Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Meaning of “the Breaking of Bread”

The Meaning of “the Breaking of Bread”


The expression “the breaking of bread” occurs five times in Acts (2:42, 46; 20:7,11; 27:35). This is quite frequently interpreted to refer to the rite of the Lord’s Supper: indeed, some expositors take this meaning for granted, as self-evident. If it does, it gives us no real information at all about it: except that it would testify to an early date for its observance.

However, how confident can we be, on the evidence, that any of the references to the “breaking of bread” do in fact refer to an observance of the Lord’s Supper/the Holy Communion/the Holy Eucharist? The easy confidence that that is its meaning should be more carefully examined - we shall consider further the relevance, for our understanding, of the passages about the breaking of bread.

All the New Testament references to the breaking of bread (including Gospel parallels) are (NIV):

(a) Mark 6:41 (cf. Matthew 14:9 and Luke 9:16) Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves.

(b) Mark 8:6 (cf. Matthew 15:36) He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so.

(c) Luke 24:30,35 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. ... Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

(d) Acts 2:42,46 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. ... Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.

(e) Acts 20:7,11 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. ... Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left.

(f) Acts 27:35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat.

Is the expression “the breaking of bread” being used in the New T­e­s­­­t­ament with reference to the Lord’s Supper? Let us examine this widely-held assumption.

The “breaking of bread” is in fact a standard Jewish expression from pre-Christian times which refers specifically to the action of “breaking bread” at the commencement of a meal, and then, by extension, to the meal itself. The act of breaking the bread was performed by the head of a household or by the host presiding at the meal.

The form of blessing used by the Jews for the bread was: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth.”

The breaking of bread was thus associated with the prayer of thanksgiving, and had a religious significance of joint ­fellow­ship in sharing and enjoying the blessings of God. A.B. MacDonald, in his Christian Worship in the Primitive Church (125), points out:

“The taking of food was accompanied, or rather, preceded, by a certain formal and conspicuous action, namely, the pronouncing of a blessing over the bread that was to be eaten, followed by the breaking of the loaf in two, preparatory to its distribution around the table. This was an old Jewish custom, corresponding to our grace before meals, but conveying far deeper suggestions of religious fellowship, and carried through with greater solemnity and ceremony, and reserved for certain meals of a pronouncedly religious character.”

The blessing pronounced over the bread applied to the other food eaten in conjunction with the bread; A. Edersheim, in his The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. II, 206, writes:

“Bread was regarded as the mainstay of life, without which no entertainment was considered as a meal. For the blessing was spoken over the bread, and this was supposed to cover all the rest of the food which followed, such as the meat, fish or vegetables - in short, all that made up the dinner, but not the dessert.”

Similarly we read, in the IVF Bible Dictionary, 750: “‘To break bread’ was a common Jewish expression for the sharing of a meal.”

All of the New Testament usages of this expression are set out above. The three Gospel references to the breaking of bread, in ­accord with normal use, are clearly to the com­­­­mence­ment of a hunger-satisfying meal (the feeding of the five thousand, the feeding of the four thousand, the two dis­­ciples at Emmaus).

The first two of these are particularly so, for the hunger of the crowd was the motivation behind the feed­ing taking place, and it is equally clear that the two disciples were inviting the unrecognized Christ to an ordinary meal at Emmaus, for they expected him to stay the night with them.

Occasionally we encounter some fanciful interpretation of these accounts (e.g. Schweitzer in Quest for the Historical Jesus, 374, held that at the feeding of the five thousand Jesus administered an “eschatological sacrament”, giving a minute portion to everyone, much as we would today in a celebration of the Lord’s Supper); but the accounts in each case make it clear that the “breaking of bread” marked the commencement of a meal intended to feed the recipients.

In each of these three incidents the breaking of bread is coupled with giving thanks to God for the bread. It is interesting to note that in John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand he mentions our Lord giving thanks (John 6:11) but not his breaking of the bread, though this is implied.

It is readily recognized that Paul’s breaking of bread and giving thanks during the storm at sea (Acts 27:35) falls into the same category with the other three passages that I have mentioned. Thus these passages all illustrate the current Jewish custom of commencing a fellowship meal with the giving of thanks and the breaking of bread, thereby investing the meal with a religious significance of conscious joint participation in enjoying the blessings of God.

The circumstances of Jesus’s life with his disciples made it inevitable that they often ate together, sometimes on their own and sometimes as a guest in the house of others (e.g. at the home of Mary and Martha at Bethany). On many of these occasions Jesus would preside, and thus would be the one who broke bread and gave thanks. It would seem that he had a unique and distinctive way of doing so; certainly it was through his breaking of the bread that the two at Emmaus recognized him (Luke 24:30, 35).

It is clear that after the resurrection of Jesus the disciples began to meet together in fellowship assemblies and that they shared meals together. The risen Christ on occasions joined in eating common meals with them (Luke 24:29-31; 24:41-43; John 21:9-15; [Mark 16:14]). After the Lord’s ascension and the events of the day of Pentecost, the disciples continued their fellowship together. Their common meals would now also be a conscious remembrance of the meals they had shared with the Lord during his physical presence among them, and as they broke bread and gave thanks they would be reminded of the times he did this in their midst and they would be conscious of his continued presence with them through the Holy Spirit.

There is absolutely no reason at all for doubting that they would continue the pattern of their years of association with Jesus (and in fact the pattern of all pious Jews) by beginning their ordinary hunger-satisfying meals with the breaking of bread and thanksgiving. The question is, is this all that is meant when Luke speaks (Acts 2:42,46) of the breaking of bread? Certainly it is possible that this exhausts the meaning of the expression “breaking of bread” in these verses.

However, it is claimed by some that after the crucifixion and resurrection the disciples would have in their minds one particular occasion when Jesus broke bread: the Last Supper. Moreover, as the remembrance of that occasion would fill their minds whenever they broke bread together, so the ­signi­ficance which Jesus placed upon the broken bread (“This is my body which is [given] for you”) would be primary in their thoughts. Thus they would be consciously remembering the death of Christ and its significance when they broke bread together, and thus the expression “breaking of bread” must refer to a celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

But is it to be maintained that every main meal which the disciples had (on which occasions bread would be broken at the commencement) is to be regarded not only as a meal per se, but as a celebration of the Lord’s Supper? It could be answered that only at one meal a day, the main meal, would bread be ceremoniously broken, and that this meal was also a celebration of the Lord’s Supper, this meal being seen as the meaning of Acts 2:46, “And day by day, attending the temple together, and breaking bread in their homes ...”

But if the custom of a daily observance of the Lord’s­ ­Supper was ever followed, it clearly was not long continued. After it became weekly (which in the view of many commentators is what shortly happened), was the term “breaking of bread” to be then used for the observance of the Lord’s ­Supper alone and no longer to be used for the breaking of bread which Christian Jews would still observe at the beginning of their regular daily meals? Or are we to assume that Christian Jews discontinued the practice of breaking of bread at the beginning of their main daily meals?

It is much more likely that in Acts 2 and also in Acts 20 (Paul at Troas), Luke uses the expression “breaking of bread” or “to break bread” in exactly the same way he has used it in his Gospel, and in accordance with the regular usage of the day, to denote the preliminary act at the commencement of a fellowship meal in which God’s gracious gift of food is gratefully accepted.

If so, then the meals referred to in Acts would indeed have a definite religious significance and would doubtless be regarded as a remembrance of Jesus and a conscious participation in fellowship with the risen Lord, and may well therefore have been invested with a special significance for Christians - but they would not be comprised of the six characteristics which (as we shall see) were features of an observance of the Lord’s Supper as Paul sets it forth in 1 Corinthians. So what the ­disciples did when “breaking bread together” could not be called an observance of the Lord’s Supper.

To summarize:

The expression “the breaking of bread” found in Acts 2 was commonly used amongst the Jews to refer to the sharing of a meal in conscious religious fellowship, and this usage is found in the New Testament, not least in the Gospel by the same author as Acts and even elsewhere in the Acts.

