Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 5 September 2015; Revised 3 August 2020
Scripture Text: The text of quotations from the Corinthian letters is prepared by Blaine Robison based on the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Jewish character of the author and writing. All other Scripture quotations are from the NASB Updated Edition (1995), unless otherwise indicated. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.
Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of this article. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), and Besekh (New Testament). The abbreviation LXX stands for the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century B.C.
Corinth (Grk. Korinthos) was the principal city and capital of Achaia (see map), as well as being a Roman colony. It was situated on the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow stretch of land that joins the Peloponnesus to the mainland of Greece, roughly halfway between Athens and Sparta. had controlling access to two seas--the Aegean, about five miles to the east and the Ionian on the west. Its eastern port was Cenchrea, located on the Saronic Gulf (Acts 18:18; Rom 16:1), its western harbor was at Lechaeum on the Corinthian Gulf. This proximity to the seas and its nearness to Athens, only forty-five miles to the northeast, gave Corinth a position of strategic commercial importance and military defense.
Corinth was the most prosperous city in Greece and a center of trade for the region. Due to its famous canal Corinth became a major transportation hub for travelers, connecting Rome with the East. Corinth was an exceedingly pagan city with temples devoted to Apollo, Aphrodite, and Poseidon. The Greek historian Strabo (64 BC AD 24) reported that the temple of Aphrodite employed over a thousand prostitutes (Geography VIII, 6:20).
Residing in this pagan city, as in the other cities of Greece, was a large population of Jews (Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius, §XXXVI). The Jewish settlements throughout the Roman Empire had resulted from emigration (sometimes voluntary and sometimes forced) from Babylon (Tarn & Griffith 219). Josephus reported that "the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers" (Ant. XI, 5:2). All of these settlements became the starting point for the apostles to proclaim the fulfillment of prophetic promises and the Good News of the Messiah (Acts 1:8; Rom 1:16).
Jewish residents of Corinth had their own synagogue (Acts 18:4). The existence of a synagogue in Corinth is pointed to by an inscribed lintel block with enough of the words remaining to make out the reading "Synagogue of the Hebrews" (Mare 14). Luke identifies two of the seven synagogue rulers as Crispus (verse 8) and Sosthenes (verse 17). The Roman authorities in Greece allowed synagogue rulers to exercise authority over members of their community for both civil and criminal matters as may be evidenced by Gallio permitting Sosthenes to be mistreated by Jewish leaders (Schurer II:263).
Paul visited Corinth during his second journey (c. A.D. 49-52) and ministered there for 18 months (Acts 18:1-18). He stayed with Aquila and Priscilla and worked with them in the trade of tent-making. He began his ministry of teaching alone, speaking in the local synagogue on the Sabbath and later was joined by Silas and Timothy. Mare suggests that Paul probably came to the city in the fall of A.D. 50, after having proclaimed the good news of the Messiah in Athens. Dating Paul's stay in Corinth is deduced from the mention of Gallio, the Roman proconsul of Achaia, in Acts 18:12. Gallio is mentioned on an inscription of the Emperor Claudius at Delphi dated between January and August, A.D. 52. Since the inscription mentions Gallio as already in office in the first half of A.D. 52, he must have begun his duties July 1, A.D. 51, July 1 being the time each year when Roman proconsuls took office.
No mention is made of Gallio being in office when Paul first came to Corinth. Some time later, after opposition to the Messianic message developed (vv. 6-10), Luke records that Paul was brought before Gallio (vv. 12-17). So the conclusion is that Paul arrived in Corinth some time before Gallio, probably by the fall of A.D. 50, a period of about nine months before the appointment of the proconsul. After this official opposition Paul left Corinth for Syria, sailing from Cenchrea (v. 18). Sometime after Paul founded the congregation two other important leaders visited the area: Apollos, reported by Luke (Acts 18:24−19:1; 1Cor 3:6), and Peter, reported by church fathers (Church History, II, 25:8).
The charter members of the Messianic congregation came from Jews and Gentiles of Corinth (Acts 18:4, 6-8; 1Cor 10:1, 32; 12:2), thus making a diverse constituency. The Jews came from different backgrounds, some being traditional orthodox Jews (Grk. Ioudaioi, 1Cor 1:22), and others being Hellenistic Jews (Grk. Hellēnes, 1Cor 1:22).
Paul mentions fourteen persons in the two letters, four of which have Latin names: Crispus (1Cor 1:14), Gaius (1Cor 1:14), Fortunatus (1Cor 16:17); and Achaicus (1Cor 16:17). Other names include Sosthenes (1Cor 1:1); Chloe (1Cor 1:11); Apollos (1Cor 1:12; 3:4-6, 22; 4:6; 16:12); Stephanas (1Cor 1:16; 16:15), Timothy (1Cor 4:17; 2Cor 1:1, 19); Aquila and Priscilla (1Cor 16:19); Silvanus (2Cor 1:19); and Titus (2Cor 2:13; 7:6; 8:23; 12:18). Paul identifies Peter by his Aramaic name "Cephas" (1Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5). All these persons may be presumed to be Jewish. The fact of having a Greek or Latin name does not prove the individual was a Gentile since Paul had both a Greek and Latin name and Crispus was the synagogue ruler. Noteworthy is that Paul does not mention Titius Justus, a godly man who loaned the use of his house to Paul for teaching (Acts 18:7).
Mare as other Christian commentators believe the greater part of the congregation was composed of native Greeks based on Paul's reference to the "Greeks" (Grk. Hellēnes) who seek after wisdom (1Cor 1:20-24) and also his reference to members of the congregation having formerly been "pagans" (Grk. ethnē; 12:2). However, the former reference could just as easily refer to Hellenistic Jews. See my article Hellenism and the Jews. Paul writes to people who are familiar with Scripture, Jewish theology and Jewish culture. The Gentiles in the congregation were people who had associated with the synagogue for a long period and thus had familiarity with Judaism. For an explanation of the constituency of congregations in the apostolic era see my article The Apostolic Community.
