The MOST Theological Collection: Commentary on the Pauline Epistles (The Thought of St. Paul)
"Chapter 6. First Letter to Corinth"
Corinth was a very ancient and important city. The site was inhabited as early as the 4th millennium, but it did not become a great power until the 8th century B.C. The peak of its power was in the 6th century. It was destroyed by the Romans in 146 B.C. -- the same year in which they gave the same treatment to Carthage. Some extremist Greeks mobbed some Roman senators at Corinth. An army under Metellus came down from Macedonia, but was not able to take the city. Then another Roman general, Mummius, came with four legions, and captured the city. Rome decided to make an example of Corinth -- all who were not killed in the fighting were sold as slaves. The city was destroyed, was in ruins until about 44 B.C., when Julius Caesar reestablished it, tried to name it Laus Julii -- the praise of Julius -- but the old name came back. Augustus made it the capital of Achaia, the seat of Roman government for the area.
Polybius, the great Greek historian who was present in 146, told of seeing Roman soldiers using priceless paintings as dice-boards. There is also a report that Mummius contracted with some shipmasters to take the finest statues and paintings to Rome, and wrote in the contract: "If any of these were lost, destroyed, or damaged in transit, the carriers must replace them with others equally valuable."
Corinth came to surpass even Athens as a center of science and culture. It was the hub of dealings between Romans, Greeks, Jews, Syrians and Egyptians. In St. Paul's day it had a population of about one-half million. It was also a sports center, for the Isthmian games were held there every two years. (There were, in all, four great sets of games in Greece, counting the Olympics).
Corinth was noted too for its immorality, even compared to the rest of Greece. The verb corinthiazein "to act like a Corinthian" meant to be immoral. Kore Korinthe, literally, "Corinthian girl," meant a prostitute. The temple of Aphrodite on the high point of the city, the Acrocorinth, was said to have had 1000 hierodules, sacred prostitutes. Its position on the isthmus, astride east-west traffic, meant many sailors would be there, which did not help the moral tone.
Paul preached everywhere: "You are free from the law." We can imagine the trouble that started in Corinth. Actually, as we can see from Second Corinthians, St. Paul had more trouble with Corinth than with any other church. Paul founded the Church there early in 51 A.D., on his second missionary expedition. He stayed about 18 months there.
No one today denies this Epistle (and Second Corinthians too) is by Paul, especially in view of the letter Pope Clement I wrote to Corinth about 95 A.D. In #47 he said:"Read your letter from the Blessed Apostle Paul again."
Summary of 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Paul who is called to be an Apostle, and Sosthenes, write to the Church of God at Corinth, to persons made holy in Christ. He wishes them grace and peace from the Father and Jesus Christ. He rejoices that they are made rich in every word and knowledge. They are lacking in nothing, as they wait for the revelation of the Lord at the end. He will make them strong so as to be without reproach on the day of the return of the Lord. God Who is faithful will do this.
Comments on 1:1-9
Paul calls them holy -- we know that does not basically mean high on the moral scale -- the Corinthians were far from that, we will soon see, for Paul spends four chapters correcting their factionalism, and then still other faults. He seems to have had more trouble with them than with any other community. But Hebrew qadosh is the word in Paul's mind -- it means consecrated to God, that is, by coming under the new covenant. He says too they are rich in every word and knowledge -- these seem to be charismatic gifts, of which he will speak more in chapters 12-14.
Very importantly, we notice he tells them they can be sure that God will keep them free of reproach until the parousia, the return of Christ, for God is faithful to His promises in the covenant. This means that as far as God is concerned, He will offer them the grace of final perseverance -- of course, they could and might reject that, and so not have it. Therefore the Council of Trent taught (DS 1541): ". . . about the gift of [final] perseverance . . . let no one promise himself anything with absolute certitude, even though he should place most firm hope in the help of God. For God, if they do not fail His grace, will complete the good work, bringing about both the will and the doing." We must understand the Council in the light of the historical situation. Trent was writing against the unfortunate mistake of Luther who taught an infallible salvation, if one once and for all "took Christ as his personal Savior," or "made a decision for Christ." That is, if one came to believe Christ had died for him. Then, no matter how much he had sinned in the past, was sinning, or would sin, the infinite merits of Christ would always outbalance the sins. Hence, salvation would be infallible, with no need of repentance, penance, confession or anything else.
In contrast, Trent said that God would complete the work He had begun (an echo of Philippians 2:6) -- which implies of course that He will offer the grace of perseverance -- but that no one can be sure he will have that grace, since he, the human, may not accept it, may reject it.
Summary of 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
He urges them in the name of the Lord that they all agree completely, and avoid factions. They should rather be fully united in the same thinking, in the same views. He says he learned through messengers sent from Chloe that there was strife among them. He means: some say they belong to Paul, some to Apollos, some to Kephas, some to Christ.
To counter this foolish idea he asks: Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? So he is glad he baptized no one there except Crispus and Gaius, so no one could say they were baptized in the name of Paul. Then he recalls: he also baptized the household of Stephanas. And he begins to wonder: perhaps he did baptize a few others too.
The mission Christ gave him was not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel. He was not asked to do that in an eloquent expression of wisdom. Then it might seem that the cross of Christ was not the power. For those on the road to eternal ruin, the doctrine of the cross seems like foolishness, but to those who are on the road to salvation -- to Christians -- it is the power of God.
Comments on 1:10-18
Greeks then were much inclined to bickering. The Corinthians were boasting of belonging to special factions within the Church -- some to the faction of Paul, some to that of Apollos, some to that of Kephas. We do not know if he had in mind a Christ faction, or if he was thinking of Christians who refused to join any faction, saying: We just belong to Christ. We do not know. The suggestion has also been made that they might have been former Jews who had known Christ on earth.
Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, converted at Ephesus, who had been trained in the mode of Scriptural study practiced by Philo (allegorical). He was an eloquent orator.1 Kephas of course is the Aramaic form of Peter, which Paul usually prefers.
Some, especially some Protestants, think the Holy Spirit dictated, word by word, the text of Scripture. This is not true, and we can see it especially in this passage, where Paul's memory wakes up in three stages -- at first he baptized only Crispus and Gaius, then he recalls the household of Stephanas, then he says he may have baptized some others too.
When Paul says that Christ did not send him to baptize but to preach, we need to recall that Hebrew and Aramaic both lacked the degrees of comparison of adjectives and adverbs, such as: good, better, best; much, more, most; clear, clearer, clearest. We would have written: He sent me mostly to preach, in a lesser degree to baptize.
His comment that he was not asked to have eloquence and wisdom, but just to preach the cross suggests there may be two things in Paul's mind. First, he did try to be very clever in his speech on the Areopagus in Athens.2 It failed badly, and so Paul may have decided not to try that again. But, much more, he does insist often that he wants their faith to rest not on any human eloquence, but on the power of Christ. Let us imagine Paul coming into sophisticated Greece. His training as a Rabbi would have been scorned. He was a nobody. If he had nothing but his own unsupported word he would have gotten nowhere. So he depended on displays of the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit. Paul very explicitly appeals to these displays in 1 Cor 2:4-5.
Paul says that the doctrine of the cross was foolishness to the Greeks. We have grown up with the doctrine of the Incarnation and the cross, and it never did have a great impact on us, the way it did when it first burst upon the world. Plato, in his Symposium, 203, had said that no god associates with humans. Aristotle, in his Nichomachean Ethics 8.7, said no friendship is possible between a god and a human -- the distance is too great. Plato did have a lofty concept of the great God, but also believed in much lesser gods. Aristotle's concept was lower than that of Plato. If they thought such gods would not stoop to associate with us, what would they think if they heard that the almighty God actually became man! Even further, what would they say if they heard that He consented to be put to death in so horrible and disgraceful a manner! No wonder the doctrine of the cross sounded like foolishness to Greeks. Yet many, who did not reject the grace offered to them, did embrace it. The problem was similar for the Jews. In fact, in Deuteronomy 21:23 they had read: "Cursed be anyone who hangs on the wood!"
Summary of 1 Corinthians 1:19-25
Scripture (Isaiah 29:14) says that God will destroy the wisdom of those who are wise, and frustrate the understanding of those who seem intelligent. Paul asks: Where does the wisdom of the wise man get him? What about the scribe (learned man)? What about the searcher (for wisdom or argument) in the worldly sense? God has shown that what the world calls wisdom is insufficient, even foolish, compared to divine wisdom. The world tried to understand God by wisdom, but failed. So it pleased God to save those who believe through preaching that seems foolish. The Jews want miracles as signs, the Greeks want the wisdom of philosophy. In place of those, we preach a Christ who was crucified -- a scandal to the Jews, foolishness to the gentiles. But to those who are called to the faith, both Jews and Greeks, this is Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. For the things of God that seem foolish are wiser than humans, and the things that seem like weakness (in letting Christ be crucified) are stronger than we are.
Comments on 1:19-25
Paul becomes almost lyrical in this beautiful passage. He plays on the paradox that what seems foolish on God's part is supreme wisdom, while human wisdom in comparison is nothing, it is not enough for salvation. And what seems like weakness on the part of God is actually supreme strength.
In this sense God wipes out the wisdom of the wise: He shows how scant human wisdom is compared to divine wisdom.
The Greeks want wisdom -- we give them Christ, the supreme wisdom of God. The Jews want signs, miracles: we give them Christ, the miracle of the power of God. Paul makes use of the double meaning of Greek dynamis, (plural dynameis). The singular means power, the plural means displays of power, miracles. In Christ we see the power of God supremely. But it is only those called to the faith that see it rightly. That word call, as commonly used by Paul, means God's call to humans to be members of His people of God, the Church, in faith. God offers this grace to all (see 1 Timothy 2:4), but not all accept. (Some do not accept because of mental blocks: they perceive subconsciously that if they accepted it, that would call for changes in their way of life which would be quite unacceptable to them.)
Summary of 1 Corinthians 1:26-30
He urges them to look at those called with them into the church at Corinth: not many whom the world considers wise, not many powerful men, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen the ones the world would consider foolish, to make the wise ashamed; He has chosen the weak ones, to shame the strong. He has chosen those without nobility, those who are scorned, those who are nobodies -- so no flesh may boast in the sight of God. It is as a result of God's choice that you are members of Christ. He became wisdom and justice, and sanctification and redemption for us. Therefore, as Scripture says: let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.
Comments on 1:25-30
They were proud of being in a special faction, and, we may assume, proud they got into the Church -- they are smarter than the dumb pagans, they would think. In contrast, Paul tells them to look at what kinds of members their church has: people whom the world would consider of little or no account. And yet, God will use them to show up the worldly wisdom of those the world calls wise -- for they have Christ, who is the wisdom of God, they have the wisdom of the cross. He became holiness and justice and wisdom and redemption for them. Since they are His members, they share in these. So while they have nothing to boast of that they themselves have produced, they can boast of what they have that God has given them, without merit on their part. For it is because of God, not because of their own qualities, that they got into the Church.
We could add, in regard to justice, the thought of Romans 3:21-30 where Paul speaks of the redemption as a means of showing that God is always concerned with what the moral order requires. During the Old Testament period, He did not provide a full rebalance of the scales of the objective order. But in Christ He did that, superabundantly. For there is an objective moral order. Of it Pope Paul VI wrote: "Every sin brings with it a disturbance of the universal order, which God arranged in His inexpressible wisdom. . . . So it is necessary for the full remission and reparation of sins . . . not only that friendship with God be restored by a sincere conversion of heart, and that the offense against His wisdom and goodness be expiated, but also that all the goods, both individual and social, and those that belong to the universal order, lessened or destroyed by sin, be fully reestablished, either through voluntary reparation . . . or through the suffering of penalties."3 An ancient Jewish Rabbi, Simeon ben Eleazar, gives a helpful comparison: "He [anyone] has committed a transgression. Woe to him. He has tipped the scales to the side of debt for himself and for the world."4 The sinner takes from one pan of the scales what he has no right to: the scale is out of balance. It is God's Holiness that wants it rebalanced. The sinner can begin to rebalance by giving back stolen property, or by giving up a pleasure instead of the pleasure he took illegitimately. But he can only begin: for even one mortal sin is infinite, since the Person offended, God, is infinite. So if the Father willed a full rebalance -- He did not have to do that -- it could be had only by sending a divine Person to become man. That Person could generate an infinite value to fully rebalance. Then, by making us His members, it would count frfor us.5
At the end, Paul loosely quotes Jeremiah 9:21-30: "But rather, let him who glories, glory in this, that in his prudence he knows me, knows that I the Lord bring about covenant-fulfillment, justice and uprightness on the earth."
As we noted, Paul implies they were called to full membership in the Church not because they were better, but because they were weaker and needed more help. We think of an ordinarily good family in which most of the children are healthy, but one is sickly. That one gets extra help of course. (We spoke of full membership to imply that there is a lesser degree of membership. On this we will speak in connection with Romans 2:14-16).
Other Scriptural passages suggest that God in general calls people to the Church not because they are better but because they need more help, being more resistant to grace. Thus in Ezekiel 3:5-7 He told the prophet: "I am not sending you to a people with obscure speech and difficult language. . . . If I were to send you to these, they would listen to you; but the house of Israel will refuse to listen to you, since they will not listen to me. For the whole house of Israel is hard of brow and obstinate in heart." So Ezekiel, in 5:6, referring to Jerusalem, said: "She [Jerusalem] has changed my judgments into wickedness more than the gentiles, and my statutes more than the countries around her."
The book of Jonah gives us the same implication. The Assyrians in Nineveh, a cruel people, readily did penance at his preaching. But when prophets went to the holy people of God, they had a hard time, and were sometimes in danger of death. In fact, in the Mekilta de Rabbi Ishmael6 we read words put into the mouth of Jonah: "Since the gentiles are more inclined to repent, I might be causing Israel to be condemned [by going to Nineveh]."
In the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) we see two officials of the holy people of God pass by the wounded man, but a Samaritan takes good care of him.
Again, in Luke 17:11-19 we read of the cure of ten lepers. But only one came back to say thanks, and he was the one who was not a member of the holy people of God.
In Matthew 11:21 Jesus is very displeased at the response of Chorazin and Bethsaida and says: "If the wonders done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes."
It is obvious: all the above support the implication we saw in St. Paul: the holy people of God are more resistant, in general, to God's grace than are the outsiders.
Summary of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 2
Paul says he did not come to them with great eloquence of wisdom to announce the Gospel. He did not claim he knew anything among them except Jesus, and Him crucified. He came to them in weakness and fear and much trembling. And he did not speak in the persuasive words of human wisdom, but he depended on the showing of the power of the Holy Spirit. He wanted their faith to rest not on human wisdom, but on the power of God.
He says he speaks wisdom among the perfect, but it is not the wisdom of this world, or that of the rulers of the world, who are headed for ruin. He speaks the wisdom of God in a mystery, a hidden wisdom, which God planned for in advance before all ages, for their glory. No one of the rulers of this world knew this wisdom. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. It reminds him of the words of Isaiah 64:3 so that he says: Eye has not seen, nor has ear heard, nor has it gone up into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love Him.
God reveals this wisdom to them through the Spirit. The Spirit of God examines everything, even the deepest things of God Himself. Just as no one knows the depths of a human being but that one's soul, which is in him, so too no one knows the depths of God except the Spirit of God. We Christians have not received the spirit of this world, but the Spirit of God, so that we can see the things of God. We speak of these not in the learned words of human wisdom, but in the words the Spirit gives us, explaining spiritual things by comparison with spiritual things [or: explaining spiritual things to spiritual persons]. In contrast, the merely natural man, who does not have the Spirit, does not grasp the things of the Spirit of God. They seem foolish to him, and he cannot grasp them, for that can be done only with the Spirit. But the spiritual man, who has the Spirit of God, understands everything, though he himself is not understood by anyone except by another spiritual man. "Who has known the mind of God? Who has given Him counsel?" But we have the mind of Christ.
Comments on Chapter 2
Paul continues to work against the factions. They think themselves wonderfully wise. In contrast, he tries to explain what real wisdom, divine wisdom, is like.
So when he first came to Corinth, he did not claim to know anything but the crucified Christ. He came without much confidence. The word weakness could mean physical illness -- it could mean he had an attack of malaria, not rare in his world. But it could also mean he realized his lack of power, of anything that would make him humanly impressive. To the Greeks he would seem like a little uneducated man, from a backwoods province. His training as a Rabbi they would scorn. "Fear and trembling" was an overworked phrase. So it weakened, and came to mean merely, "very respectfully." Hence he depended on showing of the power of the Spirit, that is, on miracles, most likely of the charismatic type (we will examine those later in chapters 12-14).
Norman Perrin, a famous Scripture scholar of the University of Chicago (died 1976) in his book, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus7 says that at one time he thought he could trust the Gospels. But then Form Criticism showed him over and over again that he could not. He says the strongest case, one that "forced" him, was a comparison of Mark 9:1 with parallels. In Mark 9:1 we find: "There are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God coming with power." Matthew 16:28 is the same except that they will see "the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." Luke 9:27 merely says they will see "the kingdom of God."
Perrin thought the texts of Mark and Matthew expected the end to come soon, while Luke had given up on that hope, and was settling down to "the long haul of history."
Perrin missed some things. First, all three Synoptics put this line just before the Transfiguration, even though they do not always agree on chronological order. So it could refer to that. However there is a better explanation, one suggested by the words of Paul here about the showing of the power of the Spirit, i.e., miracles. Today some scholars are more reluctant to admit that "kingdom of God" sometimes means the Church in this world or in the next. (We grant that the phrase, like so many ancient words or phrases, could vary in meaning at different times). In the original edition of the Jerome Biblical Commentary, David M. Stanley admits that 'Kingdom of God' often means the Church, and he specifically says: "The next instance of the phrase occurs in a very difficult passage [Mk 9.1] which refers to the establishment of the Church."8 John L. McKenzie says that the phrase in Matthew is at least sometimes "clearly identified with the community of the disciples."9 And really, it is obvious in many places that 'kingdom of God' does mean the Church, e.g., in the parable of the wicked tenants in Matthew 21:43; in the parable of the mustard seed in Mark 4:30-32; Matthew 13:31; Luke 13:8-19; and in the parable of the net (Matthew 13:47-50) and in many other places. (The 1990 New Jerome Biblical Commentary no longer thinks that the Church is the kingdom. But at least it has given up the unfortunate translation of the earlier edition of the New American Bible which usually said "reign of God" instead of "kingdom of God.") Raymond E. Brown,in The Churches the Apostles Left Behind10 admits that in some parts of the New Testament kingdom does mean the Church in this world and/or the next. In his Responses to 101 Questions on the Bible11 he says that the translation often used in the New American Bible, "reign of God," is unfortunate. It should be "kingdom of God."
As to the words "spread with power" this means miracles, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to which Paul appeals.
So the meaning of Mark 9:1, as Stanley points out, is this: they will see the Kingdom of God, the Church, being spread by displays of the power of the Spirit, by miracles. Similarly, the text of Matthew pictures Christ visiting, taking care of His Church (concept of the Hebrew word paqad). Luke of course presents no problem. So Perrin was not at all forced.
The "rulers of this world" could mean either the powers of this world, those who condemned Christ, or the evil spirits, who all too often get their way in this world. Had they known the truth, of course they would never have crucified Him.
Next, as an expression of the admirable nature of divine wisdom, Paul gives a quotation that resembles Isaiah 64:3, "No ear has ever heard, nor eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for Him." Some of the Fathers -- Origen, Ambrosiaster and Jerome -- thought Paul was quoting from the intertestamental work, the Apocalypse of Elijah. However this line is not found in the text we possess of the Apocalypse of Elijah.
