A Catholic Reading of 1 Corinthians
Posted by Tony Listi on November 21, 2010
Often in theological debates, Christians start throwing Scripture verses around from all parts of the Bible. While all Scripture is the Word of God and thus must be consistent in such a way that a coherent, non-contradictory message is present, I think this haphazard cafeteria/smorgasbord style of using Scripture can be very unhelpful, even dangerous at times. This practice also makes it easier for Christians to cherry-pick the verses that they like (often out of context) and that support their denominational beliefs and to avoid verses that they don’t like and that contradict their denominational beliefs.
We Christians cannot forget or deny that human beings, with their own human stylistic traits, emphases, and paradigms, did indeed write the Bible. Thus it seems certain that Christians can more fully understand the written Word by digesting it book by book, carefully examining and taking into account the unique context, tradition, and perspective contained within and historically surrounding each book and author. This method also seems to me an eminently, though perhaps not distinctly, Catholic approach to Scripture and its interpretation.
Thus I’d like to present how a traditional, conservative Catholic reads and interprets Scripture on a book by book basis. In this way, a Protestant may come to know what exactly a Catholic sees, thinks, and feels when he reads the Bible. Perhaps in this way and on this basis of what is our common ground, our common tradition, namely certain books of Scripture, the Body may be made one and whole again as Jesus prayed it would be and intended it to be…. Plus I’m tired of Protestants telling me that I’ve never read the Bible (when I have) and that they are the “champions” of Scripture (when they aren’t).
St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians
Paul wrote this letter because he had heard disturbing reports about what was happening in the Church at Corinth and because the church had written a letter to him. These are the specific, chance circumstances that drove him to write this letter. He in no way intended this letter alone or together with his other letters and the writings of others to be the comprehensive and sole source of correct doctrine.
He addresses several specific issues:
- divisions and factions within the Church at Corinth
- the questions of the Corinthians regarding marriage, virginity, and food offered to idols
- liturgical problems and disgraces regarding women’s headcoverings, the Eucharist, and various spiritual gifts like tongues
- the theology of the Resurrection
Paul’s letter does the following things with regard to the Protestant-Catholic divide:
- Contradicts the heresy of sola Scriptura and upholds the authority of oral apostolic preaching and tradition (1:5-7, 17, 19-21; 2:1, 4-5; 3:1-4; 5:1, 9-11; 7:1; 10:4; 11:2, 34; 15:3, 11; 16:5-7)
- Affirms apostolic/Church authority over lay believers (1:1; 3:1-4; 4:14-15, 17-21; 5:2-5; 9:1-18; 11:16; 12:28-31; 16:1, 15-16)
- Contradicts the fallibilism of Protestantism (2:4-5, 10-13)
- Affirms the necessity of the institutional and doctrinal unity of the Church (1:1, 10-13; 4:17; 7:17; 10:17; 11:17-19; 12:12-14, 20, 24-25)
- Contradicts sola fide (3:5-9, 12-15; 6:8-11; 7:19; 9:23-27; 10:5-14; 15:1-2, 58)
- Contradicts certainty of knowledge of others’ or one’s own salvation (4:1-5; 9:23-27; 10:5-14; 15:1-2; 16:13)
- Affirms the necessity of perseverance for salvation/to obtain heaven (1:8-9, 18; 9:23-27; 10:12-13; 15:2, 58; 16:13)
- Affirms Catholics doctrines about the Eucharist (10:1-3, 16-21; 11:20-30)
- Affirms the Catholic practice of excommunication by apostolic authority (5:2-5)
- Affirms the Catholic belief that God uses human beings for salvific purposes (7:12-16)
- Affirms the Catholic discipline of priestly celibacy (7:5, 25-40)
- Affirms Catholic teaching on husband’s headship of the family (11:3; 14:33-37)
- Affirms the absolute Catholic prohibition of divorce (7:10-11, 39)
- Supports the primacy of Peter (9:5; 15:5)
- Supports the authority of apostolic succession (3:10-11; 4:17-21)
- Supports the doctrine of Purgatory and perhaps praying for the dead (3:12-15; 15:28-29)
- Supports the Catholic belief that the saints in heaven are not mere spectators (6:1-3)
- Supports the practice of infant baptism (1:16; 7:14)
- Supports Catholic doctrine on the purpose of baptism (12:13)
- Supports the Catholic practice of indulgences (5:2-5)
I’m not going to comment on every single verse but rather on the ones relevant to the Protestant-Catholic divide or general conservative Christian doctrine. Very often, I will supplement my commentary with that of St. John Chrysostom (347-407). His was the earliest publicly available complete commentary on this letter that I could find. All emphases are mine. All verses are taken from the Revised Standard Version.
1:1 “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sos’thenes….” Paul is an apostle, one who has been sent out by those with authority (namely, Peter and James) to spread the gospel. Click here to learn more about the difference between a disciple and an apostle.
Notice that this letter is also from another person other than Paul. When St. Paul says “we” at times in the letter, he is often referring to himself and other apostles or ministers in the Church, not all believers.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Another instance of his modesty; he puts in the same rank with himself one inferior to Apollos; for great was the interval between Paul and Sosthenes. Now if where the interval was so wide he stations with himself one far beneath him, what can they have to say who despise their equals?”
1:2 “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ….” Notice that St. Paul says there is only one Church; it just happens to be “at…every place.” It is a catholic Church, a universal Church.
Notice also that St. Paul seems to contradict himself: he says the Corinthians are saints (“those sanctified”) and then not yet saints (“called to be saints”).
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “‘Unto the Church of God.’ Not ‘of this or of that man,’ but of God. ‘Which is at Corinth.’ Do you see how at each word he puts down their swelling pride; training their thoughts in every way for heaven? He calls it, too, the Church ‘of God;’ showing that it ought to be united. For if it be ‘of God,’ it is united, and it is one, not in Corinth only, but also in all the world: for the Church’s name (ἐκκλησία: properly an assembly) is not a name of separation, but of unity and concord…. But what is Sanctification? The Laver, the Purification. For he reminds them of their own uncleanness, from which he had freed them; and so persuades them to lowliness of mind; for not by their own good deeds, but by the loving-kindness of God, had they been sanctified…. ‘In every place, both theirs and ours.’ For although the letter be written to the Corinthians only, yet he makes mention of all the faithful that are in all the earth; showing that the Church throughout the world must be one, however separate in various places; and much more, that in Corinth. And though the place separate, the Lord binds them together, being common to all…. so those in different places, if they have not different lords but one only, are not by the places injured in respect of unanimity, the One Lord binding them together. ‘
I say not then, (so he speaks,) that with Corinthians only, you being Corinthians ought to be of one mind, but with all that are in the whole world, inasmuch as you have a common Master.’ This is also why he has a second time added
‘our;’ for since he had said, ‘
the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord,’ lest he should appear to the inconsiderate to be making a distinction, he subjoins again,
‘both our Lord and theirs.'”
1:5-7 ” …that in every way you were enriched in him with all speech and all knowledge — even as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you — so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ….” St. Paul says the Corinthians were given “all knowledge” through the “testimony” they received in person from himself (See Acts 18). Paul had already preached and taught in person to the Corinthians all that they needed to know about the faith before he began writing letters to them. This letter then along with all of his other letters was never meant to be the sole, comprehensive source of true Christian doctrine and was written in response to specific reports that Paul received about the Church at Corinth, as we’ll see.
1:8-9 “…who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful….” God is the source of our strength to persevere “to the end” and of our guiltlessness. But He will not sustain and justify anyone against his or her will. If we choose to reject His sustanance and forgiveness, then we cannot enter heaven. These verses should not be interpretted so as to mean that the Christian is guaranteed with certainty to go to heaven, regardless of his actions. God is faithful, but we damn ourselves when we are not faithful to him.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “But he is also covertly accusing them: for, to say, ‘
He shall confirm,’ and the word ‘
unreprovable’ marks them out as still wavering, and liable to reproof.”
1:10-13 “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chlo’e’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apol’los,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” St. Paul condemns disagreements and divisions within the Church. Rather, Christians must be “united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Doesn’t that imply that there is some way for Christians to be united doctrinally and to know with certainty what doctrines are true? Of course it does. St. Paul wants them to all agree on what he testified to them as being the truth (see commentary on 1:5-7). To say that it is ok for Christians to disagree on doctrines is to say it is ok for Christ to be divided, which is absurdly false.
Lutherans, in accepting that label, say: “I belong to Luther.” Calvinists, in accepting that label, say: “I belong to Calvin.” None belong to Christ.
Notice that Paul implies that some of the Corinthians were taught and baptized by Peter (Cephas). It seems quite logical and possible then that Peter visited Corinth and other churches that Paul established.
Lastly, notice why this letter was written: St. Paul received bad reports about the Corinthian Christians. This letter was not intended to be a comprehensive statement of true Christian doctrines or even one section of such a statement.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “The emphatic force of the word ‘
schism,’ I mean the name itself, was a sufficient accusation. For it was not that they had become many parts, each entire within itself, but rather the One [Body which originally existed] had perished…. But since there is such a thing as agreement in words, and that hearty, not however on all subjects, therefore he added this, ‘That ye may be perfected together.’ For he that is united in one thing, but in another dissents, is no longer ‘perfected,’ nor fitted in to complete accordance. There is also such a thing as harmony of opinions, where there is not yet harmony of sentiment; for instance, when having the same faith we are not joined together in love: for thus, in opinions we are one, (for we think the same things,) but in sentiment not so. And such was the case at that time; this person choosing one [leader], and that, another. For this reason he says it is necessary to agree both in ‘mind’ and in ‘judgment.’ For it was not from any difference in faith that the schisms arose, but from the division of their judgment through human contentiousness…. For if it were not right for them to call themselves by the name of Paul, and of Apollos, and of Cephas, much less of any others. If under the Teacher and the first of the Apostles, and one that had instructed so much people, it were not right to enroll themselves, much less under those who were nothing. By way of hyperbole then, seeking to withdraw them from their disease, he sets down these names. Besides, he makes his argument less severe, not mentioning by name the rude dividers of the Church, but concealing them, as behind a sort of masks, with the names of the Apostles…. Not esteeming himself before Peter has he set his name last, but preferring Peter to himself, and that greatly. He arranged his statement in the way of climax, that he might not be supposed to do this for envy; or, from jealousy, to be detracting from the honor of others…. For Baptism truly is a great thing: but its greatness is not the work of the person baptizing, but of Him who is invoked in the Baptism: since to baptize is nothing as regards man’s labor, but is much less than preaching the Gospel. Yea, again I say, great indeed is Baptism, and without baptism it is impossible to obtain the kingdom. Still a man of no singular excellence is able to baptize, but to preach the Gospel there is need of great labor.”
1:16 “(I did baptize also the household of Steph’anas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any one else.)” Households include all family members who live in the same house; that includes children and infants.
1:17 “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Notice St. Paul does not say “to write the gospel to you in my letters and only in my letters.” The faith of the gospel was preached in person by word of mouth.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “…for the more laborious part, and that which needed much toil and a soul of iron, and that on which all depended, was this. And therefore it was that Paul had it put into his hand. And why, not being sent to baptize, did he baptize? Not in contention with Him that sent him, but in this instance laboring beyond his task. For he says not, ‘I was forbidden,’ but, ‘I was not sent for this, but for that which was of the greatest necessity.’ For preaching the Gospel is a work perhaps for one or two; but baptizing, for everyone endowed with the priesthood. For a man being instructed and convinced, to take and baptize him is what any one whatever might do: for the rest, it is all effected by the will of the person drawing near, and the grace of God. But when unbelievers are to be instructed, there must be great labor, great wisdom. And at that time there was danger also annexed. In the former case the whole thing is done, and he is convinced, who is on the point of initiation: and it is no great thing when a man is convinced, to baptize him. But in the later case the labor is great, to change the deliberate will, to alter the turn of mind, and to tear up error by the roots, and to plant the truth in its place…. It is impossible to be saved without it, yet it is no great thing which the baptizer does, finding the will ready prepared…. But nevertheless all these were confuted and gave way when the fisherman [Peter] spoke; just like the light dust which cannot bear the rush of violent winds…. And let us pause for a while to work out this topic, no unimportant one; and let us say to them, How did the weak overcome the strong; the twelve, the world? Not by using the same armor, but in nakedness contending with men in arms. For say, if twelve men, unskilled in matters of war, were to leap into an immense and armed host of soldiers, themselves not only unarmed but of weak frame also; and to receive no harm from them, nor yet be wounded, though assailed with ten thousand weapons; if while the darts were striking them, with bare naked body they overthrew all their foes using no weapons but striking with the hand, and in conclusion killed some, and others took captive and led away, themselves receiving not so much as a wound; would anyone have ever said that the thing was of man? And yet the trophy of the Apostles is much more wonderful than that. For a naked man’s escaping a wound is not so wonderful by far as that the ordinary and unlettered person— that a fisherman— should overcome such a degree of talent….”
1:18 “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” If correctly translated, the verb is in the present progressive tense, indicating that salvation is a process, not a one-moment event.
1:19-21 “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” Wisdom, cleverness, and debate are not the means by which God wanted us to come to know Him and His truth. Humanity is to listen to apostolic preaching, believe, and act accordingly. Is the Christian to shirk reason then? Of course not. But any “Christian” sect that makes reason the primary determinant of truth is automatically suspect. If you choose your church based on who has the most dazzling biblical exegesis, you’re doing something wrong. The alleged supremacy of the private judgment of the believer is the “wisdom of men,” not of God.
