FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS The first epistle is a pastoral letter, dealing both with positive evils that need correction and with difficult questions of practice and thought. Through it all runs a genial undercurrent of con fidence in the loyalty of the Corinthian Church to Paul as its spiritual father. After the opening paragraphs (i. 1-9) in which the usual sequence of Paul's epistles, as of many simple Greek letters, is followed, the first large section (i. 10–iv. introduces us to conditions at Corinth. First Corinthians shows us the earlier stage of a quarrel, which later, flaring into passion, caused Paul the greatest anxiety, and of which the dying embers still contained fire when Second Corinthians was written. The sen sitiveness of the situation can be recognized from the guarded way in which Paul approaches it by reproving a tendency to divide into parties (i. Io-17; iii. 4-9; iv. 6)—of Paul, of Apollos, of Cephas, and perhaps (although his meaning is here disputed) of Christ. This factiousness would, indeed, have been an evil, but the actual topic of the section is in the main a different issue. The vagueness of Paul's allusions is studied, and avoids direct references, but his language shows that he had chiefly in mind certain persons who prided themselves on their eminent possession of the Spirit and vaunted the superiority of their divinely bestowed "wisdom" as well as their excellency of speech, and who set themselves up in outspoken and arrogant personal hostility to Paul. It is against such as these that Paul directs his actual attack, not against the mere division into a Cephas-party of Judaizers like those in Galatia, an Apollos-party of admirers of learning and rhetoric, a Paul-party of personal adherents, and a Christ-party of (for us) indiscoverable aim and character. Sharing, we may suppose, Paul's great principle that believers in the risen Christ have received the Holy Spirit, are a "new creation," and by being withdrawn from the domain of the flesh into that of the Spirit, have become free from obligation to the Law, these persons would appear to have drawn the logical, but impossible, conclusion that moral dis cipline pertains only to those who walk in the flesh, not to the "spiritual," and that they themselves constituted a body of su perior Christians, indeed the only "perfect" Christians. Against such elements, perhaps intruders in Corinth, Paul here extends to the Church, as to beloved children, his warning, in language sharp, ironical, sarcastic. He avoids direct mention of the dangerous would-be leaders, but makes the pregnant observation (iv. 6) ; "And these things, brethren, I have in a figure trans ferred to myself and to Apollos." From such an understanding of this section, as furnishing a curiously veiled indication of the ultimate ground of Paul's concern, most of the particular situa tions outlined in the rest of the epistle become comprehensible. It is only fair to state that most scholars take the division into parties (i. 10-17) more seriously, as a direct reference to a grave evil, and emphasize the conjectured characteristics of the several parties. But under this view it is admitted that these parties cannot be brought into any significant relation to the problems treated later in the First Epistle, while in the Second Epistle the factions are nowhere mentioned—unless it be the Christ-party, the existence of which is highly problematical even for the First Epistle.
From First Corinthians we gain a vivid picture of the experience of a Christian Church in a centre of Greek life. A member of the Church has married his widowed stepmother, an offence detestable even by heathen standards; he must be cut off (v. 1-13) . The previous letter from Paul referred to above has been misunder stood (or misrepresented) ; its real purpose is now clearly ex plained (v. 9-13). Law-suits between Christians before heathen judges call forth indignant protest (vi. 1–I1). Sexual inconti nence occurs, and appears to have been excused (as to-day) by various sophistries (vi. 12-20). Marriage presented its problems, some of which the Corinthians had raised in their letter and Paul gives a wide range of advice (vii. 1-4o). A great section (viii. I–xi. I) is devoted to the question of participation in feasts at heathen temples and in social meals where the guests were offered meat that had been, or might have been, previously employed in heathen sacrifices. Was it a denial of the faith to eat such food or not? The scrupulous, or "weak," made it a religious principle to abstain ; the "strong" denied that such food differed from other food. Paul sides with neither and gives well-balanced counsel.
A certain degree of emancipation of women under the principle of Christian equality raised problems (xi. 2-16, xiv. ; the observance of the Lord's Supper in connection with a meal in the proper sense had been the occasion of indecorous practices degrading the sacramental solemnity (xi. . The "gifts of the Spirit," that is, unusual powers and capacities possessed by Christians, are treated at length (xii.–xiv.), because it was claimed that the "gift of tongues" (a semi-ecstatic unintelligible speech manifesting itself in praise and prayer at Christian meetings) en titles its possessors to a consciousness of God's special favour. (See TONGUES, GIFT OF.) The answer is that the "gifts" are valuable in proportion to their usefulness to others, and that love, from which graces of character proceed, is superior to any of them (xiii.). The only theological topic treated with any fullness comprises questions about the resurrection (xv.), evidently raised by Gentiles for whom Jewish conceptions made difficulty. The last chapter of the epistle (xvi.) is occupied with personal matters, including the collection of money for the Jerusalem brethren and Paul's plans for a visit at Corinth.