Exposition of 1 Corinthians 16:19–24 “My love to all of you in Christ Jesus”

1 Corinthians 16:19–24

19 The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

21 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.

22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

24 My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.

When Paul mentions “the churches in the province of Asia” (1 Cor. 16:19), he is again sending actual greeting but also making the Corinthians see that they are part of the larger body of Christ. Let them look above not only their factional divisions but also outward to see the bond of love between Christians everywhere. The Roman province of Asia was located in what is now western Turkey.

The role of Aquila and Prisca (a shortened form of Pricilla) is notable. Acts 18:1–3 informs us that Aquila was a Jew who, along with his wife Pricilla, was expelled from Rome (probably as a Christian) in A.D. 49, when Emperor Claudius “closed down a Roman synagogue because of continuous disturbances centering on the figure of Christ.”[1] They emigrated to Roman Corinth where they met Paul, another tentmaker, and both hosted him and worked with him in the trade. They also joined Paul in Ephesus, where a church met in their home.

Anthony Thiselton approvingly describes the research of another scholar concerning Paul’s stay in Corinth: “Murphy-O’Connor convincingly paints a picture of Aquila and Prisca having their home in the loft of one of the shops around the market square (approximately 13 ft. x 13 ft. x 8 ft. without running water) ‘while Paul slept below amid the tool-strewn workbenches and the rolls of leather and canvas.’”[2] Are you feeling the hardship?

Though Paul dictated his letter to a professional scribe or secretary, he could not resist writing a greeting in his own hand (1 Cor. 16:21). This was all typical. One of Paul’s scribes actually identifies himself in Rom. 16:23.

Verses 22–24 serve as a sharp conclusion to the entire letter. The purpose of such a rhetorical conclusion was to reinforce the argument of the letter with emotional force. Here the vocabulary emphasizes Jesus Christ, love, and either the grace or the judgment that all will receive when Christ returns.

It seems most probable that in verse 22 the verb “love” refers to covenant loyalty. Covenant loyalty essentially amounts to obedience, just as Jesus emphasized with his disciples: “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). In the Old Testament, the result of maintaining covenant loyalty to God was blessing, while breaking the covenant resulted in curses. The curse is expressed by the famous Greek noun anathema, which has been adopted into English most frequently in reference to a person who has been excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

Thiselton summarizes: “Paul has reproached the [message] of the cross and the content of the gospel through the array of pastoral, ethical, and theological issues that bubble away at Corinth: Come on, he concludes; are you ‘in’ or are you ‘out’?”[3] The return of Christ will resolve this question once and for all.

“Come, Lord!” represents the Aramaic term “Maranatha.” Generations of Christians have echoed this appeal.

Paul closes by mentioning the grace represented uniquely by Jesus Christ and Paul’s own special love for all who are joined to Christ (verses 23–24). Amen!

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1343.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1343.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1351.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 16:10–18 Helping each other

1 Corinthians 16:10–18

10 When Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. 11 No one, then, should treat him with contempt. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers.

12 Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity.

13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.

15 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, 16 to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. 17 I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. 18 For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.

As he has just said, Paul will remain for a time in Ephesus because of the unusual opportunity there to spread the gospel. He had previously told the believers in Roman Corinth that he had dispatched Timothy to Corinth to teach and model Paul’s ways, just as those ways are taught in all the churches (1 Cor. 4:17). Next he calls on the Corinthians to pay close attention to how Timothy is treated “for he is carrying on the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 16:10). It is not Timothy who should fear, but anyone who obstructs him should fear the Lord!

Knowing that some in Corinth struggle with pride, Paul makes clear that Timothy is not to be disrespected or undervalued. He must also be enabled to return to Paul with other brothers (1 Cor. 16:11). As the apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul speaks with authority and without apology. But Paul was not a king. Apollos made up his own mind to delay his departure for Corinth, perhaps because he saw the same opportunity that kept Paul in Ephesus. Since it is also possible that Paul was imitating Christ in self-sacrifice (1 Cor. 11:1) by sending his associates to Corinth, Apollos may have decided enough was enough. Paul needed his help.

Many have observed how Paul generally follows the letter style of the early Imperial Roman period, and this becomes most apparent in his openings and closings. What made Paul’s letters more distinctive was (1) he spoke as Christ’s apostle, and (2) he inserted Christian content into the standard letter style. Ancient writers often included exhortations in closing a letter, and Paul puts five on them in verses 13–14.

