Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 Gods orderly process and resurrection

1 Corinthians 15:20-28

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

Starting in verse 20, Paul reverses the argument and begins from the true premise that Jesus was raised from the dead — by God the Father — with the current and enduring result that Jesus now lives. Paul is more forceful than the NIV (indeed) indicates: But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20, NLT, ESV, CEB). The standard Greek lexicon uses the phrase but as a matter of fact and says that the Greek word introduces the real situation after an unreal clause or sentence,[1] referring to the unreal assumption that there is no resurrection.

For the seventh time since verse 4, Paul uses the relatively rare Greek perfect tense (passive voice) to refer to Jesus being raised. The seven verbal forms are identical, so it is plain Paul is making a point. What is the point? As before, the Greek perfect stresses the current result of a past action; here the current result is that Jesus lives after being raised by the Father. This force is hard to express briefly in a Bible translation.

The next critical fact is that Jesus is called the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor. 15:20b). The concept of Jesus as firstfruits is metaphorical. The Law of Moses called on the Jews to offer annually a sheaf of grain from the very first harvest to God (Lev. 23:1011). David Garland reminds us that the feast of firstfruits occurred on Nisan 16 every year, and Jesus was resurrected on Nisan 16 in A.D. 33.[2]

But the metaphor of firstfruits is more expansive than what has been described so far. Anthony Thiselton explains that firstfruits embodies both a temporal logic and representative logic.[3] As firstfruits, Christ is not only the first to be raised from the dead but also the representative of the full harvest to come. Note carefully that Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor. 15:20b), a phrase that always refers to Christians. We who are in Christ will take part in the full harvest of resurrections of which Christs was the first.

Verses 22 and 23 must be interpreted together. Garland gives his interpretation, with which both Thiselton and Gordon Fee agree: All those bound to Adam share his banishment from Eden, his alienation, and his fate of death for that death becomes the common lot of his posterity. All those bound to Christ receive reconciliation and will share his resurrection and heavenly blessings. Not all humans are in Christ, however.[4] Those who are in Christ include those who have fallen asleep (verse 20) and those who belong to Christ (verse 23).

The other theme introduced in 1 Cor. 15:23 is order. The verse begins with a military term to describe something placed in its proper order, and it is easy to see a definite sequence of events which climaxes in verse 28 with that God may be all in all. Paul is showing the Corinthians that events are unfolding in an order that God intended.

Paul has made no attempt to account for what eventually happens to all humanity. It has been his purpose to establish the resurrection of Christ and then the raising of all who are in Christ. A few interpreters have attempted to drag the unsaved dead into the picture by saying that the term translated the end (verse 24, Greek telos) necessarily includes them, but that was not the concern of the Corinthians, and the great majority of interpreters rejects the idea for several reasons. The fate of the unsaved dead is recorded in Rev. 20:5, 11-15 (see the study guide titled Apocalypse). In fact, the consummation of world history is seen in verse 24 to be about God rather than about us or the unsaved dead.

Verse 24 contains the phrase all dominion, authority and power as a list of those powers Christ would nullify, and that statement might have made some in Roman Corinth nervous. After all, the Roman emperor was portrayed as both divine and the spiritual Father of the empire, but Paul is replacing that imperial propaganda with a picture of Christ voiding all powers and giving everything to his Father. In 1 Cor. 15:25, Paul includes an indirect reference to Psalm 110:1, and putting enemies under ones feet is a metaphor meaning to bring them into subjection. Jesus is even now bringing all his enemies into subjection, and the last to fall will be death (1 Cor. 15:26). But fall it will!

Verse 27 is tricky because the subject shifts from Christ taking action in the earlier verses to God taking the action in verse 27. Garland explains it by showing an identity in brackets with each pronoun: When it says, All things have been made subject [by God], clearly that excludes the one [God] who made all things subject to him [Christ].[5] Paul was being careful to prevent some foolish person from using the phrase all things to include God. The scope of the word all is always an issue for interpretation.