Some of the members, most likely the Hellenistic Jews, had formerly lived as pagans (6:9-11; 12:2). Although they may have separated from sinful practices they still were too much of the world. As the first letter indicates the congregation in Corinth was the most dysfunctional group of disciples in the apostolic era and perhaps in all of history. None of the congregations condemned by Yeshua in Revelation were as bad as Corinth.
Overview of Corinthian Letters
The writer of the letters identified as First Corinthians and Second Corinthians is Paul, the apostle (1Cor 1:1; 2Cor 1:1). Paul's life is the best documented of the apostles. For a detailed discussion of Paul's life and ministry, see my article The Apostle from Tarsus. Paul wrote the two letters to the congregation in Corinth during his third missionary journey (52-57 A.D.), with the second letter following the first by several months. Paul had written a letter previous to these two letters (1Cor 5:9), but it did not survive.
Paul found it necessary in his Corinthian letters to defend his authority as shaliach (apostle) of Yeshua (1Cor 4:9; 9:1-2; 15:9; 2Cor 11:5; 12:11). Paul's authority particularly came under fire as the congregation divided into parties pledging allegiance to various leaders (Messiah, Peter, Apollos and Paul, 1Cor 1:12). Adversaries of Paul slandered his character and deemed him unworthy to tell them what to do. In his first letter he asserted his authority in specific matters of congregational shortcomings (1Cor 5:3-5; 6:5; 7:8; 14:27). In fact, he told them that he had a right to tell them what to do because he was their father in the faith (1Cor 4:15). In his second letter to Corinth Paul warned them that continued insubordination would result in God's judgment (2Cor 13:1-2). Paul had the backing of God.
Paul's letters are genuine Jewish correspondence to Jewish people. As David Bivin says, "The New Testament was written by Jews for Jewish readers" (44), and Paul's letters are no exception. The Jewish perspective of Paul and the Jewish character of his letters to the congregation in Corinth are listed below under the introduction to each letter.
The two letters are written in an orderly fashion. After customary introductions Paul proceeds to the discussion of various issues. The Greek of the letters is excellent, but it is debatable whether Paul actually penned their entirety. Just as Gamaliel had a scribe who penned his letters so it was Paul's habit to dictate his letters except for the conclusion. Indirect evidence of a secretary is Paul's statement about writing a sentence "in his own hand (1Cor 16:21).
Like other works in the Besekh each of Paul's letters contain many hapax legomena (words that only appear once), as counted in the NA28. Scholars note that in First Corinthians there are seventy-nine words not found anywhere else in the Besekh and sixty-four such unique words in Second Corinthians (Barnes). In reality Paul was a consummate communicator. The numerous hapax legomena testifies to Paul's linguistic ability as well as the skill of his scribe.
There is no question of the canonicity of Paul's two letters to Corinth (cf. 2Pet 3:15-16). Since the letters were clearly written by Paul, an apostle, they easily gained acceptance in the patristic era as both authentically Pauline and authoritative as Scripture. Both letters are listed in Marcion's Apostolicon (c. A.D. 140) and in the Muratorian canon (c. A.D. 170), the earliest attempts at defining the apostolic canon. With regard to the patristic usage, both letters are quoted by Irenaeus (c. A.D. 202), Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 215), Tertullian (c. A.D. 220), and Origen (c. A.D. 254).
This letter was written from Ephesus (16:8, 19) and no doubt sent by the hand of Titus (Hughes xvii). Grosheide dates the letter in 53 or 54 A.D., but Mare argues for a later date, probably in AD 55, possibly the Spring near the time of Passover (cf. 1Cor 5:6-8). Edmundson puts the date in the Autumn of 55 (179). The letter was written after receiving a report from kinsmen of Chloe concerning troubling matters in the congregation (1:11), as well as a letter seeking his guidance on certain matters (e.g., 7:1, 25; 8:1, 4; 12:1; 16:1). Turner places the date in 56, which seems a better choice given the proximity of leaving Ephesus for Macedonia and then waiting for Titus in Troas whom Paul expected to return after delivering the letter (2Cor 2:12-13).
Paul's "first" letter is unique in all his letters due to the variety of practical concerns. The letter may be outlined as follows:
I. Introduction: Greetings and Thanksgiving (1:1-9).
II. Divisions in the Congregation (1:104:21).
III. Moral and Ethical Disorders (5:16:20).
IV. Instruction on Marriage (7:1-40).
V. Instruction on Questionable Practices (8:111:1)
VI. Instruction on Public Worship (11:214:40).
VII. Instruction on the Resurrection (15:1-58).
VIII. Conclusion: Practical and Personal Matters (16:1-24).
Paul has little praise for the congregation, but he does recognize that there were members who were totally devoted to Yeshua and holy in conduct (1:2). He is thankful for the grace of God at work in their lives and he complimented the congregation as not lacking in any spiritual gift (1:7).
As the letter testifies the vices of the congregation in Corinth far exceeded their virtues. In virtually every chapter of this letter Paul confronts the congregation for a variety of serious failings. Paul gave this general assessment of the congregation: "And I, brothers and sisters, could not speak to you as spirit-filled, but as worldly, as infants in Messiah" (1Cor 3:1 TLV). Later in the letter he says that "some of you have no knowledge of God" (15:34). Here is the list of major issues by chapter:
Paul uses a number of quotations from the Tanakh in the letter. Only Jews and proselytes would have been familiar with the words and content of Scripture.