However, several things make this letter distinctive among all of Paul’s letters. Nowhere else does Paul stress the importance of love so many times (verses 14, 22, 24). No other letter concludes with a potential curse (Greek anathema) against covenant breakers. The postscript expressing Paul’s love for the Corinthians is also unique (1 Cor. 16:24).

It is notable that the four commands in verse 13 are all present tense in Greek, meaning here that the need to do these activities is ongoing. He caps all four with the global “Do everything in love” (1 Cor. 16:14).

In verses 15–18, Paul recognizes the commitment of certain men and women (“household”) to serving the Lord’s people. Accordingly, Paul makes a personal request (verse 15b) based on his personal relationship to the believers in Roman Corinth: “submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it” (1 Cor. 16:16). Recognizing leaders who model love and service in the church is a critical task in churches today, but submitting ourselves to work under their leadership clashes directly with values we learn from an American culture of personal independence. We also need to expand our concept of family to include our Christian brothers and sisters.

Though verse 17 may sound like a rebuke toward the Corinthians, Paul is actually saying that what is lacking is the presence of all the Corinthians so that he might enjoy them as well. In Stephanus, Fortunatus and Achaicus, Paul was experiencing a bit of Corinth and wanting more!

Thiselton notes that improvement is needed in 1 Cor. 16:18b: “Fee rightly comments that NIV’s ‘such men deserve recognition’ captures the broad sense but fails to communicate Paul’s use of the imperative [command].”[1] Thiselton applies this to the church today by saying: “It is a live issue in the church today to what extent, if at all, Christian congregations wish to ‘honor’ leaders in the Christian sphere. . . . This may apply at any level of service to the church, where often loyal hard work is simply taken for granted rather than publicly and consciously recognized.”[2] Food for thought! It is not too much to ask that a personal “Thank you!” be words that those who lovingly serve us — both staff and volunteers — hear regularly!

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1342.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1342.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:11–13 At childhood’s end — Love

1 Corinthians 13:11–13

11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Paul has just said, “when completeness comes, what is in part disappears” (1 Cor. 13:10). At this point (1 Cor. 13:11) he switches to a metaphor well known in the ancient world for advancing the same idea: childhood must eventually be replaced by adulthood.

The verbs in the first half of verse 11 refer to how children speak, how they form opinions and how they assign value or evaluate things. All those actions change as we become adults, and this is common knowledge. The ways of childhood are temporary.

However, we must move from metaphor to meaning by asking questions. What is Paul referring to when he speaks of childhood? Three views have been proposed:

1. Some say that Paul is talking about the period during which we know in part and prophecy in part (1 Cor. 13:9). He may also be talking about that period which ends when prophecies cease, tongues are stilled and our partial knowledge passes away (1 Cor. 13:8). This view makes childhood the entire church age beginning just after Christ’s death and ending with the return of Christ in power.

2. Some would suggest that Paul is denigrating the use of tongues as a sign of immaturity. David Garland discounts this view[1] based partly on Gordon Fee’s refutation: “It is perhaps an indictment of Western Christianity that we should consider ‘mature’ our rather totally cerebral and domesticated — but bland — brand of faith, with the [associated] absence of the Spirit in terms of supernatural gifts!”[2]

3. Paul is not referring to the fact that spiritual gifts are being expressed in worship, but he is concerned with how they are expressed, what opinions are held about them, and how they are valued. This is Anthony Thiselton’s view, and he further explains, “It is time for a more mature ordering of priorities which places first the welfare of the whole [church] over the ‘rights’ of the individual” believer to express their particular spiritual gift.[3] To demonstrate their maturity, the Corinthian believers must embrace self-sacrificing love as their priority over the unchecked expression of spiritual gifts within a worship setting. In short, they must accept “the most excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31). This is the view we prefer due to its fit with Paul’s purpose.

In using the metaphor of the mirror (1 Cor. 13:12), Paul cleverly taps into two things well known among the Corinthians. First, Corinth produced good quality bronze mirrors. Second, Thiselton explains, “Common in Greco-Roman first-century thought was the use of mirror as a metaphor for indirect knowledge.”[4] Paul says that, for now, indirect knowledge is the best we can get. But when we are with Christ, “we shall see fact to face” (1 Cor. 13:12), a metaphor meaning the most intimate kind of knowledge. At that time we will not only know fully but will be fully known by God.

