary aid from
Macedonia, he became more bold and confident, and
was earnest in testifying to
the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. But they gainsaying and blaspheming, he shook
his garments and said to them:
Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean:
from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles. He then began to preach in the
house of Titus Justus, adjoining the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the
synagogue, and his family, and several of the Corinthians were converted and
baptized. Amongst these were Caius, Stephanas, and his household, and the house
of Fortunatus and Achaicus,
the firstfruits of Achaia (I Cor., i, 14, 16, xvi,
15). The growing opposition of the Jews, however, and the wicked state of the
city had a depressing influence upon him; but
the Lord said to Paul in the
night, by a vision: Do not fear, but speak; and hold not thy peace, because I am
with thee; and no man shall set upon thee to hurt thee; for I have much people
in this city. And he stayed there a year and six months, teaching among them the
word of God (Acts, xviii, 9-11). Many were converted; some of them noble,
wealthy, and learned, but the great majority neither learned, nor powerful, nor
noble (I Cor., i, 26). During this long period the Faith was planted not only in
Corinth but in other portions of Achaia, especially in Cenchreæ, the eastern
port. At length the unbelieving Jews, seeing the ever-increasing crowd of
Christians frequenting the house of Titus Justus, next door to their synagogue,
became furious, and rose up with one accord and dragged St. Paul before the
newly-appointed Proconsul of Achaia, Gallio, the brother of Seneca (A.D. 54).
Gallio, perceiving that it was a question of religion, refused to listen to them.
The crowd, seeing this and supposing that it was a dispute between Greeks and
Jews, fell upon the ring-leader of the latter (Sosthenes, who succeeded Crispus
as ruler of the synagogue) and gave him a sound beating in the very sight of the
judgment seat; but Gallio pretended not to notice. His treatment must have cowed
the Jews, and St. Paul
stayed yet many days. Cornely is of opinion that at
this time he made his journey as far as Illyricum, and that his first visit to
in sorrow was when he returned. Others with greater probability place it
later. St Paul, at last taking leave of the brethren, travelled as far as
Ephesus with Priscilla and Aquila. Leaving them there he went on to Jerusalem
and came back by Antioch, Galatia, and Phrygia, where he confirmed all the
disciples. After having thus traversed the
upper coasts he returned to Ephesus,
which he made his head-quarters for nearly three years. It was towards the end
of that period that the First Epistle was written.
Authenticity of the Epistles
Little need be said on this point. The historical and internal evidence that
they were written by St. Paul is so overwhelmingly strong that their
authenticity has been frankly admitted by every distinguished writer of the most
advanced critical schools. They were contained in the first collections of St.
Paul's Epistles, and were quoted as Scripture by early Christian writers. They
were referred to as authorities by the early heretics and translated into many
languages in the middle of the second century. The unique personality of St.
Paul is impressed upon their every page. Baur, the rationalistic founder of the
Tübingen School, and his followers, held the two to the Corinthians, Galatians,
and Romans to be unassailable. One or two hypercritical writers, of little
weight, brought some futile objections against them; but these were scarcely
meant to be taken seriously; they were refuted and brushed aside by such an
ultra writer as Kuenen. Schmiedel, one of the most advanced modern critics, says
(Hand-Kommentar, Leipzig, 1893, p. 51) that unless better arguments can be
adduced against them the two Epistles must be acknowledged to be genuine
writings of St. Paul. The Second Epistle was known from the very earliest times.
There is a trace of it in that portion of
The Ascension of Isaiah which dates
back to the first century (Knowling,
The Testimony of St. Paul to Christ, p.
The Ascension of Isaiah, pp. 34, 150). It was known to St.
Polycarp, to the writerof the Epistle to Diognetus, to Athenagoras, Theophilus,
the heretics Basilides and Marcion. In the second half of the second century it
was so widely used that it is unnecessary to give quotations.
THE FIRST EPISTLE
During the years that St. Paul was at Ephesus he must have frequently heard
from Corinth, as it was distant only 250 miles, and people were constantly
passing to and fro. A ship sailing at the rate of four miles an hour would cover
the distance in three days, though on one unpropitious occasion it took Cicero
over a fortnight (Ep. vi, 8, 9). By degrees the news reached Ephesus that some
of the Corinthians were drifting back into their former vices. Alford and others
infer from the words of II Cor., xii, 20, 21; xiii, 1,
Behold this is the third
time that I come to you, that he made a flying visit to check these abuses.