Yes, salvation is for those who believe. But it has to be a belief that is more than mental assent; it has to be heartfelt. The belief has to be active; it has to be reflected in our actions. It has to be a belief that motivates obedience and good works. This is what the rest of Scripture tells us.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He subjoins demonstration from facts, saying, ‘Where is the wise? Where the Scribe?’ at the same time glancing at both Gentiles and Jews. For what sort of philosopher, which among those who have studied logic, which of those knowing in Jewish matters, has saved us and made known the truth? Not one. It was the fisherman’s work, the whole of it…. Since then by this wisdom the world was unwilling to discover God, He employed what seemed to be foolishness, i.e. the Gospel, to persuade men; not by reasoning, but by faith. It remains that where God’s wisdom is, there is no longer need of man’s. For before, to infer that He who made the world such and so great, must in all reason be a God possessed of a certain uncontrollable, unspeakable power; and by these means to apprehend Him—this was the part of human wisdom. But now we need no more reasonings, but faith alone. For to believe in Him that was crucified and buried, and to be fully persuaded that this Person Himself both rose again and sat down on high; this needs not wisdom, nor reasonings, but faith. For the Apostles themselves came in not by wisdom, but by faith, and surpassed the heathen wise men in wisdom and loftiness, and that so much the more, as to raise disputings is less than to receive by faith the things of God. For this transcends all human understanding…. He cast out Plato for example, not by means of another philosopher of more skill, but by an unlearned fisherman.”
2:1 “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom.” Again, St. Paul established the Church at Corinth in person and proclaimed true Christian doctrines and practices in person to the Corinthians. He is referring back to his authoritative, apostolic oral teaching.
2:4-5 “…and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” There is no fallibilism here. The words Paul spoke in person to the Corinthians had all the power and authority of God, even though they were not written down, which is an arbitrary distinction. This authority did not die with Paul either. A faith that rests on the wisdom of men rather than on the Spirit and power of God is a false faith. And the “wisdom of men” includes self-proclaimed exegetical experts, the alleged supremacy of the private judgment of the individual believer.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Do not then urge the fact that signs are not done now, as a proof that they were not done then. For as then they were usefully wrought; so now are they no longer so wrought…. For both they who from the beginning sowed the word were unprofessional and unlearned, and spoke nothing of themselves; but what things they received from God, these they distributed to the world: and we ourselves at this time introduce no inventions of our own; but the things which from them we have received, we speak unto all. And not even now persuade we by argumentation; but from the Divine Scriptures and from the miracles done at that time we produce the proof of what we say. On the other hand, even they at that time persuaded not by signs alone, but also by discoursing. And the signs and the testimonies out of the Old Scriptures, not the cleverness of the things said, made their words appear more powerful…. When then Christ shall come and all the angels with Him, and be manifested as God, and all things made subject unto Him; will not even the Greek believe? It is quite plain that he will also fall down and worship, and confess Him God, though his stubbornness exceed all reckoning. For who, at sight of the heavens opened and Him coming upon the clouds, and all the congregation of the powers above spread around Him, and rivers of fire coming on, and all standing by and trembling, will not fall down before Him, and believe Him God? Tell me, then; shall that adoration and knowledge be accounted unto the Greek for faith? No, on no account. And why not? Because this is not faith. For necessity has done this, and the evidence of the things seen, and it is not of choice, but by the vastness of the spectacle the powers of the mind are dragged along. It follows that by how much the more evident and overpowering the course of events, by so much is the part of faith abridged. For this reason miracles are not done now…. For when we admit things which in no degree and in no way can be made out by reasoning, then it is faith. It is for this that hell is threatened, but is not shown: for if it were shown, the same would again ensue.”
2:10-13 “God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” Who is the “us” and “we” that Paul speaks of? He is referring to himself and the other apostles, not all believers. The apostles alone have the Spirit of God such that they can impart spiritual truths without error to those lay Christians who are disposed by possession of the Spirit to receive those truths. All true Christians possess the Spirit but not all Christians are taught by the Spirit and have authority beyond human wisdom. And again, there is no fallibilism here. Paul claims for himself and the other apostles the authority and mind of God for their teachings. This spiritual authority may not be judged or contradicted by anyone. And this authority that comes from the Spirit resides in the apostles’ successors too, who received the Spirit through the laying on of hands. No Protestant pastor or preacher has the Spirit of Truth, for they didn’t receive the Spirit from the laying on of hands in apostolic succession.
Notice also how Paul quotes the Old Testament (written) and then, in a sense, contradicts it, appealing to his own authority in the Spirit. He is not following sola Scriptura.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Wherefore we needed also that Teacher who knows these things perfectly….”
3:1-4 “But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men? For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ and another, ‘I belong to Apol’los,’ are you not merely men?” These verses indirectly pose a problem for sola Scriptura. Paul explicitly says here that the Corinthians are still “babes in Christ,” “not ready” for teachings as presented to “spiritual men.” One might then assume that this entire letter to the Corinthians actually contains little to no “solid food” doctrines. One might assume that this letter is not a comprehensive statement of all true Christian doctrines. In fact, one might then question why this collection of circumstance-driven letters in the Bible should be assumed to be the sole source of authoritative doctrines.
Notice also that Paul implicitly put himself on a higher level of authority and power than the Corinthian Christians. He is the feeder, the parent; they are the hungry, the children.
Notice also that there is no strife and division among true Christians, among spiritual men.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Why, in the first place, says he, though you had been perfect in spiritual things also, not even so ought you to be elated; for what you preach is not your own, nor such as yourselves have found from your own means. But now even these things you know not as you ought to know them, but you are learners, and the last of all…. For as to their want of ability at first, that perhaps arose from the nature of the case. In fact, however, he does not leave them even this excuse. For not through any inability on their part to receive high doctrines, does he say they received them not, but because they were ‘carnal.’ However, in the beginning this was not so blame-worthy; but that after so long a time, they had not yet arrived at the more perfect knowledge, this was a symptom of most utter dulness…. For it may be that rulers are wicked and polluted, and their subjects good and virtuous; that laymen may live in piety, and priests in wickedness; and there could not have been either baptism, or the body of Christ, or oblation, through such, if in every instance grace required merit. But as it is, God uses to work even by unworthy persons, and in no respect is the grace of baptism damaged by the conduct of the priest: else would the receiver suffer loss. Accordingly, though such things happen rarely, still, it must be owned, they do happen…. For as to the want of ability, it arises from the want of will. Which to them indeed is a matter of accusation, but to their teacher, of excuse. For if they had been unable by nature, one might perhaps have been forgiven them; but since it was from choice, they were bereft of all excuse…. From this place we learn that Christ had good reason for saying, (John 3:20) ‘He that does evil comes not to light;’ and that unclean life is an obstacle to high doctrines, not suffering the clear-sightedness of the understanding to show itself. As then it is not in any case possible for a person in error, but living uprightly, to remain in error; so it is not easy for one brought up in iniquity, speedily to look up to the height of the doctrines delivered to us, but he must be clean from all the passions who is to hunt after the truth: for whoso is freed from these shall be freed also from his error and attain unto the truth. For do not, I beseech you, think that abstinence merely from covetousness or fornication may suffice you for this purpose. Not so. All must concur in him that seeks the truth…. At this point he prepares himself to wrestle with those whose part was obedience: for in what went before he has been casting down the rulers of the Church, where he said that wisdom of speech is nothing worth. But here he strikes at those in subjection.”
3:5-9 “What then is Apol’los? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apol’los watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” Verses like these pose problems for sola fide. What if God’s alleged fellow worker decides not to work? What if he decides that “faith” alone is all that is necessary? Will he receive a wage? The wages of sin, of sloth, are death, not eternal life (Rom 6:23).
Notice also how these verses undermine Protestant objections to priests and saints as active participants in conferring God’s grace (if angels, why not priests and saints?). God and His glory are not diminshed one bit just because He has chosen “fellow workers” and “servants” to plant and water, to be His instruments, according to His assignment. In fact, one might say His glory is all the greater when His servants are perfectly conformed to His will in action rather than He Himself performing each and every good work directly.
Baptism is the seed of faith. Not all that is planted bears fruit and is harvested into heaven.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For having said, ‘Who is Paul, and who Apollos,’ he adds, ‘but ministers by whom you believed.’ Now this in itself is a great thing, and deserving of great rewards: although in regard of the archetype and the root of all good, it is nothing. (For not he that ‘ministers’ to our blessings, but he that provides and gives them, he is our Benefactor.) And he said not, ‘Evangelists,’ but ‘Ministers,’ which is more. For they had not merely preached the Gospel, but had also ministered unto us; the one being a matter of word only, while the other has deed also…. ‘He that plants and he that waters, are one.’ For by means of this he establishes another point also, viz. that they should not be exalted one against another. His assertion, that they are one, refers to their inability to do any thing without ‘God that gives the increase.’ And thus saying, he permitted not either those who labored much to lift themselves up against those who had contributed less; nor these again to envy the former. In the next place, since this had a tendency to make men more indolent, I mean, all being esteemed as one, whether they have labored much or little; observe how he sets this right, saying, ‘But each shall receive his own reward according to his own labor.’ As if he said, Fear not, because I said, You are one; for, compared with the work of God, they are one; howbeit, in regard to labors, they are not so, but ‘each shall receive his own reward.’… Do you see how to them also he has assigned no small work, having before laid it down that the whole is of God? For since he is always persuading them to obey those that have the rule over them, on this account he abstains from making very light of their teachers…. Again, the building is not the workman’s, but the master’s. Now if you be a building, you must not be forced asunder: since this were no building. If you be a farm, you must not be divided, but be walled in with a single fence, namely, unanimity.”
3:10-11 “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” The foundation of truth, of the true Church, is Jesus Christ. But Jesus, the foundation, Himself created pillars which rest on Himself: the apostles (Gal 2:9). And the apostles, the pillars of the Church, in turn laid the foundation of the individual churches around the Mediterranean world. There’s no reason for Protestants to mindlessly say “Christ alone” over and over again as if Jesus Himself did not handpick the Twelve, give them the Holy Spirit for a special purpose, and found the Church upon them. The one, true Church today is built upon the original foundation AND the original pillars, whom the foundation chose.
Notice also that the idea of foundations building upon other foundations, of building up a structure, is exactly the Catholic image of apostolic succession and tradition.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For, ‘according to the Grace of God,’ says he, ‘which was given unto me.’ Thus, at once he signifies both that the whole is of God; and that this most of all is Grace, viz. the not being divided, but resting on One Foundation…. So also God does: when we neglect His wrath, He brings it upon us more heavily; but when we regard it, more gently. Yea, rather, He lays it on us no more at all. He wills that we should exact vengeance of ourselves for our offenses, and thenceforth He does not exact it Himself. For this is why He at all threatens punishment; that by fear He may destroy contempt; and when the threat alone is sufficient to cause fear in us, He does not suffer us to undergo the actual trial.”
3:12-15 “Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” At the Final Judgment, everyone’s works will be judged by Jesus Christ (and the saints); our works will be tested to see if they are good and valuable. The man who has faith but whose works are of inferior quality may be saved, but it will be a salvation unlike that of those with superior works of charity and obedience. We should not presume that we will be saved without works, for faith without works is dead (Jam 2:20), only those adorned with the wedding garment of good works may enter the wedding banquet (Mt 22:10-14), and those who do not produce the fruit of faith, good works, are cast into the fires of hell (Mt 3:8-10, 7:15-20, 13:19-23, 21:43).
