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Commentary on The First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians

1:1 called by the will of God: Paul's evangelical mission was established on God's initiative, not his own (Acts 9:1-16; Gal 1:12). He asserts his apostolic authority from the outset of the letter because some of the Corinthians either doubted or denied it (9:1-2; 2 Cor 10-12). Sosthenes: Possibly the ruler of the Corinthian synagogue named in Acts 18:17. If so, he must have embraced the gospel during Paul's initial stay in the city. Back to text.

1:2 To the Church of God: Refers to the local congregation in Corinth that is part of the universal Church (CCC 752). Paul's earliest preaching in the city took place in the local synagogue, where both Jews and Greeks accepted his message (Acts 18:4). those sanctified: I.e., those made "holy" and "set apart" to serve God. Christians are sanctified by the merits of Christ's sacrifice (Heb 10:10), which first come to us in Baptism (6:11; Eph 5:26). call on the name: An act of prayer and worship (Gen 4:26; Ps 116:17). Calling on Christ's name is closely linked with the sacramental liturgy of the Church, as in Baptism (6:11; Mt 28:19; Acts 2:38; CCC 2156). See note on 1 Cor 16:22. • Invoking Jesus as Lord in every place recalls the universal worship of God's name envisioned in Mal 1:11. The early Christians saw this oracle fulfilled in "the pure offering" of the Eucharist (CCC 2643). Back to text.

1:3 Grace to you and peace: Paul's customary greeting to local Churches (Rom 1:7; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3). Back to text.

1:5 all speech and all knowledge: Gifts of the Holy Spirit (12:8). Before addressing problems Paul celebrates God's gifts to the Corinthians and expresses confidence that the Lord will continue to bless them until the end (1:8). Back to text.

1:6 the testimony to Christ: Paul bore witness to the gospel by preaching to the Corinthians (2:1-5), writing letters to them (5:9), and modeling virtues for their imitation (11:1). Back to text.

1:7 spiritual gift: Anticipates the lengthy discussion in chaps. 12-14 about the appropriate use of charismatic gifts. Such manifestations of the Spirit come from God and are meant to build up the Church in love (12:7-11; 14:3-5). Back to text.

1:8 the day of our Lord: Paul reminds readers of the Day of Judgment, when every thought, word, and deed will be weighed in the balance by Christ (Rom 2:5-10; 2 Cor 5:10; CCC 682). • The "day of the Lord" is a recurrent expression in the OT. It is a day of fiery judgment when God takes vengeance on his enemies and vindicates the saints (Joel 2:30-32; Amos 5:18; Obad 15). Sometimes it refers to a day within history, as with the day of Jerusalem's devastation in A.D. 70 (Zech 14:1-5; Mt 24); other times it refers to the last day of history, when Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead (3:13; 5:5; Acts 10:42). Paul rewords the traditional formula ("day of the Lord") to identify Christ with the divine Judge ("day of our Lord Jesus Christ"). Back to text.

1:10-4:21 Paul confronts immature believers whose allegiance to various missionaries was dividing the local Church. Factions had already formed around the missionary mentors named in 1:12 (Paul, Apollos, Cephas). Paul rebukes this partisan behavior of rallying behind one minister of the gospel over against others with the reminder that all of these men are servants of the same Jesus Christ, who alone grants salvation (1:13; 3:3-9, 21-23). This background explains why the first four chapters stress the crucial importance of unity among believers and the supreme allegiance we owe to Christ over every minister of the gospel. Back to text.

1:11 Chloe's people: Nothing is known about this woman or her delegates beyond this verse. Back to text.

1:12 Apollos: A Christian leader from Alexandria (northern Egypt) who ministered in Corinth after Paul's initial stay in the city (3:5, 22; Acts 18:24-19:1). Cephas: The Aramaic name for Peter that is used throughout this letter (3:22; 9:5; 15:5). This is the only mention of the Apostle Peter's association with the Corinthians in the NT. See word study: Peter at Mt 16. I belong to Christ: This slogan suggests that one of the factions distinguished itself from others by its allegiance to Christ rather than to a particular missionary. Back to text.

