Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 (ESV)
1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,
2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both 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 for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
This portion of Chapter 1 can be described as an introduction and an appeal to personal authority. We’ll start by looking at Ellicott’s Bible Commentary and verse 1:
(1) Paul, called to be an apostle.—Better, a called Apostle of Jesus Christ. His apostolic authority, which was questioned by some in Corinth, is thus set out at the commencement of the Epistle.
And Sosthenes our brother.—Sosthenes the brother, probably the Sosthenes (see Note on 1 Corinthians 1:16) the chief ruler of the synagogue mentioned in Acts 18:17, one of the brethren well known to the Corinthians. From his name being thus joined with that of the Apostle, we may conjecture that he was his amanuensis in writing this Epistle, the salutation only (1 Corinthians 16:21) having been written by St. Paul’s hand.
Acts18, referred to in the note above, details the events of Paul’s time living among the Corinthians. He refers to that time within this 1 Corinthians. The text from Acts also tells us that a man named Sosthenes was the ruler of the synagogue in Corinth. Including Sosthenes, along with referring to himself as an Apostle, is an effort by Paul to explain his own authority in sending this letter/epistle. The Pulpit Commentaries includes a lengthy note covering verse 1, as well.
Paul. After the beginning of the first missionary journey (A.D. 45) he seems to have finally abandoned his Hebrew name of Saul. Called. The word “called” is absent from A, D, E, and other manuscripts, but may have been omitted as superfluous. It occurs in the greeting of Romans 1:1, but not in any other Epistle. The words might also be rendered “a called or chosen apostle.” To be an apostle. He uses this title in every letter except the private one to Philemon, the peculiarly friendly and informal one to the Philippians, and the two to the Thessalonians, which were written before the Judaizers had challenged his claim to this title in its more special sense. The Epistle to the Romans is the first in which he calls himself “a slave of Jesus Christ” (comp. Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1:0). It was necessary for him to assert his right to the apostolate in the highest sense of the word, as one who had received from Christ himself an authority equal to that of the twelve (see 1Co 9:1-5; 1 Corinthians 15:9; 2 Corinthians 11:5; 2Co 12:11, 2 Corinthians 12:12; Galatians 1:1-19, etc.). Of Jesus Christ. In the Gospels the word “Christ” is all but invariably “the Christ,” i.e. the Anointed, the Messiah. It is the designation of the office of Jesus as the promised Deliverer. We trace in the New Testament the gradual transition of the word from a title into a proper name. In the two names together our Lord is represented as “the Saviour,” and the anointed Prophet, Priest, and King, first of the chosen people and then of all mankind. Through the will of God. This special call to the apostleship is emphatically expanded in Galatians 1:1. The vindication of the Divine and independent claim was essential to St. Paul’s work. It was not due to any personal considerations, but to the necessity of proving that no human authority could be quoted to overthrow the gospel which was peculiarly “his gospel” (see Galatians 1:11; Ephesians 3:8), of which one main feature was the freedom of the Gentiles from the yoke of Judaic bondage. And Soathenes. The association of one or more brethren with himself in the greeting of his letters is peculiar to St. Paul. Silas and Timothy are associated with him in 1 and 2 Thessalonians; and Timothy, though so much his junior, in 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon; doubtless he would have been associated with St. Paul in this Epistle had he not been absent (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10). The practice arose partly from St. Paul’s exquisite courtesy and consideration towards his companions, partly from his shrinking from mere personal prominence. It is owing to the same reasons that in the earlier Epistles he constantly uses “we” for “I,” and sometimes when he can only be speaking of himself (1 Thessalonians 2:18). But even in the Epistles to the Thessalonians he sometimes relapses from “we” into “I” (2 Thessalonians 2:5). Our brother; literally, the brother; i.e. one of “the brethren”. Of Sosthenes nothing whatever is known. He may possibly be the amanuensis whom St. Paul employed for this letter. Later tradition, which in such matters is perfectly valueless, spoke of him as” one of the seventy disciples, and Bishop of Colophon” (Eusebius, ‘Hist. Eccl.,’ Ecclesiastes 1:12). There is a Jewish Sosthenes, a ruler of the synagogue, in Acts 18:17; but it is only a vague conjecture that he may have been subsequently converted, and may have joined St. Paul at Ephesus. It is obvious that the persons named in the greetings of the Epistles were not in any way supposed to be responsible for their contents, lot St. Paul begins with “I” in Acts 18:4. Brother. At this time there was no recognized title for Christians. In the Acts they are vaguely spoken of as “those of this way.” Among themselves they were known as “the saints,” “the faithful,” “the elect.” The name “Christians” was originally a nickname devised by the Antiochenes. In the New Testament it only occurs as a designation used by enemies (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16).
To what extent did the other Church leaders come to accept Paul’s claim to this title?