So some are saved normally but others “suffer loss” and are saved “only as through fire.” This verse is biblical support for the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. The fires of purgatory cause suffering but also purification and ultimately salvation, unlike the fires of hell.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “The argument is irksome and pains the hearer: were it only by my own feelings, I know this. For indeed my heart is troubled and throbs; and the more I see the account of hell confirmed, the more do I tremble and shrink through fear. But it is necessary to say these things lest we fall into hell…. And God Himself, as ‘He is loving unto men,’ in the same character does He punish sins. (Sirach 16:12) ‘For as His mercy is great, so also is His reproof.’ When therefore you say unto me, ‘God is loving unto men,’ then you tell me of so much the greater reason for punishing: namely, our sinning against such a Being. Hence also Paul said, (Hebrews 10:31) ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’ Endure I beseech you, the fiery force of the words, for perhaps— perhaps you will have some consolation from hence! Who among men can punish as God has punished? When He caused a deluge and entire destruction of a race so numerous; and again, when, a little while after, He rained fire from above, and utterly destroyed them all? What punishment from men can be like that? Do you see not that the punishment even in this world is almost eternal? Four thousand years have passed away, and the punishment of the Sodomites abides at its height. For as His mercy is great, so also is His punishment…. Suppose you are unable to fast or to practice virginity; although you are able if you will, and they who have been able are a condemnation to us. But, however, God has not used this strictness towards us; neither has He enjoined these things nor laid them down as laws, but left the choice to be at the discretion of the hearers. Nevertheless, you are able to be chaste in marriage; and you are able to abstain from drunkenness. Are you unable to empty yourself of all your goods? Nay surely you are able; and they who have done so prove it. But nevertheless He has not enjoined this, but has commanded not to be rapacious, and of our means to assist those who are in want. But if a man say, I cannot even be content with a wife only, he deceives himself and reasons falsely; and they condemn him who without a wife lives in chastity…. What excuse then have we for not observing precepts so easy and light? We cannot name any at all…. Next, the building seems to me to be actions. Although some maintain that this also is spoken concerning teachers and disciples and concerning corrupt heresies: but the reasoning does not admit it. For if this be it, in what sense, while ‘
the work is destroyed,’ is the ‘
builder’ to be ‘
saved,’ though it be ‘
through fire’? Of right, the author ought rather of the two to perish; but now it will be found that the severer penalty is assigned to him who has been built into the work. For if the teacher was the cause of the wickedness, he is worthy to suffer severer punishment: how then shall he be ‘
saved’?…. From this it is plain that the discourse is about actions. For since he means next in course to put out his strength against the man who had committed fornication, he begins high up and long beforehand to lay down the preliminaries…. For after the faith there is need of edification…. But if faith had been the subject of these sayings, the thing affirmed is not reasonable. For in the faith all ought to be equal, since ‘there is but one faith’ (Ephesians 4:5); but in goodness of life it is not possible that all should be the same. Because the faith is not in one case less, in another more excellent, but the same in all those who truly believe. But in life there is room for some to be more diligent, others more slothful; some stricter, and others more ordinary; that some should have done well in greater things, others in less; that the errors of some should have been more grievous, of others less notable…. If any man have an ill life with a right faith, his faith shall not shelter him from punishment, his work being burnt up. The phrase, ‘shall be burned up,’ means, ‘shall not endure the violence of the fire.’ But just as if a man having golden armor on were to pass through a river of fire, he comes from crossing it all the brighter; but if he were to pass through it with hay, so far from profiting, he destroys himself besides; so also is the case in regard of men’s works. For he does not say this as if he were discoursing of material things being burnt up, but with a view of making their fear more intense, and of showing how naked of all defence he is who abides in wickedness. Wherefore he said, ‘He shall suffer loss:’ lo, here is one punishment: ‘but he himself shall be saved, but so as by fire;’ lo, again, here is a second. And his meaning is, He himself shall not perish in the same way as his works, passing into nought, but he shall abide in the fire…. For do not at sound of the word fire imagine that those who are burning pass into annihilation. And though he call such punishment Salvation, be not astonished. For his custom is in things which have an ill sound to use fair expressions, and in good things the contrary.”
4:1-5 “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” How should we regard priests, bishops, and popes? As servants and stewards. That is the history of the Catholic Church with regard to doctrine (I didn’t say with regard to the personal conduct of clergy). That is what Catholic doctrine teaches, not these false, exaggerated mischaracterizations of clergy that Protestants like to fling about, as if they knew the Catholic faith and Church history better than the devout Catholic. The purity of the faith has indeed been stewarded by Catholic clergy, as a matter of historical fact. Protestant intepretations of Scripture just didn’t exist until the 16th century.
And what of the personal conduct of clergy? God will judge it, as St. Paul says. Some priests, bishops, and popes will not enter the kingdom. If some clergy are found to be untrustworthy in their conduct, still, God remains ever faithful to His Bride, the Church, and will not let the gates of death, error, and hell prevail against her. And He hasn’t as a matter of historical fact.
Also, notice that Paul does not claim to be already saved. He says that even though he is not aware of any condemnation that could be brought against him, he still will not say that he is acquitted in the eyes of God! He leaves the final judgment to whom it belongs, the Lord. We should not judge because only God sees the “hidden…purposes of the heart.” In referring to the state of his own soul, Paul implicitly claims that one can even delude oneself, one’s own heart. Protestants would do better to stop telling other people they are going to hell, to stop telling themselves they are going to heaven, and to follow Paul’s example of leaving the final judgment to Jesus.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “What if you have come to great dignity, and hast at any time obtained some office of Church government? Be not high-minded. You have not acquired the glory, but God has put it on you. As if it were another’s, therefore, use it sparingly; neither abusing it nor using it upon unsuitable things, nor puffed up, nor appropriating it unto yourself; but esteem yourself to be poor and inglorious. For never—had you been entrusted with a king’s purple to keep—never would it have become you to abuse the robe and spoil it, but with the more exactness to keep it for the giver…. For though we are ourselves full of ten thousand evils, and bearing the ‘beams’ in our own eyes, we become exact inquisitors of the offenses of our neighbor which are not at all bigger than ‘motes.’ And so this matter at Corinth was falling out. Religious men and dear to God were ridiculed and cast out for their want of learning; while others, brimful of evils innumerable, were classed highly because of their fluent speech…. For since he had said, ‘Moreover, it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful,’ and it seemed as if he were giving them an opening to judge and pry into each man’s life, and this was aggravating the party feeling; lest such should be the effect on them, he draws them away from that kind of petty disputation, saying, ‘With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you;’ again in his own person carrying on the discourse…. And how could it be, if he knew nothing against himself that he was not justified? Because it was possible for him to have committed certain sins, not however, knowing that they were sins. From this make your estimate how great shall be the strictness of the future judgment. It is not, you see, as considering himself unblameable that he says it is so unmeet for him to be judged by them, but to stop the mouths of those who were doing so unreasonably. At least in another place, even though men’s sins be notorious, he permits not judgment unto others, because the occasion required it. ‘For why do you judge your brother,’ says he, (Romans 14:10) or, ‘thou, why do you set at nought your brother?’ For thou were not enjoined, O man, to judge others, but to test your own doings. Why then do you seize upon the office of the Lord? Judgment is His, not yours…. Is it not right that our teachers should do this? It is right in the case of open and confessed sins, and that with fitting opportunity, and even then with pain and inward vexation: not as these were acting at that time, of vain-glory and arrogance. For neither in this instance is he speaking of those sins which all own to be such, but about preferring one before another, and making comparisons of modes of life. For these things He alone knows how to judge with accuracy, who is to judge our secret doings, which of these be worthy of greater and which of less punishment and honor. But we do all this according to what meets our eye. ‘For if in my own errors,’ says he, ‘I know nothing clearly, how can I be worthy to pass sentence on other men? And how shall I who know not my own case with accuracy, be able to judge the state of others?’ Now if Paul felt this, much more we. For (to proceed) he spoke these things, not to exhibit himself as faultless, but to show that even should there be among them some such person, free from transgression, not even he would be worthy to judge the lives of others: and that if he, though conscious to himself of nothing declare himself guilty, much more they who have ten thousand sins to be conscious of in themselves…. For not so much does he bewail the sin, as him that committed it and did not as yet repent…. For he who after sinning has practised repentance, is a worthy object not of grief but of gratulations, having passed over into the choir of the righteous. For, (Isaiah 43:26) ‘declare thou your iniquities first, that you may be justified:’ but if after sinning one is void of shame, he is not so much to be pitied for falling as for lying where he is fallen…. On two accounts you see, or rather on three, correct judgement belongs not to us. One, because, though we be conscious to ourselves of nothing, still we need one to reprove our sins with strictness. Another, because the most part of the things which are done escape us and are concealed. And for a third besides these, because many things which are done by others seem to us indeed fair, but they come not of a right mind. Why do you say then, that no sin has been committed by this or that person? That such an one is better than such another? Seeing that this we are not to pronounce, not even concerning him who knows nothing against himself. For He who discerns secrets, He it is who with certainty judges…. But unto those who are seized by it and broken down, if they will consent to put themselves into the hands of the Word of healing, I promise large hope of salvation, by the Grace of God. For if they will consider those who have suffered and fallen into that distemper and have recovered, they will have good hopes respecting the removal of the disease. It is necessary then, before all other things, to be right in this, that we never despond, nor despair of our salvation. Next, we must look not only upon the examples of those who have done well, but also upon the sufferings of those who have persisted in sin. For as we have considered Zacchæus, and Matthew, even so ought we also to take account of Judas, and Gehazi, and Ahar, [perhaps Achan, Josh. vii.] and Ahab, and Ananias, and Sapphira, in order that by the one, we may cast out all despair, and by the other cut off all indolence; and that the soul become not reckless of the remedies suggested. And let us teach them of themselves to say what the Jews said on that day, approaching unto Peter, (Acts 2:37, cf. 16:30) ‘What must we do to be saved?'”
4:6-7 “I have applied all this to myself and Apol’los for your benefit, brethren, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” Verse 6 is a favorite one of Protestants that they like to take out of context. This verse is often thrown at Catholics as if it were biblical proof of the doctrine of sola Scriptura. But Paul is not talking about doctrinal epistemology here, about how we can know for sure what is true doctrine. He is talking about the danger of pride against our salvation, of thinking that one is already saved and/or saved by one’s own efforts alone. Paul demonstrates humility to the Corinthians in verses 3-5, in which he applies his own teachings about judgment and salvation to himself (“I have applied all this to myself”).
What does Paul mean by “what is written”? As with all New Testament references to what is “written,” he almost certainly is referring to the Old Testament. THAT is what was written at the time of Paul. Paul was not saying that the Corinthians should only adhere to the teachings that he wrote down for them (If that were so, we do not possess those prior writings of his today, and I mean prior to this first letter itself.) rather than the teachings he gave them in person. The Bible, as compiled today, did not exist at the time of St. Paul, so he is not referring to the Bible. Paul did not put any greater authority in apostolic preaching that was written rather than oral (2 Thes 2:15).
It should be noted that the words “to go” are not in the Greek text. They have been added to give some semblance of coherence to this difficult verse. Let’s keep in mind we’re dealing with an ancient language on ancient materials, folks. Let’s not pretend every verse is crystal clear. Another translation reads, “
not to be wise above what is written.”
Taking all of Scripture and even just this whole letter into account, the most coherent interpretation is that Paul is merely warning the Corinthians not to engage in the false wisdom of vain speculation but rather to adhere to the Old Testament and apostolic authority.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “But what is the meaning of, ‘not to be wise above what is written?’ It is written, (Matthew 7:3) ‘Why do you behold the mote that is in your brothers’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in your own eye?’ and ‘Judge not, that you be not judged.” For if we are one and are mutually bound together, it behooves us not to rise up against one another. For ‘he that humbles himself shall be exalted,” says he. And (Matthew 20:26-27; Mark 10:43; not verbatim) ‘He that will be first of all, let him be the servant of all.’ These are the things which ‘are written.’… For not that we might array ourselves one against another were teachers given us, but that we might all be mutually united. For so the general to this end is set over the host, that of those who are separate he may make one body. But if he is to break up the army, he stands in the place of an enemy rather than of a general.”
4:14-15 “I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Notice again that Paul recognizes his own higher authority over the lay Christians at Corinth and implicitly even over the “countless guides” that Paul gave them. Paul considers himself to be a “father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” to the Corinthians. This is why Catholics refer to their priests, bishops, and popes as fathers.
4:16 “I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” Why do Catholics bother with remembering and honoring saints? Because the Church holds forth the lives of the saints so that the faithful will imitate their holy lives just as St. Paul urges the Corinthians to imitate him.
4:17-21 “Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” Notice first that Paul teaches “my ways in Christ…everywhere in every church.” Paul taught the same doctrines in every church. The doctrines of the Church must be the same “everywhere in every church.”
Timothy was an apostle too because he was sent by Apostle Paul and thus he, in relation to the Corinthians, possessed the same authority as Paul. One might say that Paul says that he is in fact coming to the Corinthians in the person of Timothy, and thus the Corinthians should not be arrogant with Timothy just because Timothy is not Paul. If some are arrogant with Timothy and do not obey him as they would Paul, Paul will visit the Corinthians “with a rod” to discipline the arrogant, who are like wicked children in need of corporal punishment.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Consider here also, I entreat, the noble soul, the soul more glowing and keener than fire: how he was indeed especially desirous to be present himself with the Corinthians, thus distempered and broken into parties. For he knew well what a help to the disciples his presence was and what a mischief his absence…. He was urgent, it seems, and desirous to be present himself. But as this was not possible for a time, he corrects them by the promise of his appearance; and not this only, but also by the sending of his disciple…. Wherefore neither was he contented with saying, ‘He shall put you in remembrance;’ but purposing to cut out their envy more completely—for Timothy was young—with this view, I say, he adds, ‘my ways;’ not ‘his,’ but ‘mine;’ that is, his methods, his dangers, his customs, his laws, his ordinances, his Apostolical Canons, and all the rest…. and also of the laws of Christ; for destroying all heresies. Then, carrying his argument higher, he adds, ‘which be in Christ;’ ascribing all, as was his wont, unto the Lord, and on that ground establishing the credibility of what is to follow. Wherefore he subjoins, ‘Even as I teach every where in every church.’ ‘Nothing new have I spoken unto you: of these my proceedings all the other Churches are cognizant as well as you.’ Further: he calls them ‘ways in Christ,’ to show that they have in them nothing human, and that with the aid from that source he does all things well…. For to say, ‘
I will know,’ was the language of one as yet withholding himself: but to say,
‘What will you? Must I come unto you with a rod?’ are the words of one thenceforth ascending the teacher’s seat, and from thence holding discourses with them and taking upon him all his authority. What means, ‘with a rod?’ With punishment, with vengeance: that is, I will destroy; I will strike with blindness: the kind of thing which Peter did in the case of Sapphira, and himself in the case of Elymas the sorcerer. For henceforth he no longer speaks as bringing himself into a close comparison with the other teachers, but with authority. And in the second Epistle too he appears to say the same, when he writes, ‘Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me.’… Consider then the wisdom of Paul; holding the authority in his own hands, he leaves both his and that in the power of others, saying, ‘What will you?’ ‘The matter is at your disposal.’ For we too have depending on us both sides of the alternative; both falling into hell, and obtaining the kingdom: since God has so willed it. For, ‘behold,’ says he, ‘fire and water: whichever way you will, you may stretch forth your hand’ (Sirach 15:16) And, ‘If you be willing, and will hearken unto me, you shall eat the good of the land; (Isaiah 1:19), but if you be not willing, the sword shall devour you.’ But perhaps one will say, ‘I am willing; (and no one is so void of understanding as not to be willing;) but to will is not sufficient for me.’ Nay, but it is sufficient, if you be duly willing, and do the deeds of one that is willing. But as it is, you are not greatly willing…. Is it not then strange for men to show themselves so much in earnest about earthly things, but that when they are to make a venture for heaven, they should be content with wishing only? Rather I should say, not even in this do they show themselves properly in earnest. For he that wills a thing as he ought, puts also his hand unto the means which lead to the object of his desire.”