1:14 Crispus: The ruler of the Corinthian synagogue who converted to Christianity when Paul first arrived in the city (Acts 18:8). Gaius: Possibly the individual named in Acts 19:29 and / or Rom 16:23, but this is uncertain since "Gaius" was a popular name in the Hellenistic world. Back to text.

1:16 baptize . . . the household: The Baptism of entire families, including domestic servants and children, was a familiar practice in the early Church (Acts 16:15, 33; CCC 1252). See note on Lk 18:16Back to text.

1:17 to preach the gospel: Paul is not minimizing the importance of Baptism so much as stressing his primary obligation to evangelize (9:16; Rom 1:14-15). His words are aimed at certain Corinthians who exaggerated the role of the minister of Baptism (1 Cor 1:13-15) and lost sight of the Sacrament's purpose, which is to unite us with Christ (12:13; Gal 3:27). not with eloquent wisdom: The power of the gospel to move an audience derives from the message itself, not from the messenger who delivers it (1:18; Rom 1:16). Paul's mission, therefore, is, not to please the ear with the eloquent speaking ability so admired by the Corinthians, but to move the heart by speaking of Christ crucified in clear and simple terms. Back to text.

1:18 the word of the cross: The gospel divides the destiny of men, leading those who embrace it to salvation and dragging those who reject it to perdition (Lk 2:34). Paul's Greek depicts this as an unfolding process and implies that the final verdict of God's judgment is still open, i.e., there is still hope for those who are perishing and still dangers ahead for those being saved. Back to text.

1:19 I will destroy: A reference to Is 29:14. • Isaiah predicts the destruction of every form of human wisdom that asserts itself against the wisdom of God. Originally this was a warning for the leaders of Israel, whose overconfidence in human understanding was manifest when they paid more attention to politicians than to prophets. The same warning is now posted for the Corinthians, who prize the rational wisdom of men over the revealed wisdom of the gospel. Back to text.

1:20 Where is . . . ?: Paul taunts the intellectual elite of the ancient world. He is convinced that the Greek philosophers (wise man), the Jewish experts in the Torah (scribe), and the acclaimed public speakers of the day (debater) are nothing compared to the power and persuasiveness of the gospel. Back to text.

1:21 did not know God: Not ignorance of God's existence per se, but ignorance of his ways, especially of his divine plan to save the world through a crucified Messiah (2:8; Acts 17:30; Rom 10:3). Faith perceives what reason alone cannot, namely, the higher wisdom of God (Is 55:9). Back to text.

1:22 Jews: Israel expected outstanding miracles (signs) from the Messiah to authenticate his mission (Mt 16:1; Jn 6:30). Greeks: Hellenistic thinkers were always on the lookout for new and compelling explanations of the universe (wisdom). Back to text.

1:23 we preach Christ crucified: Roman crucifixion was normally a sign of disgrace and defeat for its victims. The crucifixion of Christ, however, was a deathblow to the devil and the means of our salvation (CCC 272). stumbling block to Jews: For some Jews, such as those who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, crucifixion was connected with the curse of God in Deut 21:22-23. Paul deals with this apparent difficulty in Gal 3:13, where he insists that Christ endured the curse of death so that Israel and the Gentiles could be blessed with new life. Back to text.

Word Study

Wisdom (1 Cor 1:20)

Sophia (Gk.): "wisdom", "skill", or "insight". The word is used 17 times in this letter and 34 times in the rest of the NT. Paul's use of it resonates against the background of the OT. (1) The Torah is viewed as the embodiment of divine wisdom (Deut 4:5-6; Sir 24:23-25). (2) The Wisdom Books associated with King Solomon portray wisdom as the art of prudent living. God gave this wisdom to Solomon to instruct Israel and the Gentiles in the way of righteousness (1 Kings 4:29-34). (3) Wisdom is also personified in the OT as a craftsman of creation (Prov 8; Wis 7:22) and one who directs human history (Wis 9-11). Wisdom in this sense had its beginning in eternity (Sir 24:9) and is closely associated with the Word of God (Wis 9:1; Sir 24:3) as well as the work of the Holy Spirit (Wis 9:17). Paul relies on these traditions to make a sharp contrast between the wisdom that comes from God and the philosophical wisdom of men celebrated by the Greeks. For the apostle, Jesus Christ is the divine Wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24) that is given to believers through the inpouring of the Spirit (1 Cor 1:30; 2:7-13; Eph 1:17; Col 2:3). As such, it cannot be equated with the ingenuity of philosophers and thinkers.