Others suppose that this coming meant by letter. Be this as it may, it is
generally held that he wrote them a brief note (now lost) telling them
associate with fornicators, asking them to make collection for the poor
brethren at Jerusalem, and giving them an account of his intention of visiting
them before going on to Macedonia, and of returning to them again from that
place. News which he heard later from the household of Chloe and others made him
change his plan, and for this he was accused by his enemies of want of
steadiness of purpose (II Cor., i, 17). The accounts which he received caused
him great anxiety. Abuses, bickerings, and party strife had grown up amongst
them. The party cries were:
I am of Paul; I am of Apollo [Apollos]; I am of
Cephas; I am of Christ. These parties, in all likelihood, originated as follows:
During St. Paul's circular tour from Ephesus to Jerusalem, Antioch, Galatia,
Phrygia, and back to Ephesus,
a certain Jew, named Apollo, born at Alexandria,
an eloquent man, came to Ephesus, one mighty in the scriptures, and being
fervent in spirit, spoke, and taught diligently the things that are of Jesus,
knowing only the baptism of John. Priscilla and Aquila fully instructed him in
the Christian Faith. In accordance with his desire he received letters of
recommendation to the disciples at Corinth.
Who, when he was come, helped them
very much who had believed. For with much vigor he convinced the Jews openly,
shewing by the scriptures that Jesus is the Christ (Acts, xviii, 27, 28). He
remained at Corinth about two years, but, being unwilling to be made the centre
of strife, he joined St. Paul at Ephesus. From the inspired words of St. Luke,
no mean judge, we may take it that in learning and eloquence Apollo was on a par
with the greatest of his contemporaries, and that in intellectual powers he was
not inferior to Jews like Josephus and Philo. He is likely to have known the
latter, who was a prominent member of the Jewish community in his native city of
Alexandria, and had died only fourteen years before; and his deep interest in
Holy Scripture would certainly have led him to study the works of Philo. The
eloquence of Apollo, and his powerful applications of the Old Testament to the
Messias, captivated the intellectual Greeks, especially the more educated. That,
they thought, was true wisdom. They began to make invidious comparisons between
him and St. Paul who on account of his experience at Athens, had purposely
confined himself to what we should call solid catechetical instruction. The
Greeks dearly loved to belong to some particular school of philosophy; so the
admirers of Apollo laid claim to a deeper perception of wisdom and boasted that
they belonged to the Christian school of the great Alexandrian preacher. The
majority, on the other hand, prided themselves on their intimate connection with
their Apostle. It was not zeal for the honour of their teachers that really
prompted either of these parties, but a spirit of pride which made them seek to
put themselves above their fellows, and prevented them from humbly thanking God
for the grace of being Christians. About this time there came from the East some
who had possibly heard St. Peter preach. These regarded the others as their
spiritual inferiors; they themselves belonged to Cephas, the Prince of the
Apostles. Commentators are of opinion that this party spirit did not go so deep
as to constitute formal schism or heresy. They all met together for prayer and
the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries; but there were hot disputes and many
breaches of fraternal charity. The Fathers mention only three parties; but the
text obviously implies that there was another party the members of which said,
I am of Christ. This view is now held by several Catholics, and by many
non-Catholics. What was the nature of this party it is difficult to determine.
It has been suggested that a few of those who were specially endowed with
spiritual gifts, or charismata, boasted that they were above the others, as they
were in direct communication with Christ. Another explanation is that they had
seen Christ in the flesh, or that they claimed to follow His example in their
reverence for the Law of Moses. At any rate, the statement,
I am of Christ,
seemed to make Christ a mere party name, and to imply that the others were not
Christians in the genuine and perfect sense of the word.
St. Paul, hearing of this state of things, sent Timothy together with Erastus
treasurer of the city of Corinth - Rom., xvi, 23) round by
Macedonia, to put things in order. Soon after they left, Stephanas and other
delegates came with a letter from the Corinthians. This letter contained some
self-glorification and requested the Apostle to give a solution to several
serious difficulties which they proposed to him; but it made no mention of their
shortcomings. By this time he had become fully aware of the grave state of
affairs amongst them. Besides party strife, some made light of sins of impurity.
One man had gone to the extent of marrying his stepmother, his father being
still alive, a crime unheard of amongst the pagans. So far were they from
showing horror that they treated him in a friendly manner and allowed him to be
present at their meetings. As matters were too pressing to wait for the arrival
of Timothy, St. Paul at once wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians and sent
it by Titus about Easter A.D. 57.
