1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Corinth was an important and wealthy city on the isthmus (narrow strip of land) separating Northern and Southern Greece. The Apostle Paul spent 18 months there on his Second Missionary Journey and established a church there. Acts 18 gives us considerable detail about Paul’s work in Corinth during that time.
At the conclusion of his visit to Corinth, Paul left to visit Ephesus, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Galatia (Acts 18:18-23). In his absence Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew, began teaching in the synagogue at Ephesus. Apollos knew only the baptism of John, but Priscilla and Aquila corrected his understanding. Apollos then went to Achaia (of which Corinth was the capitol) and gave a powerful witness to the messiahship of Jesus (Acts 18:24-28).
After leaving Corinth, Paul wrote a letter to the Christians at Corinth warning them “to have no company with sexual sinners” (5:9), but that letter has been lost to us. Paul is writing this letter in response to a report from Chloe’s people about problems in the Corinthian church (1:11). In this letter, he provides apostolic guidance for dealing with those problems. The first of those problems is divisions in the church.
1 CORINTHIANS 1:10. I BEG YOU THAT YOU ALL SPEAK THE SAME THING
10Now (Greek: de—but) I beg you, brothers (Greek: adelphoi—brothers), through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing (Greek: hina pantes legete—that you say the same thing) and that there be no divisions (Greek: schismata) among you, but that you be perfected together (Greek: katertismenoi—be made perfect or be perfectly joined together) in the same mind (Greek: noi—mind or understanding) and in the same judgment (Greek: gnome—judgment, purpose, or will).
“Now (de—but) I beg you, brothers (adelphoi—brothers), through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ“ (v. 10a).
Paul begins this paragraph with the little Greek word de, which is most often translated “but.” That little word connects this paragraph with the last one, in which Paul gave thanks for the grace of God that was given to the Corinthian Christians—and that they are not lacking any spiritual gift. BUT there are serious problems in the Corinthian church. Having gotten the pleasantries out of the way, Paul gets down to the business at hand—divisions in the church.
While Paul founded the Corinthian church and is therefore the spiritual father of these Corinthian Christians, he addresses them as “brothers.” As an apostle, he is their spiritual superior, but he chooses to address them as their spiritual brother. He has reminded them that he is an apostle (v. 1)—and will address his apostolic authority at greater length later (chapter 9)—but he is also their brother in Christ.
Paul appeals to them “through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” In that culture, people considered a person’s name to be more than a simple label to identify that person. They believed that something of the person’s identity was tied up in the name—that the name expressed something of the person’s essential character. They also assumed that a name possessed something of the power of the one who wore that name.
While that might sound foreign to us today, it is not. When we talk about a person’s reputation, we are talking about something that expresses the essence of that person. A person’s reputation also conveys a certain power or lack of it.
So when Paul appeals to them “through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ,” he is not just mentioning a person known to both parties. He is invoking the authority and power of Jesus Christ as he addresses serious problems in the Corinthian church.
“that you all speak the same thing (hina pantes legete—that you say the same thing) and that there be no divisions (schismata) among you, but that you be perfected together (katertismenoi—be made perfect or be perfectly joined together) in the same mind (noi—mind or understanding) and in the same judgment (gnome—judgment, purpose, or will) (v. 10b).
Paul appeals to them to live together in unity, and he tells them three different ways that their unity needs to express itself:
(1) They must be in agreement—say the same thing—promulgate the same doctrine—proclaim the same Christ. Their mouths simply give expression to the thoughts of their minds and the beliefs of their hearts. If they are to say the same thing, they must first think the same thing and believe the same thing.
This does not mean that they must sacrifice personal identity to become a collection of look-alikes. The apostles have distinctive personalities and go about their work in different ways, but they agree on the core issues of the Christian faith. Where there is serious disagreement, they come together to resolve those issues (Galatians 2:1-10). It is that kind of unity within diversity to which Paul is calling these Corinthian Christians.