Paul finishes his argument about love with a surprising flourish. First he brings in faith and hope to join love (1 Cor. 13:13); these three spiritual pillars occur together in many of Paul’s letters (Rom. 5:1–5;Gal. 5:5–6). Garland explains: “Paul probably added faith and hope to love here to allow the familiar combination to balance the triad of prophecy, knowledge, and tongues. The inclusion of faith and hope also allows Paul to magnify love even more.”[5]

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 623.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 645, footnote 23.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1067.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1069.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 625.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:4–10 Love is a verb

1 Corinthians 13:4–10

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.

The main issue with 1 Cor. 13:4–7 is that we tend to put it on a pedestal as exalted poetry or use it in a wedding ceremony rather than let its actual meaning pierce our hearts every day.

David Garland explains something important about Paul’s words: “Many observe that [Paul] does not use adjectives to describe love but verbs, fifteen of them in three verses. Love is dynamic and active, not something static.”[1] How does this make a difference in interpretation and application? Using adjectives in English versions tends to make us think that Paul is listing desired character traits for an individual believer: “Love is patient. love is kind. . . . [Love] is not proud” (1 Cor. 13:4, NIV). But that idea does not fit Paul’s argument to the Corinthians.

Using verbs, as Paul does, brings out more of the relational aspect of what he is saying: “Love waits patiently; love shows kindness. Love does not burn with envy; does not brag — is not inflated with its own importance” (Anthony Thiselton[2]). There is a wide gulf between thinking a person can be kind in their heart (“is kind”) and understanding that kindness — such as that shown by Christ on the cross — involves actions toward others (“shows kindness”).

At one critical point, NIV has the excellent “[love] keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 1:5) rather than the abstract idea “[love] is not . . . resentful” (ESV, NET and NRSV) or the impossible “[love] thinketh no evil” (KJV). Not many of us could figure out how to stop being resentful and none of us could manage thinking no evil. But we all know what it means to keep a list of grievances against someone else. (HCSB and NLT join NIV in making this improvement.)

Many of us go numb at the mere mention of philosophy, and that makes us easy prey to the attacks on Christianity by postmodern philosophers. When Paul says that love “rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6), these philosophers claim that our Christian “truth” is designed to bring us power over others either for our selfish advantage or that of our peer group. They further claim that when Paul says love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7, ESV, NET, HCSB, NRSV), his teaching promotes conformist docility. They charge Paul, and by extension Christian faith, with teaching people to silently accept whatever the overlords dish out.

But, Jesus Christ could not be said to be a conformist; his death on the cross on behalf of others occurred precisely because he did not conform to the expectations of this world. Further, he did not die to gain power over others but to offer them an opportunity to escape judgment for their sins. Far from promoting unthinking acceptance of the status quo, the love Paul advocates cares deeply about pleasing God and caring for others. In service of that idea, Paul says that such love “never tires of support, never loses faith, never exhausts hope, never gives up” (1 Cor. 13:7, Thiselton[3]). Bible translation must always be mindful of how Christian thought is being undermined and frontally attacked.

Verse 8 begins the final section, which extends through verse 13. Garland says, “In the concluding paragraph, Paul attests to the permanence of love in comparison with spiritual gifts so prominent in Corinth — prophecy, knowledge, and tongues.”[4]

NIV says, “Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:8), but Thiselton prefers “Love never falls apart.” He does so because he disdains using an abstraction (“fails”) when Paul “has consciously used images and metaphors of burning or boiling, inflating, bad manners, having a sharp point stuck into one, and reckoning up accounts.”[5] The verb means to fall down, to fall to the ground, to collapse, or to fall apart. Love will endure beyond the day when God judges this world!

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 616.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1026.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1026 and 1057.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 620.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1060.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12:21–26 What God wants in the church

1 Corinthians 12:21–26

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

One theme that permeates the book of First Corinthians is reversal of status. In status-conscious Roman Corinth that was a big deal! They did not seem to remember that Jesus said, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:31).

This theme of status-reversal was strongly expressed in 1 Cor. 1:27: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” In our text for today this theme surfaces again. Garland explains 1 Cor. 11:21 by saying: “’Eye’ and ‘head’ are transparent metaphors for those in leadership roles, who are likely more affluent and better educated. The ‘hands’ and ‘feet’ represent the laboring class or slaves. ‘Eyes’ and ‘heads’ in the church always get special treatment and then begin to think that they are special.”[1] It is a short step to the delusional idea that the special people really don’t need the other, lesser people.