Importance of the First Epistle
This is generally regarded as the greatest of the writings of St. Paul by
reason of the magnificence and beauty of its style and the variety and
importance of its contents. So splendid is its style that it has given rise to
the conjecture that St. Paul took lessons in oratory at Ephesus; but this is
highly improbable. St. Paul's was not the type of eloquence to be moulded by
mechanical rules; his was the kind of genius that produces literature on which
rules of rhetoric are based. If the Corinthians were impressed by the eloquence
of Apollo, they could not help feeling, when they heard and read this Epistle,
that here was an author capable of bearing comparison not only with Apollo, but
with the best that they could boast in Greek literature, of which they were so
justly proud. Scholars of all schools are loud in its praise. The striking
similes, figures of speech, and telling sentences of the Epistle have passed
into the literatures of the world. Plummer, in Smith's
Dict. of the Bible,
says that chapters xiii and xv are among the most sublime passages, not only in
the Bible, but in all literature.
But this Epistle is great not only for its style but also for the variety and
importance of its doctrinal teaching. In no other Epistle does St. Paul treat of
so many different subjects; and the doctrines which are touched upon (in many
eases only incidentally) are important as showing what he and Silvanus, a
disciple and trusted delegate of the older Apostles, taught the early Christians.
In some of his letters he had to defend his Apostolate and the freedom of
Christians from the Law of Moses against heretical teachers; but be never had to
defend himself against his bitterest enemies, the judaizers, for his teaching on
Christ and the principal points of doctrine contained in these two Epistles, the
obvious reason being that his teaching must have been in perfect harmony with
that of The Twelve. He distinctly states in ch. xv, 11,
For whether I, or they
[The Twelve Apostles], so we preach, and so you have believed.
Divisions of the First Epistle
Instead of giving a formal summary of the contents of the Epistle, it may be more useful to give the teaching of the Apostle, in his own words, classified under various heads, following, in general, the order of the Creed. With regard to arrangement, it may be stated, in passing, that the Epistle is divided into two parts. In the first six chapters he rebukes them for their faults and corrects abuses: (1) He shows the absurdity of their divisions and bickerings; (2) deals with the scandalous case of incest; (3) their lawsuits before pagans; and (4) the want of sufficient horror of impurity in some of them. In the second part (the remaining ten chapters) he solves the difficulties which they proposed to him and lays down various regulations for their conduct. He deals with questions relating to (1) marriage, (2) virginity, (3) the use of things offered to idols, (4) proper decorum in church and the celebration of the Eucharist, (5) spiritual gifts, or Charismata, (6) the Resurrection, (7) the collections for the poor of Jerusalem.
God the Father (passim)
Yet there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto
him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things and we by him (viii, 6).
Compare II Cor., xiii, 13:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the charity
of God, and the communication of the Holy Ghost be with you all. (Bengel,
quoted by Bernard, calls this an egregium testimonium to the Blessed Trinity.)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus
Christ (i, 3).
You are called unto the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our
Lord (i, 9).
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (i, 24).
the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden, which God ordained
before the world, unto our glory, which none of the princes of this world knew;
for if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory (ii,
But you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the
name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God (vi, 11 - see also i, 2,
4, 7, 9 13; iii, 5, 11; vi, 11; xii, 4-6). (2)
The word of the cross to them
that are saved is the power of God (i, 18).
We preach Christ crucified, unto
them that are called Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (i, 23, 24).
But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and
justice, and sanctification and redemption (i, 30).
For I judged myself not to
know any thing among you, but Jesus Christ, and him crucified (ii, 3).
Christ our pasch is sacrificed (v, 7).
For you are bought with a great price
(vi, 20 - cf. i, 13, 17; vii, 23; viii, 11, 12.) (3) The following passage
probably contains fragments of an early creed:
The gospel which I preached to
you, which also you have received. … For I delivered unto you first of all,
which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins, according to the
scriptures: and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day,
according to the scriptures: and that he was seen by Cephas; and after that by
the eleven. Then was he seen by more than five hundred brethren at once: of whom
many remain until this present, and some are fallen asleep. After that, he was
seen by James, then by all the apostles. And last of all, he was seen also by me,
as by one born out of due time (xv, 1-8).
Have not I seen Christ Jesus our
Lord? (ix, 1).
And if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain,
and your faith is also vain (xv, 14).
But now Christ is risen from the dead,
the first fruits of them that sleep (xv, 20 - cf. vi, 14). (4)
Waiting for the
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (i, 7).