Paul will address the issue of diversity further in chapter 12, where he will talk about “various kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit; and… various kinds of service, and the same Lord; and… various kinds of workings, but the same God, who works all things in all” (12:4-5). He will illustrate this with an analogy to the human body, which is made up of many members (eyes, a head, feet, hands, etc.), but is one body (12:12-31). Each member of the body is distinctive, but all the members are dependent one on the other. In the same way, these Corinthian Christians “are the body of Christ, and members individually” (12:27). At present, they are prideful and competitive, so Paul shows them a better way—a greater gift—the way and gift of love (chapter 13).
(2) They must entertain no divisions (schismata) among themselves. In this letter, Paul is addressing the kinds of internal divisions that can result within a congregation because of differing opinions. There is no evidence in this letter that the Corinthian church has fractured into multiple congregations, but internal fractures within the congregation always have the potential to lead to that result.
Whether or not there will be divisions in the church depends, in large measure, on whether Christians consider divisions acceptable. Christians who believe that divisions are acceptable will always be divided, because there are so many things about which we might choose to disagree. We certainly see that in the church today—both the worldwide church, which is broken into hundreds of denominations, and local congregations, which often fight over such mundane things as the color of the carpet. But if Christians consider divisions unacceptable, they will become more flexible and considerate of the opinions of others. They will be more likely to approach each other in love and to work out differences in ways that bring harm to neither party.
So when Paul calls on these Corinthian Christians to have no divisions among themselves, he is calling them to change their way of think about divisions—to regard divisions as contrary to the will of God. If they will do that, they will gain the will to work together—to eliminate divisions—to work together in harmony.
(3) They must be united in noi (mind or understanding). The thoughts of their minds are the beginning point. Their thoughts will determine the feelings of their hearts and the actions of their hands. If they think that their preferred leader (Paul, Apollos, or Cephas) is superior to the other leaders, then they will feel superior to the followers of the other leaders. That will, in turn, lead them to act in ways that their Christian brothers and sisters will find offensive. However, if they think that God is calling them to maintain unity, they will be more likely to act in ways that will enhance the unity of the church.
They must also be united in judgment (gnome—judgment, purpose, or will). Otherwise, they will pull in different directions, and the work of one person will cancel the work of another. The best way for them to be united in gnome is for all of them to face in the same direction—to keep a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ always before them. If some turn their eyes toward Paul, and others toward Apollos, and still others toward Cephas, they will be seeing things differently—and pulling in different directions—and going nowhere. However, if will all turn in the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ, they will find it possible to live in harmony with each other.
1 CORINTHIANS 1:11-13. IT HAS BEEN REPORTED TO ME
11 For it has been reported to me concerning you, my brothers, by those who are from Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12Now I mean this, that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” “I follow Cephas,” and, “I follow Christ.” 13Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul?
“For it has been reported to me concerning you, my brothers, by those who are from Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you“ (v. 11). Scholars agree that Chloe was a woman, so Chloe must be a woman’s name. Scholars speculate that she might have been a businesswoman from Ephesus with agents who traveled to Corinth (a distance of about 225 miles as the crow flies). However, she might have been from Corinth, and her people might have been family members rather than business associates. This is the only reference to Chloe in the New Testament, and we know nothing more about her—not even whether she was a Christian.
At any rate, Chloe’s people reported to Paul that there were quarrels raging among the Corinthian Christians, and Paul takes their report seriously enough to address the problem at length in this letter. In doing so, he has to know that those who say, “I follow Apollos” or “I follow Cephas” (1:12) will have difficulty accepting his authority.
“Now I mean this, that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ ‘I follow Apollos,’ ‘I follow Cephas,’ and, ‘I follow Christ’“ (v. 12). Paul spells out exactly what he has heard from Chloe’s people:
• Some of the Corinthian Christians pledge allegiance to Paul, who founded the Corinthian church.
• Others pledge allegiance to Apollos, An Alexandria Christian who visited Corinth after Paul’s departure and provided ministry to the Christians there (Acts 18:18 – 19:1). Apollos was “an eloquent man, came to Ephesus. He was mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24) who “powerfully refuted the Jews, publicly showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:28). The Greeks greatly prized rhetoric (the art of preparing persuasive arguments) and oratory (the art of public speaking), so Apollos’ public speaking skills would cause some Corinthian Christians to regard him as a celebrity, almost like some people today regard movie stars or rock stars.