5:1 “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife.” Paul is almost certainly referring to incest committed by a Christian, a son having sexual relations with his mother or stepmother or father’s second wife. Again, such grave immorality was probably reported through “Chloe’s people” (1:11) and probably prompted Paul to write this letter. See how Paul is addressing a specific case or circumstance in the Church at Corinth, not laying out a comprehensive body of doctrine, in his letter.
5:2-5 “Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” These verses are biblical proof for the Catholic practice of excommunication of sinners by bishops and popes, the (public) removal of someone from the Church community. Notice that Paul exercises an extraordinary degree of authority here: from a distance, he pronounces judgment and condemnation in the name of God upon this incestuous man. And yet, even while Paul condemns this man, he hints that there is still hope for this man to be saved. So Paul is not here usurping the Final Judgment that belongs to Christ alone. The eternal fate of this man is still uncertain even to Paul.
Paul is exercising his apostolic authority to “bind and loose” (Mt 18:18). Moreover, notice that he says that there must be temporal punishment for this man, i.e. “the destruction of the flesh.” Thus these verses are also indirect biblical proof for the Catholic doctrine of indulgences, which set aside the temporal punishments for sin, namely penances/satisfaction.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Mark his energy. He suffers them not even to wait for his presence, nor to receive him first and then pass the sentence of binding: but as if on the point of expelling some contagion before that it have spread itself into the rest of the body, he hastens to restrain it. And therefore he subjoins the clause, ‘I have judged already, as though I were present.’ These things moreover he said, not only to urge them unto the declaration of their sentence and to give them no opportunity of contriving something else, but also to frighten them, as one who knew what was to be done and determined there…. Then lest he should be thought too authoritative and his speech sound rather self-willed, mark how he makes them also partners in the sentence. For having said, ‘I have judged,’ he adds, concerning him that has so wrought this thing, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, you being gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan. Now what means, ‘In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ?’ ‘According to God;’ ‘not possessed with any human prejudice.’… ‘And my spirit.’ Again he sets himself at their head in order that when they should pass sentence, they might no otherwise cut off the offender than as if he were present; and that no one might dare to judge him pardonable, knowing that Paul would be aware of the proceedings. Then making it yet more awful, he says, ‘with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ;’ that is, either that Christ is able to give you such grace as that you should have power to deliver him to the devil; or that He is Himself together with you passing that sentence against him. And he said not, ‘Give up’ such an one to Satan, but ‘deliver;’ opening unto him the doors of repentance, and delivering up such an one as it were to a schoolmaster…. ‘For the destruction of the flesh.’ As was done in the case of the blessed Job, but not upon the same ground. For in that case it was for brighter crowns, but here for loosing of sins; that he might scourge him with a grievous sore or some other disease.”
5:6-8 “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Even a little evil and impurity will infect the whole church. Paul emphasizes the importance of maintaining inner purity within each church community. Sin is a very serious issue that concerns the entire church community.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “In these words he indicates moreover that their struggle and their danger is for the whole Church, not for any one person. For which purpose he needs also the similitude of the leaven. For ‘as that,’ says he, ‘though it be but little, transforms unto its own nature the whole lump; so also this man, if he be let go unpunished and this sin turn out unavenged, will corrupt likewise all the rest.’… The believer must be freed from all iniquity. For as among them he perishes with whomsoever is found old leaven, so also with us wheresoever is found iniquity: since of course the punishment being so great in that which is a shadow, in our case it cannot choose but be much greater. For if they so carefully clear their houses of leaven , and pry into mouse-holes; much more ought we to search through the soul so as to cast out every unclean thought…. In the former Epistle he gives the fornicator no hope of return, but orders that his whole life should be spent in repentance, lest he should make him less energetic through the promise. For he said not, ‘Deliver him up to Satan,’ that having repented he might be commended again unto the Church. But what says he? ‘That he may be saved in the last day.’ For he conducts him on unto that time in order to make him full of anxiety. And what favors he intended him after the repentance, he reveals not, imitating his own Master. For as God says, (Jonah 3:4. Septuagint: rec. text, ‘forty days.’) ‘Yet three days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown,’ and added not, ‘but if she repent she shall be saved:’ so also he did not say here, ‘But if he repent worthily, we will “confirm our love towards him.”‘ (2 Corinthians 2:8). But he waits for him to do the work that so he may then receive the favor. For if he had said this at the beginning he might have set him free from the fear. Wherefore he not only does not so, but by the instance of leaven allows him not even a hope of return…. But as soon as he had repented, he brought him in again with all earnestness.”
5:9-13 “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber — not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Drive out the wicked person from among you.'” The first curiosity that I notice is that Paul says he wrote another letter before this one that we do not possess today! Strictly speaking, the letter I’m analyzing now was not the very first letter Paul sent to the Corinthians. How many other letters by Paul or the other apostles have been lost to the ravages of time and random circumstance? What teachings and doctrines did those letters contain? What does this fact from Scripture say about sola Scriptura? How can the Bible be the sole source of Christian truth when there are other apostolic letters that never survived or were not preserved long enough to be included in the Bible?
Again, notice that the presence of grave sinners in the Church is a serious issue. Such “Christians” are not to be associated with, according to St. Paul. They are to be judged and driven out (assuming they are unrepentant, I would guess).
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “‘Put away from among yourselves the wicked person.’ He used an expression found in the Old Testament, (Deuteronomy 17:7) partly hinting that they too will be very great gainers, in being freed as it were from some grievous plague; and partly to show that this kind of thing is no innovation, but even from the beginning it seemed good to the legislator that such as these should be cut off. But in that instance it was done with more severity, in this with more gentleness. On which account one might reasonably question, why in that case he conceded that the sinner should be severely punished and stoned, but in the present instance not so; rather he leads him to repentance. Why then were the lines drawn in the former instance one way and in the latter another? For these two causes: one, because these were led into a greater trial and needed greater long-suffering; the other and truer one, because these by their impunity were more easily to be corrected, coming as they might to repentance; but the others were likely to go on to greater wickedness. For if when they saw the first undergoing punishment they persisted in the same things, had none at all been punished, much more would this have been their feeling. For which reason in that dispensation death is immediately inflicted upon the adulterer and the manslayer; but in this, if through repentance they are absolved, they have escaped the punishment. However, both here one may see some instances of heavier punishment, and in the Old Testament some less severe, in order that it may be signified in every way that the covenants are akin to each other, and of one and the same lawgiver: and you may see the punishment following immediately both in that covenant and in this, and in both often after a long interval. Nay, and oftentimes not even after a long interval, repentance alone being taken as satisfaction by the Almighty. Thus in the Old Testament, David, who had committed adultery and murder, was saved by means of repentance; and in the New, Ananias, who withdrew but a small portion of the price of the land, perished together with his wife. Now if these instances are more frequent in the Old Testament, and those of the contrary kind in the New, the difference of the persons produces the difference in the treatment adopted in such matters.”
6:1-6 “When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life! If then you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who are least esteemed by the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no man among you wise enough to decide between members of the brotherhood, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?” Notice that Paul makes a distinction between Christians and non-Christians and places importance in it for settling disputes. During those times, the state was controlled by heathens, pagans, Gentiles. In modern times, we may now be approaching full circle when major Western governments again will be in the hands of neo-pagans, secularists, leftists, statolatrists. It matters to Paul whether the law and courts are guided Christian laws or not.
Notice also that the saints in heaven will not be passive observers at the end of the world. The saints will participate in Christ’s own judgment, even over (fallen) angels. Why then should we believe that the saints are passive observers now, that they can’t hear our prayers and present them to God with whom they are one?
Lastly, notice that Paul is encouraging Christians in local self-government. This sort of practices laid the foundation for republican government in the West. Holy ones can govern themselves.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Do you observe with what effect he disparaged the judges at first by calling them unrighteous; whereas here, to move shame, he calls them Unbelievers? For surely it is extremely disgraceful if the priest could not be the author of reconciliation even among brethren, but recourse must be had to those without…. The charge is twofold; both that he ‘goes to law,’ and ‘before the unbelievers.’ For if even the thing by itself, To go to law with a brother, be a fault, to do it also before aliens, what pardon does it admit of?”
6:8-11 “But you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that even your own brethren. Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Remember, Paul is telling this to the Christians at Corinth; he is threatening them, warning them, using fear. Why would he do this if they were already saved? He is threatening them with the loss of their salvation, of heaven. Unrepentant sinners will not enter heaven. It doesn’t matter how much “faith” they have. God will not be mocked by such people. God will not save such “Christians” from their sins. The Corinthians were falling back into their former selves, their former enslavement to sin. Just because they were baptized (“washed”), forgiven (“justified”), and made holy in God’s sight (“sanctified”), that doesn’t mean that they were guaranteed salvation, as St. Paul tells them. Such justification and sanctification through baptism only forgave their previous sins, the sins they committed prior to being baptized. Baptism does not forgive future sins.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Having thus, you see, abashed them from arguments on general principles, and before that, from the rewards proposed ; he shuts up the exhortation with a threat, making his speech more peremptory…. ‘Be not deceived.’ Here he glances at certain who maintain (what indeed most men assert now) that God being good and kind to man, takes not vengeance upon our misdeeds: ‘Let us not then be afraid.’ For never will he exact justice of any one for any thing. And it is on account of these that he says, ‘Be not deceived.’ For it belongs to the extreme of error and delusion, after depending on good to meet with the contrary; and to surmise such things about God as even in man no one would think of. Wherefore says the Prophet in His person, (Psalm 49:21) ‘You have conceived iniquity, that I shall be like you: I will reprove you and set before your face your iniquities.’ And Paul here…. In the next place, it is not of punishment that he is so far discoursing, but of exclusion from the kingdom.”
7:1 “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote.” Again, this verse shows that Paul wrote this letter also for the purpose of responding to a letter sent from the Corinthians to him. These letters arose out of circumstance, not as intentional summations of all true Christian doctrines.
7:1-9 “It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does. Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control. I say this by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” The letter the Corinthians sent to Paul apparently contained questions regarding sex and marriage. So Paul addresses the topics. Notice that he gives higher dignity to virginity and abstinence over marriage and sexual intercourse. All the instructions he gives for relations between husbands and wives are a matter of concession, not command. Paul is not commanding every man to take a wife; he is merely conceding that the temptation to sexual relations is very strong, and thus those who cannot resist that temptation should definitely seek out marriage. But his wish is for everyone to be a virgin to the extent that they are gifted with the strength to persevere in virginity and to the extent that God has called them to it.
It is interesting to note the equality between husband and wife with regard to conjugal rights and the rule over the body of each.
Notice also that sex and prayer do not mix well. That is why Paul suggests couples abstain from intercourse for the purpose of prayerful devotion. This is also why Catholic priests, who offer prayers on behalf of the faithful during the Mass, are celibate.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For they had written to him, ‘Whether it was right to abstain from one’s wife, or not:’ and writing back in answer to this and giving rules about marriage, he introduces also the discourse concerning virginity: ‘It is good for a man not to touch a woman.’ ‘For if,’ says he, ‘thou enquire what is the excellent and greatly superior course, it is better not to have any connection whatever with a woman: but if you ask what is safe and helpful to your own infirmity, be connected by marriage.’ But since it was likely, as also happens now, that the husband might be willing but the wife not, or perhaps the reverse, mark how he discusses each case. Some indeed say that this discourse was addressed by him to priests. But I, judging from what follows, could not affirm that it was so: since he would not have given his advice in general terms. For if he were writing these things only for the priests, he would have said, ‘It is good for the teacher not to touch a woman.’ But now he has made it of universal application, saying, ‘It is good for a man;’ not for priest only. And again, ‘Are you loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife.’ He said not, ‘You who are a priest and teacher,’ but indefinitely. And the whole of his speech goes on entirely in the same tones. And in saying, ‘Because of fornications, let every man have his own wife’ by the very cause alleged for the concession he guides men to continence. Now what is the meaning of ‘the due honor? The wife has not power over her own body;’ but is both the slave and the mistress of the husband. And if you decline the service which is due, you have offended God. But if you wish to withdraw yourself, it must be with the husband’s permission, though it be but a for short time. For this is why he calls the matter a debt, to show that no one is master of himself but that they are servants to each other. When therefore you see an harlot tempting you, say, ‘My body is not mine, but my wife’s.’ The same also let the woman say to those who would undermine her chastity, ‘My body is not mine, but my husband’s.’… Elsewhere I grant He gives to the husband abundant precedence, both in the New Testament, and the Old saying…. But in this place we hear no more of greater and less, but it is one and the same right. Now why is this? Because his speech was about chastity. ‘In all other things,’ says he, ‘let the husband have the prerogative; but not so where the question is about chastity.’ ‘The husband has no power over his own body, neither the wife.’ There is great equality of honor, and no prerogative…. It is prayer with unusual earnestness which he here means. For if he is forbidding those who have intercourse with one another to pray, how could ‘pray without ceasing’ have any place? It is possible then to live with a wife and yet give heed unto prayer. But by continence prayer is made more perfect. For he did not say merely, ‘That ye may pray;’ but, ‘That ye may give yourselves unto it;’ as though what he speaks of might cause not uncleanness but much occupation…. Do you see the strong sense of Paul how he both signifies that continence is better, and yet puts no force on the person who cannot attain to it; fearing lest some offense arise? ‘For it is better to marry than to burn.’ He indicates how great is the tyranny of concupiscence. What he means is something like this: ‘If you have to endure much violence and burning desire, withdraw yourself from your pains and toils, lest haply you be subverted.'”