1:30 the source of your life: Every spiritual blessing comes to us from the Father (Eph 1:3; Jas 1:17; CCC 2813). We must acknowledge this to avoid senseless boasting (1 Cor 1:29) and the delusion of self-sufficiency (4:7). Back to text.

1:31 Let him who boasts: A paraphrase of the Greek version of Jer 9:24. • Jeremiah challenged the wise, mighty, and rich of Israel to stop boasting about their worldly advantages and to start giving the glory to Yahweh (Jer 9:23). Paul has this passage in mind when he makes the same appeal to the Corinthians. Although few of them were "wise", "powerful", and "noble" in the world's eyes (1 Cor 1:26), they were boasting of their spiritual gifts without giving due credit to the Lord (4:7). Back to text.

2:1 When I came to you: I.e., when Paul first evangelized Corinth (Acts 18:1-17). Back to text.

2:3 fear and trembling: A biblical expression for one's reaction to the power and presence of Almighty God (Ex 20:18; Ps 2:11; Ezek 12:18; Phil 2:12). Back to text.

2:4 in demonstration of the Spirit: Even the most dynamic proclamations of the gospel remain ineffective unless the Spirit moves the minds and hearts of the listeners to accept it (Phil 1:29). Paul implies that his own modest speaking ability was a weakness that enabled God's power to work more perfectly through him (2 Cor 12:9). The idea running throughout this passage is that God saves the world through what is foolish and weak so that he alone can be praised for the result (1 Cor 1:2129). See word study: Unskilled at 2 Cor 11. Back to text.

2:6 the mature: Or, "the perfect". Paul differentiates between Christians who have reached spiritual adulthood and those who are merely "infants" (3:1). Ironically, the immature Corinthians are the ones who consider themselves the most wise and spiritually advanced. Back to text.

2:7 a secret and hidden wisdom: The divine plan to save the world through a crucified Messiah was once concealed from the Gentiles and only dimly reflected in the OT. Back to text.

2:8 rulers of this age: The Jewish and Roman authorities who collaborated to execute Jesus were culpable for their crimes and yet ignorant of God's plan to redeem the world through his death (Acts 3:17; 4:27-28; CCC 591, 597). Back to text.

2:9 What no eye has seen: A paraphrase of Is 64:4. • Isaiah marvels that no one has ever seen or heard a God like Yahweh, who is always faithful to deliver those who hope in him. The final words of this quotation are not from Isaiah but seemingly from Sir 1:10, where God's unsearchable wisdom is a gift promised to those who love him. Paul draws Isaiah and Sirach together to stress that what God has long prepared in secret he has now made known to the world through the Spirit (CCC 1027). Back to text.

2:10 the Spirit searches everything: The Spirit is uniquely qualified to probe the mind of God and make known his wise plans (Dan 4:9). As an interior guide for believers, the Spirit enlightens us about the spiritual gifts and truths that God has given in Christ (1 Cor 2:12-13; CCC 687, 2038). Back to text.

2:14 unspiritual man: The unredeemed man who lacks both the Spirit and spiritual discernment. Back to text.

2:15 spiritual man: The mature Christian who has both the Spirit and spiritual wisdom (2:6). Back to text.

2:16 For who has known: A reference to Is 40:13. • Isaiah's rhetorical question anticipates a negative answer, i.e., no mortal man has access to the mind of God or is capable of informing him of truths he does not already know. Paul concludes from this that divine wisdom is beyond the reach of human understanding and can be known by men only if it is revealed by God himself (Wis 9:13-18; CCC 1998). Back to text.

3:1 men of the flesh: Immature Christians who possess the Spirit but are enslaved to worldly ways of thinking. The "jealousy and strife" (3:3) exhibited in Corinth was proof that many of them were spiritual infants. Real Christian maturity produces the fruits of love and unity (Gal 5:22-23; Col 3:12-15). Back to text.