That the spirit may be saved in the
day of our Lord Jesus Christ (v, 5).
He that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore
judge not before the time; until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the
hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts;
and then shall every man have praise from God (iv, 4, 5).
The Holy Ghost
Now there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit; and there are
diversities of ministries, but the same Lord; and there are diversities of
operations, but the same God (xii, 4-6).
But to us God hath revealed them, by
his Spirit. The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God … the
things that are of God no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God (ii, 10, 11 - cf.
ii, 12-14, 16).
Know you not, that you are the temple of God, and that the
Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (iii, 16).
But you are washed, but you are
sanctified … in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of our God
Or know you not, that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost,
who is in you, whom you have from God; and you are not your own? … Glorify and
bear God in your body (vi, 19, 20).
But all these things one and the same
Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he will (xii, 11).
one Spirit were we all baptized unto one body (xii, 13).
Yet by the Spirit he
speaketh mysteries (xiv, 2).
The Holy Catholic Church
The head of every man is Christ (xi, 3).
Is Christ divided? (i, 13).
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of
our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no
schisms among you; but that you be perfect in the same mind, and in the same
judgment (i, 10). He devotes four chapters to the reprehension of their
divisions, which did not really amount to anything constituting formal schism or
heresy. They met in common for prayer and the participation of the Blessed
Know you not that you [the Christian body] are the temple of God …
but if any man violate the temple of God [by pulling it to pieces], him shall
God destroy. For the temple of God is holy, which you are (iii, 16, 17).
as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body,
whereas they are many, yet are one body, so also is Christ. For in one Spirit
were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or
free (xii, 12, 13). [Here follows the allegory of the body and its members, xii,
Now you are the body of Christ, and members of member (xii, 27).
God hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets … Are all
apostles? (xii, 28-31).
For God is not the God of dissension, but of peace: as
also I teach in all the Churches of the saints (xiv, 33).
I have sent you
Timothy, who is my dearest son and faithful in the Lord, who will put you in
mind of my ways, which are in Christ Jesus: as I teach everywhere in every
church (iv, 17).
But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom,
nor the church of God (xi, 16).
The gospel which I preached to you … and
wherein you stand; by which also you are [being] saved, if you hold fast after
the manner I preached unto you, unless you have believed in vain (xv, 1-2).
For whether I, or they [The Twelve Apostles], so we preach, and so you have
believed (xv, 11).
The churches of Asia salute you (xvi, 19).
Old Testament Types
Now all these things happened to them in figure: and they are written for
our correction (x, 11).
What will you? shall I come to you with a rod; or in charity, and in the
spirit of meekness? (iv, 21).
Now concerning the collections. … as I have
given order to the churches of Galatia, so do ye also (xvi, 1).
Power of excommunication
I indeed, absent in body, but present in spirit, have already judged, as
though I were present, him that hath so done. In the name of our Lord Jesus
Christ, you being gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord
Jesus Christ, to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,
that the spirit may be saved (v, 3-5).
Jews and pagans exempt from Church's jurisdiction
For what have I to do to judge them that are without … For them that are
without, God will judge (v, 12, 13).
For the temple of God is holy, which you are (iii, 17).
Know you not that
your bodies are the members of Christ (vi, 15).
Your members are the temple of
the Holy Ghost … Glorify and bear God in your body (vi, 19, 20 - cf. vi, 11,
God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you
are able, but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear
it (x, 13).
Grace be to you … (i, 3).
But by the grace of God, I am what
I am; and his grace in me hath not been void, but I have laboured more
abundantly than all they: yet not I, but the grace of God with me (xv, 10).
Virtuous life necessary for salvation
Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not
err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate …
nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, … shall possess the kingdom of God
(vi, 9, 10). This, like a dominant note, rings clear through all the Epistles of
St. Paul as in the teaching of his Divine Master.
But I chastise my body, and
bring it into subjection: lest perhaps when I have preached to others, I myself
should become a castaway (ix, 27).
Wherefore he that thinketh himself to stand,
let him take heed lest he fall (x, 12).
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye
steadfast and unmoveable; always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that
your labour is not in vain in the Lord (xv, 58).
Watch ye, stand fast in the
faith, do manfully, and be strengthened (xvi, 13).
Do all to the glory of God
Be without offence to the Jews, and to the Gentiles, and to the church
of God (x, 32).
Be ye followers of me as I am of Christ (xi, 1).
