Lectionary Year A
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 20, 2002
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Step IV: Context
A. Primitive Christianity
(JFC) Romans 1:1-7 reads very much like I Corinthians 1:1-15. Such greetings,
thanksgivings and praises seem quite ordinary for such epistles to such early churches. Ephesians, Colossians and II Timothy begin similarly, too. The Thessalonians (2:14) belong to the churches of God, as I Corinthians 1:2 says those in Corinth do. Peter, on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) explains the worshippers' excitement and claims, in verse 21 of that chapter, "Everyone who calls on God's name will be saved." Verse 2c or d of I Corinthians 1 says something similarly. Acts 9:14 and 21 also cite those who "call on His (Jesus') name" as believers in Him as Savior to be followed. Like I Corinthians 1:5b, Paul calls the Romans (15:14) also "full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another." Philippians 3:20 and II Thessalonians 2:7 also look forward to a future revelation of Christ, as does our text's verse 7c.
B. Old Testament and Judaism
(JFC) Psalm 99:6 notes that "Samuel was among those who called on God's
name", as our text's verse 2 says, as were certainly many others in the Old Testament. Then from the second century BCE to the fourth century CE, Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah (4:13), we get another future expectation of the Messiah's coming.
C. Hellenistic World
(JFC) Victor Paul Furnish writes in Harper's Bible Dictionary, "The religious
beliefs and activities of the congregation, as these developed between its founding and the writing of 1 Corinthians, have often been described as 'Gnostic', since there is evidence that the Corinthian Christians attached great importance to the acquisition and display of special religious knowledge (gnosis, e. g., 1 Cor. 1:5, 8:1, 10) and wisdom (e. g., 1 Cor. 1:20-2:13; 3:18-19), that they tended to equate spirituality with possessions of the more spectacular kinds of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12-14) . . . Whether these tendencies be called Gnostic, proto-Gnostic or simply Hellenistic, it is clear that they led to serious divisions within the congregation and were a matter of serious concern to Paul." Of course, Paul admits the seriousness of the divisions in Corinth and he has some very specific suggestions for re-harmonizing the belief system of the church there. He pointed out some very basic and traditional Christian practices which seem to fly in the face of the philosophers' search for truth, even and perhaps especially if they were gathering data from various movements such as Platonism, Stoicism, and Epicureanism, the Peripatetics, the Pythagoreans, and the Cynics. Many of these schools "regarded matter, including flesh, as evil and sought to emancipate the human soul from it and so to achieve immortality," as Kenneth Scott Lattaurette's History of Christianity contends. If these thinkers could appreciate that the "enrichments' in verse 5 were meant to be figurative, they could benefit by pondering what they provided for even philosophers, especially the part about knowledge, could get some engagement in discussing by them. The same might be said relative to the image of "fellowship" in the ninth verse of I Corinthians 1.
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