3:5-23 Paul stresses that success in ministry is primarily the work of God. Teachers of the flock must recognize that (1) God alone gives life and growth to the Church and that (2) God will test the work of every laborer on the Day of Judgment. Consequently, the faithful must not overestimate the importance of their teachers but see them as "[s]ervants" (3:5) and "fellow workers" (3:9) of the Lord. Paul illustrates this with two analogies, one agricultural (3:5-9; CCC 755) and one architectural (3:10-17; CCC 756). Back to text.

3:6 I planted, Apollos watered: Paul first established the Church at Corinth (Acts 18:1-17), while Apollos came afterward to foster the spiritual growth of the community (Acts 18:24-19:1). Back to text.

3:10 skilled master builder: Or "wise architect". Paul laid the foundation of the Church in numerous cities by evangelization, leaving it to subsequent leaders to build up the congregations in faith and love (Rom 15:19-20). For him, the only stable foundation to build upon is the gospel of Christ (1 Cor 3:11). • Architects in the OT were endowed by the Spirit with the wisdom and technical skills necessary to build the wilderness Tabernacle (Ex 35:30-33) and the Jerusalem Temple (1 Kings 4:29; 7:13-14). King Solomon, in particular, was a wise architect who laid the foundation of the Temple (1 Kings 5:17-18) and imparted his wisdom to Israel and the nations alike (1 Kings 10:24; Prov 1:1-2). Paul views himself as a spiritual Solomon who oversees the building of another Temple, the Church, and proclaims the greater wisdom of the gospel to "Gentiles" and the "sons of Israel" (Acts 9:15). Back to text.

3:12 Now if any one builds: Spiritual leaders are like artisans commissioned to build believers into the Temple of God (3:16-17). The quality of their workmanship is portrayed by a list of building materials ranging from the most valuable to the least—the first three (gold, silver, stones) are expensive and durable, while the second three (wood, hay, straw) are cheap and flammable. The fiery Day of Judgment will reveal whether they have labored diligently or carelessly, since all substandard work will be consumed in the flames of divine scrutiny (3:15). Although Paul is speaking directly to ministers of the gospel, his words apply to all Christians inasmuch as all are called to "build up" the Church in love (14:4; Eph 4:11-16; 1 Thess 5:11; CCC 2045). • Paul's list of building supplies is similar to those given in the OT for building the Tabernacle (Ex 31:2-5) and the Temple (1 Chron 29:2). Hay and stubble, however, are absent from these lists—a fact that accentuates their unworthiness as structural materials. Back to text.

3:14 reward: The same Greek term is translated "wages" in 3:8. It refers to spiritual compensation for apostolic work. • In the back of Paul's mind stands King Solomon, who contracted the laborers of Hiram of Tyre to receive "wages" for building the Jerusalem Temple under his supervision (1 Kings 5:5-6). See note on 1 Cor 3:10Back to text.

3:15 as through fire: Some Christian workers, whose 5 efforts are shabby and imperfect, will pass through God's fiery judgment like a man who barely escapes a burning building with his life. This prelude to salvation will involve painful spiritual consequences, which, though severe, will spare them eternal damnation. • The OT often depicts fire as a testing and refining agent (Sir 2:5; Is 4:4; 6:6-7; Zech 13:9; Mal 3:2-3). • Catholic tradition interprets Paul's teaching in the light of Purgatory, a doctrine defined at the Councils of Lyon II (1274), Florence (1439), and Trent (1563). Purgatory is a final stage of purification for those who are destined for heaven but depart from this life still burdened with venial sins or with an unpaid debt of temporal punishment incurred from past sins (i.e., mortal sins already forgiven but imperfectly repented of). Passing through fire is thus a spiritual process where souls are purged of residual selfishness and refined in God's love (CCC 1030-32). Back to text.

Word Study

Suffer Loss (1 Cor 3:15)

Zemioō (Gk.): to "forfeit", "sustain loss", or "incur a penalty". The Greek OT uses this verb to denote personal suffering (Prov 22:3) as well as financial penalties (Ex 21:22; Deut 22:19; Prov 17:26). The Gospels use it for the frightful prospective of losing eternal life (Mt 16:26; Mk 8:36; Lk 9:25). In 1 Cor 3:15, it refers to spiritual damage suffered by Christian leaders who are careless and uncommitted in their task of building up the Church. The context suggests that Paul is alluding to labor relations familiar in the ancient world. Indeed this and related terms were used in building contracts to establish fines for damage or defective workmanship on projects that failed to pass inspection.