Resurrection of the body and life everlasting
For God hath raised up the Lord, and he will raise us up also by his power
And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.
For star differeth from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.
It is sown in corruption, it shall rise in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour,
it shall rise in glory.
Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall all indeed rise
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the
trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible. (See all of
We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face.
Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known (xiii, 12).
Were you baptized in the name of Paul? (i, 13).
I baptized also the
household of Stephanus (I, 16).
For in one Spirit were we all baptized into
one body (xii, 13).
But you are washed [apelousasthe] but you are sanctified,
but you are justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of
our God (vi, 11).
The chalice of benediction, which we bless, is it not the communion of the
blood of Christ? And the bread, which we break, is it not the partaking of the
body of the Lord? … But the things which the heathens sacrifice, they
sacrifice to devils … You cannot drink the chalice of the Lord and the chalice
of devils (x, 16-21).
For I have received of the Lord that which also I
delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed,
took bread, and giving thanks, said: Take ye, and eat: this is my body … In
like manner also the chalice; etc. … Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread,
or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of
the blood of the Lord. … For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and
drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord (xi, 23-29).
On the words of consecration see the two able articles by Dr. A.R. Eagar in
Expositor, March and April, 1908.
Its use. Marriage good, but celibacy better. - The marriage of divorced persons forbidden. - Second marriage allowed to Christians; but single state preferable for those who have the gift from God. (vii, 1-8.) Pauline Dispensation: a Christian is not bound to remain single if his pagan partner is unwilling to live with him (vii, 12-15).
It is not wrong to marry; but preferable to remain single - St. Paul's
He that giveth his virgin in marriage doth well; and he that giveth
her not doth better. (vii, 25-40.)
Principles of moral theology
In ch. vii; and following chapters St. Paul solves several difficult cases of conscience, some of them of a very delicate nature, falling under what we should now call the tractatus de sexto (sc. præcepto decalogi). He would, doubtless, have preferred to be free from the necessity of having to enter into such disagreeable subjects; but as the welfare of souls required it, he felt it incumbent upon him, as part of his Apostolic office, to deal with the matter. It is in the same spirit that pastors of souls have acted ever since. If so many difficulties arose in a few years in one town, it was inevitable that numerous complicated cases should occur in the course of centuries amongst peoples belonging to every degree of barbarism and civilization; and to these questions the Church was rightly expected to give a helpful answer; hence the growth of moral theology.
THE SECOND EPISTLE
The Second Epistle was written a few months after the First, in which St. Paul had stated that he intended to go round by Macedonia. He set out on this journey sooner than he had anticipated, on account of the disturbance at Ephesus caused by Demetrius and the votaries of Diana of the Ephesians. He travelled northwards as far as Troas, and after waiting some time for Titus, whom he expected to meet on his way back from Corinth, whither he had carried the First Epistle, he set sail for Macedonia and went on to Philippi. Here he met Titus and Timothy. The news that Titus brought him from Corinth was for the most part of a cheering character. The great majority were loyal to their Apostle. They were sorry for their faults; they had obeyed his injunctions regarding the public sinner, and the man himself had deeply repented. We hear no more of the parties of Paul, Apollo, and Cephas, though the letter appears to contain one reference to the fourth party. His friends, who had expected a visit from himself, were deeply grieved at his not coming as he had promised; a few who were his enemies, probably judaizers, sought to take advantage of this to undermine his authority by discovering in this a clear proof of fickleness of mind and instability of purpose; they said that his unwillingness to receive support betrayed want of affection; that he used threatening language when at a safe distance, but was in fact a coward who was mild and conciliating when present; that they were foolish to let themselves be led by one who made the rather enormous pretension to be an Apostle of Christ, when he was nothing of the kind, and was in reality, both naturally and supernaturally, inferior to men they could name. This news filled the soul of St. Paul with the deepest emotion. He purposely delayed in Macedonia, and sent them this Epistle to prepare them better for his coming and to counteract the evil influence of his opponents. It was sent by Titus and two others, one of whom, it is almost certain, was St. Luke. The circumstances under which the Epistle was written can be best gathered from the text itself. We can easily imagine the effect produced when it was read for the first time to the assembled Christians at Corinth, by Titus, or in the sonorous tones of the Evangelist St. Luke. The news that their great Apostle had sent them another letter rapidly spread through the city; the previous one had been such a masterly production that all were eager to listen to this. The great bulk of the expectant congregation were his enthusiastic admirers, but a few came to criticize, especially one man, a Jew, who had recently arrived with letters of recommendation, and was endeavouring to supplant St. Paul. He said he was an Apostle (not of The Twelve, but of the kind mentioned in the Didache). He was a man of dignified presence, as he spoke slightingly of St. Paul's insignificant appearance. He was skilled in philosophy and polished in speech, and he insinuated that St. Paul was wanting in both. He knew little or nothing of St. Paul except by hearsay, as he accused him of want of determination, of cowardice, and unworthy motives, things belied by every fact of St. Paul s history. The latter might terrify others by letters, but he would not frighten him. This man comes to the assembly expecting to be attacked and prepared to attack in turn. As the letter is being read, ever and anon small dark clouds appear on the horizon; but when, in the second part, the Epistle has quieted down into a calm exhortation to almsgiving, this man is congratulating himself on his easy escape, and is already picking holes in what he has heard. Then, suddenly as upon the army of Sisara, the storm breaks upon him; lightnings strike, thunder upbraids. He is beaten down by the deluge, and his influence is swept out of existence by the irresistible torrent. At any rate, he is never heard of again. These two Epistles as effectively destroyed St. Paul's opponents at Corinth, as the Epistle to the Galatians annihilated the judaizers in Asia Minor.