With the words “on the contrary” (1 Cor. 12:22), Paul turns the reasoning of the special ones upside-down. Those parts of the body they consider to be “less endowed with power and status than others” (Thiselton) are in fact necessary.[2] In 1 Cor. 12:23, Paul points out that the Corinthians already give special honor to parts that they think are “less honorable” and “unpresentable” by covering them up; this is regarded as a reference to sexual organs.[3] Other parts of the body, such as the face, are “presentable” and “need no special treatment” (1 Cor. 12:24a).

But quite aside from human evaluation of the various parts of the body, God has leveled the playing field by “giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it” (1 Cor. 12:24b). That God had two purposes in mind is made clear by verse 25: (1) “that there should be no division in the body” and (2) “that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” God’s stated purposes ran counter to the culture of Roman Corinth and were in direct conflict with the presence of divisions in the church and the self-absorbed, high-handed practices of “the strong.”

Jesus was the countercultural model of honoring those who society thought unworthy. He loved the poor, the oppressed and the weak and had harsh words for the elite. It should not surprise us that it honors him when we hold the most humble member of the body in high regard.

When there is mutual concern and reciprocity, the church suffers together or rejoices together according to the welfare of any person belonging to it (1 Cor. 12:26). With this in mind, Garland summarizes: “The church is not to be like its surrounding society, which always honors those who are already honored. It is to be countercultural and bestow the greatest honor on those who seem to be negligible.”[4]

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 595.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1006.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 613.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 596.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:17–22 One supper, but whose?

1 Corinthians 11:17–22

17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

It is quite easy to mistake Paul’s point when he speaks about communion in the church at Roman Corinth. He is not trying to teach communion theology; instead, he is correcting communion practices that dishonor the memory of Christ’s sacrifice for others. Many churches today merely shear off the criticisms and use the rest to conduct communion services.

Frankly, any church whose meetings are described by Christ’s apostle as doing “more harm than good” (1 Cor. 11:17) ought to think hard about discipline from the Lord (more about that later). The factions Paul mentioned in 1 Cor. 1:10 were likely factional differences between one house church and another. The differences in 1 Cor. 11:18 are of a different kind, as Anthony Thiselton explains: “Here, however, the very house meeting itself reflects splits between the socially advantaged and the socially disadvantaged.”[1]

A villa from Paul’s time, just outside Roman Corinth, had a dining room with dimensions of 24 x 18 feet, probably seating about 9 high-ranking guests. The central atrium, a combination courtyard and hallway, had dimensions of 16 x 20 feet, possibly accommodating as many as thirty in crowded conditions. Some believe “the strong” met in the dining room, where a few high-status diners could recline for a shared meal with their social equals, while all the others fit into the larger atrium as best they could.[2] Starting with the host and moving downward in social class, we have close friends, second-class friends, hangers-on, clients, freed persons, head persons, youngsters and servants. The beautiful and ancient mosaic below was taken from the dining room floor of the villa. The host’s close friends enjoyed it.

Floor_mosaic_from_Roman_villa_in_Corinth

Every section of 1 Corinthians has its difficult part, and 1 Cor. 11:19 is one of those verses that has been interpreted in many ways. We cannot agree with the NIV’s translation for two reasons: (1) for Paul to say “there have to be differences among you” makes him contradict himself in a letter where he consistently teaches their unity in Christ, and (2) the Greek word for “God” does not appear in the Greek text and is supplied by translators’ assumption (according to NIV and NLT, but not ESV, NET or HCSB). Some other view is needed.

Only two explanations can cut through all the difficulties. The first would be to understand the verse as Paul’s irony or even sarcasm, but that explanation appears less likely in a context leading to judgment (verses 28–30). The preferable explanation is that Paul is not expressing his own opinion at all! Instead, “the strong” have cooked up another theological argument to defend their privileges. Further, it is not God who is doing the approving but the powerful who are claiming that certain others have not yet proven themselves tried and true.

With that start, we will next look at Thiselton’s translation of 1 Cor. 11:19: “For ‘dissentions are unavoidable,’ it is claimed among you, in order that those who are tried and true may be visibly revealed.”[3] Thiselton, whose explanation we have begun above, joins others who believe these dissentions had been anticipated by the Corinthian believers based on Jesus’ warnings that false prophets would come in his name: Matt. 7:15 and 24:11. Thiselton suggests “the strong” took up this idea by reasoning that not everyone who claimed to be a believer might be proved tried and true. From that principle, “the strong” concluded that “dissentions are inevitable.” However, they are using this slogan not to protect the whole church but to justify separating from those who are not in their social class. In addition, they are blaming the victims by saying they are not yet proven to be “tried and true” (Greek dokimos).[4] On this basis they are resisting Paul.