The significance of the religious aspect of the breaking of bread would be greatly heightened for the disciples in the light of the Last Supper, but this is not the same as saying that they held a ritual meal deliberately re-enacting the Last Supper in ­conscious obedience to the command of Christ, commemorating his death through eating bread and drinking a cup; and these features would be necessary if we are to regard the “breaking of bread” as equating with the Lord’s Supper.

Rather, the evidence indicates that in the New Testament the expression “the breaking of bread” or “broke bread” refers to the usual Jewish practice of prayer with which a hunger-satisfying meal commenced. When we recognize that references to the breaking of bread are not references to the Lord’s Supper, we see the significance of what we learn from Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)

Ward

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To Whom Is Paul Writing In 1 Corinthians 7:25-40?

To Whom Is Paul Writing In 1 Corinthians 7:25-40?


This final section of Paul’s discussion of sex and marriage - 1 Corinthians 7:25 to 40 - is quite ambiguous for us. Doubtless his readers at Corinth knew exactly what he was talking about. But we do not.

At issue, basically, is the question of just who it is that Paul is addressing in this entire section in general, and in verses 36 to 38 in particular. To a large extent these verses are the crux of the matter, so we need to look at them first of all.

Hurd 171 maintains:

“This passage is one of the most difficult and controversial in the New Testament, because a number of serious ambiguities occur in these three verses.”

Indeed: this passage is possibly the most completely ambiguous passage in the entire New Testament - so much so that translations sometimes give two completely different versions of it (as in the NIV, and Barclay’s translation).

In the Greek text, Paul is discussing the question (quite ­possibly raised by the Corinthians in their letter to Paul) of what a man should do about his virgin. What are we to take this to mean?

There are three views found in the translations: (a) These verses could be referring to a man and his fiancée to whom he is betrothed (taken thus by the ESV, RSV, NRSV, NIV, TEV, and Phillips). (b) The verses could be referring to a custom that was known from later centuries but is not attested from New Testament times, of “a man and a woman living together under vows of chastity” (Jerusalem Bible margin; also taken this way by the NEB). Or (c) the verses could be discussing the responsibility of a father to arrange for the marriage of his daughter, and who was seeking to know what was the right thing for him to do in the present crisis situation at Corinth in the light of Paul’s teaching (7:26) about “holding to the status quo” (NASB, NIV margin, Jerusalem Bible).

Hodge and Garland present the case for the two main, differing, positions, Hodge taking the older, traditional interpretation, and Garland arguing for the major alternative position.

Hodge 132f. presents his viewpoint on v.36 thus:

“This and the following verse are addressed to fathers, for with them, according to the usage both of Jews and Greeks, rested the disposal of the daughters of the family. Though the apostle regarded marriage at that time as inexpedient, he tells fathers that they were perfectly free to exercise their own judgement in giving their daughters in marriage, or keeping them single.”

Hodge then proceeds to exegete the passage from this ­perspective. Similarly Robertson & Plummer 158f., who say,

“The verse indicates that the Corinthians had asked him about the duty of a father with a daughter of age to marry. The question is what he ought to do, not what she ought to do: his wishes, not hers, are paramount. This is in accordance with the ideas of that age, and the Apostle does not condemn them. ... It is wholly improbable that tis, autou, and hos (v.37) refer to the suitor, the prospective bridegroom. The Corinthians would not have asked about him. It is the father’s or guardian’s duty that is the question.”

To the contrary, Garland sets out the three views I have mentioned above, and then argues against two of them. The interpretation that the reference is to a non-sexual “spiritual marriage” is effectively refuted by his arguments against it, and I consider we can put this possibility aside. Our choice is thus between the other two views: that Paul is discussing (a) a father and his virgin daughter, or (b) a man and his fiancée.

Which approach to the passage is correct? Both are well supported. Hodge’s approach is the traditional one - it was the common interpretation amongst the early Church Fathers. Thus for example on these verses Theodoret says (Kovacs 128):

“If a father thinks that his daughter’s remaining unmarried is a disgrace and so wishes to unite her with a husband, let him do as he sees fit. For there is no sin in marriage.”

On the other hand, Garland argues for the interpretation that this passage refers to a man in relation to a possible marriage to his betrothed fiancée.

This is the usual one taken by commentators today - though not all of them: for example, in his recent (2000) Commentary on 1 Corinthians, Barnett says (on v. 36), “Apparently a father from the congregation has expressed concern that in barring the way for the marriage of a daughter who is somewhat older than the norm ... he may have acted in an unseemly way”, and Barnett then interprets this passage accordingly. So also does Naylor 150ff. (1996). But unquestionably most of the recent commentaries - and translations - take Paul to be referring to a man and his fiancée.

Do Garland’s arguments against the father/daughter scenario effectively demolish this viewpoint? I do not believe they do. It seems to me that the two possibilities are much more evenly balanced than would appear from Garland’s presentation. Numerous commentators have specifically referred to the difficulty of deciding the case. Garland himself cites one of them - Moiser; Hurd, as we have seen earlier, called this issue “one of the most difficult and controversial in the New Testa­ment”. And Orr & Walther 223f. write, “Few passages ­of Scripture of such length bristle with more difficulties than does this.”

Garland’s arguments against the “father/daughter” interpretation are effectively rebutted in the literature on the ­passage. For example, as to Garland’s arguments #3 and #5 (pages 337f.), regarding “virgins”, and γαμιζω (gamizō), Orr & Walther 223 point out:

“There is considerable ambiguity in the phrase his virgin. Again, no line of argument offers incontrovertible evidence; the explanation given will usually support the overall interpretation adopted ... There is evidence in Greek literature for the use of parthenos as both ‘fiancée’ and ‘daughter’. This passage must finally be understood without a sure decision about this phrase ... By interpreting the person in question as a father, v.38 readily makes sense. The meaning of the New Testament word gamizō is clearly ‘to give in marriage’ in the only other [New Testament] occurrences.”

Robertson & Plummer 159 are definite in their judgement:

“The γαμιζων [gamizōn, give in marriage] is decisive: the Apostle is speaking of a father or guardian disposing of an unmarried daughter or ward.”

How then do we come to a position on this issue? I myself am influenced in my own decision by three factors:

1. What we know of the situation existing in New Testament times, when Paul wrote: that is, what are the background circumstances prevailing behind this Epistle? The ­answer is: that in this society, marriages were normally arranged marriages - arranged by the parents between their families (i.e. marriage had wider implications than just the feelings and preferences of the bride and groom). Frequently we do not give this factor due weight: we are in danger of reading-back our twenty-first century attitudes into the first century world. We shrink from the idea of our parents arranging who we are to marry, and so we recoil from the recognition of the fact that this is the way it was in the first century. Actually, this is still the way it is, in a large number of societies in the world today, and if we think our “free romantic choice” approach is so much better, we could perhaps reflect upon (a) how many people today of both sexes do not marry because they “do not find the right person”, and so they are “left on the shelf”, matrimonially speaking, and (b) the fact that our society’s approach is not all that markedly successful in steering people towards lasting and satisfactory marriages, if we note the number of marriages today that end in divorce or separation. So, given the cultural circumstances of the day - that the person who was primarily responsible for whether a young virgin married or not was her father - there is an a priori presumption, other things being equal, that this is the implied situation Paul is discussing.

2. What the early Church Fathers thought. This is not always decisive - they could be wrong. But they did live so much closer than we do to the apostolic age, and they would in many ways be in a better position than we are to judge how to take ambiguous passages. And in relation to the present ­passage, their common view was that Paul was speaking of a father and his virgin daughter.

