Authenticity of the EpistlesEdit
Little need be said on this point. The historical and internal evidence that they were written by St. Paul is so overwhelmingly strong that their authenticity has been frankly admitted by every distinguished writer of the most advanced critical schools. They were contained in the first collections of St. Paul's Epistles, and were quoted as Scripture by early Christian writers. They were referred to as authorities by the early heretics and translated into many languages in the middle of the second century. The unique personality of St. Paul is impressed upon their every page. Baur, the rationalistic founder of the Tübingen School, and his followers, held the two to the Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans to be unassailable. One or two hypercritical writers, of little weight, brought some futile objections against them; but these were scarcely meant to be taken seriously; they were refuted and brushed aside by such an ultra writer as Kuenen. Schmiedel, one of the most advanced modem critics, says (Hand-Kommentar, Leipzig, 1893, p. 51) that unless better arguments can be adduced against them the two Epistles must be acknowledged to be genuine writings of St. Paul. The Second Epistle was known from the very earliest times. There is a trace of it in that portion of "The Ascension of Isaiah" which dates back to the first century (Knowling, "The Testimony of St. Paul to Christ", p. 58; Charles, "The Ascension of Isaiah", pp. 34, 150). It was known to St. Polycarp, to the writerof the Epistle to Diognetus, to Athenagoras, Theophilus, the heretics Basilides and Marcion. In the second half of the second century it was so widely used that it is unnecessary to give quotations.
During the years that St. Paul was at Ephesus he must have frequently heard from Corinth, as it was distant only 250 miles, and people were constantly passing to and fro. A ship sailing at the rate of four miles an hour would cover the distance in three days, though on one unpropitious occasion it took Cicero over a fortnight (Ep. vi, 8, 9). By degrees the news reached Ephesus that some of the Corinthians were drifting back into their former vices. Alford and others infer from the words of II Cor., xii, 20, 21; xiii, 1, "Behold this is the third time that I come to you", that he made a flying visit to check these abuses. Others suppose that this coming meant by letter. Be this as it may, it is generally held that he wrote them a brief note (now lost) telling them "not to associate with fornicators", asking them to make collection for the poor brethren at Jerusalem, and giving them an account of his intention of visiting them before going on to Macedonia, and of returning to them again from that place. News which he heard later from the household of Chloe and others made him change his plan, and for this he was accused by his enemies of want of steadiness of purpose (II Cor., i, 17). The accounts which he received caused him great anxiety. Abuses, bickerings, and party strife had grown up amongst them. The party cries were: "I am of Paul; I am of Apollo [Apollos]; I am of Cephas; I am of Christ." These parties, in all likelihood, originated as follows: During St. Paul's circular tour from Ephesus to Jerusalem, Antioch, Galatia, Phrygia, and back to Ephesus, "a certain Jew, named Apollo, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus, one mighty in the scriptures, and being fervent in spirit, spoke, and taught diligently the things that are of Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John." Priscilla and Aquila fully instructed him in the Christian Faith. In accordance with his desire he received letters of recommendation to the disciples at Corinth. "Who, when he was come, helped them very much who had believed. For with much vigor he convinced the Jews openly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus is the Christ" (Acts, xviii, 27, 28). He remained at Corinth about two years, but, being unwilling to be made the centre of strife, he joined St. Paul at Ephesus. From the inspired words of St. Luke, no mean judge, we may take it that in learning and eloquence Apollo was on a par with the greatest of his contemporaries, and that in intellectual powers he was not inferior to Jews like Josephus and Philo. He is likely to have known the latter, who was a prominent member of the Jewish community in his native city of Alexandria, and had died only fourteen years before; and his deep interest in Holy Scripture would certainly have led him to study the works of Philo. The eloquence of Apollo, and his powerful applications of the Old Testament to the Messias, captivated the intellectual Greeks, especially the more educated. That, they thought, was true wisdom. They began to make invidious comparisons between him and St. Paul who on account of his experience at Athens, had purposely confined himself to what we should call solid catechetical instruction. The Greeks dearly loved to