The comparison Paul makes is clear: just as no one fully knows a person except his own soul, so no one but the Spirit of God fully knows Him. But we have received, in a measure, the Spirit of God. So we are enabled to understand spiritual things, such as the doctrine of the cross, which seems folly to others.
The merely natural man does not have this Spirit. But the spiritual one does. It can lead a person to heights not contrary to reason, but beyond what reason would reach. A good example is that of Our Lady at the Annunciation. As soon as the Angel told her that her Son would reign forever, she would see He was to be the Messiah, for Jews then generally believed the Messiah would reign forever. When the angel had left, if she were thinking like the purely natural person, she might have reasoned thus: Now my people have been waiting for centuries for this day. I should share the joy with them, especially I should tell the authorities in Jerusalem, and also my husband Joseph. For in a rather short while he could not help getting dark suspicions. Yet from the Gospel we see she did none of these things. God had to send an Angel to Joseph to stop him from dismissing her.
At the end of this chapter, Paul quotes Isaiah 40:13, according to the Septuagint reading. Since he is writing for Greek speaking persons, it is natural for him to quote the Greek version, even though he himself commonly has the Hebrew in mind. Often we must ask what Hebrew word lies behind a certain Greek word he uses.
Summary of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 3
Paul says he cannot talk to them as though they were spiritual persons -- they are not. Their love of factions shows they are fleshy, not spiritual. So he had to feed them on babyfood, milk. Even at the time of writing they are still fleshy, as their envy and strife show. They walk according to man -- that is, according to a merely human way of looking at things.
For when someone says he belongs to Paul, or to Apollos -- that is a fleshy way of acting.
Really: what is Apollos? What is Paul? They are just agents through whom you received the faith, as the Lord granted to each one. Paul planted, and Apollo watered. But it is only God who made it grow. Neither the planter nor the waterer amounts to anything -- only the one who makes it grow, God, really counts. Planter and waterer have basically the same role. Each one will get his reward according to how he works. We, I and Apollo, are fellow workers with God. You Corinthians are the field of God.
You are also the house of God. With the power of grace, I laid the foundation, like a wise builder. Another built on it. Each one needs to see to it how he builds. No one can lay down any other foundation but the one that is in place: Christ.
These workers, like Paul and Apollos, may build superstructures of different qualities, like gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw. The fire of the Day of the Lord, the end, will make clear what sort of superstructure it is. If the work someone has done stays, he will have a reward. If it is burned down, he will take a loss. Yet he himself will be saved, though passing through fire.
You are the temple of God, for the Spirit of God dwells in you. If one destroys this temple of God, God will destroy him. For you are the holy temple of God.
Avoid deceiving yourselves. If someone thinks he has wisdom, let him become a fool (by seeing that human wisdom is folly compared to divine wisdom). Then he will be wise. For what this world calls wisdom is only foolishness compared to the wisdom of God. Scripture says that "God is the one who catches the wise in what they think is their cleverness. The Lord knows that the thoughts of the worldly wise are vain."
So no one should boast about mere humans, as heads of the factions. Everything belongs to you -- Paul, Apollos, Kephas, the world, life, death, present things, things to come -- all belong to you. You belong to Christ. He belongs to God.
Comments on Chapter 3
This is a very easy chapter. Paul tells them they are childish, not childlike, in their pride over factions. Really, he and Apollos are only agents of God. Without God, nothing would happen. This is a good time to recall what we saw in explaining Philippians 2:13.
When he says that each one will get his reward, he raises a problem. We recall from Galatians how insistently he preached that justification is by faith, we do not earn it. But the answer is easy. Within the covenant, if we ask why God gives good things, there are two answers. On the basic level, no one by his own power can develop a claim on God. So everything is unmerited, unearned, is mere mercy. But on the secondary level, that is, given the fact that God has freely made and entered into a covenant in which He said: If you do this, I will do that -- in that framework, if the human does what God has called for, then God owes it to Himself to give it. In that sense, there is repayment. (The same explanation will hold for Romans 2:6 later on).
Paul's words about the Day of the Lord making clear by fire of what sort the work of each is, have sometimes been taken to refer to purgatory. This seems not true, for Paul is speaking of the last day, when purgatory will no longer have place. And the fire he mentions is an apocalyptic image. (We saw about such images in connection with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.)
When he says they are the temple of God since the Spirit dwells in them, we need to remember that a spirit is not present in the same way as bodily beings are. The latter take up space, a spirit needs no space. Rather, we say a spirit is present wherever it causes an effect. So God is present everywhere since He caused all things to exist, and holds them in existence. He is said to come again in Baptism, since then He begins to produce an added effect: He makes the soul basically capable of the vision of God in heaven (more on this in 1 Corinthians 13). So He can be said to come again in Confirmation, and again in Ordination, because each time He begins to produce added effects.
Who destroys the temple of God? The one who drives out the divine presence by mortal sin. He does deserve destruction! If he dies in that state, it will be eternal ruin.
At the end of the chapter Paul is quoting, a bit loosely, Job 5:12 (in a form close to that of the Septuagint) and Psalm 94:11.
Summary of 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
People should look on us, workers like myself and Apollos, as servants of Christ, and administrators of God's mysteries. What is necessary in administrators is trustworthiness. Paul says he considers it a matter of no importance what judgment they make of him -- whether he is the best or not the best leader of a faction. He does not judge himself either. In fact, even though he has nothing on his conscience, he says that does not make him certainly in the clear. It is the judgment of the Lord that counts. So they should not judge before the right time, the time of the coming of the Lord, who will bring to light what darkness now hides, and will show the plans of hearts. Then each one will get his praise or blame from God.
Comments on 4:1-5
In stressing that they should not be attached to a particular worker, and make that one the head of a faction, Paul makes a remarkable statement: even though he is not aware of having anything on his conscience, yet he may not be entirely innocent. Many have failed to understand his words here. He is echoing an ancient Old Testament theme of the sheggagah, the involuntary sin. It means that someone may have committed a violation of God's law without knowing of it at the time. Today people would say: what of it? He was in good faith. But Scripture does not take that attitude. Here are some texts to show the attitude shown in the Old Testament and in the Intertestamental literature, in the New Testament, and in the early Fathers of the Church:
God's concern for what is morally right shows remarkably in chapter 4 of Leviticus, in the prescriptions for what is to be done in case of sheggagah, involuntary violation of what is right. So the wrongdoer must make up for it, usually by a sacrifice.
The comment of Roland J. Faley on Leviticus 4:1-4:1512 is quite right: "Israel's responsibilities were clearly enunciated in the law, and any departure therefrom disturbed the right order of things. The presence or absence of volition did not alter the objective situation. . . . even the unwitting party . . . had to offer atoning sacrifice."
Of course, an involuntary sheggagah was not at all on the same level as a sin done be yad ramah, with a high hand, with full deliberativeness. But yet it should not be just merely ignored as if it did not matter at all. We think of numerous passages that bring this out. For example, in Genesis 12:17 Pharaoh has taken over Abram's wife in good faith. But: "The Lord struck Pharaoh and his household with great plagues because of Abram's wife Sarai." There are similar attitudes shown, whether the incidents are doublets or not, in Genesis 20:1-7 and 26:1-11.
In 1 Samuel 14:24 Saul had sworn an oath that his people would fast. His son Jonathan narrowly escaped death for unwitting violation.
Tobit in 2:13 is very unreasonably careful of this sort of violation. His wife had been given a goat along with her pay. He would not believe it and said: "Where did this goat come from? Perhaps it was stolen! Give it back."
Psalm 19:12-13, still in use in the liturgy says: "Though your servant is careful of them, very diligent in keeping them, yet who can detect failings? Cleanse me from my unknown faults."
The Testament of Levi in 3:5 says: "In the heaven next to it are the archangels, who minister and make propitiation to the Lord for all the sins of ignorance of the righteous."
The theme appears again in the Psalms of Solomon 3:8-9: "The righteous man continually searches his house to remove utterly [all] iniquity [done] by him in error. He makes atonement for [sins of] ignorance by fasting and afflicting his soul."
In the Gospel of Luke, 12:47-48, we find the same attitude: "The slave who knew his master's wishes but did not prepare to fulfill them will get a severe beating, but the one who did not know them, but did things deserving blows [objectively] will get off with fewer stripes."
In the image of the last judgment in Matthew 24:44, those on the left plead ignorance: "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or away from home or naked or ill or in prison and not attend to you in your needs." But the judge rejects the plea.
St. Paul had persecuted Christianity out of zeal for what he thought was right. But he still wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:9: "I am the least of the Apostles; in fact, because I persecuted the Church of God, I do not even deserve the name." The attitude of 1 Timothy 1:15 is equally Pauline: "I myself am the worst" of sinners. A modern Jewish scholar, A. Büchler explains: "The ancient pious men brought every day a doubtful guilt-offering, to clear themselves from any error of a grave religious nature possibly committed on the previous day."13 This of course is doing even more than Leviticus 4 required, which called for atonement only when the guilty one came to know he had done an unlawful thing.
The First Epistle of Clement (2.3) tells the Corinthians: "You stretched out your hands to the almighty God, beseeching him to be propitious, if you had sinned at all unwillingly [akontes]."
In the Shepherd of Hermas, (Mandate 9.7) we find the angel telling Hermas: "For absolutely, on account of some temptation or transgression of which you are ignorant, you receive what you ask for so slowly." And in Parables 5.7.3: "Only God has the power to give healing for your former ignorances."
Tertullian (Apologeticum 18.2-3) says that God "sent . . . men . . . to proclaim what sanctions he had decreed for not knowing." And in his De idololatria 15.7-8: "I know a brother who was severely chastised in a vision the same night because his slaves, after a sudden announcement . . . had crowned his door. And yet, he himself had not crowned it, nor commanded it . . . and when he came back, had rebuked it."
Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 6.6) wrote: "Whatever any one of you has done out of ignorance, not clearly knowing God, if he repents when he does learn, all his sins will be forgiven him."
St. John Chrysostom (On Priesthood 4.2) says that some who are electors of priests and bishops are careless, but, "If the elector is guilty of none of these things, but says he was deceived by the opinion of the many, he will not be free of punishment, though he will pay a penalty somewhat less than the one who is ordained."
In the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, still in frequent use today, before the Epistle there is a prayer: "Forgive us every offense, both voluntary and involuntary."
All of this, of course, is simply part of the fact that the Holiness of God wants the objective order rectified, even if it was violated unwittingly. We commented on this concern for the objective order above in our explanation of 1 Corinthians 1:25-30.
Summary of 1 Corinthians 4:6-21
Paul says he used the names Paul and Apollos just as examples, hoping that by this means they might learn "not to go too far," so they won't be blown up with pride over one teacher as against another. For who says the Corinthians are something special? What have they that they have not received? If they received it, why brag as if they had made it themselves?
He thinks that God has put the Apostles as the last in the line, like those condemned to death. They have become a spectacle to the world, and to angels and to men. They are fools for Christ -- the Corinthians are prudent in Christ! The Apostles are weak -- they are strong! The Corinthians are glorious -- the Apostles are without honor.
Right up to this hour the Apostles are hungry, thirsty, without adequate clothing, are beaten, have no home, they work hard with their own hands. When people reproach them, they bless in return. When people persecute them, they bear up under it, when people speak badly of them, they entreat. They have become the offscourings of the world, the scum of everyone, right up to now.
He does not write this way to make them ashamed, but to try to bring his dear children to their senses. For even if they have thousands of teachers in Christ -- but they have only one Father, for Paul begot them in Christ, through the Gospel. So he begs them to imitate him.
This is why he has sent Timothy to them, his beloved and faithful son in the Lord, to remind them of his ways in Christ, as he teaches everywhere, in every church. Some have become inflated with pride as if he were not coming. But he will come quickly, if the Lord so wills. Then he will find out not what they say -- those who are puffed up -- but what they do. The kingdom of God does not depend on talk but on power.
What do they want? Should he come with the stick like a Father? or with love and mildness?
Comments on 4:6-21
He says he used the names Paul and Apollos to stand for just any teachers, so that by that illustration they might learn not to go too far. Here he is quoting a common saying -- the Corinthians would know it of course. We are not sure what it meant, for Paul is too brief.
When he asks what makes them special, we must understand it in the setting. He wants to say that they are proud of getting into the Church, and into a special faction too. Paul is not, at this point, talking more broadly. Some theologians in the past have expanded it to say, as it were: When God looked over the scene before time began to run, He saw no differences at all in people -- for they would have only what goodness He would give them. As a result, they claimed, He had to decide blindly to arrange who would be saved or not. This was a monstrous error. These theologians forgot a whole half of the picture, namely, that there is also the negative side to the picture, namely, how much people resist grace and so sin. God does not make them resist. So there is a difference in people which God does not make. We will see more of this in our comments on Romans 8:29ff., on predestination.
But the next sentence does apply broadly: What have you that you have not received? It means that every bit of good we are and have and do is simply God's gift to us. But He offers the good graces abundantly, and we get them if we do not reject them. Please recall our discussion on Philippians 2:13.
Next Paul even indulges in sarcasm to wake them up. Then he turns to begging them. He will use any means that is not illegitimate in itself to win souls: all things to all men!
We notice too he claims to be their Father in Christ. So we see that the words of Our Lord in Matthew 23:9 that we should not call anyone Father, really only teach an attitude. Otherwise children in a family could not call their father Father!
At the end he is really playful: Should I come with a stick to give a spanking?
Summary of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 5
Paul complains of sexual looseness in Corinth, to such a point that a man in their community is living with the wife of his father -- a stepmother it seems. Even the pagans do not permit that, he says -- and yet the Corinthians are still proud! Rather, they should be sad, and get that evil one out from their midst. Paul himself, though physically absent, is present in spirit, and has already passed judgment: they should gather together in the name of Jesus, and hand the man over to Satan to be mistreated, so that he will come to his senses.
Their boasting -- he is thinking of the factions again it seems -- is bad. Just as a small bit of yeast can work through a large mass of dough, so also this one evil person may do much harm. So: clean out the old yeast, and be a new mass of dough. You should be unleavened, for Christ, our Passover has been immolated. Then they can celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast or with corruption, but with the unleavened bread of purity and truth.
Paul had written them in a previous letter that they should not have close association with immoral persons. He means those who claim to be Christians but are immoral. He does not mean the immoral persons among the pagans, who include greedy persons, robbers and idolaters. They would have to get off this world to avoid all pagans who are immoral! But he means they should not associate closely with so-called Christians who are guilty of immorality or greed or idolatry, reviling, drunkenness, robbery. They should not even eat with such a Christian. As to those outside -- it is for God to judge them. But they should drive out the incestuous man.
Comments on Chapter 5
Paul uses the Greek porneia here, which is broad enough to cover any kind of sexual looseness. The man in question seems to be living with his stepmother -- though some commentators think it is his natural mother after the death of his father. The law of Moses, Leviticus 18:8 prohibited this. So did Roman law.14
Paul calls for strong action. Some today speak of simply forgiving even if a person does not repent. Not so Paul. He wants to excommunicate the man, and even to hand him over to Satan to be worked over till he comes to his senses. In Paul's day, the hand of God was showing itself clearly in pleasant things, such as the miraculous gifts regularly given at Baptism. The other side of the coin was that God's hand showed itself openly to punish evil; thus we see in 1 Corinthians 11:30 that some became physically sick or died from unworthy reception of the Holy Eucharist. For another case of such a penalty, see 2 Timothy 1:20.
The talk about the leaven is double edged -- leaven or yeast is really a beneficial form of corruption. Here it stands for evil corruption, and also recalls that at the Passover the old leaven had to be cleaned out (cf. Exodus 12:15-17 and 13:6-7). Christ is the new Passover, and so we must get rid of all leaven, i.e., evil or corruption, to celebrate His Passover.
Some think the mention of clearing out the old leaven could indicate Paul was writing near Easter. This is possible, but far from proved.
Paul says he wrote to them in a previous letter that they must avoid close association with immoral persons (the word is pornoi -- sexually loose persons). So we gather that what we call First Corinthians is really at least Second Corinthians. We will see later that he also wrote at least one letter in between our First and Second Corinthians -- so there must have been at least 4 letters to Corinth, perhaps even more. Could the lost letters have been inspired? Yes, inspiration would not necessarily prevent loss. Is there any hope of finding the lost ones? Hope gets small, but it is not gone. In our own century there have been major discoveries of ancient works on papyri in Egypt -- the most recent in 1946-47, a whole library of Gnostic works at Nag ha'ammadi. The Delta gets moderate rainfall, but the rest of Egypt is so dry that papyri even without care can survive for many centuries, even millennia.
Paul wants them to avoid close association with immoral Christians. We could translate either "so-called Christians," or: "those who have the name of Christian." There is a difference in slant and color. The Greek will stand either translation. We might compare what he says about avoiding Christians who do not live up to their faith in 2 Thessalonians 3:6 & 14. The purpose is to bring such a one to his senses. So this advice must be used with good judgment, to decide in each case what is most likely to bring the result Paul hopes for.
At the end he quotes a line that occurs more than once in Deuteronomy (e.g., 13:5): "Take away the evil from your midst."
Summary of 1 Corinthians 6:1-8
Paul is indignant that when they have lawsuits, they take them to courts where the judges are not part of the people of God, but are "unjust." They should realize that the holy ones will judge the world -- and so, if that be true, could they not handle the smallest judgments? We will judge angels -- so all the more, matters of daily life.
So [in sarcasm] if they have cases about ordinary matters, they should take the nobodies in the Church and make them be judges. They should be ashamed -- do they not have any wise man who can judge cases between Christians? Instead, Christian goes to court against Christian -- and with infidels as judges at that!
Actually, it is a failure for them to have lawsuits -- they should rather be inclined to suffer injustice or to lose something. But, instead of bearing wrong, they do wrong -- and to brother Christians at that!
Comments on 6:1-8
Greeks actually seem to have enjoyed lawsuits. In a Greek court, one would not hire a lawyer -- he would speak for himself. Hence speaking ability was highly prized. There is a legend -- even if it may not be true, it is in character -- of Korax and Tisias. After one of the many upheavals in Sicily, a teacher named Korax (the word means "crow") advertised: "If anyone takes my course, I guarantee he will be able to win his first case." Tisias took the course. At the end, Korax told him to pay up. Tisias refused. They went to court. Korax rose first: "Gentlemen of the jury, you will decide either for me or against me. If you decide for me, by your decision he must pay. If you decide against me, he has won his first case, and so owes me the money." Then Tisias rose: "Gentlemen of the jury, you will decide either for me or against me. If you decide for me, by your decision I do not have to pay. If you decide against me, Korax has not fulfilled his contract, I have lost my first case, and so I owe him nothing." The verdict of the jury was : "Bad crow (Korax) bad egg."
The story illustrates an unfortunate feature of Greek courts: they would often be moved by an argument that was clever, even if it was merely plausible, not conclusive. (We think of the actions of Ulysses in Homer -- always clever, honest sometimes).
So when Paul says the pagan judges are unjust, it is true in two ways: 1) They follow principles that are not in accord with justice or with Christianity; 2) They accept specious arguments.
Paul argues: We will judge the world and angels -- so we should be able to handle ordinary cases. He has in mind
Wisdom 3:8, "They shall judge nations and rule over peoples," and perhaps also Daniel 7:22.
Earlier, in 1 Corinthians 4:8, we saw Paul use sarcasm. Here he does it again. He will use any means that is not immoral to win their hearts over to what is right.