We can use the same technique to make sense out of 1 Cor. 15:28: When he [God] has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him [God] who put everything under him [Christ], so that God may be all in all. Thiselton brings to our attention a subtle idea from another scholar: There is no order without subordination.[6] Sin threw the world into chaos, but the Son was willing to subordinate himself to the Father as part of the plan to redeem humanity and make a new creation in which God and his people could dwell forever.

Though Pauls meaning is complex and taxes our minds, we see in verse 28 the culmination of Gods orderly process of redeeming lost humanity and defeating his enemies through Christ. Christ, though equal to the Father and of the same substance, voluntarily subordinated himself to the Father as part of this long salvation process (Phil. 2:6-11). Nevertheless, they remain one, along with the Spirit, and their purpose remains one. Thiselton says, Thus God remains the source and goal, Christ remains the means through which the goal which God purposes comes to be brought about.[7]

In Roman Corinth there were other factors in play that likely caused Paul to express himself in this way. Thiselton explains that in the surrounding Greco-Roman culture it was common for various religious groups to gather around their own favorite divine hero, such as Asclaepius the healer, and to worship that divine hero without ever including any serious reverence to a supreme deity, such as Zeus.[8] The supreme deity effectively dropped off their list.

Remember 1 Cor. 8:5, where Paul told us that in Roman Corinth there are many gods and many lords. Paul did not want anyone to see Jesus as just another of the many lords, and he did not want them to see God the Father as just some vague, mysterious idea. No, he wanted them to see God as all in all, the supreme creator and sovereign ruler over all the world.

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

 


[1] BAGD, nuni, as a matter of fact, q.v.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 706, footnote 4.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 12234.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 707, and see 709. (Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1227; Gordon Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 750.)

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 713.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1224, quoting T.C. Edwards.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1236.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1237, citing J. Moffatt.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:12–19 A false idea and its implications

1 Corinthians 15:12–19

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.

16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

As you study this passage, it is vital to keep in mind that Paul is writing to people who are totally accustomed to the techniques of persuasion used by speakers and writers. So, he is very methodical in dealing with the issue of the resurrection of the dead. He has just recited the preaching of all the apostles (1 Cor. 15:1–11) saying that Jesus was raised from the dead and now lives, just as Paul had preached and just as the Corinthians had believed. That sets the stage for dealing with a theological issue in the church at Roman Corinth.

“Some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:12b). Paul first points out a contradiction: The Corinthians have responded to the gospel with its message of Christ crucified and resurrected, so how can some still question resurrection? Next, Paul starts with the false premise that there is no resurrection and shows the butcher’s bill for holding that view.

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Jesus did was not raised either (verse 13). That overthrows all the apostolic preaching and voids the faith in Jesus expressed by the Corinthians. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, the gospel is no more than snake oil peddled by hucksters and bought by rubes.

But Paul is not finished. If the apostles have consistently preached a false resurrection, they are “exposed as liars”[1] (1 Cor. 15:15) not merely about some mundane subject but about the living God. And, by implication, the Corinthians are fools for believing their message.

Next, Paul repeats the false premise and its main consequence: “For if the dead are not raised [false premise], then Christ has not been raised either [main consequence]” (1 Cor. 15:16). Next he moves the argument in to an intensely personal level. No resurrected Christ means, the faith of the Corinthians was useless, and they each still face the wrath of God for their sins (verse 17). Further, their believing, though now dead, family members and loved ones are “lost for good”[2] (1 Cor. 15:18). That is one horror that easily translates across the centuries to believers like us situated in the twenty-first century. It is too painful to think about.

Adopting the false premise that there is no resurrection from the dead leads to the awful conclusion that Christian hope ends at death. Under such circumstances, David Garland says, “Christianity would be an ineffective religion that is detrimental to one’s health since it bestows only suffering on its followers.”[3] Under this assumption, Christians would suffer and find shame like Jesus, but their shame would be well deserved and unrelieved by eternal fellowship with God.

Concepts about death in Roman Corinth

Garland relates the findings of an important study of Roman tombstone epitaphs by saying, “The belief of the ancients, both Greek and Roman, in immortality, was not widespread, nor clear, nor strong.”[4] One tombstone inscription was so common that it was abbreviated by the first letter of every Latin word — to cut costs — and it may be translated to say, “I was not. I was. I am not. I am free from wishes.”[5] The result of such fatalism was that people wanted to live for the moment; thus Paul quotes a popular saying “’Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (1 Cor. 15:32).