But, later in this letter, Paul will say that neither Paul nor Apollos should be regarded as a celebrity. Both are only “servants through whom you believed; and each as the Lord gave to him” (3:5). He will say, “I planted. Apollos watered. But God gave the increase” (3:6). He will explain that he writes these things “that none of you be puffed up against one another” (4:6).
When Paul writes this letter, Apollos is not in Corinth. Paul has encouraged him to visit the Corinthian church, but Apollos has declined, saying that he will visit there when he can (16:12).
• Others pledge allegiance to Cephas. Cephas is the Aramaic word for “rock,” and is another name for the Apostle Peter—Peter being the Greek word for “rock.” It seems curious that these Greek believers would pledge allegiance to Cephas/Peter using his Aramaic rather than his Greek name. Paul uses the name Cephas to refer to Peter several times in this letter (3:22; 9:5; 15:5). Nowhere in the letter is he called Peter.
We have no record of Cephas/Peter having visited Corinth, but that doesn’t mean that he never set foot there. It is possible that some Jewish Christians feel a kinship with Cephas, whose ministry has been directed toward the Jewish community, rather than with Paul, whose ministry has been directed toward the Gentile community. It could also be that some Corinthian Christians are impressed with the fact that Peter was one of the original twelve apostles—and the leader of the apostles while Jesus was walking the face of this earth. Paul didn’t become a Christian until after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
• Others pledge allegiance to Christ. At first blush, that sounds good. The good news of the Gospel is the news of Christ’s death and resurrection—not of the ministry of Paul or Apollos or Cephas.
But it is possible to move in the right direction and still fall on one’s face. By the tone of Paul’s letter, it is clear that he regards the Corinthians who say, “I belong to Christ” as having made a grievous error. Since that error cannot be that they give their first allegiance to Christ (which is what they should do), their error must be elsewhere. Most probably, it is that they have the same contentious spirit and prideful attitude as those who identify themselves as followers of Paul, Peter, or Cephas. It is their contentious spirit and their prideful attitude that are at fault—not their allegiance to Christ.
“Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul?“ (v. 13). These are rhetorical questions intended to expose the absurdity of the divisions in the Corinthian church. The obvious answers are, “No, Christ is not divided”—and “No, Christ was crucified for us, not Paul”—and “No, we were baptized into the name of Christ, not Paul.”
1 CORINTHIANS 1:14-17. CHRIST SENT ME TO PROCLAIM THE GOOD NEWS
14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one should say that I had baptized you into my own name. 16 I also baptized the household of Stephanas; besides them, I don’t know whether I baptized any other.) 17For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Good News (Greek: euangelizo)— not in wisdom of words (Greek: sophia logou—wise words), so that the cross of Christ wouldn’t be made void.
“I thank God that I baptized none of you, except Crispus and Gaius“ (v. 14). These verses make it sound as if Paul holds a low opinion of baptism, but that is hardly the case. In Romans 6:1ff, Paul talks about being buried with Christ in baptism and raised to a new life (v. 4). He goes on to say that, if we have been united with Christ in death (as in the baptismal burial), we will also be united with him in the resurrection (v. 5). He says that those who have died (as in the baptismal burial) are freed from sin (v. 7).
In Colossians 2:12-15, Paul uses similar imagery. He says, “having been buried with him (Christ) in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
So we would be making a mistake if we were to portray verses 14-17 as reflecting a low view of baptism. Paul has a high view of baptism, but is addressing a different problem here—the problem of divisions in the Corinthian church.
Crispus was a former leader of the synagogue in Corinth who, along with his household, became a believer and was baptized (Acts 18:8). The Gaius mentioned here could be the one whom Paul mentions as having hosted Paul and the whole church (Romans 16:23). Otherwise, we know nothing for sure about these men.
