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Alternate Lecture on: NT 600 New Testament Survey - The First Letter to the Corinthians

Alternate Lecture on: NT 600 New Testament Survey

The First Letter to the Corinthians

by Timothy Kenney, PhD

St. Paul established a Christian community in Corinth, a seaport in Greece, about the year 51 AD, on his second missionary journey from Antioch, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (15:36-18:22). While Paul was on his third journey (Acts 19:1-20), he learned that the community had become divided, as members began identifying themselves with different religious leaders. Thus this letter, written in about 56 AD, opens with a plea for Christian unity, and is written in response to various issues raised by the Corinthians. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians provides us with the best insight into the church life of an early Christian community in the middle of the first century AD. Paul wrote a Second Letter to the Corinthians, again in response to issues that arose with time.

The divisions and troubles in the Corinthian community were most concretely expressed at the eucharistic gatherings of the Church. There was general disrespect and abuse of the Body and Blood of Christ, and the practice had developed where each clique was having its own separate meal. These divisions were caused in no small part by the fact that some of the community had certain spiritual gifts, for example, that of praising God in unknown tongues, which they considered as signs of their superiority over others. There also was trouble caused by women in the Church, who were using their new freedom in Christ for disruption and disorder.

The First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians is one of the most quoted of his Epistles, and in fact, one of the most quoted books of the Bible, particularly the passage on love. The book is rich in content, as it includes key passages on the Eucharist (Chapter 11), the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit (Chapter 12), on love (Chapter 13), and on the Resurrection of the Body (Chapter 15). In addition, 1 Corinthians 1:18 speaks of the message of the cross; 2:10 on the relation of God and the Holy Spirit; 3:8 on labor and wages, and 3:11-15 is considered a reference for the existence of Purgatory. In I Corinthians 6:19 Paul calls our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit, and in 8:6 he expresses an essential tenet of our Christian faith. One of the more comforting quotes is 10:13, which assures us that God will not let us be tested beyond our strength.

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A general outline is provided below:

1:1-1:9 ------------ Salutation
1:10-1:17 ------------ Divisions in the Church
1:18-1:31 ------------ Christ the Power and Wisdom of God

2:1-2:5 ------------ Proclaiming Christ Crucified
2:6-2:16 ------------ The True Wisdom of God

3:1-3:23 ------------ On Divisions in the Corinthian Church

4:1-4:13 ------------ The Ministry of the Apostles
4:14-4:21 ------------ Fatherly Admonition

5:1-5:8 ------------ Sexual Immorality Defiles the Church
5:9-5:13 ------------ Sexual Immorality Must Be Judged

6:1-6:11 ------------ Lawsuits among Believers
6:12-6:20 ------------ Glorify God in Body and Spirit

7:1-7:16 ------------ Directions concerning Marriage
7:17-7:24 ------------ The Life That the Lord Has Assigned
7:25-7:40 ------------ The Unmarried and the Widows

8:1-8:13 ------------ Food Offered to Idols

9:1-9:27 ------------ The Rights of an Apostle

10:1-10:22 ------------ Warnings from Israel's History
10:23-10:32 ------------ Do All to the Glory of God

11:1-11:16 ------------ Head Coverings
11:17-11:22 ------------ Abuses at the Lord's Supper
11:23-11:26 ------------ The Institution of the Lord's Supper
11:27-11:34 ------------ Partaking of the Supper Unworthy

12:1-12:11 ------------ Spiritual Gifts
12:12-12:31 ------------ One Body with Many Members

13:1-13:13 ------------ The Gift of Love

14:1-14:25 ------------ Gifts of Prophecy and Tongues
14:26-14:40 ------------ Orderly Worship

15:1-15:11 ------------ The Resurrection of Christ
15:12-15:34 ------------ The Resurrection of the Dead
15:35-15:58 ------------ The Resurrected Body

16:1-16:4 ------------ The Collection for the Saints
16:5-16:12 ------------ Plans for Travel
16:13-16:24 ------------ Final Messages and Greetings

The importance of the first epistle is such that it is regarded as one of St. Paul's greatest writings by reason of its beautiful style and variety of important subjects. Yes, the striking similes, figures of speech, and telling sentences of the Epistle have passed into the literatures of the world. But it is great not only for its style but also for the variety and importance of its doctrinal teaching. In no other Epistle does St. Paul treat so many different subjects; and the doctrines which are touched upon, even if incidentally, are important as showing what he and Silvanus, a disciple and trusted delegate of the older Apostles, taught the early Christians.

We now turn to the Second Epistle to the Corinthians.

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