Understanding The Bible
Clarence E. Mason's "1 Corinthians"

Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible

INTRODUCTION (from Arthur S. Way)
Corinth, in Paul’s day, was the chief city of the Roman province of Acliaia (now Greece), having a population of about 400,000. Strategically situated, it was noted for its commerce and for the wealth and wickedness of its people. The population consisted of Greeks, Jews, Italians, and a mixed multitude.

Eloquent speech and human wisdom were exalted by these people. This makes peculiarly significant Paul’s purposeful avoidance of these very things during his ministry among them (1 Corinthians 2; Acts 18:1-18).

During his stay of about two years (52-53) at Corinth, Paul gained some Jewish converts, and many more from the ranks of the Gentile population, of which beside the native Greeks, a large number were Italian freedmen. The members of the church were drawn mostly from the lower orders of society.

After Paul left, Apollos came to Corinth and created no light impression by his eloquent preaching. Thereupon two parties began to develop; one adhering to Paul, the other to Apollos; and to these was added a third, doubtless as result of a visit from Judaizing teachers who claimed authority from Peter; while a fourth party, repudiating the others, claimed to be the only followers of Christ.

The Corinthians let their Christianity degenerate into a system of philosophy centralized by human wisdom. As a result, disorders of various kinds soon crept in.

At some time during his subsequent stay at Ephesus, the apostle wrote to the Corinthian church a letter (now lost) in which he spoke of his intention to visit them, urged on them the duty of contributing to the relief of the pauperized church at Jerusalem, and emphatically cautioned them against practicing or countenancing immorality. In time there came a reply from Corinth, silent as to any abuses in the church, hut the bearers of the letter horrified Paul by the account they gave him of disorders which had sprung up during his four-year absence:

(1) the church was split up into religious factions;
(2) the uncontrolled exercise of the gifts of the Spirit, especially of the gift of “tongues, “ made their gatherings scenes of confusion and uproar;
(3) the Eucharistic meetings were profaned by selfish gluttony and drunkenness;
(4) women outraged public opinion by addressing mixed meetings unveiled;
(5) members of the church defrauded one another in business and carried their disputes before heathen tribunals;
(6) some were relapsing into their old heathen practices of immorality, which they justified by pleading their Christian liberty (‘all things are permissible for me’ was their watchword);
(7) and, worst of all, a glaring case of incest was condoned by the leaders of opinion in the church; (8) in addition, some were skeptical as to the resurrection of the body.

To these abuses the letter itself made no reference; indeed, the general tone of it was one of entire self-satisfaction. It began with the assurance that they “remembered him in all things, and were observing the rules he had laid down for their guidance. “ It went on to say that, while they all possessed the Spirit’s gift of inward “illumination, “ there were yet differences of opinion among them with respect to points of conscience and matters of procedure, on which they would like to have an expression of his views, viz.:

  1. Were married relations fully consistent with utter Christian purity?
  2. Should marriages or re-marriage be discouraged?
  3. Was divorce, or re-marriage after divorce, allowable for believers?
  4. Might believers be divorced from unbelievers?
  5. Was virginity nobler than marriage and, if so, should parents keep their daughters unwedded?
  6. Might food which had been consecrated to idols (a small portion of which would be actually sacrificed, the rest being at the disposal of the priests) be eaten by Christians? (Much of this was sold by the temple officials to the meat dealers and, as sacrificed beasts had to be free from blemish, it might well be the best meat in the market. Moreover, there were, at festivals, great gratuitous banquets in the temple precincts, which were a real boon to the poor.) Might not the Christians (many of whom were very poor) avail themselves of these, since they would do so, not as participating in idol-worship, but simply to satisfy hunger? The Gentile converts were revolted at the bare idea.
  7. The Jewish (and Roman) custom was for men to worship with covered heads; the Greek, with uncovered heads. Which was the proper one for Christians?
  8. What was the relative excellence of the “gifts of the Spirit” as involving the precedence to be given to their exercise at church-gatherings? The writers were inclined to give the place to the “gift of tongues. “
  9. Might women address their public meetings?
  10. How were the doubts and difficulties which surrounded the doctrine of the resurrection of the body to be met?
  11. What system would he recommend for raising and forwarding the alms-fund?

In his answer the apostle deals first with the graver things (chapters 1-6) which their letter had failed to mention—the disorders and immoralities which threatened to shipwreck the cause at Corinth (one-third of his letter being occupied with these) before he touches on the questions propounded to him. And then he replies to their questions (chapters 7-16).



    1. Church disorders (and their rebuke) 1:10-4:21
      1. God’s wisdom versus man’s 1:10-4:7
      2. The utter folly and unfairness of man’s wisdom 4:8-21
    2. Social irregularities (or moral evils) and their rebuke 5-6
      1. The lust of the flesh and its discipline 5
      2. Litigation between brethren rebuked and forbidden 6:1-8
      3. Correcting misconceptions concerning the body 6:9-20
    1. Social irregularities (and their rebuke) 7:1-11:1
      1. Answers to questions concerning marriage, etc. 7
      2. The answer to questions concerning Christian liberty 8:1-11;1
    2. Church disorders (and their rebuke) 11:2-16:4
      1. Directions for proper conduct in public worship 11:2-14:40
        1. Propriety on part of men and women as to headdress customs 11:2-16
        2. Proper conduct at the Lord’s Table 11:17-34
        3. Guide to evaluation of gifts of the Spirit and their proper use to avoid abuse 12-14
      2. The proper belief concerning the resurrection and rapture of the Church 15
      3. The proper method of gathering the gift for Jerusalem saints 16:1-4




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