Next, Paul says it is a failure for them to have lawsuits at all. He has in mind the sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:41), where Jesus tells them if someone wants to force them to go one mile, to go two miles, and similar things. So, in that spirit, they should prefer to suffer wrong rather than to do wrong. (The reference was to the Roman practice of "impressment," forcing someone to carry military baggage for one mile).
Summary of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
More broadly, they should realize that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God. They are deceiving themselves if they think the unjust could inherit. Really those who commit the great sins will not inherit: the sexually loose, the idolaters, the adulterers, the effeminate, those who lie with males, the thieves, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the robbers.
Certain ones of the Corinthians had in the past been such -- but now they have been washed, have been made holy, have been made righteous in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Comments on 6:9-11
When Paul says the "unjust" will not inherit the kingdom, he is thinking of Hebrew sedaqah, often translated as justice or righteousness -- but really having a broader meaning. Sedaqah is the virtue that leads one to do everything morality requires, not just to practice justice in the narrow Greek & Roman sense of giving to each one what is due him (no more or less).
Then Paul gives examples of the chief varieties of great sins or sinners. First, the sexually immoral -- the Greek is pornoi. Old versions used to render it as "fornicators." That is true, but the word covers all kinds of sexual sin. Paul then mentions idolaters and adulterers -- with much of our meaning for those words, although adultery in the Old Testament sometimes meant general infidelity to God by His People, whom He had espoused to Himself.15 Yet it seems St. Paul means the word adulterers in the more usual sense here.
The effeminate and those who lie with males are homosexuals -- distinguishing the two types of roles in homosexuality. Homosexuals today try to say St. Paul objects only to promiscuous homosexual relations. But the Catholic Church interprets Paul to mean any homosexual relations. (Cf. the Doctrinal Congregation's "Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," of October 30, 1986.) Further, Scripture nowhere makes such a distinction. See Genesis 13:13 and 19:5 and also Leviticus 18:22: "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination," and Leviticus 20:13: "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them shall be put to death." Paul also in Romans 1:26ff. gives a dreadful list of the vices of the pagans and makes homosexuality the centerpiece, and then in the last verse of the chapter, he agrees with Leviticus: "Though they have known God's decree that those who do such things deserve death, yet they not only do them, but approve of them." This is the ultimate, the lowest degradation: to not only sin in a foul manner, but even to say it is good. See also the letter of Jude, verse 7: "Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire." We also get light from the way the original readers of the Old Testament understood these things. So in the intertestamental literature (written after the completion of the Old Testament and even overlapping a bit the time of the New Testament), we find flat condemnations of homosexuality. For examples, see The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha16 and also the comment by the Editor of the Sibyllines, I, p.323: "All forms of sexual offenses are condemned, but special reproach is poured on homosexuality. . . . [such condemnation] can be paralleled amply in the preachings of gentile moralists."17 Thus Suetonius, biographer of the first twelve Emperors, accuses many of them of homosexuality, always presenting it as a vice, never as anything tolerable. Pagan Athens in the 5th century B.C. even had a law against homosexuality!
St. Paul speaks similarly in other places such as Ephesians
5:5, and Galatians 5:16-21.
Martin Luther slid too easily over these passages. He thought that if one once in a lifetime took Christ as His personal Savior, he could commit all kinds of sins, and he would not be charged with them! So Luther wrote, in Epistle 501, to his great lieutenant Melanchthon: "Pecca fortiter, sed crede fortius," that is: "Sin boldly [or bravely] but believe still more boldly [or bravely]." And in another Epistle to Melanchthon of August 1, 152118: "Be a sinner and sin boldly. . . . No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day." To think Protestants used to charge Catholics with having a permission to sin in indulgences! Look what Luther gave them! Hence a bumper sticker I have seen said: "Christians are not perfect, just forgiven." The sense is just what Luther said in these Epistles. But as we saw in First Thessalonians, St. Paul means something other by the word "faith" than merely being confident that the merits of Christ are credited to me. As we said, even the standard Protestant reference work, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, (Supplement volume, p.333) explains faith as we did -- far different from what Luther thought. Further, according to Luther's view, one is infallibly saved if he once takes Christ as his Savior. For then on the credit side of the ledger he can write infinity, for the merits of Christ, which will always outbalance any number on the debit page for his sins past, present, and future. Luther did not see that faith includes "the obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5) and thought faith, which includes obedience, can justify any amount of disobedience!
Besides the fact that the Catholic Church has condemned Luther's errors -- this is the essential thing -- we can see that St. Paul, who surely took Christ as his personal Savior if anyone ever did it, yet does not count on that. Thus, as we shall soon see in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27, St. Paul said that he chastised his body to tame it, otherwise, even after preaching so much to others, he might be rejected at the judgment. But, if once taking Christ as his Savior would take care of him permanently, he would have no need for such chastisement of the body.
Also, we notice that in all three passages mentioned above Paul says that the great sinners will not "inherit" the kingdom of God. Now it is true, that the word inherit in Scripture sometimes means merely to acquire. But often it means to inherit from one's father. And St. Paul in Romans 8:17 says we are heirs of the Father along with Christ, if we suffer with Him, so we can be glorified with Him. (Recall also the comparison of the last will and testament in Galatians 3:15-18). Now when we inherit from our father, we do not say we have earned our inheritance. No, we get it because our father was good, not because we are good. (This is like justification by faith, in which we get justification without earning it). Yet we could earn to lose that inheritance by being bad children too much. A student in a discussion class once summed it up neatly: "As to salvation -- you can't earn it, but you can blow it."
In verse 11 St. Paul says that only "certain ones" of the Corinthians were as wicked as the great sinners he has described. He can say this honestly even though Corinth was noted for its immorality. Now this raises an interesting problem if we compare it with the dreadful litany of the sins of the gentiles Paul gives in chapter 1 of Romans. There, as we will see when we study that in relation to the first lines of chapter 2 of Romans, Paul really is charging all gentiles with all these sins. (For he says in 2:1: "You who judge another condemn yourselves, for you do the very same sins yourselves -- all are guilty of all sins!")
It is evident that 1 Corinthians 6:11 seems to clash with Romans chapters 1-2. In Corinthians, even in a licentious city, not all are guilty of all the great sins. But in Romans, all are. Commentators usually do not even mention the problem when they speak of First Corinthians. They often do mention it in connection with Romans, but cannot solve the problem. We will see it fully when we get to Romans. For now, if we recall that St. Paul has two ways of looking at some things -- focused and factual -- we will see that in 1 Corinthians he is using a factual view, in Romans 1-2, a focused view (we could also call it a system as system view -- the system or setup of being a gentile as such produces nothing but sin, every sin).
Summary of 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Paul's enemies quote Paul against Paul. He said: You are free from the law. But now he replies: not everything is good for me. The enemies repeat. Paul replies again: I will not let anything get control of me.
The enemies now say: Food is for the stomach, and the stomach for food. They imply: Similarly, if one wants sex, he should take it. But Paul replies that God will bring to an end the use of the stomach and of sex, in the resurrection. For the body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. God has raised the Lord Jesus from the dead -- He will do the same for us later.
Further, your bodies are members of Christ. So, is it right to take the members of Christ and make them one in the flesh with a harlot? For the one who attaches himself to a harlot does become one flesh, two in one flesh. But the one who attaches himself to the Lord becomes one spirit, instead of one flesh.
So he urges: run away from sexual immorality. Other sins, says Paul, are outside a man's body. But sex sins are especially contrary to one's own body. And that is not right, for our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit: we do not belong to ourselves, for Christ has bought us at a price. So we should glorify God with our bodies.
Comments on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
In Paul's day there were no punctuation marks of any kind -- no periods, commas, quotation marks. In fact, they did not even separate words. So we have to use good judgment to see what would have been in quotes. Here we need some quote marks. We can imagine Paul going into licentious Corinth and saying: You are free from the law. The libertines would say: We are! Let's go and live it up! But Paul heard of their ways, and wanted to stop them, yet would not say they were not free from the law. So he says: Not everything is beneficial. Really, if we obey God's laws it does Him no good. But it pleases Him for two reasons: 1) He, being Generosity itself, loves to give to us. His laws are instructions on how to be open so as to receive. 2) His laws also steer us away from things that would be harmful, for example, getting drunk brings a hangover, and worse, in time, liver damage. Premarital sex feels like real love, warmth, tenderness -- but is only chemistry, not love. It often leads to a loveless marriage.
Paul adds that he does not want to be a slave to creatures, to be dominated by them, addicted to them. God's laws make us free from being hooked on things.
His enemies then try to argue from a parallel -- just as we eat food when hungry, so we should have sex when we are hungry for it. Here Paul argues that both food and sex are temporary. After the resurrection, our bodies will need neither one. So the body is for the Lord, for He, if we are His members, will raise us up on the last day, just as the Father raised the Son.
Paul tries another argument. Those who have intercourse become two in one flesh. But it is not right to become one flesh with a harlot, when my body is actually part of Christ. By becoming one with Christ we become one spirit with Him, instead of being two in one flesh with a harlot.
So he says they should flee, run away, from sexual temptations. Some commentators think he may have had in mind a distinction. There are two kinds of temptations -- one type is such that one can reason himself out of it. Thus if one is tempted to rob a bank he can say: Why take the money, when I have to give it back to be forgiven (otherwise, keeping it is a continuation of the sin). And think of the dangers -- armed guards, tellers have a call button under their toes that will bring in the police. But with a temptation involving strong emotion, such as sex, there is no point in trying to reason oneself out of it. St. Francis of Assisi has a clever comparison. He loved to speak of Brother Sun, Sister Moon, etc. Similarly he called his body "Brother Ass" -- the long-eared kind. No ass ever goes over to another ass and says: Brother Ass, you have been around longer than I. Please give me good advice. No, he learns only by his own experience, especially if he is facing north when a boot comes in quickly from the south. Suppose then that a man has bought a copy of Playboy. He has opened it at the center-fold, and is taking it in, and getting worked up. But then Brother Mind speaks: See here, Brother Ass. Why get excited? That is only a piece of paper with some ink on it. You can't do anything with that. So why get excited? And what does Brother Ass say? Yummy!
Paul's saying that other sins are outside the body, but sexual sin is against the body, is hard to interpret. Probably he means that the body is so fully involved in sex. Yet, that body is the temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells, Whom we have from God. Jesus bought us at a price, the price of redemption. So we do not belong to ourselves. So when a woman wanting an abortion says "It is my body, it is my own business what I do with it," Paul would reply, "No. You do not belong to yourself." (Not to mention the live baby inside!)
He concludes: Glorify God with the way you use your body.
Summary of 1 Corinthians 7:1-11
The Corinthians had sent some questions to St. Paul in writing. He begins here to answer and says that it is better for a man not to touch a woman. Yet, to avoid the danger of sexual immorality, it is good for each man to have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. Further, the man has an obligation to give the use of marriage to his wife on her request, and she to him, for she does not have the power over her own body: the husband does. Similarly, the husband does not have power over his own body: the wife does.
So he urges them not to deprive one another of the lawful use of sex in marriage except by mutual agreement, for a suitable time to make them free for prayer. But after that period, let them use their rights again, so Satan may not tempt them by their lack of self-control.
This, however, he says as a concession -- not as a command. Really, he would like all to be unmarried as he is. However, each one has his own grace from God, one this way, the other the other way.
In line with this, he says to the unmarried and to widows that it is better to stay as he is, unmarried. However, if they cannot control their desires, they should marry. Better to marry than to burn with desire.
He says to the married -- or rather, it is the Lord who says this -- the wife must not leave the husband. If she does, she must either stay unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. The husband should not dismiss his wife.
Comments on 7:1-11
Paul says it is better to give up even the legitimate use of sex. However, for most people marriage is needed as a lawful outlet. In marriage each one has given to the other rights to the use of the body in marital relations. Hence neither one has a right to refuse without grave reason. To refuse without grave reason would be a grave sin.
These lines, and a repetition of the same thought further on in this chapter 7, have caused much dissent today, even against the inspired teaching of St. Paul in Holy Scripture. Some argue: the Church teaches one may reach spiritual perfection in every state in life. (The Church does so teach, and it is true in itself.) So, the argument continues, if we say that celibacy/virginity is better than marriage, then one who chooses marriage is lacking in generosity with God, and so cannot become perfect.
We reply in the words of St. Paul in 7:7: "Each has his own grace from God: one this way, another the other way." That is, God has designed different paths for different persons. For most persons the path is that of marriage, which, properly used, does lead to spiritual perfection. So, if a person follows the path God intends for him, he cannot be charged with a lack of generosity. Each path is a grace.
This does not prevent St. Paul from saying that the one path, in itself, objectively, contains a more powerful help to spiritual perfection than the other does. Why?
We can see it by dwelling on the words of Our Lord in Matthew 6:21, "Where your treasure is, there is your heart also." In the narrow sense, the treasure would be a box of coins a man might bury under the floor of his house for safekeeping. If he has such a stash, the coins would act like a magnet, to pull his thoughts and heart towards it: he would enjoy thinking of what he has. But then, it is obvious that the same effect can come from any creature: we can put our treasure in just anything -- in huge meals, in gourmet meals, in sex, in travel, in study, even in the study of theology. We notice that while all the things just mentioned are lower than God, some are farther below than others. So that is the first factor. There is a second factor: how strongly does the person let himself be pulled by certain creatures? At the thin end of the scale, here is a man who is so little attracted by creatures that they lead him to no more than imperfections, which are less than venial sin. But another may be pulled to commit occasional venial sin -- or habitual venial sin -- or occasional mortal sin -- or habitual mortal sin.
In proportion to these two factors -- how far below God the attraction is, and how strongly it holds the person -- it becomes just so much less easy for the person's thoughts and heart to rise to the divine level.
Now the legitimate use of sex in marriage, done with the intention of acting according to God's plan, is positively good. Hence Vatican II19 taught: "The acts by which the spouses are intimately and chastely united together are honorable and worthy." But a thing may have two aspects, e.g., in the parable of the sower (Mt.7:22) the thorns represent the good things of this life -- they really are good, since God made them such. Yet they also are thorns, they may block the growth of the good seed. Similarly, the correct use of marriage is permissible and even can be meritorious. Yet it may at the same time make it that much less easy for the thoughts and heart to rise to God. That is why St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote in his work On Virginity (2)0: "Our powers of emotion do not have a nature that can at one and the same time pursue both the pleasures of sense and spiritual union. Further, both of those goals cannot be reached by the same patterns of life. Continence, mortification of the passions, disdain of fleshly needs are the means of the one union. But everything that is the opposite of these is involved in bodily cohabitation."
In brief, even the lawful use of sex is a powerful pull towards creatures. To that extent it makes it less easy for the soul to rise to the thought of God.
In passing, let us inject another comparison, which leads to the same thought as what we have just said. We think of a galvanometer, which is merely a compass needle on its pivot, with a coil of wire around it. We send a current through the wire: the needle swings in the right direction, and the right amount, measuring the current. It will read correctly if there is no competition from outside pulls, e.g., 30,000 volt power lines or a large mass of magnetic steel. If these outside pulls are very strong, and the current in the coil is mild, the current in the coil may have no effect on the position of the needle.
My mind is like such a meter. The current in the coil is grace. It is gentle and mild, in that it respects my freedom. But the outside pulls of creatures, if one lets himself be greatly engaged in them, may drown out the effect of the current in the coil. In extreme cases, the person is spiritually blind. For the first thing a grace needs to do when it comes is to put into one's mind the thought of what God wants at the time to lead it to do (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:5). But if the outside pulls make the meter of the mind incapable of registering His attractions, grace cannot do even the first thing it needs to so. Then it will not do any other things either. A person without grace is eternally lost, unless a grace comparable to a miracle comes that can prevent such resistance from starting, or can cut through it even after it starts. But such graces are by nature rare, for they are as it were miraculous (they reduce but do not destroy free will). God cannot make the miraculous or the extraordinary be ordinary and routine -- it would be a contradiction. Someone could ask Him: Why did you make these laws of life and then go regularly beyond them?
From this comparison we gather even more clearly that if a person wants to become as sensitive as possible to every movement from the Holy Spirit, he should reduce as low as possible the pulls of creatures, even legitimate pulls. Further he must do this not only in regard to sex, but in regard to all pulls. Hence St. Gregory of Nyssa also wrote, in chapter 18 of his On Virginity: "The fullness of this freedom does not lie only in that one point of abstaining from marriage . . . an inclination towards vice in any act or an practice whatsoever makes one a slave. So one who tries for the transcendent aim of all virginity must be true to himself in every respect, and must show its purity equally in every relation of his life." In other words, detachment -- hanging loose as it were -- is needed not only in regard to sex, but in regard to all creatures. Someone who abstains from marriage but becomes self-indulgent in other matters will not gain much. (Paul will speak again of detachment later in this chapter, verses 29-35).
As a result, even though in itself there is a more powerful spiritual help in abstention from marriage, yet we must notice that someone who does enter marriage with the right intention, and uses it according to God's plan, may go farther on the spiritual path than one who abstains from marriage, especially if this latter does not cut down low the pulls of all other kinds of desires.20 Hence Pope Paul VI wrote to the 13th National Congress of the Italian Feminine Center (Feb. 12, 1966):"Christian marriage and the Christian family demand a moral commitment. They are not an easy way of Christian life, even though the most common, the one which most of the children of God are called to travel. Rather, it is a long road toward sanctification." For male and female psychology are so very different that even in an ideal pair -- not always had -- each one can honestly say: "I have to give in most of the time to make this work." That self denial, that generosity, done with the realization that it is part of God's design for humans, is a wonderful help to spiritual growth. Love really is not a feeling, it is a will or desire for the well-being and happiness of the other for the other's sake. If children come, babies are very cute and enjoyable part of the time, but rather pesky at other times. If again one accepts this as part of God's plan, it is really sanctifying. The monk may get up at 2 AM to make a holy hour. When 60 minutes have passed, he can go back to sleep. But the parent who has a baby crying in the middle of the night may make a different kind of holy hour (if understood as fulfilling God's plan, it is a holy hour). He/she knows not how long it may last. It is good to read 1 Timothy 2:15 in the light of what we have just said: to accept the discomforts or pains of a way of life chosen in accord with God's plan is truly sanctifying.
An insurance commercial on TV said, rather beautifully: "When you have children, their goals become your goals." This is splendid generosity!
Now we can easily see what lies behind Paul's advice in verse 5, to at times refrain from the lawful use of marriage, for a limited time, and by mutual consent, "so you may be free for prayer." It is not a question of clock hours of course. No, it is what we have just explained. Most commentators who know nothing of the spiritual principles we have seen cannot understand that verse, and even call it "enigmatic."
In verse 6, Paul says he says "this" as a concession, not as a command. We do not know what the 'this' refers to -- it could be either: 1) what he said in verse 5 (at times omit intercourse by mutual consent to be free for prayer), or 2) it is good to have a spouse, to avoid the danger of unlawful use of sex. It makes sense either way.
We saw that Vatican II said the lawful use of marriage is worthy and good. In the first centuries, some seem not to have understood this. Thus St. Jerome wrote21: "It [Scripture] says, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. If it is good not to touch a woman, then it is bad to touch: for nothing is the opposite of good except evil. If it is bad, and is forgiven [he has in mind verse 6, which we shall explain in a moment] it is conceded so that worse evil may not follow." St. Jerome's reasoning is defective: it is not true that if a thing is not good it is bad. It may vary in different conditions or be neutral. But he was affected by the Latin version of verse 6: "I say this by way of pardon [venia], not by way of command." St. Jerome should have looked at the Greek, for he knew Greek well. The word there which he rendered "pardon" is syngnomen, which can mean either pardon or concession. Taking it to mean pardon, he picked up the implication that there must be sin there. St. Augustine did similarly (Enchiridion 78.21).