1:19 Isaiah 29:14
1:31 Jeremiah 9:24
2:9 Isaiah 64:4; 65:17
2:16 Isaiah 40:13
3:19 Job 5:13
3:20 Psalm 94:11 (LXX Psalm 93:11)
5:13 Deuteronomy 17:7
6:16 Genesis 2:24
9:9 Deuteronomy 25:4
10:7 Exodus 32:6
10:26 Deuteronomy 10:14; Psalm 24:1 (LXX Psalm 23:1);
14:21 Isaiah 28:11-12
15:27 Psalm 8:4-6
15:32 Isaiah 22:13
15:45 Genesis 2:7
15:54 Isaiah 25:8
15:55 Hosea 13:14
Throughout the letter Paul offers a Jewish perspective by alluding to various aspects of Jewish culture and Jewish understanding of Scripture.
1:1 Paul makes reference to "Christ" (Grk. Christos) which is a Jewish title for the Messiah (Heb. Mashiach, "Anointed One"). Christos has no religious meaning in Greek culture. The title occurs over 50 times in this letter.
1:12 Paul refers to groups there that claimed allegiance to well-known figures. It was not unusual for Jews to divide themselves into religious parties (e.g., Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Zealots). Some members considered Apollos their leader and another group claimed allegiance to Peter. It In addition there was a third group that claimed allegiance to "Messiah." The title may refer specifically to Yeshua and perhaps members of this group had heard Yeshua's teaching during a visit to Jerusalem for a pilgrim festival. It's also just as likely that the "Messiah" group refers to a splinter Jewish group similar to the Circumcision party. In other words they had their own idea of the identity of the Messiah.
The Circumcision sect was likely the forerunner of the Ebionites, a splinter Jewish group that existed in the second century into the fourth century. Unlike the Nazarenes, the Ebionites rejected the divine pre-existence of Yeshua and virgin birth. They claimed that Yeshua earned the right to be the Messiah by his faithful observance of Torah. As with the Circumcision sect of the first century, the Ebionites required that Gentile believers be circumcised and keep Jewish laws. Other evidence suggests that the Ebionites rejected Paul, a natural consequence of their position concerning the Torah (Skarsaune 204). For more discussion on this topic see my article The Circumcision Controversy.
1:20 Paul asks a rhetorical question, "where is the wise man scribe debater," which may allude to a rabbinic saying, "the Holy One, blessed be He, showed to the first Adam every [coming] generation with those in it who search and expound [dor dor v'dorshav], every generation with its wise men [dor dor v'chachmav], every generation with its leaders [dor dor v'parnasav]" (Avodah Zarah 5a) (MW-Notes 265).
1:22 Paul says that Judean Jews seek signs whereas Hellenistic Jews seek wisdom.
1:26-29 Paul's viewpoint of demographic distinctions is comparable to the Talmudic saying, "Man should always learn from the mind of his Creator; for behold, the Holy One, blessed be He, ignored all the mountains and heights and caused His Shekinah to abide upon Mount Sinai, and ignored all the beautiful trees and caused His Shekinah to abide in a bush" (Sotah 5a) (MW-Notes 266).
2:6-7 Paul's saying on God's hidden wisdom is comparable to a Qumran passage: "By the mysteries of Your insight [You] assigned all these things to make Your glory known. [But what is] the spirit of flesh that it might understand all these things and obtain insight into the council of [Your] great [wonders]" (DSS 1QHa 5:19-20; quoted in MW-Notes 266).
2:8 The "rulers of this age" who crucified Yeshua alludes to Caiaphas and the chief priests who had the greater sin. Also, the words "of this age" reflects the Jewish manner of describing present time in contrast to the "age to come.
2:9 Paul's use of Isaiah 64:4 is also found in the Talmud: "All the prophets prophesied [all the good things] only in respect of the Messianic era; but as for the world to come 'the eye hath not seen, O Lord, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him." (Sanh. 99a) (MW-Notes 266).
2:14 The contrast between the foolishness of the soul and spiritual discernment may allude to a Jewish wisdom saying, "Some desires are mental, others are physical, and reason obviously rules over both" (4Macc 1:32 RSV).
3:13 "The day" is an allusion to the Day of the Lord announced by the Hebrew prophets in which God will judge the nations in wrath and deliver His people.
3:16 the Jerusalem Temple is used as a metaphor for the people of God.
4:3-5 The phrase "human court," lit. "day of man" is an idiom used to describe the judgments of this age, in contrast to the "day of the LORD," the time when God will judge the earth.
5:1 Paul rebukes the congregation for tolerating a kind of immorality not found in the nations (which indirectly affirms the Jewishness of the audience). Christian commentators typically define the conduct as incest, but in modern culture incest generally refers to intimate contact with a blood relative (cf. Lev 18:6). A member of the congregation had taken his "father's wife," lit. "a wife one of the father." This manner of description alludes to the practice of polygamy. Polygamy was sanctioned by Torah and commonly practiced among Jews in the apostolic era (Sanh. 2:4; Yeb. 44a; Josephus, Ant. XVII, 1:2). The woman was not his biological mother. This story is comparable to that of Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob who violated Jacob's concubine Bilhah (Gen. 35:22, 49:4). It would not have been an issue if the man's father was dead. In Jewish culture all wives and concubines of a man were entitled to the same degree of respect and care. In Jewish law sinning against one's father in this manner was one of 36 transgressions for which there was no atonement (K'ritot 1:1).
5:3-5 The Torah required that someone who violated his "father's wife" was to be "cut off" from Israel (Lev 18:29), which is then defined as being stoned to death (Lev 20:11). Jewish law affirmed stoning as the proper punishment (Sanh. 7:5). However, under the New Covenant the blood of Yeshua atones for all sins, including capital crimes, and the Yeshua's own instructions for dealing with sinning members does not authorize capital punishment (Matt 18:15-19). This is not a matter that could be brought before a Greek or Roman court. The pagan courts did not punish the immorality of its citizens. Instead Paul directs that the congregation have an assembly in which the man is confronted concerning his sin.