belong to some particular school of philosophy; so the admirers of Apollo laid claim to a deeper perception of wisdom and boasted that they belonged to the Christian school of the great Alexandrian preacher. The majority, on the other hand, prided themselves on their intimate connection with their Apostle. It was not zeal for the honour of their teachers that really prompted either of these parties, but a spirit of pride which made them seek to put themselves above their fellows, and prevented them from humbly thanking God for the grace of being Christians. About this time there came from the East some who had possibly heard St. Peter preach. These regarded the others as their spiritual inferiors; they themselves belonged to Cephas, the Prince of the Apostles. Commentators are of opinion that this party spirit did not go so deep as to constitute formal schism or heresy. They all met together for prayer and the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries; but there were hot disputes and many breaches of fraternal charity. The Fathers mention only three parties; but the text obviously implies that there was another party the members of which said, "I am of Christ". This view is now held by several Catholics, and by many non-Catholics. What was the nature of this party it is difficult to determine. It has been suggested that a few of those who were specially endowed with spiritual gifts, or charismata, boasted that they were above the others, as they were in direct communication with Christ. Another explanation is that they had seen Christ in the flesh, or that they claimed to follow His example in their reverence for the Law of Moses. At any rate, the statement, "I am of Christ", seemed to make Christ a mere party name, and to imply that the others were not Christians in the genuine and perfect sense of the word.
St. Paul, hearing of this state of things, sent Timothy together with Erastus (probably the "treasurer of the city" of Corinth - Rom., xvi, 23) round by Macedonia, to put things in order. Soon after they left, Stephanas and other delegates came with a letter from the Corinthians. This letter contained some self-glorification and requested the Apostle to give a solution to several serious difficulties which they proposed to him; but it made no mention of their shortcomings. By this time he had become fully aware of the grave state of affairs amongst them. Besides party strife, some made light of sins of impurity. One man had gone to the extent of marrying his stepmother, his father being still alive, a crime unheard of amongst the pagans. So far were they from showing horror that they treated him in a friendly manner and allowed him to be present at their meetings. As matters were too pressing to wait for the arrival of Timothy, St. Paul at once wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians and sent it by Titus about Easter A.D. 57.
Importance of the First EpistleEdit
This is generally regarded as the greatest of the writings of St. Paul by reason of the magnificence and beauty of its style and the variety and importance of its contents. So splendid is its style that it has given rise to the conjecture that St. Paul took lessons in oratory at Ephesus; but this is highly improbable. St. Paul's was not the type of eloquence to be moulded by mechanical rules; his was the kind of genius that produces literature on which rules of rhetoric are based. If the Corinthians were impressed by the eloquence of Apollo, they could not help feeling, when they heard and read this Epistle, that here was an author capable of bearing comparison not only with Apollo, but with the best that they could boast in Greek literature, of which they were so justly proud. Scholars of all schools are loud in its praise. The striking similes, figures of speech, and telling sentences of the Epistle have passed into the literatures of the world. Plummer, in Smith's "Dict. of the Bible", says that chapters xiii and xv are among the most sublime passages, not only in the Bible, but in all literature.
But this Epistle is great not only for its style but also for the variety and importance of its doctrinal teaching. In no other Epistle does St. Paul treat of so many different subjects; and the doctrines which are touched upon (in many eases only incidentally) are important as showing what he and Silvanus, a disciple and trusted delegate of the older Apostles, taught the early Christians. In some of his letters he had to defend his Apostolate and the freedom of Christians from the Law of Moses against heretical teachers; but be never had to defend himself against his bitterest enemies, the judaizers, for his teaching on Christ and the principal points of doctrine contained in these two Epistles, the obvious reason being that his teaching must have been in perfect harmony with that of The Twelve. He distinctly states in ch. xv, 11, "For whether I, or they [The Twelve Apostles], so we preach, and so you have believed."