3:16 you are God's temple: The Temple in Jerusalem was still standing when this verse was written (A.D. 56). In Paul's mind the stone sanctuary of the Old Covenant had been replaced by the living body of Christ in the New. He viewed this mystery in three dimensions: the body of every individual Christian is a temple (6:19); the body of every local Church is a temple (3:17); and the body of the universal Church is a temple (Eph 2:19-22). Back to text.

3:17 If any one destroys: The final scenario outlined in Paul's building metaphor: careful builders will receive a heavenly reward (3:14); careless builders will pass through purging fires on their way to salvation (3:15); and destructive workers will themselves be destroyed (3:17). Back to text.

3:19-20 Paul quotes Job 5:13 and Ps 94:11 to caution those who think they are wise. • The first passage is spoken by Job's friend Eliphaz, who says that while God lifts up the lowly, he also frustrates the proud and ensures that their arrogant schemes fall apart. The second is a plea for Yahweh to chasten the proud who think that their wickedness goes unnoticed by the Lord. Back to text.

4:1 stewards: House managers in charge of their master's estate. It refers in this context to spiritual ministers who manage the affairs of God's household, the Church (Lk 12:42-48; 1 Tim 3:15; CCC 859). the mysteries of God: The revealed truths of the New Covenant, which were hidden in ages past but are now manifest through the gospel. To an extent they remain mysteries because the human mind can understand the divine work of God only in a limited way. Back to text.

4:4 I am not thereby acquitted: Or, "I am not justified by this." Paul's conscience is clear in the face of criticisms, though not necessarily correct. The final verdict pronounced on his ministry must await the Judgment, when God lays bare the secrets of the "heart" (4:5; cf. Rom 2:16; CCC 678). Before then, pronouncing a definitive judgment on the work of others—and even ourselves—can be hazardous and quite inaccurate. Back to text.

4:6 learn by us: An appeal to listen to the shepherds of the Church and live according to their example (4:16; 11:1). not to go beyond what is written: Paul cautions believers to stay within the limits of personal humility defined by the Scriptures. He is referring specifically to the string of OT warnings about boasting quoted earlier in the letter (1:19, 31; 3:19-20). Paul's purpose here is to halt the damaging effects of arrogance in Corinth, as indicated by the clarification that follows. Interpretations of this verse that suggest Paul is restricting the basis for Christian doctrine and morals to what is explicitly set forth in the books of the Bible (sola Scriptura) are misleading and untenable. Nothing in the context points to such a broad concern, and in any case Paul insists elsewhere that even the inspired preaching of the apostles is on a par with the written word of God (1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6). Back to text.

4:7 why do you boast: Men are always looking for some good in their wills that is truly theirs rather than a gift received from God. It is unimaginable how any such thing could be discovered (St. Augustine, On the Remission of Sins 1, 28). Back to text.

4:8-13 Paul reprimands self-righteous Christians for their egotism and unfair criticisms. Although he describes them as wise and prosperous, his rhetorical irony implies the opposite, i.e., they are ignorant and impoverished. Their refusal to embrace the foolishness of Christ exposes their pride and reveals how petty their problems look compared to the humiliation of the apostles. Back to text.

4:9 spectacle: Paul compares the apostles to condemned criminals who are publicly disgraced and executed in a crowded outdoor theater. Back to text.

4:15 I became your father: Paul's relation to the Corinthians is paternal, having brought them new life through the gospel (2 Cor 12:14). His spiritual fatherhood extends to others as well, such as Titus (Tit 1:4), Onesimus (Philem 10), and Timothy (1 Cor 4:17; Phil 2:22; 1 Tim 1:2, 18). • There was a close connection between paternity and priesthood in the ancient Near East (Israel, Assyria, Babylon). In the patriarchal age, fathers and first-born sons exercised the cultic ministry of building altars and offering sacrifices for their families (Gen 12:8; 22:9-13; 31:54; 46:1; Job 1:5). In the Mosaic age, God elevated Aaron and his Levitical sons (Ex 40:12-15) to be the fathers and priests of the tribal family of Israel (Judg 17:10; 18:19). The same principle carries over on a spiritual level in the age of the New Covenant, where Christ, our great high priest, ordains men to the ministry of spiritual fatherhood for "the priestly service of the gospel" (Rom 15:16). • Vatican Council II reaffirmed this connection when it stated that priests are preeminently the fathers and teachers of God's people (Presbyterorum ordinis 9). Back to text.

