First Corinthians

Chapter 1

Blaine Robison, M.A.

An Exegetical Commentary

Published 21 June 2021 (in progress)

Chap. 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 1415 | 16 


Scripture Text: The text of 1 Corinthians 1 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. Other Bible versions may be quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Quotations marked with the initials "BR" indicate the translation of the commentary author.

Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of the chapter commentary. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. Important Jewish sources include the following:

DSS: Citations marked as "DSS" are from the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of Jewish manuscripts of Scripture and sectarian documents found in the Qumran caves. Most of the Qumran MSS belong to the last three centuries BC and the first century AD. Online DSS Bible.

LXX: The abbreviation "LXX" ("70") stands for the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use among Jews by the mid-2nd century B.C. Online.

Josephus: Citations for Josephus, the first century Jewish historian (Yosef ben Matityahu), are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75–99 A.D.) trans. William Whiston (1737). Online.

Talmud: Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Click here for Talmud abbreviations.

Targums: The targums are early Aramaic translations of the Hebrew text with commentary: Targum Jerusalem (1st c. AD), Targum Neofiti (1st c. AD), Targum Onkelos (c. 35–120 AD) and Targum Jonathan (2nd c. AD). See an index of targum texts here.

Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." See the Greek Guide for the meaning of grammar abbreviations and pronunciation of Greek words. Parsing data for Greek words is from Anthony J. Fisher, Greek New Testament. The numbering system of the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible is identified with "SH" (Strong's Hebrew #) and "SG" (Strong's Greek #). Strong's Online.

Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms ADONAI (for 'LORD' when quoting a Tanakh source), Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), and Besekh (New Testament).

See Introduction to First Corinthians for background information on the letter.

Chapter Summary

In the first chapter Paul begins his letter by greeting the congregation in Corinth and expressing gratitude that the Yeshua followers had been enriched by God's grace, were not lacking in any spiritual gift, and were eagerly waiting for the revelation of the Yeshua the Messiah. He immediately begins by addressing the first of over a dozen serious problems, that of division within the congregation. Members had created parties with identified allegiance to named apostles and to Yeshua himself. Paul's analysis attributes the cause of the disunity to a reliance on human wisdom and then demonstrates the folly of such rationale.

Chapter Outline

Introduction and Greeting, 1:1-3

Thanksgiving for God's Grace, 1:4-9

The Problem of Division, 1:10-17

The Folly of Human Wisdom, 1:18-25

The Calling of the Corinthians, 1:26-31

Introduction and Greeting, 1:1-3

1 Paul a called apostle of Yeshua the Messiah by the will of God, and Sosthenes the brother,

Paul: Grk. Paulos, from the Latin cognomen or surname Paulus ("small" or "humble"). The name Paulos first appears in Acts 13:9. Paul was born in Tarsus of Cilicia to traditional Jewish parents of the tribe of Benjamin and given the Hebrew name Sha'ul (Acts 9:11; 21:39; 22:3; Php 3:5). The name Paulus was probably taken from the patron who made Roman citizenship possible for Paul's father or grandfather (see Acts 22:28). For a biography of Paul see my article The Apostle from Tarsus.

The CJB, in deference to its intended audience, substitutes the Hebrew name Sha'ul for "Paul" to emphasize his Jewishness and rebut the lie of historic Christianity that the apostle surrendered his Jewish identity (Stern 267). We should note that "Paul" is also the only name by which the apostle refers to himself in his writings and those were sent to congregations with largely Jewish membership, as well as to Jewish congregational leaders.

a called: Grk. klētos, adj., originally meant invited to a meal (e.g., 3Macc 5:14) (BAG). Klētos occurs only ten times in the Besekh, first occurring in Matthew 22:14 in a figurative sense meaning an invitation to the Kingdom of God, "many are called, but few are chosen." Paul gives the word a distinctly personal meaning in reference to the invitation he received on the Damascus road. It is noteworthy that Paul describes himself as "called," not converted, as frequently described by Christian interpreters. Indeed, Paul didn't change religions or start one, but continued the mission of God that began with the Hebrew prophets.

