Week 47


Day 1: 1 Corinthians 4:1-7:40

Day 2: 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1

Day 3: 1 Corinthians 11:2-13:13

Day 4: 1 Corinthians 14:1-15:58

Day 5: 1 Corinthians 16:1-24, Acts 19:21-20:6, Romans 1:1-32

Day 6: Romans 2:1-4:25

Day 7: Romans 5:1-8:17


Hard Questions

  1. (1 Cor. 7:36-38) What is going on here? “But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry. Nevertheless he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so determined in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well. So then he who gives her in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better.” This is a really tricky passage, and translators have done a lot of things with it. Kenneth E. Bailey says: Orr and Walther offer a succinct summary of the options for understanding this puzzling passage. The text can be discussing 1) a young man and his fiancee, 2) a father and his virgin daughter, 3) some kind of “spiritual marriage,” 4) a levirate marriage. Because we do not know the precise situation to which Paul was writing, it is difficult to choose among these four alternatives. As T. W. Manson somewhere said about the parable of the unjust steward (Lk. 16:1-18), “The literature is voluminous and unrewarding.” We can take away, however, in light of the whole passage, the idea of a high respect both for marriage and for singleness, as well as a concern for holiness in sexuality and a clear preference for getting married over living in sin, as well as a clear refusal to cut corners sexually.
  2. (1 Cor. 11:2-16) Head coverings? What’s the story on this? One note on culture. This would have made lots of sense to Paul’s original audience, and it references a cultural context that they lived in and understood intimately. We do not. We have several hairy passages in 1 Corinthians that communicate something within the culture to which they were written. A word-for-word reading of the text that doesn’t take culture into account will not help us achieve clarity. Clearly, many things have been lost in the sands of time, but where possible we need to take advantage of resources that help us to understand the wider cultural context, especially as we seek to understand how men and women relate to each other in the church. Was Paul establishing a heavily subordinate role for women? Unlikely, especially given that so many wealthy and influential women freely joined the church, taught it, and supported it out of their own resources. So I want to offer a couple of resources that contain good cultural studies. Kenneth E. Bailey wrote Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, which looks at the Gospels and takes into account a massive number of Middle Eastern theologians throughout history, most of whom have been completely unknown to the Western church. Their perspectives offer valuable understandings for a Middle Eastern context for Jesus’ teachings, as interpreted by people who were culturally, geographically, and temporally close to Jesus’ original context. Ray Van Der Laan has a ministry you can access through thattheworldmayknow.com, and he lectures on the Jewish context for Jesus’ ministry. Bailey also wrote Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural studies in 1 Corinthians, which is another excellent resource. Bailey tends to write quite a bit about the way that Paul and Jesus structure their arguments in a kind of ring shape, which may be intimidating to read, but you can skip that and read ahead to the discussion of the actual text, which is really good. I’ll offer one more book by Sarah Ruden, Paul among the People, with two caveats. 1) She comes from a different theological tradition, and she doesn’t consider all of the Pauline epistles to have been written by Paul, and 2) the book includes some very salty language, because she’s directly translating excerpts from Greek and Roman poetry, and they sounded a lot like people my age on Twitter. However, her cultural study is based on a lifetime of translation and research into Greece and Rome, and she provides an excellent take on why Paul may have said what he said here and in other places in 1 Corinthians. It’s a great book; just read it like you eat a fish—eat the meat, spit out the bones. So, head coverings. A traditional interpretation of this is that men shouldn’t wear things on their heads, and men should. I’ve heard that the part about the angels goes back to the angels imprisoned from the time of the flood after having relations with human women, and thus the head coverings are out of sensitivity to watching angels. I would reject that interpretation out of hand, because I reject that interpretation of Genesis 6. Also, why would it only be during the worship service, if angels are ostensibly watching all the time? We do see an interesting reversal here from Judaism. In Judaism, men prayed with heads covered, and Paul is reversing that. Bailey says that it signifies a relationship change between men and God; a servant would cover his head before his master, but a friend does not, and Jesus has called us His friends. This also made Jew and Gentile alike equal before God. So why cover the women? This has to do with authority and honor. In the text, the head covering is a symbol of authority for her. Sarah Ruden says that, in this culture, “respectable Greek and Roman women traditionally wore concealing veils in public. Marriage and widowhood were the chief things that a veil signaled. (For a Roman woman, ‘to get married’ and ‘to veil oneself’ were exactly the same word.) The veil held great symbolism: it reminded everyone that all freeborn women, women with families to protect them, were supposed to enter adulthood already married, and that they were supposed to stay chastely married or else chastely widowed until the end of their lives. The veil was the flag of female virtue, status, and security. In the port city of Corinth, with its batteries of prostitutes—including the sacred prostitutes of the temple of Aphrodite—the distinction between veiled and unveiled women would have been even