Vatican II, On the formation of priests §10 says those preparing for priesthood, "should see the superior excellence of virginity consecrated to Christ." (Virginity/celibacy are the same word in Greek and Latin).
Verses 7-11 are now easy: Paul wishes all could have the superior advantage of abstention from marriage. But he adds that there are different kinds of grace -- one has this, the other that. We note he calls marriage a grace (charisma).
So he adds that those who are not already married, and those who are widowed do well to abstain form marriage. First Timothy 5:4 wants younger widows to marry -- this does not contradict the advice given here. It merely adapts it to the case in which a woman is widowed early in life, and does not restrain herself from being a busybody and other things. Then, better to remarry.
Verse 9 says, obviously, that if one finds it too hard to abstain from the use of sex, then he/she may need the lawful use of it in marriage.
Those who are married must avoid divorce with remarriage.
Summary of 1 Corinthians 7:12-16
Relying on Apostolic authority, Paul says that if any Christian has an unbelieving wife, and she will live peacefully with him, he must not dismiss her. Similarly, if a Christian wife has an unbelieving husband.
For the unbelieving spouse is made holy by the believing mate. If such were not the case, the children would be unholy -- but really, they are holy.
However if the unbeliever will not live peacefully with the Christian, let the unbeliever depart. The Christian is not in servitude in such a case, for God has called us in peace.
How could the Christian party be sure of converting the unbeliever?
Comments on 7:12-16
This is the Pauline privilege. In Paul's day, there were no cradle Catholics in Corinth -- all were converts. Most of them would have married before being baptized. Suppose then that the pagan party is willing to live in peace with the Christian? Let the pagan not depart. So the marriage is not dissolved.
If the marriage continues, then the unbeliever is made holy by the Christian mate. Similarly the children. Here Paul is using the Old Testament sense of holy, Hebrew qadosh. It does not basically mean high in moral perfection, but rather, one who comes under the covenant. So the unbelieving mate and the children are automatically brought under the covenant by the Christian party.
However, if the unbeliever will not live in peace, then the marriage is dissolved. Since neither was baptized at the time of the marriage, it was not sacramental.
Paul adds: How could the Christian be sure of converting the pagan? Here we see the word 'saved' means entering the Church.
Paul does not speak explicitly of permission to remarry, but tradition since the early centuries has so understood it.
Summary of 1 Corinthians 7:17-24
There is a general rule: each one should continue to live in the way he/she was when called into the Church. Paul arranges things thus in all the churches.
So: if someone was called into the Church when circumcised, he should not try to remove the circumcision. For circumcision or the lack of it does not matter. What does matter is keeping the commands of God.
Suppose someone was called into the faith as a slave? He should not be concerned. Even if given a chance to become free, let him use it. For the one who is called to the faith as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. But the one who is called as a free person is a slave of Christ.
They were bought at a price. They should not become the slaves of men, for each one should remain before the Lord in the situation of his external life in which he was called.
Comments on 7:17-24
It is important to notice Paul's general principle -- for which he gives two examples. The general principle is that the fact they became Christian does not require any change in the externals of their life -- unless of course they were in a sinful occupation.
First example: someone was circumcised when called to the Church. He should not try to remove the marks of the circumcision. In Greece, sports were done in nudity, so the mark of circumcision would be seen by many. So some tried to stretch the skin to remove the trace of circumcision.
Second example: someone was a slave when called into the Church. That should not concern the slave. Even if the slave has a chance for freedom, let him "rather use it." Use what? If we consider the context, the general principle, it seems Paul suggests remaining a slave, as a help to humility, or because no change is needed. The attitude of Paul to slavery has caused some questions. Did St. Paul know slavery is wrong? We cannot be sure. Inspiration would keep him from ever saying it was all right, but would not necessarily give the information that it was wrong. The promise of Our Lord at the Last Supper to teach them all things (Jn 14:26; cf.16:13) did not mean new public revelations. It meant rather that the Church would be led over the centuries to an ever deepening penetration and understanding of the deposit of faith left at the start. Hence we see some truths understood and even defined today which were scarcely seen, if at all, in the first century, e.g., the Immaculate Conception. In this framework, it is possible Paul did not see the truth about slavery.
However, what he says is all quite all right. He speaks of it also in Colossians 3:22-24; Ephesians 6:5-8; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; Titus 2:9-10, and in the entire Epistle to Philemon. In general, Paul exhorts slaves to serve faithfully, even when the masters are not watching them. (1 Peter 2:18 speaks similarly). To understand, we need to note that slavery was the basis of the Mediterranean economy: not even the Roman Emperor could have uprooted it, still less the struggling infant Church. Further, the lot of many slaves was not too hard. Yes, it was hard in the mines, less hard in agriculture, but many were slaves in households in the cities. Further, when a slave got his freedom -- not too unusual -- often he would make a deal with the master to continue the same work, in exchange for security. For a free worker in a slave economy could not earn much, and had no security at all. Still further, Paul's outlook is dominated by the contrast between time and eternity -- this life is very short, and not entirely satisfactory because of varied evils and sufferings. Compare it to the unending stretch on the other side, with satisfaction beyond all we can imagine -- or woe beyond imagining. In such a perspective Paul could say and think: what situation we have here is not so important -- let us take care to fare well in the next world!
He repeats (from 6:20): they were bought at the price of redemption by Jesus. But -- probably fearing someone might want to sell himself into slavery because of his remarks -- let them not do that. Rather, let them stay in the situation in which they were called.
Summary of 1 Corinthians 7:25-35
Paul repeats his advice, that it is good to follow virginity/celibacy. This is not a command of the Lord. Paul gives it as advice, coming from one who has received the spiritual favor of abstention from marriage. This abstention is good because of the present necessity.
So if one has a wife, he should not seek to be loosed. If one has no wife, better not to take one. If one does marry, he does not sin. And if a virgin marries, she dos not sin. But those who do marry will have tribulation of the flesh. Paul wishes to spare them that.
The time is short. Hence, those who have wives should not be attached to them. Those who weep or rejoice should not be too much taken up with it. Those who buy should be detached from their purchases. Those who use the world should not be attached to the world. For this world of appearance is transient.
Paul would like them to be free of care. The unmarried one is concerned with the things of the Lord, to please the Lord. But the married person is concerned with the things of the world, to please the spouse. Similarly, the unmarried woman and the virgin are concerned with the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and in spirit. But the married woman needs to be concerned with things of the world, to please her husband.
Paul gives this advice about not marrying not as a trap, but for what is good, to enable them to be with the Lord without being pulled in another direction.
Comments on 7:25-35
The Lord does not command virginity. But Paul advises it, in the sense explained above in this chapter. Paul says he "has received mercy." In some places, "mercy" means a special favor in the external economy -- here, the grace of abstaining from marriage.
Paul says this abstention is good because of "the present necessity." The words "present necessity" could have more than one meaning:
1) Some think Paul means that the end of the world is near. This is not true, it is based on the unfortunate interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ff. which we examined and answered earlier. We therefore dismiss that proposal. One could hold it only by taking the word present (enestosan in Greek) to mean not present but imminent, and necessity would have to mean the troubles to come just before the end. The word necessity could have that meaning, but there is no entirely clear example of the word enestosan having the meaning of imminent instead of present. The word "necessity" is often used in the New Testament in no reference to the end, e.g., 2 Corinthians 6:4 and 12:10.
2) It is most likely that Paul means the difficulties of married life. We spoke of those earlier. Paul says in verse 18, that those who do marry will have "tribulation of the flesh." He is sparing them that in recommending virginity/ celibacy. Paul says "the time is short." Of course, those who think he thought the end was near would seize on that statement. But if one knows the usual way the Scriptures speak, it refers to the brevity of all time. 2 Peter 3:8 (echoing Psalm 90:4) says that in God's eyes a thousand years are like one day, and one day like a thousand years. Again, in Haggai 2:6-7 God says, "In a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth . . . and the treasures of all nations will come" into the temple. The lines clearly refer to the Messiah, who "in one moment, in a little while" was to come into the temple. But that prophecy was written in 520.B.C. So, many years in the eyes of God are as nothing. Also, the Christian regime is the final one of God's dealing with man.
Really, if we think back to early life, perhaps to when we were in second grade -- a school year then seemed indefinitely long. But a year in later life seems like very little. Time keeps picking up speed.
Next Paul urges detachment from all the things of the world. We saw earlier in our comments on the first few verses of this chapter 7 what is meant by detachment -- not letting creatures get a hold on one, not letting them pull one. He speaks of this in reference to wives and all things. He says "the figure of this world is passing." That word figure can have either the sense of "the appearance that this world is" or, "the way this world is."
Paul says he wants them to be free from care -- the unmarried are concerned with the things of the Lord, the married, with those of the world, how to please the spouse. Now in practice this does not always work out that way. It is probably best to think of these statements as in the focused type (we explained that in commenting on Galatians 2:15), or, to put it another way: the situation of being unmarried, as such, tends to produce freedom to attend to the Lord -- marriage, as such, tends to concern for the world and the mate. We recall the comments of St. Gregory of Nyssa quoted earlier in comments on the first 5 verses of this chapter 7.
Paul says he does not want to cast a snare before them -- for if someone whom God has not called to abstention from marriage should try to live that way, it would be spiritually dangerous. Paul says rather his desire is to see them free from being "pulled in another direction" -- we recall again our comparisons made on the first 5 verses of this chapter 7.
Summary of 1 Corinthians 7:36-40
If a father thinks he is not giving the right treatment to his unmarried daughter, and if she is at the critical age, and it must be -- let him do what he wants: let her marry. But if the father has stood firm, and if there is no pressure (from the daughter), but the father is in control, and he has decided to keep his daughter a virgin, he will do well.
So the one who gives her in marriage does well, but the one who does not give her does better.
A married woman is bound to her husband while he lives. But if he dies, she is free to marry whomever she wishes -- but let it be in the Lord. However, she would be better off to remain unmarried, as Paul recommends. Paul thinks he too has the spirit of God.
Comments on 7:36-40
We have given the traditional view of verses 36-38, making them speak of a father considering whether or not to arrange a marriage for his daughter. She is at the critical age -- i.e.,at the point of age where if she does not marry, she is unlikely to marry. If she is not pushing, so that the father is free, it is better to omit marriage. But it is not wrong if he does give her in marriage.
Another view would make these lines 36-38 refer to a man having a struggle controlling his sex drive -- this is not at all likely, for it would involve straining the meaning of several words. Still another proposal would have Paul speaking of a couple who are living together without indulging in sex. This too is very unlikely.
Paul concludes the chapter by advising widows to remain unmarried. (He does not speak of widowers since usually the husband dies first). First Timothy 5:11-15 does not contradict the advice here. Rather, those in view in 1 Timothy are young widows, who do not behave well: better to remarry than that.
Paul urges in addition that if a widow remarries, let her marry a Christian. Good advice -- there are enough openings for differences in marriage without having so great a difference. The chances for the Catholic party -- and the children -- to lose the faith are very high.
The final comment is interesting. Paul says: "I think I too have the spirit of God." We suspect some charismatics at Corinth claimed to have a message contrary to the teaching of Paul. So he says that he too has the spirit of God.
Summary of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 8
We all have knowledge about food sacrificed to idols. But knowledge by itself, without love, does not help one spiritually, it may even inflate a person with pride. So if someone is proud in his knowledge, he does not yet have the right kind of knowledge. But if one loves God, he is known and loved by God.
Now about meat sacrificed in the temple of an idol: An idol is nothing. And the idols are not gods, they are nothing. Yes, there are many so-called gods and lords, but we know there is just one God, the Father, from whom all things exist, and we exist for Him. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist, and we exist through Him.
But not everyone has the right knowledge about idols, so as to know that food sacrificed to them is not changed, for the idol is nothing. However, some who eat food sacrificed to idols cannot get out of their head the notion that it is changed; they have grown up accustomed to thinking that way. So if they eat with that belief that the food is changed, then their conscience, which is weak, is defiled, and so the person sins.
Food does not in itself make us acceptable before God. If we do not eat such meat we will not lack anything. If we do it, we will not have any abundance.
But people who have the correct knowledge (that an idol, being nothing, changes nothing) should watch out that this knowledge of theirs does not result in scandal for the weak, i.e., in leading the weak into sin. For if someone sees a person who does have the right knowledge at table in the temple of an idol, will not the onlooker who sees this, be led to do what his weak conscience considers sinful, namely, to eating food sacrificed to idols?
Then that one who is weak in conscience would be destroyed by the knowledge of the one who knows -- that brother for whom Christ died! So one who acts this way, sins against the brothers, strikes their weak conscience, and sins against Christ.
Therefore Paul says with emphasis: if food leads my brother into sin, I would rather not eat meat forever, to avoid scandalizing my brother.
Comments on Chapter 8
We recall that in Acts 15 the Council of Jerusalem decided that gentile Christians did not have to be circumcised and keep the Mosaic law. Yet, as a concession to the feelings of Jews, it did ask the gentiles to avoid three things prohibited in the old law, one of which was eating food sacrificed to idols. When Paul was in the territory to which the letter was sent -- Cilicia and Syria -- he did preach this restriction (see Acts 16:4). But the rule did not apply outside that area. If the Vatican today sends a letter to the Bishops of one territory, it will have force only in that territory. So now at Corinth, far from Syria and Cilicia, Paul can and does reason: an idol is nothing. Nothing changes nothing. So the food is not changed.
So you may eat it. But he adds a qualification: do not do it if it would cause scandal. Scandal means any word or act which either is evil, or will be seen by another as evil, in such a situation that the other will likely be led into doing what really is wrong, or what he thinks is wrong. To do what one thinks is wrong, is to act in bad faith, and is a sin, even if the thing in itself is not sinful, e.g., if someone thought to eat a banana was a mortal sin, and in that frame of mind ate one, he would sin mortally -- not from eating the banana, but from doing what he considered wrong. (But we may not turn that around and say: if a person thinks a thing is all right even if it is not, he does not sin. No, he is obliged to align his conscience with the teaching of the Church. We recall what we said on 1 Cor 4:4 about involuntary sin. God's love of what is objectively right is such that He wants some make-up even in such a case. (We should add: today, in such immense confusion, when priests and even bishops are teaching falsely, we could understand a person thinking something is all right when it is not, and yet not being guilty, because of the confusion).
So Paul says that knowledge alone, without love, i.e., without considering the spiritual needs of others, is not good, it is apt to lead to the inflation of pride instead.
Now the possibility of scandal arises in this way: Some of Paul's converts had grown up thinking food was changed by being offered to idols. It was not changed. Should Paul instruct them: "Just say Paul says it is all right?" Paul fears many would not digest this thought, and so, if led by social pressure (probably at a dinner) to eat food sacrificed to idols, would do it in bad faith, and so would sin. For a long established fixed pattern of thought that one has grown up with is hard to dislodge, and therefore anything that tries to get into a person's mind that would clash with that established idea probably will not get in, or will not register.
Long ago the Church used to require abstinence from meat on all Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent. But then at one point the U.S. Bishops announced it was permitted to eat meat on Wednesday in Holy Week. There had been a confusion in the minds of the Bishops: the general law required abstinence on Fridays and Saturdays. The U.S.Bishops got permission to transfer the Saturdays to Wednesday. But for a long time they did not notice the permission did not apply in Holy Week. Hence it finally was clear that people could eat meat on Wednesday in Holy Week. That seemed very strange or perverse to many old people. Some of them reacted by saying: "No! That is not the way I was brought up!" To induce such a one to eat by social pressure at a dinner would probably mean the old person would be acting in bad faith -- unable to get the idea into his head. And so he would sin. There would be scandal. The case Paul has in mind has the same psychology.
Paul mentions a special case: suppose someone who does not grasp the truth about these foods sees you, who do know, reclining in the temple of an idol. Will that not lead the other to sin? Yes, it probably would. But we notice a problem. Paul surely does not mean one may take part in the rites of pagan temples. So there are two possible solutions: either Paul is here focusing on just one aspect of the matter (we recall how he focuses in relation to the law, especially as we saw it in Galatians 2:15, and in the glossary) -- or he has in mind a meal in a side room in a temple complex, so that the meal is not part of a temple ritual.
Paul speaks vehemently: We must not lead someone into sin by this sort of scandal -- that would be to destroy a soul for whom Christ died! So Paul says vehemently: He would rather not eat meat forever than scandalize another.
Summary of 1 Corinthians 9:1-22
Paul asks: Is he not free? is he not an Apostle? has he not seen Jesus the Lord? are not the Corinthians his work in the Lord? He says that even if he may not be an Apostle to some others, but surely he is to the Corinthians: they are the proof of his Apostleship.
To those who try to speak against him, his defense is this: He insists he does have the right to get support from the churches he serves, he has the right to marry a Christian woman just as the other Apostles and the Brothers of the Lord and Kephas do. Do only he and Barnabas lack the right of not having to work for their own support? No one serves as a soldier at his own expense. No one plants a vineyard and does not share in its fruit. No one shepherds a flock and does not get some of the milk.
It is not just these human comparisons or reasonings that he depends on. For the Scripture itself says the same. For example in the Law of Moses we read: "You must not muzzle the ox that treads the grain." Now God did not make the law just for the sake of oxen -- no, it was for our sake, so that we could see that the one who plows should be able to hope to get part of the crop, and the one who threshes, similarly. Paul has sown spiritual things among them. So it is not asking a lot if he were to ask for material support. Others share in that right, does not Paul have all the more right? But he has refrained from using this right, he has put up with much to avoid making any hindrance to the Gospel by asking for support.
The priests in the Temple eat from the offerings in the temple. So the Lord also commanded that those who preach the Gospel should live thereby. But he, Paul, has not made use of this right. However, he is not writing this way to hint he wants material support. He would rather die than do that! To preach the Gospel is no great credit for him, for that is just his assignment. If he does it willingly, he will have pay from Christ. If he does it grudgingly, he would be just a functionary.
The "pay" he has in mind is that of making the Gospel free of charge. Even though he is a free man, yet he has acted as a slave [working without pay], in order to gain as many as possible for Christ.
So his policy is this: He will be like a Jew to the Jews, to gain the Jews. He will be like one under the Law, to gain those who are under the Law. He will be like one free of the Law -- though He is not free from the law of God, but under the law of Christ -- to gain those who are outside the Law. He becomes like one who is weak to gain the weak. To all men he becomes all things, so as to save all, by all means.
Comments on 9:1-22
To understand Paul rightly in this stretch it is very important, as we shall see after a bit, that we must keep clearly in mind what he is doing. He began by speaking of food sacrificed to idols, and said the food was not changed and so one could eat it. But then he added: in case of scandal, do not eat. He spoke very strongly: you must not, for the sake of a piece of meat, ruin a soul for which Christ died!. He even died, died terribly. Cannot you give up this little?
Now in this chapter and the next chapter he continues to plead most earnestly: do not ruin a soul for a piece of meat. To support this plea he says in effect: Look how far I am going to save your souls. I could accept financial support for my work. People in all walks in life get their support from their work. So do the priests in the Temple. Both pagan and Jewish priests do that. But I am giving that up to help you reach the great goal of eternal life!
Then Paul presents his own principle on which he decides everything. First, it is taken for granted he will not do anything wrong, will not contradict the principles of Christ. But on all other things, he will be as adaptable as needed: he will be a Jew to the Jews, all things to all men. (Incidentally, this is a splendid sort of policy for anyone to follow: never give in on principle, but be as adaptable as needed on everything else).
Summary of 1 Corinthians 9:23-27
Paul sums up: He does everything for the Gospel, so he can share in it, that is, reach eternal life through it.
