First Epistles to the Corinthians

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The First Epistle to the Corinthians in Papyrus 46, circa 200 CE.

The First Epistle to the Corinthians, also written as I Corinthians, is the seventh book of the New Testament. It is a letter written in ancient Greek around 53-54 CE probably by Paul the Apostle and Sosthenes to the church in Corinth in south-central Greece.

Authorship and Dating

While it's not without its share of skeptics, this letter is one of the few books of the New Testament generally accepted by scholars to be authentic. The bulk of the letter was probably written by Paul the Apostle and Sosthenes around 53-54 CE, making it one of the oldest books in the New Testament. However, 1 Corinthians 14:34–35, is regarded by a lot of scholars to be inauthentic.

There are no known original manuscripts. There are multiple fragments which could potentially be the oldest, but P 46 and P 129, both estimated to have been written around 200 CE, are the most likely candidates.

Content

The letter is a response to an earlier letter (now lost) from the church to Paul. It includes various condemnations of how the church is failing to meet the author's expectations and how they should change to meet his expectations. Specifically, it focuses on how they have sex the wrong way, how they don't control their women enough, and how to condemn non-Christians. It also fleshes out early Christian supernatural beliefs.

Since this letter predates all of the gospels, the attributions to Jesus (11:24-25) could be the oldest in antiquity, depending on how the other epistles are dated. It also contains the famous "love is patient," passage and "when I was a child," passage, both often quoted at weddings.

Status

This letter is in the public domain. I have several translations of this book from various bibles, and have read the NIV translation.

Reviews

Good

  • The passages "love is," and, "when I was a child," and, "but the greatest of these is love," (13:4-13) is really quite lovely.
  • The author tells the church circumcision is nothing (7:19). While I agree, and think this is a step in the right direction, it's also clearly in conflict with Yawheh's everlasting covenant.
  • The author states that at least one passage from the Torah is figurative (9:9-12). While I prefer the figurative interpretation, ancient Jews understood their commandments to be literal. Either the author is wrong, of his god is really bad at conveying his intention. This is also a good example of how, even before Christianity became popular, preachers were already reinterpreting scripture for their own ends.

Bad

  • The whole letter reeks of piety. the author says he is "called to be an apostle by the will of God." He seems quite certain he knows the desires of his god (1:1), but, a few paragraphs later, he says no man can know God's thoughts (2:11). In Chapters 3-4, Paul describes himself with great pride as the father and master builder of Christian churches despite the fact that he only just converted to Christianity himself about a dozen years prior. In much of the rest of the letter, the author talks about how great he is, though he doesn't like to brag about it. Like, he says he is the least of the apostles, but still claims to have worked harder than all of them (15:10).
  • The author says the Christian message is foolishness to non-Christians (1:18) and goes on to mock the well-educated (1:27, 8:1). It's clear what the author thinks of education, and, no doubt; educated people are harder to control. Later, he quotes from Isaiah asking, "who has known the mind of the Lord?" only to claim that he does (2:16)!
  • Paul berates Christians for following him (1:12-13, 3:4) only to later tell them to imitate him (4:16). The letter has several other self-contradictory messages.
  • The author lists the type of people who won't get into heaven (6:9-10). This, like all lists of this nature, informs us about what sort of behaviors he hates (most of these are not described by Jesus, so it's definitely his hatred). The list includes: the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers. This is a very messy list and what's on it, as well as what's not on it, reveals a great deal. It starts with sex, and four of the ten items are about sex, implying that's what's most evil in the author's eyes. Idolatry is curiously sandwiched between two forms of sexual misconduct indicating either a mistranslation or redaction. "Sexual immorality" is, by definition, immoral, so it's a pointless tautology. Then he lists "male prostitutes," but female isn't described until later (6:15-17). If both male and female prostitution is immoral, why not just say "prostitution?" Next is "homosexual offenders," which should encompass male prostitutes, making former redundant, so, why was it mentioned? Notice he doesn't list murder or rape. Why not? You could argue that those behaviors are just too obvious, and yet, his next item is "theft" which certainly seems obvious too. The next several items are all subjective: greedy, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers. Everyone is greedy about some things, so how greedy is too greedy? How much alcohol constitutes a drunkard? Is brutal honesty slander?
  • The author says sexual immorality is a sin against your own body, but all others are a sin outside your body. Does this mean suicide is also a sin "outside" your body, or, perhaps her doesn't think it's a sin?
  • The author views marriage, not as a holy union as it is elsewhere described in the bible, but as a necessary obligation to help prevent men from seeking sex elsewhere (7:2, 5-9). His entire view of marriage is negative (7:6-7) and he encourages people not to get married (7:27-28, 38-40). He even tells men with wives to live as if they weren't married (7:29-35)!
  • The author asks the church, "have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" (9:1) Well, no, actually, he hasn't. Paul never saw Jesus in the flesh.
  • The author explains how he dishonestly pretends to be someone he is not in order to convert people (9:19-23).
  • The author claims that nobody can say "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Ghost (12:3). Does it have a patent on those words?
  • The magical belief of speaking unknown languages is rampant (14:1-25)
  • The author argues, if Jesus wasn't risen from the dead, then we're preaching a lie, and we won't be risen either, nor will anyone else, and we're wasting our time baptizing people (15:12-32). Well, yes.
  • Although on the larger scale, the latter has structure and flow, at a more granular level, it's pretty jumbled. Unattached sentences are frequently found between cohesive paragraphs. This indicates tampering.

Ugly

  • The author is very misogynistic (11:3, 5-6, 8-9, 15, 14:34-35). Also, his views on men's hair length is very provincial. These passages are a little in dispute, but all of the versions are misogynistic.
  • The author tells the church of Corinth to solve disagreement by just agreeing with one another. No mention about trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong, but just agree (1:10). That is the foundation of an abusive cult. Later, the author says people are infants in Christianity if they quarrel with each other (3:3), and that it's shameful to fight with each other in front of non-believers (6:5-6). It sounds like the author is more interested in appearances of harmony than actual harmony.
  • The author says not to judge anyone (4:5). While I would certainly love to see less judgemental behavior among Christians, the reality is, a working society is built around fair judgement. Not that his command matters, because shortly thereafter (5:12), Paul commands Christians to judge those among their ranks and expel the unworthy.
  • The author tells slaves that, if you can gain your freedom, that's fine, but it's acceptable to be a slave and remain as one (7:21).
  • Like the end of the world preachers of today, the author writes that the end is neigh, and people should not bother tending to their family or property (7:31-32).
  • The author has barbaric notions of virginity (7:36).
  • The letter ends with the author saying anyone who doesn't believe in his god should be cursed (16:23).

Links

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