7:10-11 “To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) — and that the husband should not divorce his wife.” Paul reaffirms the absolute prohibition of divorce by Our Lord Jesus. The prohibition of divorce is a command from the Lord, not merely a strong wish or encouragement by Paul. If the husband and wife must separate for some legitimate reason, both may either be reconciled and reunited or else remain single until death. There is no remarriage for any reason while one’s spouse lives (except for Pauline and Petrine privileges). Learn more about the Catholic prohibition of divorce here.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Here, seeing that both on the score of continence and other pretexts, and because of infirmities of temper, it fell out that separations took place: it were better, he says, that such things should not be at all; but however if they take place, let the wife remain with her husband, if not to cohabit with him, yet so as not to introduce any other to be her husband.”
7:12-16 “To the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace. Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?“ The importance of this passage lies not so much in its implications for marriage today but in its implications for salvation theology. Paul’s words support the notion of infant baptism because he implicitly states that children are made holy through the intentions of the parents. He also uses language that any Protestant would find grating to the ear: “Why is Paul saying that spouses can save each other?! Salvation through Christ alone, Paul!” But the truth is that we can be instruments of God’s salvation for others in a variety of ways. And so too can Mary, the Mother of God, and the saints, who are one with God and share in His power, be instruments of God’s salvation.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “This again refers to that expression, ‘let her not leave him.’ That is, ‘if he makes no disturbance, remain,’ says he, ‘for there is even profit in this; remain and advise and give counsel and persuade.’ For no teacher will have such power to prevail as a wife. And neither, on one hand, does he lay any necessity upon her and absolutely demand the point of her, that he may not again do what would be too painful; nor, on the other, does he tell her to despair: but he leaves the matter in suspense through the uncertainty of the future….”
7:17 “Only, let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.” Again, Paul recognizes that God calls different people to different vocations, assigns different people to lead different lives. Notice also that the rules Paul gives are authoritative and binding on all the churches. Individual believers were not allowed to use their own “reason” with the Old Testament or apostolic writings and draw their own different conclusions.
7:19 “For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.” Keeping the commandments of God counts for something, according to St. Paul. Obedience is not merely superfluous to faith; it IS faith.
7:20-24 “Every one should remain in the state in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Never mind. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. So, brethren, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God.” Slavery in ancient times was much different than the modern American conception of slavery as blacks on a plantation. It is important to remember this fact, and Paul’s words demonstrate this fact. Slavery was not hereditary or based on race. More often than not, it was based on the spoils of war or on debt. There were opportunities to gain one’s freedom. Oftentimes slaves were actually seen by their masters as a burden to care for, and some slaves liked living off their masters. Learn more about slavery in the Bible here.
In our modern egalitarian society which prizes individual autonomy and liberty, it is hard for people to understand that the master-servant relationship is not inherently immoral at all. Some circumstances that lead to or that surround the relationship may indeed be inherently immoral but not the relationship in itself. The relationship still survives somewhat today within the context of the family and government, though even there it has been weakening due to libertarian and anarchic cultural strains.
The key thing to keep in mind that the apostles were more concerned about spiritual slavery than material slavery. Paul encourages the Corinthians to gain their freedom if they are able to, so that they may become slaves of Christ rather than of men. Paul’s mission was to save souls, not reform the Roman law code, which would have been impossible for him or Christians to do at that time.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “…in the things that relate to Christ, both are equal: and like as you are the slave of Christ, so also is your master. How then is the slave a free man? Because He has freed you not only from sin, but also from outward slavery while continuing a slave. For he suffers not the slave to be a slave, not even though he be a man abiding in slavery: and this is the great wonder. But how is the slave a free man while continuing a slave? When he is freed from passions and the diseases of the mind: when he looks down upon riches and wrath and all other the like passions…. In fact, there are limits set to slaves by God Himself; and up to what point one ought to keep them, has also been determined, and to transgress them is wrong. Namely, when your master commands nothing which is unpleasing to God, it is right to follow and to obey; but no farther. For thus the slave becomes free. But if you go further, even though you are free you have become a slave. At least he intimates this, saying, ‘Be not ye the servants of men.'”
7:25-40 “Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. If any one thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry — it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better. A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is.” Here St. Paul explains at great length and with great clarity the dangers inherent in marriage and the higher dignity of virginity/celibacy. It is this higher dignity and discipline that the Catholic Church requires of her priests, not as a matter of fundamental moral imperative but as an ecclesiastical imperative and a highly desirable state of affairs, considering what the ministry of the priesthood entails. Learn more about the Catholic discipline of clerical celibacy here.
It is important to keep in mind that Paul has in mind the “the present distress” in Corinth or in the world and that he also believes that the “world is passing away” and that Christ’s second coming is very near. Most importantly though, he believes Christians should strive to act as if the kingdom were already come to earth, and there is no sex and marriage in the kingdom of heaven, only “undivided devotion to the Lord.” And he has already acknowledged that God ultimately calls people to their vocation, even to marriage, though it is of somewhat lesser dignity.
Again, there is a prohibition of divorce in this passage: “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives.”
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For after that he had exercised and trained them, in his words concerning continence, he goes forth towards what is greater, saying, ‘
I have no commandment, but I esteem it to be good.’ For what reason? For the self-same reason as he had mentioned respecting continence…. These words carry no contradiction to what had been said before but rather the most entire agreement with them. For he says in that place also, ‘Except it be by consent:’ as here he says, ‘Are you bound unto a wife? Seek not separation.’ This is no contradiction. For its being against consent makes a dissolution: but if with consent both live continently, it is no dissolution…. ‘But if thou marry, you have not sinned.’ He is not speaking about her who has made choice of virginity, for if it comes to that, she has sinned. Since if the widows are condemned for having to do with second marriages after they have once chosen widowhood, much more the virgins…. And yet even although marriage had no troubles, even so we ought to press on towards things to come. But when it has affliction too, what need to draw on one’s self an additional burden. What occasion to take up such a load, when even after taking it you must use it as having it not? For ‘those even that have wives must be,’ he says, ‘as though they had none.’… And laying down the definition of a virgin and her that is not a virgin, he names, not marriage nor continence but leisure from engagements and multiplicity of engagements. For the evil is not in the cohabitation, but in the impediment to the strictness of life.
For a more personal reflection on what 1 Cor 7 means for a person who is single and discerning a vocation, click here.
8:4-13 “Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’ — yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through being hitherto accustomed to idols, eat food as really offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if any one sees you, a man of knowledge, at table in an idol’s temple, might he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak man is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother’s falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall.” Nowadays no one offers food/meat to idols. But the principle behind these verses is still relevant today: we should abstain from any mundane activity that could lead someone of weak mind and conscience astray. For example, one should not read, listen to, or watch obscenity in the presence of those who are weak of conscience.
I think these verses also have some implications for various things like Halloween and yoga, which have pagan roots but can be participated in with a clear conscience, in my opinion.
9:1-3 “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who would examine me.” The first part of chapter 9 seems to be Paul defending his own authority and credibility before the Corinthians and the privileges his apostleship entails. I would guess that some Corinthians questioned or denied his authority. Some things never change; there are always those who will question and deny apostolic authority, to their own detriment.
9:4-18 “Do we not have the right to our food and drink? Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law say the same? For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.’ Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop. If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? If others share this rightful claim upon you, do not we still more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have any one deprive me of my ground for boasting. For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel.” Paul continues, talking about the rights that apostles have to the material support of lay Christians, especially in the form of food and drink. He apparently did not take advantage of the rights he had as an apostle to the support of the Corinthians so as to preclude any obstacles to the gospel that might arise from it. Paul implies that Peter and the other apostles did not work for a living but rather were supported by the Church, perhaps by ecclesiastical command, if Paul is drawing a contrast. Paul says that he neither demanded material support nor worked for a living.
Notice that Paul metions Peter by name, distinguishing him from the other apostles and ministers of the Lord. This is evidence of Peter’s primacy of authority in the universal Church.
Lastly, the issue of some of the apostles being accompanied by their wives or other women during their ministry must be addressed. This accompaniment doesn’t at all challenge the Catholic view of clerical celibacy. We know from Tertullian and Pope Clement of Alexandria that some of the apostles had wives follow them and minister to them as sisters, not as sex partners. Learn more by clicking here.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “‘Have we no right to lead about a wife that is a believer, even as the rest of the Apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?’ Observe his skilfulness. The leader of the choir stands last in his arrangement: since that is the time for laying down the strongest of all one’s topics. Nor was it so wonderful for one to be able to point out examples of this conduct in the rest, as in the foremost champion and in him who was entrusted with the keys of heaven. But neither does he mention Peter alone, but all of them: as if he had said, Whether you seek the inferior sort or the more eminent, in all you find patterns of this sort.
9:19-22 “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law — though not being myself under the law — that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law — not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ — that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” Paul is sounding like a politician here, haha, but really he is just demonstrating his prudence in spreading the gospel. People will follow a leader whom they can relate to, who can empathize, if not sympathize, with them.
It should also be noticed that Paul does not declare himself to be lawless. He is no longer under the ritual obligations of the Old Law, but he is certainly under the law of Christ which includes much of the Old Law. The Law was not abolished but fulfilled and perfected in Christ; the Law is still in effect but under the revisions of Christ.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Then, lest any should think that the matter was a change of mind, he added, ‘not being without law to God, but under law to Christ;’ i.e., ‘so far from being without law, I am not simply under the Law, but I have that law which is much more exalted than the older one, viz. that of the Spirit and of grace.'”
9:23-27 “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” First, notice that St. Paul is not absolutely certain about his own eternal fate at this point in his life, which is early on in his ministry before he is imprisoned in Rome. He believes it to be possible the he himself could be “disqualified” from heaven/eternal life.
And then notice that Paul commands Christians to “run” or else they too may not “obtain” heaven and eternal life.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Now this he says, not as though here also one only out of many would be saved; far from it; but to set forth the exceeding diligence which it is our duty to use. For as there, though many descend into the course not many are crowned, but this befalls one only; and it is not enough to descend into the contest, nor to anoint one’s self and wrestle: so likewise here it is not sufficient to believe, and to contend in any way; but unless we have so run as unto the end to show ourselves unblameable, and to come near the prize, it will profit us nothing. For even though thou consider yourself to be perfect according to knowledge, you have not yet attained the whole; which hinting at, he said, ‘so run, that you may obtain.’ They had not then yet, as it seems, attained…. ‘Lest by any means, having preached to others, I myself should be a rejected.’ Now if Paul feared this who had taught so many, and feared it after his preaching and becoming an angel and undertaking the leadership of the whole world; what can we say? For, ‘think not,’ says he, ‘because you have believed, that this is sufficient for your salvation: since if to me neither preaching nor teaching nor bringing over innumerable persons, is enough for salvation unless I exhibit my own conduct also unblameable, much less to you.'”
10:1-4 “I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” Paul shows how the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist were prefigured in the Old Testament.
A rock following the Israelites cannot be found in the Old Testament; it is an unbiblical tradition that Paul appeals to. The Torah speaks only about a rock from which water issued, but rabbinic tradition amplified this into a spring that followed the Israelites throughout their migration. Paul did not subscribe to sola Scriptura. For more instances of the New Testament quoting traditions that cannot be found in the Old Testament, click here.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “And wherefore says he these things? To point out that as they were nothing profited by the enjoyment of so great a gift, so neither these by obtaining Baptism and partaking of spiritual Mysteries, except they go on and show forth a life worthy of this grace. Wherefore also he introduces the types both of Baptism and of the Mysteries…. Further: this was a symbol of the Font, and that which follows, of the Holy Table. For as you eat the Lord’s Body, so they the manna: and as you drink the Blood, so they water from a rock. For though they were things of sense which were produced, yet were they spiritually exhibited, not according to the order of nature, but according to the gracious intention of the gift, and together with the body nourished also the soul, leading it unto faith…. ‘For He who set those things before them,’ says he, ‘the same also has prepared this our Table: and the same Person both brought them through the sea and you through Baptism; and before them set manna, but before you His Body and Blood.'”
