Saturday, March 30, 2013

Essay 1—Cross and Unity—(4) Unity Revisited, Part 1

Outline: E1.4-Unity Revisited-1
Passage: 1 Corinthians 3:1-17
Discussion Audio (1h33m)

You – the church community – are the restoration of the Land and the Temple
promised to Israel by the prophets of old.

[Paul] was not de-Zioning the tradition; rather he was transforming it into a new form of Zionism that needed no particular geography and no special building.[1]

In this section of the letter, Paul crafts his argument around a radical thought: the Third Temple of Old Testament prophecies is fulfilled in the community of the faithful, the believers of Jesus Christ. The Second Temple in Jerusalem was still operating, going through its rituals and traditions. For Paul, however, the presence of God was no longer found in a physical temple located on a physical plot of land, but in the spiritual Temple of spiritual Israel. (No wonder many Jews in Jerusalem were upset with Paul and his teachings – see Acts.)

As children of the Enlightenment we have largely come to see the acquiring of truth as a head trip, and that a good mind and a willingness to work hard is all that is required to understand any form of truth, including theological truth. Paul disagrees.[2]

In the first part of the section under discussion, Paul returns to the problem of division and the Corinthian claims that they were “following” one named leader or another. As a result of their claims the church was undergoing division and strife, as each faction claimed they were better than the others.

Paul would have none of that. The truths of Christianity are not found through teachings alone. Dedication to teachings is not enough. Placing teachers on pedestals, holding up their teachings, and making the claim to follow them are not enough.

Paul sees ethical actions (orthopraxy), not intellectual orthodoxy, as the primary evidence of a genuine Christian life. By their quarreling and strife, the Corinthians demonstrate that they are not spiritual, in contrast to the claims they have made about themselves.

As Paul works through the closing arguments in this first essay, he introduces motifs that he will repeat in subsequent essays, and which he will bring to a climax in the Ode to Love in chapter 13.

Paul uses two parables—the parable of the farmer and field, and the parable of the builders and building—to illustrate the importance God places upon the community of believers, the Church. Paul declares that this new land and temple, placed on the foundation of Jesus Christ and being built up by his servants, is the eternal temple. God will protect this temple. Nothing will be allowed to destroy it. Anyone who works against it will be destroyed. Salvation is found, not by an individual devotion to God, but by choosing to enter into a relationship with God by becoming a part of his faithful community. (This thought is foreign to modern Western people where a “personal relationship with Jesus” is so often held as the key to salvation; but the concept of salvation through belonging to a community would have been perfectly normal and expected in Hebrew thought.)

The security of God's people is found not so much in their individuality ("if anyone destroys") as in their membership in the corporate people of God ("you are that temple"). God formed and God guards God's temple from destruction.[3]

[1] Bailey, loc. 1447
[2] Bailey, loc. 1378
[3] Understanding the Bible Commentary: 1 Corinthians, entry for 3:17

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