Paul’s point is that people are sometimes tempted to think too highly of the person who baptized them. It is too easy to forget that the person performing the baptism is just a servant—a servant of Christ. If Paul had baptized lots of people in Corinth, those people would be tempted to say, “I belong to Paul,” and that would contribute to the problem of divisions within the Corinthian church. However, since Paul baptized only a few people there, he doesn’t have to worry about being regarded as a cult figure.
“so that no one should say that I had baptized you into my own name“ (v. 15). As noted above, people in that time and place regarded names almost as a surrogate for the person. To do something in the name of a particular person would be to do it by that person’s authority. To be baptized in the name of Paul would be to assume that the power of baptism is derived from Paul’s authority. Nothing could be further from the truth. Baptism derives its power by its association with Christ, not Paul. The Corinthian Christians were baptized in Christ’s name, not Paul’s name.
“I also baptized the household of Stephanas; besides them, I don’t know whether I baptized any other” (v. 16). Paul mentioned in verse 14 that he baptized Crispus and Gaius. Now he suddenly remembers that he also baptized Stephanas and his household. This side note shows that Paul is writing or dictating this letter “on the fly”—without the kinds of revisions that would make everything perfectly coherent.
Stephanas and his household were the first converts in Achaia (Achaia is the province of which Corinth is the capitol city). Paul speaks highly of Stephanas at the end of this letter, saying that Stephanas has devoted himself to service to the saints, by which Paul means ordinary Christians at Corinth. Paul encourages the Christians at Corinth to help Stephanas, and notes that Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus visited Paul (probably in Ephesus) and lifted his spirits (16:15-17).
“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Good News“(euangelizo) (v. 17a). Once again, it sounds as if Paul might have a low view of baptism, but that is not the case (see the comments on verse 14 above). Paul has baptized some people, but that isn’t the central focus of his ministry. He was called to proclaim the Gospel—to evangelize. Later, he will talk about the shared ministry that he had with others—”I planted. Apollos watered. But God gave the increase” (3:6). Presumably, as part of their shared ministries, others have carried out baptisms for those whom Paul has converted.
“not in wisdom of words (sophia logou—wise words), so that the cross of Christ wouldn’t be made void“ (v. 17b). Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom, a subject near and dear to Greek hearts. Greeks prize both wisdom and its outward manifestations in rhetoric (the art of preparing persuasive arguments) and oratory (the art of public speaking). In the verses that follow, Paul will contrast human wisdom with the Godly wisdom that sent Christ to the cross. In sending Christ to the cross, “God made foolish the wisdom of this world” (1:18-25).
In this verse, then, Paul is saying that he doesn’t want his teachings or methods to be associated with human wisdom. If his proclamation of the Gospel smacked of human eloquence and wisdom, that eloquence and wisdom would distract from that which is the focus of everything Paul does and says—the cross of Christ. Paul doesn’t want these Corinthian Christians to admire his eloquence and wisdom. He wants them to keep their eyes focused on the cross of Christ.
1 CORINTHIANS 1:18. THE WORD OF THE CROSS IS THE POWER OF GOD
18For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are dying, but to us who are saved it is the power of God.
“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are dying“ (v. 18a). This verse introduces the rest of this chapter, where Paul contrasts the wisdom of the world (human wisdom) with the wisdom of God, which finds its highest expression in the apparent foolishness of the cross of Christ. For those who pride themselves on their wisdom, the cross appears to be foolishness—nonsense. Why would God send his Son to die on a cross? By the standards of human wisdom, it makes no sense! But human wisdom, attractive as it might seem on the surface, has no saving power. People who depend on human wisdom alone are perishing, because they have no savior.
“but to us who are saved it is the power of God“ (v. 18b). Those who are being saved have acknowledged their powerlessness and God’s power. They have accepted the fact that they cannot defeat the sin that threatens to dominate their lives, and so have learned to trust in the grace of God. That grace was manifested most fully at the cross of Christ, where Christ not only prayed that God would forgive those who crucified him, but also opened the door to forgiveness for all who came to believe in him. Thus the cross, which seems like foolishness to those who are steeped in human wisdom, is really the instrument of salvation for those who are being saved.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2011, 2017, Richard Niell Donovan