10:5-14 “Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things are warnings for us, not to desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were…. We must not indulge in immorality as some of them did and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put the Lord to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents; nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, shun the worship of idols.” Paul is speaking about the ancient Israelites after they were freed by God from slavery. Not all of them achieved heaven because some were disobedient and evil. Paul says that the same applies to Christians. We should not presume we “stand” secure in our salvation, for we can “fall” from grace and salvation if we do not take heed of the warnings, instructions, and commands for the sake of obedience to God.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “As touching His gift then, such is the case: now let us observe also what follows, and consider, whether when they showed themselves unworthy of the gift, He spared them. Nay, this you can not say…. Yea, it profited them nothing, but most of them perished…. not even did this profit them, inasmuch as they did not themselves show forth the fruits of love. Thus, since most men disbelieve the things said of hell, as not being present nor in sight; he alleges the things heretofore done as a proof that God does punish all who sin, even though He have bestowed innumerable benefits upon them: ‘for if you disbelieve the things to come,’ so he speaks, ‘yet surely the things that are past ye will not disbelieve.’ Consider, for example, how great benefits He bestowed on them: from Egypt and the slavery there He set them free, the sea He made their path, from heaven he brought down manna, from beneath He sent forth strange and marvellous fountains of waters; He was with them every where, doing wonders and fencing them in on every side: nevertheless since they showed forth nothing worthy of this gift, He spared them not, but destroyed them all. ‘For they were overthrown,’ says he, ‘in the wilderness.’ Declaring by this word both the sweeping destruction, and the punishments and the vengeance inflicted by God, and that they did not so much as attain to the rewards proposed to them…. For as the gifts are figures, even so are the punishments figures: and as Baptism and the Table were sketched out prophetically, so also by what ensued, the certainty of punishment coming on those who are unworthy of this gift was proclaimed beforehand for our sake that we by these examples might learn soberness…. Again he terrifies them speaking of the ‘ends,’ and prepares them to expect things greater than had already taken place. ‘For that we shall suffer punishment is manifest,’ says he, ‘from what has been said, even to those who disbelieve the statements concerning hell-fire; but that the punishment also will be most severe, is evident, from the more numerous blessings which we have enjoyed, and from the things of which those were but figures. Since, if in the gifts one go beyond the other, it is most evident that so it will be in the punishment likewise.’… But when he said, ‘the ends of the ages,’ he means nothing else than that the fearful judgment is henceforth near at hand. ‘Wherefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.’ Again, he casts down their pride who thought highly of their knowledge. For if they who had so great privileges suffered such things; and some for murmuring alone were visited with such punishment, and others for tempting, and neither their multitude moved God to repent , nor their having attained to such things; much more shall it be so in our case, except we be sober…. For our standing here is not secure standing, no not until we be delivered out of the waves of this present life and have sailed into the tranquil haven. Be not therefore high-minded at your standing, but guard against your falling; for if Paul feared who was firmer than all, much more ought we to fear.” St. John Chrysostom continues thus: “There are therefore temptations which we are not able to bear. And what are these? All, so to speak. For the ability lies in God’s gracious influence; a power which we draw down by our own will. Wherefore that you may know and see that not only those which exceed our power, but not even these which are ‘common to man’ is it possible without assistance from God easily to bear….
10:16-21 “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” This talk about a cup and bread seems to come from out of nowhere, but Paul is using the sacrifice of the Mass, the Body and Blood of Christ, as a tool to explain why Christians must be obedient to the Lord, how they cannot be Christians and yet disobedient. This sacrifice must be well understood by the Corinthians and very important to serve such a purpose as an explanatory example.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “What do you say, O blessed Paul? When you would appeal to the hearer’s reverence, when you are making mention of awful mysteries, do you give the title of ‘cup of blessing’ to that fearful and most tremendous cup? ‘Yea,’ says he; ‘and no mean title is that which was spoken. For when I call it “blessing,” I mean thanksgiving, and when I call it thanksgiving I unfold all the treasure of God’s goodness, and call to mind those mighty gifts.’ Since we too, recounting over the cup the unspeakable mercies of God and all that we have been made partakers of, so draw near to Him, and communicate; giving Him thanks that He has delivered from error the whole race of mankind…. ‘How then are not your doings inconsistent,’ says he, ‘O you Corinthians; blessing God for delivering you from idols, yet running again to their tables?’… Very persuasively spoke he, and awfully. For what he says is this: ‘This which is in the cup is that which flowed from His side, and of that do we partake.’ But he called it a cup of blessing, because holding it in our hands, we so exalt Him in our hymn, wondering, astonished at His unspeakable gift, blessing Him, among other things, for the pouring out of this self-same draught that we might not abide in error: and not only for the pouring it out, but also for the imparting thereof to us all…. but here He transferred the service to that which is far more awful and glorious, changing the very sacrifice itself, and instead of the slaughter of irrational creatures, commanding to offer up Himself. ‘The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the Body of Christ?’ Wherefore said he not, the participation? Because he intended to express something more and to point out how close was the union: in that we communicate not only by participating and partaking, but also by being united. For as that body is united to Christ, so also are we united to him by this bread. But why adds he also, ‘which we break?’ For although in the Eucharist one may see this done, yet on the cross not so, but the very contrary. For, ‘A bone of Him,’ says one, ‘shall not be broken.’ But that which He suffered not on the cross, this He suffers in the oblation for your sake, and submits to be broken, that he may fill all men…. For what is the bread? The Body of Christ. And what do they become who partake of it? The Body of Christ: not many bodies, but one body. For as the bread consisting of many grains is made one, so that the grains no where appear; they exist indeed, but their difference is not seen by reason of their conjunction; so are we conjoined both with each other and with Christ: there not being one body for you, and another for your neighbor to be nourished by, but the very same for all…. For he gave not simply even His own body; but because the former nature of the flesh which was framed out of earth, had first become deadened by sin and destitute of life; He brought in, as one may say, another sort of dough and leaven, His own flesh, by nature indeed the same, but free from sin and full of life; and gave to all to partake thereof, that being nourished by this and laying aside the old dead material, we might be blended together unto that which is living and eternal, by means of this table…. It is ‘a Communion of the Lord’s Body.’ For not with the altar, but with Christ Himself, do we have communion…. Do not then run to the contrary things. For neither if you were a king’s son, and having the privilege of your father’s table, should leave it and choose to partake of the table of the condemned and the prisoners in the dungeon, would your father permit it, but with great vehemence he would withdraw you; not as though the table could harm you, but because it disgraces your nobility and the royal table…. These things therefore knowing, let us also, beloved, consult for the good of the brethren and preserve unity with them. For to this that fearful and tremendous sacrifice leads us, warning us above all things to approach it with one mind and fervent love, and thereby becoming eagles, so to mount up to the very heaven, nay, even beyond the heaven…. Nay were it but a royal robe, one would not inconsiderately touch it with unclean hands…. nevertheless, one would not choose to venture on it with polluted hands: I say now, if even a man’s garment be what one would not venture inconsiderately to touch, what shall we say of the Body of Him Who is God over all, spotless, pure, associate with the Divine Nature, the Body whereby we are, and live; whereby the gates of hell were broken down and the sanctuaries of heaven opened? How shall we receive this with so great insolence? Let us not, I pray you, let us not slay ourselves by our irreverence, but with all awfulness and purity draw near to It; and when you see It set before you, say thou to yourself, ‘Because of this Body am I no longer earth and ashes, no longer a prisoner, but free: because of this I hope for heaven, and to receive the good things therein, immortal life, the portion of angels, converse with Christ; this Body, nailed and scourged, was more than death could stand against; this Body the very sun saw sacrificed, and turned aside his beams; for this both the veil was rent in that moment, and rocks were burst asunder, and all the earth was shaken. This is even that Body, the blood-stained, the pierced, and that out of which gushed the saving fountains, the one of blood, the other of water, for all the world.’… This Body has He given to us both to hold and to eat; a thing appropriate to intense love. For those whom we kiss vehemently, we oft-times even bite with our teeth. Wherefore also Job, indicating the love of his servants towards him, said, that they ofttimes, out of their great affection towards him, said, ‘Oh! That we were filled with his flesh!’ (Job 31:31) Even so Christ has given to us to be filled with His flesh, drawing us on to greater love. Let us draw near to Him then with fervency and with inflamed love, that we may not have to endure punishment. For in proportion to the greatness of the benefits bestowed on us, so much the more exceedingly are we chastised when we show ourselves unworthy of the bountifulness. This Body, even lying in a manger, Magi reverenced…. but you behold Him not in the manger but on the altar, not a woman holding Him in her arms, but the priest standing by, and the Spirit with exceeding bounty hovering over the gifts set before us. You do not see merely this Body itself as they did, but you know also Its power, and the whole economy, and art ignorant of none of the holy things which are brought to pass by It, having been exactly initiated into all…. For this Table is the sinews of our soul, the bond of our mind, the foundation of our confidence, our hope, our salvation, our light, our life. When with this sacrifice we depart into the outer world, with much confidence we shall tread the sacred threshold, fenced round on every side as with a kind of golden armor. And why speak I of the world to come? Since here this mystery makes earth become to you a heaven. Open only for once the gates of heaven and look in; nay, rather not of heaven, but of the heaven of heavens; and then you will behold what I have been speaking of. For what is there most precious of all, this will I show you lying upon the earth. For as in royal palaces, what is most glorious of all is not walls, nor golden roofs, but the person of the king sitting on the throne; so likewise in heaven the Body of the King. But this, you are now permitted to see upon earth. For it is not angels, nor archangels, nor heavens and heavens of heavens, that I show you, but the very Lord and Owner of these. Perceivest thou how that which is more precious than all things is seen by you on earth; and not seen only, but also touched; and not only touched, but likewise eaten; and after receiving It you go home? Make your soul clean then, prepare your mind for the reception of these mysteries.”
11:2, 16 “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you…. If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God.” Apostolic traditions are authoritative and binding. Paul delivered doctrines and practices which were handed on to him by Peter, James, and the other pillars.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “It appears then that he used at that time to deliver many things also not in writing, which he shows too in many other places. But at that time he only delivered them, whereas now he adds an explanation of their reason: thus both rendering the one sort, the obedient, more steadfast, and pulling down the others’ pride, who oppose themselves…. It is then contentiousness to oppose these things, and not any exercise of reason. Notwithstanding, even thus it is a measured sort of rebuke which he adopts, to fill them the more with self-reproach; which in truth rendered his saying the more severe. ‘For we,’ says he, ‘have no such custom,’ so as to contend and to strive and to oppose ourselves. And he stopped not even here, but also added, ‘neither the Churches of God;’ signifying that they resist and oppose themselves to the whole world by not yielding. However, even if the Corinthians were then contentious, yet now the whole world has both received and kept this law. So great is the power of the Crucified.”
11:3 “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” The husband is the head of the family and thus has authority over the wife and family.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For with us indeed the woman is reasonably subjected to the man: since equality of honor causes contention. And not for this cause only, but by reason also of the deceit (1 Timothy 2:14) which happened in the beginning. Wherefore you see, she was not subjected as soon as she was made; nor, when He brought her to the man, did either she hear any such thing from God, nor did the man say any such word to her: he said indeed that she was ‘bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh:’ (Genesis 2:23) but of rule or subjection he no where made mention unto her. But when she made an ill use of her privilege and she who had been made a helper was found to be an ensnarer and ruined all, then she is justly told for the future, ‘your turning shall be to your husband’ (Genesis 3:16)…. But when we are exhorting you concerning your own duties, let not theirs take all your attention…. but look to one thing only, how you may rid yourself of those charges which lie against yourself. Since Adam also laid the blame on the woman, and she again on the serpent, but this did in no wise deliver them. Do not thou, therefore, for your part, say this to me now, but be careful with all consideration to render what you owe to your husband: since also when I am discoursing with your husband, advising him to love and cherish you, I suffer him not to bring forward the law that is appointed for the woman, but I require of him that which is written for himself. And do thou therefore busy yourself with those things only which belong to you, and show yourself tractable to your consort. And accordingly if it be really for God’s sake that you obey your husband, tell me not of the things which ought to be done by him, but for what things you have been made responsible by the lawgiver, those perform with exactness. For this is especially to obey God, not to transgress the law even when suffering things contrary to it. And by the same rule, he that being beloved loves, is not reckoned to do any great thing. But he that waits upon a person who hates him, this above all is the man to receive a crown. In the same manner then do thou also reckon that if your husband give you disgust, and thou endure it, you shall receive a glorious crown: but if he be gentle and mild, what will there be for God to reward in you? And these things I say, not bidding the husbands be harsh; but persuading the wives to bear even with harshness in their husbands. Since when each is careful to fulfil his own duty, his neighbor’s part also will quickly follow: as when the wife is prepared to bear even with rough behavior in the husband, and the husband refrains from abusing her in her angry mood; then all is a calm and a harbor free from waves…. Let not then the wife tarry for the virtue of the husband and then show her own, for this is nothing great; nor, on the other hand, the husband, for the obedience of the wife and then exercise self-command; for neither would this any more be his own well-doing; but let each, as I said, furnish his own share first. For if to the Gentiles smiting us on the right, we must turn the other cheek; much more ought one to bear with harsh behavior in a husband. And I say not this for a wife to be beaten; far from it: for this is the extremest affront, not to her that is beaten, but to him who beats. But even if by some misfortune thou have such a yokefellow allotted you, take it not ill, O woman, considering the reward which is laid up for such things and their praise too in this present life. And to you husbands also this I say: make it a rule that there can be no such offense as to bring you under the necessity of striking a wife…. And this one might see even from heathen legislatures who no longer compel her that has been so treated to live with him that beat her, as being unworthy of her fellowship. For surely it comes of extreme lawlessness when your partner of life, she who in the most intimate relations and in the highest degree, is united with you; when she, like a base slave, is dishonored by you. Wherefore also such a man, if indeed one must call him a man and not rather a wild beast, I should say, was like a parricide and a murderer of his mother…. When any thing uncomfortable happens in the household, if she be in the wrong console her and do not aggravate the discomfort. For even if you should lose all, nothing is more grievous than to have a wife without good-will sharing your abode. And whatever offense you can mention, you will tell me of nothing so very painful as being at strife with her. So that if it were only for such reasons as these, let her love be more precious than all things. For if one another’s burdens are to be borne, much more our own wife’s. Though she be poor do not upbraid her: though she be foolish, do not trample on her, but train her rather: because she is a member of you, and you have become one flesh. ‘But she is trifling and drunken and passionate.’ You ought then to grieve over these things, not to be angry; and to beseech God, and exhort her and give her advice, and do every thing to remove the evil. But if you strike her thou dost aggravate the disease: for fierceness is removed by moderation, not by rival fierceness. With these things bear in mind also the reward from God: that when it is permitted you to cut her off, and you do not so for the fear of God, but bearest with so great defects, fearing the law appointed in such matters which forbids to put away a wife whatsoever disease she may have: you shall receive an unspeakable reward.”
