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

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Essay 1—Cross and Unity—(3) Wisdom Through Spirit

Outline: E1.3-Wisdom Through Spirit
Passage: 1 Corinthians 2:3-16
Discussion Audio (1h27m)

The Lord of glory was crucified for our glory.

The cross of Christ continues to be the center of Paul’s message. In this next section of his first essay, Paul writes that the Spirit of God is necessary for a person to comprehend the mystery of the wisdom and power of the cross. What is this mystery of the wisdom and power of the cross?

This mystery teaching of the Spirit is that “God decreed before the ages” (2:7) “the Lord of glory” (2:8) would be crucified “for our glory” (2:7). In other words the wisdom and power of the cross is its power to transform believers into Christ’s character.

Behind the Greek word doxa (glory) is the Hebrew word kabod (weight). In Middle Eastern culture, a "weighty" person (rajul thagil) has to do with wisdom, balance, stability, reliability, sound judgment, patience, impartiality, nobility and the like.[1]

It is this teaching that Paul believes he was called to preach. It is the only teaching that can unite peoples of different ethnicity, culture, socio-economic backgrounds, and religions. It is a teaching that requires both Reason (Logos) and Spirit (Pneuma) to comprehend fully.

Logic and reasoning are not enough. There is a component in the gift of grace that equips the believer to understand the things of God. Paul moves in a world that cannot be reconciled to the worldview of the Enlightenment.[2]

[1] Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, location 1227

[2] Bailey, loc. 1323

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Essay 1—Cross and Unity—(2) Wisdom of the Cross—Part 2

Outline: E1.2-Wisdom of the Cross (2)
Passage: 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:2
Discussion Audio (1h17m)

Isaiah, Pericles, Paul…

I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;

I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.[1]

We examine 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:2 once more; this time from the perspective of a Jewish audience and a Greek audience. We examine how Paul carefully utilizes rhetorical patterns from each audience and skillfully combines them into a single hymn of the cross. By literally (literally!) combining Hebrew and Greek thought, Paul illustrates how the church ought to be a community where diversity can come together in unity. Ethnic differences remain and are appreciated, but all are united around the cross of Christ.

… You must yourselves realize the power of Athens, and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your hearts; and then, when all her greatness shall break upon you, you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen feeling of honour in action that men were enabled to win all this… [2]

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” [3]

Here are summary points (duplicated from the study outline):

  1. The cross is the center of Paul’s Christian theology. Not Jesus’ teachings or his ethics, but the cross. Jesus’ teachings and ethics are an outflow of the power demonstrated by the cross event.
  2. Paul responds to Jewish objections to the cross of Christ by appealing to Isaiah’s servant song: it is not a stumbling block; it is the greatest sign that could be given.
  3. Paul responds to Greek objections to the cross of Christ by structuring his words around an epitphios [funeral oratory] delivered by Pericles: it is wisdom, not foolishness, to those who believe.
  4. Paul affirms the use of well-crafted rhetoric and eloquence to deliver the gospel.
  5. Paul disavows that any human words or wisdom can add to the power of the cross.
  6. Paul warns against removing the cross from gospel proclamation, as that will remove the source of gospel power.
  7. Paul affirms that ethnic differences can (should) remain and be appreciated and celebrated, but that differences need not be cause for division.
  8. God sends, Paul came. God calls, and people believe. God is the agent of initiation. Human responsibility is to respond appropriately.

[1] Isaiah 50:5b-6 (ESV)

[2] Thucydides (c.460/455-c.399 BCE): Pericles' Funeral Oration from the Peloponnesian War (Book 2.34-46) at 

[3] 1 Corinthians 1:27-31 (ESV)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Essay 1—Cross and Unity—(2) Wisdom of the Cross–Part 1

Outline: E1.2-Wisdom of the Cross (1)
Passage: 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:2
Discussion Audio (1h30m)

Is Paul in favor of anti-intellectualism?  

