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tendency to intellectual pride (i. 17-ii. 1 f.; viii. 1), accompanied with a proneness to sensual sin, equally characteristic of their city (v. 1-11; vi. 15-18; xi. 21). The apostle speaks (ii. 3) of having been with them "in weakness and in fear, and in much trembling"-possibly the result of his recent apparent failure at Athens.
3. Date and Place of Composition.-It can be proved with tolerable certainty that the epistle was written from Ephesus 1 about the spring of 57 a.d.
From iv. 17-19 and xvi. 5 we learn that it was written on the eve of a second visit to Corinth, which the apostle was about to pay after passing through Macedonia, having already sent Timothy in advance as his representative (xvi. 10). When we turn to the Book of Acts we find that such a visit to Greece was paid by the apostle at the close of a sojourn of about three years at Ephesus (Acts xix. 8-10; xx. 1-3, 31), and it appears from xix. 21-23 that almost immediately before he left Ephesus he sent Timothy before him to Macedonia. Moreover, several expressions in the epistle plainly point to Ephesus as the place from which it emanated (xvi. 8-10, cf. Acts xix. 20-26; xvi. 19, cf. Acts xviii. 18-26; xv. 32).
As the apostle appears to have travelled for about a year after leaving Corinth on the first occasion (54 A.D.), previous to settling at Ephesus, his stay in the latter city may have extended to the beginning of 58 a.d. Several allusions to the seasons, which occur in the epistle (v. 7, 8; xvi. 6, 8), lead us to place its composition in the spring of 57 A.d.
4. Character and Contents. Of this epistle it has
1 The note at the end of the epistle in the A.V. is due to a misapprehension of xvi. 5 (“But I will come unto you, when I shall have passed through Macedonia; for I do pass through Macedonia "), as if it implied that Paul was passing through Macedonia when he wrote the epistle.
been fitly said that it is "a fragment which has no parallel in ecclesiastical history." It deals with a section of early Church history which exhibits the most marked and varied features. It sets the apostle vividly before us as a teacher and governor, confronted with the dangers and perplexities, the errors and corruptions to which the Corinthian Church was liable, planted as it was in the midst of the rankest heathenism. In the words of Dean Stanley, we are here allowed to witness the earliest conflict of Christianity with the culture and the vices of the ancient classical world; here we have an insight into the principles which regulated the apostle's choice or rejection of the customs of that vast fabric of heathen society which was then emphatically called 'the world'; here we trace the mode in which he combated the false pride, the false knowledge, the false liberality, the false freedom, the false display, the false philosophy, to which an intellectual age, especially in a declining nation, is constantly liable."
The epistle is thus eminently practical, dealing with questions that had actually emerged in the experience of the Church to which it is addressed. In form it is orderly and logical, taking up one point after another in regular succession; in style it is more simple and direct than most of Paul's compositions, rising at times into the sublimest eloquence, as in the great eulogium on love in the 13th chapter.
As already mentioned, the epistle was in part the reply to a letter of inquiry which had been sent to the apostle by the Corinthian Church in consequence of a letter which he had previously addressed to them (v. 9-11; vii. 1; xvi. 17, 18).
But the first six chapters have mainly reference to certain dangers threatening the Church, of which infor mation had reached the apostle from another quarter,
causing him the utmost anxiety and grief (2 Cor. ii. 4). These dangers were mainly twofold-the prevalence of party spirit, and the tendency to immorality. Hence the prominence given, in the opening salutation, to the holiness to which Christians are called, and to their unity in Christ; hence, too, the fact that in the accompanying thanksgiving for tokens of grace in the Corinthian Church, it is gifts of knowledge and utterance rather than graces of character that are specially mentioned.
(1) The tendency to sectarian division mentioned in i. 12 seems to have been fostered by emissaries from Jerusalem, who wished to undermine Paul's authority, and wrought upon the feelings and prejudices of the Jewish portion of the Church (ix. 1-5; 2 Cor.). The visit of Apollos, a learned and eloquent Jew of Alexandria, after Paul's departure (Acts xviii. 27, 28), had tended in the same direction, by leading to an invidious comparison between his philosophical and rhetorical style of preaching and the more simple method of Paul, although the latter continued to regard him as a valuable coadjutor (xvi. 12). But there were some-probably the Judaising party-who were content neither with the teaching of Paul nor of Apollos, but were disposed to range themselves under the name and authority of Cephas, as the leader of the twelve apostles and an observer of the Law. Others professed to be independent of human teachers, and claimed a more direct connection with Christ, probably through their personal acquaintance with "the brethren of the Lord" (ix. 5), or their national and historical affinity with Christ. In opposition to all these divisive courses, the apostle insists on the supremacy of Christ as the one Lord and Saviour. He introduces His name more frequently in this epistle than in any other of his writings (nine times, for example, in
the first nine verses), and represents himself and other apostles as being not the heads of different schools, but simply the ministers of Christ, by whom their converts were brought to a knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus.
(2) With regard to the immorality invading the Church, the apostle begins by referring to a terrible scandal-the taking to wife by a Christian of his stepmother during his father's lifetime (v. 1-5, cf. 2 Cor. vii. 12). In the exercise of his apostolic authority he pronounces a stern sentence on the offender, and urges the necessity for an uncompromising opposition to all such sin, and separation from those guilty of it, if they be members of the Church (chap. v.). In the next chapter, after deprecating the bringing of legal actions by Christians against one another in the heathen courts, he rebukes the Antinomian tendencies among them, and lays down the fundamental principles on which the Christian law of purity must rest.
The apostle then proceeds to answer the inquiries of his converts on the subject of marriage and celibacy, distinguishing between his own personal views and the expressed will of Christ (vii.). In viii.-x. he deals with what was to his readers a subject of vast importance— the duty of Christians with reference to the feasts that were held in the idol temples, and more particularly with regard to the use of the flesh of animals offered in sacrifice, which was almost the only kind of animal food that could be bought in the market. This question he bids them consider not in the abstract, but as it bears on the interests of Christian society, and as it is likely to affect not only their own character but the character and feelings of their fellow-Christians. In this connection he cites his own example of self-denial even in things lawful. In xi.-xiv. he lays down directions for the guidance of his converts in matters of public worship,—dealing with such
questions as the wearing of a covering on the head in the public services, the duty of a modest reticence on the part of the female members of the congregation, the necessity for sobriety and decorum in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, the essential harmony and common end of the various gifts conferred by the Spirit (of which he enumerates no less than nine), the superiority of love to all such gifts, the relative value and importance of the several gifts, and the propriety of making the religious services intelligible to all, so that they may be able to join in the loud Amen as the token of their fellowship. He sums up his teaching on public worship in the two cardinal principles, "let all things be done unto edifying," "let all things be done decently and in order" (xiv. 26, 40). The 15th chapter contains a dissertation of incomparable value on the Resurrection of the dead- -a doctrine which some of the Corinthians had begun to call in question, partly in a spirit of worldly-mindedness, and partly as the result of a sceptical philosophy.1 In verses 4-8 we have a summary of evidences for the historical reality of our Lord's resurrection, stated within twenty-five or thirty years after His death, while most of the witnesses were still alive. In the 16th or closing chapter we find a number of directions and intimations having reference, among other things, to the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem (which the apostle hoped to find ready on his next visit to Corinth),— after which the epistle concludes with the usual kind messages and autograph greeting from the apostle.
1 It was the future general resurrection that they doubted, not the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ, the latter fact being so fully accepted that one of the apostle's chief arguments against their scepticism was that it would involve the rejection of the testimony to Christ's resurrection (xv. 13-16).