11:17-19 “But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” St. Paul condemns factions, schisms, sects, and denominations. There is only one genuine Church.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “By ‘factions,’ here he means those which concern not the doctrines, but these present divisions. But even if he had spoken of the doctrinal heresies, not even thus did he give them any handle. For Christ Himself said, ‘it must needs be that occasions of stumbling come’ (Matthew 18:7), not destroying the liberty of the will nor appointing any necessity and compulsion over man’s life, but foretelling what would certainly ensue from the evil mind of men; which would take place, not because of his prediction, but because the incurably disposed are so minded. For not because he foretold them did these things happen: but because they were certainly about to happen, therefore he foretold them…. And if he call them divisions, marvel not. For, as I said, he wishes to touch them by the expression: whereas had they been divisions of doctrine, he would not have discoursed with them thus mildly. Hear him, for instance, when he speaks of any such thing, how vehement he is both in assertion and in reproof….”
11:20-30 “When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” Again, early biblical evidence of the sacrifice of the Mass. Paul condemns the Corinthians for despising the Church and profaning the Body and Blood of Jesus. This profaning comes from not taking seriously the fact that the bread and wine are actually the Body and Blood of Christ Himself. So serious is this offense, that it incurs judgment, sometimes in this world through weakness, sickness, or death.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Do you see how effectually appealing to their shame, even already by way of narrative he contrives to give them his counsel?… Perceivest thou how he intimates that they were disgracing themselves rather? For that which is the Lord’s, they make a private matter: so that themselves are the first to suffer indignity, depriving their own table of its greatest prerogative. How and in what manner? Because the Lord’s Supper, i.e. the Master’s, ought to be common. For the property of the master belongs not to this servant without belonging to that, but in common to all…. Do you see how he transferred the charge from the indignity offered to the poor to the Church, that his words might make a deeper impression of disgust? Here now you see is yet a fourth accusation, when not the poor only, but the Church likewise is insulted. For even as you make the Lord’s Supper a private meal, so also the place again, using the Church as a house. For it was made a Church, not that we who come together might be divided, but that they who are divided might be joined: and this act of assembling shows…. Having therefore pointed out so great impieties, indignity to the Supper, indignity to the Church, the contempt practised towards the poor; he relaxes again the tones of his reproof, saying, all of a sudden , ‘Shall I praise you? In this I praise you not.’ Wherein one might especially marvel at him that when there was need to strike and chide more vehemently after the proof of so great offenses, he does the contrary rather, gives way, and permits them to recover breath…. But how says he, that ‘he received it from the Lord?’ since certainly he was not present then but was one of the persecutors. That you may know that the first table had no advantage above that which comes after it. For even today also it is He who does all, and delivers it even as then. And not on this account only does he remind us of that night, but that he may also in another way bring us to compunction. For as we particularly remember those words which we hear last from those who are departing; and to their heirs if they should venture to transgress their commands, when we would put them to shame we say, ‘Consider that this was the last word that your father uttered to you, and until the evening when he was just about to breathe his last he kept repeating these injunctions:’ just so Paul, purposing hence also to make his argument full of awfulness; ‘Remember,’ says he, ‘that this was the last mysterious rite He gave unto you, and in that night on which He was about to be slain for us, He commanded these things, and having delivered to us that Supper after that He added nothing further.’… For as Christ in regard to the bread and the cup said, ‘Do this in remembrance of Me,’ revealing to us the cause of the giving of the Mystery, and besides what else He said, declaring this to be a sufficient cause to ground our religious fear upon:— (for when you consider what your Master has suffered for you, you will the better deny yourself:)— so also Paul says here: ‘as often as you eat ye do proclaim His death.’ And this is that Supper. Then intimating that it abides unto the end, he says, ’till He come.’… Much therefore as they who then pierced Him, pierced Him not that they might drink but that they might shed His blood: so likewise does he that comes for it unworthily and reaps no profit thereby. Do you see how fearful he makes his discourse, and inveighs against them very exceedingly, signifying that if they are thus to drink, they partake unworthily of the elements?… Wherefore also he discoursed very awfully concerning it, providing for that which is the sum of all good things, viz. their approaching those Mysteries with a pure conscience…. But not thus did Paul bid us come: he knows only one season of access and communion, the purity of a man’s conscience. Since if even that kind of banquet which the senses take cognizance of cannot be partaken of by us when feverish and full of bad humors, without risk of perishing: much more is it unlawful for us to touch this Table with profane lusts, which are more grievous than fevers. Now when I say profane lusts, I mean both those of the body, and of money, and of anger, and of malice, and, in a word, all that are profane. And it becomes him that approaches, first to empty himself of all these things and so to touch that pure sacrifice. And neither if indolently disposed and reluctantly ought he to be compelled to approach by reason of the festival; nor, on the other hand, if penitent and prepared, should any one prevent him because it is not a festival. For a festival is a showing forth of good works, and a reverence of soul, and exactness of deportment. And if you have these things, you may at all times keep festival and at all times approach. Wherefore he says, ‘But let each man prove himself, and then let him approach.’ And he bids not one examine another, but each himself, making the tribunal not a public one and the conviction without a witness…. Is this Table which is the cause of so many blessings and teeming with life, become judgment? Not from its own nature, says he, but from the will of him that approaches. For as His presence, which conveyed to us those great and unutterable blessings, condemned the more them that received it not: so also the Mysteries become provisions of greater punishment to such as partake unworthily.”
11:34 “About the other things I will give directions when I come.” Again, this letter and the other letters of Paul were not meant to be a comprehensive exposition of a Christian doctrine. Much, if not most, teaching was done in person, orally. Verses such as these undermine the notion of sola Scriptura.
12:3 “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Protestants like to claim that they know their Scriptural interpretations are right because of the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit never speaks falsehood. See the circularity of their argument? The Spirit of Truth came upon the apostles at Pentecost; it is in apostolicity that the the Truth is found and known with certainty.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “For if, no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost, what must we say of them who name indeed His Name, but are destitute of His Spirit? But his discourse at this time was not concerning these for there were not at that time Catechumens, but concerning believers and unbelievers. What then, does no demon call upon God’s Name? Did not the demoniacs say, We know You who You are, the Holy One of God? (Mark 1:24) Did they not say to Paul, these men are the servants of the Most High God? (Acts 16:17) They did, but upon scourging, upon compulsion; never of their own will and without being scourged. But here it is proper to enquire, both why the demon uttered these things and why Paul rebuked him. In imitation of his Teacher; for so Christ did also rebuke: since it was not his will to have testimony from them. And wherefore did the devil also practise this? Intending to confound the order of things, and to seize upon the dignity of the Apostles, and to persuade many to pay attention to them : which had it happened, they would easily have made themselves appear from hence worthy of credit, and have brought in their own designs. That these things then might not be, and the deceit might not have a beginning, he stops their mouths even when speaking the truth, so that in their falsehoods men should not at all give heed unto them, but stop their ears altogether against the things said by them.”
12:12-14, 20, 24-25 “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many…. As it is, there are many parts, yet one body…. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” The true Church is one and without discord. And notice that one becomes a member of that Church, of the Body, through baptism.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Wherefore he brings forward here also a common example by which he presses on and fights hard to prove that no one was really put in a worse condition: a thing which was marvellous and surprising to be able to show, and calculated to refresh the weaker sort, I mean, the example of the body. For nothing so consoles the person of small spirit and inferior gifts, or so persuades him not to grieve, as the being convinced that he is not left with less than his share…. He is pointing out the same thing to be both one and many…. If therefore the one is many, and the many are one, where is the difference? Where the superiority? Where the disadvantage? For all, says he, are one: and not simply one, but being strictly considered in respect of that even which is principal, i.e., their being a body, they are found all to be one: but when considered as to their particular natures, then the difference comes out, and the difference is in all alike. For none of them by itself can make a body, but each is alike deficient in the making a body, and there is need of a coming together since when the many become one, then and not till then is there one body…. And when he should have said, ‘so also is the Church,’ for this was the natural consequent he does not say it but instead of it places the name of Christ, carrying the discourse up on high and appealing more and more to the hearer’s reverence. But his meaning is this: ‘So also is the body of Christ, which is the Church.’ For as the body and the head are one man, so he said that the Church and Christ are one. Wherefore also he placed Christ instead of the Church, giving that name to His body. ‘As then,’ says he, ‘our body is one thing though it be composed of many: so also in the Church we all are one thing. For though the Church be composed of many members, yet these many form one body.’… Now his meaning is this: that which established us to become one body and regenerated us, is one Spirit: for not in one Spirit was one baptized, and another another. And not only is that which has baptized us one, but also that unto which He baptized us, i.e., for which He baptized us, is one. For we were baptized not that so many several bodies might be formed, but that we might all preserve one with another the perfect nature of one body: i.e., that we might all be one body, into the same were we baptized…. Now if, having before been so far off, we were united and have become one, much more after that we have become one, we can have no right to grieve and be dejected. Yea, the difference, in fact, has no place. For if to Greeks and Jews, to bond and free, He has vouchsafed the same blessings, how can it be that after so vouchsafing He divides them, now that He has bestowed a greater perfection of unity by the supply of His gifts?… We have come to the same initiation, we enjoy the same Table. And why said he not, ‘we are nourished by the same body and drink the same blood?’ Because by saying ‘Spirit,’ he declared them both, as well the flesh as the blood. For through both are we ‘made to drink of the Spirit.’… one Spirit both formed us and gathered us all together into one body; for this is the meaning of, ‘we were baptized into one body:’ and vouchsafed us one table, and gave us all the same watering, (for this is the meaning of, ‘we were made to drink into one Spirit,’) and united persons so widely separated….That this then may not be, let us care for our neighbors as for ourselves, and let us transfer this image of the body now also to the Church, and be careful for all as for our own members. For in the Church there are members many and diverse: and some are more honorable and some more deficient. For example, there are choirs of virgins, there are assemblies of widows, there are fraternities of those who shine in holy wedlock ; in short, many are the degrees of virtue.”
12:28-31 “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.” There are various offices and roles in the Church. Some have greater authority than others. Thus there is a hierarchy. Not all have the same office and thus not all have the same authority.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “…he applies it to our own concerns; and to signify that we ought to have the same concord of design as they have from nature, he says, ‘Now you are the body of Christ.’ But if our body ought not to be divided, much less the body of Christ, and so much less as grace is more powerful than nature…. For because he had said, ‘the body,’ whereas the whole body was not the Corinthian Church, but the Church in every part of the world, therefore he said, ‘severally:’ i.e., the Church among you is a part of the Church existing every where and of the body which is made up of all the Churches: so that not only with yourselves alone, but also with the whole Church throughout the world, you ought to be at peace, if at least ye be members of the whole body…. Because they thought highly of themselves in respect of the tongues he sets it last every where. For the terms, ‘first’ and ‘secondly,’ are not used by him here at random, but in order by enumeration to point out the more honorable and the inferior. Wherefore also he set the apostles first who had all the gifts in themselves…. For he that prophesies speaks all things from the Spirit; but he that teaches sometimes discourses also out of his own mind…. This accordingly is the reason why he set him after the prophet, because the one is wholly a gift but the other is also man’s labor. For he speaks many things of his own mind, agreeing however with the sacred Scriptures…. For even as the great gifts God has not vouchsafed all to all men, but to some this, and to others that, so also did He in respect of the less, not proposing these either to all. And this He did, procuring thereby abundant harmony and love, that each one standing in need of the other might be brought close to his brother.”
