New Testament Lesson 35 (1 Corinthians 1–7)
PAUL’S 1ST CORINTHIAN EPISTLE
By spring of AD 57, Paul was back in Ephesus. From there he wrote to the Corinthians, giving them counsel. The epistle was written in approximately 57 AD, probably in the spring around Passover time.
The City of Corinth
Corinth, an ancient city of Greece, was destroyed in 146 BC by its Roman conquerors.
Julius Caesar rebuilt the city 100 years later to be the chief city of the province of Achaia.
Corinth was a prosperous trading center with a teeming population, mostly pagan.
It was near the site of the Isthmian games—a passion for Greeks that attracted large crowds.
Greek love for philosophy and questioning without answers was well established at Corinth
Paul also had problems, here as elsewhere, with the Judaizers who sought to discredit him and to tear down what he painstakingly built up.
The small Christian community in Corinth was surrounded with temptations. Corinth had a worldwide reputation in the ancient world for its immorality. Corinth was the site of the famous temple of Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of love. The temple had 1,000 “priestesses” who were nothing more than prostitutes glorified by the cloak of religious worship.
Anciently, to “Corinthianize” meant to engage in reckless debauchery. In stage plays, Corinthians were usually portrayed on the stage as drunkards. Even today, calling someone a Corinthian means that he is given totally over to licentious desires. It is not surprising that in his letters to Corinth Paul sharply condemns immorality and lusts of the flesh.
Why Paul Wrote 1st Corinthians
● Paul wrote for at least three reasons:
— To rebuke the Corinthians for their loose manner of living.
— To correct misapprehensions from a former letter, now lost (1 Cor.7:1).
— To answer certain questions posed by the Corinthians in their return letter, also lost.
● President Ezra Taft Benson said, “One of the fascinating subjects in the life of the Apostle is the exchange of communications and news between him and his converts in Corinth. The communications revealed that there were factions forming in the branch with different views regarding moral conduct and doctrine. Some of the converts were assuming a libertine or freethinking attitude with respect to the doctrines which had been taught to them by Paul and the missionaries who worked with him. Some were defending loose sexual standards that were rampant in the notorious city. These problems came into being because of the background of the new converts and the conditions of the time and place in which they were living. They were reactions to the new faith which had been taught to them against the old background which had been part of their former conduct and thinking.”1
The Need for Unity among Members
● Paul warned against divisions, factions, and schisms within the Church (1 Cor. 1:10–15, 24). He firmly reminded the Corinthian Saints that they all were of “the Church of God” and not of Paul, Apollos, or Cephas (Peter).
— The word “wealth” used here by the King James translators conveyed the idea of the “well-being” of a person, not his riches.
● Paul again spoke out against pride and cliquishness in the Church (1 Cor. 3:2–15).
Rhetoric vs. Wisdom
● “God uses the weak of the world to confound those who are mighty (1 Cor. 1:26–31).
— In the English of the 1600s, “base” meant “lowly” or “humble” (v. 28).
● Paul taught with the Spirit rather than “enticing words of man’s wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:1–16).
— For centuries the Greeks had glorified man’s wisdom and man’s ability to achieve.
— Only those who are spiritually minded can understand and receive true wisdom.
— Notice the phrases Paul uses in contrasting the two kinds of wisdom in vv. 6–7.
— Paul calls the spirit of contention among them the “natural man”—meaning “worldly.”
— Paul also calls men’s wisdom “foolishness.”
— He encourages them to acquire the “Mind of Christ.”
● Scholars are fools who think themselves wiser than apostles and prophets (1 Cor. 3:19–23).
● One of Paul’s powerful one-liners: “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth” (1 Cor. 8:1).
● Paul invited them to follow his personal example in these things (1 Cor. 4:1–21). “Follow” should be translated from the Greek as “imitate” or “imitators” (v. 16).
● Nine of Paul’s fourteen letters contain direct instruction about sexual morality. Elder Melvin J. Ballard said, “The easiest way to destroy a man’s faith is to destroy his morality.”2
● To understand 1 Corinthians 3:1, insert “men and women” after “spiritual” and “carnal” (1 Cor. 3:1).
● Paul attacked the immorality that was so prevalent in Corinth (1 Cor. 3:16–17).
● Paul used a multi-level metaphor to teach the Saints morality:
— The Corinthians practiced ritual fornication in their temples to Aphrodite.
— Paul calls the Church a “temple” and warns them not to pollute it.
— At the same time, they should not defile their “personal temple” (body).
● “Fornication” is from the Greek porneia (same root as pornography), which means any extramarital sexual relations (1 Cor. 5:1, 6–7). In this case, someone had married his stepmother, and needed to be excommunicated.
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Apparently a member of the Church in Corinth had married his stepmother, either because she was a widow or had been separated from her prior husband. Such marriages were forbidden by the Mosaic code under penalty of excommunication. (Lev. 18:6–8, 29). Paul endorses the Mosaic prohibition, describes the intimacies resulting from such unions as fornication, condemns his Corinthian brethren for winking at the offense, and directs the excommunication of the offender. If the sinner were left in the Church, Paul reasons, his influence, as leaven, would spread throughout the whole Church.”3
● God has made clear his law of sexual morality (D&C 42:23; 59:6).