To avoid getting into Greek philosophy, we will rely on Garland’s summary of what the Corinthians likely believed: “Humans are composed of two inharmonious parts, body and soul, that are of unequal value. At death the mortal body is shed like a snake’s skin, and the immortal soul continues in a purely spiritual existence.”[6] They struggled to understand how an earthly body could possibly exist in a heavenly realm, and that may have led them to question bodily resurrection.

Paul totally rejected any idea of a spirit existing without a body, but his way of resolving the confusion about a resurrection body must wait until 1 Cor. 15:35–55.

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) 1219.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1221.

[3] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 703.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 698, quoting R. Lattimore.

[5] “non fui, fui, non sum, non desidero” abbreviated “nffnsnd” on tombstones.

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 700.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:9–11 God’s kindness transforms us

1 Corinthians 15:9–11

9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

The break between the previous post and this one is arbitrary, because verse 9 takes up right where verse 8 ended. Paul is not defending himself here; instead he is placing emphasis on the grace of God toward him as manifested through the resurrected Christ.

Anthony Thiselton issues a corrective and a clarification to verse 9 when he disagrees with NIV’s phrase “do not deserve to be called an apostle” because the translation “deserve” suggests that by better moral behavior he could have qualified for the title of apostle. Paul fully understands that by human reckoning he was not qualified to be called an apostle, but Christ made him one as a gift. “Paul [has] theological awareness that he cannot ‘reach up to’ of ‘aspire to’ his calling; he accepts it as a gift of grace.[1] God’s grace has nothing to do with our worthiness; its whole basis is Christ crucified for our sins and resurrected to give us new life. That is God’s gift to all who will accept it.

Few verses bring more good news to us than 1 Cor. 15:10a — “By the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” For cultural and historical reasons, the concept of grace is hard for American Christians to fathom. Our tendency is to ask what someone must do to receive grace. But grace is God’s kindness, God’s gift. Think about it: kindness is about the giver, not the recipient. That is what makes it kindness! God gave Christ for our salvation while we were his enemies (Rom. 5:10). The resurrected Christ summoned Paul to faith and apostleship while Paul was on a journey to capture Christians for execution.

Everything about Paul flows from the kindness of God through Jesus Christ. “By the grace of God, I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10a). Paul’s very identity was rooted in Christ, and so is ours. But equally important is knowing that God’s grace transforms us on a continuing basis: “his grace to me was not without effect” (1 Cor. 15:10a). After Paul accepted God’s grace, he became even more engaged in doing what Christ asked of him than any of his new colleagues.

Pay careful attention to the balance of what Paul says. God did not do these things without Paul, nor did Paul do any of it without “the grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10b). God could easily do everything without us, but he does not choose to do so.

The tradition that Paul has recounted about the death and resurrection of Christ included all the people Paul named (1 Cor. 15:1–10). (By “tradition” we mean the historical account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that was accepted among those who witnessed the events and was carefully handed down to those who followed them.) All played a role in passing the story down. Paul received the tradition from others and passed it to the Corinthians, who responded to Christ by faith (1 Cor. 15:11).

Having reconstructed the foundational message of Christ’s death and resurrection, Paul next expands their knowledge with further vital knowledge about the resurrection and how it relates to our lives (1 Cor. 15:12–58).

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) 1211.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 Four essential events

1 Corinthians 15:3-8

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Paul stresses the continuity of tradition[1] in 1 Cor. 15:3. The essentials of Christian faith did not begin with Paul and did not end with the Christians in Roman Corinth — or with us! Note with greatest care the matters of first importance (verses 3-8):

that Christ died for our sins (v. 3)

that he was buried (v. 4)

that he was raised on the third day (v. 4)

that he appeared [to many] . . . . (vs. 5-8)