more crucial . . . . At the very least, there must have been among the Christians women with pasts. Would not bareheadedness, the lack of a ‘symbol of authority’ on their heads, have galled them? They were entitled to be there—but the norms of the time said that they had to be there in the outfits of degraded, vulnerable beings. It was against custom and perhaps even against the law for them to be veiled. At Greek religious festivals, ‘women’s police’ would circulate, making sure not only that respectable women were not flashily or revealingly dressed, but probably also that other women did not take on the exclusive, prestigious symbols of a matron or widow. In Rome also, dress was regulated in detail: for example, any married woman found to have committed adultery would lose forever the right to wear a floor-length, heavily bordered stola and veil. Any woman who had ever been a prostitute was of course not allowed to wear them either. I think Paul’s rule aimed toward an outrageous equality. All Christian women were to cover their heads in church, without distinction of beauty, wealth, respectability—or of privilege . . . . The most hurtful thing about bareheaded, gorgeously coiffed wives might not have been their frivolity but rather their thoughtless flaunting of styles that meant degradation to some of their sisters . . . . Perhaps the new decree made independent women of uncertain status, or even slave women, honorary wives in this setting. If the women complied—and later church tradition suggests they did—you could have looked at a congregation and not necessarily been able to tell who was an honored wife and mother and who had been forced, or maybe was still being forced, to service twenty or thirty men a day. This had never happened in any public gathering before” (85-88).
  3. (1 Cor. 13:8; 1 Cor. 14) Tongues? (https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4100306/jewish/The-Sanhedrin-The-Jewish-Court-System.htm) Additionally, since the Sanhedrin was required to hear all testimony directly, rather than through an interpreter, it was preferable that its members be familiar with every language spoken by Jews around the world. When a foreign language was used in testimony, the Sanhedrin had to have at least two members who spoke that language to examine the witnesses, and a third member who at least understood the language.4 Appointment and Promotion of Members. (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13178-sanhedrin) According to R. Jose b. Ḥalafta, the members of the Great Bet Din were required to possess the following qualifications: scholarship, modesty, and popularity among their fellow men (Tosef., Ḥag. ii. 9; Sanh. 88b). According to an interpretation in Sifre, Num. 92 (ed. Friedmann, p. 25b), they had also to be strong and courageous. Only such were eligible, moreover, as had filled three offices of gradually increasing dignity, namely, those of local judge, and member successively of two magistracies at Jerusalem (Jose b. Ḥalafta, l.c.). R. Johanan, a Palestinian amora of the third century, enumerates the qualifications of the members of the Sanhedrin as follows: they must be tall, of imposing appearance, and of advanced age; and they must be learned and must understand foreign languages as well as some of the arts of the necromancer (Sanh. 19a). (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11382-nations-and-languages-the-seventy) The word of God was pronounced on Mount Sinai in seventy languages (Shab. 88a; Ex. R. v.; comp. Acts ii. 5). The Torah was written in seventy languages in order that the nations should not be able to plead ignorance as their excuse for rejecting it (Tosef., Soṭah, viii.). Among the seventy languages the most noble is Hebrew, for in it was pronounced the creative word of God (Gen. R. xviii., xxxi.; Yalḳ., Gen. 52). The Jewish law required that every member of the Sanhedrin should have sufficient knowledge of the seventy languages to be able to do without an interpreter (Sanh. 17a; comp. Meg. 73b; Men. 65a). (http://www.bible.ca/tongues-history.htm) [Augustine held the unusual view that tongues continued, not in the supernatural, but the natural in that the different local churches all had a variety of members who spoke many languages by birth. Thus a person born to speak Japanese attending an English speaking church would be said to speak in tongues.] “How then, brethren, because he that is baptized in Christ, and believes on Him, does not now speak in the tongues of all nations, are we not to believe that he has received the Holy Ghost? God forbid that our heart should be tempted by this faithlessness…. Why is it that no man speaks in the tongues of all nations? Because the Church itself now speaks in the tongues of all nations. Before, the Church was in one nation, where it spoke in the tongues of all. By speaking then in the tongues of all, it signified what was to come to pass; that by growing among the nations, it would speak in the tongues of all.” (Augustine, “Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John,” Philip Schaff, ea., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Vol. 7 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956) “Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel According to St. John, 195.) Even Matthew Henry sees 1 Cor. 14 as talking about speaking in foreign languages, or languages unknown to the audience, and he goes so far as to call people out even for using language above the level of the audience. The idea is that the unlearned or uneducated should be able to understand enough of what’s going on to be able to say “amen” in agreement at the end. Henry adds, “They were a spiritual gift intended for the conviction and conversion of infidels, that they might be brought into the Christian church; but converts were to be built up in Christianity by profitable instruction in their own language.
  4. (1 Cor. 14:34) Women to keep silent in the churches?
  5. (1 Cor. 15:29) Baptized for the dead?


Page Discussion

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