Note of the Day – August 6

1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16

As a follow-up to the recent daily notes, in which I examined the use of the word musth/rion (“secret”) in the New Testament (esp. in the Pauline letters), I have decided to explore, in some detail, Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16. This passage (and the wider division of 1:18-4:21) includes several of the key references where musth/rion is used (2:1, 7; 4:1), where it is central to the overall argument. This next series of daily notes will be looking at various phrases and expressions which Paul uses to develop his argument. The difficult and richly textured passage is, in my opinion, often poorly understood; and, as a result, the thrust of Paul’s line of argument in the letter, as well as the basic historical (and theological) context, is not always appreciated. It is hoped that these notes will shed some light on what is one of the more essential sections in the New Testament (outside of the Gospels).

To begin with, it is useful to consider the epistolary (and rhetorical) structure of 1 Corinthians (here I follow the outline provided by Witherington, pp. 75-77, with which I generally agree):

  • 1:1-3—The epistolary prescript, that is, the opening of the letter, which includes the initial greeting (vv. 1-2) and blessing (v. 3)
  • 1:4-9—The introduction to the letter (exordium), which, in many of Paul’s letters, functions primarily as a thanksgiving, offering thanks to God and praise for the faithfulness, etc., of the believers
    (in Corinth).
  • 1:10—This verse contains the basic proposition (propositio) or statement/thesis which will be addressed in the letter.
  • 1:11-17—The narratio, in which the basic ‘facts’ of the case are narrated; in Paul’s letters this often has an important (auto)biographical component. Verse 11 states the main reason or cause (causa) for his writing.
  • 1:1816:12—The bulk of the letter, which can be delineated several ways, is the probatio, or “proof”, whereby various arguments and illustrations are presented in support of the main proposition. Unlike the shorter letter to the Galatians (or even the larger letter to the Romans), 1 Corinthians does not have a tightly argued and balanced structure. Only the first section, 1:184:21, deals with the central proposition (1:10ff) directly. The remainder of the letter illustrates the point in principle, as Paul addresses specific issues of importance to the life and functioning of the congregations in Corinth.
  • 16:13-18—The peroratio, or close of the argument, with an exhortation to the hearers/readers. This relates primarily to vv. 13-14, with vv. 15-18 perhaps being more aligned with the conclusion (greeting) that follows.
  • 16:19-24—The epistolary postscript, or close to the letter, with final greeting(s) and blessing.

1 Corinthians 1:10

Here is the proposition (propositio) of 1 Corinthians from 1:10:

“I call you alongside, brothers, through the name of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, that you all should give account (to) the same (thing), and (that) there should not be splits [i.e. divisions] in/among you, but (that) you should be fit (together completely) in the same mind and in the same (way of) knowing.”

Several points can be made:

The initial verb (parakalw=) functions as an exhortation (and injunction) to the believers whom he is addressing. Literally, it means “I call you alongside”, but in English idiom we might rather say “I call on you” (i.e. I urge you). The phrase “through the name of our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed {Jesus Christ}” is important as it governs both what precedes and what follows:

  • Paul’s call to the Corinthians is done “through the name” of Jesus—i.e. in his role as (inspired) apostle
  • The Corinthians’ unity should take place “through the name” of Jesus—the essential identity of Christians being “in Christ”

In a concrete grammatical sense, by going “through” (dia/) the name of Jesus (“our Lord”, the basis of our religious identity), we see clearly the goal and idea of the unity of believers in Christ. Note the structure:

  • You should all (pa/nte$) give account to the same (thing)
    —there should not be splits in you
    —you should be fit (together completely)
  • in the same mind and in the same (way of) knowing

The three primary verbs all are subjunctive forms, indicating the wish of how things should be. The outer statement emphasizes that believers should say and think the same thing, marked by the adjectival (intensive) use of the personal pronoun au)to[$] (“he/it”), which is nearly impossible to render literally in English. I translate the verb le/gw in the (more literal) sense of “give account”—this can refer to any sort of speaking/saying, but it specifically relates to the Gospel message (i.e. the “account/word [lo/go$] of God”). As will become clear in Paul’s argument, unity in speech and thought is (to be) achieved fundamentally by focusing on the Gospel message. The emphasis on “mind” (nou=$) and “knowing” (gnw/mh) likewise foreshadows the line of argument running through 1:18-4:21 and throughout the letter. The ‘inner’ statement indicated above sets a clear contrast:

  • Negative: “there should not be [mh\ h@|] splits in you”
  • Positive: “you should be [h@te] fit (together completely)”

The word sxi/smata is typically translated “divisions”, but the contrast relates more to the idea of “splits” or “tears” (as in a garment), which is also a somewhat more literal rendering. These “splits” (which are discussed initially in vv. 11f), are set against the concept of believers being fit or joined (together), using the verb katarti/zw (an intensive compound of a)rti/zw). The perfect tense (perfect participle) of this verb is used, suggesting a situation or condition which has already taken place and continues in the present. Paul is essentially saying that the Corinthians ought to be acting as they truly are (in Christ)—united together, like a single untorn garment. Interestingly, the verb katarti/zw can also carry the sense of adjusting or repairing something (i.e. mending a garment), which certainly fits the context as well. Paul does not follow up particularly on this metaphor of the garment elsewhere in the letter; rather, he utilizes the images of the building/house and (human) body as symbols of unity.

The next note will look at the closing statement of the narratio (in v. 17), which leads into the section 1:8-2:16.

Above “Witherington” = Ben Witherington III, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Eerdmans: 1995)

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