David Garland explains the first point by saying: Christs atoning death is a central tenet of the faith (Rom. 5:6, 8; 8:32; 1 Cor. 8:11; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; Eph. 5:2; Titus 2:14; cf. Gal. 1:4). This death was not a sad misadventure but something God destined for him because of (or with reference to, concerning . . .) the sins of humankind.[2] The Romans presented the death of Jesus as that of a rebel, a man guilty of treason — though Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, knew better. The leaders of the Jews saw the death of Jesus as the necessary elimination of a dangerous threat. What Paul gives us is Gods viewpoint on the reason Christ died, the view which will stand. If this were a murder mystery showing on PBS, the final scene would show the reason Christ died to be: us— each of us individually and all of us together. Our sins had doomed us, apart from the death of Christ on our behalf.

The second point, Jesus burial (1 Cor. 15:4a), relates to his death. Garland says, Death and burial are interconnected in Scripture. This detail verifies the reality and finality of Christs death.[3] An empty tomb can mean many things, but burial quite simply tells us that death has occurred.

The third point will prove crucial in chapter 15, because it describes the resurrection of Christ. In 1 Cor. 15:4b, Paul probably makes a deliberate choice to use the Greek perfect tense to say he was raised (NIV). Since the entire chapter is about the implications of Christs resurrection, Paul used the perfect tense here to emphasize the results or present state produced by a past action.[4] As a result, Gordon Fee concludes that Paul is implying that he [Jesus] was both raised and still lives.[5] Oh yes he does!

The tradition Paul is reciting also provides the extra details that Jesus was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:4b).This resurrection on the third day was exactly what Jesus told his disciples would happen (Matt. 16:21; Luke 9:22). One vital lesson for us is that God is totally faithful to his promises. We will see later in chapter 15 that the resurrection of Jesus was the precursor of our own future resurrection as believers in Jesus Christ. God will prove equally faithful to raise us!

Cephas is the Aramaic name for Peter (John 1:42). The tradition Paul is recounting includes appearances by the resurrected Christ to individuals and groups (1 Cor. 15:5-8). Paul notes that many eyewitnesses to the resurrection are still alive — making verification possible — but some have fallen asleep (verse 6), the encouraging Christian term for dying. Thiselton says, Paul did not think of the resurrection as some sort of [indescribable] truth beyond history; rather, it was an event . . . for which historical eyewitness testimony was readily available.[6] Even more encouraging, Thiselton adds, The metaphor of falling asleep . . . to denote the death of Christian believers carried with it the grammar of being awakened at the resurrection.[7]

The fact that Jesus appeared to James (1 Cor. 15:7) is interesting. Fee reminds us that This James is the Lords brother, who, along with his other brothers, did not believe in him during Jesus earthly ministry (John 7:2-9) but who appear with the disciples after the resurrection.[8] The resurrection of Jesus transformed people in his own time and still does today.

One final phrase requiring explanation is Pauls reference to himself as to one abnormally born (1 Cor. 15:8). Thiselton accepts the meaning a prematurely born dead fetus which figuratively reflects a use found in the [Greek Old Testament] to denote dire human wretchedness.[9] Paul looks back on his life at the moment Jesus appeared to him and considers his condition. Even though he had been highly educated in the Law of Moses, Paul not only failed to identify Jesus as the Messiah but also actively persecuted those who had committed themselves to Jesus, his assembly of believers that we call the church (1 Cor. 15:9). Viewing the gravity of this failure, Paul compares himself metaphorically to a prematurely born dead fetus, a figure of dire spiritual wretchedness. But the appearance to Paul by the resurrected Christ brought life-giving grace to the dead. Paul was never the same again.

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

 


[1] David Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 683.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 684.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 686.

[4] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 574.

[5] Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 726.

[6] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1205, quoting R.B. Hays.

[7] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 12067.

[8] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 731.

[9] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1209, quoting J. Munck.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:1–2 The place to take your stand

1 Corinthians 15:1–2

1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

Commentator Anthony Thiselton affirms the idea that 1 Corinthians 15 is the climax of the book because it completes the theme of God’s grace given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.[1] Most interpreters see the Christians in Roman Corinth as believing in the resurrection but not fully comprehending its importance to their salvation and spiritual condition. Paul starts with the common ground of their faith in what he had proclaimed to them about Christ and then extensively expands their understanding and ours.

