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 1:10-17
10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. 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 words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
This section lets us know the reason for the letter. There is in-fighting among the Church in Corinth. The first source of the in-fighting relates to Church members identifying as followers of particular leaders, rather than as followers of Christ. From the Pulpit Commentaries:
Now. The particle implies the transition from thanksgiving to reproof. Brethren. This very title involves an appeal to them to aim at unity among themselves; and St. Paul, like St. James (v. 10), uses it to soften any austerity which might seem to exist in his language (1 Corinthians 7:29; 1Co 10:1; 1 Corinthians 14:20, etc.). Through the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; that is, by the whole idea of Christ’s being and office—the strongest bond of union between true Christians (see the powerful appeal in Ephesians 4:1-6). That ye all speak the same thing; that is, “that ye may all with one mind and one mouth glorify God” (Romans 15:6). They were doing the very reverse—each glorifying himself and his party (verse 12). Divisions (σχίσματα); “schisms” used of bodies within the Church, not of separatists from it (1 Corinthians 11:18). The word is only used in this special sense in this Epistle. In Matthew 9:16 and Mark 2:21 schisma means “a rent;” in John (John 7:43; John 9:16; John 10:16), “a division of opinion.” There would be little or no harm in the schismata so far as they affected unessential points, if it was not their fatal tendency to end in “contentions” (erides) and “factions” (haireseis, 1 Corinthians 11:19). Corinth was a place where such divisions would be likely to spring up, partly from the disputatious vivacity and intellectual conceits of the inhabitants, partly from the multitudes of strangers who constantly visited the port, partly from the numerous diversities of previous training through which the various sections of converts had passed. Perfected together; literally, repaired, reunited. In the same mind and in the same judgment; that is, in what they think and believe (νοΐ̀), and in what they assert and do (γνώμῃ). The exhortation, “be of one mind,” in every sense of the word, was as necessary in the ancient as in the modern Church (Romans 15:5; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 1:27; Philippians 2:2; 1 Peter 3:8).
Verse 10 is something like a thesis statement. Paul appeals to his readers to be in unity with each other. You do not make such an appeal unless unity is lacking and we learn about that in verse 11. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(11) The house of Chloe.—Who Chloe was we cannot tell. Her name was evidently well known to the Corinthians, and some slaves of her household, probably travelling between Ephesus and Corinth, on their owner’s business, had brought to St. Paul the account of the distracted state of the church in their city.
We know – from context – that Chloe is well-known to the intended readers of Paul’s letter. However, beyond that, we cannot really say anything more about her. She might have been a well-regarded Church elder. She might not have even been a believer in Christ. The letter does not say. Continuing on with The Pulpit Commentaries and verse 12:
Now this I mean; in other words, “what I mean is this.” Their “contentions” are defined to be equivalent to “religious partisanships; “antagonistic adoption of the names and views of special teachers. Each one of you saith. That party spirit ran so high that they were all listed on one side or another. None of them were wise enough and spiritual minded enough to hold aloof from parties altogether. They prided themselves on being “uncompromising” and “party men.” Saith; in a self-assertive way (1 Corinthians 3:21). I am of Paul. He shows his indignation at their partisanship by first rebuking those who had used his own name as a party watchward. He disliked Paulinism as much as Petrinism (Bengel). All the Corinthians would probably have been in this sense Paulinists but for the visits of subsequent teachers. At present the Paul party consisted of those who adhered to his views about Gentile freedom, and who liked the simple spirituality of his teaching. St. Paul rose above the temptation of considering that party spirit is excusable in our own partisans. He reproves factiousness even in the party of freedom. And I of Apollos. Apollos personally was absolutely loyal and honourable, but his visit to Corinth had done mischief. His impassioned oratory, his Alexandrian refinements, his allegorizing exegesis, the culture and polish of his style, had charmed the fickle Corinthians. The Apollonians were the party of culture. They had, as we see from later parts of the Epistle, exaggerated St. Paul’s views, as