For an outline and background information about 1 Corinthians, see here.
7:1-14:40, 16 Discussion of questions from the Corinthians
11:2-14:40 Problems in Community Life and Worship
11:2-16 Women, Propriety in Dress at Public Prayer: Paul begins by commending the Corinthians on their maintenance of the traditions but then moves to correct the ways they do not maintain the traditions. Paul’s reasoning isn’t very clear in these verses and commentators disagree on what specific practices Paul is upset about. He does not prohibit women from prayer and prophecy but is concerned about the manner in which these gifts of the Spirit are exercised. People in Paul’s time believed that the social order was connected to the cosmic order and he lived in a hierarchically structured society. So while on one hand Paul seems to be making his case based on a patriarchal chain of authority, in verses 11 and 12 he makes the opposite case- as he does in other letters (Gal 3:28 for example).
11:17-34 Abuses at the Lord’s Supper: Once again we do not know exactly what the problems were with the Lord’s Supper. It appears that instead of an equally shared meal, some either bring their own food for themselves or the common meal is not divided equitably among those present. In Paul’s time, people who shared meals in clubs, cultic celebrations, and banquets did not all eat the same food. Higher status people had better food and more of it. Lower status people received food of lesser quality. Paul does not want the Lord’s Supper to reflect the social and economic stratification of society. The Lord’s Supper is a different meal- a meal that establishes those who partake as part of the Body of Christ. The phrase in v 23 “For I received … handed on” is a technical term used when passing on the practices or teaching of the tradition.
12:1-31 The Gifts of the Spirit:Emotional and ecstatic practices were highly valued in the Hellenistic world. There was a form of prophecy called “mantic” which was especially valued. It was seen as direct inspiration by a divine spirit. The prophet or prophetess called out in unintelligible speech, requiring translation and interpretation. This seems to be what the Corinthians called “tongues” and they seem to have regarded it as the highest manifestation of the Spirit. The Corinthians seemed to rank various spiritual gifts and turned them into marks of self-worth. Once again Paul is urging the Corinthians to think about the entire community and not excessively individualize their faith. Paul lists spiritual gifts in 12:8-10, 12:28 and 12:29-30. This lists are not identical, except that speaking in tongues is always listed last. The idea of “one body, many members” was a common metaphor in Paul’s time.
13:1-14:1a Love: Often this chapter is taken in isolation but Paul is still instructing the Corinthians about spiritual gifts and their proper function in the church. Love, agape, is the self-sacrificing love, the “essential articulation of the life of the Spirit, which is to say, the life of God.” (Johnson, 310)
14:1b-40 Spiritual Gifts: Prophecy and Speaking in Tongues:Once again, spiritual gifts exist for the building up of the church. Paul, again as was common practice, uses himself as an example for the Corinthians to follow.
Verses 34-36: some commentators believe that these verses are an addition by a later editor. These verses are a odds with what other letters of Paul tell us about the role of women in the early church and what Paul wrote earlier in this letter. It is helpful to recall that Paul’s letters were written to particular churches in response to specific concerns in that church. In the Greco-Roman world there were cultural and legal restrictions on women ( and particularly wives) speaking publicly.
15:1-58 The Resurrection
In Paul’s world, the first and last of a series were the places where the author placed their most important points. So now Paul moves to the resurrection. Before this chapter, Paul has focused on some particular concerns of the Corinthians, but now he returns to the heart of the gospel. Paul’s choice of language underscores the importance and seriousness of the resurrection.
15:1-11 The Gospel of Christ’s death and Resurrection : Verses 3b- 5 is a traditional creedal statement. In verses 8-11 Paul, again, asserts his apostolic authority.
15:12-34 The Significance for us: In verses 12-19 Paul addresses a mistaken belief about resurrection. In verses 20-28 he explains what the resurrection means. In verses 29-34 he uses four rhetorical questions to make his point. There is no scholarly consensus about what particular practice Paul refers to in v 29.
15:35-58 The Nature of the Resurrection: Paul “creates” a fictitious questioner to finish his discussion in a two-step process. Verses 35-49 he deals with the question of what a resurrected body will be like. The Greek world could readily understand a non material spirit surviving but bodily resurrection was a new concept for most. In verses 50-58 Paul talks about transformation of the material physical body which will occur. Some Corinthians believed that they already experienced the fullness of God’s salvation. Paul reminds them that greater, more wonderful things are still to come.
A prayer from early Church father, Gregory of Nazianus (329-389) for your use this week.
Read More About It
Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, rev. ed. (Minneapolis:Fortress Press) 1999. Chapter 12 “The Corinthian Correspondence”.
Knox, John, John Reumann “I Corinthians” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Bruce M. Metzger, Roland E. Murphy eds. (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Sampley, J. Paul “The First Letter to the Corinthians” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume X, Leander Keck, ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002.
Schussler Fiorenza, Elisabeth “1 Corinthians” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, rev. ed.James L Mays, ed. (New York: Society of Bible Literature) 2000.