January 16: “Called to Be Saints”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

C. Other texts for Year A for Sunday within January

1. Psalm 40:1-11
2. Isaiah 49:1-7
3. John 1:29-42

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • This is the opening salutation and thanksgiving.
  • May be worth considering the cost of writing a letter in the first century, including composition process and delivery.
  • Verse 10 launches into the purpose of this letter.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

In verse 4, some manuscripts read “I give thanks to [the] God always for your …” rather than “to my God”. It is more likely that an editor/copyist changed the “my God,” to “the God”, as the latter is theologically consistent. Thus this is likely Paul’s short hand for saying something like: “It give thanks to the God whom I validate” recognizing that other gods were worshiped.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?
Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • Apostle – That which is officially sent forth, with emphasis on the authority of the sender. The message and the one sent are of interest only as they embody the sender. Used over 700 times in the LXX to emphasize the authoritative element behind the message. For Paul being an apostle meant being “set apart for the gospel” (Rom 1:1). “before he was born” (Gal 1:15). The apostolate is a sign of God’s grace leading to obedient subjection (1 Cor 15:10), thus linking Paul to the OT prophets, especially Jeremiah.
  • Sanctified – That which is made suitable for ritual purposes. Rare in Greek other that the Bible.
  • Grace – a free gift, goodwill, unmerited gift, divine favor, blessing, thanks, gratitude.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

This is the flowery opening statement of a letter.

III. Question the text

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

The testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you – This phrase seems to imply that the actions and ministry of the Corinthians reflects the testimony of Christ, rather than their testimony about how Christ has changed their lives.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

Conflict comes next in this letter. Paul praises them before chastising them.

E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?

An example of how “the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among” the Corinthians. On the other hand, if Paul had mentioned one example, this fractious group might have objected to examples he did not list or focused on that item to the exclusion of their other gifts.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

This prelude is often skipped in a letter. In modern letters the salutation has been condensed to “Dear Sirs:”

IV. What do the Commentaries have to say?

Roy Harrisville (Lutheran) (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: I Corinthians, 1987) notes that Paul “strained” the usual form of a letter by adding modifiers to the superscription, address, and salutation. “He was called to be an apostle, and his readers were called be saints –and let none ignore the difference! But what they were depended on what he was.” Harrisville opines that by claiming to be an apostle of Christ by the will of God makes Paul both possessed by God and free. Paul has packed a “welter of prepositions” into the thanksgiving most of the topics of the letter, especially those topic which the Corinthians would challenge. Harrisville notes that in Greek the phrase “the day of the Lord” can also mean a court, a usage he finds in Latin and Middle High German.

J. Paul Sampley (United Methodist) (“First Letter to the Corinthians”, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Abingdon, 2002) notes that Paul used similar opening structure in all of his letters, expanding on the usual Greek custom. In this letter Paul has claimed the title of apostle to reaffirm is authority as leverage of what he is about to write. Paul has also reshaped the greeting into a blessing, a foundational statement of Christian life. He reflects that Paul uses saints to designate those seat apart for God, and thus modern readers are also saints, who “should live a life appropriate to our God who has called us.” Looking into the body of this letter Sampley contrasts Paul’s thanksgiving for the spiritual gifts given to the Corinthians with their misuse of these gifts to form cliques. “Our lives in Christ are never just our own but always also involve how we are relating to those around us.”

Craig Blomberg (Southern Baptist) (The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians, Zondervan, 1995) cautions against milking “relatively peripheral parts for more than they are worth.” He is struck “by how positive Paul can be about a church torn with strive and abuses of the very gifts he thanks God for having given its members.” He encourages praising both privately and publicly to build up the body of Christ without abdicating responsibility to gently correct one another.

William Baird (Knox Preaching Guides: 1 Corinthians | 2 Corinthians, JKP, 1980) writes: “In view of what he has learned from Chloe’s people (1:11), it appears to us preposterous that Paul could call the Corinthians saints; their halos were tarnished at best. Yet this reminds us of an important truth and useful homiletical theme: holiness is not a human achievement, but a response to God’s call (see Rom. 8:30).”

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