As often, Paul sums up his entire message about Christ crucified and resurrected with the term “the gospel” (1 Cor. 15:1). Paul gave his message about Christ, the Corinthians believed, and the result is that they still stand on that faith (Greek perfect tense, stressing current results). This positive thought continues through the first part of verse 2: “through which also you are being saved” (New Revised Standard Bible).

Like any preacher, Paul does not want to give false assurance of salvation, so he introduces some qualifications in the second half of verse 2. All the benefits he has just named are theirs assuming they were serious about their original commitment to Christ (“if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you”). The second possibility that would negate the benefits is that they had not understood their commitment in the first place. Thiselton says, “Here Paul envisages the possibility of such a superficial or confused appropriation of the gospel” that certain Corinthians might hold only an “incoherent belief” in Christ.[2] This result is not an instance of believing “in vain” (NIV) but rather believing “without careful thought” or “in a haphazard manner.”[3] We have a duty toward those who might be in that trap! Make sure they give their allegiance to Jesus.

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 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000) 1169.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1186.

[3] BDAG-3, eik?i, “without careful thought,” q.v. (meaning 4).

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:36–40 The last word on worship

1 Corinthians 14:36–40

36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.

39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

In 1 Cor. 14:36, Paul echoes a statement from the start of the letter: “To the church of God in Corinth . . . together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2). He emphasizes with his penetrating questions that the Corinthians are not free to make their own rules, independent of all other believers.

The final three verses of chapter 14 represent the conclusion of Paul’s arguments about manifestations of the Spirit and worship in Roman Corinth. David Garland says:“[The conclusion] emphatically drives home the point, with no beating around the bush. It is short and not necessarily sweet. The polite speech with which Paul begins in chapter 12 is now put aside for direct, blunt speech.”[1]

He begins with a new definition of what it means to be “spiritual”; those who have the Spirit will agree that Paul’s commands come from Jesus (1 Cor. 14:37). In case anyone says otherwise, Paul issues a red-hot threat: “They will themselves be ignored” (1 Cor. 14:37). Garland explains, “It means that the Lord will say to such persons, ‘I do not know you’ (Matt. 7:22–23).”[2] Anyone to whom Jesus says that will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).

In verse 39, Paul strikes the exact balance he wants for all churches. Prophecy is to be emphasized, and tongues are not to be eliminated but must be limited. The principle that governs all is: “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” The phrase translated “orderly way” has a military background; we can imagine troops lined up in orderly ranks. In this way the church will be built up and unbelievers will be confronted with their need to commit themselves to Jesus Christ, who alone can save them.

Copyright © 2014 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) 674.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 674.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 What about women?

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Imagine for a moment that one of our pastors is preaching on Sunday when his wife rises from her seat and says in an audible voice, I dont see how you can teach this church after the way you treated me and the kids yesterday. A lot of things might happen after that, but spiritual growth or worship are probably not among them! Something like this was going on during the church gatherings in Roman Corinth, and Paul was determined to stop it.

The first thing to remember about the women in Roman Corinth is that they lived in another time and culture. We have previously stressed the interpretive principle that a biblical text cannot mean today what it did not mean at the time it was spoken. So, our initial task is to determine what Paul was trying to achieve in Corinth. Only then will we be in a position to faithfully apply Pauls instructions in our time and culture.

We have previously considered another highly-charged biblical passage about head coverings for women during worship (1 Cor. 11:2-16). There we found that a crucial cultural concern in Roman Corinth was shame and honor— whether those conditions applied to the individual, the community, the faction, or to the metaphorical head of the person involved. This cultural focus on shame and honor will also play a part in discussing womens role in controlled speech during church gatherings in Corinth.

The very first thing we must say in sum about women speaking in church during the first century is that such speech was common. Concerning 1 Cor. 11:5, Garland says, Paul affirms that it is quite permissible for women to pray or prophesy as long as they attend to their head covering.[1] David Garland further draws attention to 1 Cor. 14:31, where Paul says that all may prophesy in turn. Most readers who give 1 Corinthians a close reading know that Paul was a brilliant man; the likelihood that he would contradict himself is zero!