This Epistle, though not written with the same degree of care and polish as
the First, is more varied and spontaneous in style. Erasmus says that it would
take all the ingenuity of a skilled rhetorician to explain the multitude of its
strophes and figures. It was written with great emotion and intensity of feeling,
and some of its sudden outbursts reach the highest levels of eloquence. It gives
a deeper insight than any other of his writings into the character and personal
history of St. Paul. With Cornely, we may call it his
Apologia pro Vitâ Suâ, a
fact which makes it one of the most interesting of the writings of the New
Testament. Erasmus described it as follows:
Now it bubbles up as a limpid
fountain; soon it rushes down as a roaring torrent carrying all before it; then
it flows peacefully and gently along. Now it widens out as into a broad and
tranquil lake. Yonder it gets lost to view, and suddenly reappears in quite a
different direction, when it is seen meandering and winding along, now
deflecting to the right, now to the left; then making a wider loop and
occasionally doubling back upon itself.
Divisions of the Epistle
It consists of three parts. In the first of these (chapters i to vii, incl.), after (1) introduction, (2) the Apostle shows that his change of plan is not due to lightness of purpose but for the good of the people, and his teaching not mutable; (3) he did not wish to come again in sorrow. The repentant sinner, the cause of his sorrow, to be now reconciled. (4) His great affection for them. (5) He does not require, like others, letters of recommendation. They, as Christians, are his commendatory letters. (6) He writes with authority, not on account of arrogance, but because of the greatness of the ministry with which he was entrusted, as compared with the ministry of Moses. Those who refuse to listen have the veil over their hearts, like the carnal Jews. (7) He endeavours to please Christ Who showed His love by dying for all, and will reward His servants. (8) Moving exhortation.
The second part (chapters viii and ix) relates to the collections for the poor Christians at Jerusalem. (1) He praises the Macedonians for their ready generosity in giving out of their poverty. He exhorts the Corinthians to follow their example in imitation of Christ Who, being rich, became poor for our sakes. (2) He sends Titus and two others to make the collections and to remove all grounds of calumny that he was enriching himself. (3) He has boasted of them in Macedonia that they began before others. (4) A man shall reap in proportion as he sows. God loves the cheerful giver and is able to repay. Giving not only relieves the poor brethren but causes thanksgiving to God and prayers for benefactors.
The third part (last four chapters) is directed against the pseudo-Apostles.
(1) He is bold towards some who think he acts from worldly motives. He has
powerful arms from God for humbling such and punishing their disobedience. Some
say he terrifies by letters which are weighty and strong; but has bodily
presence is weak, and his speech contemptible. Let such a one understand that
such as he is in his Epistle, so will he be when present. (2) He will not
pretend, as they do, to be greater than he is, nor wilt he exalt himself by
other men's labours. (3) He asks pardon for talking like a worldly-minded man.
It is to counteract the influence of the pseudo-Apostles. He jealously guards
the Corinthians lest they be deceived as Eve was by the serpent. (4) If the
new-comers brought them anything better in the way of religion, he could
understand their submission to their dictatorship. (5) He is not inferior to
those superlative Apostles. If his speech is rude, his knowledge is not. He
humbled himself amongst them, and did not exact support in order to gain them.