3. The actual words Paul used. I take it that Paul chose his words accurately, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so we should take careful note of them. And in v.38 Paul speaks of giving or not giving the virgin in marriage, γαμιζω (gamizō). Concerning this word Orr & Walther 223 write,

“The verb gamizein regularly means ‘give in marriage’ and not ‘marry’ in the New Testament, and it does not occur in Greek literature prior to the New Testament literature.”

A fact that Garland omits to mention. So there is no ­adequate reason here for us to depart from its usual meaning, and I do not consider that we should do so. For these reasons I agree here with Hodge’s interpretation, not Garland’s.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)

Ward

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Who Is “We”?

Who Is “We”?


In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 Paul writes in the singular - “I”, “me”, and “my”, and he is writing autobiog­raphically about himself; then from 2:6 to 2:16E he changes to the use of the plural: “we”, “us”, “our”. To whom is he referring? Who is “we”? For who it is that Paul means when he writes “we” in this chapter is an important consideration.

Is he referring to himself here, using the “royal plural”? This is unlikely in view of his prior use of the singular, to which he returns once more in 3:1. Then is he referring to himself and his fellow apostles (“exclusive we”), or to himself and his readers (“inclusive we”)?

At times one finds Christians today applying the words of this passage directly to themselves and their fellow-Christians as if what Paul says is referring to and directed to all believers. Which would imply that what Paul wrote here referred to the Corinthians. (There is no basis for interpreting Paul’s words to apply to Christians generally today but not to the Corinthians.) Further reflection upon the passage should show that this is most certainly not the case.

Is he saying of the Corinthians in 2:16, “You have the mind of Christ”, when in the very next verse (3:1) he tells them that he can’t address them as spiritual, and when he then proceeds throughout the rest of this Epistle to correct their thinking (and their practice) in relation to one error after another? Nor is it the Corinthians who impart wisdom, a secret and hidden wisdom of God (2:6-7); nor has God revealed to the Corinthians God’s secret truths (2:8); nor is it the Corinthians who are taught by the Spirit the very words in which to impart truths revealed by God through the Spirit (2:12-13).

The context of this passage is Paul’s response to the factions at Corinth calling themselves after the names of Paul, Apollos, and Peter (1:12). First he sets out the gospel which “we preach” (1:21 and 22) - he is showing that they are not “competitors” with each other in the church, but united in the message preached. The same thing is seen in 3:4-9a, where Paul emphasizes that he and Apollos (who had both ministered in Corinth) had differing roles “as the Lord assigned to each” (3:5), but are “God’s fellow workers” (3:9a). To the Corinthians, in contrast, he says, “You are God’s field, God’s building.”

What Paul says here (2:13) is highly significant. When he imparts “this” (i.e. the matters which he has just mentioned in 2:12, which had been revealed through the Spirit - 2:10 - and which he had earlier referred to in 2:6-7), he does not do so “in words taught by human wisdom”. This is to emphasize afresh the point that he had made earlier (see 2:4): “my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom”. Rather, he spoke “in words taught by the Spirit”.

Paul is the one who has received the specific calling of God for the apostolic ministry of imparting spiritual truth to win people to faith and then to instruct them in the faith (to which ministry he alludes a few verses further on, in 3:5-6, and many times elsewhere in his writings).

Notice that 2:13 is a claim by Paul to be inspired by the Spirit in what he is teaching, and that this claim extends to the very words in which this teaching is framed. It is a claim to verbal inspiration.

What is said here by Paul to the Corinthians in reference to his teaching would apply to this letter written to them and also to the other Epistles of his which we have in the New Testament - there would be no valid grounds for reducing the scope of its applicability to its immediate Corinthian context, for the way in which he speaks shows that he is speaking more widely.

Note moreover the significance in this verse in particular of the plural “we”. What Paul says here of himself he is saying also of the others whom the Holy Spirit has chosen similarly to receive the revelation of God’s truth and teach it.

This is elucidated in further detail in Ephesians 2:20-3:12: those upon whom the church is built are the “apostles and prophets” (2:20) for “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:4-5).

In particular, Paul is now telling his readers that the apost­les and their associates are imparting to them (the Corinthians) the truths taught by the Spirit, in words given by the Spirit (2:13). Things unimagined hitherto, that God has pre­pared for those who love him, have now been revealed to “us” (i.e., to the holy apostles and prophets) through the Spirit, and these things in turn are taught by them to the church (2:9-10).

The Corinthians received these things orally; and these truths revealed through the Spirit have been written down under the Spirit’s guidance, and we now have them available to us: this teaching is now embodied in the New Testament. In the New Testament sense and use of the word “prophet” (as will be further elucidated in discussing chapter 14), the non-apostolic New Testament writers can be recognized as being New Testament prophets. The scope of 2:13 (and indeed of this whole section of the Epistle) may legitimately be taken to include in its span all the other writers of the New Testament.

In view of Paul’s obvious knowledge of the life and ministry of Jesus, it is possible that he knows, and has in mind, the promise that Jesus gave in John 14:26 and 16:13: “But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things. ... When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

In any case, the teaching of Paul here and the teaching of these passages in John’s Gospel are all in accord in stating explicitly the role of the Holy Spirit in teaching God’s truth to the apostles after the Ascension. This is directly connected in John 15:26-27 with the apostles’ ministry of testifying to Christ.

It is clear then that in 2:6-16 Paul is referring to the calling and ministry God has given, through the Spirit, to his chosen apostles and their associates. Thus he is not referring to all Christians, but just to himself and his fellow-apostles and the New Testament writers. These men impart the things given to them by God in words taught by the Spirit.

Can Christians in general (and Christians today) say, “We have the mind of Christ”? There is no basis for thinking of some kind of revelation direct to us today: God has given his revelation of divine truth through his holy apostles and prophets, and it is recorded as Scripture, and it is complete. And as for the “natural person” (a person on their own apart from the working of God’s Spirit): No - these things are spiritually discerned (2:14). It remains true, as the Lord said through Isaiah (55:8-9), “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

But God has revealed himself in Scripture. To the extent that the Spirit fills us (so that we become a “spiritual person”, 2:15), and that we become immersed in the teaching of Scripture, and develop a “Christian world view”, to that extent can it be true of us that we now have the mind of Christ.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)

Ward

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Sex, Marriage, Divorce, And Remarriage; And How Long to “Remain”

Sex, Marriage, Divorce, And Remarriage; And How Long to “Remain”


The background circumstances at Corinth, and a consideration of the linguistic issues in a given passage, are both relevant in assessing the meaning of numbers of passages in the Corinthian correspondence. We have been considering several passages in 1 Corinthians 6 and 7 in the light of the interaction of these two factors.

We have seen in chapter 6 that some of the new converts at Corinth believed that they were free to continue to satisfy their sexual wants through promiscuity, in the manner of everyone else around them. Paul points out that all the members of our bodies belong to Christ, and we cannot take the members of Christ and give them to a prostitute: for union with a prostitute is only a “one-body” union, and this conflicts with the plan of God, that our sexuality is to be fulfilled only in the - different - total “one-flesh” union of marriage.

Others of the converts at Corinth had gone to the opposite extreme. Aware of the abuse of sexuality that was practised at Corinth, they had concluded that all sexual activity was wrong, or at least, “not good”, even in marriage between ­husband and wife. They wrote to Paul about this, seeking his support (it would appear) for this view. Paul rejects the idea categorically and shows how sexual fulfillment in marriage for husband and wife is God’s intention for us.

Others again at Corinth had marriages (or at least, sexual relationships) which, for whatever reason, had terminated. What now was God’s word to them in their situation? Paul counsels against precipitate action. Remain, he advises, as he is.

When this situation has arisen from the break-up of a ­marriage relationship, then a particular aim is mentioned: reconciliation between the spouses - which of course would become impossible if one of them married a third person. But Paul recognizes that God has given to some people the gift of living a single, celibate life, and to others the gift of being a marriage partner. If persons whose previous relationship has terminated (for whatever reason) should find, after seeking now to live the single life, that this is not the gift that God has given them but that their sexual nature remains a force within them and they need to live as a marriage partner, then Paul’s word to such people is - v.9 - “They must marry”.