• Ananias and Barnabas, two church leaders, recognized Paul’s calling to the Gentiles as the vision dictated.
“But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight ” (Acts 9:10-17).
• The other apostles accepted him.
“But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:27).
In fact, the early Church accepted both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts (both authored by Luke) as Scripture – which is relevant inasmuch as Acts details much of Paul’s ministry. Would they have done this if Paul, or the writer of Acts, were not endorsed by the other Church leaders?
• Peter specifically confirms that Paul’s letters were considered Scripture.
14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:14-16).
• The Book of Revelation, written by John, refers to churches where Paul was active.
The Churches mentioned in Revelation are located in an area where Paul actively ministered. Ephesus even received a letter from Paul which is today the Book of Ephesians.
Paul’s authority seems to have been widely accepted by the other Church leaders during the first century.
Continuing to verse two with The Pulpit Commentaries:
Unto the Church. This form of address is used in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians. In St. Paul’s later Epistles, for some unknown reason, he prefers the address “to the saints.” These forms of address show the absence of any fixed ecclesiastical government. He does not in this Epistle address any “bishops” or “presbyters” whom he might regard as responsible for the growing disorders which prevailed at Corinth, but he appeals to the whole Church. The word ecclesia—signifying those who were “called out of the world,” and so primarily applied to “the congregation of Israel”—came ultimately to mean “a congregation.” The only apostle who uses the word “synagogue” of the Christian assemblies is St. James (James 2:2). Of God. Not the Church of this or that party leader. Some commentators give to these words an emphasis and importance which does not seem to belong to them. Which is at Corinth. So in 2 Corinthians 1:2. In 1 and 2 Thessalonians he prefers the form, “the Church of the Thessalonians.” “The Church at Corinth” was an expression which involved the sharpest of contrasts. It brought into juxtaposition the holiest ideal of the new faith and the vilest degradations of the old paganism. It was “a glad and great paradox” (Bengel). The condition of society at Corinth, at once depraved and sophistical, throws light on many parts of the Epistle. Cicero describes the city as “illustrious a like for wantonness, opulence, and the study of philosophy.” Even them that are sanctified. The apostles could only write to Churches as being really Churches, and to Christians as being true Christians. In all general addresses they could only assume that the actual resembled the ideal. They never conceal the immense chasm which separated the real condition of many members of their Churches from the vocation which they professed. They knew also that it is (as Calvin says) “a perilous temptation to refuse the name of Church to every Church in which there is not perfect purity.” Ideally even the Corinthian Christians were redeemed by Christ’s expiation, consecrated and sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit. They could only be addressed in accordance with their ostensible position (see Hooker, ‘Eccl. Pol.,’ Ecclesiastes 3:1; Ecc 5:1-20 :68). Our Prayer book is constructed on the same principle. The harvest is still a harvest, though amongst the corn there may be many tares. In Christ Jesus. The words, “in Christ,” constitute what has been happily called “the monogram of St. Paul.” The life of the true Christian is no longer his own. The Christ for him has become the Christ in him. His natural life is merged into a higher spiritual life. Baptized into Christ, he has become one with Christ. Called to be saints. (On this Christian calling, see Ephesians 4:1, Ephesians 4:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:9; Hebrews 3:1; 2 Peter 1:10.) They are called to be united saints, not schismatic partisans or members of antagonistic cliques. The description of what they were ideally is the more emphatic because he feels how much they had fallen away. With all that… in every place. Perhaps this may mean the same as 2 Corinthians 1:1, “With all the saints that are in the whole of Achaia;” or the words may imply that St. Paul’s exhortations are applicable to all Christians, wherever they may be and (as is expressed in the next clause) whatever may be their varying shades of individual opinion. It was well in any case to remind the Corinthians that they formed but a fraction of the Christian communities. Catholicity, not provincialism, makes the true Church of God. Call upon the Name. The Greek verb is here in the middle voice, not “who are called by the Name”(comp. James 2:7; Amos 9:12, LXX.). It means, therefore, all who reverence the Name of Christ, all who adore their one “Lord” in the fulness of his nature (see Joel 3:5; Acts 2:21; Rom 10:1-21 :24; 2 Timothy 2:22, etc.); in other words, “all who profess and call themselves Christians” (comp.Acts 25:11; Acts 25:11). Their Lord and ours. I connect these words, not with “place,” as in the Vulgate, In omni loco ipsorum et nostro—which, however it may be twisted, can give no good sense—but with “Jesus Christ.” It has been in all ages a fatal temptation of party Christians to claim a monopoly of Christ for themselves and their own sects, as though they only taught the gospel, and were the only Christians or the only “Evangelicals.” But Christ cannot thus be “parcelled into fragments” (see 2 Corinthians 1:12, 2 Corinthians 1:13), nor has any party a right to boast exclusively, “I am of Christ.” The addition, “and ours,” could not be regarded as super fluous in writing to a Church of which one section wanted to assert an exclusive right in Christ.
