Day 7 Audioblog: 1 Corinthians 3–4

In a nutshell: Paul lays on some heavy irony for the sake of bringing the Corinthian community down a few notches in humility.

Already you have it all! Already you have become rich! You have become kings without any help from us! … We are made to look like fools for the sake of the Anointed, but you are the Anointed’s wise men; we are weak, but you are strong; you are well thought of, we get no respect.
—1 Corinthians 4:8, 10

Another important theme in this chapter is the appropriate timing for judgment. Cf. 1 Cor 1–5.

In yesterday’s reading I explored how trauma, especially new insights on PTSD, inform Paul’s spiritual and communal vision. I pointed out that Paul thinks a commitment to building a new, unified community (empire or civilization) forms a starting point for wisdom. Anyone who has experienced brutality and violence can appreciate where Paul is coming from here: community is a commitment to be made rather than a given reality.

So that’s where we pick up today in this audioblog: Paul, having undergone an enormous transformation from hating to loving the enemy (God’s Anointed, Jesus), is concerned about the development of factions in Corinth. He wants to convince the people there to first achieve communal unity—which, by the way, he sees as entirely possible and not merely an ideal. This begs the question: in unity for what? What does the civilization Paul would have us rally around actually look like? Along the way I tackle one of the most misapplied Bible verses in the Western culture, “…we are weak but you are strong.” There are other, more appropriate comments about strength in weakness in Paul’s letters, such as 2 Corinthians 12:10: “So, for the sake of God’s Anointed, I accept limitations, insults, calamities, persecutions, difficulties. For when I accept my limitations, then I am empowered.” (More popularly: When I’m weak, then I am strong.)

Questions for the Road:

  • Do you ever take an exceptionalist attitude toward certain aspects of your life? Do you make yourself the exception to the rule in certain areas? What would it mean to practice humility in those areas? Is there ever a time (contra Paul) when it is okay to make yourself the exception?
  • Who was Paul’s Jesus? What hints of Jesus do you detect in Paul’s language? (This is a question I plan to visit in more detail tomorrow.)

Letters of Paul small squareThanks for reading this entry from the #30DaysofPaul reading challenge. We’re reading the seven undisputed letters of Paul in 30 days: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, Romans. Why not join us? Download the reading plan, which is based on the work of the Westar Paul Seminar as published in The Authentic Letters of Paul.

Cassandra FarrinCassandra Farrin joined Westar in 2010 and currently serves as the Marketing & Outreach Director. A US-UK Fulbright Scholar, she has an M.A. in Religious Studies from Lancaster University (England) and a B.A. in Religious Studies from Willamette University. She is passionate about books and projects that in some way address the intersection of ethics and early Christian history.

6 thoughts on “Day 7 Audioblog: 1 Corinthians 3–4

  1. I Cor 3:3b-23, a paraphrase: Pitting Paul against Apollos simply demonstrates that your decisions are still driven by flesh. I may have planted, and Apollos may have watered, but only God gets credit for the growth. I laid the foundation of Jesus the Annointed in you; someone else is now completing the construction; it must continue the strength of the foundation or be burned at the day of judgment. You are constructed as God’s temple, whoever destroys you, i.e., God’s temple, will be destroyed. Our scriptures warn us not to participate in the destructive activity of this age’s wisdom (quotes). So don’t be bragging on your leaders – God has given you everything, not just one person.

    1 Cor 4, a paraphrase: Don’t be rushing to judgment before the Lord comes. It is he who judges me and all apostles, who dismisses the darkness and illuminates the heart. Don’t put yourselves above the scriptures’ assessment of wisdom. Be humble, realizing that all you have is a gift, not an achievement. You have been given everything you could want – even kingship in Christ. Perhaps you would prefer the apostles’ life: held in disrepute, hungry, homeless, beaten, reviled, slandered, indeed the world’s rubbish…Please accept this admonishment without shame. Remember, though a community of 10,000 may be your mentors, I am your Good News father. Imitate me. I sent Timothy to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus. I will be coming to see if your arrogant ones have any power in Christ. God’s kingdom depends on power, not wisdom. Shall I bring the club of wisdom or the power of a gentle spirit to redirect you.