How is Paul’s teaching to be interpreted and applied? In his comments on verses 10 and 11, Hodge 113 presents a widely-held view:

The wife had no right to leave her husband; nor had the ­husband the right to repudiate his wife. But although the marriage bond cannot be dissolved by any human authority, because it is, in virtue of the law of God, a covenant for life between one man and one woman; yet it can be annulled, not rightfully indeed, but still effectively. Adultery annuls it, because it is a breach of the specific contract involved in marriage. And so does, for the same reason, willful desertion, as the apostle teaches in a following verse. This is the Protestant doctrine concerning divorce, founded on the nature of marriage and on the explicit instructions of our Lord, Matt 5:32; 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18. According to this doctrine nothing but adultery or willful desertion is a legitimate ground of divorce. ... The plain doctrine of the passage before us, as well as other portions of the word of God, is that marriage is an indissoluble covenant between one man and one woman for life, admitting neither of polygamy or of divorce. If the covenant be annulled, it can only be by the sinful act of one of the parties.

Although I have a very high regard for Hodge’s scholarship, on this point I consider that he is completely mistaken, and that this common view is an absolute distortion of what Scripture actually teaches. I have set out my objections more fully in my book Marriage and Divorce: The New Testament Teaching, but it is relevant to summarize the major points here:

Scripture knows nothing of “annulling” a marriage on the basis of adultery or desertion. Jesus and Paul both say that husband and wife must not χοριζω (chorizō, sunder) the marriage relationship that God has joined together. Contrary to Hodge, these things are not “legitimate grounds of divorce”. There are no “legitimate” grounds for divorce. But Paul recognizes in this passage that there are numbers of factors which can destroy a marriage. Not, as Hodge puts it, “breach a contract” or “annul a covenant”, but demolish a relationship.

Now, being a realist, Paul addresses himself in verses 6 to 11 to this situation: what to do after a marriage has ended.

I particularly draw attention to the tacit assumption that is often being made concerning the ex-wife in 7:11, when she is instructed to “remain unmarried”. The assumption is that this means, “for the term of her natural life” - so that all possibility of her ever having another marriage partner is completely ruled out. Or, at the very least, some would say, until her ex-husband dies.

That is to say, on this view, you get one shot at marriage - even if, perhaps, you married in haste before becoming a Christian - and if for any reason that marriage doesn’t work out, it doesn’t matter, that was your one and only chance. You don’t get another. All that Paul says in this chapter about not having the gift of living celibate, being subject to overwhelming temptation and sexual pressure, and needing a partner, may apply to you, but you still must “remain unmarried”. Well, that’s how some teachers see it.

How long does Paul say you must “remain unmarried”? Actually, he doesn’t say. What Paul does do, however, is give the reason for it: it is to leave open the possibility of reconciliation. Garland 283 points out,

It may seem that Paul presents the Christian wife with two options: either remain unmarried or be reconciled to her believing husband ... But he directs her to remain unmarried in order to be reconciled with her husband. ... In Paul’s Jewish tradition, a wife who has been divorced and has married another is forbidden to her former husband (Deut 24:4 ...) If there was to be a reconciliation she must remain unmarried.

Now, some situations may be borderline or uncertain. But in the majority of cases a person will be able to know within a reasonable period of time whether there is, realistically, any possibility of a reconciliation with one’s former spouse - whether whatever were the problems between them can be resolved. Paul’s teaching clearly envisages giving this possibility a real chance. His instructions weigh against taking any precipitate action which would rule out this possibility prematurely. But when it becomes quite clear that reconciliation is not any longer a genuine possibility (if it ever was), what is the reason then for being bound to “remain unmarried”? The reason which Paul has given for it no longer applies.

All too often one learns in pastoral ministry of cases where a spouse, in obedience to this verse (as they suppose), will pass up all opportunities of a second marriage and condemn themselves to a solitary life and a lonely old age. But in fact when they have sought for a basis for reconciliation, and have seen beyond question that this can never happen, then they have thus done what Paul in v.11 has instructed them to do.

We need to recognize that while a broken marriage and divorce is a sin of disobedience against the clear word of both Paul and Christ himself, yet it is not the unforgivable sin, and by grace a divorcee can seek and receive God’s forgiveness.

A person should follow Paul’s outlined procedure: first, “remain unmarried” to seek for reconciliation; if this proves impossible, what then? Then they are back in the general situation of ἀγαμοι (agamoi) as described in verses 7-9. They must ­consider whether they are now being given by the Lord the gift of celibacy, as shown in v.7 - if so, then they are to continue unmarried, as Paul did, v.8. But if instead they find themselves in the situation Paul describes in v.9, and if the opportunity is available, then they must do what Paul tells the ἀγαμοι (agamoi) in that verse: “they must remarry”.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)

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How Many Temples Does God Have?

How Many Temples Does God Have?


Frequently we find popular expositions of 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19 saying to individual Christians, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.” This is totally misexposition, completely wrong. And misleading. And it distorts Paul’s point.

Isaiah 28:16 gives the promise: “Therefore thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation.’” Jesus says (Matt 16:18), “I will build my church.” Jesus takes the words of Psalm 118:22 and applies them to himself - he is himself the cornerstone of the church he is building (Matt 21:42//Mark 12:10//Luke 20:17; also Acts 4:11). And in John 2:19 Jesus says to the Jews, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Not altogether surprisingly, they take him to be referring to the building in front of them. “But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:21-22.)

Stephen understood that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands” (Acts 7:47-50), and Paul draws all these thoughts together, describing “the church which is his body” (Ephesians 1:22-23) as: “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:20-22.)

Note carefully: The people of God (Ephesians 2:22, “you”, plural) are being joined together (as each new convert is added) so that “the whole structure grows into a holy temple”, because Christians are being “built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit”.

Peter teaches the same truth (1 Peter 2:4-8), where he says, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house”. A church building is not the house of God: the people of God are together the true house of God, each one of them being a living stone.

This then is the strand of biblical teaching which Paul reflects in 1 Corinthians 3:16. “Do you not know this?” Paul asks. “- that you are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” Not the individual Christian, but “you” plural. It is a corporate concept: the whole body of Christians together: “all of you together constitute God’s temple, and God’s Spirit lives in you”.

In the next verse Paul goes on to speak of destroying God’s temple. He is speaking of destroying the church of God - not of an individual Christian. Then in 6:19 Paul refers once again to the same concept, “Do you not know that your body is the Holy Spirit’s temple within you, whom you have from God?” Again, “you” is plural; again, it is referring to the people of God collectively, corporately. And then in 2 Corinthians 6:16 Paul says, “We are the temple of the living God.”

So, biblically, you cannot say to an individual Christian, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.” Let me emphasize again: you cannot.

But isn’t it all the same thing, singular or plural?

No, it is not.

Oftentimes teachers are saying to someone, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.” And then to another Christian, “And yours.” And to another, “And so also is yours.” As if God has as many temples as there are individual Christians. At this point frequently the lesson is drawn, “Therefore honor God in your body” - do not treat your body or use your body in a way which is dishonoring to the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Indeed a valid conclusion and application, but an invalid premiss, which misses Paul’s point.

For the point which Paul is making in Ephesians 2:20-22, and again twice in 1 Corin­thians, is the interconnectedness of Christians as the body of Christ, the temple indwelt by the Holy Spirit. If our concept is of an individual as “a temple” of God, then what such a one may do in the body which dishonors the indwelling Spirit is bad enough; but at least it may not directly impact upon other Christians. However, in Paul’s application of this biblical truth, it is wider than that. For when (in 6:15-20) Paul writes of a Christian joining himself to a prostitute, and links this with the concept of the body as the Holy Spirit’s temple, Paul is saying that in so doing, this person is joining the other parts of the temple of God to that prostitute also. The person concerned may think it is a private and individual thing that he is doing. But “the Holy Spirit’s temple” is a corporate concept, so he has involved the whole church in his sin.