He reminds them: those who compete in the stadium in the Isthmian games all compete, but only one can get the prize. So the Christians should run in such a way as to get the prize. In those games, those who compete give up many things [athletic training]. They do it in the hope of getting a crown of leaves that does not last. But we are competing for eternal life, and whereas in the games, only one can get the prize, in the race for eternal life, not just one, but all can get that prize!
Paul personally acts the same way as do the great athletes: he does not run without knowing where he is going. He does not hit at the air. No, he hits his body under the eyes, and leads it around like a slave, so that after preaching to others, he himself may not be disqualified in the race, that is, lose the eternal crown.
Comments on 9:23-27
Paul continues to plead: keep your eyes on the goal of eternal life, and do not cause someone to lose it just for a piece of meat. He appeals to the example of the athletes who give up so much in athletic training in the hope of winning a crown of leaves in the Isthmian games (held every two years at Corinth). Only one of them can win -- but in the race for eternal life, all can win. Should we not be willing to give up many things, like those athletes, when we are out for an eternal prize, not just a crown of leaves?
He again gives his own example. He does not go off in all directions in the race. He does not strike blows at the air. No, he hits his body under the eyes -- the exact translation of Greek hypopiazo. In Greek boxing, there were no padded gloves. So a blow under the eyes would be likely to be a knockout. Then the winner would wait until the loser came to, and then would put a rope around his neck,and lead him around the stadium like a slave. Hardly sportsmanship! But that was the way it was done. So Paul says he is very hard on his body. If he does not do that, it might rebel, lead him into sin, and he might be disqualified in the race for eternal life even though he had preached to others.
It is very important to keep in mind the context. Paul is not urging them to get just an added prize (as the Anchor Bible tries to claim, on p.243) -- no, he is urging them to avoid causing eternal death to another. And if they do so they will sin mortally too, and be disqualified in the race whose prize is eternal life. It is the same for himself. He fears not just losing an added prize, but eternal life itself, just as the Corinthians would risk losing eternal life for themselves and for the one they would scandalize. Furthermore, the treatment Paul gives himself -- hitting under the eyes, leading around like a slave -- that is, to put it mildly, rather rough for just something added, but quite in order to avoid loss of eternal life.
The reason the Anchor Bible tries to make the claim that it is only a matter of some added thing is obvious. If we recognize that Paul really is speaking of gaining the prize of eternal life, then what he says destroys Luther's claim of infallible salvation by once in a lifetime "taking Christ as your personal Savior." Surely if anyone ever did take Christ as his personal Savior, Paul did. Yet he does not feel he is infallibly saved. Far from it, he has to work hard (not to earn it but to avoid "blowing it." Please see again the comments on Galatians 2:15-21 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
Even more basically, we saw already in our comments on 1 Thessalonians 1:3 that what Paul means by faith, when he speaks of justification by faith, is very different from what Luther thought. Even the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Supplement, p.333, a standard Protestant reference work, knows that what Paul means by faith is quite different: If God speaks a truth, we must believe it in our minds; if He makes a promise, we must be confident He will keep it; if He tells us to do something, we must do it, in the "obedience of faith" [Romans 1:5], all of this to be done in love. Quite a contrast to just thinking Christ is my Savior, He has paid for my sins! Yes He has, but that is not what Paul means by faith. (We find that by using a concordance, finding every place where Paul uses the word faith and related words, reading all in context, keeping notes, adding up the result).
Furthermore, we should add this: If Luther were right, Paul would have no reason to be so concerned about a person sinning in scandal. He would not tell them they must not ruin a soul for whom Christ died. Rather, he would say with Luther22: "Even if you sin greatly, believe still more greatly." So in Luther's view it would not mean eternal ruin if the man did sin in scandal. He would need only to believe Christ paid for that sin, and all would be well.
Summary of 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Paul speaks forcefully: He does not want them to be ignorant that their spiritual ancestors, the Hebrews all went under the cloud, and all went through the sea, and all were "baptized" in Moses in the cloud and sea. All ate the same spiritual food, the manna, and all drank the same spiritual drink, from the spiritual rock that followed them, but the rock was Christ.
Yet, God was not pleased with the majority of them, and they were laid low in the desert. What happened to them were prophecies by actions, foreshadowings of what we have, so we might not desire evil things as they did, or go into idol worship, as some of them did, for: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to take their pleasure."
So Paul urges them: Do not be sexually immoral as some of them were. Twenty-three thousands of them fell in one day. And they must not tempt the Lord as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Some of them murmured. We must not do that. They were destroyed.
These things that happened to them were types, prophecies by actions. Scripture tells us these things to bring us to our senses: the final age has come to us.
So if someone thinks he is standing, he must look out for a fall. No temptation has struck them yet except the kind that people in general have. However, God is faithful to His promise, and will not allow them to be tempted more than they can bear. He will provide also along with the temptation, a way out, so they can bear it.
Comments on 10:1-13
We need to keep in mind that Paul is still working hard to persuade them not to give scandal, to give up meat at times to avoid scandal, to avoid ruining a soul for which Christ died. In this section he gives a number of Old Testament incidents. He calls them types, that is, foreshadowings. That means that the actions were prophecies of what was to come. The Fathers of the Church were fond of looking for types, e.g., the ark was a type of the Church, Isaac carrying the wood on which to be sacrificed was a type of Christ.
The ancient Hebrews were the People of God, but that did not mean they had it made. They fell into sin and were destroyed for it. Paul clearly does not have in mind that they had it made if they were part of the people of God -- a foreshadowing of the new people of God, which, according to Luther would be those who "take Christ as their personal Savior" and then need not worry if they do sin. But Paul indicates here that the ancient people of God did not have it made. Neither should the Corinthians think they are secure because they are the people of God, and so could sin by scandal without being punished. They could be destroyed too. According to Luther that would not be possible.
They were all "baptized" by being under the cloud and passing through the sea. This foreshadowed Baptism. The cloud was that spoken of in Exodus 13:21. God went before them in a column of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night.
They had as spiritual food the manna that fell daily in the desert, and which prefigured the Eucharist. And they drank from the spiritual rock. It was called spiritual because of the spiritual origin of the water thatt came from it, and because it was a "type" or foreshadowing. There was a rabbinic legend that the rock actually followed them. Paul can make use of it without endorsing it, much as we can quote from Alice in Wonderland to illustrate something without thinking the story of Alice was true. A similar usage appears in the Epistle of Jude 9. But further, God is often called the Rock in the Old Testament23 and He was always present with them. In Exodus 17:6 God said He would be standing there in front of them on the rock from which the waters came. Deuteronomy 8:16 says it was God who brought the water out of the rock for them. Paul calls the rock Christ -- he applies the property of God to Christ.
There were several rebellious actions by the Hebrews in the desert. Psalm 78:30-31 tells of their being laid low in the desert for their murmuring.
"The people sat down to eat and drink and rose to take their pleasure." This line is from Exodus 32:6, the incident of the golden calf. The people got tired of waiting for Moses who went up onto Sinai for 40 days and nights, and finally they prevailed on Aaron to make them a golden calf, which they worshipped. The pleasure may well have been sexual.
The incident in which 23,000 fell was that in which they sinned with the daughters of Moab, who also got them into idolatry: Numbers 25:1-9. This was right after the marvelous prophecy of Balaam in the preceding chapter! Paul gives the number as 23,000 even though Numbers 25:9 reports 24,000. The answer is that Semites were not precise about numbers. Hence Pius XII, in Divino afflante spiritu24 speaks of semitic approximation and hyperbole as normal for them. (Consider also the fact that their day was divided into 12 hours for the daylight period, even though the length of an hour would vary constantly throughout the year).
The incident of the serpents to which Paul refers seems to be that of Numbers 21:6-9. After the people murmured, God sent saraph serpents that bit and killed them. When they begged Moses for help, God told him to put up a bronze serpent on a pole. Anyone who was bitten and looked at it, would be healed. This of course was a type of the cross. Incidentally, though God had prohibited making images (Exodus 20:4-5), He ordered this. This shows that the prohibition was not against making all images, just things to worship.
The next incident of murmuring to which Paul alludes without being precise is probably that of the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiron against Moses, in Numbers 16.
After recalling these things, Paul draws his conclusion: these things were prophecies by actions. They show us that to be a member of the people of God is not enough. One must avoid sin too. So they cannot get away with giving scandal by leading others into sin over meat sacrificed to idols.
He says the ends of the ages have come upon them. It means that the Christian regime is the last period of God's dealing with the human race. There is to be no other regime to supplant it.25 So Paul goes on warning them: they have not had any extraordinary temptation yet. Was he perhaps thinking of persecutions which were coming? But in any case, God is faithful to His promises, and He will give them the strength needed. We think here of the promises of the grace of final perseverance which Paul gave in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; Philippians 1:6; 1 Corinthians 1:8-9.
Summary of 1 Corinthians 10:14-33 and 11:1
He urges his beloved Christians to flee from idol worship. He speaks to them inasmuch as they are sensible people. He asks them to see for themselves. Their cup of blessing is a sharing in the blood of Christ. The bread they break is a sharing of the body of Christ. For they all, though they are many, are one bread and one body, for they all share in the one bread. Similarly, the racial Jews who eat of the sacrificed victims share in that altar.
Turning again to the pagan temples, he says that he does not mean that something is changed by being sacrificed to idols, or that an idol is something. No, but what the pagans sacrifice, they, in effect, sacrifice to the demons and not to God. So the Christians should not want to be sharers with demons. They cannot drink of the cup of the Lord and of the cup of the demons too. They cannot share in the table of the Lord and the table of demons. They should not want to provoke the Lord to jealous anger. They are not stronger than He is, are they?
[Someone might object, quoting Paul against Paul]: "Everything is permitted, for we are free from the law." The reply: Not all things are good for us. [Objection returns] "Everything is permitted" Reply: But not all things are spiritually helpful. So, we should not seek our own interests, but be concerned about the other person.
[Conclusion] They can eat everything sold in the market, asking no questions because of conscience. So, if some pagan invites a Christian out to eat, and he goes, he may eat whatever is served, asking no questions because of conscience. However -- if someone at table says: "This was sacrificed to idols," then, they must not eat, because of the conscience of the one who said that. [Objection] "Why should our freedom be destroyed because of the conscience of someone else? Why should anyone speak ill of us because of food over which we have said grace?"
[Reply] Whether we eat or drink or do anything whatsoever -- we should do all for the glory of God, and avoid giving scandal to Jews, to Greeks, and to Christians. Paul accommodates himself to all in everything, he is all things to all men. He does not look out for what is useful for him, but for the others so they may be saved. So they should imitate him. He imitates Christ.
Comments on 10-14:33 and 11:1
Paul now returns to the main topic: May they eat food sacrificed to idols, which he began at the start of chapter 8. In between he devoted a long fervent discourse to urging them not to give scandal in eating meat sacrificed to idols. Then they would ruin a soul, for a piece of meat, a soul for whom Christ died.
Now, even though Paul has said that an idol is nothing and nothing changes nothing, he has something to add. He opens by saying that the blessed cup ("cup of blessing" is a Hebraism) they drink means sharing in the blood of Christ, and the bread is a sharing in the body of Christ. Even though they are many, they are one by sharing in the one bread. Then he makes a parallel to the racial Jews: those who eat from the victims that have been sacrificed share in the altar. It is implied that those who share in the victims sacrificed to idols share in the idol's altar. But: What of the fact he has said the idol is nothing and the food is not changed? He does not deny that. But he adds that behind idol worship are the demons. In that sense, to eat the food sacrificed to idols in the temple ritual would be sharing with demons. They cannot share both with the Lord and with demons! They cannot drink the Lord's cup and the cup of demons too, or share in the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
He says they must not provoke the Lord to jealous anger -- comparing Him to a lover jealous of his beloved.
Paul may have confused readers by this time. At one moment he speaks of taking part in the temple ritual; at another moment he is thinking of scandal given outside that ritual, at a private dinner. It still remains true, and he does not deny it that to eat it outside of temple ritual is harmless, unless there is scandal. But Paul is thinking of the kind of case we mentioned earlier: when eating would pressure someone with weak conscience into eating when he would think it sinful to eat.
We should notice too the implication of the above. He compares the Eucharist to the sacrifices of Jews and of pagans, clearly implying that the Eucharist is basically a sacrifice, in which those who take part are given part of the victim after it is offered. The Eucharist is a sacrifice, because a sacrifice in our theology has two parts (We can gather this from Isaiah 29:13: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." We notice the two parts, lips, that is externals, and heart, that is, interior dispositions). In the Eucharist the outward sign on Holy Thursday was the seeming separation of body and blood, by having the two species. This stood for death, and expressed His willingness to die in obedience, the interior disposition of His heart. (The picture is the same in the Mass, same outward sign, same interior disposition. On Friday the outward sign changed to the actual separation of body and blood. But the interior, His obedience to the Father, was the same, was really continuous from Thursday, in fact, from His entry into the world when He said: "Behold, I come to do your will, O God" [Hebrews 10:7]. In the Mass, His disposition is continuous from Thursday and Friday: death makes permanent the attitude of soul with which one leaves this world.).
Paul next imagines an objector who still does not want to have to give up meat anytime to avoid scandal. The objector invokes Paul's principle that they are free from the law. Paul replies in the same way as what we saw in 1 Corinthians 6:12, where they also quoted Paul against Paul, and he replied that such things are not good for them, do not help spiritually.
He sums up: You may eat things sacrificed to idols, except when there is scandal.
Then the objector returns: "Why should my freedom be taken away because of someone else's conscience?" Paul replies with a very general principle: Whatever we do, it must be for the glory of God. To give scandal and thereby ruin a soul for whom Christ died, is not for the glory of God. Paul, as he said before, becomes all things to all, so they may be saved. So they should imitate him, as he imitates Christ.
It is interesting to notice this final thought is the same as that in the Rabbinic document, Tosefta, Berakoth 4.1, in which we read: "No one should use his face, his hands, or his feet, except for the glory of the Creator." It means: To use a pleasure without reference to God, merely pleasure for pleasure's sake, would be wrong.
About the heading of this section: Paul of course did not make divisions into chapters and verses. The division here was made very badly, putting the start of a new chapter in the middle of a sentence.
Summary of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Paul praises them for remembering him, and for holding to the traditions he has given them.
He says that God is the head of Christ, Christ the head of every man, the man is the head of the woman. As a result, if a man prays or gives prophetic discourse with a covering on his head, that is a disgrace. On the other hand, if a woman prays or gives a prophetic discourse without a veil, she disgraces her head. She might as well have her head shaved. If a woman does not have a veil, she should be shaved. But if that is disgraceful, let her have a veil.
But the man must not cover his head, since he is the image of the glory of God; the woman is the reflection of the man's glory.
In the beginning, the first woman came from the man. And the man was not created for the sake of the woman, but the woman for the man. For this reason, the woman should have a sign of authority on her head in view of the angels.
However, neither is the woman without the man nor the man without the woman in the Lord. For just as the woman first came from the man, so also the man is born through the woman. But all are from God.
Nature itself tells us that if the man lets down his hair, it is a dishonor; but if the woman lets down her hair, it is a glory for her. Her hair was given her as a covering.
If anyone wishes to wrangle, our answer is: we do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God.
Comments on 11:2-16
Is Paul, in calling for veils for women, just repeating the custom of the times, or is there a theological principle? There is no doubt he does bring in a theological principle in verse 3 in saying that God is the head of Christ, Christ the head of the man, the man the head of the woman. We will see a similar thought in 14:34 where Paul appeals to the Law, i.e., the Old Testament. But the further question is this: Is the answer here basically controlled by custom or by theological principle? It is clear from the whole passage, which is loosely argued, and depends more on some sort of fittingness than on anything decisive, and especially it is clear from the last line, that it is basically custom. For at the end, the bottom line is: If someone wants to argue, we reply: We do not have such a custom as letting women be without veils in praying and prophesying.
First, we must remember that prophesying does not mean basically foretelling the future; in Paul's usage it means using a charismatic gift of giving an effective exhortation to the community.
A special problem is raised by what some think is a conflict between verse 5 and 14:34, where Paul orders women to be silent in the church. For it could be implied in 11:5 that if a woman does have a veil, she may prophesy in the church.
We will see the various solutions proposed when we reach 14:34. But for now it is sufficient to notice that all we would need to suppose is that we have a special case of focusing here, that is, Paul keeps his whole attention on one point: Women should not prophesy without a veil. He does not mean to say anything about whether or not she may do so if she does have a veil. This is basically the pattern of speaking we saw so many times in relation to the law, where Paul usually takes a focused picture (i.e, his vision is artificially limited as if he were looking through a tube, and sees only the things within the circle made by the tube. Then he would say: the law makes heavy demands, gives no strength, so a fall is inevitable) in contrast to a factual picture (which removes the limit of the circle, lets us see things nearby: the law still makes heavy demands and it gives no strength, but help is available in divine grace, not given in any relation to the law).
A comment about the angels mentioned in 11:10: the people of Qumran believed angels were present at liturgical services, which is not a foolish thought. And also the angels were thought of as guardians of the natural order.
Summary of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Paul is going to give an instruction, and he cannot praise them, because their coming together does not make them better but worse. For when they do meet in the church there are, he hears, cliques among them. He believes that is somewhat true. He says it is inevitable that there be such cliques, with the result that those worthy of approval become evident.
When they do meet, it is not to eat the Lord's meal. For each one goes ahead and eats without waiting for the others. Further, one goes hungry, another has too much. So he asks: Don't they have houses for eating and drinking? Do they look down on those who have nothing and thereby shame the church? He says he cannot praise them for this.
He reports what he received from the Lord, and passed on to them: On the night on which the Lord was betrayed, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and said: This is my body, which is for you. Do this in memory of me. Similarly after eating, He took the cup and said: This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you do this, do it in memory of me.
For whenever they eat this bread and drink this cup, they proclaim the death of the Lord until He returns at the end of time. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of [profaning] the body and blood of the Lord.
So each one should examine his conscience and then [if he finds himself fit] eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For the one who eats and drinks [unworthily] eats and drinks condemnation for himself. He does not distinguish the body [of the Lord from common bread].
Because of sins of this sort, many in the community are sick and weak, and quite a few have died. But if these people examined themselves [before sharing in the Eucharist] they would not be condemned. But in being judged by the Lord, they are being educated so they may not have to be condemned along with the world.
So when they come together to eat, they should wait for one another. If someone is hungry he should eat in his house, so condemnation may not be the result of their meeting. Paul will arrange the other things when he comes.
Comments on 11:17-34
Paul is disturbed about the meals they have before the Eucharist. There is no community spirit, but small groups, some of which have too much, others little or nothing. The word "drunk" need not mean they had so much as to seriously damage their ability to think and make judgments, though that could have been true in some cases. It merely means some excess. When he says they come together in the church it would not mean a special building, which was not to be had at so early a date. They met instead in some large house.
Many translations here use a purpose form, that is, they say it is necessary or inevitable that there be such cliques in order that those who are good may stand out. But that is hardly the purpose of the people. Rather, it is just the result. The Greek conjunction hina used by Paul has both meanings. In many passages the translators are too prone to use a wording that expresses purpose when result is appropriate. Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic all have more than one structure capable of meaning either purpose or result, according to the general thought.