The false Apostles profess a like disinterestedness; but they are deceitful
workmen transforming themselves into Apostles of Jesus Christ. And no wonder:
for Satan transformed himself into an angel of light, and they imitate their
master. They make false insinuations against the Apostle. (6) He, too, will
glory a little (speaking like a foolish worldly person, in order to confound
them). They boast of natural advantages. He is not inferior to them in any; but
he far surpasses them in his sufferings for the propagation of the Gospel, in
his supernatural gifts, and in the miraculous proofs of his Apostleship at
in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. The
Corinthians have all that other Churches had except the burden of his support.
He asks them to pardon him that injury. Neither he nor Titus nor any other of
his friends over-reached them. He writes thus lest he should come again in
sorrow. He threatens the unrepentant.
Unity of the Second Epistle
Whilst the Pauline authorship is universally acknowledged, the same cannot be
said for its unity. Some critics hold that it consists of two Epistles, or
portion of Epistles, by St. Paul; that the first nine chapters belong to one
Epistle, and the last four to another. As these two sections are held to have
been written by St. Paul, there appears to be nothing in this view that can be
said to be in opposition to the Catholic doctrine of inspiration. But the
hypothesis is very far from being proved. Nay more, on account of the arguments
that can be alleged against it, it can scarcely be regarded as probable. The
principal objection against the unity of the Epistle is the difference of tone
in the two sections. This is well stated and answered by the Catholic scholar
Introduction, tr. by Wait, London, 1827 p. 392):
It is moreover objected
how different is the tone of the first part, mild, amiable, affectionate,
whereas the third part is severe, vehement, and irrespectively castigatory. But
who on this account would divide Demosthenes' oration De Coronâ into two parts,
because in the more general defence placidity and circumspection predominate
while on the other hand, in abashing and chastising the accuser, in the parallel
between him and Æschines, words of bitter irony gush out impetuously and fall
like rain in a storm. This argument is referred to with approval by Meyer,
Cornely, and Jacquier. Others save explained the difference of tone by supposing
that when the first nine chapters were finished fresh news of a disagreeable
kind arrived from Corinth, and that this led St. Paul to add the last four
chapters. In the same way the parenthetical section (vi, 14, vii, 2), which
seems to have been inserted as an afterthought, can be explained. It was added,
according to Bernard, to prevent a misconception of the expression used in vi,
our heart is enlarged … be you also enlarged, which in the O. T. had
the bad meaning of being too free with infidels. St. Paul's manner of writing
has also to be taken into account. In this, as in his other Epistles he speaks
as a preacher who now addresses one portion of his congregation, now another, as
if they were the only persons present, and that without fear of being
misunderstood. Dr. Bernard thinks that the difference of tone can be
sufficiently accounted for on the supposition that the letter was written at
different sittings, and that the writer was in a different mood owing to
ill-health or other circumstances. The other objections brought against the
unity of the Epistle are ably refuted by the same author, whose argument may be
briefly summarized as follows: the last section, it is said, begins very
abruptly, and is loosely connected with the previous one by the particle de. But
there are several other instances in the Epistles of St. Paul where transition
is made in precisely the same way. On the last part, it is objected, people in
open rebellion are denounced, whereas that is not the case in the first portion.
Still, there is clear reference in the first section to persons who accused him
of being fickle, arrogant, brave at a distance, etc. One of the strongest
arguments against the integrity is that there are several verses in the first
nine chapters which seem to presuppose an equal number of passages in the second,
and the contention is that the last section is a portion of an earlier Epistle.
But on closer examination of each passage this connection is seen to be only
apparent. On the other hand, there are at least as many passages in the last
part which clearly and unmistakably look back to and presuppose verses in the
first. It is remarkable, moreover, that the only extant fragments of the
supposed two Epistles should fit so well. It has also been urged that the First
Epistle is not
painful enough to account for statements in the Second. But a
close examination of i, 11, 14; ii, 6; iii, 1, 2, 3, 4, 18; iv, 8, 9, 10, 18, 19;
v, etc., of the First Epistle, will show that this objection is quite unfounded.
The linguistic unity between the two portions of the Epistle is very great; and
many examples can be given to show that the two sections were always integral
portions of one whole. The evidence afforded by early manuscripts, translations,
and quotations points strongly in the same direction.