As a word signifying religious devotion the word "called" is used four different ways in Scripture. The first kind of call is the covenantal call to Israel who was called to bear witness to the Name of ADONAI and be a light to the nations (Isa 42:6; 43:1, 7; 48:12; 61:6). Paul's ministry to the nations (Acts 9:15) served particularly to fulfill Isaiah's prophecy. In the apostolic writings "call" is used of the spiritual call to salvation and fellowship with God (Rom 8:28; 1Cor 1:9; Col 3:15), then the call to a moral and ethical life based on Torah commandments and the example of Yeshua (Rom 1:7; Gal 5:13; 1Th 4:7), and then to the vocational call experienced by the apostles (Acts 9:3).

apostle: Grk. apostolos was used in Greek and Roman culture for a delegate, ambassador, envoy, messenger, emissary or official representative. Apostolos occurs one time in the LXX where it translates shaluach, Qal pass. part. of the verb shalach (SH-7971), "sent," of Ahijah the prophet (1Kgs 14:6). Josephus uses apostolos one time of a group of Jewish ambassadors sent to Rome to complain about the appointment of Archelaus (Ant. XVII, 11:1). Apostolos appears in no other early Jewish literature, but it is grounded in Jewish culture in the office of shaliach. In first century Judaism a shaliach acted as an official messenger or a proxy for and with the full authority of the sender (Ber. 5:5).

The shaliach's mission was "limited in scope and duration by definite commission and terminating on its completion" (DNTT 1:128). In the Besekh the term "apostle" is specifically applied to the original Twelve disciples (Matt 10:2), then Mattathias (Acts 1:26), and Jacob, the half-brother of Yeshua (Gal 1:19). All the apostles named in the Besekh were Jewish. The apostles of Yeshua were so named because they had "seen the Lord," i.e., they were witnesses of his resurrected form (John 20:25; Acts 9:27; 1Cor 9:1; 15:5-9; 1Jn 1:1). In addition, the apostles had been personally sent by Yeshua with the authority to proclaim the good news, determine orthodox doctrine, and direct conduct based on application of Torah ("bind and loose," Matt 16:19; 18:18).

Messianic Jewish versions prefer "emissary" to "apostle," because of its association with Christianity. However, the Jewish men Yeshua appointed clearly chose this Greek word to identify themselves and elevated its meaning at the same time. An apostle of the King of Israel is no minor office. The apostles had the authority to proclaim the good news, determine orthodox doctrine, impose requirements based on application of Torah ("bind and loose," Matt 16:19; 18:18), and shepherd the congregations they founded (cf. 1Cor 14:37). The apostolic office ceased to exist with the death of John and those Christian leaders in following centuries who sought to lay claim to the title did not deserve to bear it.

of Yeshua: Grk. Iēsous, a transliteration of the Hebrew name Yeshua ("Jesus" in Christian Bibles). Yeshua is a contraction of the Hebrew name Y’hoshua ("Joshua"), which means "YHVH is salvation" (BDB 221). For more information on the meaning our Lord's name see my web article Who is Yeshua? the Messiah: Grk. Christos (from chriō, "anoint with olive oil"), the expected fulfiller of the hopes of Israel for an end-time deliverer, the Messiah. The English "Christ" transliterates the Greek title, but does not translate it. In the LXX Christos translates Heb. Mashiach (SH-4899), "anointed, Anointed One."

Mashiach is used in the Tanakh for the Messiah (Ps 2:2; Dan 9:25-26) and this usage defined the term among Jews in the first century. The primary identification of Messiah is the King of the Jews, the son of David. Biblical prophecies speak of his rule over Israel from David's throne in Jerusalem. Yeshua recounted these prophecies to his disciples after his resurrection (Luke 24:44-47). Jews eagerly anticipated the coming of the Messiah to deliver them from their enemies and establish His kingdom on the earth (Luke 1:69-75; Acts 1:6). Thus, "Messiah" has special meaning as the hope of Israel, whereas the word "Christ" has an alien and even negative meaning to Jews (Stern 1-2).

Sometimes Christians use "Christ" as a last name, since Christian versions present the word order of "Jesus Christ." This convention is strange since no one would say "David King." It's important to remember that the title Christos was the invention of Jews long before Yeshua was born. The Christos of the apostles was both high priest and king of the Jews who fulfilled all the promises made to the patriarchs and the nation of Israel. Paul's use of Christos also reinforces the view that the congregation was principally Jewish, whether traditional or non-traditional. That title only had relevance to Jews, not to Gentiles. To Gentiles the apostles proclaimed Yeshua as the One whom God appointed as Judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; 17:31). For a discussion of the Jewish hope and expectation of the Messiah see my article The Messiah.

by: Grk. dia, prep. used as a prefix to a statement, which may express (1) instrumentality; through, by means of; or (2) causality; on account of, because of. The first usage applies here. the will: Grk. thelēma may mean (1) that which is to be carried out according to wish or purpose, will; or (2) the act of willing, will or desire. The first meaning applies here.