The word is in "this is my body" would be omitted in Hebrew and Aramaic, but Paul properly supplies it in his Greek. Can we prove from these words that there is a real abiding presence? The context here favors that, in that Paul speaks of a sin against the body and blood of the Lord. But even if it were only symbolism, he could speak that way. Really, we depend on the interpretation, the on-going teaching of the Church for this. The Church from the start has taught the real presence. The teaching was crystallized in the definitions of the Council of Trent.26 Trent in DS 1637 appealed to the universal faith of the Church. It also even used the word "transubstantiation" in DS 1652. The word there is not to be taken in the technical Aristotelian-Thomistic sense, but in the everyday sense of a change of the substance of the bread and wine into that of the body and blood of Christ. It is likely enough that the bishops at Trent did have that technical framework in their minds, but we cannot prove it from these words. And what is merely in their minds without being expressed does not count.
In recent times there has been a proposal within Catholic circles to say there is only a "transignification" or change of meaning in the bread and wine, with no real transformation. This error was already condemned by the Council of Trent, against the Protestants. On Sept 3, 1965, Paul VI, in Mysterium fidei, specifically rejected the proposal of transsignification and said that the ancient documents of the Church, even if the language might be improved in some cases, yet that language was and is perfectly correct. The Doctrinal Congregation, in a letter to the Bishops of July 24, 1966, reemphasized the teaching of Paul VI. And again, the same Doctrinal Congregation, in Mysterium Ecclesiae of June 24, 1973, reaffirmed the teaching of the Mysterium fidei, since denials of the Real Presence were continuing. It admitted there can be "historical conditioning" of words, but never such that the original statement was incorrect, or positively unsuitable to express the truth.
There is some variation in the four places in the New Testament in which we find the Eucharistic words. Luke 22:19 ff. says: "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in memory of me. . . . This cup [is] the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you." Mark 14:22 ff. has: "Take, this is my body. And taking the cup, after giving thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And He said to them: This is my blood of the covenant, which is shed for many." Matthew 26:26 ff. has: "Take, eat, this is my body. And taking a cup and having given thanks He gave it to them saying: Drink from this all of you. For this is my blood, of the covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."
We underlined the word many in the texts of Matthew and Mark. Luke and Paul do not have those words. Many today have charged that the present English Mass is invalid, since it says "all" instead of "many." They say that a substantial change in the words for a sacrament makes it invalid. There is such a principle. But to decide what is a substantial change is the prerogative of the Church, not of individuals, unless they are acting like Protestants. The Church has approved the use of all in the English version. The Pope when in the U.S. often used it. In Italy he uses per tutti, meaning "for all." So those who insist the Mass is invalid are really lacking in faith, in the protection of Christ for His Church.
Turning to philology, we notice that the word used by Our Lord, if He was speaking Hebrew -- likely enough for so solemn an event -- would have been rabbim. (We recall that Jewish boys learned to read with the Hebrew Old Testament) It often had a special sense, that is, "the all who are many." If I were with three people, I could say all, but could not say many. There are five instances of this usage in the prophecy of the passion in Isaiah 52:3 -- 53:12. This is especially clear since in 53:6 it is said that "we all had gone astray . . . the Lord has laid on him the guilt of us all." In this line the word for us all is the familiar kulanu, whose sense no one would doubt. Then in verse 11, referring to the same persons, the just servant will "make just rabbim," the same persons of course. And similarly in 53:12 it is said that he took on "the sins of rabbim."27
In case He was then speaking Aramaic the word saggi'in at least at times, especially when translating Hebrew rabbim could have that sense. It is found for example in the Aramaic Targum on Isaiah 53:ll.28
St. Paul used here the Greek polloi. Every time Paul uses that word as a noun, it always means all, in the sense of Hebrew rabbim. For example in Romans 5:19: "Just as by the disobedience of the one man, the many [polloi] were made sinners, so by the obedience of the one man the many [polloi] will be constituted just." In the first half of the line, Paul speaks of original sin, which certainly came upon all, not just upon many.29
We saw in commenting on 10:16-22 that Paul has in mind that the Eucharist is not only a sacred meal but also and basically a sacrifice. When Paul says, in 11:26, that whenever we both eat the bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the death of Jesus, he is pointing to the fact that the Eucharist is a sacrifice. In a sacrifice there are two elements: 1) the outward sign, 2) the interior dispositions. The outward sign is there to express and perhaps promote the interior. It is the interior that gives it its value. Now at the Last Supper, the outward sign was the seeming separation of His body and blood. There would not be such a sign if both species were not present, to express seeming separation of body and blood. It is as if He were saying to the Father: "Father, I know the command you have given me. I am to die tomorrow. Very good, I turn myself over to death (expressed by the seeming separation). I accept, I obey." The next day He carried out that pledge. His interior disposition of obedience was the same, in fact it continued. But the outward sign shifted to the physical separation of body and blood in death. Today on our altars, He makes Himself present through the priest in the same outward sign as that which He used at the Last Supper. His interior disposition is the same as that with which He died, in fact, it is not repeated, it is continuous. For death makes permanent the attitude of heart with which one leaves this life. This, then, is why Paul speaks of the need of both species. One alone would not express death. (Paul uses either instead of both in the next verse, which speaks of Communion, for in Communion we receive the whole Christ under either one of the two species).
Our participation in the sacrifice of the altar is partly exterior, making responses, singing etc. But the essential participation is in joining our obedience to His. One way that could be done is to take a bit of time before a Mass and look back: What have I done since the last Mass in obeying the will of the Father? Whatever has been done well, can be joined with His offering. If some things are defective, apology is in order. Then I can also look ahead to the time soon to come. Sometimes, but not always, I will see something coming up in which I know what His will is, but am not eager to do it. So I ask myself: Do I really mean to do His will? If not, this is no place for me. But if I do, then both future and past are focused into one present moment -- that moment is the one in which He again, through the agency of the priest, becomes present on the altar in the double consecration. That consecration itself is the offering. Other things, even the great Amen are a sort of psychological extension, not the essential offering.
Paul also gives the words of institution which speak of the blood of the covenant. The first great covenant was Sinai, in which God said through Moses (Exodus 19:5): "If you really hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you will be my special people." Jeremiah 31:31ff. foretold a new covenant, in which the essential condition would still be obedience. Did Jeremiah see that the essential obedience would be that of Jesus? We do not know if he saw it. But we know now. So in the Mass He does hearken to the voice of the Father, He obeys, expressing His willingness even to die again -- though of course that will not be asked of Him. We were not present when He made that pledge on Thursday evening, nor when He carried it out on Friday. Hence He added: "Do this in memory of me," so we would have the opening to join with His offering.
Why should there be a Mass, when Jesus completed His sacrifice once-for-all on Calvary (Hebrews 9:28)? It is one thing for Him to earn all forgiveness and grace, another thing for us to receive it -- to receive it, we must be open. That means we must be not only members of Christ, but also like Him. Hence Romans 8:17: "We are heirs of God, fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him so we may also be glorified with Him." This is the syn Christo theme,"with Christ." We find it in Romans 6:3 and 8 and 8:17, and in Colossians 3:1 & 4; and Ephesians 2:5-6; cf. also 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 and Galatians 5:19-26. Protestant mistakes on this point are so common. Some say Jesus did all, His work is infinite, so we need do nothing but accept. Luther even said therefore we can sin as much as we want. In his Epistle of August 1, 1521 to Melanchthon: "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. . . . No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day."30 But they forget what we have just said, the need of being open to receive. And they forget that faith includes obedience to God: Romans 1:5. So it cannot justify disobedience.31 Others are so foolish as to say Catholicism is not even Christian, for it implies the work of Christ is not complete. Again, we have just answered that.
In passing, we notice that in the first consummation of the covenant, His Mother was there, and taking part, "by design of divine providence" as Vatican II said. In the Constitution on the Church §61 we read: ". . . in suffering with Him as He died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether singular way, by obedience, faith, hope and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls." So she joined in, shared in the very covenant condition, obedience, which gave all its value to the sacrifice. She did it at the cost of immense suffering, for since all spiritual perfection consists in alignment of one's will with the will of God, she was then called on to positively will that He die, die then, die so dreadfully. She had to do this in going counter to her love for Him which was so great that Pius IX said of her32 that her holiness/love was so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it." Literally, then, her suffering to join in the redemption was such that only God can comprehend it!
In 11:17 Paul continues, saying that "whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, is guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord." For He dies no more, no more is body and blood separated. So if one receives either, he receives both. So it is quite significant that Paul in 11:26 uses and, but in 11:27 uses or.
Paul next, quite obviously, calls for an examination of conscience, to see if one is in the state of grace at least. If not, to eat and drink is to eat and drink condemnation.
Some commentators at this point, unfortunately, with a contorted view say the body and blood mean the community, for we are the body of Christ, as the members of His Mystical Body. We are that. But in context we know what Paul is talking of.
Paul next adds that because of unworthy Communions many are sick and weak and even some have died. In Paul's day, everyone at Baptism received miraculous gifts. More on these in chapters 12 -14, although we saw something already in Galatians 3:2 where Paul asks them how they received the Spirit -- by works, or by faith. They could tell which it was, because God's hand was showing openly in granting the miraculous gifts. So if God worked so openly on the positive, the good side, in that day, it was quite in line for Him to be equally open on the negative side, the side of punishment.
We saw the theme of "filling up the measure of sins" in 1 Thessalonians 2:16. It would be good to review the comments we had on that passage. When Paul now says that when we are punished "we are being educated" by the Lord, so we may not have to be condemned with this world, he has in mind that theme.
That insistence on examining oneself is of major importance in all periods of time. Today many are getting lax about receiving, making no preparation, no thanksgiving afterwards. Pope John Paul II, in his very first Encyclical, Redemptor hominis (§20), explained that if one does not really work at receiving, there will not only be no spiritual gain, but even a loss.
Summary of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12
Paul very much wants them to learn about "spiritual things," that is, charismatic gifts. When they were pagans, they went to dumb idols whenever they were driven by their leaders. So he needs to tell them: If a person is speaking in the Spirit of God, he will not say "Cursed be Jesus." Also, no one can confess that Jesus is the Lord (divine) except by the Holy Spirit.
There are many kinds of charisms, but the same Spirit; there are many kinds of ministries, but the same Lord; and there are many kinds of works, but the same Lord who works (produces) all things in all. Each one gets a kind of manifestation of the Spirit for the good of the community. One gets wisdom in discourse, another, the power to express knowledge, another gets the kind of faith that brings miracles, another gets the gift of healing, another gets the gift of working miracles, another gets prophecy, another receives the power to tell what kind of spirit is at work, another gets various kinds of tongues, another gets the gift of interpreting the tongues.
It is one and the same Spirit that produces all these gifts, distributing them as is fitting to each one, as He wills.
The human body is a unit, but it has many parts. All the parts make up the one body. It is the same with [the body of] Christ. For by the one Spirit we were baptized into [so as to be parts of] the one body of Christ. There are many different kinds of members in the body of Christ.
So it would be wrong for the foot to say that it does not belong to the body because it is not a hand. Or for the ear to say because it is not an eye, it does not belong to the body. If the whole body were just an eye, there would be no hearing; if the whole body were just the sense of hearing, there would be no sense of smell.
In reality, God has placed the various members in the body as He willed. If there were only one kind of part, there would be no body. But really, there are varied kinds of members, forming one body.
The eye cannot tell the hand it does not need hands; nor can the head tell the feet they are not needed. Those parts of the body that seem weaker are all the more necessary. And those that seem less honorable receive more abundant honor. Our unpresentable members have more abundant "presentability." Yet the presentable members are not in need. God has made wise provisions for a variety of members in the body, giving more abundant honor to the member that is lacking, so there may be no dissension in the body. The members take care of one another. If one member suffers, all suffer with it. If one member is honored, all rejoice with it.
So the Corinthians are the body of Christ, and individually are its parts.
God has put these members in His Church: first, Apostles, second, prophets, third, teachers, then wonder-workers, then those with gifts of healing, then helpers of the poor, administrators, and those with various kinds of tongues.
Not all are Apostles are they? Nor are all prophets are they? Not all are teachers are they? Not all are wonder-workers are they? Not all have the gifts of healing do they? Not all speak in tongues, do they? Not all interpret tongues do they?
Be eager for the better gifts.
Comments on Chapter 12
Chapters 12-14 deal with charismatic graces. In Paul's day of course, precise terminology had not yet developed. It is that way with every field of knowledge, time is required. Sometimes a new term is coined; at other times an agreement is reached that at least in precise writing, the meaning of a broad everyday word will be artificially limited. We now will write with the help of the later precision of language. Yet the ideas were all there in Paul's Epistles.
Grace is any gift from God to human beings. There are two great groups of graces: sanctifying and charismatic.
Sanctifying graces are those that are aimed at making the recipient holy; charismatic graces are not directly aimed at that (though they incidentally may help) but they are for some benefit to the community.
Sanctifying graces include two kinds: habitual (also called sanctifying grace) and actual graces, that is, graces God gives me here and now to lead and enable me to do a particular good thing now. (We spoke of these in comments on Philippians 2:13).
Charismatic graces also come in two kinds: the miraculous, and the non-miraculous. The latter, the kind that are not miraculous, are offered to everyone. They include the gift of being a good parent, a good teacher, etc. (Vatican II spoke of these in Constitution on the Church §12).
The principles and policies God has chosen to follow are quite different in the two areas. Sanctifying graces are needed for salvation. Since God wants all to be saved, He offers them to all abundantly. The receptivity of the individual determines what he gets, i.e., he gets them if he does not reject them (see also our discussion on Philippians 2:13).
But with charismatic graces the rule is: The Spirit gives them where He wills, and independently of the qualities or receptivity of the one who gets them. Hence the frightening conclusion: someone could even work miracles and not even be in the state of sanctifying grace! We gather this from Matthew 7:22-23: "Many will say to me on that day [the day of the end]: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name and cast out devils in your name, and worked many miracles in your name? And then I will tell them: Depart from me, you who work iniquity. I never knew you." So, someone might work miracles and not even be in the state of grace!
As we read further, we will see that Paul thinks the Corinthians are practically childish about the miraculous charismatic gifts, especially, about tongues. He will warn them in several ways about that.
Practically at the start of chapter 12 Paul warns them about an experience they had when they were pagans. Then they knew a phenomenon called "enthusiasm." The Greek words meant having a god inside them. Then the person might act wildly, and even curse the god inside him. So Paul has to tell them it is not that way with the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. If someone curses Jesus, it is not the good Spirit that is within.
From this we readily gather that there can be three sources of these miraculous gifts: the good Spirit, the evil spirit, and we would add, autosuggestion. Therefore when we meet with things that seem to be these gifts today, we must remember that they need to be examined and checked. We must not think automatically: "This sounds like what Paul describes." No, it could even be an evil spirit. And it could be autosuggestion. Two professors who were much involved in the Charismatic movement expressed to me the opinion that many cases are suggestion. Further, I know of some nuns who think they are making spiritual growth with charismatic things, but actually are not, because they follow also the unfortunate error sometimes called New Spirituality. (Please check the comments on Philippians, chapter 3).
Right after warning against spirits that curse Jesus, Paul makes a very confusing addition. He says that to believe in the divinity of Jesus (to say Jesus is Lord) requires the Holy Spirit. This is correct of course. But: If someone does believe in the divinity of Jesus, will it follow that what charismatic gifts he seems to have are from the Holy Spirit? Not at all. The reason is that, as we said, there are two groups or categories of graces, sanctifying and charismatic. When Paul warns of a spirit that curses Jesus, he is speaking of a mistake in the charismatic category. When he says one needs the Holy Spirit to believe the divinity of Jesus, he is in the sanctifying category. Hence, to have that gift in the sanctifying category does not prove anything about one's status in the charismatic category. It does not prove any gifts he seems to have are from the Holy Spirit.
We notice the threefold structure in verses 4-6, speaking of divisions of charisms, ministries and works. This suggests the Holy Trinity.
We are not sure what he means by "wisdom in discourse" or "the power to express knowledge." One plausible conjecture would be that the former means a deeper understanding of divine things, and the second would mean an ability to present these things to others.
However it is clear that when Paul speaks of "faith" in verse 9, he means a faith in the charismatic, not the sanctifying category. When Paul speaks of faith he normally is in the sanctifying category, that is, when he speaks of justification by faith. We explained in 1 Thessalonians what he means by that faith. But charismatic faith is a divinely given gift of confidence that if the recipient asks for a miracle, it will be granted. Of course if God as it were injects that confidence, He will follow through on it. It does not mean that one should try to work himself into an almost emotional state of confidence, and then will get a miracle. Not at all.
We already mentioned in chapter 11 that prophecy does not basically mean a gift of foretelling the future. It is rather a gift of giving an effective or moving exhortation to the community.
The power to distinguish spirits would mean the ability to tell whether or not it is the Holy Spirit at work in a particular case.
The gift of tongues, if genuine, is the ability to speak in a different tongue. But it does not in itself mean that the speaker knows what he is saying: for that, an added gift, that of interpretation, is required. Paul will say more about that in chapter 14, for the dangers are obvious. Is this gift of tongues the same as that which the Apostles had on the first Pentecost? Then people of many different native languages did understand. The speakers of whom Paul tells us in general would not understand. Did the Apostles also know? Probably yes. Or was there a sort of miracle in the air, so that the Apostle spoke one language, the crowd understood in various languages? We do not know.
There are cases today in which some were present who happened to know the language being spoken, even though the speaker did not know what he was saying. I have been told of two cases in which some were praising God beautifully; but others at the same time were cursing Him!
I have read in a charismatic publication of an instance in which a woman was at a charismatic meeting (I know her name, but will refrain from giving it), did not have the gift of tongues, but wanted it. A man stood near her, coaching her. He said: If any sound feels like coming, encourage it. Soon she was speaking something she thought was like Hawaiian since it was mostly vowels. But this is really asking for Satanic deception or for self-deception. The great St. Teresa of Avila, who had so many marvelous experiences, warns us of this sort of thing. In her Interior Castle 6.9 she advises, speaking of visions: "I wish to warn you that when you hear God is giving souls these graces, you must never ask or desire Him to lead you along this road. Even if you think it is a very good one, there are certain reasons why such a course is not wise." She goes on to give several reasons: It shows a lack of humility. And one also leaves self "open to great peril because the devil has only to see a door left slightly ajar to enter." She mentions also autosuggestion: "When someone has a great desire for something, he convinces himself that he is seeing or hearing what he desires." Although she spoke of visions, the principle would be the same for the gift of tongues. Further, as we shall see, St. Paul warns the Corinthians that they are too attached to that sort of gift.
Paul's comparison of the Body of Christ to a human body is the first long occurrence of the Mystical Body doctrine in St. Paul. (He mentioned it briefly in passing in 1 Corinthians 6:15). Paul does not use the word mystical at all. That is a modern invention. It is needed, since the Mystical Body is not the same as a physical body, nor is it like a corporation, with its lesser unity. There is no secular parallel to the Mystical Body. It does help explain how it is that what Jesus did in the Redemption can count for us. That is true since we are His members. Hence in 2 Corinthians 5:14, "Judging this, that if one died for all, therefore all have died." Romans 12:4-8 is very similar to the present passage. In Colossians and Ephesians we find much more development and Christ is explicitly called the Head of the Mystical Body -- in 1 Corinthians and Romans that is merely implied. The Encyclical of Pius XII, On the Mystical Body, develops Paul's doctrine extensively.
The weaker and unpresentable members mentioned in verses 22-23 are the sexual organs, which we cover up, thereby giving them added "honor."
When Paul says if one member suffers all suffer with it, the reference is more to the Mystical Body, though it is true in a way of a physical body. There was a rabbinic teaching, which was probably around in Paul's day even though our reference comes from Tosefta, Kiddushin, 1.14 which quotes Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar, who says he is citing Rabbi Meir, a disciple of the great Rabbi Akiba: "He [anyone] has carried out a commandment. Blessings on him! He has tipped the scales to the side of merit for himself and for the world. He [anyone] has committed a transgression. Woe to him! He has tipped the scales to the side of debt for himself and for the world."
