St. Paul's Letters
First Letter to the Corinthians: The Word of the Cross distinguishes between true and false wisdom
Posted on September 1st 2013 in St. Paul's Letters
The occasion of this first Letter to the Corinthians was a report as to the developing factions within the community based on social class and differences in the understanding of the faith. After having made some introductory remarks about the spirit-filled community, St Paul now explains that behind any so-called differences is the unifying work of God which should be made known through faith in Jesus Christ. The language of the Cross turns upside down the differences beloved by unredeemed mankind, and establishes a spiritual unity between all believers. The divisions expressed in the community are caused by none other than a failure to understand the faith.
The use of the expression ‘the word of the Cross’ is unique to this letter and it describes the historical situation through which the power of God has been made visible. This sign that contradicts all human expectations brings about a division between those who accept it and those who do not. In the religious imagination, the first group are being saved, while the second are already perishing. The use of the present tense emphasises that although the final judgement lies in the future, the consequences are already being experienced in anticipation. The explanation for accepting or not accepting the ‘Word of the Cross’ does not utilise concepts such as foolishness and wisdom. Human wisdom unaided by divine assistance, grace, cannot grasp the ways of God. The parallel mind-sets of both Jews and Greeks are not predisposed to hear this ‘Word of the Cross’. This raises the perennial question as to how it may be possible to believe in God. The Church has always maintained that anyone can know that God exists through the use of their reason, an argument taken from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans (1:18-31) but no-one can know God except through being exposed to the Gospel message (the kerygma (v21). The content of this preaching is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and also of His resurrection (15:11-12), which goes far deeper than simply the recognition of miraculous signs or some deeper source of meaning.
St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: Divisions in the community (1:10-17)
Posted on August 25th 2013 in St. Paul's Letters
The Letter began with St Paul identifying himself as an Apostle, and the community as the ‘Church of God’. The vocation of the Apostle was to preach the Gospel throughout the known world, but also to insist on the truths of faith in front of opposition or confusion. The community is also described as ‘the people of Jesus Christ’, and from the beginning St Paul is developing an understanding of the Church both as the ‘People of God’ and the ‘Body of Christ’. St Paul writes this Letter to a community who find their true identity in relationship with God and each other within Jesus Christ.
St Paul now emphasises that the life of the Christian is animated and sustained by the Holy Spirit, received through the sacrament of Baptism. The community has shown admirably how these gifts have been utilised by its members in the intermediary time before the final coming. Looking back nearly two thousand years later, St Paul’s conviction of the imminent coming seems premature, but the lesson holds true that, for each Christian, life on earth is a prelude to the last day of judgement. This ‘day’ throws a positive light on the Christian life, since having been justified through Jesus’ death and Resurrection, God will remain faithful to His action. Therefore, to commit one’s life to Christ gives meaning and creates something of lasting value.
St Paul connects the titles of Jesus Christ together. Jesus died on the Cross. Once He rose from the dead He is confirmed as being the Christ, though this reality was largely hidden during His public life. The resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven, and the descent of the Holy Spirit confirms Jesus Christ as Lord, Son of God. Jesus Christ is now joined to each believer as Lord and giver of the Holy Spirit.
The community of Corinth was a Spirit filled community, but this did not insulate them from the all too human failure of division and creation of competing parties. The community is literally being ripped apart, the word being that for a cloth being torn (sxisma – v10) The unifying power of the Holy Spirit requires human co-operation to fulfil its mandate. These divisions might have originated from the fact that the community met in different houses to celebrate the agape meal before the Eucharist, the mistaken celebration of which will become a topic for a later chapter.
Conclusion to the Letter: The Ministry and future plans of St Paul 16:1-27: Final Greetings
Posted on July 21st 2013 in St. Paul's Letters
The last chapter of the Letter contains salutations to twenty-four different members of the Church, as well as four different ‘Parish’ Churches established in private residences. Many of these individuals and groups St Paul could well have known as previous members of the Christian communities of the Eastern Mediterranean which he had founded. The Church in Rome was well known to him even if he did not establish it himself.
The bearer of the letter was Phoebe, described as deacon, but this title probably did not have the sacramental function ascribed to the Diaconate of later Church tradition. However, the mention of her name demonstrates that the Church was never simply a male preserve, and that its organisational structure was different to that of the Roman Empire. Of the list of names, nine are women as well as two married couples. Many scholars have tried to identify the individual names, such as Rufus with the man of the same name described as the son of Simon of Cyrene in St Mark’s Gospel.
St Paul praises the community for remaining strong despite the evident disagreements within it as revealed in earlier chapters about the eating of meat. The small community gathered around him conclude the letter with their greetings. The final paragraph of the Letter is a prayer that probably originated in a Liturgical setting, but which St Paul uses to place the sending of the Letter into the greater plan of God, revealing the fullness of Himself in Jesus Christ. This wisdom is destined for the whole world to hear.
The Letter to the Romans began with a liturgical prayer identifying Jesus as Son of David and Son of God, and concludes the proclamation of this message to the whole world. In between St Paul has drawn out the implications of the universal message; the priority of grace, the contrast between Jesus and Adam, the special place of the Jews not being compromised in God’s universal plan, and the moral life consequent of this revelation. God will send His Holy Spirit to all nations so that each may have the strength to respond and to live this divine invitation to share in God’s life.
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