The result of this scheme is well expressed by David Garland: “The splits at the Lord’s Supper are imposed by prideful, insensitive humans seeking to differentiate the top-drawer members from the common rabble.”[5] Paul’s reaction is strong: they may be eating supper, but it cannot possibly be the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20)!

The idea of each family bringing its own food and drink is described by Garland: “The practice of ‘basket dinners,’ or eranos (contribution) dinner parties, in which persons make up a dinner for themselves and pack it into a basket to go to another’s house to eat was well known.”[6] But the result was also predictable: “one person remains hungry and another gets drunk” (1 Cor. 11:22).

As usual, when Paul whips out the rhetorical questions, it is time for those behaving badly to duck (1 Cor. 11:22). Garland explains the plight of the poor: “In the ancient world the poor did not have kitchens in their tiny apartments and prepared their food on portable grills or ate out at a fast-food shop. . . . The privileged had the luxury of eating in their homes.”[7] Those not attached to a household suffered badly in times of famine, which we know historically came even to prosperous Roman Corinth.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 857.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 860–61.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 848.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 858–59.

[5] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 539.

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 541.

[7] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 542.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:27–30 Will “the strong” risk shame?

1 Corinthians 10:27–30

27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

In keeping with Paul’s long-running theme in chapters 8–10, the controlling verse for what follows is verse 24: “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

Though the section from verse 25 through verse 31 is complex due to “if” statements and rhetorical questions, Kenneth Bailey shows that it has a simple underlying structure:

Eat (verses 25–26) — shopping in the meat market; all belongs to God

Eat (verse 27) — dining with unbelievers and believers

Do Not Eat (verses 28–29a) — food is declared dedicated to an idol

Eat (verse 29b–30) — eating freely, without regard for others, defames you

Eat (verse 31) — eating in a way that honors God[1]

We have already addressed 1 Cor. 10:25–26 in the previous lesson. Paul switches to another common situation, being invited to a meal with an unbeliever (1 Cor. 10:27). There again the Corinthian believers may eat whatever is offered without raising questions; issues of conscience are not involved. Garland explains, “In this instance, Paul makes a concession to the reality that social connections were absolutely necessary to survive in the ancient world. In his day, intrepid mavericks could not strike off on their own and expect to manage. One needed relationships with others for services and protection.”[2]

In 1 Cor. 10:28, there are various possible scenarios about the possible identity of “someone” who says, “This has been offered in sacrifice [to an idol],” but choosing among them does not really matter. As soon as the statement is made, the invited Christian cannot eat, both as a matter of covenant loyalty to Christ and as a consistent witness to others. His choice is determined for the good of the others, or, you might say, for the good of the gospel. The focus on others is made explicit in verse 29a: “I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours.”

The interpretation of 1 Cor. 10:29b–30 is disputed. Keep in mind that the Greco-Roman world was far more focused on public honor and shame than we are today. We next present Thiselton’s views[3] in simplified form. Paul has dealt with some common situations in the previous verses. but now he imagines “the strong” to be dissatisfied with having their freedom limited by the opinions of others. After all, “the strong” know that idols are nothing and feel they should be able to eat meat in a neutral setting, such as a home, even though someone says, “This has been offered in sacrifice.” With this background in mind, “the strong” are saying inwardly, “Why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience?” (1 Cor. 10:29b). Paul intends this rhetorical question to force “the strong” to rethink their position in light of what comes next.

Thiselton’s translation of 1 Cor. 10:30 reveals the thorns hidden in the green grass of “the strong’s” freedom-from-concern-for-others: “Well, if I take part in a meal with thanksgiving, why should I suffer defamation of character over that for which I, at least, give thanks?”[4] When “the strong” plunge ahead and eat the meat sacrificed in the idol temple, both unbelievers and other Christians will shame them with their inconsistent behavior; they claim faith in Christ but then behave with disloyalty in eating food sacrificed to an idol. As a result, “the strong” will experience “defamation of character” when others revile them.

For these reasons, Thiselton sums up in the following way:

Paul’s meaning on this basis would be: what would be the advantage of my exercising my freedom if I thereby suffer defamation of character? If it genuinely does not matter whether I eat or not, why choose the path that raises unnecessary difficulties? What is the point of “freedom” if I cannot choose not to cause problems?[5]

In our next post, Paul will provide a fitting conclusion to the argument he has developed in chapters 8–10. You can be certain it will involve the Man for Others, Jesus Christ.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Adapted from Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 2011) 283–284.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 493.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 790–92.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 779.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 790.