Then Paul gives a list of charismatic gifts. We notice that he numbers the first three, then drops the numbers. The first three are nonmiraculous gifts. Tongues is put last. This is part of Paul's work in trying to reduce the attachment of the Corinthians to tongues. The closing line of this chapter is part of that thrust: Be eager for the better gifts. This leads into the beautiful chapter 13 on love.
Summary of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13
Now Paul will show them the very best way. If he were to have the gift of tongues, including all languages of all people and of angels, but would be without love, it would mean no more than a noisy gong or cymbal. If he had the gift of prophecy and knew all mysteries, and had all knowledge and had charismatic faith enough to move mountains, but had not love -- it would be nothing.
If he gave away all his possessions to feed the poor, and even gave up his own body to be burned, but did not have love, it would do no good.
Love has long patience, it is kind, not jealous, does not boast, is not proud. It does not act arrogantly, does not look out for its own interests, is not easily angered. It does not keep a record of past injuries.
It does not take pleasure in seeing evil done, but it does take pleasure in seeing good done. It bears all things, is ready to believe the best about others, it does not give up hope easily. It is patient in all things.
Love will never be superseded. The gift of prophecy will come to an end. So will the gift of tongues, and the gift of charismatic knowledge -- we have knowledge in part now, and prophecy in part. But when what is perfect comes, that which is only partial will be removed.
When he was a child, he used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. But when he grew up, he put away childish things.
In this life we see God only through the mirror of creation, in an obscure way. But then we will see Him face to face. Now we have partial knowledge; then we will know God as God knows us.
Now there remain faith, hope and love -- these three. The greater of these is love.
Comments on Chapter 13
This chapter is so beautiful from the literary point of view, so different from Paul's usual literary style that some have suggested Paul used a ready made work. This is possible. Ideas abut authorship in those times were very free. Someone might change another's work, or he might use the name of a famous man as a pen name for his own work.
Paul describes the characteristics of love, rather than giving a definition. A definition would be this: To love is to will good to another for the other's sake. (See Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics 8.2. This definition is also implied in John 3:16. For the fact that God went so far as the death of His Son to make eternal happiness possible for us implies that He wills that for us -- that is love.)
Paul uses this chapter to contrast with the overemphasis the Corinthians are putting on charismatic things, especially tongues. He said in the last line of chapter 12 that they should seek the better gifts. Now he opens by saying he will show the best way.
Some rabbis speculated on angelic tongues. The fact that Paul mentions it here need not mean he believed there were such things (cf. our comments on the rock that followed the Jews, in 1 Corinthians 10:4). Angels are pure spirits.
The faith of which he speaks here is charismatic faith, injected into a person by God, as we explained in comments on chapter 12.
We do not know what he means by "giving his body to be burned." It hardly means the insane and immoral practice of some in our time who set themselves on fire for a protest. That was not known in Paul's day. But we do gather that helping the poor is not identified with love, though it will be an effect of love. Love of neighbor means this: Out of love of him, I wish him eternal life and good things here too. I do that to please God, who wants neighbor to have those things. This move to please God is love of God -- and love of neighbor at the same time. Hence we see the close bond between the first and second commandments. But we must not say, as one priest I know did: "If I were alone on a desert island, I could have no relation to God: I can have that only through people." No, even though bound together, the two loves are quite distinct.
To be arrogant is to demand or accept things in a haughty way, through pride.
We translated ou logizetai kakon in 13:5 as "love does not keep a record of injuries." It could also be: "love is not inclined to believe evil of others." But we prefer the version we have used. It is of immense importance. If two people are quarreling, especially within marriage, first each will use up the arguments pertaining immediately to the point in dispute. But when there is no victory -- as usual in such a dispute -- each will be tempted to enlarge the war in either or both of these ways: 1) To generalize: "You are not just nasty now, you are a nasty person in general." 2) One will dig up and as it were read a list of all the past offenses of the other. These tactics hurt deeply. To merely to go on after the quarrel is over by living as if nothing had happened, is unlikely to heal the wound. Most likely a real apology is needed.
But it is also true that love is not inclined to believe evil of others. When we look about, there is probbly rather little pure malice in the world: even the crazies who take hostages, etc., think they are performing a religious action! But inability to understand is much more common. Therefore, we can probably say that statistically, if one makes a policy of putting the more charitable interpretation on something, he is likely to be right more often than he would be in the other way. And besides, in Matthew 7:1, Jesus tells us not to judge. That does not mean we may not say murder or adultery are grave sins in themselves.33 But what we may not say is that we are sure of the interior dispositions of the other. We simply do not have the information or proof most of the time.
He says that love does not enjoy seeing evil done -- so it may make him look good by contrast. Love will depend on its own merits.
At the end of time, there will be no more charismatic gifts. But love will continue forever.
Paul says that today he sees God through a mirror. Mirrors then were just polished sheets of metal, not so brilliant as ours. He means we know something about God by seeing the good things He has created. But even when we see someone face to face, our sight is indirect. The vision of God in Heaven is direct, more direct than seeing someone today. If I look at you, I do not take you into my head: I take in an image. That works, since although the image is finite or limited, so are you. But if I as it were stand before God to see Him, no image can help. For images are finite: He is infinite. So Pope Benedict XII (DS 1000) defined that there is no image involved. So it must be that God joins Himself directly to the human soul without even a image in between, thereby performing the function an image would have had. In this way the soul is enabled to plug in, as it were, into the infinite streams of knowledge and love that flow within the Holy Trinity. For, as chapter 1 of St. John's Gospel says, the Father speaks a Word: it is substantial, it is His Son, coming forth by an infinite stream of knowledge, as it were. Between Father and Son arises love: it too is substantial, it is the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, coming forth by an infinite stream of love. These streams are of course infinite. Hence heaven never could grow dull.
Let us relate this to purgatory. In Malachi 3:2 God says: "He is like a a refiner's fire . . . who can stand when He appears?" So if the soul were totally corrupt, as Luther thought, God would surely not join Himself to it eternally. Rather, the "refiner's fire" would have to purify it, if indeed it was basically oriented to God in the first place -- instead of thinking that it could commit fornication and adultery a thousand tims a day and still be with God.34
Still further, there is no time there. Time involves a restless succession of changes: a moment ahead called future changes to present, then to past. But St. Augustine says of the angels that they participate in the timelessness of God's eternity.35 So will it be with the soul that reaches this Blessed Vision. Heaven does not, as it were, go on and on; rather, the soul simply IS blessed and happy beyond anything we can picture to ourselves.
We add: the human soul of Jesus, according to the teaching of Pius XII in his encyclical on the Mystical Body (DS 3812) had this vision of God from the first instant of conception. Considering His structure, this was inevitable. For ordinarily if we put together a human body and soul, it automatically becomes a human person; not so in Jesus, for the whole humanity was taken over, assumed, by the Second Person of the Trinity, so that it never was a human person. Hence not just the human mind, but the entire humanity of Jesus was joined to the divinity even more closely than the ordinary soul in the Beatific Vision. For the ordinary soul remains a distinct person from God; Jesus was united in one Person.
This means that all knowledge was as it were before Him in that vision. In it He saw all He would have to suffer. This must have been as it were eating on Him, as we gather from Luke 12:50 and John 12:27: a tremendous thing to take on for our salvation! This vision did not prevent Him from suffering: there are many levels of operation in a human, both in body and in soul. Just as a mountain 25,000 feet in altitude can have just the peak sticking out into sunshine above dark clouds on many days, so only the point of His soul would be in the blessing of that vision: all the lower levels could be plunged into distress, even fear, as happened in Gethsemani (cf. Mark 14:33). For an unprotected humanity facing such dreadful torture would recoil in fear. He could have prevented that by His divine power. But Philippians 2:7 says He emptied Himself, that is, resolved not to use His divine resources for His own comfort -- only for others would He employ them.
Summary of 1 Corinthians 14:1-33a
Paul asks them to pursue love, of which he spoke in chapter 13, and to be eager for charismatic graces, but especially for the gift of prophecy. If someone speaks in a tongue, he is not speaking to humans but to God, since no one understands: he utters mysteries in the Spirit.
But if one prophesies, his speech brings spiritual help and encouragement and consolation to the congregation. The one who speaks in a tongue benefits himself; the one who prophesies benefits the church. Paul would like to see all of them have the gift of tongues, but better, the gift of prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than one speaking in tongues -- unless the latter can translate, for the spiritual good of the church.
But really, as things are, if Paul were to come speaking in tongues, what good would it do, if he did not bring an intelligible revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?
There are many lifeless things that make a sound, such as the flute or the harp. But if there are only indistinct sounds, who will know what is supposed to be played on the flute or harp? If a bugle gives out an unclear sound, no one will get ready for battle. So too, if someone in a tongue gives out a sound that cannot be understood, how will anyone know what it means? He will be talking to the air!
There are so many kinds of voices in the world -- almost everything has a voice. But if the listeners do not know the meaning, the speaker and the listener are like foreigners to each other (cannot be understood).
So, since they are eager for charismatic gifts, they should seek them for the spiritual benefit of the church. So one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the gift of interpretation. If one prays in a tongue, his spirit prays, but his mind is left without fruit. What then? If one prays in the Spirit, may he also pray with his mind. If one sings in the Spirit, let him also sing in his mind.
If you blessed God in the Spirit, how would an outsider know what you were saying? You may give thanks to God beautifully -- but the other gets no spiritual help.
Paul thanks God that he can speak in tongues more than all of them. Yet he would rather speak five intelligible words to teach others, than ten thousand words in an unintelligible tongue.
He begs them not to be childish in their brains, but to be childlike in regard to malice. Let them be mature in their thinking.
We read in Isaiah: "I will speak to this people in other tongues and on the lips of others. But even so they will not listen to me, says the Lord."
So, tongues are a sign not for believers, but for unbelievers. But prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers, but for believers.
If the whole community comes together, and all speak in tongues, and an outsider comes in: will he not think them insane? But if many are using the gift of prophecy, and an outsider comes in, he is convinced of his sins, he is led to reflect on his case. The secrets of his heart are revealed [to him]. So, he will fall on his face and adore God and say: God really is among this community.
What is the practical conclusion? When they come together, suppose various ones have a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, a gift of interpretation. Everything must be controlled for spiritual benefit. So if there is to be speaking in tongues, there should be two or at most three, and one at a time. And someone should interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let those with tongues be silent in the church, and speak alone and to God.
Two or three prophets may speak at one meeting of the community, and the others should judge whether it comes from a good or an evil spirit. If someone who is seated gets a revelation, then the one speaking at the time should be silent. For all can have an opportunity to prophesy, but should do it one at a time, so all may learn and gain exhortation. The spirits of the prophets are under the control of the prophets. For God is not a God of uproar, but of peace.
Comments on 14:1-33a
This section is a series of comparisons of tongues and prophecy: tongues always make a poor second. Paul thinks the Corinthians are childish about tongues. So in 14:20 he tells them to be childlike, but not childish. Anything can make a sound, but if it is unintelligible what good is it? In contrast, prophecy i.e., giving a moving exhortation to the community, does bring spiritual growth.
The line of 14:16 was much used before Vatican II to argue that we must have vernacular liturgy. But the argument from 14:16 is not at all conclusive. For people then used to commonly have missals with parallel texts, English and Latin. So they did know what was being said. Further, the use of a strange language helps to promote reverence. Pagan Roman liturgy was in Latin, but it included some very archaic words (e.g., duint for current dent "may he grant"), and some of it was in a form of the language so archaic as to be unintelligible. For example, Horace at the time of Christ makes fun of a man so conceited that he claimed to understand the Salian hymn to Mars. We have that hymn today, and can see they would not understand (a copy can be found in English and Latin, in the Loeb Classical Library, Remains of Old Latin). For example, the first line of it read: "Enos Lases iuvate." The Latin current in the time of Horace would have said: "Nos Lares iuvate": "Household gods, help us." Again, the ancient Hittites used a completely separate language for their liturgy. Behind all this is the fact that in our relation to God there are two poles, or centers around which things are grouped. One is the pole of love, closeness, warmth. That is cultivated heavily today. The other is the pole of majesty, greatness, immensity. That perception has been lost or almost lost in the minds of many today. We cannot exaggerate either pole, for God is infinite in all respects. But our response will be distorted if we cultivate one and almost or entirely leave out the other.
In 14:21 Paul quotes, loosely, Isaiah 28:11 ff. In context, Isaiah was warning that because the people would not listen to the prophet, God would send the Assyrians, whose language they would not know, and would strike them. Even then they would not be converted. Now if Paul commonly paid attention to the context or setting of the Old Testament texts he quoted -- which he did not do -- we would say here that Paul means: "You people think tongues are a sign of God's favor. Beware! It might be a sign of His anger!"
The relation of 14:22 to 23 is a bit odd. First Paul says that tongues are a sign for unbelievers -- it means that they will see there is a spiritual power at work here. He adds that prophecy is for believers -- it was for their spiritual benefit. In verse 23 he seems to say the opposite about prophecy: he says it is a sign for an outsider -- in the sense that the prophecy will move him to conversion. So there is no contradiction.
We note that Paul wants tongues used only one at a time in the church. At some charismatic meetings hundreds may speak in tongues at the same time. They will reply that there is a difference between speaking in tongues and praying in tongues. But from 14:17 it appears that the use of tongues Paul has in mind is precisely praying and praising God in tongues.
So Paul insists on good order in the church. And he says that -- unlike what the Corinthians had seen in pagan cases of "enthusiasm" [a god inside] the Spirit that moves Christians is not a God of uproar. The speakers can control themselves.
In general this could be a valid form of spirituality provided that great care is taken. First, one must check each case, as we said above, to see if it comes from a good spirit, an evil spirit, or autosuggestion. Many charismatics object strongly to checking. There is also a great danger of elitism. Some charismatics say other Catholics are "dead." This could lead to spiritual pride, the most deadly of vices. They should recognize that there is a diversity of spiritual graces, so not all need to follow the same pattern. Yes, on the basic level, all must follow the same principles. But on the secondary level, there is room for much variation, e.g., compare St. Francis de Sales, a refined gentlemen, with St. Benedict Joseph Labre, who lived like a tramp, and probably had body lice.
Some groups also reject devotion to Our Lady -- a sure sign that something is very basically wrong. Others reject things the Church promotes, such as the Miraculous Medal or the Scapular -- again, a sign of something very wrong. Still others say they do not need the Church, they have a direct line to the Holy Spirit. This is seriously in error. Some groups have a rigid authoritarian structure -- even though no one of them has a valid claim to authority. The authorities are answerable to no one -- this is very dangerous.
There is also a danger of excess emotionalism: normally God does give consolations (satisfactions in religion) to those who make the second conversion (begin to get very serious about pleasing God). But this does not normally last indefinitely: St. Francis de Sales warns that if it did, they might love the consolations of God rather than the God of consolations.36
Some charismatics claim what they have is merely the activation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which does not happen in the usual Catholic. They call this Baptism in the Spirit. This too is a great error. All receive these Gifts along with sanctifying grace, and they have an increase at Confirmation and other times. But normally they do not show clear and overt effects until one is far advanced in the spiritual life -- earlier, there may be latent effects. Still further, the effects of these Gifts are not the miraculous phenomena -- that would be to confuse the sanctifying and the charismatic categories. Some also tend to be fundamentalistic in understanding Scripture.
Many charismatics today are trying to say all Catholics must be charismatic, that "baptism in the spirit" was routine in the patristic age. We find this clearly in a booklet, Fanning the Flame, by Kilian McDonnell.37 He cites a few patristic texts to try to show these phenomena were routine in the patristic age. But the texts given are few, just three are given: Fairly clear are those of Tertullian, St. Hilary, St. Cyril of Jerusalem. But the booklet admits on p.18 that: "Both Basil of Caesarea . . . and Gregory Nazianzus . . . situate the prophetic charisms within the Christian initiation, though they are more reserved in their regard than Paul." No quotes are given. Then we see a remarkable admission on St. John Chrysostom, quoted on the same page, "Chrysostom complained, however 'the charisms are long gone'." St. Augustine, in City of God38, has to argue strongly that miracles are possible, against those in his day who denied the possibility. He says that if they want to say the Apostles converted the world without any miracles -- that would be a great miracle. If there were miraculous gifts commonly around, Augustine would have merely pointed to them. But he did not.
Still further, historically. The miraculous gifts were common in Paul's day, but at least by the middle of the next century became scarce in the mainline Church, but common in heretical groups. The present movement started in the first decade of the 20th century among Protestants. Some decades later, some Catholics, precisely by contact with the Protestants, claimed the same gifts.
Did not Pope Paul VI speak favorably of the movement? Yes, for there can be valid instances of it. But the dangers are very real and not too rare.
Summary of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-40
As he says in all the churches, he orders women to be silent in the churches. They are not permitted to speak, but to be silent, as the Old Testament says. If they have questions, they should ask their own husbands at home.
He asks if the word of God has come from or come to them alone? If someone thinks he is a prophet, or thinks he has charismatic gifts, then he will recognize that what Paul is writing is the command of the Lord. If someone does not know, God does not recognize him.
He insists that everything must be done properly and in good order.
Comments on 14:33b-40
We need to keep two questions distinct: 1) What does Paul mean in this passage on ordination of women? 2) What does the Catholic Church teach on ordination of women?
We will take up each question separately, and first, what Paul means here.
When we examined 1 Corinthians 11:4 we saw that there is a question of whether that verse, which could be taken to imply permission for women to pray and prophesy in the church if they have a veil, clashes with 11:34.
We said then that we could consider 11:4 as a focused text, i.e., Paul is focusing only on the point: they may not do these things without a veil, but he does not mean to give an implication beyond that. If we take it that way, there is no clash at all with 14:34.
Others, not thinking of the possibility of a focused interpretation, charge there is an interpolation. However there is no evidence at all for that. Those who hold that think there is the contradiction mentioned. But we have seen that there need be no contradiction, if we adopt the focused way of understanding.
We must raise a further question, as we did with 11:2ff.: Is Paul here merely expressing a custom of his day? Or is there also a theological framework? If there is, to what extent does it have influence on his stance? It is clear from his appeal to the "Law," the Old Testament, that there is a theological framework. The Old Testament passage most probably in mind would be Genesis 3:16: "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." The fact that here Paul does explicitly appeal to the Law makes the case stronger here than it was in 11:2ff. But as in 11:2ff we had to ask whether the theological framework controlled Paul's decision, so we ask here. It is difficult to be certain, though we think it more likely that it does, especially in view of the decisions of the Church on this point, which we will cite presently.
A very radical proposal has even been made that we imagine all of 14:33b-35 to be in quote marks: Paul would be quoting something the "prophets" in Corinth thought up. Then he would strongly reject it in verses 36-38. But that would involve an abrupt shift in Paul's thought at 14:3b, and so seems very unlikely.
Before giving the statements of the Church, we recall the matter of Galatians 3:28, in which Paul says that in Christ, "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female." But we saw there that this does not apply to the matter of ordination of women, since the context in Galatians is justification by faith: In regard to gaining that, it makes no difference if one is male or female. It would be far out of line to claim to extrapolate and say there is no difference in any other respect!
The most important statements by the Church are these:
1) Paul VI, on April 18, 1975, in response to a committee studying the Church's response to the International Women's Year said: "If women did not receive the call to the apostolate of the Twelve, and therefore to the ordained ministry, they are however invited to follow Christ as disciples and collaborators."