So, what do we conclude? First, we say on the basis of 1 Cor. 11:5 and 14:31 that Paul not only permitted but encouraged women to speak when the church assembled. How then do we account for Paul saying Women should remain silent in the churches (1 Cor. 14:34a)? Thiselton gets the ball rolling: If we concur with Ben Witherington and others that what is at issue is not speech as much as abuse of speech, a probable scenario begins to emerge.[2] We will now develop what abuse of speech is in question. Keep in mind that Paul had received a letter from Corinth as well as personal reports about what was going on there.

Yesterday we saw that in 1 Cor. 14:30-33a, Paul was dealing with specific restraints on wives who were in the process of sifting prophetic speech for soundness. In fact, we saw that 1 Cor. 14:29-36 all deals with restraints on prophecy and the evaluation of those messages for their faithfulness to Christ. The point is that the abuse of speech we are dealing with involved women who were sifting or discerning prophetic speech. You can see that this focus is much narrower than all-speech-by-women in church settings.

Thiselton[3] and Witherington suggest that the women in question were sifting the words of prophets by asking probing questions about their theology and lifestyle. This practice became particularly explosive — and disruptive to order — when wives cross-examined their husbands in a personal way that undermined their claim to be uttering prophetic speech. Such an exchange needs to take place at home (1 Cor. 14:35) not in church!

When Paul says, It is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church (1 Cor. 14:35b), he brings honor and shame into the picture. This specific abuse of speech by certain women in relation to their husbands was shaming their husbands. Things got worse from there! Recall that: the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God (1 Cor. 11:3). By shaming her husband, such a woman was bringing shame on her head, and he in turn was bringing shame on Christ, and that was bringing shame on God.

Such conduct created many problems, all serious. First, it was not loving toward others in the manner of Christ. Second, it could easily give the community the idea that Christians were overturning public order and decency; that would be a serious blow to the spread of the gospel of Christ crucified. (Such a charge created a riot in Ephesus, Acts 19:21-41.) Third, such conduct utterly failed to communicate the love, order, sharing and reciprocity that reflect Gods own nature. A calamity like this could not be allowed to continue, and Paul stepped on it hard!

The practice of abusing prophets should not be surprising. Jesus told the people of Nazareth, A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home (Matt. 13:57). They demonstrated their appreciation of this insight by trying to throw Jesus down a cliff (Luke 4:29)! This teaching is repeated in all four Gospels and was a well-known concept among the churches. Such boorish behavior may be common, but it does not please God.

Thiselton convincingly argues that the Greek verb eperotao in 1 Cor. 14:35 (they should ask their own husbands at home) has a lot more punch than ask. Here the verb means interrogate or cross-examine.[4] For example, in Mark 11:29, Jesus interrogates the chief priests and scribes about how they can reject his authority and yet accept the authority of John the Baptist. There is an earnest, demanding quality about this Greek verb. A wife should speak such words to her husband at home, not in church.

There is little question that similar conduct by men in Roman Corinth, if directed toward other men in a public meeting, would have been considered aggressive but acceptable. But for a first-century woman in Greco-Roman culture to speak in such a manner about her husband would create a scandal. This difference may or may not be fair, but a culture will have its way.

A far more important matter is that interrupting or contradicting a true prophet displeases God! Consider the clause that says, [The women] must be in submission, as the law says (1 Cor. 14:34b). Garland notes that The problem is that he does not cite a text from the law, and no OT passage instructs women to be silent.[5] However, what Paul likely has in mind is Numbers 12:1-15, where Miriam challenges Moses right to speak as Gods prophet on the grounds of his marriage to an Ethiopian woman. God intervenes very sharply against this attack on his prophet, and Miriam is shut out from the camp for seven days, shaming her. The Lord explicitly mentions her shame (Num. 12:14). Moses is said to be humble, and this contrasts with Miriams self-promotion and self-assertion that she too could speak as a prophet. The parallels to Roman Corinth are plain.

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) 665.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1156.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1158.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 115960.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 672.