1 Cor. 1:5-7

From: David Moore (dvdmoore@dcfreenet.seflin.lib.fl.us)
Date: Tue Oct 10 1995 - 17:45:42 EDT

cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu (Carl W. Conrad) wrote:

>The only point I would like to make here, however, and I may be sticking my
>neck way out, is that I believe the passage you've cited in the paragraph
>above, 1 Cor 1:5-7, is one of the most ironic in the entire letter, and
>particularly the statement in 1:7, hWSTE MH hUSTEREISQAI EN MHDENI
>KAI PASHi GNWSEI. It seems to me that he displays what he really thinks
>about the spiritual accomplishments of the Corinthian congregation in
>OUDE ETI NUN DUNASQE, ETI GAR SARKINOI ESTE ... Chapter 2 bashes their high
>regard for rhetoric and wisdom, and he continues throughout the letter to
>push AGAPH wherever the Corinthians seem to be promoting GNWSIS.


        Since you've said you don't want to go on with a discussion of
1Cor. 12-14, I'll try to limit my comments to your hypothesis of Paul's
irony relating to the spiritual gifts especially concentrating on the
passage mentioned above in 1Cor. 1:5-7.

        The position that Paul is praising the Corinthians facetiously in
this passage is not widely held. The only reference I could find for it
in the commentaries on 1Cor. that I have at hand (Barret, Fee, N. Hilyer,
S. L. Johnson, Murphy-O'Connor) is a negative mention of the idea, by
Hilyer - although Murphy-O'Connor suggests that Paul is "damning them with
faint praise." (But cf. M-O's comment on v. 7: "The Corinthians are
adequately equipped with spiritual gifts" [Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, "The
First Letter to the Corinthians," _ad loc._, in _Jerome Biblical

        Since a thanksgiving section was characteristic of many Helenistic
letters and is especially characteristic of Paul, we should probably see
this thanksgiving passage as functioning essentially as it does in his
other letters. (Although Galatians lacks such a section, presumably it is
because Paul was too overburdened with the situation in the Galatian
churches to take time for conventional forms.) This epistolary convention
is well documented, and in the case of Paul's letters, has been studied in
some depth. (See William G. Doty, _Letters in Primitive Christianity_,
[Philadelphia: Fortress, 1973], pp. 31-33; see also, Paul Schubert, _Form
and function of the Pauline Thanksgivings_ [Cited by Doty, p. 31].) Since
"Paul generally gives thanks that things are going well, and sees this as
evidence of the power of God working through the churches" (Doty, p.33),
it would appear that the Apostle is mentioning the good things that he can
about them, in spite of their other problems. Note that, in other
epistles, he gives thanks for the love and stability in the faith that the
recipients have shown. Thanksgiving for these things is not mentioned in
reference to the Corinthians in Paul's first letter to them, but in 2 Cor.
8:7 we do find them among the list of the Corinthian's virtues.

        It may be significant to note that in this same passage (2Cor.
8:7) we also find "word and knowledge" (LOGOS KAI GNWSIS) which figures in
1Cor. 1:5. The favorable mention of these in the 2Cor. passage probably
means that we should not take GNWSIS in 1Cor. 1:5 in the negative and
pagan sense it may have in other contexts. Also, the favorable mention of
"word and knowledge" in the 2Cor. passage is a strong indication that
Paul's language in 1Cor. 1:5 is not ironic or facetious, but sincere in
praising the Corinthians for what they may be praised.

        Another matter that indicates that this passage should be taken as
a serious, rather than facetious, statement of thanksgiving is Paul's
reference to the Parousia in v. 7. His mentioning their expectation of
the coming of Christ makes clear that their charismatic gifts do not
constitute the fullness that God has for them but that such fullness is
still future and dependent on Christ. (Cf. 13:9,10; 15:12-23.) Paul is
willing to recognize their gifts, but he doesn't want them to go to their
heads. Their gifts are motive for his thanksgiving, but their carnality
in the use of the gifts, and in other matters, elicits his rebuke and
loving correction.

David L. Moore Southeastern Spanish District
Miami, Florida of the Assemblies of God
dvdmoore@dcfreenet.seflin.lib.fl.us Department of Education

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