● We should not do what gross sinners do, nor be influenced by them, nor spend our time going to the places they frequent (1 Cor. 5:11–13).
● Paul also said it is not his or the Church’s business to judge and regulate the world, but to keep the Church pure and leave the world to God.
● Paul again compares our bodies to temples and condemns immorality, which will drive the Holy Ghost away from us (1 Cor. 6:15–20).
PAUL’S TEACHINGS ON MARRIAGE
● 1 Corinthians 7 Many misunderstand Paul’s teachings because of mistranslation and misinterpretation, taking statements in this chapter out of context. All scriptures—taken together and in context—endorse marriage.
— Paul is responding to questions asked in previous correspondence (1 Cor. 7:1; 8:1).
— This verse (v. 1) says, “Now to deal with the questions you wrote about—Is it good for a man to stay away from women?” (footnotes 1a, 2a).
● 1 Cor. 7:1–5 General counsel on marriage and sexual conduct therein.
● 1 Cor. 7:6–9 He advises unmarried and widowed missionaries to remain single while serving.
— Paul was clearly not married as he wrote this (vv. 7–8). But it is possible that Paul, was a widower. His heart was thoroughly set on missionary work, and thus he might have chosen not to remarry.
— President Spencer W. Kimball said, “Taking such statements in conjunction with others [Paul] made it is clear that he is not talking about celibacy, but is urging the normal and controlled sex [while] living in marriage and total continence outside marriage. There is no real evidence that Paul was never married, as some students claim, and there are in fact indications to the contrary.”4
● 1 Cor. 9:5 Paul argues that Apostles have as much right to marry as anyone else.
● 1 Cor. 11:11–12 “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.”
● 1 Cor. 7:10–19 Paul’s advice on special circumstances in marriages.
— In a troubled marriage, partners should try to persevere and work it out (v. 10).
— In part-member families, a nonmember should not be divorced if he or she refuses to convert (v. 12).
— If the spouse refuses to live with a Church member, the Church member is forced to choose the Lord (v. 15).
● 1 Cor. 7:25–40 Advice on marriage to those involved in missionary service
— “The present distress” would be translated better as “the present necessity,” which is the need for missionaries (v. 26).
— “The time is short” means that the Church needs missionaries—the Great Apostasy is imminent (vv. 29–38) (see JST corrections).
— “Be careful for nothing” means “Have no anxiety about anything” (v. 32). Worries should distract missionaries from their work.
— A man’s “virgin” means his fiancee. The phrase “pass the flower of her age” means she feels she is getting old (v. 36).
— It is better (for the “present necessity”) to be a missionary; if not, get married, for that is acceptable (v. 38) (see JST corrections).
● Following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Elder Marion G. Romney said, “Now, I tell you that you can make every decision in your life correctly if you can learn to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This you can do if you will discipline yourself to yield your own feelings to the promptings of the Spirit.”5
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “There was of old, there is now, and to all eternity there shall be only one approved and proper way to preach the gospel—Preach by the power of the Spirit. Anything short of this is not of God and has neither converting nor saving power. All the religious learning, of all the professors of religion, of all the ages is as nothing compared to the Spirit-born testimony of one legal administrator. . . . There is one formula and one formula only for conveying saving truth to men—preach by the power of the Spirit.”6
● Satan’s tactics for tempting us with sexual impurity. Elder Richard G. Scott said, “Any sexual intimacy outside of the bonds of marriage—I mean any intentional contact with the sacred, private parts of another’s body, with or without clothing—is a sin and is forbidden by God. It is also a transgression to intentionally stimulate these emotions within your own body. . . . Satan tempts one to believe that there are allowable levels of physical contact between consenting individuals who seek the powerful stimulation of emotions they produce, and if kept within bounds, no harm will result. As a witness of Jesus Christ, I testify that is absolutely false. . . . Decide what you will and will not do. When temptation comes, do not change your standards.”7
President Spencer W. Kimball said, “He will use his logic to confuse and his rationalizations to destroy. He will shade meanings, open doors an inch at a time, and lead from purest white through all the shades of gray to the darkest black.”8
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught, “One of the most pervasive deceptions in recent years is the notion that immorality is normal and acceptable and has no negative consequences. In truth, immorality is the underlying cause of much suffering and many other problems that are prevalent today, including rampant disease, abortion, broken families, families without fathers, and mothers who themselves are children.”9
Elder Boyd K. Packer taught, “[Satan] knows that this power of creation is not just an incident to the plan, but the key to it. He knows that if he can entice you to use this power prematurely, to use it too soon, or to misuse it in any way, you may well lose your opportunities for eternal progression.”10
1. In Conference Report, April 1969, 136.
2. In Conference Report, April, 1929, 65.
3. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 2:335.
4. The Miracle of Forgiveness, 64.
5. In Conference Report, Oct. 1961, 60.
6. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:318.
7. In Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 51; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 38.
8. Faith Precedes the Miracle , 152.
9. In Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 100–101; Ensign, Nov. 1994, 76.
10. In Conference Report, Apr. 1972, 137; Ensign, July 1972, 112.