1 and 2 Corinthians

1 and 2 Corinthians

by Murray Harris, W. Harold Mare

The award-winning Expositor's Bible Commentary, now available in this handy softcover edition, has established itself as one of the leading and most practical evangelical commentaries. Written for pastors and Bible students, it is scholarly and comprehensive without being overly academic. The seventy-eight contributors of The Expositor's Bible Commentary are


The award-winning Expositor's Bible Commentary, now available in this handy softcover edition, has established itself as one of the leading and most practical evangelical commentaries. Written for pastors and Bible students, it is scholarly and comprehensive without being overly academic. The seventy-eight contributors of The Expositor's Bible Commentary are committed to the complete trustworthiness and full authority of the Bible. They come from the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Australia, and New Zealand, and represent many denominations, including Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, Methodist, Nazarene, Presbyterian, and Reformed. In matters where marked differences of opinion exist, the contributors state their own convictions and deal fairly and without animosity with opposing views. The Expositor's Bible Commentary is based on the New International Version of the Bible, but may be used with any translation. Greek and Hebrew words have been transliterated to make the material accessible to readers unfamiliar with the biblical languages. Technical questions and textual issues are briefly dealt with in notes at the end of each section.

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1 & 2 Corinthians

By Murray Harris W. Harold Mare


Copyright © 1996 Zondervan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-310-20110-1

Chapter One

Text and Exposition

I. Greetings


1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ-their Lord and ours:

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Characteristically, the apostle begins by naming himself and also by identifying his position as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Only in Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon does Paul begin without mentioning his apostleship. Here he refers to it because his authority has been challenged (cf. 1 Cor 1:12 and 9:1-27). Paul makes it clear that he is an apostle by divine calling through God's sovereign will (cf. his experience on the Damascus road, Acts 9:15). The word "apostle" (apostolos) means "a sent one" and connotes a commissioned envoy.

Sosthenes (the name was a common Greek one), whom Paul links to himself as a Christian brother, was evidently one of the apostle's special helpers and was presumably well known to the Corinthian church. Though his identity is not certain, it is possible that he was a leader of the Corinthian synagogue (Acts 18:17). If so, he must have been converted subsequently and gone off to help Paul in his Ephesian ministry.

2 The believers in Corinth are designated as the "church of God," a phrase that has OT associations as in the expression "assembly [or congregation] of the Lord" (Num 16:3; 20:4; Deut 23:1; 1 Chron 28:8) and the "assembly of Israel" (Lev 16:17; Deut 31:30). That Paul means that this church at Corinth is considered a part of the universal "church of God" is evident from his reference to Palestinian churches as also being a part of that body (1 Cor 15:9; cf. 10:31, 32). The phrase is used only by Paul in 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 1:1, and Acts 20:28. (In the last reference there is a textual variant-"church of God" or "church of the Lord"; cf. UBS, in loc.) The apostle may have found it particularly useful in Corinth to distinguish the church from the secular ekklesiai (assemblies) of mainland Greece and from the heathen religious organizations. The ancient ekklesiai or assemblies of the secular world, in contrast to the Christian ekklesia or church in its worship of God, were gatherings of the citizenry in a city-state to discuss and decide on matters of public interest (cf. Acts 19:39; Herodotus 3.142), as they certainly did in Corinth itself according to ancient inscriptions found there. For example, in two Corinthian inscriptions shown to be near the first half of the second century B.C., by the form of the letters, it is said, "The assembly decreed." (Corinth: Results of the Excavations, Vol. VIII, Part I, Greek Inscriptions, 1896-1927, ed. B.D. Meritt [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1931], numbers 2, 3.)

The Corinthian Christians are described as set apart and in a holy position before God because of their spiritual union with Jesus Christ. In speaking of them as "called to be holy"-i.e., set apart for God-Paul means that they are called to be God's holy people. So they are on an equal footing with the people of God everywhere, who also call on the name of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (cf. Acts 9:14, 21). The unity of believers in Christ is shown by Paul's emphatic words in v.2, "their Lord and ours."

3 This verse is identical to Romans 1:7b; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; and Philemon 1:3. Though carrying a sense of greeting, "grace and peace" also refer to the truth of redemption purchased by Christ. It was of God's grace that the Corinthian believers were saved (2 Cor 8:9; Eph 2:8, 9), just as all Christians are saved, and through this redemption Jesus Christ purchased peace with God for the sinner (Eph 2:14; cf. Rom 5:1).

Paul emphasizes that this grace and peace are of divine origin; they are from (apo) God our Father who planned redemption and from Christ who purchased it on the cross for the justification of his people and for blessing in their daily lives (cf. Rom 15:13, 33; Phil 4:6, 7).

II. Paul's Thanksgiving for God's Work in the Lives of the Saints


4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way-in all your speaking and in all your knowledge-6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

4-6 As is characteristic of Paul in other letters (cf. Rom 1:8; Phil 1:3-7; Col 1:3-8, et al.), he begins with thanksgiving to God for those he is addressing. He realizes that God has given them his grace through their union with Christ, enriching their lives by their ability to speak about God and by their knowledge of him (v.5). Paul is thankful that the testimony he gave them was confirmed or established in their lives.