Teachings of the First EpistleEdit
Instead of giving a formal summary of the contents of the Epistle, it may be more useful to give the teaching of the Apostle, in his own words, classified under various heads, following, in general, the order of the Creed. With regard to arrangement, it may be stated, in passing, that the Epistle is divided into two parts. In the first six chapters he rebukes them for their faults and corrects abuses: (1) He shows the absurdity of their divisions and bickerings; (2) deals with the scandalous case of incest; (3) their lawsuits before pagans; and (4) the want of sufficient horror of impurity in some of them. In the second part (the remaining ten chapters) he solves the difficulties which they proposed to him and lays down various regulations for their conduct. He deals with questions relating to (1) marriage, (2) virginity, (3) the use of things offered to idols, (4) proper decorum in church and the celebration of the Eucharist, (5) spiritual gifts, or Charismata, (6) the Resurrection, (7) the collections for the poor of Jerusalem.
"Yet there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things and we by him" (viii, 6). Compare II Cor., xiii, 13: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the charity of God, and the communication of the Holy Ghost be with you all." (Bengel, quoted by Bernard, calls this an egregium testimonium to the Blessed Trinity.)
(1) "Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ" (i, 3). "You are called unto the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (i, 9). "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (i, 24). "We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden, which God ordained before the world, unto our glory, which none of the princes of this world knew; for if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory" (ii, 7, 8). "But you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God" (vi, 11 -- see also i, 2, 4, 7, 9 13; iii, 5, 11; vi, 11; xii, 4-6). (2) "The word of the cross to them that are saved is the power of God" (i, 18). "We preach Christ crucified, unto them that are called Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (i, 23, 24). "But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and justice, and sanctification and redemption" (i, 30). "For I judged myself not to know any thing among you, but Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (ii, 3). "For Christ our pasch is sacrificed" (v, 7). "For you are bought with a great price" (vi, 20 - cf. i, 13, 17; vii, 23; viii, 11, 12.) (3) The following passage probably contains fragments of an early creed: "The gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received. . . . For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures: and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the scriptures: and that he was seen by Cephas; and after that by the eleven. Then was he seen by more than five hundred brethren at once: of whom many remain until this present, and some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen by James, then by all the apostles. And last of all, he was seen also by me, as by one born out of due time" (xv, 1-8). "Have not I seen Christ Jesus our Lord?" (ix, 1). "And if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain" (xv, 14). "But now Christ is risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep" (xv, 20 - cf. vi, 14). (4) "Waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (i, 7). "That the spirit may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v, 5). "He that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge not before the time; until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise from God" (iv, 4, 5).
"Now there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit; and there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord; and there are diversities of operations, but the same God" (xii, 4-6). "But to us God hath revealed them, by his Spirit. The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God . . . the things that are of God no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God" (ii, 10, 11 -- cf. ii, 12-14, 16). "Know you not, that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (iii, 16). "But you are washed, but you are sanctified . . . in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of our God" (vi, 11). "Or know you not, that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost, who is in you, whom you have from God; and you are not your own? . . . Glorify and bear God in your body" (vi, 19, 20). "But all these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he will" (xii, 11). "For in one Spirit were we all baptized unto one body" (xii, 13). "Yet by the Spirit he speaketh mysteries" (xiv, 2).
The Holy Catholic ChurchEdit
"The head of every man is Christ" (xi, 3).
"Is Christ divided?" (i, 13). "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you; but that you be perfect in the same mind, and in the same judgment" (i, 10). He devotes four chapters to the reprehension of their divisions, which did not really amount to anything constituting formal schism or heresy. They met in common for prayer and the participation of the Blessed Eucharist. "Know you not that you [the Christian body] are the temple of God . . . but if any man violate the temple of God [by pulling it to pieces], him shall God destroy. For the temple of God is holy, which you are" (iii, 16, 17). "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body, so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free" (xii, 12, 13). [Here follows the allegory of the body and its members, xii, 14-25.] "Now you are the body of Christ, and members of member" (xii, 27). "And God hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets . . . Are all apostles?" (xii, 28-31). "For God is not the God of dissension, but of peace: as also I teach in all the Churches of the saints" (xiv, 33). "I have sent you Timothy, who is my dearest son and faithful in the Lord, who will put you in mind of my ways, which are in Christ Jesus: as I teach everywhere in every church" (iv, 17). "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor the church of God" (xi, 16). "The gospel which I preached to you . . . and wherein you stand; by which also you are [being] saved, if you hold fast after the manner I preached unto you, unless you have believed in vain" (xv, 1-2). "For whether I, or they [The Twelve Apostles], so we preach, and so you have believed" (xv, 11). "The churches of Asia salute you" (xvi, 19).