This would apply equally to any other sin which a Christian commits in, with, or through his body.

And any exposition of this teaching as of an individual Christian being “a temple” of the Holy Spirit quite misses this dimension of what Paul is saying.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)

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Eating Idol Meat - How Is This Relevant For Us Today?

Eating Idol Meat - How Is This Relevant For Us Today?


In his 1 Corinthians commentary, Blomberg 167 has said

“Yet for most readers of this commentary, idol meat and its analogues in other world religions will not rank among their top one hundred moral dilemmas in life! Still, when one realizes the overarching principles involved, applications clamor for attention at every turn.”

For Christians of today, two very significance questions emerge from Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians Chapter 8. The first is, how the actual issue of idol meat and its consumption (or not) affects us today.

The second is the lessons we are to learn, from the principle involved, of how we should handle issues which fall into the “gray” areas of life.

Some Present-day Alternatives

We may well tend to think that this chapter has no real relevance for us today, in our society. We need to think again.

Firstly, in many missionary situations in today’s world, new Christians are in real danger of being pulled back into the idolatry of their society. Sad to say, in numbers of places this has resulted in a so-called Christianity which is a syncretistic amalgam of aspects of the gospel with elements from idolatrous paganism.

Secondly, many societies around the world have experienced an influx of immigrants from cultures in which idolatrous practices are followed. In some places restaurants have been opened by devotees of such other religions, offering good food at cheap prices - restaurants to be avoided by Christians for precisely the ­reasons Paul sets out in this chapter.

Thirdly, our own culture has its own twenty-first century equivalents of idol worship: we may not immediately see these for what they are, but we need to be alert to recognize them when they confront us. Sometimes Christians will participate in these “just for a bit of fun - it’s not serious, and there’s no harm in it.” An example might be: a church fete where someone will read your palm or your tea leaves, or “tell your fortune”. Or a person looking up a magazine’s astrology columns “just out of interest - I don’t take it seriously, of course.” Or joining in Halloween observances - “the children love the dressing up, and we go along with them to ensure they’re quite safe.” Or more overtly occult activities, such as sharing in an experience using a ouija board, or participating in a seance, and so forth. Or our observing various superstitions (“It’s good luck to do this, or bad luck to do the other”, and the like) will fall into the same category.

Even when all these are done (supposedly) lightheartedly, they are of the same genre as the eating in an idol’s temple in the first century by the “knowledgeable” Christian who acknow­­ledges only one God and one Lord (8:6). For this behavior is capable of opening a door of opportunity for Satan to deceive the unwary: “I know there’s nothing in astrology, but nevertheless it’s uncanny the way in which ...”

And the example set for “weak” Christians in this way can be ­devastating. Moreover, this “dabbling” can swing wide the door of a person’s heart or experience to the occult, so that real demonic bondage results. Never risk this destructive result!

Then there are semi-religious or quasi-religious organizations (such as the Masons) which can entice a person with their rites and ceremonies and observances, and can grow to become the focus of interest.

Ultimately anything which involves a recognition of some power in the universe other than the true God worshipped in the way Scripture teaches, becomes a snare by which Satan can entrap us and entangle us: and he has a variety of offerings to suit every taste. Although as Christians we would not intend it, we end up with an acknowledgement of Satan and his demons that he accepts as worship (10:20) - for behind Halloween and astrology and tarot cards and fortune telling and their ilk lies an acknowledgement of another supernatural being that is in competition with our Lord God. It is the twenty-first century face of idolatry.

Paul gives us fair warning (10:14): Keep well clear of any form of idolatry! For some have walked this route and have had their faith destroyed.


Operating in The “Gray Areas” of Life

Blomberg 164 has commented:

“Possible applications range far beyond the specific issue of idol meat, but they do not include that which is inherently good or bad. Rather, 1 Corinthians 8 speaks to the gray areas of Christian living. Sometimes Scripture makes plain whether an issue is fundamentally immoral or amoral [no moral issue involved]. ... Christians must then ask if the practice in question has any inherently pagan (or anti-Christian) elements or if it is necessarily destructive and hurtful to the individuals involved. More positively, if [it is the case that] the practice in question seems acceptable in light of both these tests, might our participation enhance our outreach to the non-Christian world by cultivating friendships and social activities that un­believers enjoy (cf. 9:19-23)? Two dangers remain ever-present: a separatism that prevents Christians from being the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13-16), and a syncretism (a mixture of religions) that adopts pagan practices with damaging consequences.”

Then Friesen says in his significant book Decision Making and the Will of God, 377f.:

“One of the major premises of this book is that in those areas where the Bible gives no command or principle (in nonmoral decisions), the believer is free and responsible to choose his own course of action. Any decision made within the moral will of God, we have argued, is acceptable to God.
“Ironically, there are some decisions in which it is easier to please God than to please our fellow Christians. Given the nature of humanity and the reality of freedom of choice, it is inevitable that believers are going to come to differing conclusions concerning what is permissible and what is not. ... God does not view differences of opinion in the area of freedom as a bad thing. ... And so, instead of trying to eliminate divergence of opinion, the Holy Spirit has given specific instructions to guide our response to it. Most of that revelation is concentrated in Romans 14 and 15 and 1 Corinthians 8-10.”


Friesen then discusses how these chapters deal with this matter, and how they are to be applied to the issues Christian face in the very different circumstances of today’s world.

This is a book which has a great deal to say in regard to how to identify matters of this kind and how to put Paul’s principles into effect - and it covers many more things besides, about the will of God in life, and how to make godly decisions. I recommend it warmly.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)


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Popular Prejudice Against Paul: and His Actual Teaching

Popular Prejudice Against Paul: and His Actual Teaching


Johnson 105f. sums up the situation re opinions about Paul:

“Throughout church history and to the present, Paul’s remarks on sex and marriage in chapter 7 have been viewed quite differently depending on the commentator or reader. Opinions range all the way from seeing Paul as a great supporter of marriage and sexual relations to viewing him as having quite a negative view of sex and marriage and being an enemy of women. Augustine and other early church fathers, for example, took verse 1 as the basis for rejecting, as a venial sin, sexual intercourse for mutual enjoyment, even within marriage (Confessions 2.3). ... While not all of the apostle’s views in the chapter resonate with modern sympathies, much of the negative attitude towards Paul’s views is based on misunderstandings of what he actually said.”

Indeed, a careful examination of what Paul actually says in 1 Corinthians 6 and 7 (with attention to the Greek) shows that the commonly-held negative picture of Paul and his teaching about marriage and sex is completely unsupported by the facts and indeed is a serious misconception. It is an interesting study in itself (but beyond the scope of our present purposes) to trace how such views about Paul’s teaching arose in the church and have been perpetuated down the years in an interpretational tradition. If however we pay heed to Paul’s actual words, assume that he chose them carefully to convey his intended meaning, and give them their full weight, we see that he is not anti-sex, nor anti-woman, nor anti-marriage.

He does not affirm that a relationship with a prostitute is on a par with the one-flesh relationship of marriage: rather, he contrasts the two.

He does not affirm that an act of sexual intercourse establishes a marriage between a man and a woman: rather, he shows how the purely physical union (“one body”) with a prostitute does violence to God’s plan that sex shall be part of a total one-flesh union.

He does not affirm that sex is somehow unspiritual or ­contrary to God’s perfect will: rather, he affirms the positive plan of God for sex in marriage.

He does not affirm that sex is for the purpose of procreation: rather, he describes sex entirely in terms of the relationship between a husband and wife, a vital component of their total relationship that is not to be treated as unimportant nor to be foregone (except perhaps by agreement for a short time for good reason).