The congregation elders are to deliver Paul's summary judgment in absentia to turn over the guilty person to Satan, i.e. excommunicate the person as a fitting punishment in order that he might be saved. "Satan" (Grk. Satanas; Heb. Satan) is a figure first revealed in the Tanakh and Jewish literature. The hope is that cutting off the man from the fellowship of the community would bring him to repentance (1Cor 5:5). There is a discussion in Sanhedrin about the stubborn and rebellious son of Deuteronomy 21:18-21. In the discussion a Mishnah states, "A stubborn and rebellious son is tried on account of his end: let him die clean and let him not die liable [to judgment]" (Sanh. 8:7).
5:7 Paul commands them to remove "old leaven," an allusion to the house cleaning that occurs before the commencement of Passover. He then describes Yeshua as the Passover sacrifice. The description does not mean to liken Yeshua to the lamb killed for the Passover Seder, but the sin offering on Nisan 15, the first day of the Passover festival.
5:8 Paul points out that removal of leaven is necessary for them to celebrate Passover in a righteous manner. A Jewish saying has it, "Sovereign of the Universe, it is known full well to Thee that our will is to perform Thy will, and what prevents us? The yeast in the dough [i.e., the evil inclination with us] and the subjection to the foreign Powers" (Berachot 17a). Paul's instruction assumes continued participation in the Passover festival in Jerusalem.
5:11-12 Paul extends his ruling of "turning over to Satan" as applicable to other "so-called brothers" who are guilty of capital crimes. He lists six specific crimes, but these are by no means exhaustive. As with the specific case he passed judgment on other serious sins in the congregation are to be dealt with by cutting off fellowship.
6:1 Paul's rebuke of lawsuits is based on the Torah expectation that disputes between members of the community of faith would be resolved within the community (Lev 19:17). The Talmud states, "R. Tarfon used to say: In any place where you find heathen law courts, even though their law is the same as the Israelite law, you must not resort to them since it says, These are the judgments which thou shalt set before them, that is to say, 'before them' and not before heathens" (Gittin 88b).
6:2 Paul's comment that "the holy ones" will judge the world may be an allusion to Yeshua's promise to his apostles that they would judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28). This announcement is eschatological and anticipates that at the second coming, God's people, who are joint heirs with Messiah (Rom 8:17) will reign and judge the world with him in his millennial kingdom (2Tim 2:12; Rev 20:4; cf. Dan 7:22 and Matt 19:28).
6:5-6 The use of adelphos, "brother," lit. "of the same womb," could refer to actual siblings engaging in the lawsuit or at least kinsmen.
6:9-10 Paul presents a catalog of sins that would cause someone to be disqualified from inheriting the Kingdom of God. All the sins listed are prohibited in the Torah and the exclusion occurs in connection with the final judgment. The thing all the offenses have in common is their association with pagan temples. Based on the instruction of the previous chapter any congregation member caught in one of these sins must be confronted and disciplined in order that he might be saved on the Day of the LORD. Stern notes that the idea that a person can profess belief in God or in Yeshua and still highhandedly go on sinning is repugnant to the writers of Scripture.
6:12 The statement "all things are permitted to me" is not intended to reflect Paul's viewpoint, but the viewpoint of some in the congregation. The opinion is essentially antinomian. Paul counters this misbelief by pointing out that not all things are profitable or fitting for self-control. Stern notes that these antinomians would later be called gnostic libertines.
6:15-16 Paul's statement that having sex with a prostitute makes the man "one body" with her does not mean they are married. He quotes from Genesis to affirm that God intended sexual relations to be exclusive to marriage. In Israelite culture sex with an unmarried woman generally created a marriage obligation (cf. Ex 22:16-17; Deut 22:28-29). However, sex with a pagan prostitute would result in unequal yoking, which is expressly forbidden.
6:19 Paul alludes to the Jerusalem Temple as a metaphor of the human body. Just as the Shekinah glory dwelled in the Holy of Holies, so the Holy Spirit dwells in the believer.
6:20 The idiomatic expression "bought with a price" does not refer to redemption ("buying back"), but rather direct purchase. By accepting Yeshua the believer has transferred ownership of himself to Yeshua on the basis of the payment of Yeshua's blood.
7:1 From this point Paul's letter addresses concerns presented by members of the congregation. Paul's statement about not touching a woman should not be taken literalistically as "any woman." The verb "touch" refers to touching that alters or changes circumstances. In the two previous chapters Paul has confronted prohibited touching and in this chapter he will address appropriate touching.
7:2 Paul's instruction to be married reflects the Talmudic saying, "A man has no right to live without a wife, and a woman has no right to live without a husband" (Tos. Yebamot 8:2) (MW-Notes 270).
7:3-5 Paul's directs spouses to satisfy intimacy needs echoes the Torah instruction of Exodus 21:10. According to rabbinic guidance the frequency of marital intimacy depended on the husband's occupation (Ketubot 5:6; 61b-62b).
7:5 Paul again mentions Satan, the adversary of God's people.
7:9 He repeats the principle of verse 2. The Talmud speaks of lust as a burning passion (Kidd. 81a).
7:10-15 Paul addresses divorce among believing couples and unequally yoked couples. He essentially discourages divorce. For more discussion of this subject see my article Divorce in the Bible.
7:18-19 Paul mentions circumcision and rejects the premise of the Circumcision Party that a Gentile must be circumcised to be saved (cf. Acts 15:1). He asserts that keeping God's commandment is a disciple's first priority, and for Jewish disciples it would mean circumcising their babies in accordance with Torah.