"Now all these things happened to them in figure: and they are written for our correction" (x, 11).
"What will you? shall I come to you with a rod; or in charity, and in the spirit of meekness?" (iv, 21). "Now concerning the collections. . . . as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, so do ye also" (xvi, 1).
"I indeed, absent in body, but present in spirit, have already judged, as though I were present, him that hath so done. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, you being gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved" (v, 3-5).
"For what have I to do to judge them that are without . . . For them that are without, God will judge" (v, 12, 13).
Sanctity, grace and salvationEdit
"For the temple of God is holy, which you are" (iii, 17). "Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ" (vi, 15). "Your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost . . . Glorify and bear God in your body" (vi, 19, 20 -- cf. vi, 11, etc.).
"God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able, but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it" (x, 13). "Grace be to you . . . " (i, 3). "But by the grace of God, I am what I am; and his grace in me hath not been void, but I have laboured more abundantly than all they: yet not I, but the grace of God with me" (xv, 10).
"Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate . . . nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, . . . shall possess the kingdom of God" (vi, 9, 10). This, like a dominant note, rings clear through all the Epistles of St. Paul as in the teaching of his Divine Master. "But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway" (ix, 27). "Wherefore he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall" (x, 12). "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast and unmoveable; always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord" (xv, 58). "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, do manfully, and be strengthened" (xvi, 13). "Do all to the glory of God" (x, 31). "Be without offence to the Jews, and to the Gentiles, and to the church of God" (x, 32). "Be ye followers of me as I am of Christ" (xi, 1).
"For God hath raised up the Lord, and he will raise us up also by his power" (vi, 14). "And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive." "For star differeth from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it shall rise in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour, it shall rise in glory." "Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall all indeed rise again." "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible." (See all of ch. xv.) "We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known" (xiii, 12).
"Were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (i, 13). "I baptized also the household of Stephanus" (I, 16). "For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body" (xii, 13). "But you are washed [apelousasthe] but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of our God" (vi, 11).
"The chalice of benediction, which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread, which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? . . . But the things which the heathens sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils . . . You cannot drink the chalice of the Lord and the chalice of devils" (x, 16-21). "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, said: Take ye, and eat: this is my body . . . In like manner also the chalice; etc. . . . Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. . . . For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord" (xi, 23-29). On the words of consecration see the two able articles by Dr. A.R. Eagar in "The Expositor", March and April, 1908.
Its use. Marriage good, but celibacy better. -- The marriage of divorced persons forbidden. -- Second marriage allowed to Christians; but single state preferable for those who have the gift from God. (vii, 1-8.) Pauline Dispensation: a Christian is not bound to remain single if his pagan partner is unwilling to live with him (vii, 12-15).
It is not wrong to marry; but preferable to remain single -- St. Paul's example -- "He that giveth his virgin in marriage doth well; and he that giveth her not doth better. (vii, 25-40.)
In ch. vii; and following chapters St. Paul solves several difficult cases of conscience, some of them of a very delicate nature, falling under what we should now call the tractatus de sexto (sc. præcepto decalogi). He would, doubtless, have preferred to be free from the necessity of having to enter into such disagreeable subjects; but as the welfare of souls required it, he felt it incumbent upon him, as part of his Apostolic office, to deal with the matter. It is in the same spirit that pastors of souls have acted ever since. If so many difficulties arose in a few years in one town, it was inevitable that numerous complicated cases should occur in the course of centuries amongst peoples belonging to every degree of barbarism and civilization; and to these questions the Church was rightly expected to give a helpful answer; hence the growth of moral theology.