expounded by Apollos, into extravagance. Puffed up with the conceit of knowledge, they had fallen into moral inconsistency. The egotism of oratorical rivals, the contemptuous tone to wards weaker brethren, the sophistical condonations of vice, were probably due to them. Apollos, as we see by his noble refusal to visit Corinth under present circumstances (1 Corinthians 16:12), was as indignant as St. Paul himself at the perversion of his name into an engine of party warfare. (On Apollos, see Acts 18:24-28; 1 Timothy 3:13; 1 Timothy 3:13.) Nothing further is known respecting him, but he is the almost undoubted author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which proves that he was of the school of St. Paul, while at the same time he showed a splendid originality in his way of arriving at the same conclusion as his teacher. I of Cephas. The use of the Aramaic name (1Co 3:22; 1 Corinthians 9:5; 1 Corinthians 15:6; Galatians 2:9), perhaps, shows that these Petrinists were Judaizers (though it should be added that St. Paul only uses the name “Peter” in Galatians 2:7, Galatians 2:8). They personally disliked St. Paul, and questioned his apostolical authority. Perhaps the extravagances of the “speaking with tongues” arose in this party, who recalled the effects of the outpouring of the Spirit after Peter’s great sermon on the day of Pentecost. And I of Christ. We trace the origin of this party to one man in particular (2 Corinthians 2:7), who was, or professed to be, an adherent of James, and therefore one of the more rigid Judaizers. He may have been one from the circle of Christ’s earthly relatives—one of the Desposyni (see 1 Corinthians 9:5), and, like St. James, may have had views resembling those of the Essenes and Ebionites. If so, he was probably the author of the questions about celibacy and marriage; and perhaps he prided himself on having seen “Christ in the flesh.” This party at any rate, like some modern sects, was not ashamed to degrade into a party watchword even the sacred name of Christ, and to claim for a miserable clique an exclusive interest in the Lord of the whole Church. It is the privilege of every Christian to say, “Christianus sum;” but if he says it in a haughty, loveless, and exclusive spirit, he forfeits his own claim to the title. This exclusive Christ party is, perhaps, specially alluded to in 2 Corinthians 10:7-11. The view of Chrysostom, which takes these words to be St. Paul’s remark—”But I belong.to Christ,” is untenable, and would make trim guilty of the very self-assertiveness which he is reprobating.
The note above here goes into great detail regarding the factionalism in Corinth, which leads to this letter. It’s important to note that the existence of factions does not mean that Paul, Appollos, and Peter were giving messages that did not mesh together. As we’ll see both in this letter and as I mentioned in a previous post, the evidence indicates that they were in accord.
However, if you ask three people to describe what they see (a sunset, a mountain, a forest, etc.), they might tell you different things, or emphasize different points, despite standing side by side by side. If we make the task more complex than describing something inanimate – like describing the person of Jesus – then the task of keeping the message from the appearance of divergence is even more difficult. Factionalism should perhaps not be too surprising an outcome in these circumstances, and indeed factionalism has been a problem within the Church since its beginning. Paul addresses the division in verse 13. From Ellicott:
(13) Is Christ divided?—Better, Christ is divided. Christ, in the communion of the Church, is rent, torn in fragments by you. The mention of the sacred name as a party-cry makes the Apostle burst into that impassioned exclamation. Then there is a momentary pause, and the Apostle goes back from his sudden denunciation of the “Christ” party, to those whom he had originally selected for typical treatment, viz., those who bore his own name, the two streams of thought, as it were, mingling and rushing together; and he asks (with a mind still full of the burning indignation aroused by the mention of the name of union as a symbol of disunion), “Was Paul crucified for you?” “Was your baptism in the name of Paul?” To each of which the answer must of necessity be “No.”
Paul being the founder of the Church, these questions apply more forcibly to the others also.
(14) I thank God.—“I am thankful to God that it was not so.” For if he had baptised a great many, some might have said he had created originally a party in his own name. Crispus (see Acts 18:8), a “ruler of the synagogue,” Gaius (or Caius, his Roman name), “mine host, and of the whole Church” (Romans 16:23): the evident importance and position of these two, and that they were the first converts, may account for the Apostle having departed from his usual practice in baptising them.