7:39 Paul affirms that the death of a husband frees a woman for remarriage. The qualification of "only in the Lord," implies remarriage to a believer, but could also allude to the Lord's requirement of Levirate marriage if her husband died without a male heir (Deut 25:5). In addition, Paul's allowance reflects a specific legal issue of the time and a ruling of Gamaliel, Paul's teacher. The death of a person had to be established by two or three witnesses, but Gamaliel taught that a woman was free to remarry even if only one witness gives testimony of her husband's death (Yebamot 15:5).
8:6 Paul asserts that the God and Father of Israel is the Creator and the only God in existence, alluding to the declaration of the Shema (Deut 6:4).
9:4-14 Paul presents a kal vchomer ("how much more") argument to assert that as an emissary of the Messiah he was entitled to stop working for a living and to be supported by them.
9:13 Paul mentions the right of priests in the Jerusalem temple to share in the food offered as a financial support principle.
9:20-21 The mention of Grk. Ioudaiois (pl. of Ioudaios, Jew, Judean) being under the bondage of legalism refers to orthodox Jews who lived by the Pharisaic philosophy. The expression "without Torah" is likely an allusion to Hellenistic Jews.
10:1-11 Paul recounts the history of Israel from the Red Sea crossing through the years in the wilderness. This lesson would be meaningless to pagan Greeks.
10:2 Paul elevates the stature of Moses by saying that the Israelites were "immersed into Moses" by their passage through the Red Sea.
10:4 Paul comments that the rock in the wilderness that gave the Israelites water was actually Yeshua.
10:7-10 The golden calf idolatry in the wilderness and grumbling of Israelites with its resulting divine punishment serve as a warning.
10:16 The "cup of blessing" may allude to either the third cup in the Passover Seder or the cup in the Lord's Supper.
10:23 Paul repeats his viewpoint from 6:12 on the misbelief of" all things are permitted to me."
10:24 Paul alludes to the second great commandment in his exhortation to seek the good of one's neighbor.
10:30 Paul alludes to the Jewish practice of offering a b'rakhah (blessing) when partaking of food.
10:31 The instruction that in eating or drinking one should give glory to God alludes to the participation in communal meals of the pilgrim festivals, which were conducted to give glory to God by obedience to the Torah command.
10:32 Paul instructs the factions in the congregation not to give offense to Judean Jews or Hellenistic Jews.
11:3 Paul affirms the Genesis principle (Gen 3:16) that a husband is the head of his wife. The usage of "head" to mean "authority" is common within Hebrew thought.
11:4 Paul observes that a man praying or prophesying wearing something down over his head dishonors his "head," i.e., Yeshua. Paul is not condemning the wear of headgear. Two possibilities have relevance here. First, Gill says that pagan priests worshipped their deities with their heads covered. Prayer and worship among God's people should never imitate worldly practices. Second, the Greeks had a prophesying game called kolafix that had become a children's favorite. The game involved covering a player's head with a hood and the others making him guess who had touched him (Santala 221). It may be that certain men were mimicking this game by offering prophetic messages while hooded for certain persons seeking advice. It is no wonder that Paul would say that such an approach to seeking God's will and giving prophetic counsel would dishonor Yeshua. Prophesying is serious business and should never be an occasion for mockery.
11:5 Paul applies the principle to wives by observing that a wife praying or prophesying with her head uncovered (i.e., hair loosened) dishonors her head, i.e., her husband. Paul's use of "uncovered" implies there is something particularly offensive in the woman's behavior. Targum Onkelos interprets the Heb. "high hand" in Exodus 14:8 as "with an uncovered head," that is, they went out of Egypt confidently, not fearfully, or as men ashamed. Then in Numbers 15:30 Targum Onkelos "The soul which commits any sin with an uncovered head," that is boldly and impudently. So, in this context "uncovered" has the sense of acting deliberately against prescribed norms for godly behavior.
Gill comments, "some heathen priestesses, who used to perform their religious rites and sacrifices with open face, and their hair hanging down, and locks spreading." Swinging their hair in a sensual dance with flesh exposed was part of adoration to the deity. It may be that some of the women in the congregation who had been saved out of this pagan background (cf. 1Cor 12:1) employed the same manner in ecstatic prayer and singing songs of praise (as described in chapter 14). Today the expression "let your hair down" means to let go of inhibitions.
11:7 Paul refers to the order of Creation (Gen 1:26-27) by saying that the man is the image and glory of God and woman is the glory of man.
11:12 Paul mentions the order of special creation in which the woman came out of the man.
11:23-26 Paul recounts Yeshua's last observance of Passover as the basis for enacting the ritual for the Lord's Supper.
11:25 The mention of the "New Covenant" alludes to the prophecy of Jeremiah (31:31).
12:2 Paul laments that when the Hellenistic Jews lived as the nations they turned to idolatry.
12:4-11 The various gifts of the Spirit were recognized ministries in Jewish culture, generally performed by people not of the priestly caste.
12:13 The expression of being immersed into one body by the Spirit alludes to the immersion of Israel into Moses (10:2). Similarly, disciples are immersed into Yeshua.
12:28 The offices appointed by Yeshua were normative to Jewish culture, particularly to the synagogue.
14:8 The "trumpet" equals the silver trumpet of Numbers 10:2, 9.
14:29 Paul exhorts disciples to engage in theological analysis of public teaching and prophesying to determine consistency with revealed Scripture.
14:27 He instructs that any foreign or unknown language spoken in a service be translated. If there is no interpreter the speaker is to keep silent.
14:37 Paul reminds them (and modern Christians) that his instruction is the Lord's commandment.