  2. Looking at chapters three and four, the instruction (1.18 – 2.16) about wisdom and foolishness is interrupted and the author inserts Apollos the “watering can,” and Paul in the next chapter. (He disregards Kephas until the end, which is also odd. In chapter three there are signs that “Paul” is no longer around. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave growth” is one interesting metaphor. “I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it” is more to the point. Then a bit later, the idea found in Jewish thought of “God’s temple” being a symbol, with God dwelling inside this temple, the body, not actual (since it has been destroyed) gives one more evidence that it was later than 70 ce. Speaking to Pharisees of the post 70 era, Neusner in his introduction of “The Mishnah” states, “So some of them were priests who pretended that their homes were little temples. And, it seems reasonable to suppose, others of them were lay people pretending to be priests and engaging in the same fantasy” (xxxiii). And the distraction, the “division” does not appear in the Marcionite version. From 3.18 to 4.5 the talk of wisdom is uninterrupted in Marcion. All things are the believers, whether Paul, Apollos or Kephas or the world… And they belong to Christos and Christos belongs to God. The Master will bring the secret things of darkness to light.

    The question one should ask is probably why the redactors needed these characters. As in Galatians, the introduction of other characters brings a tension into the dialogue. In the second century there were factions. We find that some were Petrine, others Johanine others Jamesian, and others following Mary M. In this it is Kephas/Peter and Apollos, to go along with Paul and Christos. That inserts into chapter one and is largely forgotten until chapter 3. The Marcionite reconstruction, however, has little need for this. Chapters one through the small portion attested in chapter 4 are about wisdom, the wisdom of God. That is what Tertullian is discussing (Against Marcion 5.-5-7), not divisions or parties. It isn’t even sure that this was in Tertullian’s copy of 1 Corinthians.

    The pertinent questions should be who were Kephas and Apollos? If Kephas was “Peter,” what was he doing in Corinth? Why is, if these divisions were historical, did the author not put the onus on Apollos, Kephas and himself to quit *causing* these divisions? What were they doing to cause “divisions?” (There is no doubt in Galatians, where Peter, James and John are roundly scolded for their “divisive” Jewish ways. One doesn’t find this here.) Divisions less than 20 years into “Paul’s reaffiliation???”

    Cephas the Pauline foil is not to be found after chapter three again until chapter nine, when the author needs to denigrate him, as was done in the gospels with Peter and in Galatians. (This is a bit more subtle, since it is in reference to his wife and the author of chapter seven thinks marriage is sanctuary against sexual immorality.)


    1. Dennis, I also find it interesting that Corinth comes across here as a hotbed of the Jesus movement. It actually reads as though the Corinthians are hosting practically all the apostles at some time or other, pulling the focus off Jerusalem. It jarred me out of treating James and Cephas as static characters who remain in Jerusalem while Paul and others come and go. I haven’t decided where to take that thought, but it occurred to me all the same.


      1. P.S. Of course I’m still working from these letters as though written by Paul, so you and I would tackle it from different angles, but it’s helpful all the same.


  3. Appreciated the audio Cassandra. How did you do that without one “uhhhh.” Are you self-trained or professionally trained as a speaker.? Wanted to comment on the use of the word “Annointed.” I realize that a number of Westar scholars have come to think of this word as a politically potent term, pitting the king of God’s kingdom against the kings of the secular world. But: (1) The incredible repetition of the term in Paul, in the form of a proper name, and the noticeable awkwardness in reading the term not as a proper name, at least raises questions about the credibility of a socio-political interpretation. (2) The lack of evidence of first century “secular” persecution leads one to think that a socio-political interpretation was not among the top priorities of the 1st century communities.(3) The very real expectation, mentioned in all Paul’s letters, of a very soon to return Jesus to redeem the faithful, seems inconsistent with a priority for socio-political motives.

    Now, on the other hand, if I’m asked does an application of the gospel today require a challenge to socio-political realities, I say absolutely. That has certainly been recognized by MLKJr and many others. It is certainly a requirement of, as you say, Paul’s experience of traversing the distance from hating the enemy to loving the enemy. Paul, however, didn’t have the advantage of seeing beyond the second coming.


    1. Gene, I love this: “Paul, however, didn’t have the advantage of seeing beyond the second coming.” That’s such a limiting factor for me in reading Paul. I wonder how it would have changed his attitude to retain the idea that we are all adopted into God’s family, but without this pressing end-point.

      On the “uhhh…” — Funny thing, a student once said the same thing to me in class! I am trained in music, actually. I’m so glad to know the audio is getting some use; it just seems like sometimes it’s nice not to have to read a lengthy article.


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