ORGANIZATION OF THE CHURCH AT CORINTH AS EXHIBITED IN THE TWO EPISTLES
There is nothing in either Epistle which enables us to say what was the
precise nature of the organization of the Church at Corinth. In I Cor., xii, 28,
And God indeed hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly
prophets, thirdly doctors; after that [the gift of] miracles; then the graces
[charismata] of healings, helps, governments [or wise counsels], kinds of
tongues, interpretations of speeches. Are all apostles? … Are all workers of
miracles? Have all the grace of healing? From the whole context it is clear
that this passage is nothing else than an enumeration of extraordinary gifts,
and that it has no bearing whatsoever on church government. The word apostle is
probably used here in its broad sense, not as meaning the Apostles of Jesus
Christ, but the apostles of the Church. If it is meant to include the former,
then the reference is not to their ruling power, but to their supernatural gifts,
upon which the whole argument turns. St. Paul thanked God that he spoke with all
their tongues Barnabas is called an apostle (Acts, xiv, 4, 13). In II Cor., viii,
23, St. Paul calls his messengers
the apostles of the churches. (Compare Rom.,
xvi, 7; Apoc., ii, 2.) The Didache, or
Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, which
is probably a work of the first century, has the statement that if an apostle
remains till the third day claiming support, he is to be regarded as a false
prophet. It also says that every true teacher and true prophet is worthy of his
support; and it gives one of the rules for detecting a false prophet.
and doctors are referred to in Acts, xiii, 1. It is extremely probable that St.
Paul had organized the Church at Corinth during his long stay there as carefully
as he had previously done in Galatia (
and when they had ordained to them
priests in every church - Acts, xiv, 22) and in Ephesus
wherein the Holy Ghost
hath placed you bishops - Acts, xx, 7, 28). We have these statements on the
authority of the author of the Acts, now admitted, even by Harnack, to be St.
Luke, the companion of the Apostle. St. Paul had spent six or eight times as
long at Corinth as he had at Philippi, yet we find him writing to the latter
Paul and Timothy … to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at
Philippi, with the bishops and deacons (Phil., i, 1 - cf. I Thess., v, 12). The
principal office of the bishops and deacons was, according to the Didache, to
consecrate the Blessed Eucharist. It is only by accident, as it were, on account
of abuses, that St. Paul speaks, in the First Epistle, of the form of
consecration used at Corinth, and which is substantially the same as that given
in the Gospels. Had the abuses not arisen, it seems clear that he would not have
referred to the Eucharist. He says nothing of it in the Second Epistle. In that
case there would not be wanting those who would have loudly asserted that the
knew nothing of it, and, by implication, that the Apostle's mind
had not yet developed to that extent. But as he speaks so clearly we may take it
as certain, too, that the ministers of the Eucharist were the same as in other
places. There is no evidence that it was ever consecrated without a bishop or
priest. These, with the deacons, were the regular ministers in each place, under
the immediate jurisdiction of the Apostles of Jesus Christ. From all this we may
conclude that the Church in Achaia was as regularly organized as the earlier
Churches of Galatia, Ephesus, and the neighbouring Province of Macedonia, or as
in the Church of Crete (Tit., i, 5). There were
bishops (which word certainly
meant priests and perhaps also our modern bishops) and deacons. Later on,
Timothy, and Titus, and others were appointed over these
bishops, priests, and
deacons, and were monarchical bishops in the modern sense of the word. Other
such bishops succeeded the Apostles. (See BISHOP.)
The usual Introductions such as CORNELY, JACQUIER, SALMON, BELSER, ZAHN; BERNARD, Second Corinthians in Expositor's Greek Testament (London, 1903); FINDLAY, First Epistle to the Corinthians in Exp. Gr. Test. (London, 1900); RICKABY, Romans, Corinthians, Galatians (London, 1898); KENNEDY, Second and Third Corinthians (London, 1900); ALFORD, The Greek Test. (London, 1855), II; ROBERTSON in HASTINGS, Dict. of the Bible; Lives of St. Paul by FARRAR, CONYBEARE and HOWSON, LEWIN, FOUARD; MCEVILLY, An Exposition of the Epistles of St. Paul (3rd ed., Dublin, 1875) CORNELY, Commentarius (Paris, 1890). See also the commentaries of ESTIUS, BISPING, MAIER, LOCH, REISCHL, DRACH, STEENKISTE. The critical commentary of SCHMIEDEL, Die Briefe an die Korinther in Hand-Kommentar (Leipzig, 1893); LIGHTFOOT, Biblical Essays, Notes on Epistles of St. Paul (notes on seven chapters of First Cor. - London, 1895); ROBERTSON, Corinthians in The International Critical Commentary (Cambridge, 1908).
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