15:8 Paul's mention of being "prematurely born" probably alludes to the Torah passage of a woman giving birth by virtue of being hit (Ex 21:22).
15:49 He alludes to the creation of Adam as being borne of the earthy, because he was formed out of dirt (Gen 1:26).
15:52 The mention of the "last trumpet" alludes to the shofar blowing at Rosh Hashanah.
15:20, 23 The expression "first fruits" is used to represent Yeshua's resurrection, an allusion to the first fruits offering in the Temple on Reishit Katzir that fell on the first day of the week following Passover (when Yeshua was resurrected).
15:29 Paul mentions a Jewish practice of being "immersed for the dead," perhaps an allusion to 2Macc 12:43-44. The immersion is self-immersion. Paul does not mention the practice in order to recommend it, but simply to point out that those engage in the practice must believe in the resurrection.
16:1-5 There is instruction on taking a collection for Jewish disciples in Judea. Among Jews any humanitarian aid was to be collected by two and distributed by three (Baba Bathra 8b). The collection is taken on the first day of the week (16:1) since money transactions were prohibited on the Sabbath. While Paul does not refer to the first day as the Lord's Day, a term likely coined by John (Rev 1:10), the mention does imply a gathering for worship. When worshipping on the first day of the week began for early believers is unknown. It could have started shortly after the Ascension, not only in celebration of the resurrection but also in memory of Yeshua's appearance to the disciples on the first day of the week (John 20:19). The resurrection remembrance service probably followed at the conclusion of Sabbath observance at sundown, as in Acts 20:7 where Paul's teaching until midnight is spoken of as taking place on the first day of the week.
16:15 Paul uses the "first fruits" metaphor again, this time in reference to Stephanas. This use of "first fruits' would be an allusion to the first fruits offering at Shavuot when empowerment of the Holy Spirit made evangelism of the nations possible.
16:22 The technical word maranatha, "let him be accursed," probably originated from the courtroom, since Jewish legal documents were often written in Aramaic.
1:1 Paul includes Sosthenes as a correspondent.
1:14-16 Paul says that he was responsible for only a few immersions in Corinth, that of Crispus, Gaius and the household of Stephanas.
1:17 He asserts that Yeshua did not commission him to immerse people, but to proclaim the good news.
3:6 Paul compares himself to Apollos by saying that he planted and Apollos watered.
3:10 He says he laid a spiritual foundation in Corinth.
4:4 In an honest self-evaluation Paul states, "I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord."
4:9-13 Paul lists common experiences of the apostles in which he has shared.
4:15 He speaks of becoming their spiritual father.
4:16 He exhorts the Corinthians to imitate him.
5:3 He says that he has already judged the man in the congregation guilty of the Torah prohibition of relations with his father's wife.
5:9 The clause "I have written you " indicates that Paul had written a letter that preceded the one identified as "First Corinthians."
5:10-12 he clarifies something that he had written to them on a previous occasion.
7:7 Paul expresses a wish that all men were like him, not meaning the state of unmarried celibacy, but serving God according to His call and gifting.
9:5 Paul mentions that the apostles, the brothers of Yeshua and Cephas (Peter) were married and their wives traveled with them.
9:18 Paul mentions that he did not charge for proclaiming the Good News. Rabbinic law forbid charging a fee for teaching Scripture (Avot 4:5; Nedarim 37a, 62a; Derek Eretz Zuta 3:3; cf. 1Cor 9:18; 2Cor 11:7), so rabbis typically practiced a trade.
9:19-23 Paul speaks of accommodating himself to different groups, meaning that he made adjustments in the manner of his witnessing to reach different Jewish parties and Gentiles.
9:20 His statement that he became as a "Jew" is not a tautology even though he was ethnically Jewish, a "Hebrew of Hebrews." Rather he means that he lived by the same rules as the legalists in order to minister to them.
14:18 He claims that he speaks in multiple languages, but he does not mean the "glossolalia" associated with pagan temples of the time or in modern practice.
16:8 He says he would remain in Ephesus until the time for Shavuot.
16:21 He concludes the letter with a personal greeting in his own handwriting.
Paul's second letter to the congregation in Corinth was written from Macedonia. At least two letters had preceded this one, including the letter identified as First Corinthians (cf. 1Cor 5:9; 2Cor 10:9-11; 13:1). In 1:1 Paul extends his greeting to all the disciples in the region of Achaia, so this letter had a wider distribution than the first.
Hughes describes the sequence of events leading up to the writing of this letter. Paul had sent the former letter (1Corinthians) from Ephesus by the hand of Titus. After the dispatch of that letter Paul was anxious to know how it was received. He had an arrangement with Titus to meet him at Troas, Paul's destination after leaving Ephesus (cf. 1Cor 16:5-8; Acts 20:1; 2Cor 2:12-13). After arriving in Troas he did not find Titus, so he continued his journey to Macedonia, and finally Titus did arrive, probably in Philippi (2Cor 7:5-7). Titus gave his report with a mix of good and bad news. Like the first letter Paul had Titus deliver this letter, accompanied by an unnamed "brother" (2Cor 8:16-22; 12:18), whom most scholars believe to be Luke.
Harris says that Paul had several overriding purposes in writing. He wished:
(1) to express his great relief and delight at the Corinthians' positive response to his "severe letter" that had been delivered and reinforced by Titus (2:6, 9, 12-14; 7:5-16);
(2) to exhort the congregation to complete their promised collection for the disciples in Jerusalem before his arrival on the next visit (8:6, 7, 10, 11; 9:3-5);
(3) to prepare them for his forthcoming visit by having them engage in self-examination and self-judgment (12:14; 13:1, 5, 11), so that they could discover the proper criteria for distinguishing between rival apostles (chapters 10 to 13); and so that Paul could be spared the pain of having to exercise discipline (10:2, 5, 6, 11; 11:3; 12:19-21; 13:10).