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.[1]

This section of 1 Corinthians is sometimes used by Christians to discourage (in particular) exposure to secular knowledge, including but not limited to: literature, arts, philosophies, and sciences. It is sometimes used as a proof-text to promote the idea that any apparent conflict between biblical knowledge (whatever that really means) and “secular” knowledge must always be resolved in favor of the apparent biblical view (again, whatever that means). It is a bedrock and foundation for Christians who hold to anti-intellectualism of whatever degree.

We must ask ourselves, not, “What did Paul write?” but rather, “What does Paul mean?” (And I will concede here that this is already a Catch-22 for those who reject any kind of interpretive flexibility in regards to scripture.)

As we analyze this portion of 1 Corinthians this session and in the next, we will observe that Paul uses very polished and powerful rhetoric that includes forms and reasoning that come from both Jewish and Greek traditions. He weaves the patterns artfully and skillfully into his material so as to appeal to as broad an audience as he can.

For rhetoricians of his time, polished rhetoric may have been the end – for entertainment, for acclaim, and for making some money. For Paul, rhetoric is just the means, not the end, of the gospel. But Paul does not want poor or bad rhetoric to get in the way of the gospel, either. Paul does his best, in writing and in speech, to put the cross of Christ in the best light possible. But the cross is inherently foolish, weak, and a stumbling block. That’s what he means when he writes, “I didn’t come to you proclaiming the gospel with lofty speech or wisdom.”

Paul is not writing against good and excellent practice of reason, knowledge, and intellect. Paul is writing against minimizing or eliminating the cross of Christ, because of embarrassment or shame or appearing weak, in the proclamation of the gospel. The true gospel will always appear “weak” and “foolish” when compared to the world’s standards and expectations of power.

The Roman could boast of the power of empire. The Greek could boast of the greatness of Greek civilization. The Jew could boast in the covenant, the patriarchs, the law and much more… But for Paul the power and the wisdom of the cross made all such boasting meaningless…

[Paul affirms] that earthly power is not a mirror image of the power of God. Granted, righteously executed earthly power was not for Paul inherently evil… The problem emerges when individuals, communities and nations begin subtly to see their power as an extension of the power of God. Then “boasting” emerges, and as that happens, disaster ensues.[2]

[1] 1 Cor. 2:1-2, ESV
[2] Bailey, loc. 824

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Essay 1–Cross and Unity–(1) The Problem

Outline: E1.1-Problem
Passage: 1 Corinthians 1:10-16
Discussion Audio (1h11m)

[Paul’s] point is that any division is wrong, even one based on the claim to be of Christ alone and so rejecting Paulinists and followers of Apollos.
(IVP Bible Background Commentary; 1 Cor. 1:12)

What defines Christian community? What is the appropriate focus for Christians?

Paul begins to address the first major issue in which the Corinthian church is embroiled – factional splits. These are not just mere disagreements but, based on Paul’s language, he equates them to all-out war that is tearing the church apart.

Paul appeals to the Corinthians to reconcile in the strongest terms possible. He appeals, not on the basis of leadership – not even Christ’s – but upon the cross of Christ and their initial entry into fellowship through the symbolic act of baptism.

Paul appeals to the Corinthians to “speak the same thing” (literal translation of phrase more commonly translated “agree with one another”, 1:10). It is clear that they are not speaking the same thing. Each faction is saying they follow a different leader. Paul implies that even “I follow Christ” is not appropriate as the primary basis for community.

So what should the Corinthians be saying? What should we be saying? Paul does not yet provide an answer.

  1. Summary Points[1]
    1. Ethnic divisions are unacceptable. Loyalty must not center on human leadership.
    2. No group has the right to claim they alone are loyal to Christ.
    3. “Our Lord Jesus Christ” is the only rightful center and source of unity.
    4. The cross and baptism form the central pillars of the believing community.
    5. Christianity is not about me; it’s about us.

The question is not “Who is my leader?” but rather, “Who died for us?”
(Kenneth E. Bailey; location 736)

[1] Bailey, loc. 731