of God: Grk. theos, God or god, which must be determined from the context. In the LXX theos primarily renders the name of the Creator God Elohim (2568 times), but sometimes YHVH (300 times) (DNTT 2:67-70). Given the plural nature of Elohim the full triunity of God must be represented in theos. In the Besekh theos is used overwhelmingly for the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and ruler of the universe and God of Israel, the only God in existence.

and: Grk. kai, conj. that marks a connection or addition. Kai has three basic uses: (1) continuative, 'and, also, even;' (2) adversative, 'and yet, but, however;' or (3) intensive, 'certainly, indeed' (DM 250f). The first use applies here. Sosthenes: Grk. Sōsthenēs, a proper name meaning "of safe strength." The name occurs only two times in the Besekh and in the other (Acts 18:17) he is identified as the ruler of the synagogue in Corinth. Commentators note that Sosthenes was a common name, but the coincidence of the same name in the circumstances is striking. Stern suggests that Sosthenes may have succeeded Crispus as nasi (President) after he left the synagogue (Acts 18:8) (290).

the brother: Grk. ho adelphos, lit. "of the same womb," and in secular Greek meant a male sibling; brother. In the Besekh adelphos primarily refers to blood siblings or fellow Israelites. In the LXX adelphos renders Heb. ach (SH-251), a male sibling (Gen 4:2; 20:5), a male relative of the same tribe (Gen 13:8; Num 16:10) or the people of Israel (Ex 2:11; 4:18). The definite article distinguishes the status of Sosthenes in relation to Paul. Commentators are divided over whether this Sosthenes was the one mentioned in Acts 18 since this name is not included among those named as part of Paul's ministry team (Acts 20:4).

However, the only reason Paul would mention Sosthenes is because the congregation in Corinth was acquainted with him. It is very possible that after getting beaten for failing to stop the Messianic movement in Corinth (cf. Acts 18:6, 17) he later believed in Yeshua and traveled to Ephesus to join Paul. Ellicott conjectures that Sosthenes was Paul's amanuensis in writing this letter, the salutation only (1Cor 16:21) having been written by Paul's hand. Meyer discounts that Sosthenes served merely as secretary, but Paul names him as a co-author of the letter. Meyer suggests that Sosthenes appears as a teacher then present with the apostle and enjoying his confidence, but known to, and respected among, the Corinthians.

Works Cited

BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.

Clarke: Adam Clarke (1762-1832), Commentary on the Holy Bible. 6 vols. Online.

Danker: F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.

DM: H.E. Dana & Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. The Macmillan Co., 1955.

DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 Vols. Colin Brown, ed. Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.

Ellicott: Charles John Ellicott (1819–1905), Commentary for English Readers (1878). Online.

Faussett: A.R. Faussett, The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, 1871) Online.

Gill: John Gill (1697-1771), Exposition of the Entire Bible. Online.

GNT: The Greek New Testament, eds. Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Bruce M. Metzger, & Allen Wiegren. American Bible Society, 1966.

Grosheide: F.W. Grosheide, The First Epistle to the Corinthians. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1953. (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)

Gruber: Daniel Gruber, The Messianic Writings. Elijah Publishing, 2011. Translation of the Majority Text of the Greek New Testament with interpretive annotations.

HELPS: The Discovery Bible New Testament: HELPS Word Studies. eds. Gleason L. Archer and Gary Hill. Moody Press, 1987, 2011. (Online at

ISBE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Ed. James Orr. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939. Website HTML, 2011. Online.

JANT: Jewish Annotated New Testament, eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Brettler. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Lander: Shira Lander, "The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians," Jewish Annotated New Testament, eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Brettler. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Lightfoot: John Lightfoot (1602-1675), A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica (1859 ed.), 4 Vols. Hendrickson Pub., 1989. Online.

LSJ: Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon. Revised and augmented by Sir Henry Stuart Jones. Clarendon Press, 1940. Online.

Mare: W. Harold Mare, 1 Corinthians. Expositor's Bible Commentary, 12 vol. Zondervan Electronic Edition, 1998.

Metzger: Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. German Bible Society, 1994.

Meyer: Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer (1800-1873), Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (1859). 21 vols. T&T Clark, 1880. Online.

Rienecker: Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. 2 Vols. Zondervan Pub. House, 1980.

Santala: Risto Santala, The Messiah in the New Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings. Trans. William Kinnaird. Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 1992. Online.

Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.

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