There were, of course, other aims, such as his desire to inform them of the intensity of his trouble in Asia and solicit their prayer for future deliverance (1:8-11), to explain his changes of itinerary (1:12-2:4), to encourage the reaffirmation of their love for the penitent wrongdoer (2:5-11), to insist on their separation from all idolatrous associations (6:14-7:1), and to describe the true nature and high calling of the Christian ministry (2:14-7:4).
Paul's second letter to the congregation in Corinth was written a few months after the letter identified as First Corinthians. At least two letters had preceded this one (cf. 1Cor 5:9; 2Cor 10:9-11; 13:1). In 1:1 Paul extends his greeting to all the disciples in the region of Achaia, so this letter had a wider distribution than the first. The letter may be outlined as follows:
I. Introduction: Greetings and Thanksgiving (1:1-11).
II. Paul's Explanation of His Change of Plans (1:122:13).
III. Paul's Philosophy of Ministry (2:146:10)
IV. The Collection for Disciples in Judea (8:19:15).
V. Paul's Vindication of His Apostolic Authority (10:113:10).
VI. Conclusion (13:11-14).
Paul uses a number of quotations to the Tanakh in the letter. Only Jews and proselytes would have been familiar with the words and content of Scripture.
4:13 Psalm 116:10 (LXX Psalm 115:1)
6:2 Isaiah 49:8
6:16 Exodus 29:45; Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 32:28; Ezekiel 37:27
6:17 Isaiah 52:11; Jeremiah 31:9
6:18 2Samuel 7:8, 14; Isaiah 43:6
8:15 Exodus 16:18
9:9 Psalm 112:9 (LXX Psalm 111:9)
10:17 Jeremiah 9:24
13:1 Deuteronomy 17:6
Paul makes many references to aspects of contemporary Jewish culture and religion.
1:1 Paul makes reference to "Christ" (Grk. Christos), which is a Jewish title for the Messiah. Christos has no religious meaning in Greek culture. The title occurs in 44 verses of this letter.
1:3-7 Paul follows the liturgical formula for a Jewish b'rakhah (blessing). The praise is directed to the Father rather than to Yeshua.
1:5 Paul's statement about "the sufferings of Messiah are ours in abundance" hints at Psalm 34:19 and Psalm 94:19.
1:20 All the promises given to the patriarchs and Israel are "yes" in Yeshua. (This means the promises have not been transferred to Christianity.)
2:11 Paul mentions Satan who first appears in the Garden and then in the story of Job.
2:14-15 The expression "sweet aroma" is an allusion to the burnt offering (Ex 29:18) and the grain offering with oil and incense (Lev 2:2; 6:15).
2:17 Paul's ethical principle of not charging for the good news reflects a rabbinic value (Avot 4:5).
3:6 Paul mentions the New Covenant, which was prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer 31:31). He clarifies the Jewish understanding that the Torah brings life (Deut 30:19-20; John 5:39; Exodus Rabbah 41:1) by saying that in the New Covenant it is actually the Spirit who brings life by enabling God's people to keep His commandments (Ezek 36:26).
3:7 He mentions the stone tablets which contained the words of God (Ex 24:12).
3:13 He mentions Moses veiling his face because of the glory of God (Ex 34:34). The Talmud says, "The countenance of Moses was like that of the sun; the countenance of Joshua was like that of the moon" (Baba Bathra 75a).
3:14-15 The mention of the "Old Covenant" and Moses being read refers to the Torah portion read in a synagogue service.
5:10 Jewish expectation of judgment at the end of the age is alluded to in the statement, "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah."
5:17 Paul's mention of "new creation" is a Jewish idea because it only becomes possible in the Jewish Messiah. "And a people will be created to praise the Everpresent Lord.' [Ps 102:19] The Holy One, blessed be He, will create them a new creation." (Midrash Leviticus 30:3; quoted by MW-Notes 286)
5:20 The call to "be reconciled to God" alludes to the expectation of personal peacemaking and reconciliation during the ten days of awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Any relational sin that had not been forgiven could not receive atonement.
5:21 Paul says that Yeshua was sinless and that his death served as a sin offering (as translated in CJB, MACE, MRINT, NJB, NLT, OJB, TLV, and WESLEY). The translation of many versions that God made him "to be sin" implies that Yeshua became sinful on the cross, and fails to recognize that the Hebrew word for "sin" is also used of the sin offering in the Torah.
6:14 The exhortation not to be bound to unbelievers alludes to the Torah commandment to avoid mixing unlike things and people (Ex 34:11-12, 15-16; Lev 20:5-6; Num 25:1-2; Deut 22:10; 31:16).
6:15 In the Qumran writings Belial is one of the princes of Darkness. His sons (followers) are worthless and perverse. "The first attack of the Sons of Light shall be undertaken against the forces of the Sons of Darkness, the army of Belial a time of salvation for the People of God, and a time of dominion for all the men of His forces and eternal annihilation for all the forces of beliah." (DSS 1QM 1:1, 5; TDSS 147f). "he made Belial for the pit, an angel of malevolence, his dominion is in darkness and his counsel to condemn and convict" (DSS 1QM 13:11; TDSS 160).
6:16 Paul also alludes to the Temple using it as a symbol of the Body of Messiah.
7:10 Paul expounds that godly sorrow leads to genuine repentance (Heb. t'shuvah), that is, turning from sin to God, making restitution for wrongs, and resolving to act righteously.
8:9 He mentions that Yeshua had no material wealth.