He does not denigrate woman as the “unequal” partner in marriage: rather, he gives her an honored equal place alongside her husband in the sexual sphere of marriage and shows a recognition of her sexuality which is quite without parallel in the ancient world, and says about her absolutely the same things as he says about her husband.

He does not affirm that celibacy is a higher calling than marriage: rather, he emphasizes that it is by God’s gift that some people are to be single and equally by God’s gift that others are to be married - and, unless given by God the gift of being single, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.

He does not affirm that separation is the solution for a ­difficult marriage: rather, he quotes and underlines Christ’s prohibition on separation, and then gives guidelines for a ­person caught in such a situation, aimed at facilitating reconciliation.

He does not affirm that marriage is incapable of dissolution: rather, he recognizes that a person is unmarried (single) when a marriage relationship has been discontinued, and asserts that a person is not bound in the empty shell of a marriage when the reality has gone.

He does not affirm that remarriage is either wrong or impossible: rather, while affirming categorically that husband and wife must not separate he confronts realistically the situation that does result when a person becomes ἀγαμοσ (agamos) and he instructs that, if such a person has tested whether he now has the gift of being able to live a celibate life and found that he cannot, then that person should marry.

We must beware of “trendy” interpretations of Scripture which simply adjust the teaching of the Bible so as to make it more congenial to contemporary thinking. We must also beware of elevating traditional interpretations of Scripture to a position of authority co-equal with the text of the Word of God itself.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)

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The Significance of the Matter of Paul’s Marriage (1 Corinthians 7:6-9)

The Significance of the Matter of Paul’s Marriage (1 Corinthians 7:6-9)


It is sometimes assumed (especially on the basis of 1 Corinthians 7:6-9, and also 9:5) that Paul was a bachelor who never married, and who commended that unmarried celibate state for others to follow also. This assumed example of Paul has often been used as the basis for the pastoral encouragement for a young person not to marry at all. We should therefore examine the evidence concerning Paul’s marital state. These are the relevant factors to note (based on my Ministry of Women in the Church 27-31):

(a) It was the cultural norm for every Jew to be married by their mid-twenties at the latest. Marriages for Jewish young people were arranged by their parents, and it was a matter of some shame if a marriage could not be arranged. There are no grounds of any kind for thinking that this normal Jewish ­pattern would not have taken place in Paul’s family.

(b) Paul expressly states (Acts 22:3, Philippians 3:4-6, and especially Galatians 1:13-14) that he followed the traditions of his people. It is hard to credit that he could have said about himself, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors” if he had failed to conform to the Jewish tradition about marriage.

(c) There is external evidence that to be a married man was a requirement for membership of the Jewish high Council, the Sanhedrin. And it would appear, from the New Testament evidence, that Paul (Saul) was a member of the Sanhedrin - he was well qualified for this office; his statement in Acts 26:10 that he voted for the death penalty for Christians is most naturally to be taken as referring to his participating in the formal vote in the ­Sanhedrin; the witnesses against Stephen brought him before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:12, 15); the wording of Acts 7:57 shows that the members of the Sanhedrin accompanied the witnesses against Stephen who (according to custom) carried out the stoning, and it is more reasonable to read this account as indicating that the witnesses entrusted their clothes to a known member of the Sanhedrin group (i.e. Saul) than to an unknown stranger who happened along at that time (see also Acts 22:20); the ready access of Paul (Saul) to the high priest and the way the latter delegated authority to Paul (Acts 9:1-2; cf. 22:4-5) is also more likely if Paul were a Sanhedrin member.

(d) Paul was a chosen and prepared vessel for the ministry he was given. His perception of the nature of the marriage relationship (especially in 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 and Ephesians 5:21-33E) strongly suggests that the Lord is enabling him to understand the nature of a relationship which he himself knows from experience.

Now, it would be possible for the Lord to use, as the vehicle for the Bible’s teaching about the nature of the marriage relationship, a person who had never been married: but the Lord’s usual way is to work through someone whom he has prepared for that role, and the normal preparation for a person to write about the nature of marriage would be to be married.

(e) It cannot be argued that Paul rejected marriage from Christian conviction or because of the dangerous nature of his future ministry, because his parents would have arranged his marriage at a time prior to his conversion.

(f) Paul accepted that Christian leaders would be married, and that in this regard he and Barnabas were exceptions (see 1 Corinthians 9:5).

(g) Paul does not ever refer to himself as παρθενοσ (parthenos), or suggest in any way that he had never married; on the contrary: in 7:8 Paul writes, “Now to the ἀγαμοι (agamoi) and widows I say: it is good for them to stay as I am.” That is, he classes himself with those who had previously been married, and had not subsequently remarried, and ­recommends to his readers that in this regard they follow his example.

There is no evidence on the other side, that is, in support of the view that Paul had never married; and there are no ­reasonable grounds for holding such a view. The evidence that we do have, as set out here, is best explained on the basis that Paul was a widower.

A second possibility is that his wife, being (as one would expect for the wife of such a man as Saul) a committed Judaist, may have left him after his conversion to Christ: in Philippians 3:4-8 Paul refers to his old life in Judaism before his conversion, and adds, “... Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things”, which may have included his wife (cf. Luke 14:26; 18:29).

The least likely possibility is that Paul had never married at all.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)

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What Is the “Present Crisis” or “Impending Distress” at Corinth?

What Is the “Present Crisis” or “Impending Distress” at Corinth?


In 1 Corinthians 7:25 Paul begins a discussion of events and circumstances at Corinth affected by the “Present Crisis” or “Impending Distress” at Corinth?

Introducing this section of his discussion, Paul again ­disclaims (v.25b - see v.12) any specific command of the Lord applicable in this particular situation, but again also he gives his own opinion, here adding, “as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy”. Together with his authority to make these suggestions we notice his tentativeness, his “I think” (v.26), “I would spare you that” (v.28), “I want you to be free from anxieties” (v.32), “I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you” (v.35). His whole attitude in this section is conditioned by one factor which he mentions three times: “in view of the present distress” (v.26), “the appointed time has grown very short” (v.29), “For the present form of this world is passing away” (v.31).

The word describing the situation to which Paul is referring can be translated as either “impending” or “present”: the Greek term refers to something that is just at the point of ­happening, like a wave overhanging and just about to break. Garland presents a case for taking it here as something that has become present amongst them.

Exactly what Paul is referring to we cannot say with certainty. A common interpretation is that Paul was expecting the promised Second Advent of Christ at any time, so that this teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:25-40 is an “interimsethik”, an ethic for a temporary situation, because the end of the age was approaching. Support for this view is drawn from 1 Cor­inthians 15:51, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed”, which can be taken to indicate that he expected that some of his readers would be alive at the parousia, the Appearing of Christ.

Now, it is clear, from the prominence of the theme in his writings and the explicit teaching that he gives concerning it, that the expectation of the Second Advent was very real to Paul. The question is whether it was this expectation which he meant when he said, “the appointed time has grown very short”. He is certainly giving, in 1 Corinthians 7:25-40, instructions (or should we say, suggestions) which are conditioned by his belief in some “present crisis” or “impending distress” - is this referring to the parousia? Is Paul’s ethical teaching in 1 Corinthians conditioned by this expectation? How does that affect us today, as we still await the parousia?

Against such a view is Paul’s attitude in the two Thessalonian epistles, which were written earlier. In the First Epistle he expounds the theme of the Second Advent with explicit detail, and great enthusiasm (4:13-5:11). But there are no exhortations there in 1 Thessalonians in the ethical area such as we find in 1 Corinthians 7. However, the Thessalonians took him to mean that the Second Advent was imminent, and, in fact, just about to burst upon them. Paul therefore sends a short and hasty second letter in which he explicitly states that that day is not yet upon them nor indeed will come until some other events have first taken place (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). Therefore those who have ceased their work to live in idleness (apparently influenced by the nearness of the end of all things) are to do their work normally and live their lives normally, and not to be supported by the charity of others (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6-14).