2) The Doctrinal Congregation, on October 15, 1976, issued a long document on this matter. It very clearly and flatly rejected the ordination of women. Unfortunately, the press, not knowing theological procedure, said the chief reason given was that the priest represents Christ Who was a man. But in giving theological reasons, at the end, after solid proofs, we come to what is called "Argumentum convenientiae," an argument from fittingness. Such arguments are not intended to be conclusive. So the objection does not hold at all. In fact, the document explicitly called this an argument of fittingness.
Before that point, the document said: "The Church's tradition in the matter has thus been so firm in the course of the centuries that the Magisterium has not felt the need to intervene in order to formulate a principle which was not attacked." It notes too that in not calling women, Jesus was not constrained by customs of the times, for, "His attitude towards women was quite different from that of His milieu and He deliberately and courageously broke with it." The document notes too that when the Gnostics and other heretics "entrusted the exercise of the priestly ministry to women, this innovation was immediately noted and condemned by the Fathers, who considered it as unacceptable in the Church." It cites St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, St. Cyprian, Origen, St. Epiphanius and others.
3) Paul VI on November 30, 1975 wrote to Archbishop Coggan of Canterbury: " Your Grace is of course well aware of the Catholic Church's position on this question. She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his Church."
The reason given last by Paul VI is the decisive one: he appeals to the on-going teaching of the Church. So this is a definitive teaching.
Paul VI mentioned also the constant practice of the Church. There is not even one official text approving of attempting to ordain women as priests. On the contrary, there is a solid wall of texts from general and local councils against it. Especially strong is a letter of Pope Gelasius (14.26), of March 11, 494, speaking vehemently against what seems to have been a fact that some bishops in S. Italy attempted to ordain women. Gelasius said this "seems to threaten . . . the tragic downfall of the whole church." The Fathers do not often have occasion to speak on the subject, but when they do, they unanimously strike out at it, and often hard.
4) John Paul II, in Apostolic Letter of May 22, 1994 Ordinatio sacerdotalis, gave the definitive answer: "In order that all doubt may be removed . . . a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." This statement follows the lines of Paul VI and in itself is a definition, which is irreformable.
Finally, in an almost humorous way, St. Paul says that if some charismatics in Corinth think they have the Spirit, so does he. If they do not recognize the divine origin of his teaching, God does not recognize them!
Summary of 1 Corinthians 15:1-28
Paul says solemnly that he is informing them about the Gospel which he preached to them, which they received, in which they are standing firm, through which they are on the road to final salvation, if they hold to it as he preached it -- unless they have believed in vain.
He handed on to them first of all that Christ died for our sins, as foretold in the Scriptures, and that He was buried and rose on the third day, according to the Scriptures; and that he was seen by Kephas, then by the twelve, then by more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then James saw Him, then all the Apostles. Last of all, Paul, like one born out of normal time, also saw Him.
Paul says he is the least of the Apostles, and not worthy to be called an Apostle because he persecuted the Church of God. However, it is by God's grace that he is what he is, and that grace given him has not been in vain. Rather, he has worked more than all the other Apostles -- not he, but the grace of God with him. Whether it be he, or whether it be they: thus he preaches, thus the Corinthians have come to believe.
Now since our preaching tells that Christ rose from the dead: How do some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ did not rise either. But if He did not rise, then our preaching is vain, and vain is your faith. We are seen as false witnesses against God, for we gave witness against God saying that He raised up the Christ, but He did not do that if the dead do not rise. If the dead do not rise, neither did Christ rise. But if He did not rise, your faith is foolish: you are still in your sins. And those who have died hoping in Christ have perished. If we have had hope in Christ only in this life, we are more to be pitied than all other people.
But the truth is that Christ has risen from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. Just as in Adam all died, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each one will be in his own order. Christ is the first fruit, then when He returns, those who belong to Christ.
After that comes the end, when Christ will hand over the kingship to God the Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty, authority and power. For He must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed will be death. For the Father has made all things subject under the feet of Christ. When it says that all will be under Christ, it means all but the Father who subjects all things to Christ. When the Father has subjected all things to Christ, then the Son Himself also will be made subject to the Father, the one who made all things subject to Him, so God may be all in all.
Comments on 15:1-28
Paul opens the chapter by insisting on the preaching of the resurrection, which they have received by oral tradition (parelabete = you have received, i.e., in preaching).
Paul insists that the death and resurrection of Christ were foretold in Scripture. His death of course was foretold in Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53:10-12, after speaking of his death, also says that "he shall see his descendants, he will prolong his days . . ." His death is also in Psalm 22:17, which even speaks of His hands and feet being pierced. He Himself too foretold His death and resurrection several times.
The prophecy of His resurrection on the third day, outside of the words of Christ Himself, is more difficult to deal with. We find it mentioned in verse 4, which says: "He was buried, and according to the Scriptures, rose on the third day."
The only direct text predicting His resurrection on the third day might be Hosea 6.2: "After two days he will revive us; and on the third day he will raise us up." In the original setting, the prophet is urging the people to return to God, and He will save them. The liturgy applies this to the resurrection of Jesus. Is it mere accommodation or multiple fulfillment of prophecy? Probably the latter.
An outstanding article by Bertrand de Margerie, S.J.39 shows that the third day was widely used in Scripture for the day of rescue. It was the day of the rescue of Isaac from being sacrificed (Genesis 22:4ff.) and of the deliverance given by Joseph to his brothers. (Genesis 42:17ff.) The Hebrews were to go three days into the desert to sacrifice (Exodus 5:3-4). It was the day of the revelation of the law at Sinai (Exodus 19:16). It was the day the spies saved by Rahab were delivered (Joshua 2:22). David had sinned by ordering a census, but chose a punishment of pestilence to end on the third day. (2 Samuel 24:13ff.) It was the day on which Hezekiah would go up to the temple again, after being delivered from death (Isaiah 38:1-5). It was the day on which Esther found favor with the king and saved her people (Esther 5:1). It was the day of return from the exile at the time of Ezra (Esdra 8:32). It was the day of deliverance of Jonah from the whale (Jonah 2:1). Jesus Himself predicted His resurrection on the third day (Matthew 16:21; 20:19; 27:63). Interestingly, in Babylonia, in the Descent of Ishtar, the third day was the day of the reawakening of the fertility gods.40
We need not think Paul is giving a complete list of the appearances of Jesus, or that he gives them in chronological order. He speaks of himself as one born out of due time, because Jesus appeared to Paul after the resurrection and ascension, on the road to Damascus.
Paul says he is not worthy to be called an Apostle, because he persecuted the Church. He says this even though he was in good faith then, in fact, thought himself to be working wonderfully for God. Yet Paul knows that God is concerned with what is objectively right, even if the one who does wrong is in good faith.41
He says he worked more than all the other Apostles. When we read his travels, we can easily believe that. Yet he says it was not basically he, but grace that did it. He is right.42
Paul is having trouble with some philosophical opponents at Corinth. Most likely it is Platonists. They believed in reincarnation. Our bodies are really not part of us, they thought, for we came from a world of spirits, and had to take on a body as a penalty. If we can get through several reincarnations, each time as a wise philosopher, we can get permission to skip reincarnation, and our soul will get wings, fly away, and never have a body again. Clearly, such people would not welcome Paul's preaching of a general resurrection at all. (Let us remember that they would hardly object to a merely spiritual body -- we must recall this at 15:44, where Paul speaks of the risen body as spiritual: he means it is completely under control of our spirit).
It is possible that the opponents are Pythagoreans, who also held reincarnation, or Orphics or Gnostics. There also was another error running which said the resurrection had already taken place.43
But it is more likely that he is dealing with the Platonists. Against them, Paul insists that if Christ is not risen, neither will we rise. For He is the first fruits, and those who belong to Him will be of the same sort at the resurrection. And of course, though Paul does not say it explicitly here, he must have in his mind his Mystical Body doctrine, of which he is fond. If the Head rises, the members must rise too. So if we deny the resurrection of the members of Christ, that implies a denial of Christ's resurrection.
That in turn has a terrible consequence. Christ said He would rise. If He did not, He was false, and our faith is vain and we are still in our sins, if we depend on Him for redemption.
When he says that through a man came death, and through a man came resurrection, and just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive -- he is thinking of the fact that Christ is the new or second Adam. The first Adam was the first head of our race. He involved us in original sin. Christ the new Adam, the new head of our race, reverses that damage.
The Fathers, beginning with St. Justin the Martyr about 145 A.D.44 will see that there is also a new Eve, Our Lady, who, just as Eve really contributed to the disaster of original sin, so she really contributed to reversing that damage. That new Eve theme is found extensively in the Fathers. Her cooperation in the redemption, even on Calvary, has been clearly taught by every Pope from Leo XIII to John Paul II, and also by Vatican II.45
When he says that Christ is the first fruit, and then there will come those who belong to Christ, each in his own order, we could see an implication -- which Paul himself probably did not see -- of the Assumption of our Lady, because of her close association with Christ in every one of the mysteries of His life and death. Vatican II has spelled this association out in great detail in Constitution on the Church, chapter 8. Pius XII stated it in summary form in his document defining the Assumption46 when he wrote that she is "always sharing His lot."
God the Father will bring all enemies under the feet of Christ. Then at the end, Christ Himself will be made subject to the Father. To understand we recall that Christ has two natures, divine and human. So it is quite right to make statements that apply to either nature. The New Testament often speaks entirely in the human category, e.g., Peter's speech at the first Pentecost, in Acts 2.
The words about putting all things under his feet recall Psalm 110:1: "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool." Unfortunately, the early Christian writer Origen took this to mean that even hell must be emptied, so that hell comes to an end. For those in hell are enemies of Christ.47
Summary of 1 Corinthians 15:29-34
Why should anyone be baptized for the dead if the dead do not rise? Why should Paul be risking his life every hour if the dead do not rise? He swears that he is in danger every day. What good would it be for him if he met the beasts in the arena at Ephesus? If there is no resurrection: let us eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!
He tells them not to deceive themselves, "Bad company corrupts good morals." So they should wake up and not go on sinning. Some of them do not know God. Paul speaks to shame them.
Comments on 15:29-34
Was there such a practice as baptism for the dead in Corinth? Paul seems to imply there was, but his words do not imply any approval. He is merely arguing from something they seem to believe in, saying that makes no sense if they do not believe in the resurrection. (It would probably mean some friend would go through baptism a second time for a friend who died without it. Mormons today do that, claiming some private revelation to one of their leaders).
We do not know if he really did fight with the beasts at Ephesus. Cases are known in which Christians were put in the arena, but the animals would not touch them. That could have happened to Paul. On the other hand, he makes it conditional: if I did that. This need not mean he really did it.
He then says if there is no resurrection, and thereby Christ is false, we might as well eat and drink, for then comes death. He gives a quote, from the Thais of the comedy writer Menander. This need not imply that Paul knew that play. It could have been that such quotes were in common circulation in conversation.
He concludes by saying that since there is a resurrection, they should not go on sinning, acting as if there were nothing after death.
Summary of 1 Corinthians 15:35-58
If someone asks what will the risen body be like, we first need to notice that what we plant in the ground must die before it comes up. And we do not sow what is to come up, but a mere grain of wheat or some other seed. But God gives the proper body to each as He wills.
There is quite a variety of fleshy bodies -- one kind for people, another for animals, another for birds, another for fishes. Further there are heavenly bodies as well as earthly bodies. The glory of the heavenly bodies is different from that of earthly bodies. There is one glory of the sun, another of the moon, another of the stars. And also, one star differs from another star in its glory.
It is similar with the resurrection of the dead. The body we bury is put in the ground in corruption. But it is raised up incorruptible. It is buried in dishonor, it will rise in glory. It is buried in weakness, it is raised in power.
A merely natural body is buried, a spiritual body is raised. For Scripture says that the first man, Adam, became a living soul; the last Adam, became a lifegiving spirit. The spiritual one did not come first, the natural one came first and then the spiritual. The first man was earthly, from the earth; the second man is from heaven. Just as the earthly one, Adam, so also are the earthly people. Just as the heavenly one, so also the heavenly ones. Just as we have carried the image of the earthly one, we shall have also the image of the heavenly one.
Paul says emphatically: flesh and blood as it now is cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor can the corruptible body inherit incorruption. The body must first be transformed at the resurrection.
He tells them a mystery: Not all will sleep, but all will be changed, in moment, in a twinkling of the eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised and be incorruptible. And Christians shall be changed. For it is necessary that what is corruptible be clothed with incorruptibility, and what is mortal, be clothed with immortality. When this corruptible thing puts on incorruption, and this mortal thing puts on immortality, then what Isaiah says will come true: "Death is swallowed up in victory. Where is your victory, O death? Where is your sting O Death?" The sting of death is sin; the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, they should be firm, unshakable, abounding in the work of the Lord at all times, knowing that their work is not in vain in the Lord.
Comments on 15:35-58
Paul takes up the nature of the risen body. There were some hedonistic ideas around then, as there are now. First he makes a comparison to seeds planted in the ground. What comes up is quite different, though it is the same seed basically. Similarly the risen body will be transformed. He notes that there are many kinds of flesh, and many kinds of splendor or glory for bodies.
Then he concludes that the resurrection of the dead is much like this. A natural body is put in the ground, and a spiritual body rises. He does not mean the risen body will not be flesh. If he meant it was purely spiritual and not flesh, his opponents of whom he spoke at the start of the chapter would have no objection. What he really means is a body completely dominated by the spirit, so that it cannot die, or be sick, because the spirit, in perfect control, does not want that. It will be like the risen body of Christ. His appearances show two things about His risen body: 1) It was real flesh. He let them touch Him, and even ate with them, even though a risen body needs no food. But with the absolute control of the flesh, He could do that. 2) He could be seen when He willed, not seen when He did not will it. He came to the door where the Apostles had locked themselves in. He did not rap on the door, or open it by a miracle: He paid no attention to the door. His risen body could go through anyway.
He says we were first in the likeness of the flesh of the first Adam; at the resurrection we, if faithful to Christ, will be in the likeness of the New Adam, Christ.
In 15:50 he says flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom. He means flesh and blood as it now is -- not flesh and blood as transformed then. The parallel second half of the statement: "Corruption does not inherit incorruption," shows that.
There are three manuscript readings for verse 51. The one we used above has the best manuscript support, namely: "We shall not all sleep [die] but we shall all be changed." Then he would mean those faithful to Christ. Another reading says: "We shall all rise, but we shall not all be changed." This has poor manuscript support, though the Latin Fathers after Tertullian use it. It would mean we will all rise, but not all will have a glorious resurrection: the wicked will not be glorious. This is true in itself. The remaining reading is: "We shall all sleep, but we shall not all be changed" This does have good manuscript support. It means all will die, but not all will have a glorious transformation. As to the statement that we will all die: this is a general truth. But general statements usually have exceptions. There is an exception, which we saw in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, namely, that those who are alive at the time of the return of Christ at the end will never die. Paul mentions that point only in 1 Thessalonians, and not elsewhere. At the time he sent out First Corinthians and even somewhat later there would hardly be complete collections of the Epistles of St. Paul so that comparisons could be made. And so many would not know of that exception, and a scribe would probably change things to reflect the belief of universal death, without mentioning exceptions. We add that Paul says in verse 51: "Behold I tell you a mystery." To restate the general principle that all die would hardly be a mystery. Nor would the transformation for the faithful, and its lack for the others be a mystery. That probably would have been known to most of Paul's hearers.
Then Paul speaks of the last trumpet. This is of course an Apocalyptic touch, such as we saw in 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff.
The line quoted in verse 55 is from Isaiah 25:8, cited rather loosely, with the addition of a still looser version of Hosea 13:14. Rabbis often cited loosely and combined texts.
The sting of death is sin, since without sin, death itself ultimately meets defeat and destruction. For the risen, even the wicked, who are not transformed, will be immortal even in body.
When he says the power of sin is the law, he is again focusing. For even in the period from Adam to Moses, when there was no revealed law, people still could and did sin. Paul himself insists on that in Romans 5:13-14.
Summary of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 16
He asks them to take care of the collection for the Christians of Palestine just as he has arranged for the churches of Galatia. Namely, let each one put aside on the first day of the week whatever he/she can well give, so that the collection will not need to be made when Paul comes. Then he will send the gift to Jerusalem with whatever persons they may designate, along with letters from him. If it is suitable for him to go too, they will travel with him. He plans to come to them when he has gone through Macedonia, for that is part of his plan. If possible he will stay with them perhaps even for the winter, so they can send him on his way. He does not want to see them just in passing. He would like to spend some time in Corinth if the Lord permits. He wants to stay at Ephesus until Pentecost, for there is a great and promising opening, but also many opponents.
If Timothy comes, they should see that he does not have to fear. He does the work of the Lord as Paul does. So they should respect him, and send him on his way in peace, to come to Paul, who is waiting for him. As to Apollos, Paul urged him much to come to Corinth. But he definitely did not want to come. He will come later when the time is right.
He urges them to stand firm in the faith, to be manly, to be strengthened, and to do everything in love. They know the household of Stephanas -- the firstfruits of Achaia, who have given themselves to serving the Christians. He urges them to put themselves under [hypotassesthe] such men and others who toil with them. Paul was glad to see Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus. They made up for the absence of the others at Corinth, and refreshed his spirit, as they did for the other Corinthians. So they should recognize such men.
The churches of Asia send greetings in the Lord, and also Aquila and Prisca, together with the church that meets in their house. All the Christians there greet the Corinthians. He asks them to greet one another with the holy kiss.
Then he writes a greeting in his own hand. If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be cursed. Marana tha. [Come O Lord.] May the grace of our Lord be with them. He sends his love in Christ Jesus.
Comments on Chapter 16
Little explanation is needed here. Paul more than once speaks of the collection for Christians of Palestine. It will appear again in Second Corinthians. If the amount is large, he may go along with the collection.
He stayed a long time at Ephesus, since it was a major center. At Ephesus was the great temple of Diana. Silversmiths there found a lot of business making miniatures in silver of the shrine. In time they stirred up a riot against Paul, for he was hurting their business by converting people to Christianity.48
He speaks especially for Timothy, who is young, and the church at Corinth is hard to deal with, as we can gather especially from Second Corinthians. We notice Apollos says he does not have time to come. This of course is a common dodge, commonly understood as such. He would have known the Corinthians tried to make him head of a faction, as we saw in chapter 1. He probably did not relish getting into such a situation.
We met Stephanas earlier, in 1 Corinthians 1:16, one of the first converts in Corinth. He seems to have taken up a stable role of service in Corinth -- we do not know what position. But Paul does urge them to subject themselves [hypotassesthe] to him and his associates. Paul did establish authorities very early as we gather from 1 Thessalonians 5:12 where Paul speaks of those who are over them in the Lord. Acts 14:23 says Paul established presbyters in every place at the end of his first missionary trip. The terms presbyteros and episkopos, "elder" and "overseer" seem to have been fluid at that time. It normally does take time to develop a precise vocabulary in any field. In Acts 20:17-36 we find that Paul at Miletus sends for the presbyters (20:17) of Ephesus, yet in 20:28 he refers to the same men as episkopoi.
We have no further information on Fortunatus and Achaicus.
Aquila had lived at Rome, until Emperor Claudius ordered all the Jews out, in 49 A.D. In Acts 18:2 we find Paul stayed with him and his wife, by then Christians, at Corinth. Aquila was a tentmaker, like Paul.
The Aramaic maranatha could be divided in two ways. As maran atha it means "The Lord has come." If divided as marana tha it means "O Lord come." It is a prayer for the second coming. It seems it became a standard phrase in the liturgy very early.