13:8-13 “Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Protestants are fond of this passage because they think it justifies their fallibilism. But all of Chapter 13 references knowledge, not certainty. Paul is merely trying to say that love (and faith and hope) will endure beyond all knowledge, wisdom, and other spiritual gifts. There are some mysteries that we will not be able to penetrate in this life. When Christ comes again and establishes His reign so that the holy ones will see Him face to face, all these spiritual gifts like tongues and prophecy will fade away, for they will be unnecessary, for everything will be revealed. Thus we should not place too much importance in such gifts such that one neglects love. These verses have nothing to do with certainty about doctrines, infallibility, or apostolic authority. In this very same letter, Paul explicitly affirms apostolic authority and contradicts Protestant fallibilism (2:10-13). The apostles did not have all knowledge, but what they did have, they knew and passed on, in speech and writing, with infallible certainty in the Spirit.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “It is not therefore knowledge that is done away, but the circumstance that our knowledge is in part. For we shall not only know as much but even a great deal more. But that I may also make it plain by example; now we know that God is every where, but how, we know not. That He made out of things that are not the things that are we know; but of the manner we are ignorant. That He was born of a virgin, we know; but how, we know not yet. But then shall we know somewhat more and clearer concerning these things…. But what say those who shrink from nothing? That the expression, ‘now I know in part,’ is spoken in dispensations; for that the Apostle had the perfect knowledge of God. And now he calls himself a child? How sees he ‘in a mirror?’ How ‘darkly,’ if he has the sum of knowledge?… ‘Are we then,’ says he, ‘ignorant of God?’ Far from it. That He is, we know, but what He is, as regards His Essence, we know not yet…. For not only is there this impiety that they boast of knowing those things which belong to the Spirit alone; and to the only-begotten Son of God, but also that when Paul could not acquire even this knowledge ‘which is in part’ without the revelation from above, these men say that they have obtained the whole from their own reasonings. For neither are they able to point out that the Scripture has any where discoursed to us of these things.”
14:33-37 “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached? If any one thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord.” While these words may sound harsh to modern ears, they are still Scripture. The Catholic Church honors these words in limiting the priesthood to men; thus, only men may homilize and teach at mass, at the public assembly. If the authorities of the Church have relaxed such a precept so as to let women read from Scripture, sing, and respond, it is well within its power to do so.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “‘But it is sweet and pleasant for you to converse with your friends.’ I do not forbid this, but let it be done in the house, in the market, in the baths. For the church is not a place of conversation, but of teaching. But now it differs not from the market; nay, if it be not too bold a word, haply, not even from the stage; in such sort do the women who assemble here adorn themselves more wantonly than the unchaste who are to be found there.” St. John Chrysostom continues thus: “…he next in course proceeds to the disorder which arose from the women, cutting off their unseasonable boldness of speech: and that very opportunely. For if to them that have the gifts it is not permitted to speak inconsiderately, nor when they will, and this, though they be moved by the Spirit; much less to those women who prate idly and to no purpose. Therefore he represses their babbling with much authority, and taking the law along with him, thus he sews up their mouths; not simply exhorting here or giving counsel, but even laying his commands on them vehemently, by the recitation of an ancient law on that subject…. And what may be the cause of his setting them under so great subjection? Because the woman is in some sort a weaker being and easily carried away and light minded. Here you see why he set over them their husbands as teachers, for the benefit of both. For so he both rendered the women orderly, and the husbands he made anxious, as having to deliver to their wives very exactly what they heard. Further, because they supposed this to be an ornament to them, I mean their speaking in public…. Thus he brings in the other Churches also as holding this law, both abating the disturbance by consideration of the novelty of the thing, and by the general voice making his saying acceptable.”
15:1-2 “Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast — unless you believed in vain.” How does the Protestant possibly believe in sola fide and “once saved, always saved” when Paul says such things?
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Do you see how from the beginning he points out that he is bringing in no new nor strange thing?… And he says not, ‘which you heard,’ but, ‘which you received,’ demanding it of them as a kind of deposit, and showing that not in word only, but also by deeds and signs and wonders they received it, and that they should hold it safe…. And how says he that they who were so tossed with waves ‘stand?’ He feigns ignorance to profit them…. Next, because he was directly affirming, ‘wherein also ye stand;’ that he might not thereby make them more remiss, he alarms them again, saying, ‘If you hold it fast, except ye believed in vain;’ intimating that the stroke is on the chief head, and the contest for no common things but in behalf of the whole of the faith.”
15:3 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures….” Again, Paul cites apostolic tradition; he is handing on what he received.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Neither here does he say, ‘I said unto you,’ nor, ‘I taught you,’ but uses the same expression again, saying, ‘I delivered unto you that which also I received:’ nor again here does he say, ‘I was taught,’ but, ‘I received:’ establishing these two things; first, that one ought to introduce nothing from one’s self; next, that by demonstration from his deeds they were fully persuaded, not by bare words: and by degrees while he is rendering his argument credible, he refers the whole to Christ, and signifies that nothing was of man in these doctrines.”
15:5-9 “…and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Notice that there is an implicit hierarchy here. Jesus appears to Peter first. This is biblical evidence of his primacy and authority. Notice that not everyone is an apostle either.
The truth of Christianity rests on faith in eyewitness testimony to the risen Jesus.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Thus, since he had mentioned the proof from the Scriptures, he adds also that by the events, producing as witnesses of the resurrection, after the prophets, the apostles and other faithful men…. Wherefore neither said he once for all, ‘He appeared,’ although it were sufficient for him to do so, setting down the expression in common: but now both twice and thrice, and almost in each several case of them that had seen Him he employs it. For ‘He appeared,’ says he, ‘to Cephas, He appeared to above five hundred brethren, He appeared to me also.’ Yet surely the Gospel says the contrary, that He was seen of Mary first (Mark 16:9). But among men He was seen of him first who did most of all long to see Him…. ‘After that, He was seen of James.’ I suppose, His brother. For the Lord is said to have Himself ordained him and made him Bishop in Jerusalem first. ‘Then to all the apostles.’ For there were also other apostles, as the seventy…. he who was first counted worthy to see Him, had need, as I have said, of great faith, not to be confounded by a sight so contrary to expectation. Therefore he appears to Peter first. For he that first confessed Him to be Christ was justly also counted worthy first to behold His resurrection. And not on this account alone does He appear to him first, but also because he had denied Him, more abundantly to comfort him and to signify that he is not despaired of, before the rest He vouchsafed him even this sight and to him first entrusted His sheep.”
15:11 “Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” Again, the apostles preached; they didn’t send letters to the churches until they were already established and taught in person, orally. It is also possible that this verse implies that some of the apostles or the Twelve, including Peter, actually traveled and visited various churches.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Having exalted the Apostles and abased himself, then again having exalted himself above them that he might make out an equality: (for he did effect an equality, when he showed that he had advantages over them as well as they over him,) and having thereby proved himself worthy of credit; neither so does he dismiss them, but again ranks himself with them, pointing out their concord in Christ…. Wherefore also he was equally earnest, on the one hand, that he might not seem to overlook them; on the other, that he might not be on account of the honor paid to them held cheap by those that were under his authority.”
15:12, 28-29 “Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?… When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one. Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?” This entire chapter is about the doctrine of the resurrection. These are probably the most un-Protestant verses in the entire Bible. Luther was able to get rid of the books of Maccabees because it supported praying for the dead, but he wasn’t able to get rid of this entire letter just because of these verses. Many Catholics interpret these verses to mean that early Christians would pray for souls of the dead that they might be saved and see the resurrection.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Or will you that I should first mention how they who are infected with the Marcionite heresy pervert this expression? And I know indeed that I shall excite much laughter; nevertheless, even on this account most of all I will mention it that you may the more completely avoid this disease: viz., when any Catechumen departs among them, having concealed the living man under the couch of the dead, they approach the corpse and talk with him, and ask him if he wishes to receive baptism; then when he makes no answer, he that is concealed underneath says in his stead that of course he should wish to be baptized; and so they baptize him instead of the departed, like men jesting upon the stage. So great power has the devil over the souls of careless sinners. Then being called to account, they allege this expression, saying that even the Apostle has said, ‘They who are baptized for the dead.’ Do you see their extreme ridiculousness?… after the enunciation of those mystical and fearful words, and the awful rules of the doctrines which have come down from heaven, this also we add at the end when we are about to baptize, bidding them say, ‘I believe in the resurrection of the dead,’ and upon this faith we are baptized. For after we have confessed this together with the rest, then at last are we let down into the fountain of those sacred streams. This therefore Paul recalling to their minds said, ‘if there be no resurrection, why are you then baptized for the dead?’ i.e., the dead bodies. For in fact with a view to this are you baptized, the resurrection of your dead body, believing that it no longer remains dead. And thou indeed in the words makest mention of a resurrection of the dead; but the priest, as in a kind of image, signifies to you by very deed the things which you have believed and confessed in words. When without a sign you believe, then he gives you the sign also; when you have done your own part, then also does God fully assure you. How and in what manner? By the water. For the being baptized and immersed and then emerging, is a symbol of the descent into Hades and return thence. Wherefore also Paul calls baptism a burial….”
15:58 “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.“ To be saved and enter heaven, the Christian must be steadfast in the faith and do “the work of the Lord.” It is through faith, through the Lord, that this work is not in vain but achieves us eternal life.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “What do you say? Labor again? But followed by crowns, and those above the heavens. For that former labor on man’s expulsion from paradise, was the punishment of his transgressions; but this is the ground of the rewards to come. So that it cannot in fact be labor, both on this account and by reason of the great help which it receives from above: which is the cause of his adding also, ‘in the Lord.’ For the purpose of the former was that we might suffer punishment; but of this, that we might obtain the good things to come. Let us not therefore sleep, my beloved. For it cannot, it cannot be that any one by sloth should attain to the kingdom of heaven, nor they that live luxuriously and softly. Yea it is a great thing, if straining ourselves and ‘keeping under the body’ and enduring innumerable labors, we are able to reach those blessings. See ye not how vast this distance between heaven and earth? And how great a conflict is at hand? And how prone a thing to evil man is? And how easily sin ‘besets us?’ And how many snares are in the way?… Do you not know before what a tribunal we are to stand? Do ye not consider that both for our words and thoughts an account is demanded of us, and we take no heed even to our actions…. What plea shall deliver us? Who will stand up and help us when we are punished? There is no one; but it must needs be that wailing and weeping and gnashing our teeth, we shall be led away tortured into that rayless gloom, the pangs which no prayer can avert, the punishments which cannot be assuaged. Wherefore I entreat and beseech, and lay hold of your very knees, that while we have this scant viaticum of life, you would be pricked in your hearts by what has been said, that you would be converted, that you would become better men; that we may not, like that rich man, lament to no purpose in that world after our departure, and continue thenceforth in incurable wailings. For though you should have father or son or friend or any soever who has confidence towards God, none of these shall ever deliver you, your own works having destroyed you. For such is that tribunal: it judges by our actions alone, and in no other way is it possible there to be saved. And these things I say, not to grieve you nor to throw you into despair, but lest nourished by vain and cold hopes, and placing confidence in this person or that, we should neglect our own proper goodness. For if we be slothful, there will be neither righteous man nor prophet nor apostle nor any one to stand by us; but if we have been earnest, having in sufficiency the plea which comes from each man’s own works , we shall depart with confidence, and shall obtain the good things that are laid up for them that love God; to which may we all attain….”
16:1-2 “Now concerning the contribution for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come.” This is how charity and material relief is to happen among Christians. The Church, not the state, should be the institution of charity. Notice also that Paul speaks with authority and gives commands.
Notice that this material relief comes LAST in this letter. As a good shepherd and bishop, St. Paul took care to address the spiritual needs of his flock first before attending to material needs. The “social justice” crowd could learn a lot from this subtle but important insight from Scripture.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “And he says not, ‘I advised,’ and, ‘I counselled;’ but, ‘I gave order,’ which is more authoritative. And he does not bring forward a single city, or two, or three, but an entire nation: which also he does in his doctrinal instructions, saying, ‘Even as also in all the Churches of the saints.’ For if this be potent for conviction of doctrines, much more for imitation of actions.”
16:5-12 “I will visit you after passing through Macedo’nia, for I intend to pass through Macedo’nia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may speed me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Speed him on his way in peace, that he may return to me; for I am expecting him with the brethren. As for our brother Apol’los, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brethren, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.” Again, the primary mode of teaching in the Church was orally and in person.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “‘Let no one therefore despise him.’ And not this only does he demand of them, but also greater honor; wherefore also he says, ‘but set him forward in peace;’ that is, without fear; causing no fightings or contentions, no enmities or hatreds, but rendering all subjection as to a teacher.”
16:13 “Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.” It is possible to fall out of the faith through sin and heresy and thus lose salvation.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Now in saying these things, he seems indeed to advise; but he is reprimanding them as indolent. Wherefore he says, ‘Watch,’ as though they slept; ‘Stand,’ as though they were rocking to and fro: ‘Quit you like men,’ as though they were playing the coward: ‘Let all that you do be done in love,’ as though they were in dissensions.”
16:15-16 “Now, brethren, you know that the household of Steph’anas were the first converts in Acha’ia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints; I urge you to be subject to such men and to every fellow worker and laborer.“ It seems that Paul conferred authority to these men over the church at Corinth.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “And he said not, that they were the first who believed, but were the ‘first-fruits;’ implying that together with their faith they showed forth also a most excellent life, in every way proving themselves worthy, as in the case of fruits. For so the first-fruits ought to be better than the rest of those things whereof they are the first-fruits: a kind of praise which Paul has attributed to these also by this expression: namely, that they not only had a genuine faith, as I was saying, but also they exhibited great piety, and the climax of virtue, and liberality in almsgiving…. And he said not merely, ‘be fellow-helpers,’ but added, ‘whatsoever directions they give, obey;’ implying the strictest obedience.”
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