4:21 with a rod: A stern pastoral warning for the troublemakers in Corinth. Ideally, Paul hopes to avoid an unpleasant confrontation when he arrives (16:5-7). Back to text.

5:1-6:20 Paul addresses specific problems in the Corinthian Church. These include a case of maternal incest (5:1-13), a surge in Christian lawsuits (6:1-11), and an indifference toward sexual promiscuity (6:12-20). He warns throughout these two chapters that the holiness of the Corinthian community is jeopardized by the sins and vices sprouting up among them. Back to text.

5:1 immorality: The Greek porneia refers to sexual misconduct, here specified as an incestuous relationship between a believer and his stepmother. This kind of behavior was censured by Roman society and condemned by the Mosaic Law (Lev 18:8; Deut 22:30). The early Church followed suit, prohibiting incestuous unchastity in the Apostolic Decree (Acts 15:29; CCC 2388). See note on Acts 15:20Back to text.

5:2 And you are arrogant!: Paul is outraged that the Corinthians allowed the incestuous man to continue in their community. Their tolerance toward this crime was a sign of their own spiritual immaturity. be removed: I.e., the offender must be expelled from the local Church and barred from participation in their fellowship and liturgy (5:13). Back to text.

5:3 pronounced judgment: Paul exercises his apostolic authority from a distance by invoking a solemn curse upon the sinner in the name of Christ (16:22). Back to text.

5:5 deliver this man to Satan: A call to action for the Corinthians, who must execute Paul's ritual curse upon the offender by driving him out of the Church and into the province of Satan. The anticipated destruction of the sinner's body is an extreme form of remedial punishment that Paul expects will benefit his spirit (1 Tim 1:20). The hidden assumption is that earthly and physical life is a blessing from God cut short by the curse of biological death (Gen 3:19). Similar chastisements befell other Corinthians who failed to discern Christ's presence in the Eucharist (1 Cor 11:29-32). • The man is separated from the community of the faithful and from the sacraments of the Church, by which things a man is protected from the assaults of Satan (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5, 1). Back to text.

5:6 leaven: Yeast is a proverbial symbol of evil and corruptive influence (Mt 16:11; Lk 12:1; Gal 5:9). Here it symbolizes the incestuous man, who must be removed from the Church lest his sins have a damaging impact upon the whole batch of believers. Back to text.

5:7-8 Paul draws a spiritual lesson from the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Just as every Jewish family cleansed its home of leaven before the feast (Ex 12:14-20), so Paul challenges the Corinthians to rid their Church of sin and even flagrant sinners before their celebration of the liturgy (1 Cor 5:13). He mentions the Paschal sacrifice of Christ because the day of Preparation for the Passover, when the lambs were slaughtered in the Temple, was also the day of Preparation for the festival of Unleavened Bread, when all leaven in Israel was to be discarded. The lesson has eucharistic overtones, inasmuch as Passover was celebrated by eating the Paschal Lamb and Unleavened Bread was celebrated by eating only unleavened bread for seven consecutive days (10:14-22; 11:17-34). Back to text.

5:9 my letter: I.e., an earlier letter of Paul to the Corinthians that has not survived. Apparently the Church misunderstood his written instructions because the Corinthians assumed Paul wanted them to keep distant from all sinners without qualification. In fact, the apostle was suggesting they should isolate themselves, not from unbelievers in general, but from immoral Christians whose behavior was decidedly inconsistent with their beliefs. Tolerating their fellowship would only dishonor Christ and hamper their witness to the world. Back to text.

5:11 immorality . . . robber: These same vices are included in the expanded list of 6:9-10, referring to sins that exclude perpetrators from the kingdom of God. Back to text.

5:13 Drive out the wicked: An expulsion formula from the Greek version of Deut 17:7 and 19:19. • Moses made legal provision in Deuteronomy to purge Israel of its most callous and reprehensible sinners. This authorized the nation to enforce the moral standards of Yahweh and so punish serious offenses. Paul extends this prerogative to the Corinthians. Here the incestuous man (1 Cor 5:1) fell under the curse of Deut 27:20. Back to text.