If Paul writes thus in the Thessalonian epistles, how can we reconcile this with his completely different approach in 1 Corinthians 7? The answer may be, “Because when he wrote 1 Corinthians the parousia was that much the closer; hence more extreme measures were called for.” If this be so, then it would be reasonable to see Paul’s eschatological conviction showing itself again in 2 Corinthians, and also in Romans, both epistles written shortly after the time of 1 Corinthians, when the parousia must have been even nearer still. But although ethical issues are raised in these epistles (particularly in Romans) there are no short-term, hold-fast-to-the-status-quo instructions like those in 1 Corinthians 7. We do indeed find in Romans 13:11-12a,

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand.

But Paul draws from this exactly the same kind of ethical injunction to purity as does the apostle John some years later: and neither is in any way parallel to 1 Corinthians 7:

Romans 13:12b-14:
So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

1 John 2:28; 3:2, 3:
And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence, and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. ... We know that when he appears, we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself, as he is pure.

Romans is more explicit in regard to what constitutes “pure behavior”, and 1 John is more general; but the theme is the same. And there is nothing in either that could be said to be an “interimsethik” in the sense of an ethic which had application to the special circumstances before the eschatos, the end, and not otherwise.

I find this interpretation of Paul’s comments to be totally unconvincing. It involves believing that Paul got things wrong, and had to change his mind on the subject when the parousia didn’t arrive as expected. Some interpreters believe this: for example Stanley 127 holds

the impending calamities ... to be the precursors of the end of the world, ... and this brings us to a point on which we are forewarned by Christ Himself, that even Apostles might be in error, for of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no not the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

This entire line of interpretation runs contrary to what we actually find in Paul’s writings. And if 1 Corinthians 15:51 suggests that some will still be alive at the time of the parousia, it also equally suggests that some will not. It seems to be symbolic of this whole argument. The evidence can be made to point in whatever way one wants.

The evidence for this crisis or distress is limited to the period of 1 Corin­thians, and it is not mentioned by Paul in such terms in any other letter. (The “sudden destruction” of 1 Thessalonians 5:3 and the vengeance and punishment of 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 are specifically shown to be for the non-Christians and not the Christians.)

Instead, the “present crisis” or “impending distress” may well have been a situation of persecution or affliction. Or quite possibly (see Rosner 162f., Garland) it was a time of famine.

Therefore we see that Paul is here speaking in relation to a particular situation - probably such a period of trouble and ­persecution or other problems which was at that time hanging over their heads.

Whatever it was, it had apparently passed even by the time of 2 Corinthians - there he is busy organizing the ­collection for the saints (2 Corinthian 9:1ff.; this collection was already in hand in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; but why plan such an extensive program, and - verses 3-9 - itinerary, if the end of all things was momentarily about to come?).

Moreover, in 2 Corinthians 6:14 he is prepared to exclude the marriage of unbelievers with believers, and by his selectiveness apparently to approve the marriage of believers together. Thus 1 Cor­inthians 7:27 seems no longer to apply.

So we cannot take the “present crisis” or “impending ­distress” of 1 Corin­thians 7:26 to be the parousia. (For why would Paul call the parousia a “present crisis” or “distress”? The expectation of the parousia is a source of comfort - 1 Thessalonians 4:18.)

All this evidence shows that “the present distress” (whatever it was) does not refer to the parousia.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)

Ward

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The Danger of Going Beyond

The Danger of Going Beyond


Paul writes (4:6), “I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written ...” In the NRSV this reads, “... so that you may learn through us the meaning of the saying, ‘Nothing beyond what is written.’”

John writes of this same danger in his Second Epistle, v.9: “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” The NRSV: “Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”

The AV/KJV is most unhelpful in its rendering of Paul’s meaning in 4:6: it reads, “... that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written” - which misses the point.

The danger that Paul and John are pointing out, in its most basic form, is a dissatisfaction with the silences of Scripture, and an attempt to “add in” the information which Scripture does not give.

In many cases this is completely harmless: as when a Sunday School teacher embroiders one of the stories of Scripture to make it more vivid for her Sunday School class. Harmless, that is, provided the details she adds are validly taken from what we know of the situations in Bible times, and are not misleading.

And there are many “traditional” details which have been added to biblical narratives to the point where most people would believe that they are part of the original account. One example would be that in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ate an apple (Genesis does not name a fruit, calling it “the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” [Genesis 2:17; 3:3].). Another would be that the wise men who visited Jesus as a babe were three in number (Matthew 2:1 simply calls them “wise men from the east”, their number unspecified).

In the early church many people felt that the information about the life of Jesus given in the Gospels was a little too sketchy, and so various accounts were written which “filled in the details”: the different infancy stories. In similar fashion numerous “Acts” were written to tell of other experiences of Paul and the rest of the apostles. Some were merely speculative fictions; some contained heterodox teaching.

Somewhere here we should draw the line as to what is acceptable. Paul says, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Certainly we should not be more strict or less strict than Scripture in its moral code. This would certainly be encom­passed within the prohibition of Revelation 22:18-19 about adding to or taking away from the words of this book. And however one interprets precisely the binding and loosing of Matthew 18:18, it can be agreed that this verse forbids both the “tightening” and “loosening” of what the laws of God allow or proscribe.

Yet this is precisely what some in the church of God have done down the ages. This is one of the things for which Jesus castigated the Pharisees, who “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders” (Matthew 23:4). And this is still what some Christian leaders and teachers do today: adding requirements for the Christian life or godly behavior for which the Bible gives no warrant. And forbidding things where no such prohibition is found in Scripture, neither explicit or implicit: in fact, there are quite a few sins which the church has invented - they are nowhere found in the Bible. Some such issues will arise in the course of our consideration of this Epistle, and I will draw attention to them at that time.

Then on the other hand there are matters explicitly disallowed in Scripture which some churches today will permit; or else commanded in Scripture which some churches today will not require of Christians. In some such instances, the apologists for differing from Scripture will say, “It is because the biblical teaching on this matter was culturally conditioned, and culture has changed.” Now, there can be a considerable extent to which this is so: but even when a biblical command or prohibition is expressed in a cultural context there is normally an eternal truth in it which we need to understand and apply even in our different culture. But often it is simply a situation where biblical standards differ from the patterns of behavior of our present world, and the temptation is always to conform those biblical standards to what is to be found in the world around us.

Instances of all these situations are to be found in this Epistle, and will call forth careful consideration.

But we have this word of warning from John: “Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” And this instruction here from Paul: “learn through us the meaning of the saying, ‘Nothing beyond what is written.’”

For down that path lies danger.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)

Ward

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Fracturing and Fragmenting the Church of God

Fracturing and Fragmenting the Church of God


In 1 Corinthians 1:10-12 Paul speaks, in some considerable concern, about how the Corinthians are plagued with divisions and quarrels. They are dividing themselves into factions clustered around the names of Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter), and Christ himself.

Commentators are agreed that the factions were neither started by nor supported by the men whose names they bore. We have no real knowledge now of the basis for these factions, nor do we know what they were differing about. Various conjectures have been made. For example, that the Jewish Christians laid claim to Cephas and probably Apollos, and the Gentiles to Paul. Or those who were (or wanted to be) married pointed to the marital status of Peter, while those who were unmarried elevated Paul and Christ himself as their exemplars (the married status of Apollos is not mentioned in 9:5-6, and remains unknown). Or the differences between the factions may have centered in differences of methods, of preaching, of behavior, or the like, which the Corinthians detected (or thought they detected) between the persons around whose names they gathered themselves. The fact is, we do not know.

But for the Corinthians - and for Paul - the matter was a serious one. Paul has many important issues to raise, requiring careful consideration and extensive change. But before discussing any of these, Paul feels obliged to tackle this issue of their disunity. It is dividing brother from brother in a destructive way (3:17). It must be faced. It must be dealt with. It must be stopped.