The note here points out that Paul’s letter is addressed to the Church, as a whole, and not to specific Church leaders. Paul’s letters – as evidenced by the reference in 2 Peter above – were widely circulated during his own life as guidance for the whole Church.
The note from Ellicott’s Commentary adds that this wide address also serves as a rebuke of a problem which exists in Corinth:
(2) Church of God.—St. Chrysostom remarks how these opening words are a protest against the party-spirit prevailing at Corinth: “The Church of God—not of this or that man.”
Them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus.—This is not another class of persons, but a description of those who compose “the Church”—who are further described as “called to be saints”—i.e., “holy.” The term “saints” is never used by St. Paul with its restricted modern meaning, but is applied to the whole baptised Church. The English word which most nearly expresses the apostolic idea is “Christians”—used in its most comprehensive sense.
With all that in every place.—Better translated, with all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, both theirs and ours. The teaching of the Epistle is thus addressed to the Church at large, which is composed of all who call upon the Lord Jesus, whether it be in Corinth (“our” country—the Apostle identifying himself with his converts) or elsewhere. This idea of the Church, put forward in the very opening of the Epistle, at once directs the reader’s mind from the narrow spirit of faction which was exhibiting itself at Corinth. The words of this verse contain a strong testimony to the worship of Christ, not only as being practised in the Apostolic Church, but as being one of the very marks of true union with the Church.
The Pulpit Commentaries note that verse 3 is a blend of both Greek and Jewish greetings.
Grace to you and peace. This is St. Paul’s greeting in all the Epistles except the pastoral Epistles, in which he beautifully adds the word “mercy.” It is a remarkable blending of the Greek and Jewish salutations. The Greeks said Χαίρειν, and to them the word “grace” involved the notions of joy and brightness and prosperity. The calmer and more solemn greeting of the East was, “Peace be to thee.” The Church unites both forms of greeting—”grace,” the beginning of every blessing; “peace,” the end of all blessings; and into both she infuses a deeper meaning, that of a “joy” which defied all tribulations, and a” peace which passeth all understanding.” From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. God is the Source of “every good gift and every perfect gift.” God is our Father as our Creator, and as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we become, in a higher sense, his children. Christ, in his mediatorial kingdom, is specially and immediately “our Lord,” though that phrase, now so universal, only occurs (in its isolated form) in Hebrews 7:14. Jesus Christ. One of St. Paul’s peculiarities of style is the constant reiteration of one dominant word. In the first nine verses of this Epistle, the Name “Jesus Christ” is repeated no less than nine times. “Observe,” says St. Chrysostom, “how he nails them down to the Name of Christ, not mentioning any man, either apostle or teacher, but continually mentioning him for whom they yearn, as men preparing to awaken those who are drowsy after a debauch. For nowhere in any other Epistle is the Name of Christ so continually introduced By means of it he weaves together almost his whole exordium.”
It should perhaps not be surprising to see the greetings united by a Greek-speaking Jew, who is a Roman citizen, relying on Jewish credentials to spread the Gospel to the Greeks. However, it is worth noting that this is occurring. Continuing on with Ellicott in the next verse:
(4) I thank my God.—Expressions of thankfulness (1 Corinthians 1:4-9), serving also to secure at the very outset the attention of those to whom the Apostle is writing. He thus shows that he is not blind to, or forgetful of, their good qualities, although this Epistle is specially written to rebuke their present sins; and also that he is not about to utter words of hopeless condemnation, but of wholesome warning. The emphatic use of the singular, I thank my God, in contrast to the plural in the previous verses, indicates that St. Paul does not join Sosthenes with him as author of the Epistle, but that it is written in his name alone and with his sole authority.
The grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ.—Better, the grace of God given you in Christ Jesus—i.e., given to you as being in Christ.
The note here provides a couple of interesting points. First, Paul is sharing with his audience that he loves them and is thankful for them BEFORE he rebukes them. It is easier to rebuke someone when both sides recognize that the intention is born out of love. Secondly, Paul clarifies here that while he may be joined by Sosthenes, the letter is from him alone and by his Apostolic authority. Verse 4 begins the lead-in to the rebuke, as it starts a section of verses which appear to be a reminder to the Church in Corinth of who they are supposed to be. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
In everything; i.e. of course, every gift which belongs specially to the Christian life. In all utterance; i.e. in all “eloquence” (λόγῳ), or perhaps “in all doctrine” (so Luther, Calvin, Meyer, etc.). The word for” utterance” is rhema; loges means “discourse” and “reason”. Knowledge. From the word guests is derived the name Gnostic, which was applied to so many forms of ancient heresy. There was danger to the Corinthian Christians in the exaggerated estimate of what they took for gnosis, and many of them were tempted to pride themselves on purely intellectual attainments, which were valueless for the spiritual life. St. Clement of Rome also, in writing to them (‘Ep. ad Corinthians 1.’) speaks of their “mature and established knowledge.”