Word Study

Sanctified (1 Cor 6:11)

Hagiazō (Gk.): "make holy", "set apart", "consecrate". The verb is used four times in 1 Cor and 24 times in the rest of the NT. Its precise meaning varies depending on its context. When things are sanctified, they are separated from the realm of secular life and devoted to a sacred purpose, as when the Tabernacle was set apart for sacred worship (Ex 29:44) and the bronze altar was sanctified for sacrifice (Ex 29:37). Even an ordinary meal can be sanctified by a prayer of thanksgiving (1 Tim 4:5). When persons are sanctified, they are set apart to serve God in a holy way. Under the Old Covenant, the Levites were separated from the laity of Israel and ordained for clerical ministry (Ex 28:41), and the nation of Israel as a whole was set apart to be God's representative to the nations (Deut 33:3). Under the New Covenant, believers are set apart through Baptism, which, by the sanctifying power of Christ's blood (Heb 13:12), cleanses us of all sin and makes us inwardly holy (1 Cor 6:11; Eph 5:26). The challenge to grow in sanctity is supported by Jesus' prayer for our consecration in truth (Jn 17:17) and by Paul's prayer that our whole being be preserved in holiness for the last day (1 Thess 5:23).

6:1-8 Paul is distressed by reports of litigation in Corinth. Instead of solving economic and property disputes like brothers, the Corinthians were hauling each other into the Roman courts. Paul rebukes them for this, judging that pagans should not arbitrate the internal affairs of God's covenant family. History suggests that most lawsuits in the Roman world involved cases of the rich and powerful suing the poor and helpless—a problem that may have characterized the situation in Corinth (11:17-22). Back to text.

6:1 the unrighteous: I.e., pagan judges. For Paul, unbelievers are entirely unfit to judge God's covenant people. He would rather the Church conduct herself like Israel, which regulated its internal disputes by appointing judges from the twelve tribes (Deut 1:9-17; 16:18-20). Back to text.

6:3 to judge angels?: Only here in the Bible do we learn that Christians will condemn both unbelievers (6:2) and fallen spirits at the final Judgment (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6). Related to this, however, is the notion that believers will share in the heavenly reign of Christ (2 Tim 2:12). Back to text.

6:5 no man among you wise: A sarcastic rebuke. For all their boasting about wisdom, the Corinthians proved themselves incompetent in resolving everyday personal differences. Back to text.

6:7 Why not rather be defrauded?: It is better, Paul reasons, to suffer wrongdoing than to cause scandal for unbelievers by taking each other to court (1 Pet 3:17). Back to text.

6:9-10 A catalogue of ten vices radically inconsistent with Christian morality. Paul lists them to remind the Corinthians of their former habits and to dissuade them from slipping back into their old pagan ways. These sins destroy all hope of sharing in God's kingdom (Gal 5:19-21; Rev 21:8; CCC 1852). Back to text.

6:9 nor homosexuals: The RSV condenses two Greek terms into the single English word "homosexuals". The first term could be rendered "male prostitutes", and the second "male homosexuals". The context makes it clear that Paul is thinking, not of persons merely attracted to others of the same sex, but of those who engage in perverse sexual acts with them. Both Testaments agree that homosexual conduct is gravely disordered and poses a serious threat to eternal salvation (Lev 18:22; 20:13; Rom 1:26-27; 1 Tim 1:10; CCC 2357-59). Back to text.

6:11 such were some of you: Once prisoners in sin (6:910), the Corinthians have been redeemed and renewed by the washing of Baptism. The point is that God's grace and forgiveness can rescue even the worst sinners from their deadly habits. washed . . . sanctified . . . justified: Three effects of Baptism, through which sinners are cleansed of guilt (Acts 22:16), made holy (Rom 6:22), and adopted as heirs of eternal life (Tit 3:57). The added mention of Christ's name and the work of the Spirit makes it certain that Paul is alluding to Baptism as the sacramental context for the Corinthians' conversion (Acts 2:38; CCC 1227, 2813). See word study: Justified at Rom 2. Back to text.