The verb eucharisteo, in its present form here (a customary present) with the adverb pantote, (" I at all times give thanks"), indicates Paul's habitual prayer life in which he regularly interceded for the believers at Corinth as well as those at every place he preached the gospel (cf. Eph 1:16; Phil 1:3, et al.). Elsewhere Paul uses the concept of the grace of God to express his own call into the ministry as an apostle (Rom 12:3; 1 Cor 3:10; Gal 2:9; Eph 3:2, 3). But here he uses the expression to indicate aspects of God's work in the daily lives of the Christians at Corinth.

Greeks naturally put emphasis on knowledge and wisdom (cf. 1 Cor 1:18-25) and they certainly were good at expressing their thoughts. However, God had so enriched the lives of these people in spiritual perception and expression that they had been given increased ability in speaking. The extent of their enrichment is seen in the use of the adjective "all" with both concepts-"speaking" ("word," logos) and "knowledge" (v.5). Paul is convinced that this was a real work of God's grace because he saw his witness about Christ established in their lives at the time of their conversion and had heard about it since then.

The phrase "in every way" (en panti) is obviously limited to the qualities and experiences that were relevant to the Corinthians as exemplified by their ability in speaking and by their abundance of knowledge. "You have been enriched" (eploutisthete) certainly does not refer here to conversion or to baptism, but rather to God's blessing in knowing and speaking Christian things. The aorist tense of this verb here in a constative sense (i.e., emphasizing a total definitive action), sums up God's work in the lives of the Corinthians-God did it, he made them rich! That their "speaking" and "knowledge" were interrelated is evidenced by the use in the Greek text of a single Greek preposition en ("in") to unite these two terms. Perhaps eloquent speaking was uppermost in their minds (cf. Apollos the orator, Acts 18:24-28). Or they may have tried to display vainly their wisdom, which Greeks were apt to do (cf. 1 Cor 1:22).

The reference to "knowledge" (gnosis) in v.5 should not be construed to mean that the Corinthians possessed some hidden mystical knowledge by which in itself and without the cross of Christ they could somehow reach God and be saved. As the heresy known as Gnosticism developed in later centuries, some thought they could do this. They were called Gnostics, from the Greek word gnosis (the word used in 1 Cor 1:5), which in Paul's day simply meant "knowledge." Cf. "knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil 3:8) and "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (Phil 3:10). Paul is speaking of concrete knowledge based on the reality of Christ's person and his death on the cross. This is not Gnosticism's secret, mystical, and symbolic knowledge supposedly leading through self-effort to higher levels toward God.

7,8 Now Paul addresses himself to their needs for present and future Christian living. He introduces the thought by "therefore" followed by a present-tense verbal form: "Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift." The verb hystereo has the basic meaning of "fail" or "lack." This potential lack does not necessarily refer to the lack of special gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14, because there Paul indicates that each Christian is not to exercise every gift (1 Cor 12:27-31). Rather, he seems to be referring more generally to God's grace actively counteracting the sins and faults so prevalent in the Corinthian congregation. Paul expresses confidence that God will keep them strong and will present his people blameless before him at Christ's return, which they are eagerly waiting for (vv.7, 8).

The circumstantial participle apekdechomenous-translated "eagerly wait for" in NIV-is one of attendant circumstance. The word apokalupsis ("an unveiling," "a disclosure") can mean a revealing of truth, but here refers to the unveiling of Christ, his appearance at his second coming. Cf. "the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" in v.8. See also 1 Peter 1:7, 13.

It is not clear in v.8 who "he" refers to-the Father or Christ. Christ is the nearer antecedent (v.7), but in the light of the reference to God's faithfulness in v.9, it is best taken as referring to the Father. Through God's power and strengthening, Christians will certainly be blameless when Christ comes again.

9 Before concluding this section of thanksgiving, Paul assures the Corinthians of God's faithfulness. As God called them initially into fellowship with Christ, so he is faithful in completing the work, granting them every grace and gift for daily life (cf. Phil 1:6).

Observe the apostle's fivefold repetition of the name of Jesus Christ in this brief section. All of salvation-past, present, and future-is based on Christ's redemptive work. And he is coming again!

Some scholars, such as Schmiedels, have claimed that Paul's opponents were Jewish Christian Gnostics, on the theory that gnosticism was already fully developed in Paul's day or had been developed in pre-Christian times. (Cf. W. Schmithals, Gnosticism in Corinth [Nashville: Abingdon, 1971] and Paul and the Gnostics [Nashville: Abingdon, 1972].) Paul seems to have had foes with gnostic tendencies in mind when he wrote about "hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ" (Col. 2:8), calling them to depend on Christ himself "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (2:3). But this is far removed from a developed gnosticism of the second to the fifth centuries A.D., which depended on knowledge and wisdom themselves for rising higher to God. R.M. Wilson has shown that the parallels between NT terminology and thought, on the one hand, and that of later fully developed gnosticism and later Gnostic treatises of the second to fifth century A.D., on the other, are not sufficient to show a fully developed first-century gnosticism. (R.M. Wilson, Gnosis and the New Testament [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968], pp.51ff. See also Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction [Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1970], pp.422, 423.)

III. The Problem of Divisions in the Church


10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."

13 IS Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 18 So no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 15 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel-not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.


Excerpted from 1 & 2 Corinthians by Murray Harris W. Harold Mare Copyright © 1996 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Murray J. Harris is professor of New Testament Exegesis and Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. Previously he was Warden of Tyndale House, a biblical research library in Cambridge, England. He presently resides in New Zealand.

W. Harold Mare was professor of New Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.

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