Paul’s approach is, first, to reiterate the nature of the ­gospel, which is the major factor which unites them all; then, to emphasize that he and Apollos (and the others) are equally inspired and led by the Spirit, and are colaborers, even if their ministries may perhaps differ in some ways (“I planted, Apollos watered”). Christ is the foundation (3:11): all of us (Paul indicates) are building upon that foundation - and we must be very careful just how we build (3:12-15).

As we shall see in subsequent chapters, there are various kinds of differences to be seen at Corinth. In addition to those indicated in this first chapter (whatever in fact they were), there are the different builders of chapter 3; the differences between the “libertarians” and the “ascetics” in the church in regard to their attitude to sex (chapters 6 and 7); between the “knowers” and the “weak” in relation to food offered to idols (chapters 8 to 10); between the “haves” and the “have nots” at the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11); between those more obviously gifted by the Spirit and those less so (chapters 12 to 14); and between those with various views concerning the resurrection (chapter 15). Where there were moral or doctrinal errors involved, Paul pointed these out clearly and called for change. But, these apart, Paul did not ask them to become what they were not. His basic approach, which we can see exemplified in 7:20, was, “Stay as you are.”

What he did ask was that there be no disunity, no quarreling, “but that you all be united in the same mind and the same judgement” (1:10).

Some churches of today, in seeking to put into practice the spirit of this teaching of Paul, have adopted as their policy not to make any changes to the status quo unless the whole church (or at least the whole body of the leadership of that church) are unanimously agreed. So till then they will continue to pray and to “wait upon God”.

But there are so many issues which Scripture leaves open for our own determination (e.g. various aspects of how we conduct our worship of God), and so many ways in which we will differ (perfectly legitimately) from one another, that when this approach is followed rigorously it often happens that that church moves very slowly in any matter, or not at all. In some ways, some matters, this may be to the good; but overall it inhibits progress in adapting the eternal gospel to the circumstances of a changing world. Often this means that those people who are most vocal or have the strongest personalities (or who simply get in first to express their views) carry the day, because the less vocal, or the less pushy, or the more reticent, do not want to jeopardize the “unity of the Spirit” by expressing a different opinion.

Some have had, historically, a different approach: when (say) 75% want this and 25% want that, and they cannot agree or accommodate each other’s differences, they split - often acrimoniously. Then in their separate enclaves they can each have their “unanimity” over the issue. And thus perhaps another denomination is created. Then because of our investment (both emotional and financial) in the whole situation, the divisions and the divergences become so totally entrenched that they continue long after the basic causes have been forgotten and the original antagonists have passed from the scene.

Sometimes God blesses them all in this situation, and good may result. It can happen. The most famous example in Scripture is the quarrel between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41), which resulted in two missionary parties going out, each under an experienced leader. But more often, in modern times, this simply results in bad feelings, a more divided Christian witness to the world, the waste of precious resources through the doubling-up on church infrastructure, and the fact that the one group can no longer benefit from the gifts of ministry which the Lord has given to members of the other group.

Oftentimes the fact that a minority dissents over an issue will mean that the whole matter receives more careful consideration. Issues should still be decided by majority, but it will happen with an awareness of how often in history significant progress was made in any given field of endeavor only because a minority - or a single voice - dissented from the accepted outlook or the consensus of the majority or the status quo. It may indeed be that he or she is a voice in the wilderness, but they could be voicing prophetic insights from the Lord. Or not.

Paul’s earnest plea in this section is not a call for uniformity. Or unanimity. We need to distinguish clearly between the danger of the factions forming in our church which was of so much concern to Paul, on the one hand, and on the other, the expressing in valuable robust discussion of differing points of view. Different people espousing differing views and opinions is no justification for fracturing the unity of the body of Christ in a given church.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)

Ward

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The Inspiration of Scripture - And Our Response

The Inspiration of Scripture - And Our Response


In some churches, at the end of the reading of the passage of Scripture in the worship service, the Bible reader concludes with “This is the Word of the Lord”, and the congregation responds, “Thanks be to God!” I like that. I like that very much. It is a recognition by both reader and congregation of what has just been happening: we have been listening to the Word of God read to us.

The foundation of our faith in God is the teaching of Scripture. Thus such a recognition by the worshipers in the service, that we have been listening to the Word of God, is beneficial for us all.

There are so many ways in which our full confidence in the Scriptures can be called into question these days - sometimes overtly, and sometimes much more subtly. Have you noticed the spate of “red letter Bibles” churned out by respectable publishers? Bibles with the words of Jesus printed in red type: an apparently innocuous device that highlights and immediately enables us to identify what Jesus himself has said.

But to what purpose? we might ask. For convenience, and ease of use, we are told. But how would this help us? we ask. So that we can distinguish what Jesus said from bare narrative and from what other people said. And why might we want to do that? we may enquire. And at this point we can generally go around in circles.

But red letter Bibles are indeed produced so that we can readily distinguish the words of Jesus. Which leads us to register in our minds a difference between the two: the words in red and the words in black, and then (the next step, so easily taken) to see a distinction between the two. “These are the very words of Jesus (and these are just the words of somebody else)” - and that concept of “just” slips in, and next we will be likely to find ourselves regarding the “words of Jesus” differently from the rest of Scripture (for are they not highlighted in red?). The stage beyond that is imperceptively easy to reach: the words of Jesus are more important, more inspired, more authoritative, than the rest.

We are thus insidiously being brought to the acceptance of the idea of two levels of inspiration in the Scripture: the words of Jesus, and everything else.

So, Christians can end up thinking, “This is the teaching of Jesus”, and therefore accepting it as authoritative; and “This is just the opinion of Paul (or some other writer)”, and therefore it is able, in varying degrees, to be treated just the same as anybody else’s opinion, and disregarded or disagreed with if we so choose.

Of course people can come to this kind of attitude without needing the assistance of a red letter Bible, but it certainly helps.

And making this distinction between the words of Jesus and the rest can result in undercutting the authority of the rest of Scripture by featuring the words of Jesus in red as “special” and being somehow different from all the rest. You preach on 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God ...” but your listeners have already qualified and interpreted this as “Yes, but the teaching of Jesus is different from the rest, isn’t it?” because their red letter Bible is saying that to them loud and clear every time they open it.

If we recognize that the apostles and prophets - and all the writers of Scripture - spoke and wrote as the Holy Spirit guided and inspired them (Ephesians 3:4-5; 2 Peter 1:20-21), we need to act so as to underline and reinforce that truth. Not undercut it and call it into question with the use of a printed Bible that shrieks on every page “There’s the red bit and the black bit, and they’re different, as you can plainly see.”

Paul clearly says (2:13) that he and his fellow servants of God impart the truths of God in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit. The things that Paul writes are the commandment of the Lord (14:37). Which is true also of every one of the other authors whom the Spirit used in the writing of the Scriptures. Let us accept the full authority with which they write and not relegate their writings, de facto, to being some “type 2” subordinate kind of Scripture.

Recognizing these things does not in any way call into question the individuality of each biblical author. It does not imply some wrong-headed mechanistic “typewriter” idea of the Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture, as if the “authors” were no more than “transcribers” of words dictated to them from heaven. Not at all: the Holy Spirit used the individual writers just as they were. That is why we can see difference between books written by different authors - differences of vocabulary and phraseology, of structure and ways of writing, of interests and emphases. And it can indeed be profitable to look at all these things and examine (for instance) “Pauline theology” compared with “Johannine theology”, and so on.

But after we have fully recognized these things, we are to recognize also that “men spoke from God” in what they wrote, as “they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), and that what they produced was exactly what God wanted said and conveyed his truth with complete accuracy.

Thus we can endorse what Cyril of Alexandria said early in the Christian era (Kovacs xvi), “The entire Scripture is one book and was spoken by the one Holy Spirit”.

Ultimately, this is what Paul is telling us in 1 Corinthians 2:13.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)

Ward

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