Even as; i.e. “inasmuch as.” The testimony of Christ. The testimony borne to Christ by the apostle. The genitive is thus objective (about Christ), not subjective (” the testimony borne by Christ”). In reality, however, the meaning’ would be the same in either case, for if the apostles testified concerning Christ, so, too, Christ spoke in the apostles. Was confirmed in you. This does not merely mean “that the truth of Christianity was established among them,” but that they were living confirmations of the apostolic testimony.
So that ye come behind in no gift. The “gifts” are here the charismata, graces, such as powers of healing, etc., which were the result of the outpouring of the Spirit. The sequel shows that they were rather outward than inward; they were splendid endowments rather than spiritual fruits. Yet even these were not wholly wanting, as we see from 2 Corinthians 8:7. The Greek may also mean “causing you not to be conscious of inferiority.” Waiting; expecting, not fearing it, This was the constant attitude of the early Christians (Romans 8:19-25; Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 9:20; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Colossians 3:4; Titus 2:13). Love for Christ’s manifestation was a Christian characteristic (2 Timothy 4:8). The revelation. Three words are used to express the second advent: apokalypsis (as here and in 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:7, 1 Peter 1:13); parousia (as in Matthew 24:3, Matthew 24:27, etc.; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; James 5:7, James 5:8, etc.); and epiphaneia, in the pastoral Epistles (1Ti 6:14; 2 Timothy 1:10; 2 Timothy 4:1-8; Titus 2:13). St. Paul, however, only uses parousia six times in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and once in 1 Corinthians 15:23. All Christians alike expected the return of Christ very soon, and possibly in their own lifetime (1 Thessalonians 1:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, etc.; 1 Corinthians 15:51; James 5:8, Jas 5:9; 1 Peter 4:7; 1 John 2:18; Revelation 22:20, etc.). Their expectation was founded on the great eschatological discourse of our Lord (Matthew 24:29, Matthew 24:30, Matthew 24:34), and on his express promise that that generation should not pass away before his predictions were fulfilled. They were fulfilled in the fall of Jerusalem and the close of the old dispensation, though they await a stilt more universal fulfilment.
Who; clearly Christ, though his Name is again repeated in the next clause. Shall also confirm you. This natural expression of the apostle’s yearning hope for them must not be overpressed into any such doctrine as “the indefectibility of grace.” All honest and earnest students must resist the tendency to strain the meaning of Scripture texts into endless logical inferences which were never intended to be deduced from them. Unto the end; namely, to the end of “this age,” and to the coming of Christ (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 3:6, Hebrews 3:13; Hebrews 6:11). That ye be unreprovable; rather, unimpeached (anenkletous), as in Colossians 1:22; 1Ti 3:1-16 :18; Titus 1:6. It is not the word rendered “blameless” (amemptos) in Philippianws Titus 2:15 or in 2 Peter 3:14. A Christian can only be “blameless,” not as being sinless, but as having been forgiven, renewed, sanctified (1 Corinthians 6:11; Romans 8:30). In the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the same as the apokalypsis or parousia. It is sometimes called simply “the day”.
God is faithful. He will not leave his promises unfulfilled or his work unfinished (1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; Hebrews 10:23; Romans 8:28-30). Through whom. By whom, as the moving cause and agent in your salvation. Ye were called. The calling was a pledge of the final blessing (Romans 8:30). Into the fellowship of his Son. Union (koinonia, communion) with Christ is the sole means of spiritual life (John 15:4; Galatians 2:20). Through the Son we also have fellowship with the Father (1 John 1:3). The perfect sincerity of the apostle is observable in this thanksgiving. He speaks of the Church in general in terms of gratitude and hopefulness, and dwells on its rich spiritual endowments; but he has not a word of praise for any moral advance such as that which he so lovingly recognized in the Thessalonians and Philippians.
I do not have much to add to the notes above, but I will draw attention to verse 7. The Greek word for gift is:
χάρισμα chárisma, khar’-is-mah; from G5483; a (divine) gratuity, i.e. deliverance (from danger or passion); (specially), a (spiritual) endowment, i.e. (subjectively) religious qualification, or (objectively) miraculous faculty:—(free) gift.
This refers to “spiritual gifts” (miracles, speaking in tongues, etc.) – a topic that will be addressed in great detail later in this letter. Depending upon which theology one adheres to, the idea of spiritual gifts often either make a Church-goer uncomfortable or, perhaps, too comfortable.
We’ll stop there for now. We’ll get into the reason for Paul’s letter, and the beginning of the rebuke, in the next set of verses.