Paul focuses his rebuke here to the Paul faction, while simultaneously extending the rebuke to all division. He reminds his readers that he is not their savior, Christ is, and that other Church leaders played important roles in their lives. By pointing out that he did not baptize most of them, and expressing thankfulness for that fact, he is reminding that other Church leaders played a role in their development, too. By making the focus on a community of leaders, he is emphasizing Jesus and deemphasizing the individuals within that community of leaders.
Paul then, almost like he forgot, does mention a few people he baptized also. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And I baptized also. This he recalls by an afterthought being, perhaps, reminded of it by Stephanas himself. The household of Stephanas. Stephanas and his house were the first converts in Achaia (1 Corinthians 16:5). When converts became more numerous, St. Paul ceased to baptize them personally (comp. Acts 10:48). I know not. The inspiration of the apostles involved none of the mechanical infallibility ascribed to them by popular dogma, He forgot whether he had baptized any one else or not, but this made no difference as regards his main argument.
I like verse 16 in that – as the note above points out – it emphasizes Paul’s humanness. I think sometimes we view inspiration, in the Scripture, as something like an out of body experience for the authors. Maybe we imagine that Paul falls into a kind of trance, that God takes over his body, and that when he comes out of the trance he is just as excited to find out what he wrote as everyone else.
The problem with that way of looking at inspiration, though, is that we see verses like this one. Is Paul betraying forgetfulness here indicative of his text lacking inspiration? No. Is the fact that Paul and Peter have different writing styles indicative of something nefarious? If the author is basically doing dictation, why would the writing styles be different? I think instead the way to look at it is that God uses the correct, well-prepared, human beings to write His scripture. If you look at it that way, then you don’t have to explain why Paul refers to the science of his own time rather than modern science (something we’ll come to later in 1 Corinthians.) You don’t need to explain why one Old Testament book might refer to texts lost to history, or outside of canon. It’s *more* miraculous actually, in my opinion, if Scripture is God breathed and still written by human beings.
Paul kind of makes that same point in verse 17. His own ministry is ineloquent. That ineloquence glorifies Christ by putting the focus on Christ instead of Paul. From Ellicott:
(17) Not to baptize.—Preaching was eminently the work of the Apostles. The deacons used to baptise (Acts 10:48). The mention of “the preaching of the glad tidings” affords an opportunity for the Apostle stating in vindication of himself why that, and not philosophy, was the subject of his preaching, “lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” Such, and not inability or ignorance, was the grand cause of his simplicity.
And also from The Pulpit Commentaries:
Sent me not to baptize, but; that is, according to Semitic idiom, “not so much to baptize, as” (Matthew 28:19). The word “sent” (apesteilen) involves the meaning “made me an apostle” (apostolos). The primary function of the apostles was “to bear witness” (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8, etc.). To preach the gospel. St. Paul again “goes off” at this word, and dwells for eight verses on the character of his preaching. Not in wisdom of words; not, that is, in a philosophic and oratorical style. The simplicity of the style and teaching of the apostles awoke the sneers of philosophers like Celsus and Porphyry. The cross of Christ. The central doctrine of Christianity, the preaching of a crucified Redeemer. Should be made void. The rendering of the Authorized Version is too strong; the cross cannot “be made of none effect.” The word means “should be emptied”; made void of its special and independent power. The words, “the cross of Christ,” form the emphatic end of the sentence in the Greek.
One point in the second note, which I have never put any thought into before, regards the culture of the Greeks at the time of Jesus. Of course a culture famous even today for its oratory and philosophers would sneer at the simple preaching of the cross. Paul is highly educated but many of the Apostles were not. If you’re trying to paint a mental image of what a 1st Century Apostle’s life might have been like, or how an early Christian might have been viewed by upper class Greeks, that quirk should be part of your mental image. Many of the learned of Greeks their day thought early Christians were dumb and ineloquent.
When you form an opinion of others, in that way, it becomes easier over time to justify oppression and persecution to yourself. It’s not a giant step from thinking groups of people are dumb to then thinking they are less than human. Perhaps there is a lesson somewhere in that for our own time.
The Greek word referred to in the note here, which translates “emptied” or “be made of no effect” is:
κενόω kenóō, ken-o’-o; from G2756; to make empty, i.e. (figuratively) to abase, neutralize, falsify:—make (of none effect, of no reputation, void), be in vain.
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