9:7 The Talmud says, "it is the same whether one gives much or little, as long as he directs his heart to his Father who is in Heaven!" (Shevuoth 15a)
9:10 The expression "seed to the sower" alludes to Isaiah 55:10 and Hosea 10:12.
11:2 Paul uses the verb "betrothed," a term related to marriage. In Jewish culture marriage involved two stages or two ceremonies, erusin (betrothal) and nisuin (consummation). Betrothal meant that from that point the woman belonged to the man. That is, the woman became forbidden to all men but to whom she has now been designated. Betrothal made the woman a legal wife and her status could only be changed by divorce or death.
11:31 Paul attests his integrity with a Jewish blessing "He who is blessed forever knows that I am not lying," what could be called a typical Jewish hodayah (eulogy) (Santala 9).
12:2 He uses the expression "third heaven," an allusion to the Jewish view of the tripartite universe. The first heaven is the atmosphere of the earth, the second heaven is interstellar space and the third heaven is the location of God's dwelling.
13:1 he mentions the Jewish evidentiary standard of "two or three witnesses" (Deut 19:15).
Overall the letter contains an emotional response from Paul not seen elsewhere in his writings (Chaps. 1, 45, 7, 1012), ranging from personal despair to incredible ecstasy. In 1:1 Paul includes Timothy as a correspondent.
1:8 he mentions his trials in "Asia," possibly a reference to Ephesus.
1:16 he mentions a planned journey to Judea.
1:8 he speaks of sufferings experienced in Asia.
1:19 he says that Silvanus and Timothy shared in his ministry in Corinth.
2:3-4 Paul references a previous letter (1Corinthians).
2:13 Paul mentions Titus, whose name is mentioned 6 times in chapters 7-8 and again in chapter 12.
5:13 Paul relates that some thought him to be insane.
7:5-7 Paul returns to his travel narrative.
8:1-6 Paul letter exhorts the congregation to be generous in the matter of collecting an offering for the disciples in Judea. He planned to send Titus receive the offering. To follow the example of Paul (and congregations in the apostolic era) means giving to the needs of Messianic Jews in Israel.
11:7 Paul mentions that he did not charge for proclaiming the Good News. Rabbinic law forbid charging a fee for teaching Scripture (Avot 4:5; Nedarim 37a, 62a; Derek Eretz Zuta 3:3), so rabbis typically practiced a trade.
11:8 Paul mentions being accused him of pocketing money for himself that they had collected for the relief of disciples in Judea. Paul passionately defends his integrity and his apostolic authority. His opponents in Corinth will experience his authority firsthand by divine validation if they fail to repent of their wicked attitudes.
11:22 Paul stresses his ethnic heritage as being a Hebrew, an Israelite, and a descendant of Abraham.
11:23-27 Paul then offers a list of his trials and burdens, including imprisonments, being beaten and stoned, being shipwrecked, and being in various kinds of dangers.
11:24 he mentions receiving "40 lashes minus one," a phrasing found in Jewish law (Deut 25:3; Makkot 22b).
11:32-33 He mentions his escape from Damascus soon after his transformation and commencement of ministry.
12:2-4 He describes an incredible experience of being caught up to the third heaven, whether in the body or out of the body he did not know. He heard and saw things he was forbidden to share.
12:7 As a result of the sublime revelation Paul says that he was given a "thorn in the flesh" to insure he remained humble. Commentators favor a physical ailment, but his mention of a "messenger from Satan" implies the "thorn" was an adversary in Corinth. False teachers were challenging both Paul's integrity and his authority.
13:12 Paul mentions the cultural practice of the "holy kiss." No one is sure exactly what a holy kiss was, but it was likely some sort of physical expression of affection, such as a hug, an embrace, a kiss, or touching, without any hint of improper intentions. Stern says that in Israel, Arab men and Jewish men from Middle Eastern backgrounds often greet each other by kissing on both cheeks.
Ant.: Flavius Josephus (c. 37-100 A.D.), Antiquities of the Jews. Online.
Barnes: Mark Barnes, List of New Testament Hapax Legomena. Logos Bible Software Forum, 2013.
Edmundson: Charles Edmundson, The Church in Rome in the First Century. Longmans, Green and Co., 1913. Online.
Grosheide: F.W. Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1953. (New International Commentary on the New Testament)
Harris: Murray J. Harris, 2 Corinthians. Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 10. Software version 2.6. Zondervan Corp, 1989-1999.
Hughes: Philip E. Hughes, Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1962. (New International Commentary on the New Testament)
Mare: W. Harold Mare, 1 Corinthians. Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 10. Software version 2.6. Zondervan Corp, 1989-1999.
MW-Notes: Daniel Gruber, The Messianic Writings. Elijah Publishing, 2011. Annotations by the author.
Santala: Risto Santala, Paul: The Man and the Teacher in the Light of Jewish Sources. Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 1995. Online.
Schurer: Emil Schurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. 4 vols. trans. Peter Christie. T&T Clark, 1885. Online.
Skarsaune: Oskar Skarsaune, In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity. InterVarsity Press, 2002.
Tarn & Griffith: Sir William Tarn and G.T. Griffith, Hellenistic Civilization. 3rd Edition. Edward Arnold Publishers, Ltd., 1952.
Turner: C.H. Turner, "New Testament Chronology," Dictionary of the Bible, ed. James Hastings, 1903. Online.
TDSS: The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. Rev. ed. Trans. Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr. and Edward Cook. HarperOne, 2005.
Additional Resources on Paul
Tim Hegg, Letter Writer: Paul's Background and Torah Perspective. 2nd ed. TorahResource, 2008.
Derek Leman, Paul Didn't Eat Pork. Mt. Olive Press, 2005.
Brad Young, Paul the Jewish Theologian: A Pharisee among Christians, Jews, and Gentiles. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1997.
Copyright © 2015-2020 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.