6:12 All things are lawful for me: Probably a slogan coined by certain Corinthians to justify their promiscuous life-style. Like many Greeks, they attached little importance to the body and held that sexual activity was as morally neutral as eating and drinking. This theoretical separation between body and spirit led them to believe that physical urges could be indiscriminately satisfied without harm to the spiritual life. Another view is that these words originated with Paul, but that members of the congregation have distorted his meaning to justify their sin. On this view, Paul is clarifying the expression to exclude a permissive interpretation of his teaching. Either way, participation in cultic prostitution was the disturbing result (6:15). Back to text.

6:13 The body . . . for the Lord: Paul hints that just as the body of a bride belongs to her husband through the covenant of marriage (7:4), so the body of the believer is consecrated to Christ through Baptism (6:11). Christ's spousal right over the body is thus violated when believers are involved in sexual impurity—a fact that makes promiscuity equivalent to adultery (2 Cor 11:2-3). The general resurrection puts this moral crisis in perspective: because our bodies belong to the Lord and are destined for eternity, they should not be desecrated by evildoing (1 Cor 6:14; CCC 796, 989, 1004). Back to text.

6:15 members of Christ: A theology developed at length in 12:12-31. prostitute: Prostitution was a regular part of Roman society and often took place in a cultic context within pagan temples (CCC 2355). See essay: Shun Immorality, Shun Idolatry at 1 Cor 6. Back to text.

6:16 The two shall become one: A reference to Gen 2:24. • According to Genesis, sexual union cements a bond between a man and a woman that makes them one flesh. The proper context of this unifying act is the covenant of marriage, where the bond is meant to be permanent, fruitful, and exclusive. Back to text.

6:17 one spirit with him: The point is, not that sexual union (6:16) is a mere reflection of our spiritual union with Christ, but that even our bodies become united with Christ through the Spirit (15:45). This union with Christ's humanity—which is sacramental, not sexual—has its beginning in Baptism (12:13) and is strengthened by the Eucharist (10:16-17). Back to text.

6:19 your body is a temple: Baptism makes every believer a spouse of God the Son and a sanctuary of God the Spirit (CCC 1265, 1695). See note on 1 Cor 3:16. If prostitution is a sin of adultery against the former, it is a sin of profanation against the latter. Back to text.

6:20 bought with a price: The background of this statement, as in 7:23, is the ownership that a master has over a slave once the purchase has been finalized. It is possible too, given the marital theme that runs through the preceding discussion, that Paul considers the price of Jesus' death a dowry paid in advance of our spousal union with him through grace (1 Pet 1:1819). glorify God in your body: There is probably an implied contrast in these words: whereas the Gentiles in Corinth dishonor God in their temples through idolatrous worship and sacred prostitution, believers must glorify God in their bodily temples by offering them to God through chastity (Rom 12:1). Back to text.

7:1-40 Paul gives spiritual direction on marriage, celibacy, and widowhood. The chapter brings together instructions derived from Christ (7:10-11) and those formulated by Paul (7:12, 25). Back to text.

7:1 Now concerning: A recurrent expression found throughout the letter (7:25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1). Paul uses it to address specific questions posed to him in a previous (now lost) letter from the Corinthians. not to touch a woman: A euphemism meaning, "not to have sexual relations". It may have been a motto of certain Corinthians (ascetics) who frowned upon marriage and the physical pleasures that accompany it (1 Tim 4:13). Paul treats the slogan as a half-truth that is ultimately misleading: Celibacy is good, but it does not nullify the goodness of marriage or the propriety of sexual relations within marriage. Back to text.

7:5 Do not refuse one another: The conjugal rights shared by husband and wife provide a safeguard against infidelity (7:3-4). The withdrawal of one spouse from marital relations could lead the other to seek illicit intimacy outside the marriage covenant. agreement for a season: Married couples may abstain temporarily from relations. This creates opportunities for prayer and spiritual enrichment. Paul warns, however, that abstinence should not be unnecessarily protracted, otherwise Satan could manipulate the circumstances for evil. • Catholic teaching permits married couples, for just and serious reasons, to refrain periodically from sexual relations in the interests of child spacing and family planning (Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae 10, 16). Periodic continence can likewise promote spiritual discipline and self-mastery for both husband and wife (CCC 2368-70). Back to text.

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